The Brookland performance space underwent a major renovation during the 2013-2014 season and is now a Capital Fringe Festival venue for the first time. As a result, more local dance companies than usual are on the docket. Leading off the second weekend’s performances Thursday was S.J. Ewing & Dancers with a modern dance fantasia on “The Bachelorette.”
Alternatively called “The Princess and the Pea” and “The Mating Game” (at least from the stage), the show awkwardly switches between a narrative game-show skit, jaunty social dancing and more serious moments set to avant-garde string quartets. (Once scripts are introduced to a dance performance, the audience has a right to expect better transitions than they get.) Most of the spoken word is in the early going, including S.J. Ewing’s humorous interviews with her two suitors. (Pizza on a first date? No thanks, Bachelor No. 1.) The talking decreases as the eight-movement performance progresses, creating a sense that the work is unfinished, but there are far worse sins than presenting a workshop-y looking piece at Fringe.
Two traits are especially promising about Ewing’s choreography. First, her smart takes on pop hits, such as Meghan Trainor’s “Dear Future Husband,” which integrates some 1960s social dance moves, suggest she’d have some success in musical theater. Second, she pays careful attention to gesture. During more uptempo numbers, the four dancers' feet often step in unison, while their individual arm movements are more characterized. In the final pas de deux -- before which Bachelor No. 2 is asked how he’d know if he'd fallen in love — Ewing and her partner Thomas Moore let their fingers hover over each others’ forearms long before they ever touch. When they do, it's after reaching their hands skyward, then intertwining digits, ending the piece with four hands clasped over her heart.
-- Rebecca Ritzel
"The Princess & the Pea (or) A Millennial's Guide to Dating," July 18, 19, 25 and 26 at the Cafritz Foundation Theater, Dance Place, 3225 Eighth St. NE.
"The Bloody Banquet"
For nearly four centuries, the theater world has been overlooking a crowd-pleaser, to judge by Brave Spirits Theatre’s diverting take on the revenge tragedy “The Bloody Banquet.” Billed in a press release as the first professional performance of this Thomas Middleton-Thomas Dekker collaboration since the 1600s, the production treats its script in admirably straight-faced fashion. At the same time, a breezy vibe gives the audience permission to giggle at the plot’s over-the-top sensationalism: Poisoning. Attempted poisoning. The usurping of a throne. Adultery. Treachery. Improbable reconciliations. Wolf-trap pits. Cannibalism.
Co-directors Casey Kaleba (a veteran fight director) and Charlene V. Smith keep the mayhem moving at a brisk pace in the Anacostia Arts Center’s black-box venue. The audience sits on either side of a rectangular stage area, which depicts the story’s two principal settings: the court of the Kingdom of Lydia and a forest temporarily inhabited by the exiled King of Lydia (Darius McCall) and his nephew Lapyrus (James T. Majewski). Lapyrus has helped deliver Lydia into the hands of the tyrant Armatrites (Matthew Edwards), whose hot wife, the Young Queen (Jill Tighe), lusts after the true heir to Lydia, Tymethes (Gray West). Meanwhile, Tymethes and the scheming courtier Mazeres (Ryan Dalusung) are both in love with . . .
Oh, never mind: The plot comes across as impossibly confusing when summarized. But it’s reasonably clear in performance, thanks in part to a shrewd costuming scheme that has Armatrites’s family and followers principally wearing red.
In the red camp, Hannah Sweet aces the role of the queen’s capable mercenary servant Roxana. Other notable performances include Majewski’s woebegone Lapyrus and Dalusung’s dapper, swaggeringly villainous Mazeres. The excellent Tighe renders the Young Queen as an icy, arrogant jezebel whose buried vulnerability lends a jot of pathos to the tale’s stomach-turning ending. You want justice served? You got it! Pass the salt.
-- Celia Wren
“The Bloody Banquet,” July 17 and 18 at the Anacostia Arts Center, 1231 Good Hope Rd. SE
"ROGER (Not His Real Name)"
Up in the second floor of the Tree House Lounge near Gallaudet University, as the audience enters, a man grimaces and sticks his tongue out as he sits among the curbside trash. Then “ROGER (Not His Real Name)” shares with the crowd that has gathered in his alley the myriad conspiracy theories that have been bedeviling him so long and have likely caused his homelessness.
Matthew Vaky wrote and stars in the one-man one-act that interacts with the audience such that he pokes one woman to see whether the audience is indeed real, asks questions expecting answers and literally passes out paper and pen so people can take careful notes on what he shares. “Crazy” is the clean part of what one guy wrote.
But there are some funny things in the conspiracies that spread from Lincoln’s assassination and Washington’s supposed betrayals right up to JFK, Marilyn Monroe, AIDS, 9/11 and President Obama’s supposed plans for a takeover of Texas. As in most fanatical conspiracies, the pieces all fall together, but not everything. “What does Sirhan Sirhan have to do with Duran Duran?” he asks at one point.
With his black curly mop and wide-eyed outrage, Vaky is a bit like a latter-day version of topical comic Mort Sahl with a bottle of MD 20/20 instead of a newspaper in his hand. But as amusing as it often is, you begin to wonder where it will all end up (this is typically the part in real life where your instinct is to back away from the wild-eyed man). And while the literal diagrams he passes out circle back to the Hubble telescope (which has been spying on all of us all along), there’s no such sense of completion in the narrative.
We’re led to believe that Roger’s life began to unravel when a girlfriend died in the second grade, but Vaky misses the opportunity to tie in real issues of mental health and homelessness that might have given what is otherwise an entertainingly paranoid rant a little more weight.
-- Roger Catlin
“ROGER (Not His Real Name)” July 18, 19, 25 and 26 at the Tree House Lounge, 1006 Florida Ave. NE
IF YOU GO:
Fringe tickets $17, plus one-time purchase of $7 Fringe button. Available online at www.capitalfringe.org, by phone at 866-811-4111, and at the Fringe Festival box office, 1300 H St. NE (Tuesdays-Fridays 5 pm. to 10 p.m., Saturdays-Sundays 11 a.m. to 10:30 p.m.)