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Emma Howard. (Photo courtesy of Unattended Baggage.)

One important rule about the San Diego International Fringe Festival is to be prepared for anything, especially on the first day. Last year, for instance, the festival had several performances with very low attendance. The 2018 Fringe Festival has proved no exception, and featured several unexpected situations.

Le Moana Limited, an acclaimed New Zealand dance company that won rave reviews for a 2016 event, 1918, returned to the festival for a tale about migration, Fatu Na Toto. After technical issues affected the narrative at the Lyceum Stage, the artists decided to restart their piece.

The issues, however, persisted and the rest of the first local performance was cancelled. I’m crossing my fingers that the rest of the run turns out well for the company.

Another out-of-the-ordinary situation was the solo show from Unattended Baggage, I’m Smiling Because I’m Uncomfortable., located at a Bring Your Own Venue (BYOV) Airbnb at Fifth Avenue. The only audience members were me and the creative team. Fortunately, that didn’t in any way lessen my experience watching the “site specific kitchen play.”

Written by, and starring, Emma Howard, the comedy-drama true story is primarily about her coming to terms with her queerness and unhealthy relationship with food. She shares memories of her past while preparing food in a kitchen.

Howard’s script is very frank, going in depth with topics that most people would never share to a room full of strangers. Her smart sense of humor balances the serious aspects about her past., while her acting is grounded and always makes her experiences feel honest.

Directors Sean Pollock and Hana Mastrogiacomo are effective in the way that they stage Howard in the main kitchen where I’m Smiling Because I’m Uncomfortable takes place. They allow the evening to be engaging and their storytelling fits the frequent tonal shifts of Howard’s script.

My only piece of advice for theatregoers is to plan for a few extra minutes to find the building where the play is located. It isn’t the easiest place to find compared to more traditional venues like the Lyceum Theatre and the Spreckels Theatre.

Despite the discussion of serious subjects, Howard’s show is ultimately an optimistic one. If you can relate to the subject matter or are just interested in seeing something that’s candid and personal, you will be affected by her local premiere.

Austin Dean Ashford. (Photo courtesy of the performer.)

Like Howard’s show, Austin Dean Ashford is presenting a solo performance that deals with personal issues. (I)sland T(rap): The Epic Remixology of the Odyssey mixes fantasy and reality with plenty of creativity.

Adapted from Homer’s epic poem, Ashford plays a fictional version of himself, Austin. Giving himself the nickname, “Black Ulysses,” he decides to leave his home and go on an epic adventure.

During his quest, he meets many unusual characters and talking animals such as a funny lobster, a compassionate panther and an evil python. As he goes through many unusual events, Austin reflects on topics close to him such as death, psychological pain and black identity.

Ashford displays many different artistic sides as an actor, singer, rapper, beatboxer and ukulele player. He has a very animated presence that carries the entire production from beginning to end.

Visuals are spare at the Bristol Hotel but are memorable, ranging from red lighting that opens the adventure to the backdrop that is used to represent the odd world Austin goes to in (I)sland T(rap).

Austin’s strange conversations with the friends and enemies he makes will remind audiences of classic stories like “Alice in Wonderland,” “The Jungle Book” and “The Wizard of Oz.” Playing all the roles, Ashford inhabits each talking creature with distinct acting choices that are consistently amusing.

Balancing the fantastical elements are sequences when Ashford expresses Austin’s fears and thoughts about being African-American in the United States. These moments come across as being very and revealing.

Howard and Ashford’s work has contributed to a strong start to the Fringe Festival. Both shows are examples of how art can be used for people to express themselves to others.

[box] Show times for Fatu Na Toto are Wednesday at 9:00 p.m, Thursday at 6:00 p.m and Sunday at 11:00 p.m. [/box]

[box] Show times for I’m Smiling Because I’m Uncomfortable are today at 2:30 p.m, 6:00 p.m and 9:00 p.m and Monday at 4:00 p.m and 7:30 p.m. [/box]

[box] Show times for Island Trap: The Epic Remixology of the Odyssey are tonight at 9:00 p.m, Wednesday at 6:00 p.m and Saturday at 4:00 p.m. [/box]

Photo of San Diego International Fringe Festival
San Diego International Fringe Festival
Contact: Kevin Charles Patterson
Work c/o CONTACT ARTS PO BOX 16235 San Diego CA 92176 Website: San Diego International Fringe Festival
Categories: Dance, Music, Uncategorized, Visual Arts
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David Dixon

David Dixon

A fan of theatre from a young age, David Dixon began writing reviews while in middle school, for Union Tribune’s Rated G column and sdcnn.com. He was the Entertainment Editor for SDSU’s The Daily Aztec. Currently, he contributes to San Diego Community News Network, a regional reviewer for Talkin’ Broadway, an interviewer for San Diego Theatre Reviews and has won several San Diego Press Club Excellence in Journalism Awards. David is a San Diego Theatre Critics Circle member, an American Theatre Critics Association member & Regional Theatre Tony Award voter.

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