Thank you spectacular 2nd Annual San Diego International Fringe Festival 2014 for bringing 86 eccentric works to an 11-day festival. The dramas, plays, musicals, dance, comedy, and buskers have been fun and freaky, serious and silly. And all of them running an hour for ten bucks or free. The fest reaches its climax this weekend, so get off that sofa and go already. You’ll kick yourself if you don’t.
A few excellent shows are not running anymore, such as Tin Shed Theatre’s Dr. Frankenstein’s Travelling Freakshow, a brilliant combination of physical theater and madcap clowning that culminates with an unexpected and emotional punch. Those lucky enough to see the production are now in mourning, reflecting on its potent elements.
The unexpected is how the actors suck you into their twisted world, a demented dimension. They make you squeal with laughter and literally jump out of your seat, and then hit you with deep sadness and empathy. Four performers with a few boxes, bad wigs, and quick-twitch improvisational skills, capture the heart of Mary Shelley’s book in a hysterical yet simple way– that life is filled with cruelty and injustice, and everyone deserves love and a companion.
Freak Show is led by the arrogant Julius M. Barker, a sort of Snidely Whiplash played by Justin Edward Cliffe. He screams till he’s hoarse and beats his freaks with a bone-cracking cane. When the performance goes wrong, he apologizes and the beatings get worse. He even berates the audience with mocking humor. Bethilda The Bearded Lady, played by Georgina Ella Harris, has the most expressive eyes and blackened toothy grin. Her wolfy Pee-Wee Herman laugh is sinister and infectious. Sangieve, The Lobster Mind Reader (Antonio Alfonso Rimola) is clearly a trained dancer. He twirls and kicks with ease and also takes on the role of Victor Frankenstein.
Puppet scenes are genius. The actors don’t try to hide, in fact, their presence strengthens the illusion. Victor and the furry faced Bethilda, adorned with tiny professor hands, are hysterically funny and deliver seamless repartee. They share sticks to move a small decrepit body to tell the heartbreaking monster tale. Shadow puppets projected onto the black curtain darken the monster’s sad story.
When Barker brings out his gruesome main attraction, you gasp and giggle, but are shocked by Barker’s violent abuse. As Dr. Frankenstein’s monster, Aled Wyn Thomas is a fright in a most gruesome mask. He threatens the audience and admits that he killed a child. But there is a profound shift when he begs his creator for mercy and a wife, so he can have someone. He’s a victim, not a wretch. “I ought to be thy Adam; but I am rather the fallen angel,” he cries.
When their final show ended inside the steamy Spreckels Theatre Fringe Off Broadway, the galloping actors had sweated off much of their white makeup. I found it difficult to applaud. I needed a moment to breathe. How did they pull our emotional strings and so many elements together? Bruising physicality, dialogue, musical scores and sound effects, projections, and clever props, were tied together without a hiccup. The lucky few of us had witnessed exceptional, unforgettable theater from a small troupe who crossed the pond from Wales. Thank you Tin Shed Theatre Company. Hurry back.
There are more excellent productions running through Sunday, July 13. Check out Perception and Perseverance,” with stunning choreography by Zaquia Maher Salinas. And the jazzy tap dancing concert On the Corner of Rhythm and Rhyme. There’s the not to be missed dances The Red Shoes Revamped and Solo Y Juntos-Al Camino del Alma, and Tamara Saari Dance.
There are shows for every taste, from Brecht to burlesque or ballet. Ballet 360 features emerging dancers on top of the new San Diego Library.What a view! Standouts include dancers Brik Middlekauff, Jeremy Zapanta, and Sidney Franklin (who also dances in Rhythm and Rhyme). Ballet 360 is family friendly and free.
Adult programs such as Sweet Pang! and Courtesan Café at Les Girls strip club, one of the Off Fringe venues, aren’t everyone’s cup of tea. But that’s the beauty of the Fringe Festival. There is no censorship. The idea is to take risks and keep an open mind. I missed a show on my list and discovered a revival of Weill and Brecht’s The Seven Deadly Sins.