by KRL Staff
Throughout the week we will be posting reviews of several of the shows being performed at this year’s Rogue Festival in Fresno. Check back daily for new reviews! For more Rogue performance information check out our Rogue Event page, and be sure and check out our other Rogue articles: Rogue Festival Celebrates 10th Year, Doing Da Rogue, The Road to Rogue & Why I Perform at Fringe Festivals.
Sia Amma’s What Mamma Said about Down There
Reviewed by Christine Autrand Mitchell
Sia Amma is the Executive and Artistic Director of a non-profit called Global Women Intact, working to end female circumcision. In her prominent (Liberian) accent, she has a very powerful message, first noted in her program, where she tells us: “About 130 million women worldwide have been subjected to female genital mutilation, and another 2 million are at risk every year.” She is a victim herself.
Let’s talk about her approach, though, through comedy. In her one woman show, she introduces us to a large cast of women of all ages and ethnicities, talking about “down there” and what their mother told them – or didn’t. She enters the stage and engages the audience immediately with questions, at times as humorous as the show, before breaking into characters. She does not hold back here. However, the characters sometimes get muddled and it’s difficult to tell if this is a character we’ve already been introduced to or someone new.
I admire Sia Amma for her work, touring the country, educating women, starting uncomfortable dialogs that need to be addressed, and her community activism and vision to start new cultural programs for rites of passage which will NOT harm girls and women. Her latest show, however, loses a bit of momentum and gets a little muddled. That said, for the experience to hear her message, however, I highly recommend attending her last show at Rogue, Saturday at 4 p.m. at the Broken Leg Stage – 1470 N Van Ness Ave. Tickets $9
NC-17 rating for adult language.
Burnt at the Steak
Reviewed by Christine Autrand Mitchell
Carolann Valentino is a talented performer. As she introduces you to her once powerful New York career at Sir Loin’s Steakhouse – Where Tenderness is a Tradition, you get singing, dancing, an array of amazing and distinct characters, audience participation, and laughs galore. This play looks like something for which she would have auditioned when she was a struggling actress in New York.
We, the audience, begin as Carolann’s new trainees, she’s a manager at Sir Loin’s, and are introduced to the distinct main characters of Bobby, the stereotypical Italian New Yorker, brusk and blatant; Kaycee, his pretty but brainless assistant; Clint, a Texan with basically a restricted vocabulary, and their customers.
This show is high energy, amazing with its brilliantly constructed caricatures, in whom the surprises lie, but the ending left me a bit unfulfilled and flat. Yes, nice message to pass on, the moral to the story, but the momentum she builds up so amazingly through three-quarters of the show simply plummets. I still recommend you see this show, also playing at 4 p.m. on Saturday, at Starline – 833 E Fern Ave., but realize that a bit of a rewrite is needed at the end. Tickets $7
Love, Art and Sexual Perversity
Reviewed by Heather Parish
Rogue one-act comedy gets a fine work-out with these four shorts by Dennis Schebetta and directed by Rogue veteran, Nicolette Tempesta. Love, Art, and Sexual Perversity succeeds with oomph.
The four quick and simple one-acts have a pithiness to them that give them comic and emotional substance without being weighted down with too much self-conscious cleverness. Tempesta directs a gifted and confident cast through the ins and outs of triumphing and losing at relationships.
The first of the scenes warms up the action with a snappy and energetic post-coital question gone awry and the second scene continues to rev the comic engine with a light touch regarding fidelity and retribution in relationships. Both scenes have a light touch and get the audience comfortable with the style and content of Schebetta’s quirky humor.
The third scene, about a couple ending their relationship on a ski lift, really takes the action of the scenes to a second level. Brian Pucheu and Ashley Hyatt begin the scene with a quiet verve that quickly turns into some snappy insults delivered with just the right amount of acid. And then, just as quickly, that anger turns again into a soft kindness and regret that is palpable in the actors’ capable performances. Tempesta’s direction of this scene ensures that it doesn’t wallow in this turn too long or too fiercely, ending the scene with a very loving feeling at its core.
