The 13th-annual Capital Fringe Festival is adding more performances each day, with the weekend set to hit full stride as acts take stages mainly in the Southwest D.C. neighborhood around Arena Stage. Early entries this week strike refined poses while establishing the farthest boundaries of this multivenue three-week festival.
Savannah Stephens checks into a Shakespearean fantasy at one of several churches hosting performances near Arena; Cassandra Miller reports on a new work from Nu Sass Productions at downtown D.C.’s Caos on F; and Nelson Pressley looks at the latest escapade from Happenstance Theater at Arena.
The Tragical Comical Fool’s Game
Purgatory, for many, is waiting in an airport bar.
That’s where Susannah Morgan Eig’s “The Tragical Comical Fool’s Game (or Nun of your Business)” places its characters, all of whom must wrestle with their choices. “Fools” is a test of your Shakespearean knowledge as much as a play about free will and reality. The show is pretty good, with more references to the Bard’s work than you might be able to handle without some Googling and phoning a friend. (Damn you, “Merchant of Venice” — I should have read you in high school!)
Bella, based on Isabella from “Measure for Measure,” finds herself waiting for a plane to Illyria, a nod to “Twelfth Night,” unable to work a computer and constantly bombarded by other Shakespearean characters giving her advice. Her predicament is choosing the church or her love, but a shrew, a gay pirate and a witty adulteress all have opinions about what she should do. Figuring out what corners of Shakespeare’s world they come from is half the fun, but viewers are also heavily aided by labels quite literally placed on them.
Those other lost souls are a highlight. Rob Leinheiser (Tony, from “Merchant’s” Antonio) and Madeline Smith (Em, from “Othello’s” Emilia) both have energetic turns trying to sway the emotionally fraught Bella. Both are more interesting to watch than Rosanna Thornwood’s Bella until Thornwood is finally able to deliver her own much-needed soliloquy.
Chloe Mikala, in the late blooming part of Katie, is arresting with well-placed side eye and a presence that pays good homage to her “Taming of the Shrew” character. She and Edward Loboda (the Duke, the Fool and moonlighting as Puck for good measure) have the best rapport with meta moments where they offer commentary on what’s unfolding. Loboda, reprising the role he helped create, is a treat and a trickster and gives an impressive performance.
“Fool’s” isn’t a foolish bet for Fringe, especially if you want to visit a slice of purgatory in the bare-bones recreational room of a neighborhood Methodist church.
60 minutes. Through July 26 at Christ United Methodist Church, 900 Fourth St. SW.
50 Ways to Date Your Aubri
If your life were a play, you would be the lead. If you’re a theater person, the play of your life has potential to be particularly dramatic, especially if it focuses on your love life. This is the case for Nu Sass Productions’ “50 Ways to Date Your Aubrey,” a polished autobiographical play starring Nu Sass co-founder Aubri O’Connor at Caos on F, a second-floor gallery space in downtown D.C.
“50 Ways” inventively frames the Fringe-familiar one-woman-show format as a sort of Greek tragicomedy. The set includes marble columns, and taking on the roles of O’Connor’s conscience and former boyfriends is a small Greek chorus of those involved with the show — including playwright Danny Rovin, stage manager Charles Lasky and audience member Moriah (no last name onstage or in the program). They voice her insecurities about her past relationships, as well as acting them out with her. O’Connor delivers her story in a high-energy Shakespearean manner, which suits the classical format but is a little much for the intimate gallery space.
Playful and powerful, O’Connor — with a half-shaved head of purple, fuchsia and blue hair — is like a modern-day Puck and Titania in this midsummer’s night dream of her relationships. The show is presented as a tech rehearsal for an eventual one-woman show about O’Connor, but in actuality it’s all in her head — very meta. The format is refreshing and creative, even though the love stories are mostly dramatic only for O’Connor and company, including Rovin, whose affection for his friend is palpable onstage and in the script.
65 minutes. Through July 29 at Caos on F, 923 F St. NW.
Happenstance Theater was birthed at the 2006 Fringe Festival, and its rarefied act is polished to an aristocratic shine in “Barococo.” The devised piece features six performers as the European Baroque-Rococo upper crust — the idle rich whiling away the hours with flirting, fencing, cards and come-what-may. Little do they know.
That’s a dark message for Happenstance, an ensemble that often floats like a butterfly but rarely stings like a bee. The troupe’s discipline is firmly on display; no gesture is half-baked as the characters mince across the Kogod Cradle at Arena Stage (the show is part of the Fringe Curated series, with all five selections presented in the Cradle). There’s more movement than talking, though there is a wonderful game of charades that inspires riotous wrong answers. You’ll need to consult the program to appreciate such puffed-up character names as Leslie Pamplemousse de Citron-Presse and Olympia Stroganovskaya.
There are shadows of “Waiting for Godot,” albeit at the other end of the social scale, as the sextet sighs between finding diverting things to do. “I’m going to take a walk,” one of bunch announces, because a body’s got to do something. Ennui as a subject, though, can indeed generate ennui.
It’s a performance of fits and starts, but the hour-long show eventually clicks to a crisp point, and the craftsmanship is always admirable from this band of mimes, musicians and movement specialists. Karen Hansen provides accompaniment on multiple instruments, as usual, with harpsichord setting a fragile moneyed tone. The ensemble of Sabrina Mandell, Mark Jaster, Gwen Grastorf, Sarah Olmsted Thomas and Alex Vernon — all clad in the privileged set’s wigs and sumptuously layered costumes — interact with mannered bows and simpering grins. The detail is so exacting that when they pantomime a meal you can practically see the juices, and an extended comic squabble at the table is entirely worth the price of admission. As portraits of wastefulness go, this one has an exquisite leer.
60 minutes. Through July 22 at Arena Stage’s Kogod Cradle.
All tickets $17, plus a one-time $7 purchase of a Fringe Festival button. 866-811-4111 or capitalfringe.org