Friday, August 02, 2013

Minnesota Fringe Festival - Review - The Concept of Anxiety - Dazzling Wordplay, Mind-bending Stories

Tweet review - Damn, phillip low, Elizabeth Byrd. Mind boggled, mind blown, but delightfully so - The Concept of Anxiety - 5 stars

A lot of Maximum Verbosity Fringe shows have been low tech affairs - phillip low, a music stand, and a glass of liquor is pretty much all you need.  low is a master at spinning words - both composing them on the page and then rattling them out of his mouth in rapid-fire fashion.  Those basic elements are on hand again here in The Concept of Anxiety, but he's turned the whole thing up a notch.  More than a notch really, more like seven or eight notches.  This show is slicker and leaner than your average Fringe show.  It positively hums - high energy on a tight leash.  It's a bullet aimed at the dark corners of your brain.

"I'm sorry."
"For what?"
"I don't know, just on general principle, I guess."

For starters, the simple set is a bit more deliberately dressed - a human skull, a chess clock, a copy of Gray's Anatomy (the textbook, not a DVD box set of the TV show, though wouldn't that be an odd pairing?), a pitcher of water, a bottle of Jameson, a book on Black Holes & Time Warps.

"Every day in medical school, you learn a new way to die."

Also, phillip's not alone this year.  His, until now, largely unseen partner in crime Elizabeth Byrd is front and center, making this solo show more of a duet.  The two are great foils for one another.  Elizabeth sings us an opening number full of wordplay around the old-fashioned notion of bile and the humors of the body.

"My deep and dark secretions, I want them to be known."

Then suddenly phillip appears backlit in the rear of the house launching into his opening monologue and working the audience from the center aisle as he makes his way toward the stage.  The subject is mortality and the flexible notions of time and space, with a generous helping of meditation on those in the medical profession, since phillip is a child from a family of doctors himself.

"They say that Jack the Ripper was a doctor.  What I don't understand is why every doctor isn't Jack the Ripper."

low's regular stage persona Penner makes an appearance in a dream/mirage sequence but the bulk of the performance is given up to two alternating multi-part stories that are mesmerizing puzzles full of evocative and disturbing images and turns of phrase at the same time that they are stories with a fascinating beginning, middle and end.  It's low's voice in the text but having two different human voices playing off one another in the telling of the tales makes for some fun and mind-boggling effects.

"His bladder was backed up so far it felt like his back teeth were floating."

One story is about a boy who wants to see the whole world but the frailness of his body prevents him.  The boy's father develops what seems like an unrelated obsession to complete a massive dragon statue in the field behind their home.  When the boy climbs inside the dragon statue, the obsessions that run through the family intertwine together.

"A staircase spiraling up and up into darkness."

Suicides attempts both successful and failed, parallel universes colliding, a married couple caught in the middle of being both old and young, living and dead, as time attempts to zip itself back together.  It starts as a series of riveting images which end up being part of a much larger and complex tapestry that is real kick to have fed into your brain by Byrd and low.  Even the seemingly simple sound work of Aaron Manthei and David Vogel adds all kinds of beguiling (and amusing) layers of confusion and revelation to the mix.

"How can we say we live in a moral universe and every other universe is immoral?"

Sometimes Maximum Verbosity is loose and goofy and that's a large part of its charm.  But The Concept of Anxiety, entertaining as it is, is sharp as a razor.  I marvel at how this thing was put together.  Though it's early days yet, I'd be very surprised if you see better wordsmithing than The Concept of Anxiety at this year's festival.

"Am I dying?"
"Do you really have to ask?"

You can also find phillip's work on display in not one, not two, not three, but FOUR other Fringe shows this year - he wrote Launcelot and Guenerver for Six Elements Theater over at the Music Box, he wrote and directed a piece that's in Fringe Orphans 2 at TRP, he's acting in Hardcover's The Diamond Lens at Music Box, and he just picked up a performance next Thursday with Stop Talking yet again at the Music Box.  I don't know if there are "all phillip low" packages, but a punch card would do you.  As for The Concept of Anxiety

5 stars, Very Highly Recommended

Next performance, Saturday 8/3 at 2:30pm
Check out their Fringe page for more information

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