The San Diego International Fringe Festival, which took the city by storm a year ago, is back. If the four shows I saw on opening day yesterday are any indication, this year is as good as or better than last.
Two productions were at the Lyceum Theatre, and two were at the 10th Avenue Theatre. The latter venue also serves as festival headquarters, and a trek up to the fourth floor rooftop yields the pleasure of being able to relax and have light food and drink between performances, listen to artist interviews, or get to know other Fringe-goers.
On display is a spirit of adventure. The Fringe provides an opportunity for audiences to see a good many shows cheaply (top price is $10 per show) over the ten-day run of the festival. Artists can produce their work inexpensively, and if it proves to be popular there is the prospect of not only covering expenses but making a little money.
The festival is organized into 90-minute blocks with shows running about an hour each. I started at 5pm yesterday, and the last of the four performances was out at about 10:30 (blocks start earlier and run later as the festival progresses).
The 5pm Lyceum show was titled, Riddle, Ronstadt & Robyn. Starring LA-based cabaret artist Robyn Spangler, the performance featured an hour of music made famous by Linda Ronstadt’s three-album collaboration with Nelson Riddle on titles from the Great American Songbook. Accompanied by The California Ballet Orchestra (with sax, trombone, and trumpet sections that looked as though they might have been drawn from the San Diego School of Creative & Performing Arts), Ms. Spangler’s performance proved to be a delightful way to begin the festival.
I particularly enjoyed her ability to sing in a style where each note has to be hit in the center and articulated clearly. Ms. Spangler made songs such as “What’s New,” and “Someone to Watch over Me,” not only a fitting tribute to Ms. Ronstadt’s talent but to her own as well. She’s only here this weekend (Friday at 6:30, Saturday at 8, Sunday at 2, and Tuesday at 8), so if you love standards or even if you might be convinced, get yourself to the Lyceum for one of those performances.
Following Ms. Spangler into the Lyceum was Bodhi Tree Productions’ performance of Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht’s 7 Deadly Sins. Written in 1933 as a ballet chanté, or sung ballet, it was originally choreographed by George Balanchine. It was also Brecht and Weill’s last collaboration. The impending rise of Nazi power would send each man on a separate way.
The central character is Anna, who is played by both a singer (Laura Bueno) and a dancer (Kylie Young). In addition, a quartet of male singers plays Anna’s family. The baritone (Phillip Daniels) plays her father, the two tenors (Sean McCormac and Craig Johnson) play her brothers, and the bass (Walter DuMelle) plays her mother. Mark Danisovszky performed on the piano, and Shirley Johnston directed and choreographed.
The piece sets up the situation and then takes each of the sins in turn: sloth, pride, wrath, gluttony, lust, greed, and envy. The music features echoes of Brecht and Weill’s 1927 theatre piece, Mahagonny. Each scene is both sung and danced, and there are a number of digs at bourgeois life, courtesy Mr. Brecht. The family seems intended both to comment individually or as an operatic quartet on Anna’s “descent” into sinful behavior, but at some points, it also functions as a barbershop quartet.
The cast is young, and the piece is clearly challenging for them. The barbershop bits, for example, were difficult to discern, and the minimal production probably detracted more than it added to what might have been a more interesting concert version of the piece featuring a solo dancer. But, this performance represents that San Diego premiere of a work that is clearly worth hearing. Remaining Lyceum performances are July 5 at 2pm, July 9 at 8pm, July 10 at 6:30pm, and July 13 at 12:30pm.
Shifting to the 10th Avenue Theatre, David Bottomley’s play, The Peacock and the Nightingale, made its world premiere performance at the 8pm slot. The script takes notes from a Hollywood meeting between the poet Edith Sitwell (Loie Gail) and the actress Marilyn Monroe (Rhianna Basore) and attempts to flesh them out by adding director George Cukor (Randy Coull), who worked with both women, to the mix.
The women, who by all lights couldn’t be more different, bond, eventually. Cukor, who is apparently filming the meeting for publicity purposes, attempts to play the director and in the process mostly gets in the way. Bryant Hernandez directs the local cast, which didn’t seem to be quite ready on opening night. The play is interesting, though, and I suspect that the conversation will become less confusing (and, less haltingly-paced) as the run proceeds. Additional performances are Sunday at 9:30pm, Monday at 6:30pm, Thursday at 5pm, and Saturday the 12th at 11am.
The 9:30 slot was the property of performance artist Jon Bennett. A veteran of a number of fringe festivals (including Edinburgh), Mr. Bennett’s show is based on his book of photos, “Pretending Things are a C*ck.” He has traveled the world taking pictures of himself posing with a variety of objects (for samples, see the book’s Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/pretendingthingsareacock). In the performance piece, Mr. Bennett shows a number of the pictures, describes how they were made, and along the way tells you something about his family, his upbringing, and some of the people he’s met.
Mr. Bennett’s style is stand-up comedy more than storytelling, and he’s pretty manic at times. But, at the end of the fourth show of the day, it felt good to be laughing – a lot. The only remaining performance is Monday at 3:30pm, so you’ll need to look to it if you want to catch this one.
There’s lots more of the Fringe running through July 13. Keep checking SanDiegoStory.com for latest reviews from our staff.