The final scene takes a turn for the absurd in a good way, depicting four dogs in a dog park– but revealing the characters of their relationships to be eerily human in terms of mating, aging, and friendship. The energy woven through the scene, particularly by Brandon Weis and Jonathan Hogan completes the quatrain of scenes with a terrific energy and satisfaction.
Love, Art, and Sexual Perversity is bound to be one of the hits of Rogue Festival 2011, so don’t wait too long to get to this sharp and funny offering.
“Love, Art, and Sexual Perversity” is offered as part of the Rogue Performance Festival at the Million, Too Venue, 1153 N. Fulton Street, Fresno. Showtimes: 5:30 p.m. Saturday, 3/12. $9. Running time: 50 min.
Pillow Talk & Best Half Food Forward
Reviewed by Christine Autrand Mitchell
I’ve been attending the Artist Repertory Theater (ART) shows at Rogue Festival for a few years, and also their productions during the year, and always look forward to it. At Rogue, their choice in material is generally witty, sometimes ridiculous, often surprising, occasionally esoteric, but never lets me down – or the folks I drag along. It generally sells out fast, so line up early.
This year they’ve chosen two humorous shorts from Peter Tolan with all male casts. These are great for guys because they’ll have something to relate to, and great for women as it allows a peep hole into guys’ behavior. Some language and topics may not be suitable for all members of the audience – if you’re a prude, this won’t be for you.
Pillow Talk is directed by one of ART’s regulars, M. Justin Red, who does a great job with this “road trip” play about Aaron and Doug (or should I say Steve), played by Luis Ramentas and Jason Bathauer, who are driving from LA to Brooklyn. They stop off in Arizona where a conversation at bedtime evolves from two tired men that is partially expected of a male/female couple – with some drastic left turns, including adolescent rites of passage! It’s comical and eye opening, and I hope you won’t miss some of the dialog due to the uproarious laughter from the audience.
Best Half Foot Forward, directed by Anthony Taylor, is about four guys sharing a week away from wives and civilization in a cabin in the woods. It follows some stereotypes, the nerd, the jock, the married guy, the… practical joker. As expected at a Frat house or summer camp, there are pranks galore – look for the tick – and eventually what one would expect among a group of men trying to outdo each other. Expect the unexpected, however. Overall, this second one-act moves a bit slower and gets a bit distracting with unnecessary movement of actors across the stage, but has a rewarding ending.
Once again, thank you ART for not disappointing me and making my first show at Rogue 2011 a great one! See you there!
Pillow Talk & Best Half Foot Forward plays as part of the Rogue Performance Festival. Showtimes are Thursday, March 10 at 9:45 p.m., Friday, March 11, 10:30 p.m., Saturday, March 12 at 2:45 p.m. at California Arts Academy Severance – 1401 N Wishon. $9
Read about ART’s Road to Rogue in last Saturday’s issue.
The Ballad of Chet (On the Eve of his Bliss)
Reviewed by Heather Parish
The Ballad of Chet (on the Eve of his Bliss) is an original play-with-music by Fresno City College (FCC) professor Chuck Erven. The quirky piece is finishing up its debut production this weekend at the FCC mainstage theater.
The opportunity to create characters from new work is one that doesn’t often present itself to student actors, so it is greatly encouraging to see FCC’s theater department tackling new work. Developing new work can be a long, complicated process for a playwright, and very often the first production of a piece shows its strengths and weaknesses for future changes.
This production has a lot going for it in terms of execution: strong acting performances, terrific underscoring music from a high-caliber live band, snappy dialogue and a sardonic sense of humor. The production design is colorful and the costume design thoroughly delightful. Where it falls down, though, is in the script’s current form. It has a little Guys and Dolls, a little film noir, a little Rat Pack, a little Oedipus Rex, a little Dr. Faustus. It hasn’t yet decided what it wants to be, what it wants to achieve in terms of style or tone. Once that decision is clearly made, it will hone in on what’s important and what needs to stay and what needs to go. The borrowed elements that work well together will come into focus and the ones that confuse the story’s point will fall away.
