What works best at a fast-paced, over-whelming, unfiltered and exhausting show-orgy like the third annual San Diego International Fringe Festival, continuing through Aug. 2, probably are tight niche acts featuring seasoned professionals or loosey-goosey burlesques on familiar themes.
Getting too serious amongst the stressful confusion of 80-plus one-house shows in a dozen locales, day after day, can be deadly, especially for artists still finding themselves.
An earnest squad of seven fresh-faced singers about college age, for example, who performed a “song cycle” of 11 numbers under the title The Things We Never Say fairly glowed with purpose but left no trace of insight or inspiration. Thomas Hodges, who wrote the words and music, pounded away at the electric keyboard in what became a familiar pattern of left-hand drone and upper-level melodrama. Some promising harmonies suffered from pitch problems and everything too soon began to sound alike.
Despite talk of soulful revelations, the realities were old favorites: frustrated love, the death of a family pet, a young mom’s worries about singing again, an actress too tall for ingénue roles… Promising classroom stuff maybe, but what’s next?
At the far end of some spectrum is Mysterium, a two-person magic act of exquisite polish. Keith Boudreau does sleight-of-hand like a master and, though anybody familiar with such matters probably can spot many of the tricks (hint: He tells you how many of them are done, while doing them.) it’s the presentation that counts. Erica Valen lends ethereal class to an hour that just flies past, well, magically.
The goofy stuff is represented best (so far, for me) by a pair of shows torn, sort of, from recent headlines and mall multiplex menus.
If The Hobbit really needs a musical version, why not go to the top and rip off Les Miserables? And these long, long trips to other planets? What happens if your fellow astronaut turns out to be your ex-wife?
Now there are a couple of ideas worth crossing the late-night downtown street to see.
The author of Scenes From Mars One: Now with 68% Less Gravity is Scott Ehrig-Burges, modestly listed on the production team as “writer.” If this suggests a certain casualness about the show’s genesis, believe it. But it takes talent to find the needed giddy up. There’s a comedy skit coating over the whole packed hour that is at odd with the pert, precision pacing, probably the work of director Mark Stephan.
There’s also a ton of scenery, including a stack of suitcases for the luggage store scene and a genuine, full-sized portable toilet for…well, that might spoil something.
Tony Gorodeckas and Kelly Potts are the restless, weightless pair, sinking every deeper into wrangling as their paths are crossed by a German scientist, a giant bunny, audience hecklers and festival officials. I thought I had stolen some good dialogue but I guess not. Too busy trying to decipher the program.
No such problems at Les Midge, which is not the name of a used-car dealer but instead the title of the Hobbit-Miz mashup. It’s probably not necessary to get too detailed here, except to say that one of the songs – “Do You Hear the Small Ones Sing?” – is assigned to a mangy band of dwarfs who rather obviously were responsible each for their own beards.
One of these falls for a hefty elf (Jordan Hall) who sings those clear, plaintive Les Miz girl laments. As Legolas, Anton Maroun isn’t much with the bow and arrows but confesses he’s probably gay. Continuing the bring-your-own-costume theme, the best Robert Coe could do for the dragon Smaug is a Barney suit. Sigh. At least Tyler Jiles only needed a loincloth and skin-head for Golum.
Oddly, and actually quite pleasantly, the hobbit and the wizard are very well cast and even sympathetic. Well, Shane Ruddick Allen looks more like a leprechaun than a hairy-footed hobbit, but hey! He’s got the attitude and the resiliency down exactly. And Jacob Hatch, stroking his beard and puffing his pipe, fairly exudes the benevolent authority needed to make all this come out nice.
Next for Turning Tydes Theatre? The Phantom of the Empire. Don’t tell Andrew Lloyd Webber or George Lucas, OK? We want both this troupe and the fringe festival back next year.
The schedule of performances, through Aug. 2, is best discovered by perusing the festival’s official program, available in the headquarters on the First Avenue side of the Spreckels Theatre. Second best is a trip to sdfringe.org. Good luck.