Puppets, Homemade Instruments and Self-Amputation: Just Another Weekend at Fringe Festival

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Courtesy of Houston Fringe Festival
Houston Fringe Festival Wrap-Up -- Weekend One
This past weekend was the kickoff to the Houston Fringe Festival. Art Attack wanted to cover as much of the weekend's events as we could, so I took on the personal challenge of doing my own Fringe Crawl. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to see it all (hey science, figure out that whole clone thing already, will ya), but I was able to soak up quite a few of the performances.

The Fringe Festival is taking place at two venues, the Frenetic Theater and Super Happy Fun Land. I wasn't familiar with any of the performers this weekend, but happy to see some new works and get my cultcha' on. Here is my weekend one wrap-up.

Thursday:
Most Extreme Ocean Adventure
In this one-man show, playwright Ryan Cockerham takes pop culture's obsession with reality programming and turns it on its historical head. Imagine, if you will, a Bravo-type television show that followed Christopher Columbus on his ocean voyage to the New World. The possibilities for symbolism and the commentary on heroism and bravery are limitless. But, like Columbus's famous voyage, this show didn't go as planned. As Cockerham introduced other "heroes/cameos" into the mix, his direction, while apparent, felt misguided. In the end (SPOILER ALERT), Columbus (and no one else, for that matter) doesn't make it (?). If Cockerham was trying to make a statement about fallen idols, things might have made a little more sense, but introducing such heroic characters as Helen Keller and Alexander the Great doesn't remind people of failure; it reminds them of success.

The "reality show" portions were broken up by brief interstitials, i.e., random "slice of life" monologues. The segments were poetic and wordy, and it was a challenge to follow the verboseness of it all. And their relation to the Most Extreme Adventure portion of the show was perplexing.

Cockerham is certainly a charming performer and to his credit, he nailed the snarky reality show host to a tee. The deep allegorist he was potentially going for, not as much.

Friday:

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Courtesy of Houston Fringe Festival
The Tempest and the Teacup: In Defense of Greg Mortenson
The Tempest and the Teacup was not so much a "play" or "monologue" about the media storm surrounding Greg Mortenson, celebrated author of Three Cups of Tea, as it was a PowerPoint presentation. I'll agree that 60 Minutes probably has/had much more newsworthy topics to cover than fact-checking a guy who, indisputably, started up multiple schools for girls in the Middle East, but given the theatrical nature of the weekend, I was looking for a more dramatic and engaging take on the controversy.

Drift: with Trio
Choreographer and dancer Sarah Gamblin presented a sharp and cutting solo dance performance set against a live musical accompaniment. The music was an amalgamation of strings and keys, with one of the instruments being a homemade electronic Bengali Ektara made from a Folgers coffee container. It was really cool to watch.

The "trio" didn't steal anything from Gamblin's dancing; the spotlight was all hers. Her movements ranged from vulnerable to strong and back again. She exuded a confidence that was beautifully juxtaposed against the music's erratic sensibility. Her 15-minute piece didn't feel long enough; it left you wanting more.

Intermission:

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If I learned nothing else this weekend, this is for certain: Nerds (the candy) are not as good as you remember them to be. I got incredibly excited that they were selling them at the Frenetic Theater concession stand and bought a box. I hadn't had Nerds since Halloween of 1992. They were sadly disappointing. Lesson learned: In the event you run into a box of Mike and Ike soon, save your pennies for more wine.

Saturday:
Chop

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Courtesy of Houston Fringe Festival
Chop, another one-man show, written and performed by Dallas-based artist Brad McEntire, tells the story of a man forced to grow up in isolation when his parents run away to join the circus. McEntire recalls the tale of the Minotaur, the half-man, half-bull that was also forced into solitude to be taunted, mocked and perpetually on guard against unknown predators. McEntire certainly knows his bull alliterations, as they smartly popped into his stories seamlessly. As his character, McEntire describes a lonely existence as an office temp, friendless and unloved. One day he meets an exotic European beauty and finds himself in a relationship.

So, we've all been with people who were into odd "stuff," but when McEntire finds out his love is into self-amputation, things get a bit weird.

McEntire has an enjoyable, self-deprecating manner. You feel bad for him, but at the same time wish he would grow a pair, and he seems to feel the same way. It's an excellent internal conflict, which he plays very well. The story holds you the entire way, not to say there aren't a few odd turns, somewhat off topic. There is a place at the end where his clever bull imagery could have made a nice comeback, but you get the idea and very much enjoy getting there.

Sunday
Bedtime Stories

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Courtesy of Houston Fringe Festival
What happens when your dad likes to tell you disturbing bedtime stories about CIA operatives, conspiracy theories and cocaine scandals? You are a puppet and a part of Houston's Ornery Theatre. Bedtime Stories is a playful, grown-up puppet show consisting of a father spinning tales to his unsuspecting son, definitely not meant for before bedtime. The 30-minute program has laugh-out-loud moments from the puppets, with clever "Ken Burns Effect" illustrations projected alongside to help you follow the bizarre stories as they unfold.

Secret Success Secrets they Don't Want You to Know!
One part Anthony Robbins, one part homeless drug addict on the street, Secret Success Secrets is a comedic look at the dark art of motivational speaking. The twist here is that this motivational speaker is telling the truth. Paul Locklear dispels myths such as "Do What You Love and the Money Will Come," which he knows not to be true ever since he spent an amazing week smoking pot with a hooker and explains that the best way to be debt free is to stop paying your bills (I've totally thought that!). Secret Success Secrets is an entertaining look at society and the perpetual lies we tell ourselves to feel better about life.

I certainly left out a few shows, like Just a Tease by Houston Burlesque, that I'm very sorry to have missed. Week two of the festival starts this Thursday with a whole batch of new shows, and I hope to catch even more.

Thursday through Sunday, various times and venues. For information, visit www.houstonfringefestival.com or call 832-426-4624. $10 per show, packages available.


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Freneticore Theater

5102 Navigation, Houston, TX

Category: General

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4 comments
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Sgamblin
Sgamblin

On Friday night the fabulous gentlemen that accompanied me in in Drift: with Trio were the Hentai Improvising Orchestra of Fort Worth: Matt Hickey, Terry Horn and Ken Shimamoto. They are fabulous and amazing and need to be credited!

abby
abby

I didn't know their names, so thank you for posting about them. Agreed, they were totally awesome!

Luther Poach
Luther Poach

Nice review. I look forward to checking out as much of the festival as I can.

Rebecca French
Rebecca French

Thanks so much Abby Koenig and Art Attack for reviewing weekend one of the 2011 Houston Fringe!  I think we'll invest in some Pop Rocks for your next intermission treat.

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