Bearing in mind, though, that this is the first production of a work in progress, Chet manages to pull off a lot of really snappy, unique, and engaging scenes that aren’t overrun by the splashy design.
On the whole, I’d recommend The Ballad of Chet to theater-goers interested in seeing brand new work in its nascent form. It can make for some very interesting discussion about what works and what doesn’t because the show is still growing and learning– ultimately making you a better audience member for any show. And that’s the point: to take the chance and decide for yourself on something entirely unfamiliar, rather than depending upon the tried and true to decide for you.
The Ballad of Chet (on the Eve of his Bliss) plays at Fresno City College Theater, which is acting as a Bring Your Own Venue in tandem with the Rogue Performance Festival. Showtimes: Thursday, March 10 at 7:30 p.m., Friday, March 11 at 7:30 p.m., Saturday, March 12 at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. $12-$14. (559) 442-8221 for reservations.
Every Job I’ve Ever Had
Reviewed by Heather Parish
There is a performer at the Rogue Festival who is known as The Reverend Nuge. He was, at one time, an ordained pastor who has since left the profession and cultivated a life as a secular performer. His shows are very entertaining and thoughtful and well worth the price of admission.
But for me, the real secularized pastor — the real shepherd of performing souls–of the Rogue Festival is Barry Smith. Up until now, his previous best work was Jesus in Montana, a piece looking at a time in his life where he sought the second coming of Christ the Lord on a compound in Montana. It was his best work seen at the Rogue — until this year.
Smith’s Every Job I’ve Ever Had surpasses his previous shows, offering up a funny, touching, and moving look at being a seeker and a wanderer in a world where one’s work defines one’s self.
It sounds pretty heavy– preachy, even. But, like the best sermons and testimonies, it isn’t. Smith’s exceptionally specific and honest writing structures his multimedia presentation of his life through work with a deft hand. He inspires laughter in the audience, but not out of sense of superiority or knowing cleverness, but rather through a connection that allows entire audiences to recognize themselves in Smith’s experiences. His way of landing a punch line and revisiting his former triumphs and tragedies digs deeper into the next segment of his story, opening up the audience’s sympathies bit by bit until the next thing you know, you’re feeling each step of his journey with him.
Smith’s writing is some of the smartest you’ll find at any fringe festival in the U.S. and the seamless way with which he integrates multimedia into his storytelling is magnificent. But even without his chosen format, Smith could take this story and tell it over a cup of coffee and still have people enraptured– simply because Smith gives so much of himself in an effort to reach out and connect with others, that you cannot help but to follow his lead and aspire to his kind of singular honesty and bravery toward life’s experiences.
Barry Smith is the best of the Rogue Festival. Here’s hoping he continues to mine the vast resources of his life in new and engaging ways. . . All the better for the rest to follow his lead.
Every Job I’ve Ever Had plays as part of the Rogue Performance Festival. Showtimes are Thursday March 10 at 7:00 p.m., Friday March 11 at 4:00 p.m., Saturday March 12 at 1:15 p.m., and Saturday March 12 at 8:30 p.m. at California Arts Academy Severance. $9
Reviewed by Heather Parish
Burning Brothels: Sex and Death in Nevada, a Rogue Festival entry by Minnesota’s Katherine Glover, is combination of journalism, history and a storytelling which attempts to contextualize legal prostitution in American society. And it goes a long way toward achieving its aims.
Glover, a journalist and fringe performer, wrote the piece while digging into the history of Nevada’s legalized sex industry and attending conferences and seminars on the topic. As such, it is a well-researched piece with a lot of pithy information on Nevada’s prostitution history and several of its prominent figures.
As a performance piece, however, some of those bits of research can feel unwieldy in the mostly undeveloped piece.
