As the Fringe goes along, word starts to spread about some shows in particular. Two of the ones I saw Thursday and Friday came from recommendations, and the third looked like it might be worthwhile (and it was).
Mark Toland – Mind Reader is one I might well have skipped without the recommendation. I’m not a big fan of magic shows, and this one came pretty close in its description. It turned out to be more theatre than tricks, and Mr. Toland was a genial host for an hour of what he preferred to call “mystery.”
During that hour, Mr. Toland told us a bit about himself, that he earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in musical theatre from the University of Southern California, that he built this performance himself and has been touring with it to various events, including corporate gatherings, and that he plans to mount a new version of it soon after closing in San Diego.
He also claimed to be a student of human behavior, and he was staked out by the entrance to the project space of the San Diego Art Institute sizing up his audience in a friendly way prior to the show. I’m not sure what he was doing (and even if I was, Mr. Toland asked the audience more than once to preserve the “mystery” of his show and not pass along “spoilers” to prospective audience members).
So, I won’t. What I will tell you is the he involves several from his audience during the performance, that he selects those he wants to involve (though, I’m sure if someone said “no” he’d move right on to someone else – but, everyone said yes at the performance I attended), and that he is able to discern with remarkable accuracy an image or number on which an audience member is concentrating. He has a magician’s sense of “patter,” which, in magic shows, is often used to distract the audience from the workings of a “trick.” I don’t know whether any of the elements of Mark Toland – Mind Reader are tricks, but if they are they’re pretty good ones. The recommendation I received was echoed in the audience size, which was larger than most of the other Fringe offerings I’ve seen. In this case, I’d follow the crowds.
In the audience for Mr. Toland’s performance was a man dressed in Irish garb. When invited, he pitched his one-person storytelling show, ‘Tween Earth and Sky, which was performing in the next time slot. I wandered over to the Spreckels Theatre stage for a watch.
The show is presented by Windwhistle Theatre, but the description did not provide the actor’s name. A bit of Internet sleuthing came up with Mark Lyon as the storyteller.
The stories themselves are set in Ireland and are tales of the fantastical in one way or another. Featured are a leprechaun’s pot of gold, a pact with the Devil, visions of true love that come to life, and dead bodies that just might turn into ghosts. Mr. Lyon tells them with a lilt that serves to wrap a spell around them. And, being Irish, they were also moralistic tales, mostly about the dangers of greed and the benefits of being loving and kind to others.
The lilt, or maybe the moral character of the tales themselves, made the stories seem more than a little alike, despite the engaging way in which they were told. And, a little went a long way – with four stories total, I wished that one of them, perhaps the first, which was the briefest and the one that didn’t seem to fit as well with the others, would have been cut. I also wished that Mr. Lyon would explain the stories to a greater extent, rather than focus solely on the telling.
All in all, though, “Tween Earth and Sky was an hour well spent.
Flight was a performance I had pegged from when I first saw the Fringe program, mainly because it promised to be an adaptation of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s famous story, The Little Prince. I have a long and loving relationship with this story, which was first read to my high school English class by a teacher who wanted to give us a reward for slogging through days and days of Moby Dick. We’d finish our discussions, and then she’d read this wonderful story to us, playing all of the characters herself. It was exactly the right time of life for me to encounter this beautiful tale of a pilot learning that what adults considered “matters of consequence” paled compared to learning that “I am responsible for what I have tamed,” and “One sees clearly only with the heart. What is essential is invisible to the eye.”
The company consists of three theatre majors from Cal State, Long Beach (Cynthia Price, Christian Sullivan, and Taylor Casas). Their text was adapted and directed by Ezra LeBank, a movement professor. Mss. Price and Casas are also yoga students, and Mr. LeBank has drawn on their yoga background to create a performance of the story that is economical in terms of text but exquisitely told through movement.
The location of the story has been re-set from the Sahara Desert to the Mexican Desert. The Little Prince has a cactus as a special part of her planet, instead of a rose. The people and animals the Little Prince encounters before finding the pilot are more appropriate to the new locale than the one that Saint-Exupéry envisioned. But, the essential text is still there, word for word from the English translation of the book (I know much of that translation from memory).
But, what is so wonderful about this performance is the movement. It incorporates the duo yoga exercises that Mss. Price and Casas already knew (see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I9f7mJMTATg for an example) and creates very precise but straightforward body positions and arm and leg movements that the cast executes in such a disciplined fashion that everything seems as if it is occurring naturally.
Fortunately, Flight is performing on the Lyceum Stage, so the crowds wanting to see it are easily accommodated.