The latest from the Capital Fringe Festival: Maia Silber looks at the musical drollery of “Love and Other Lures”; Sonia Rao chronicles the oddities of “I’m Margaret Thatcher, I Is!”; and Celia Wren on “Clara Bow: Becoming ‘It.'”
“Love and Other Lures”
That’s lures as in lure, not lore, Toby Mulford clarifies at the start of his Capital Fringe act: something that draws you in, not a legend or myth. But there’s a bit of both in “Love and Other Lures,” a delightful cabaret-style performance featuring zany songs about monsters.
As “Dr. Dour” and his assistant, “Peach,” Toby Mulford and Rachel Spicknall Mulford sing about a father who forbids his daughter to date vampires, a siren saddened that all her crushes crash and burn, and a mummy who falls for an archeologist, among other wacky subjects. From Western ballads to Tin Pan Alley tunes, the Mulfords’ monster numbers are both musically diverse and wickedly clever. “Every man comes to see me turns to sashimi,” croons Peach as the lovelorn siren. “Darling, don’t invite those suckers home,” Dr. Dour begs his vampire-obsessed teenager.
The Mulfords have a Burns-and-Allen-esque rapport, with a between-song banter that structures the show without feeling gimmicky. True to his stage name, Toby Mulford plays a cynic who sees the world as being full of danger, while Peach begs him to swap out tales of monsters for “Love Me Do.” When Dr. Dour says that he needs a “strong woman” to play the siren, Peach lifts a heavy microphone stand. When he says that she needs to be sexy, too, she whips out a feathered boa.
Performing in front of a simple white backdrop, the Mulfords use simple, strategically chosen props to great comedic effect; one sequence involving a stuffed alligator and a disco lamp draws guffaws from the audience. But the Mulfords’ imaginative lyrics stand on their own, and you’ll be tempted — lured, shall we say — to purchase their cd and listen to more monster numbers at home.
60 minutes. July 16 and 22 at Shopkeepers, 1231 Florida Ave. NE.
“I’m Margaret Thatcher, I Is!”
First is the worst, second is the best, third is the Margaret Thatcher who rejects Paul McCartney’s treasure chest. Not what you recall reading in history books? That’s on purpose. In three acts, playwrights David Koenigsberg, Zack Walsh and collaborator Aria Velz, in that order, challenge the meaning of “art” by taking turns depicting the Iron Lady in a skewed take on her life.
The group’s Thatcher has done it all. She spent a childhood in the mines, fought crime alongside Sherlock Holmes as an adult and suffered from an addiction to horse tranquilizers in her old age. She’s also credited with uniting The Beatles, only to later turn down a lovelorn McCartney’s marriage proposal out of a more pressing duty to her nation. It’s as if Koenigsberg and Walsh took the “Forrest Gump” script, doused it in Earl Grey and filtered it through a British flag (not unlike the one draped on Thatcher’s chair throughout the play).
“I’m Margaret Thatcher, I Is!” is an absurdly American look at the historical figure, with pronounced accents and too many “Blimey!” and “God save the queen!” exclamations scattered throughout. The production falls apart when it acknowledges what is unfolding before the audience. Black cloaks, heavy stage makeup and statements such as, “We will not be bound by facts, or the truth, or gravity” open and close the play, smothering the buoyancy of the trio’s trippy performances.
If you don’t manage to escape after the first 15 minutes — the floor of the Atlas Performing Arts Center’s Lab II was declared to be lava, so good luck — you might end up enjoying the madness, provided you neglect your brains as the playwrights do the truth. This account of Thatcher’s life is better left unanalyzed, instead allowed to disappear into the haze of “foggy London town.”
60 minutes. July 16, 18 and 21 at Atlas Performing Arts Center Lab II, 1333 H St. NE.
“Clara Bow: Becoming ‘It'”
Scandal. Menace. Silver-screen glamor. Flapper dresses. The biographical play “Clara Bow: Becoming It” is not short on piquant ingredients. Unfortunately, in its zeal for tracing the full career of Bow, the silent movie star who was the original “It Girl,” the play jumps around in time so much that continuous drama falls by the wayside. As a result, this LiveArtDC production—written by Alia Faith Williams and devised by cast and crew—is more informative than it is absorbing.
You can’t fault the impulse to shed renewed light on Bow, who exuded energy, confidence and of-the-moment magnetism in 1920s movies like “Wings” and “It.” (The latter title referred, more or less, to sex appeal, hence “It Girl.”) Offscreen, Bow generated gossip and headlines with a lifestyle (gambling, men) perceived as shocking.
In director Heather Whitpan’s production, Rebecca Ellis is an appealingly vibrant but vulnerable Bow, and Nick DePinto ably channels various characters, including an initially skeptical, ultimately wowed staffer at the “fame and fortune” contest that gave a teenage Bow her big break. The stages of this contest frame the play, allowing the cheerful Cinderella story of Bow’s early life to loom larger than some later, sadder episodes (her difficulty acclimatizing to the talkie era, her last years as a recluse, etc.).
The contest narrative aside, the scenes often have a cursory, underdeveloped, under-connected quality. On the acting front, adequate role-juggling performances come from, among others, Maggie Robertson (whose roles include a former employee who faced Bow in a sensational lawsuit), Seth Alcorn (film executive B.P. Schulberg) and Charlene V. Smith (Bow’s mentally ill mother).
Both script and production include gestures towards atmosphere, with montage-style scenes featuring newsboys, occasional retro diction (“Gee, thanks, Pops”), and the aforementioned flapper dresses. (Lorraine Imwold designed the costumes, set and props. The cast also includes Brett Steven Abelman, Andrew Quilpa and Nora Spillane.) The snippets of projected 1920s movies are helpful in evoking Bow’s too-little-remembered mystique.
90 minutes. July 11, 14, 18 and 22 at the Trinidad Theatre, Logan Fringe Arts Space, 1358 Florida Ave. NE.
IF YOU GO: Fringe tickets $17, plus one-time purchase of a $7 Fringe button. Available online at www.capitalfringe.org, 866-811-4111 and at Fringe venues.