Monday, August 09, 2010

Fringe 2010 - Sincerity Forever - 3 stars

A Foul-Mouthed Hour of Jesus, Space Furballs and KKK Teenagers

Sincerity Forever - Theatre In The Round Players (TRP)

Arbor Heavy Theatre

"The door opens from your side."

Mac Wellman, the author of Sincerity Forever, is a poet. But he tries very hard to hide it. Mac Wellman agrees with some of the most basic tenets of Christianity. But he tries very hard to hide it. Mac Wellman believes in the power of love and romance and friendship and education. But he tries very hard to hide it. In Sincerity Forever, Arbor Heavy Theatre's production in the 2010 Minnesota Fringe Festival, Mac Wellman hides all this quite effectively behind a veil of profanity that streams, almost without ceasing from the mouths of nearly all his characters, including Jesus H. Christ (Ci Ci Cooper) who here is both black, and a woman.

"You're looking for the wrong event."

Teens of the town of Hillsbottom, USA (Billy Bronson, John DeFrance, Megan Dowd, Jake Gustine, Ryan Howley, Peter Ingles, and Taylor Misiak), wear the white button down shirts and pointy white hats that make them nattily dressed for any cross-burning that might become necessary offstage. We're meant to believe they're a bunch of ignorant airheads but they have a self-awareness and vocabulary which present them as some of most well-spoken morons I've met in a while. This is a good thing. Because if there's one thing Sincerity Forever is in love with, aside from the potential of humankind, it's language.

"This world is not one of my father's happier creations."

Two enormous (and I mean *enormous*) intergalactic furrballs (Ryan Newton Harris and Gus Lynch) descend upon Hillsbottom, and infect the teens' language with rivers of profanity. Jesus H. Christ steps in with a swearing fit of her own to help save the day.

"In here is the quietest poem that's ever been written, and it's heavy."

Mac Wellman's scripts are meant as much (perhaps more) to be read than performed. It's what makes his texts irresistible to actors and directors on the page, but makes them extremely difficult to realize in production. After all, the reader gets to pick over the words at whatever rate of speed, and as many times, as they like. An audience member in a performance only gets the experience of Wellman's language once, and is dependent on the performers for the rate of speed at which the words impact them. This is the main stumbling block of this Fringe production, and might prompt many an audience member to throw up their hands in despair and give up (like Mom).

"Except for Pokey the Cat. Pokey the Cat knows."

Which is a shame, because underneath all the swearing, there's a sweet, hopeful, sentimental heart beating in Sincerity Forever. First of all, the different couples, two female friends, two male friends, a male and female couple, and two young men in love, often get a lot of the same lines to say, sometimes even the same entire scene. The message the play is sending is that love and friendship may look different, but the impulse is the same.

"Hold my hand, Tom."

I found myself wishing most for a script in front of me when toward the end, two, then three, then still more of the teens each started rattling through their own individual monologue of pain and anger. If you focused on one near you, you could follow their train of thought and words, but each and every one of these teens had something to say, and I felt cheated that I didn't get to hear it all. Again, that's the script. And it's deliberate. Perhaps I'm meant to be frustrated. But Wellman writes such interesting dialogue, I'm loathe to miss any of it. Could the message be that we don't really hear each other, and even when we try, there's a lot of other conversation getting in the way? Perhaps. But I'd rather get the message of the words, than a meta-commentary in this case.

"It's really hard not to know anything, unless you're really sincere about it."

Though the actor playing Jesus stumbles a bit, she's got some of the best lines. It's clear that Wellman likes puncturing people's self-satisfied notions of themselves as good and sincere (in the absence of virtue). He also thinks perhaps ignorance (rather than simplicity) is not something of which to be proud.

"Hell looks a lot like Hillsbottom."

Sincerity Forever isn't the easiest show to sit through, or sift through. But it may be among the most well-written shows in the Fringe. It's just a challenge to hear it sometimes when it's coming at you from all sides, and distracting you with all the cursing. Just like their Fringe-For-All preview, it's purposefully odd, and thus intriguing. It's not for everyone. But maybe something Mac Wellman's driving at is that maybe theater shouldn't always be easy. Maybe we should have to dig a little deeper, and look a little harder, and listen for something different.

We were told if we liked the show to post a review online, and if we didn't like the show, "F**k you!" (the full cast bellowed from offstage). This must be very liberating for the cast. I just hope it's not one more thing that's off-putting for the audience. Because even though I didn't love Sincerity Forever, I still really liked it. (Even if I'll never be able to make Mom quite understand why.)

3 stars, Recommended

NEXT PERFORMANCE - Thursday 8/12 at 10pm

(Then Friday 8/13 at 8:30pm, and Sunday 8/15 at 1pm)

Their Fringe page

Fringe show #23 - Monday, 8/9 5:30pm


And here's a handy index of links for all blog content on the 2010 Fringe!

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