For sure, art comes in all guises. And it’s not necessary to choose one experience over another. Anything can work, given enough talent, training and dedication.
Two of my favorite shows in the current San Diego International Fringe Festival come from the far ends of some improbable spectrum but I love them both so much that I’d go see them again right this minute, even though it means trekking through the barren construction zone that surrounds the downtown Lyceum Theatre presently. And that’s saying a lot for a creaky old fat man.
Bella Culpa features Amica Hunter and David Cantor, who make up the acrobat/clown troupe A Little Bit Off.
The Phantom of the Empire is a shambling mash-up of Star Wars and Phantom of the Opera created and performed by 18 pals not long done with their school plays.
For different reasons and by different criteria, each rings my bell. And I knew this coming in, since I loved last season’s mixture of The Lord of the Rings and Les Miserables and recall with yearning fondness Hunter and Cantor in Beau and Aero during the 2014 Fringe.
Before going any further, I need to register a potential conflict of interest. For the third year in a row, my wife and I have volunteered to house artists during the Fringe Festival. So, since Hunter and Cantor presently are using our guest room (and space in the refrigerator), it wouldn’t really be proper for me to say much about their work.
But, come on. Just take a look. Watch the feet, the eyes, the fingers. Ponder the exquisite mime and the physicality on demand. Note the calm in the core of the comedy, the discipline that braces the goofy fun, the freshness and urgency in routines repeated endlessly. If only the whole world could be run with such polished dignity and mindless joy.
The distillers who combined hobbits and French revolutionaries last year have moved on but the gap has been filled admirably for the new show by Summer Blinco, Shane Ruddick Allen and Jordan Hall Campbell, who share authorship and play, respectively, Luke Skywalker, Princess Lia and C3PO.
The script is more or less all the Star Wars story so far, with an emphasis on the best parts. (The Emperor Palpatine dismisses an entire early film by bragging, “I once took out a whole Jedi daycare center.”) Ms. Blinco’s grafted-on lyrics work pretty well and her script has some jewels. (“How did you do that, Obi Wan Kenobi?” “The Force? Duh!”)
(If you can’t be bothered to keep up here, you probably won’t enjoy the thing anyway.)
Ms. Campbell also directed and did the sound. There’s considerable similar doubling up of duties and nobody dodges performing. What is not listed in the program is a musical director, which is surprising in that the singing rarely stops.
Ms. Campbell and Ms. Blinco both are fine, strapping Valkyries with lush lyric soprano voices, so how they match up the roles of Luke and Lia to the vocal assignments of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s operatic fantasy provides constant fascination. But really, there are all sorts of musical demands that these kids don’t seem to realize are pretty advanced. They just plow on through, whamming the ensembles as if they were the school fight song.
That’s a potential motto for this outfit, called Turning Tydes Theatre Company: “Impossible? What is this ‘impossible’ of which you speak?”
For Les Midge last year, everybody brought their own costume and the mix was…eclectic. This year, flushed with success, the company has turned for costumes to the sweat shops of China, with help from eBay, and the improvement is considerable, almost nudging the show up a notch to where cute isn’t enough.
And, amazingly, some of it is already there. Well, using a small girl on a scooter as R2D2 is going to stay cute. But Jacob Hatch as Darth Vader (singing the Phantom music) and Andrew Paiva as Han Solo have some of the same mythical presence that clings to the originals.
There’s a suggestion that both this show and Les Midge may turn up this year at Comic-Con. We’ll see. There might have to be some… negotiations.
But meanwhile, what we have here is an ideal Fringe show for the far other end of the spectrum from A Little Bit Off. All they really share is talent and the ability to make me laugh out loud. A lot.
Performance details about the 2016 San Diego International Fringe Festival and the 90 shows at 10 locations through July 3 are available at SDFRINGE.ORG or at the festival headquarters in the Spreckels Building downtown, 923 First Ave.