Theatre can be used as an escape from everyday life. However, many shows at the 2016 San Diego International Fringe Festival comment on issues from the 21st century and past historical events.
Take for instance dot.comedy’s staging of Secret Life of the American Candidate, which is playing at The Geoffrey Off Broadway. The plot involves high schoolers running for class president. They just so happen to be Hillary Clinton (Danielle Edmonds), Donald Trump (Troy Cavalieri), Bernie Sanders (Ethan Haas) and Ted Cruz (Angelo Devlin).
Secret Life of the American Candidate features several people involved with the 2015 Fringe Festival comedy, My Big Fat Gay Wedding, including actors/writers Haas and Tim Baran.
Haas, Baran and Cavalieri’s plot pokes fun at the presidential candidates with jokes referencing Trump’s proposed border wall, Clinton’s email controversy and Cruz’s conservatism.
There is something about Baran’s direction that keeps the tale from ever becoming mean-spirited. Mainly, it is because the humor does not have a smug or dour impact.
Regardless of personal beliefs, audiences do not have to feel guilty laughing at the increasingly ludicrous conflicts between the contenders.
When it comes to gripes, the only one is that scene transitions have a few too many reprises of American songs. As great as Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the U.S.A” is, hearing the first verse three different times can be a little monotonous. However, that does not get in the way of the topical and well-timed quips during the 60 minute one-act.
Way more cynical is Sanctuary Stage’s Commedia dell’arte, I Got Guns. Playwright/director, Dan Stone, includes some of the character tropes of the specific form of theatre including a comic servant, Arlecchino (Bryan Smith). Also featured is a greedy merchant, Pantalone (Tinamarie Ivey), who causes trouble for his overly dramatic daughter, Isabella (Alycia Olivar) and her liberal husband, Flavio (Joseph Workman).
Given the recent tragic events in Orlando, a lot of people might not be in the mood to see a comedy making fun of U.S. gun policies at the Lyceum Theatre. While it does take a few minutes for the tale to completely click, due to some gratuitously crude moments, sensitive viewers should still give the satire a chance.
Although the focus is on guns, Stone references everything from excessive social media use to the crack epidemic.
Alyson Stewart’s music is shamelessly catchy in a good way. Stewart and Stone end the adventure with a big finale that is as hilarious as it is shocking.
Like Secret Life of the American Candidate, Stone does not throw in unnecessarily self-serious moments. He is able to tell a funny tale that happens to focus on a touchy subject.
One of the heavier offerings is from the New Zealand dance company, La Moana, . The physical theatre piece at The Reader’s Spreckels Theatre is an artistic depiction of how the country was touched by the Spanish Influenza Pandemic of 1918.
Not everything is spoon-fed to viewers. Extended monologues, mostly in the Maori language, are given and only a small amount of English audio excerpts explain the historical context onstage. It’s a risk that pays off because of the deeply expressive dancing from the Polynesian artists.
They move to a variety of emotive sequences ranging from immensely happy to disturbingly sad. La Moana ensemble and crew members masterfully handles the different changes in tone.
Many are going to leave 1918 feeling invigorated from experiencing numerous stirrings while watching the dancers onstage.
All three productions comment on reality in freshly artistic and original ways. In a world where the majority of people appear to ignore serious issues, sometimes it’s best to confront them through entertainment.