Sunday, August 05, 2012

Fringe Review - Rip - Dovetail Theatre Co. - 5 stars

Tweet review - Rip - fresh retelling of old tale; music, script, performances - damn; 1 of 3 best things I've seen in Fringe so far, 5 stars #rip #mnfringe

"Come down over the meadow
I'll be waiting
Home and waiting
I'll be waiting for you."

The best shows I've seen the Fringe so far have left me amazed (Sin Eater) and enchanted (Ash Land), and now there's Rip, from Dovetail Theatre CompanyRip is the most pure fun I've had at a Fringe show this year.  In fact, I'm already plotting how I can go to see it again.

"Still I burn like some Promethean fire,
Glowing ever stronger for the tears."

Rip is Dovetail's musical re-imagining of the Washington Irving folk tale of Rip Van Winkle, the man who got his wish to escape every day life by accidentally sleeping away twenty years of it and awakening to a strange new world, bereft of most of the people he used to know.  The elements of Irving's story have been reshuffled in writer/director Kara Davidson's clever comedic script, and reset to the 1950s, with a 60 year nap that lands Rip in our present day.  The story is told just as much through music as through dialogue.  In fact, it often feels like Rip is a concert with scenes included, rather than a play with songs included.  But the two are knit together so tightly and seamlessly, you can't imagine the one without the other.  The songs enrich the scenes, just as the scenes enrich the songs.  Davidson's partner in crime (aka co-artistic director) David Darrow has provided music and lyrics for a variety of catchy tunes spanning rock, folk, ballads and more.  The music gives the production a jolt of energy and a steady heartbeat that keeps Rip's story driving forward - even as it morphs from one reality to the next.  (It's some of the first music at the Fringe that I wished I could walk right out and buy after the show was over.  Cast album, please?)

"You're as plain and run of the mill as they come and I like that.  I trust that."

Rip Van Winkle (Billy Balmer) feels trapped in both his dead end job and his marriage.  He secretly pines for one of his co-workers, Donna (Davidson again) or perhaps he just pines for the youth and freedom she represents.  Rip's boss Mr. Moneyfarmer (Foster Johns) is very efficient at making other people feel small and insignificant.  Rip's wife (Anna Sutheim) is at her wit's end caring for their numerous children.  Rip's only uncomplicated relationship is with is dog Wolf (also Davidson).  When Rip falls asleep, Wolf's ballad of philosophy and a dog's love for his master is one of the unexpected emotional high points of the show, at the same time it's inducing giggles.

"If the door didn't open, and I were alone.
So wake up.  Please wake up."

Rip's transition into the world of sleep finds him hanging out with a sea explorer named Hudson (Darrow) and his crew, all of whom are not only played by the other actors in the ensemble but remind Rip of the people (and pet) he left in the world behind him.  He awakens to a young girl in the park (Davidson again) and two young dudes (Ben Yela and Jonas Yela) who quickly make Rip realize how much the world has changed since he fell asleep.

"The hard thing's already done."

The two Yelas and Darrow spend most of their time among the assortment of musical instruments the band puts to such good use through the production - by my count, three electric guitars, two acoustic, a mandolin, a trumpet, a drum set and a fiddle (or is it a violin?  When music is serious or sad, I think violin; when it's fun and lively, I think fiddle).  Most of the cast gets its turn at the microphone, and the voices are right up there in skill with the easygoing musicianship on the instruments.  (Struggling as I am just to learn the guitar right now myself, it gave me a deeper appreciation and admiration for the high level of work going on in both the composition and performance of the music.  I think it also made the whole show that much more fun for me as well.)

"Some coffee-stained opinion…"

Davidson's staging is simple and effective, no set to speak of, very few props - a couple of wooden cubes, some flashlights, a stuffed animal here, an orange there, a blanket.  Physical business and actor-provided sound effects give us everything from a typewriter to an evening meal to a sailing ship to the sound of a dog lifting its leg and taking care of business.  The actors are having a ball playing with these characters and this story and that enthusiasm carries over to the audience.

"Were our mothers ever young?"

With Rip, I now have a top three if anyone asks me for a Fringe suggestion.  If you want to be transported, see Ash Land.  If you want to be amazed, see Sin Eater.  And if you want to have a heck of a good time, see Rip.  I can think of no higher set of compliments, or a better trio of Fringe shows.

5 stars - Very Highly Recommended

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