Capital Fringe Festival

'Miss Lizzie,' A Greek Chorus That Rocks

A buff bash: "Naked Party's" John Hamilton, Adam Winer and Katie Jeffries.
A buff bash: "Naked Party's" John Hamilton, Adam Winer and Katie Jeffries. (By Ben Winter)
By Nelson Pressley
Special to The Washington Post
Thursday, July 17, 2008

The spirit of fringe is rock-and-roll, so it's fitting that one of the most sizzling acts thus far in the third Capital Fringe Festival is an hour-long ramble through Greek tragedy set to amplified music.

Imagine the arrogant Agamemnon played by Stevie Ray Vaughan, or Clytemnestra shrieked by Grace Slick. That's what you get in "Dizzy Miss Lizzie's Roadside Revue Presents 'The Oresteia.' " Even its venue feels inspired: the Baldacchino, the outdoor tent adjacent to this year's Fringe headquarters at Sixth Street and New York Avenue NW.

In a sampling of eight events during the Fringe's characteristically jampacked opening weekend, nothing came close to the energy, imagination and discipline of this carnival-style rock show, produced by the local Spooky Action Theater.

It wasn't flawless. Microphones occasionally cut out during the opening performance. Lyrics were not always intelligible amid the appealingly fuzzy din. No matter. A strong cast ripped through the original songs by director Debra Buonaccorsi (who also handled keyboard duties and played Iphigenia) and musical director Steve McWilliams (Agamemnon, growling a victory song as he ground out a ZZ Top-style lick on his guitar).

The ambition and polish are unexpected, for Fringe offerings tend to be scattershot and thin (see below). The music ranges from roots rock to a bluegrass prayer to a fittingly punk snarl by the three scantily dressed Furies -- the costumes and wigs are top notch -- and nearly everyone in the cast is up to it. By the time Felicia Curry arrives as the peace-bringing Athena, the crowd is eager to join in the catchy chorus of "Nah-nah-nahs."

Another pleasant surprise is "The Naked Party," an earnest comedy around the corner from the Baldacchino in the Shop, a small new venue built for the festival (but intended for long-term use). The show is pretty much what it sounds like: Two college buddies decide to have a theme party, with hosts and guests to be nude.

Writer-director Jason Schlafstein comes up with some funny lines and poignant speeches as his characters nervously undress alone in an imaginary closet, bravely situated inches from the front row. Some strip reluctantly, others with gusto, and the play does a credible job of exploring a bundle of vulnerabilities.

It drags on, though, and overran its allotted time on Friday night, prompting Fringe organizers to turn up the lights and scoot everyone out, much against the audience's wishes. Reportedly, the show cut 10 minutes and is now finishing on time, but it was something to see the poise of naked actors suddenly stripped even of their characters in that performus interruptus.

Another threat to one's dignity: facing a crowd of exactly two. That was the audience Saturday afternoon for the education-minded "B.A.D. (Black and Defiant)" at the District of Columbia Arts Center, a halting series of monologues about four notable black Americans. Only slightly less tentative is "Abe Lincoln: A One-Man Show," a compendium of Lincoln's jests and stories performed at the small Cole Studio (an art gallery off 15th Street NW) by a tall gentlemen in a stovepipe hat. For good measure, he also recites the Gettysburg Address.

The movement-based "Through the Looking Glass" in the Shop strikes an intriguing Carrollesque tone, embracing strangeness and non sequiturs but eventually shedding any sense of a mysterious edge as it wanders along. Also lost is Loser Josh, a troupe sinking in the quicksand of improv comedy at Chief Ike's Mambo Room.

A popular choice, also at Chief Ike's, is "Wiener Sausage: The Musical!," a tasteless, witless exercise overstuffed with 90 minutes' worth of sketchy ingredients (TV tunes, lewd props and sci-fi, for starters). A better bet: a comedy duo from New York called Delusions of Spandex, performing the poorly titled but often funny "Dorks on the Loose: It I Awkward." They barely last 35 minutes, but at least they leave you wanting more.

Capital Fringe Festival, through July 27 at various sites across the city. For tickets, go to the Capital Fringe box office, 607 New York Ave. NW, or visit Tickets can also be purchased at the door one hour before showtime.

© 2008 The Washington Post Company