The San Diego International Fringe Festival includes the word “International” for a good reason. Shows from Mexico, South Africa, Canada, New Zealand and Japan are all featured at the 2017 event.
Several shows that originated in Europe recently started brief runs over the weekend. What two of these plays have in common is that they star female playwrights, and have deceptively simple narratives that grow in complexity.
Staged courtesy of the Roma Fringe Festival and written, directed and performed by Italian artist, Giorgia Mazzucato, Lifegate chronicles separate people from childhood to adulthood. One is a young girl who develops a crush on a boy. She cares deeply for him after realizing he also has feelings for her.
In a seemingly unrelated story, an Italian-American child, Vito (named after Vito Corleone from “The Godfather”) develops a deep love for automobiles. His passion grows so much that he dreams of becoming a mechanic when he grows up. As the main characters get older, the fairly light stories take dark turns.
Mazzucato’s dialogue is difficult to describe in print and can only be appreciated live. Her sentences are often full of metaphorical and symbolic meaning, set to Roberto “Ominostanco” Vallicelli’s mesmerizing score.
Even at her most exaggerated, Mazzucato’s writing features emotional truth with universal themes. Her plot explores in depth the concept of coincidences that affect different lives. Comedy is used to get invested in the journeys that everyone goes on in Lifegate. She humorously convey their joyful enthusiasm in ways that make them likable.
When the script becomes more serious, Mazzucato quietly depicts how the central Italians are affected, in a sharp and effective contrast to the initially spirited portrayals.
Audiences in the mood for an unearthly experience at the Spreckels Theatre will be transfixed by Mazzucato’s imaginative monologues. Her play feels like a mixture of a dream and reality.
Equally powerful and extremely relevant to 2017 is Athena Theatre’s production of There’s No Place Like. Artistic Director of Alphea Lilac Yosiphon’s British drama discusses immigration, identity and, as the title suggests, home.
In a U.K. pub, an Israeli waitress, Hannah (Yosiphon) meets Jordan, a directionless and witty young man (Sam Elwin). They come from different backgrounds, but form a connection shortly after meeting. Revealing anything else major about the tale would ruin the surprises that Yosiphon has in store for theatregoers at the Bristol Hotel.
Using the hotel’s bar as a Fringe BYOV (Bring Your Own Venue), Marianne Mayer and Mike Cole’s direction doesn’t treat the setting as an easy gimmick. They use the area to create an intimate evening in Downtown San Diego.
Contributing to the mellow ambience are Elwin’s music and Patrick Kelly’s guitar playing. Relaxing melodies fit the calm atmosphere of There’s No Place Like.
Hannah and Jordan are an enjoyable couple to watch, both because of Yosiphon’s prose, and the natural acting from the leads. Their funny and revealing conversations turn them into a sympathetic pair.
Besides dealing with the growing relationship between the Londoners, Yosiphon’s contemporary romance shines a light on a topical issue. The approachable and sometimes exasperated Hannah struggles to find a perfect home, because of her immigrant status.
Hannah faces many struggles that immigrants with temporary visas go through in the 21st century. During personal discussions, the bar employee admits how difficult it is to keep her individuality.
Yosiphon balances social commentary with gentle comedic moments and moving exchanges. Everything adds up to an affecting night.
Lifegate and There’s No Place Like are just two examples of strong narratives by global writers at the Fringe. Performances continue until Sunday, so there is still time to buy tickets for the limited runs.