Friday, August 10, 2012

Fringe Review - Their Century - Lucky Break Productions - 5 stars

Tweet Review - Their Century - solid piece of storytelling; a valentine to family/U.S. history; great use of multimedia; impressive, 5 stars #mnfringe

"To ask all the questions, to hear all those stories just one more time."

This one snuck up on me.  Mom got a chance to read the program before the show and I did not, but that made her say "This sounds like it's going to be good."  Then after it was over she couldn't stop saying, "I'm really impressed."  I have to agree.  The weird thing is I saw this script at a couple of different stages of its development and it's potential was lost on me.  David's multimedia vision of this show could not be effectively conveyed to the reader on the page.  When I read it, gave him some comments and it came back to me again virtually unchanged, I thought, "He's after something.  He sees it very clearly even though I'm not getting it.  I have to trust him and see what happens."  I was crossing my fingers, even after seeing a snippet out of context in a Fringe-For-All preview, and it seems my worries were completely unfounded.  Their Century is a solid, delightful, even moving piece of solo storytelling. 

"They started spraying.  That took care of the grasshoppers… and the birds.  Took many years for the birds to come back."

The death of David's father got him thinking about family history.  Even though his father was gone, most of his father's many brothers and sisters (David's aunts and uncles) were still alive, and full of stories of how his father, and their family, grew up.  Their Century moves between three narrative threads - David's life and memories of growing up; the story of David's grandfather and his journey from Russia to build a home in America; and tales of David's father's generation of the family, mostly through the eyes of David's uncle Val and aunt Alice.

"When he was 16, my grandfather traveled halfway around the world and made a new home in America.  Hell, when I was 16 I was working at McDonald's."

David has a distinctive physical and vocal take on both his aunt and uncle that makes their characters clear whenever they appear.  After a few appearances, Val and Alice need no more introduction.  David also channels his father in a poignant moment late in the play.  It was a moment of personal, private communication between father and son, where a son learned a lot about his father, but still so much went left unsaid.

"Takes me half the day to figure out something to do, and the other half to figure out a how to put it off till tomorrow"

It is obvious David cares very deeply for this story.  But he doesn't take it for granted that you will automatically care about it, too.  He puts all his family stories in the context of the larger story of our nation, giving a window into the past through the specifics of one tenacious family.  David also turns the story back out again into the audience.  After all, we all have photo albums.  We all have relatives we only see or write to on birthdays or at Christmas.  We take it for granted that the people and the stories will always be there.  And we sometimes fail to remember that all our stories, even the most personal ones, are somehow still part of the larger history of our country.  For everything lost, there is still something to be gained - if we just find a way to keep going, and stay connected.  David gives a lot of credit to his director David Tufford for help in shaping the overall production, so I'll pass on that credit here as well.  The two of them took a script that in some ways eluded me and presented me as an audience member with something that seems so obvious and simple and effective that I don't know how I missed it.

"I'm not saying they didn't love us as much as we love our kids.  They just did things different."

The thing I could never see in my head, but David clearly did, was the multimedia aspect.  An accumulation of generations of family photos and historical documents all were fed into a computer and out pops a very lively bit of visual time travel.  Even though it skips back and forth over decades, just like David's story, it never loses me, and more importantly it never distracts from what David's doing as a performer but only reinforces it.  The original music from Michael Herrera-Markwald is used sparingly, so it never seems too manipulative.  A production like this always walks a fine line between earned sentiment and cheap sentimentality.  Even when David's eyes threaten to well-up with tears, the first time he dwells on the memory of his father, he walks that fine line and lets us follow him, rather than dragging us where he wants us to end up.

"All that I am is because of all that they were."

Their Century isn't flashy, despite all the multimedia.  It's just a good solid piece of work.  A good story, well told.

5 stars - Very Highly Recommended

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