That being said, Glover has a lot of terrific material to craft into a performance piece if she can get past some of the lecture-like delivery of a few of the sections.
Director Marcel Nunis assisted Glover in setting up a few performance structures, such as delivering certain characters from certain places on the stage and utilizing certain suggested costumes and props. Once these are more comfortable in Glover’s body and delivery, the overall effect will feel easier and more confident than at her premier performance.
Glover’s strengths in this piece are her sly, knowing delivery of the humor in her writing– of which there is considerable– and her book ending sections about two modern prostitutes and their experiences with the world at large. These two sections humanize sex workers so effectively that the audience truly feels for them, understands their perspective, and sees them as individuals. A few of her middle sections touch on this, but get lost in the myriad facts and laws and statistics of the piece. If Glover can stick to the human stories, and play them out with her considerable skill for showing their feeling and point of view, her history lesson will turn into a substantive performance piece with real heart.
On the whole, though, she has terrific raw material and a way with a humorous turn that makes seeing Burning Brothels in its current form enjoyable on the whole. I’d love to see what she’s done with the piece a year from now.
Burning Brothels: Sex and Death in Nevada plays at the Million, Too Venue, 1153 N. Fulton Street, Fresno, as part of the Rogue Performance Festival. Showtimes: 7 p.m. Wednesday, 3/9, and 7 p.m. Saturday 3/12. Tickets are $9. Running time: 60 min.
52 Pick Up
Reviewed by Heather Parish
Gemma Wilcox is famous among Rogue-goers as a one-woman phenomenon, so it is truly gratifying to see that she can put on equally muscular performances with a scene partner. 52 Pick Up is a difficult but very satisfying experience with Wilcox and acting partner Sam Elmore taking us through the story of a relationship, scene by scene– in a completely random order.
The story is a familiar one– boy meets girl, boy loses girl, life ensues– but each scene is written on a deck of cards that is scattered throughout the stage. The actors pick up a random card and play the scene in the order they pick them up. It is a dizzying prospect for an actor to play the emotional truth of a scene completely out of order, but both performers play the scenes exceptionally and confidently.
Wilcox is petite and lithe, but delivers her vivacious character with a bulldog’s determination and focus. Her sheer force of charisma disarms the audience from the moment she enters the stage. Elmore matches her move for move, emotion for emotion, and their chemistry is palpable.
Altogether, this makes for a challenging, engaging, and fruitful 80 minutes of theater from two of the Rogues highest caliber performers.
52 Pick Up is part of the Rogue Performance Festival and plays Tuesday March 8 at 8:30pm, Wednesday March 9 at 8:30pm, Friday March 11 at 7:00pm, and Saturday March 12 at 5:30pm. California Arts Academy Severance. $10
We get to start off our Rogue reviews with something a bit different–two reviews of the same show, The Wretched Void. Justin and Heather present two different perspectives on the show that make for an interesting read. Enjoy!
The Wretched Void
Reviewed by Justin Kamimoto
The Wretched Void, a powerful performance at the 10th annual Rogue Festival, started this past Friday. Profiling the lives of four gay youths, you get the inside look on the situations of homophobic behavior from friends, family, and even the strangers who don’t know us. Wretched Void will strap you in for an emotional ride.
Director Scott Hancock brings in a strong emotional presence to the audience through his strong performers on stage at the Starline Performance Venue. I attended the second performance at a 2:30 p.m. showing, but even though the day was nice and the birds were chirping, the mood and atmosphere changed once the show started. The performance is enhanced by being completely blacked out except for the small lighting on stage—this gave it a more dramatic feel to bring the seriousness of the topic to the atmosphere of the setting. I have to commend the performers on the strong level of emotion conveyed by gay youth in our society today because it did not feel like they were acting; they made it feel as if it were real, happening right before our eyes.
