Written by Jason Pirodsky
The 2008 Prague Fringe Festival came and went in the blink of an eye – 39 shows in 8 different Malá Strana venues, and not nearly enough time to catch them all. But we can always try: click here for an excellent day-by-day blog from Wendy Wrangham along with 13 individual reviews. Some word-of-mouth highlights of the festival included: The Paper Bird´s bed-set ensemble 40 Feathered Winks; Karagiozis Exposed, a Cypriotic puppet show; The Hallucinogenic Toreador, a surrealist Dali tale from USA´s Lime House Theater Collective, Peter Hosking as Monk O´Neil in the one-man Aussie tale A Stretch of the Imagination; wartime tales Silkworm, from Black Hand Theatre Collective, and The Diary of Peter Ginz, from England´s Shrewsbury School; Anne Frütel´s cabaret act [H]Art am Limit; the return of Australian folk-rock-roots band Carus & The True Believers; Sax to the Max!, from the National Saxophone Choir of Great Britain; and the versatile Pip Utton, with two separate performances as Adolf and Chaplin. And also, the 9 shows I´ve reviewed in brief below:
Maria Tecce: Viva!
Sleek, seductive, dangerous: Maria Tecce´s return to the Fringe with Viva!, a varied collection of mostly Spanish-language favorites. Ms. Tecce has a beautiful voice, ranging from soothing to sultry with stunning ease, and the kind of spirited personality and passionate style that invigorates her audience (watch out – she may even pull you on stage). But a show on 31.5 in Kostel sv. Jana Křtitele na Prádle was something special, as a brewing storm produced thunder and lightning that perfectly accentuated the performance in the intimate church venue. The definitive highlight was Maria´s final piece, the Spanish version of Roy Orbison´s Crying – straight from David Lynch´s Mulholland Drive, as performed by Rebekah Del Rio. As the thunderstorm raged on outside, the singer´s voice reverberating off the walls of the church, chills went down my spine; I was left, quite literally, breathless. As opposed to Pat Kinevane´s Forgotten (see below), the previous show I caught at Kostel sv. Jana Křtitele na Prádle, the venue couldn´t have been more perfect.
An incredible tour-de-force performance by Pat Kinevane as four separate and distinct personalities highlights Fishamble´s kabuki-inspired Forgotten. Kinevane plays four elderly patients living in four separate nursing homes, reminiscing about past times; three of the characters are performed live, Kinevane creating such distinct personalities that he can leap from one to the other with ease, while the forth is played via recording, Kinevane donning a mask and turning his back to the audience. It´s an evocative, spellbinding performance that toys with your emotions, the occasional comedy darkly undercut by the dramatic nature of the situation the characters are in. Only complaint: some thick Irish accents and imperfect acoustics (for the performance) at the church venue (Kostel sv. Jana Křtitele na Prádle) meant I occasionally missed a good portion of the monologue, for two of the characters in particular. Still, Kinevane was absolutely captivating and 80 minutes passed in the blink of an eye, even if I didn´t catch every word.
A Day in Dig Nation
Extraordinary use of sound and projected images – some of the best I´ve seen in theater – beautifully compliments Michael McQuilken´s finely tuned performance as a withdrawn young man wading his way through contemporary society. McQuilken (who not only stars here, but also wrote the play and composed the projections, music and sound) mostly pantomimes his way through a society overwhelmed with media, a fallout shelter, and the video game of life. I loved this production; it´s a finely crafted piece of art that also has a sharp dramatic underbelly. Truly remarkable; coincidentally, A Day in Dig Nation has a lot in common with the productions at Prague´s Laterna Magika (live actors, projected backgrounds), a technique I haven´t seen elsewhere but would fully welcome more of.
I didn´t know what to expect when watching a dour, deadpan Thomas & Ruhller slither into the tent outside Nosticovo divadlo and waddle around at a snail´s pace, nor what to do when they exited the theater five minutes later. But the audience followed them out of the theater, and into the park at Kampa, as a woman with a baby carriage did a quadruple take, a Japanese tourist snapped photos, young children struggled in vain to understand what was happening, and group a picnickers attempted to maintain their cool and pretend nothing was happening. And it wasn´t so much these two oddball characters slithering around as it was this crowd – which at least doubled after we left the tent – that circled around them. Indescribable: different and unique and – sure, why not – brilliant. Thomas & Ruhller didn´t really do much of anything yet created an experience I´ll never forget.
An unlikely melding of J.S. Bach´s music and Charles Bukowski´s words by Dutch pianist Willem van Ekeren unexpectedly churns out some wonderful music. You need no introduction to the composer or the poet, and the two would initially seem to be from different worlds. Yet van Ekeren combines them with such affection – Bukowski´s words have never been spoken so softly – that these two unlikeliest of matches make beautiful music together. It´s truly an achievement: I doubt I´ll listen to Bach or read Bukowski again without recalling van Ekeren. Almost like The Wizard of Oz and Dark Side of the Moon, but this time, it really works.
Salim Ghouse´s one-man-show as legendary sulfi character Mulla Nasrudin transplanted to a contemporary world of terrorist paranoia and WMDs was a sheer delight, filled to the brim with wonderful wordplay and some biting satire. While the war on terror and the search for WMDs are all too easy targets, Ghouse injects the piece with nonstop humor that flies by fast and furious, and all the irreverent ‘wisdom´ of Nasrudin, a character that is mostly absent from Western culture; I was delighted to have been introduced to him here. Check out this Wikipedia entry or www.nasruddin.org to read up more on Nasrudin and his “outrageous wisdom”.
Terrific acting by Becka McFadden and Adam Stewart uplifts this pretentious yet engaging tale of legendary lovers Heloise and Abelard. Far-ranging script bounces around with little care for continuity or coherence as we travel to the depths of hell and back, but the emotions in the piece shine through. Well-chosen music and an interesting set also help, though a multimedia presentation, projected off the craggy back wall of A Studio Rubín, didn´t always seem to come off as intended. Had it stayed any longer, the heavy material might´ve worn out its welcome; thankfully, at a short length of 30 minutes, it didn´t.
Three characters trapped in a curiously sedated afterlife quickly discover that “Hell is other people” in Act Provocateur International´s adaptation of Sartre. Absorbing, compelling acting from George Xander, Lucinda Westcar, and Claira Watson Parr dominates as the three characters are fully fleshed out into the perfect antagonists for one another; spending 60 minutes with them, however, can´t be described as a pleasant experience. Our characters discover that “Hell is other people” rather early in the piece; I was slightly disappointed that the finale only underlined this basic premise rather than treading into deeper waters.
Magic & More with Frisco Fred
A classic lousy magician act (and I mean that in the most appreciative sense possible): San Francisco´s Frisco Fred, who performs the usual shtick with charm and gusto even as his show is being stolen by a seven year-old in the first row. Each drop of the juggling balls meant that much more when Fred eventually brought out the knives: no magic show is complete until the audience genuinely fears for their lives.