Thursday, August 06, 2020

Virtual Fringe 2020 Review - Paul and Erika's House Show - Theatre Mobile - Reaching Out Through The Screen - 5 Stars

Tweet Review: #mnfringe Digital Hub binge day: "Paul and @othererika's House Show" from Theatre Mobile; A-MA-ZING; absurd, sweet and delightful; embraces weird time we're all in theatrically; have your plate ready; so great; 1 of the best of Virtual #mnfringe - 5 stars

Show description: Waiting for Godot meets Pee-wee’s Playhouse: “A show that shows what a show is in a time of no shows,” from 15-time Best of Fest-winning Fringe touring performers. CRITIC’S PICK - CityBeat “Outstanding and barely quantifiable!” - Artswave - 36 minutes plus (depending on how far you are from your kitchen)

(Though useful as shorthand, that description does a disservice to the show - at least it does if Waiting for Godot makes you think this is going to be some sort of ponderous, existential dumbshow about the futility of life, or if Pee Wee's Playhouse makes you think it's going to be a kid's show made for adults, full of self-conscious whimsy.  First of all, the source materials (problematic as they may be) are both better than what society has reduced them to, and secondly, so is Paul and Erika's House Show - and it's very much its own thing besides.)

"Whose house is this house show in?"

Paul and Erika's House Show, better than anything I've seen (in the 25 shows I've seen so far), grapples directly with how strange it is for performers used to a live audience to try and find a way to perform without one.  It's not about applause, it's about the connection, about sharing space - something we just can't do right now.  And though there are several "false" starts, they keep trying - to reach their audience still, directly, despite the fact that this is a recording, and they actually kinda do it.  It's nuts, but it's also pretty wonderful.  If you've been missing that connection from the audience side of things, you should check out Paul and Ericka's House Show.  You just might get a taste of it again, in spite of everything.

"A 'We Don't Know How To Make A Movie But I Guess We Have To Now?' Production, from 'I Guess We're Gonna Make It With The Phone I Lose Three Times A Day?' Studios"

There must be something in the water in Covington, Kentucky, because Theatre Mobile (Paul Strickland and Erika Kate MacDonald) is the second Digital Hub act this year I've seen from that area that's really blown my mind with how good it was, and how fun it was to watch (the first being Pones' dance film project Proximity)

"I like to think of myself as a fellow who marches to the beat of his own dead horse."

Right off the bat the opening credits become a comedy bit (they rename themselves The Immobile Theatre, for instance), and remain so throughout because they keep restarting and getting a new round of credits, all equally funny and strange.  And just as the credits move from attempting a movie, to more rudimentary lettering and photography as the piece progresses, the content itself moves from trying to make a movie, to making a kind of meta commentary on the fact that they're doing theater but not really doing theater, to just trying to recapture the essence of the live show even though it isn't live.

"You don't want your house to look like Marie Condo's sunken place."

Even simple things like where Paul and Erika sit evolve - from a big comfy couch, to a couple of theater seats, to just a couple of normal chairs - to match the phases the House Show moves through.  Their co-stars shift from being an anthropomorphized spoon on screen, to a talking plate which audience members find in their own kitchens (no, seriously, go with it), to just, well, you, the viewing audience, the people they share the show with all the time, who they feel the absence of quite acutely.

"Hold your plate.  It has something to say to you."

It's something you honestly need to experience.  It's not nearly as cerebral as I'm probably making it sound.  In fact the whole point of the thing is to strip away the artifice and the self-awareness and just "be" in the moment by the end of it all, listening to a song.  Paul and Erika go from performing to side commentary to finally just looking at the camera and saying, quite earnestly, "We don't know the right way to do any of this," and admitting that even blank stares from the audience not getting a bit is better than no audience at all.  (At least blank stares is still communication, letting them know that part of the show probably needs a little more work if it's going to land.)

"The clock keeps ticking Now, Now, Now..."

Some of the offerings in the Virtual Fringe are genuinely embracing the idea that this is really film and not theater.  Some of the offerings are adapting theater to the new and different restrictions of video conferencing technology.  Some of the offerings are just documents of live theatrical experiences that happened in the past, the best of which leave you with the feeling of "I really wish I was there in person to watch that."

Paul and Erika's House Show is a production that looks through the screen and says to its audience, all sitting in front of their respective screens, "We really wish you were here in person to watch this."

And because of that sincere acknowledgement, we kinda are.

5 stars - Very Highly Recommended

And here's a handy set of links to the other coverage of Virtual Fringe 2020: a rundown of 5 star show coverage, 4.5 star show coverage, 4 star show coverage, 2 and 3 star show coverage, and overviews of the lineups of each day's Nightly Fringe free online content

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