Monday, August 09, 2004

Fringe Day 2, Part 4 - August 7, 2004, 5:30pm

Mary Kelley Sunshine Box
Topsy-Turvy Theatre
In The Heart of the Beast Puppet & Mask Theatre

Mom says, "Explain that one to me."

The above quote is not a bad thing - but it does mean this show was quirkier than most.

First a note of explanation. We were caught up in the Brave New Workshop domino effect for much of the rest of our day. We'd just seen and enjoyed 10,000 Comic Books and it hadn't seemed long, but when we emerged into daylight and headed for the car, we realized the show had run ten minutes over. And we were trying to get clear over to 15th and Lake. A hike, but still possible, however not in Saturday afternoon traffic on Lake Street.

So we arrived five minutes late. But they were still happy to see, and seat, us.

Once my eyes adjusted, I could see why. Less than two dozen people in a house of rather epic proportions. It's a generous auditorium, made more imposing by the vaulted ceiling *high* above both our, and the actors', heads.

And there were only two actors.

And from the looks of things, most of the audience consisted of their grandparents, heard to say after the lights came up again, "Well, that was interesting."

Normally that's what you say when you can't think of anything else to say, but I can think of a few things.

Mom and I actually had quite a nice talk about this one as we high-tailed it to the next show on our list.

The actors had a space to fill with their voices, and they did it. They had multiple roles to play, and they played each very well, and very distinctly.

There are essentially three couples - two young children (one of them the titular Mary Kelley), a young married couple, and an older married couple. Their interactions with each other, and occasionally with members of the other pairs of characters, take turns alternating throughout the course of the hour. The young boy is a bit dim, Mary Kelley a bit mischievous. The young wife is, I think, either amnesiac or suffering from some short term memory disorder. Her husband is patient and loving, but near the end of his rope. The older couple consists of a member of local law enforcement and his wife, a controlling woman obsessed with her pet fish (but not in a friendly way - the fish, like her husand, are literally under her thumb at times).

There is a vein of melancholy and sadness running through this script that I like quite a lot. It's not as spritely as last year's Fringe show from this group, James Berry, The Reluctant Hangman, but like that offering, it, too, has a pronounced sense of whimsy and some laugh out loud moments as well.

The zenith of the goofiness comes during what they label "the musical portion of their program." Betty Buckley can be heard singing "Memory" from CATS. And then Mary Kelley emerges to perform an interpretive dance (interpretive *tap* dance, I might add), while the young man in the cast holds up cue cards telling us that if we like CATS we might also like things such as RENT and "Schindler's List" ('just kidding about Schindler's List, enjoy the show' the cards followup, as the tap-dancing and caterwauling continue).

Mom doesn't think the five minutes at the beginning would have helped us much. And I agree with her.

It wasn't a linear narrative, but episodic. And the episodes aren't interested in explaining the story to you. They are presented, and the audience needs to sort them out. It's an interesting puzzle, much like the brightly-colored, Mondrian-style canvases on either side of the stage which conceal the actors' costume changes.

It's more of an independent film script than a stage play. It's stageable, don't get me wrong, anything is stageable. But sifting through the whole thing in my mind later, I wished I'd had the opportunity to see all the vignettes strung together, right on top of one another.

And I'm not really sure why they weren't in this case. Though I appreciated the musical interludes during the costume changes (it was the sort of music I enjoy), I would have liked it more if the story just flowed from one vignette to another. There's no set to speak of. The costume changes are also neglible, and the play isn't trying to hide that the same two actors are playing all the roles, so to stop the action for a blackout, repeatedly, in between some very short scenes, seems to knock the momentum of the story out of whack.

Don't get me wrong. These are really quibbles. There's some interesting stuff here. And the work of the writer and actors is good work. They deserve larger audiences than they're getting - audiences that might embrace the oddball sensibility of this piece and enjoy puzzling it out in conversation later. Give it a shot. I'm glad I did. Even if I can't explain, still, precisely why.

And, just like last year when I saw their show, I want to see what Topsy-Turvy Theatre does next. Whatever it is, I know I won't be bored.

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