Capital Fringe Festival

Bounces on the Festival Fairway

By Nelson Pressley
Special to The Washington Post
Monday, July 23, 2007

Here's a bourgeois comparison that ought to alarm the young radicals of the Capital Fringe Festival: It reminds me of attending a pro golf tournament.

For one thing, walking is involved. Shows typically last about an hour and happen in 30 venues throughout the city. You could park yourself at, say, the Warehouse Arts complex, just as you could station yourself behind the 14th green. But isn't it more fun to ping around?

More to the point is the guesswork: There's no telling where the real excitement will be. People stop each other in the street and compare notes. What have you seen? What did you like? You're kidding -- that?

It's a matter of instinct and taste. You think of Fringe as a haven for the aggressive and offbeat, but it's also hospitable to something as genteel as "Petpourri," a bit of operetta and cabaret on the theme of pets.

That production at the Warehouse Arts Mainstage is by Washington's classically oriented In Series (gravitating toward familiar faces is one way to make choices). The brief first act, titled "Fringe Follies," features selections from Victor Herbert, Rudolf Friml and other composers, and the second act -- longer and more interesting -- is the 1997 cabaret musical "Petpourri" by composer Deborah Wicks LaPuma and lyricist Andrea Dodds (continuing through today).

Is it a widdle bit pwecious? Why, yes, a widdle. But it's funny, too, the way Dodds and LaPuma turn humans' goofy pet-loving coos into an opening fugue, and how Richard Tappen goes to town with the vaguely vaudevillian strut of "Dog Walker." And there's a number in the middle, "The Lie," about a small but painful tragedy, that is wonderfully told and utterly arresting.

For something completely different, there's a show at the Goethe Institut (through Sunday) whose title is a provocative anti-homosexual slur that we can't mention. This 35 -minute piece is clearly developmental -- a worthy function of the Fringe -- as local actor Sheldon A. Scott creates a handful of monologues around gay men in therapy (at least one court-ordered).

"What you see in me is just the byproduct of my environment," one character tells the unseen therapist. A hostile environment, that is; the slur was tossed at him by his mother, and another character pulls a gun from his purse as the word gets hurled at him in the street. The show sometimes feels contrived in its setup and stereotypical in its characters, but Scott does have a nose for the dramatic and an ear for speech. As much as anything, it's hampered by the ungainly pauses in Scott's hesitant performance.

This year's Fringe includes two separate productions of Charles Mee works, one of which is "Two of Mee" by the Riot Actors of Washington (through Sunday). Billed as "a collision of two one-act plays," the show melds Mee's "The Imperialists at the Club Canem" and "Constantinople Smith," creating a show in which "imperialist" characters tell stories and then question the meaning of stories while "Smith" characters step out of their story altogether.

It's enough to make the preening, old-fashioned Constantinople Smith curse modern theater altogether. The audience might be inclined to join in: While Patrick Torres's production at Woolly Mammoth Melton Rehearsal Hall is respectably acted, "Two" acknowledges the annoyance of this kind of disjointed storytelling without avoiding it.

A mo' better Mee is the delightful "bobrauschenbergamerica," a performance collage, as the smashed-up title suggests, inspired by the art of Robert Rauschenberg. The show is by D.C.'s Banished? Productions, which earned a bit of attention at last year's Fringe for its staging of Picasso's "Desire Caught by the Tail."

This year the company is working out of the small Long View Gallery on Ninth Street NW, a perfect setting for Mee's freewheeling take on Rauschenberg's American grab-bag style. Carmen C. Wong's cast dresses in white and interacts easily with the audience; images are projected onto a series of sheer cloths hanging from the ceiling; the music features international covers of American tunes, the quirkiest being the Lynyrd Skynyrd standard rendered as "Sweet Home Buenos Aires." It's a creative party, low-key, intimate, and genuinely celebratory -- truly a mood-altering show.

Or at least it was:"bobrauschenbergamerica" closed yesterday. That, too, is how the 11-day Fringe is like a golf tournament. Before you know it, one of the leaders is in the clubhouse, done for the day.

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