Capital Fringe Festival

Deaf Man Hoofing: An Irreverent Start

In the marathon
In the marathon "Unmapped," Daniel Burkholder and Jonathan Matis improvised a roughly half-hour show every hour on the hour for an entire day. (By Enoch Chan)

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Monday, July 24, 2006

You know you've found the Capital Fringe Festival when (a) you're watching an irreverent musical written and performed by a man who's lost most of his hearing, and (b) he has the whole happy audience doing a "strangedance" -- a random limb thrusting connoting the joy that absolutely has to be mined out of life.

Apparently that's a hard-won attitude for Jay Alan Zimmerman, the creator, sole performer and subject of "Jay Alan Zimmerman's Incredibly Deaf Musical." Shortly after establishing himself as a professional composer, Zimmerman started losing his hearing; it's now limited to the lower portion of the piano keyboard and very little speech.

Naturally, Zimmerman found that erosion unbearable, and this fast-moving 90-minute show at the Canadian Embassy (repeating Wednesday and Thursday) depicts his confusion and anger frankly, yet is cheering to watch. Zimmerman's a quirky, engaging presence, turning his dark and clever wit on himself as much as on the cosmos while bravely singing and dancing, more on-pitch and rhythmic than artful.

He finds fresh, funny ways of playing with his story onstage, creating sharp dialogue between himself and the defeatist voice in his head (seen in projected titles), and writing an off-color song about how he keeps mishearing people saying amusingly dirty things.

The most complex number comes late in the show, when Zimmerman finally sits at the piano and delivers a song layered with melancholy and energy that gradually slides into frustrated silence. You feel his loss, yet you marvel at what he's got as he sings even in the highest ranges with surprisingly accurate pitch. Apparently Zimmerman still hears well enough to hold the stage in a solo musical show, but not well enough to hear the cheering audience that wanted him to come back for another bow.

-- Nelson Pressley

'Never Swim Alone'

You have drinks. You do lunch. You swap text messages. But doesn't all that chumminess hide a scoreboard? Aren't you and your friend painfully aware of each other's success, or lack thereof?

Anyone who has ever experienced envy will appreciate "Never Swim Alone," Daniel MacIvor's startling riff of a play. This mysterious comedy about two Canadian businessmen unfolds in jazzy bursts, with the formal inventiveness of a poem and the rhythms of a professional table tennis match. But what's most striking is its central metaphor: MacIvor portrays the men's amiably competitive relationship as a 13-round sparring match, umpired by a young woman who knows when small talk is intended to bruise.

"Never Swim Alone" made a splash at several fringe festivals in Canada and also ran off-Broadway. A taut, funny version of the three-actor work has landed in the Capital Fringe Festival. Director Bradley Moss has added another level of irony by casting two women in the roles of the blustery rivals. Dressed in dark suits and ties, with their hair slicked back, April Banigan and Caroline Livingstone do a competent job of projecting hard-eyed machismo. Patrolling the stage with a bantam swagger, they bowl the play through its formal variations, which include manly banter, gossipy monologues, a spoof of corporate jargon, and flights of homespun philosophy ("If [BS] had a brain, it would quote Nietzsche").

The lithe Amber Borotsik, clad in a bathing suit, creates an enjoyably befuddled air for the character of the Referee, who sits in a lifeguard's chair, blowing her whistle periodically and pronouncing, "Foul!" or "Point!"

Scott Peters's expressive sound design helps bare the scandalous secret at the root of the plot.

The 65-minute play repeats tonight and Wednesday at the Canadian Embassy, 501 Pennsylvania Ave. NW.


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