History plays mixed roles in the electronic musical "Romanov" and the Spanish Civil War drama "Love in Ruins," and no role at all in the boing-boing dance musical "Juiced." Roger Catlin and Celia Wren report from the ongoing variety event that is the Capital Fringe Festival.
The raucous “Juiced” by the glam dance trio Tia Nina represents the best and worst aspects of Capital Fringe. It exuberantly personifies the insurrectionist, anything-goes attitude in the barrier-crashing fest. But it also seems at times as amateurish as amped-up kids jumping on the bed to their favorite tunes turned up to 10.
Leah Curran Moon, Ilana Silverstein and Lisi Stossel play the roles of Tia Nina members J Van Stone, Sammy Rain and Sticks, who’d be in a feminist punk band if they played any instruments at all. Instead, the two amps onstage are there only as stands for their water bottles.
They don’t even sing as much as they occasionally chant to electro rock along the lines of M.I.A. (from whom they borrow one whole song). Though Tia Nina is credited with one song, the tunes are otherwise written by guys: Michael Moon, Eric Shimelonis, Jerry Becker, Jeremy Durkin and John Lee, played from a half-dozen laptops at the back of the Gallaudet space.
Throughout the fast-moving performance, the trio cavorts, jumps and does a lot of moves right out of AcroYoga (which is a real thing) if not HeadBangerCise (which is not). It’s less dance than ritual movement.
That’s not to say it’s not fun. The songs have a certain drive and insistence, and it’s hard not to get caught up in its visceral power, though through their grins and snarls it’s not clear what they’re trying to communicate. They seem to like citrus. And there’s a performance piece about aging that ends up with the first of two sessions of squirting the audience -- really putting the gal in Gallagher. Pick your seat accordingly.
50 minutes. July 21 and 24, Gallaudet University Eastman Studio Theatre, 800 Florida Ave. NE.
The fabulous success of “Hamilton” opened doors for hip-hop history on every topic. So Baltimore’s Danny Baird, who created “Girl Versus Corinth” for last year’s Capital Fringe, is back with “Romanov,” which concentrates on the doomed Imperial family.
The Romanov children — four daughters and the hemophiliac son — sing and wisecrack about their grim fate in a kind of posthumous nightclub act.
Dressed in white, Baird and the cast — Allie O’Donnell, Alicia Osborn, Catherine Purcell and Meghan Stanton (who also co-wrote and directed) — sing of their land, their family and their execution in such original songs as “We Are Russia,” “Dynasty,” “Hemophilia” and the show’s title song.
Subtitled “an electronic musical,” it treads in the kind of dreamy urgency of the Lana Del Rey remixes that precede the curtain.
One won’t come away with a lot of insight into the complexities of early-20th-century Russian history, though, in part because a lot of the lyrics are obscured by either the high harmonies of the women or the poorly mixed amplification of Baird’s speedy raps.
There is almost as much content from the offhand wisecracks between songs, as when Anastasia cracks, “What does a grand duchess have to do get a solo around here?”
There are some strong voices in the cast, and some glamour. And although there isn’t much choreography for a pop group, there are occasional haunting projections behind them (by Kelly Colburn) of the original doomed family.
Having a number of shows share the same stage may have resulted in lighting limitations that kept one singer in the shadows.
“Romanov” seems like a good start toward a more fleshed-out production with more songs and better amplification. But it may want to hew closer to its historical roots. One Romanov says offhandedly they died “hundreds of years ago,” though the performance I saw came precisely on the 98th anniversary of their execution — a milestone for which someone might have found a rhyme.
60 minutes. July 22, 23 and 24, Mead Theatre Lab: Flashpoint, 916 G St. NW.
"Love in Ruins"
“Olé to the bull!” a young woman named Mayte shouts with a flourish of her scarlet fan during a bullfight in Valencia in the late 1930s.
The moment is perhaps the artistic high point of “Love in Ruins,” Paul Handy’s thin-textured play about loss and romance during the Spanish Civil War. Based on the true story of Handy’s in-laws, “Love in Ruins” tells a dramatic tale, chronicling the improbable relationship between two students who fall in love during the war despite different backgrounds, temperaments and politics.
Unfortunately, the dialogue in the play’s abrupt scenes often feels artificial or uninspired (“War is a terrible thing,” one character says at one point). And the Capital Fringe production directed by Clare Shaffer is so stiff that it’s hard to believe in the characters, factually based though they may be.
That’s why that “Olé” moment is so gratifying. The sequence is relatively relaxed and lively, and it points to an idiosyncratic feistiness in Mayte (Thais Menendez), who is championing the taurine side while other spectators at the bullfight are cheering on the matador. That feistiness has presumably helped earn Mayte the attentions of Guillermo (Calvin McCullough), her escort to the bullfight.
The two are a curious couple. She is an outgoing literature and art student who comes from a modest background and supports the Republican side in the war; he is an introverted medical student who was born into a wealthy family and favors Franco. But after Mayte’s fiance, Vicente (Daniel Santiago), enlists and is sent off to the front, Mayte finds welcome distraction with Guillermo, who lives in fear of his bullying, flan-cooking snob of a mother, Josefina (Sheila Blanc, wearing ropes of pearls).
The acting is of the earnest-and-strained variety. On a positive note, Menendez looks smashing in her character’s boldly colored or patterned dresses. (Joan Lawrence created the costumes.) And as the play lumbers along, it is some consolation to know that the story is based on true events: You feel that you are, at least on some level, witnessing history.
75 minutes. July 21 and 23. Logan Fringe Arts Space: Upstairs, 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.