Fringe reviews: Streetcar Named Durang, The Play About the Coach, Entertaining Mr. Sloane, Way Up High

Posted: September 03, 2008

Attention, all theater-lovers: Don't miss this one! Eye-moppingly funny, and clever to boot, Tina Brock's Idiopathic Ridiculopathy Consortium has found exactly the right Fringe material (three entertaining scripts by Christopher Durang) and exactly the right cast (Chris Fluck, RJ White, Gerre Garrett, Betsy Herbert, Ethan Lipkin, Laurie Norton, Bob Schmidt, Mark Schroeder - and her own fine self).

In the first, "Desire, Desire, Desire," A Streetcar Named Desire (Desire Desire) seems to be going along hilariously, with Blanche all languid and neurasthenic, just filled with desire desire desire, having waited six years for her sister Stella to return with that lemon coke. Stanley bellows "Stella!" periodically. Then, suddenly, Maggie the Cat shows up, Stanley turns into Brick and - well, you get the idea. To give more away would deprive you of your fun, but be on the lookout for O'Neill.

The second play, "The Actor's Nightmare," begins when an innocent bystander has to fill in for Edwin Booth (who's been in a car crash). As it slides from Noel Coward's Private Lives to a mishmash of Beckett plays (Checkmate is the best title), Bystander is wearing a Hamlet costume. Once he finds himself playing Sir Thomas More, things can only end badly.

The last, "A Stye of the Eye," skewers Sam Shepard's plays - just about all of them - with some Mamet thrown in. But wait! Is that Agnes of God I see? Or is it Equus? Or Amadeus? Nah, it's Mamet.    - Toby Zinman

$15. 7:30 tonight, Tuesday and Wednesday. At L'Etage Cabaret, 625 Bainbridge St.

The Play About the Coach.This one follows the tradition of Fringe shows addressing the sports arena, but with a difference: It has a dark side. Its New York-based actor-playwright Paden Fallis portrays a coach in the final minutes of trouble.

He has taken his state school to a new level of hoops history - March Madness - and a 14-point lead has shrunk to a basket's worth. What to do? Yell at the athletes ("Knock it off with the smiling out there!"), melt down at the ref, muse through clock-stops. "Why do we always recruit white kids? We're not Stanford!"

In a small black-box room on Brandywine Street, some of this may have fallen flat because we were only five in an audience that represented an entire stadium - too few to give Fallis a ball to dribble, so to speak, and pass off as his monologue proceeds. I thought some of it was funny. No one else was laughing.

In the beginning, we're clued by a postgame scene with recorded reporters - Phillip Gerson's sound design is excellent - that this could be the coach's career-ender. The best part of The Play About The Coach is its look into a side of coaching we rarely see: self-doubt.

   - Howard Shapiro

$10. 8 p.m. tomorrow and Saturday, 3 p.m. Sunday, at the Black Lodge, 1508 Brandywine St.

Entertaining Mr. Sloane. There's nothing particularly "fringe" about B. Someday's conventional staging of Joe Orton's 44-year old black comedy except its inclusion on the festival schedule. Director Stan Heleva offers up a straightforward interpretation that isn't musty, but isn't quite fresh, either.

Part of the problem is Ben McClung's Mr. Sloane. McClung has the look: a tall, lanky young thing with a pouty physical appeal. He also has almost no understanding of his character's responsibility in this play: He obediently delivers his lines and allows his arms to hang limply at his sides when his whole body ought to be electric with insouciance and cagey unpredictability. But mostly, he just looks uncomfortable, and if there's one thing Orton makes clear, it's that predatory Sloane - whether beating an old man (Rick Gross' repulsive Kemp) to death or seducing a pair of middle-aged siblings - generally manages to make himself comfortable.

Michelle Pauls' Kath and Dennis Smeltzer's Ed fare better as the twisted sister and brother vying for Sloane's grudging affections. Smeltzer's middlebrow restraint is just the right balance for Pauls' saucer-eyed lunacy.

But let's face it, no matter how hard the cast works to cover his tracks, without an entertaining Mr. Sloane, the production is missing much of Orton's charm.

   - Wendy Rosenfield

$15. 8 p.m. tomorrow, Wednesday and next Thursday; 3 p.m. Saturday; 7 p.m.
Monday; 9 p.m. Sept. 13. At Walking Fish Theatre, 2509 Frankford Ave.

Way Up High. Loose Screws is a wonderful name for a tap-dance company, referring as it does to the screws on tap shoes that must be loose enough to let the taps jiggle and click. Would that it also applied to the sensibility of the company's artistic director, Jenn Rose, composer and associate director Dan Kazemi, and associate artistic director Megan Nicole O'Brien. Their show at First Unitarian Church of Philadelphia on Tuesday was sweet, girly, even new-agey in its attempt to portray the story of the dancer who represented the color black and deconstruct it into the colors of the rainbow. Hence, the title Way Up High, an allusion to "Over the Rainbow."

The directors also hyped their 50-minute show as "uninhibited, risk-taking and new" and said that it fused contemporary dance with tap. In fact, the first 20 minutes consisted of outdated noodling around with flung-out arms and distressed facial expressions before the tap shoes even came out. And when they did, they disappointed in this missed opportunity to take the floor by storm. The shoes kept coming on and off, the arms kept flinging out as the seven girls turned and leapt. The music droned on without the rhythms that inspire great tap. There was little jiggle, and no click.    - Merilyn Jackson

$15. 7 tonight, 9 p.m. tonight and Saturday at First Unitarian Church of Philadelphia, 2125 Chestnut St.

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