Fringe Wrap-Up

A wrap-up of five more Fringe Festival productions which are still playing this weekend. For more information, visit the Fringe Festival website .

CHING CHONG CHINAMEN
Review By: Adrienne Cea
Written By: Lauren Yee
Directed By: Anne Marie Bookwaltez

Ching Chong Chinamen currently playing at the Fringe Festival is about a Chinese family named, The Wongs, so removed from their culture that the mother, Grace, (Sandy Chen) feels like an imposter when ordering from a Chinese restaurant. Daughter, Desdemona (Jamie Yuen-Shore) only cares about her cultural identity when she realizes it could get her into an Ivy League school, son Upton (Sean Finerty), wants to be left alone to play his video games, and Dad, Ed (Wilton Yeung), is the first to throw away his chopsticks in favor of a knife and fork.

The characters are all so unapologetically true to their neurotic, egocentric selves that the storyline can hardly go wrong with them in it. Each member of the Wong Family is completely engaging in their own unique way, especially in their reactions to their new houseguest, a Chinese boy named, J, (Randy Nakagawa); whose real name is so difficult to pronounce that they assume he is saying Ching Chong.

Along the Wong's path to self-discovery and betrayal the story takes many unexpected and surprising turns. But the character's goals and personalities are kept so consistent that it's easy to follow their madcap, meandering story, and fun to guess what will happen to them next.


KISS AND MAKE UP
Review by Adrienne Cea
Book and Lyrics/Directed by Kevin Hammonds
Music and Lyrics by Mark Weiser

Fringe comedy, Kiss and Make Up, contains all the usual combustible Fringe elements; outrageous plot, snappy dialogue, clever scenery, original songs, and a cross dressing lead. The cast and crew of a community theatre have just learned that the president will be attending their Opening Night, an unexpected surprise that creates stage fright, bickering and some excessive pill popping.

Jeanne Tinker is a stand-out as Annabelle; a first time actress who writes her lines on the back of a Chinese fan. Her best gags stem from a trick played by a jealous actor, who erased all the marks onstage instructing her where to stand. He redraws the marks in random places leading to some hilarious staging problems for poor Annabelle.

The play-within-a-play plot could have been confusing, but David Sabella-Mills is the unifying thread that holds them both together. A series of screwball circumstances have left him no choice but to play both the male and female lead, which he pulls off surprisingly well, until both need to be in the same scene at once. The farcical humor and sight gags to come out of this dilemma inspired impromptu moments of audience applause. The play is so full of originality and unexpected surprises, that it simply must be seen to be believed.


Elektrafire
Review by Samantha O'Brien

Greek tragedy rocks! In Elektrafire, the classic play gets a rock opera makeover with several fiery, catchy songs. Standouts include the punchy "Hey Agamemnon," the aggressively percussive "Elektra," and Heidi Suhr's splendid wailing in "Sister Dear."

Although the score soars, the plot stumbles because the one-hour production moves a bit too quickly and glosses over its complicated themes of coups, matricide, and incest. The loud band also hinders plot development, as the instruments frequently drown out the actors. While it might not satisfy Sophocles or Euripides aficionados, fans of Jesus Christ Superstar and Pink Floyd's The Wall should certainly drop by.


Champ: A Space Opera
Review by Adrienne Cea
Created by Jeff Curtin, Juan Pieczanski and Patrick Young
Directed and Produced by Patrick Young

It is the distant future, Earth has been destroyed and the last of humanity is confined to a spaceship with a final destination that is over a hundred light years away. In the Fringe rock opera, Champ: A Space Opera we meet Champ (Jonathan Fredrickson) and his fellow crew members as they struggle to past the time, traveling towards a place they will never live to see.

This multimedia story is told through a combination of television images, dance, and deafening rock music. Unfortunately, there is not a lot of room on the stage to accommodate a live nine-person rock band and five dancers all at once. The dancers, whose talent is evident in their graceful, controlled movements, are unable to do much more than wave their arms and move in place. There is also the matter of the complicated plot, which is explained in more specifics on a screen located behind the dancers, obstructed from the audience each time they perform in front of it.

Visually the science fiction atmosphere is fully established. The dancers stand ankle deep in a smoky fog that eventually covers their entire bodies, and the instruments hit some eerie high notes. But without a full understanding of the story being performed, these creative elements end up getting lost in space.


Face Off with Ugliness
Review by Adrienne Cea
Written by Rick Bland
Directed by Heather Davies

Rick Bland's dark comedy, Face Off With Ugliness, currently running as part of the Fringe Festival is built around a good joke that gets stretched too far. Any material, when stretched to its limit, will start to grow thin and flimsy. Good jokes are no exception.

The play's two actors, Rachel Hamilton and Rick Bland, personally greet and shake the hands of audience members as they take their seats. They are not welcoming us to the show, but to a banquet honoring murdered surgeon, Frank Miller, who died in the midst of his grand plan; gathering excess body fat from people around the world to plug holes in the ozone later.

Some of his body slicing ideas are funny -- like when Miller creates shoes out of liposuction patients' excess skin to wear as an alternative to leather. But by the time our main character is eating meatballs fried in body fat, the story has taken a turn for the gross. There is no element of reality to latch onto, no character to connect with or any emotion to be felt. Bland needs to surgically remove some of his excess jokes and focus on using his material to shed a revealing light on our image obsessed society.

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