The Great Salt Lake Fringe (GSLF) festival completed its ninth edition, on strong notes. The event found its ideal bearings in three venues at the Alliance Theater, which is connected to the Utah Arts Alliance, at Trolley Square. Representing both weekends of the festival, 1,225 tickets were sold, generating some $13,080 in ticket sales. In addition to the 20 shows, the Artist Annex, produced by Scixxy’s Greater Shows, had more than 300 attend variously 20 sessions which had 16 presenters.
Award winners included:
Best of F (Family Friendly): The Advantageous Adventures of Mrs. Meddlesome (Speakeasy Theatre Company)
Best of FF (Fairly Fringey): Euripides’ The Bacchae (Classical Greek Theatre Festival)
Best of FFF (Full Fledged Fringe): Savage Resources (Immigrant’s Daughter Theatre)
Best One-Person Show: Roxie Hart Syndrome (Pam Galleg Oz, Casa Ivium)
Best Original Script: David Isn’t Getting Into Heaven (Kallisti Theatre Company)
Outstanding Ensemble: Kite Flyer, (Kid Sister Theatre Collaborative)
Mx Congeniality (award for most tickets sold): The Bacchae (Classical Greek Theatre Festival)
Fringe Pick (staff pick): The Timekeeper’s Collection (Kynd’s Imagination Source Studios)
Heart of Fringe Award (this was for an outstanding out of town act this year that expressed positivity and love to all at the festival): Singing the Diaphragm Blues (Rebecca Lea McCarthy, Dale Westgaard)
Spirit of Fringe Award (above and beyond): Scix Maddix and the Artist Annex Workshop Series. This was a Bring-Your-Own-Venue event that Scix programmed himself. Scix was not employed by the Fringe this year.
This weekend (Aug. 11, 6-10 p.m., Aug. 12, noon-10 p.m.), some of the Fringe shows also will be a part of Utah Arts Alliance’s inaugural Wild Wild Westside Arts Fest, which will be held at the Mid-Valley Performing Arts Center in Taylorsville. Free and open to the public, the event will feature more than 30 performances, either indoors or outdoors, along with children’s activities provided by Bad Dog Arts, an artist market with 20 local artists and craftspeople, food trucks and a bar area for adults.
Fringe shows which will be reprised at the event include Roxie Hart Syndrome (Pam Galleg Oz, Casa Ivium), Bedtime Stories (Interdisciplinary Arts Collective), Lords of Misrule Presents Court of Hearts (RJ Walker) and Singing the Diaphragm Blues (Rebecca Lea McCarthy, Dale Westgaard).
Also, the award-winning local literary group Plumas Colectiva, which includes Melissa Salguero from GSLF, will be performing at the Fringe Showcase at the Wild Wild Westside Arts Fest.
The Utah Review also selected five more shows from the second weekend for reviews. For reviews of shows from the first weekend, see The Utah Review link.
If there was just one show that fully embraced the creative brief for the Great Salt Lake Fringe this year, it would easily be the Beyond the Line Theatre staging of the wholly absurd delight of the 1896 play Ubu Roi by Alfred Jarry.
Directed by Jordan Reynosa, the production was an indulgent treat, emphasizing how Jarry, a strange little man by all measures, was truly a forebear of the absurdist theatrical movements in all their unforgettable nonsensical glory.
The play is a parody of Shakespearean classics, most notably Macbeth. Center stage is Papa Turd, a grotesque, power-hungry man whose wife persuades him to assassinate the king of Poland. And, how Jarry’s schoolboy-like naughtiness is so prescient of contemporary era presidents and dictators, who are Papa Turd in full manifest.
A 2015 Paris Review feature chronicled Jarry’s journey into the historical canon of creative absurdism. When he was 15, Jarry wrote a short play with marionettes (Les Polonais), a merciless lampooning of his physics teacher. “Père Heb, as the physics teacher was called in it, had a prominent gut, a retractable ear, and three teeth (stone, iron, and wood).” That would become the inspiration for Papa Turd in Ubu Roi.
