Monday, August 16, 2004

Fringe Day 9, Part 5 - August 14, 2004, 8:30pm

Illusion Theatre

My love for and admiration of Barbara June Patterson and Phyllis Wright was only reinforced by these performances, and the sold out house was right there with me.

A friend of mine liked the first monologue (Margaret Faydle Comes To Town, performed by Barbara June) better than the second (Match Wits with Minka Lupino, performed by Phyllis), which he didn't like much at all. He found fault with Jeff Hatcher's script, not the performances.

I only partially agree with him. Yes, the first monologue is the strongest. But while he didn't buy the reality of the second story at all, I didn't have the same trouble.

Barbara June's monologue is more personal, I'll grant him that. The motive for the murder, and the outlines of its impending execution (pardon the pun), are indeed more believable. The stakes are higher, the underpinnings of the betrayal and final solution much sadder, even though this was also the most uproariously funny of the two halves of the evening. The fact that not more than a sentence or two could go by without a vigorous bout of laughter from the audience no doubt contributed to the show's running seven minutes overtime. The contrast of light and dark being so extreme made the whole thing hit more that much harder. One thinks they have it all figured out shortly after it starts, but one would be wrong. But it's also not trying to trick the audience with a last minute surprise ending either. Once the shape of it slowly starts to take its true form at the end, it remains faithful to that dark outline and fills in the details. This character will get the last laugh. But it'll cost her.

While the monologue given to Phyllis is less of a personal vendetta, I don't find it any less believable. Is it outrageous? Certainly. Was I pretty much willing to suspend my disbelief and go along? Heck yeah. This murderer is bumping off people who deserve it. It's fun to hear the creative ways these awful people meet their ends at Minka's hands. Is it also, because the victims and their fates are so varied and the offstage cast of characters so enormous, a bit on the convoluted side, to the point where it might be just a wee bit hard to follow? Guilty. I followed it most of the way, but even I got lost in the forest of all those details about three-quarters of the way through. Did it clear itself up enough that I could piece together most of it and walk away satisfied? Pretty much.

Though the gales of laughter weren't as numerous as they were for the previous speech, I think that was a function of the audience listening and trying to follow the plot, not that they weren't enjoying themselves, or appreciating the delivery. I sometimes felt that Phyllis was waiting purposely for her share of the evening's laughter, and wasn't above mugging now and again to force the issue. The director should trust the material and rein her in. The director should also ask the playwright to tidy up the speech so we can track it - particularly the final plot and counterplot to do in the mystery writer that ultimately does in his foe instead (trust me, I'm not really giving anything away here, I could barely follow it, so I'm probably getting it wrong).

These two speeches, coupled with Jeff Hatcher's 2001 Fringe outing, The Murderer part of his "Murderer and the Martian" double bill with Bill Corbett, are destined to be part of an upcoming season at Illusion in the near future. It's good to see them all taking the time to work out the kinks so the final product will be worth the full ticket price they will no doubt charge - probably almost twice Fringe rates.

It's nice that Illusion wants to join in the spirit of the Fringe, and extend its long-established Fresh Ink series further into the summer by putting more new work on display. I appreciate their adjusting more of their showtimes this year so that they were in synch with the rest of the Fringe schedule at the other 23 venues. I also appreciate the need a theatre may have to work a popular show for every ounce of income they can get out of it - and that this has the added benefit for audience members on the waiting list of actually getting most, if not all, of them in to see the show.

But starting 12 minutes late and and then running over an additional seven minutes on top of that, however, pretty much screws anyone who had hoped to see a show anywhere other than Illusion right after that. This may also be the point, but if you really want to be part of the community - start on time and end on time. I don't care who's writing - cut it. I don't care who's performing - adjust the performance to fit the time. Otherwise, what's the point?

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