Set up in a sequenced form, which was a brilliant decision on Hancock’s part, each character starts to tell their story to a critical point before moving on to start the next character’s story. Each reflection on the character’s insight builds on the problems that LGBT youth face today as their cries are heard and seen for the first time, showing a growing need of help and acceptance to an intimate audience. By the end of the 45 minute performance, you will feel on the edge of your seat asking yourself how something so critical is happening in the communities we live in. The five people up on stage were not just actors; they were people, people wanting to be heard.
There are five main performers in The Wretched Void; four create the setting and the fifth sweeps it all away. Starting with a 15 year old boy who is going through the struggles of being gay in high school: questioned, pestered, and un-heard at his school. Moving to a divorced single mom who is dealing with the image of having a gay daughter going to prom with another girl, the situations come alive ending with a boy faced with the struggles of being gay and having strong traditional religious parents.
These are the struggles that teens have in today’s society because of the harassment and discrimination of homophobic behavior. People, mainly youth, are “tormented because of their sexuality.” These four disenfranchised gay youth search for acceptance and to find where they truly belong in the world we live in. Before the performance ends, one gay male youth gives a plea to his parents that living in a world of inequality is not something he can live with anymore; he is “too gay to live.”
I stand up and applaud Mr. Hancock’s efforts to deal with a situation that is so strong in today’s society with the reoccurring teen suicides. Your performers touched on a topic that most other performers do not go toward because of the sensitivity surrounding being gay. You did, and for that the community and I will always remember your powerful Wretched Void for the years to come.
The Wretched Void
Reviewed by Heather Parish
About a third of the way through the Cutting Edge Theater Project’s production of The Wretched Void, an obtuse and invisible character asks the question, “What’s the big deal?”
And the rest of the show attempts to answer, “The big deal is. . .” from the perspective of young, homosexual students dealing with the regular abuses, prejudices, dismissals, and overt threats of the world around them. Authority figures from parents, to school administrators, to God come into question about how they respond to the dangers– emotional and physical– of a young person coming out.
In many ways, the piece is a brave one for young people. In the show’s first performance, a small contingent of under 21s in the audience were engaged, challenged, and at times emotionally connected by the experiences of their peers onstage. The trials of facing a hostile, conservative and intolerant world while coming to grips with their sexuality is a new thing for so many young people– gay or straight. The Wretched Void deals with it as openly as it is able.
But to the other contingency in the audience– the 30 and up club– this is material we’ve seen in various forms for about 20 years. And I’d venture to guess that for audiences over 55, who lived through the sexual revolution of the 60’s, this is even older territory.
There is, in fact, nothing new under the sun.
But as a piece for actors and audiences between the ages of 15 and 24, The Wretched Void has potential. It is timely with the issues of gay bullying, same-sex prom dates, and gays in a Christian community.
If it requires improvement it is perhaps with the lecturing nature of the writing itself. The segment with the student in his principal’s office suffers from the principal being a voice over, as though the student were having a conversation with a god-like character. Having a real principle embodied on the stage might make for a more active and engaging “wrestling match” between the two characters. (This is actually the strength of the scene between the lesbian prom-goer and her mother– frigidly, angrily, desperately played by Danielle Jorn, a strong leader for the younger actors in the piece). The young, gay Christian talking to God while contemplating suicide explains a little too much about his family situation rather than letting that situation reveal itself to the audience through an honest, immediate conversation with his deity. And the ending requires a bit of clarification regarding to whom the final revelations belong.
Please understand, though, that The Wretched Void is a solid first piece from The Cutting Edge Theater Project, with some good potential for more performance by high school acting troupes. But, like all worthy first pieces, could stand for some more development.
For younger Rogue audiences, who have friends or are themselves, struggling with their sexual orientation in a very judgmental society, The Wretched Void speaks volumes and offers plenty to chew on.
Remaining showtimes for The Wretched Void by The Cutting Edge Theater Project are 1 p.m. Saturday 3/12, and 5:30 p.m. Saturday 3/12. Tickets are $9. Run time is 45 minutes. No late-comers admitted.