Its 1896 Paris premiere ended in a riot and critics savaged it. As the Paris Review noted, Jarry was unbothered by the criticism: “It is not surprising that the public should have been aghast at the sight of its ignoble other self … which it had never before been shown completely … the comedy at the most must be the macabre comedy of an English clown, or of a Dance of Death.”
Reynosa’s staging has all of the proper froth for such schoolboy mischief. The actors revel in the shit in the most positive and applause-deserving ways, with Juls Marino leading the ensemble as Papa Turd. Likewise, the others earned their kudos: Sara Caldiero (Bordure), King Wenceslaus (Mauri Hefley), Milo P. Ono (Buggerlaus) and Charlotte Walkey (Mama Turd). The audience is involved too, with instructions provided by projected cues and a battle scene with pool noodles.
Like her other theatrical piece (Canyon Country) which was staged at the GSLF this year, Pretty, Dirty, by Liv C. Smith (Olivia Buck Smith) has roots for its setting coming from Utah’s landscape, this time Mount Timpanogos, the second highest mountain in Utah’s Wasatch Range.
The play revolves around three women: Lizzy (Hannah Ekstrom), Haisley (Victoria Arlofski) and Tessa (Courtney Cohen). Lizzy is contemplating a major decision in her life, as she plans to climb Timp, as familiarly known to Utahns, on the day of the winter solstice. But, her plans are disrupted by an avalanche, which leaves her with a concussion. Her two friends rally to her side and Lizzy is ready to attempt another summit, with the hopes of carrying out the task she had hoped to do at the winter solstice.
Haisley enjoys the thrills of mountaineering as much as Lizzy but Tessa is certainly the most hesitant when it comes to accepting the thrill of mountaineering, as she is obsessed over the risks. Lizzy’s accident has unsettled her to the point that she wonders if Lizzy realizes the rashness of the chances she might be taking. Tessa dreams about the outdoor adventures that Haisley and Lizzy pursue but she stays at safe distance, preferring instead to live vicariously through posed images she snapshots for her social media account.
Smith pitches a promising, worthwhile theme but it can still be workshopped for more depth. There is an opportunity to articulate a Utah brand of Transcendentalism here in the way that Emerson or the Alcott sisters did. One of the most refreshing takeaways from Smith’s work here is that sex, gender or preference make no difference whatsoever in the pursuit of mountaineering.
Lizzy demonstrates skills that Haisley genuinely admires and Tessa has yet to embrace on her own terms. The traits of skill, endurance, perseverance and physical strength and dexterity are joined by optimism, devotion, elation, thrill and constant fascination. Lizzy embodies that as an Utah mountaineer and she is ready to bring forward the picture of her life that she has imagined and planned for, as she climbs Timp, once again.
One of the best shows at this year’s GSLF, Rodney Brazil’s one-person show Meaningless, which incorporated the entire reading of Ecclesiastes from the Old Testament, was superb for its ingenious approachable format that could appeal to anyone, regardless of whatever religion, belief or spiritual philosophy they hold.
Brazil, who grew up in southwestern Oklahoma in a religious background, left the church of his formative years a long time ago but the Oklahoma City-based writer, director, performer and producer presented a fresh perspective that swaps out canonical reading of a religious text of wisdom for a sensitive literary reading with an epiphany that is open-ended and unexpectedly comforting.
Masterly mixing in with earnest seriousness about the personal story that sets up the context for his rendering of Ecclesiastes, Brazil opens the show by recounting his father’s suicide which occurred at the same time his mother was recovering from open-heart surgery. Trying to comprehend and absorb the impact of such a tragedy, Brazil turned to this specific Old Testament book, which has long been the subject of an ongoing debate about its provenance and the ways in which the text could be interpreted.
Considering the timeline of the debate, it has been relatively recent that even religious scholars have acknowledged the literary merit and value of such religious texts. If one were looking for a good companion piece from the literary world to match Ecclesiastes, it would probably be T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets, which concludes in a very Ecclesiastes fashion:
We shall not cease from exploration
and the end of all our exploring
will be to arrive where we started
and know the place for the first time.
