The latest from the ongoing Capital Fringe Festival includes a monologue illustrated with live painting in the topical “Aphrodite’s Refugees,” but it’s one of three swings and misses from this past weekend. Celia Wren, Savannah Stephens and Kristina Orrego report.
In soft watercolor tones, a Mediterranean coastline materializes, element by element: sea, rolling terrain, sky. A road squiggles into view between two hills. A flock of military parachutes floats toward the ground.
The shifting, burgeoning images, on a white screen, add verve to “Aphrodite’s Refugees,” an otherwise homemade-style storytelling session that aims to add personalizing voices to our understanding of the worldwide refugee crisis. Throughout the production, mounted by Colorado’s MonTra Performance, the pictures wash over what looks like stretched fabric: We might be standing in a camp for displaced persons, watching a resident decorates a tent from the inside. (The visual artist is Aaron Young.)
Meanwhile, in a less polished narrative component, creator/performer Monica Dionysiou stands to one side of the Westminster Church basement space, channeling family members who recall Turkey’s 1974 invasion of Cyprus. During and after the crisis, Dionysiou’s Greek Cypriot family experiences fear, hardship and occasional cheer. They watch a village burn; wait for death as enemies approach; find distraction at a horse race. Certain details are vivid: One refugee recalls the smell of the tomato-chickpea dish that was cooking just before a desperate escape.
In a mythological counterpoint to the main narrative, we hear about the gods Ares and Aphrodite, whose card games may affect events in Cyprus (according to legend, Aphrodite’s birthplace). For these Mount Olympus scenes, Dionysiou switches on a mic that makes her sound like a dinner speaker in a banquet hall.
Such clunky sound effects contribute to the show’s prevailing DIY vibe. Dionysiou’s performance — including what are essentially impressions of, rather than meldings with, the characters — also feels rough-hewed. Would that the talk rivaled the art.
60 minutes. Through July 29 at Westminster Church, 400 I Street SW.
Going into “Deadlie Affairs: Arden of Faversham” you get the sense that you know what’s coming. In the intimate educational center of Arena Stage (essentially a small empty room), songs about spurned lovers and revenge can be heard, most recognizably the Dixie Chicks hit “Goodbye, Earl.” However, like the true-crime shows Guillotine Theatre’s company-devised “Deadlie Affairs” tries to spoof, motives can get murky pretty fast.
“Deadlie Affairs” begins on a solid premise: two classically trained actresses can’t find good work in DC (only bit parts on true crime TV shows), so they turn to potentially mounting a Fringe production (ironically of the first known true-crime play, “Arden of Faversham”) to drum up some good publicity. That idea fits in with the current zeitgeist, where pussy hats and political wunderkinds like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez dominate so many news cycles. But unfortunately for “Deadlie Affairs,” what promise they have of showing women taking their fate into their hands is brushed off at the expense of a joke that doesn’t land.
Spoiler: In the final moments, Cathy (Cate Brewer) gets an acting gig, leaving Tina (Catherine Aselford) and landlord Herb (Terrence Aselford) to potentially join forces to put on “Arden of Faversham” without her. Once Herb realizes spending time with Tina comes with strings attached, he decides to kill her.
That erases a lot of goodwill this 40-minute play had going for it. Are we supposed to laugh at this pain? If this is meant to be tongue in cheek, murder is everywhere! Tune in next time to “Forensic Files,” what have we learned? “Goodbye, Earl” this is not.
Terrence Aselford’s Herb was is the most fully developed character in the show, which was also disappointing. After all, highlighting a man’s performance in a show that is supposed to be about women feels wrong.
“This Historic Night”
“This Historic Night” by Jack Novak is separated into five unrelated, provocative mini-plays, each exploring scenarios where the characters face impending disaster or life-altering compromises. The largely comedic 75-minute show is staged simply in a small room at St. Augustine’s Episcopal Church.
In “Apoc-Eclipse,” the first act, four non-humans are waiting for a “Messenger” to deliver them after an apocalypse, should they be deemed pure enough. This is their 12th attempt at having the Messenger find them, but it’s unsuccessful — one has a history of repeatedly cheating on his girlfriend and another didn’t sell all his possessions because he still owns his house. The Messenger eventually arrives, disguised as a woman named Caroline. She breaks out in a song, but it’s never really made clear why.
The two strongest acts were “The Seed” and “Pep Talk.” In “The Seed,” a high-school couple who are expecting a baby openly discuss their fears about the surprise baby. Both people are shown as conflicted but well-intentioned, grappling with whether they’ll be decent parents and whether they even want the baby. In “Pep Talk,” a receptionist at a talent agency narrates a father’s stream of consciousness while he outwardly encourages his son before a singing audition, revealing that he doesn’t actually think his son is that talented.
The show’s greatest strength: its fearlessness in diving headfirst into taboo topics, expressed with abundant profanity and even a gasp-inducing racial slur, while getting a few laughs. Novak has written that he was inspired by the 2016 election coverage, which is depicted in the last playlet with newscasters sitting under a swinging pendulum that is moments away from slicing off their heads. Its downfall: Its absurdity, at times verging into confusion that makes certain playlets hard to follow.
All tickets $17, plus a one-time $7 purchase of a Fringe Festival button. 866-811-4111 or capitalfringe.org