Monday, August 06, 2018

Fringe 2018 - Review - Vert-O-Graph - 4 stars

tweet review - #mnfringe show 13 - Vertograph - campy satire of mid-20th century suburban obsessions, pulled into another dimension and back again; rules were a little fuzzy, sometimes didn't know if I was supposed to be laughing WITH the gay characters or AT them - 4 stars

I will freely admit I don’t fully understand camp, at least not as well as a gay man of my age should probably be acquainted with it.  I’m not up on the history, the significance, its particular transgressive qualities or key elements.  So on some level I’m not fully qualified to weigh in on a Fringe show like Vert-O-Graph from Marvel Ann Theatre, because camp is most definitely the brand of satire they’re playing with here.  Still, however imperfect my credentials, I was still an audience member sitting through the play, so I’ll offer up my two cents for what it’s worth.  Consider the source.  I enjoyed quite a lot of Vert-O-Graph.  I’m just not entirely sure I “got it” in terms of what they were aiming for with the production.

“The deodorant for women with a lot to hide.”

Vert-O-Graph is also a reboot of the original 2004 production of the play (which I didn’t see), so it may be that the previous version was longer and in trimming the script to fit into the “just under one hour” time frame allotted by the Fringe, some of the connective tissue between ideas or some nuance was lost.

“It’s not the pillow, Barbara.  It’s you.”

It’s 1963, the era of the Kennedys, and the flowering of suburbia (such as our story’s location of Dullsville, USA), and discontented housewives like Barbara (Kelly Gilpatrick).  Her emotionally distant husband Ted (Max Meier) is having an affair with his secretary Bunny (Taryn Hudson).  Her rebellious daughter Debbie (Taelyn Gore) is obsessed with getting a bra, even though she hasn’t really developed breasts yet.  Her effeminate son Timmy (Hunter Goldsmith) is spending way too much time for anyone’s comfort with his even more flamboyant best friend Lester (Tom Howard).

“Thank you.  That was very sad and dark.”

But Lester has also opened a portal to the fourth dimension, where cosmic counselor and galactic groundskeeper X (Raine Hokan) shepherds the new arrivals toward realizing their hearts’ truest desires, as an escape from everyday reality.  Since Barbara’s current reality revolves around an unhealthy obsession with a house so clean and perfect that no one can sit on the dining room chairs or sleep in their own beds, she could use some adjustment.

“It’s The Ghost of Unwaxed Floors!”

The ensemble also includes Alissa Barthel, Heather Fossum, Lydia Nynas, Jessica Peters, and the voice of writer/director Dennis LeFebvre as all the characters on the TV soap opera Search for Tomorrow.  There are a lot of production numbers in the fourth dimension, so you need the large ensemble.  And if the refuge of the fourth dimension is to be saved from sudden peril, it may require someone to make the ultimate sacrifice.

“I don’t know how she ever expects to find a husband - of her own.”

Here’s where Vert-O-Graph lost me a bit.  The rules of the fourth dimension weren’t given the same kind of space onstage as its production numbers, so when things were suddenly in danger, I wasn’t entirely sure why, or what could be done to solve them.  And then when the sacrifice is made, I was a bit confused as to what reality we ended up in for what looked like a happy ending, and who might actually be living or dead.  Choices were offered but never followed through on, stakes were a little fuzzy for me.  Consequently it was a little hard to invest emotionally in anyone’s fate.

“Think of it as a metaphysical restraining order.”

Also, none of the targets of the play’s point of view were especially original.  If you’re going to satirize something we’ve seen satirized countless times, I need a more distinctive voice from the storyteller, or I’m going to get ahead of the play and tune out.  Finally, I didn’t feel like the play was celebrating Timmy and Lester.  It felt like the play was mocking them.  The laughter from the audience seemed like laughter at the expense of effeminate boys, rather than in support of them (ha ha, look at the boy behaving like a girl, as if that’s a bad thing deserving of ridicule).  Maybe everybody’s supposed to be equally lampooned in camp.  I guess I was hoping for a safe space where they could maybe even be the heroes.

“I eat lunch naked on the road less traveled.”

Like I said at the top, I did enjoy a lot of Vert-O-Graph and its over the top version of reality and alternate reality.  Some elements of it left me scratching my head.  Could be the play, could be me.  But it’s not something you get to see every day around town, so I’m going to say you should all see Vert-O-Graph for yourself and make up your own mind.  Fringe, and campy content, comes sadly but once a year for some of us.  Grab some while you can.

4 Stars - Highly Recommended

Here's some handy links to reviews of 5 Star Shows, 4.5 Star Shows, 4 Star Shows, 3 Star Shows, and my full Top 10, Top 11-20 and Returning Favorites lists.

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