Brazil’s performance and reading of the book as a whole were excellent. He elucidated the rhythms of the text, highlighting how repetition is significant in Ecclesiastes. Also, there were the juxtapositions of passages of joy and hope with those articulating the meaningless nature or hebel (which Brazil later explained to the audience as Hebrew for vapor, or evaporating). Brazil astutely welcomes the contradictions and juxtapositions, notable considering that many religious scholars have tended toward one end of the spectrum, whether it be joyful or meaningless. The current historical perspective about the provenance of Ecclesiastes is that its authorship is unknown and that it was written somewhere around 300 BC.
Brazil’s most illuminated takeaway is the irony of its text, sensing the multilevel natures of whomever is narrating. Essentially, there are three levels, representing two individuals but the second and third being, respectively, the older and younger self of the second individual.
SONS OF ARTHUR
From Brigham Young University, the Confidants Perform theatrical collective’s rendering of Sons of Arthur, based on Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, a late 14th century poem that has virtually none of the best known artifacts of the canon of Arthurian legends, was decent but definitely could have been less tame and spicier.
The source material packs a visceral punch, with references to bloody combat, sexual temptation and magic. Directed by Rose Allen, Riley Trepanier and Daniel Barton, the production hints at these images but the staging in GSLF’s black box venue did not facilitate leveraging all of the possibilities. Yet, the sound design work did a commendable job at suggesting the appropriate atmosphere for the story.
The poem, whose authorship has never been confirmed, reappeared in the 19th century but its content is definitely prime material for 21st century audiences at Fringe festivals. No reason to play it safe but to amp up the text for its lurid vibes and its sarcastic humor. A good adaptation of it came in The Green Knight, a film directed by David Lowery and starring Dev Patel.
The Fringe production has possibilities in its LGBTQ+ framing, given the efforts of its cast which included Marie Jacobs (King Arthur), Alison Rino (Gawain), Mordred (various performances featuring Riley Trepanier or Tommy Brown), Andrew-Elijah Schindler (Green Knight and lord) and Rose Allen (Morgana and Lady).
COURT OF HEARTS
RJ Walker and the Lords of Misrule Theatre Company consistently do a fine job at fulfilling the creative brief for the Fringe Festival. It is a win-win formula: put on a show rich with improvisational nonsense that tickles audiences, make audience interaction an opportunity for spontaneous philanthropic efforts to raise funds for benefiting a worthy nonprofit and twist familiar classics into a bizarre mutant form.
This year’s contribution was Court of Hearts, which worked within the broadest contours of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland story franchise. With Walker as the king and judge, the audience becomes the royal jury who have been called upon to hear the trial of Alice on charges of illegal immigration, theft of the queen’s tarts and “in general, for being a tart.” In this land, capital punishment is the rule. And, the only question being is whether Alice will be subjected to death by beheading or execution by beheading. Also, audience members variously have the opportunity to be courtroom sketch artists for this legal travesty.
Ramping up the inanity of it all, Walker offers up a menu of nonsense, with 69 options (nice!) for audience members to review and bid on in between each act of the play. Based on donations collected during each break, the king selects those modifiers with the greatest values to spring upon the cast members. The choices can be hilarious: impressions of Alan Rickman, a spontaneous dance honoring berries and cream, Alice transformed into the Cookie Monster, a mandatory response of “yes, chef!” after a line of dialogue by Alice, the use of “daddy” at the end of every line spoken by the court officer, a sudden Oscar winning moment, a dildo and references to Five Nights at Freddy’s, among others.
The cast revel properly in this theatrical carnival, with Autumn Nelson (Alice Liddell), Jesse Brickman (Pidgin Feather), Alexa Blaise (Knave Of Hearts), Connor Bond (Sam Donald, Esq.) and Nami Eskandarian (Officer Avery). Rounding out the production are Payton Rhyan (stage manager), Wil Greer (props and tech) and Jady Brooks (understudy).
But, amid the zaniness of the courtroom shenanigans, Walker and company use the show to put forward the cause of Save The Kids, a Utah nonprofit dedicated to eliminating the automatic options of youth incarceration and dismantling the school-to-prison pipeline. Half of the proceeds raised during the run (which has continued post-Fringe) are donated to the organization.