A whirlwind tour of Las Vegas’ three-day Fringe Festival

Two Wrongs at the 2013 Vegas Fringe Festival made the audience gasp and mutter in anger.
Jacob Coakley

The format of a Fringe Festival—many cheap shows, each lasting about an hour—means you can sample one or two shows painlessly. But for some Fringe-goers, the game is not to sample, but to catch them all, a theatrical marathon. I’ve been binge-watching TV seasons on Netflix all spring. I’m ready for this.

Scenes From a Cell (Mick Axelrod; Las Vegas Little Theatre) First show; my adrenaline’s pumping, so I’ll overlook the preachiness in favor of the show’s cleverness and real humor—but I wish Axelrod would hold off on both over-explaining his jokes and on the morals.

Alice in Wonderland (Lewis Carroll; Endless Productions) A lo-fi production blending old-school theatricality with a Monty Python-esque sensibility and the best costumes in the whole Fringe. The tea party scene (with Brian Proffitt, Michael Kimm and Tara Lynn) is blindingly perfect.

Alice in Wonderland

Dick Johnson 2: Private Eyes (Maxim Lardent and Mark Valentin; Poor Richard’s Players) Day 2—my first real test, with four shows in a row—starts with the side-splittingly funny Dick Johnson 2. I’m missing jokes I’m laughing so hard, carried away by the sheer absurdity of a show that takes its characters to the Middle East and back, ending (much to the sound effects artists’ dismay) under a busy railroad bridge.

Candidate Burton (Adam Harrell; QuadraNine Productions) A standard “defend your life”-type comedy with sturdy jokes, the show is enlivened by a pitch-perfect Kim Glover as a ’60s secretary in love with a paleolithic defense attorney—but something’s missing and this never truly takes off.

Your Life (Happy Hour Improv) Making up a play as you go is tough, and I can’t tell you where the laughs come from in this show—horrible choices, over-commitment to a dead bit, or inspired lunacy—but the laughs do come.

The Humble Assessment (Kris Saknussemm; Porcelain Bomb Productions) I go along with the brick wall of absurdism and I’m impressed by Mark Brunton’s acting, his physical poise and his relationship to the video portion of the show—even as it begins to drag and the absurdity grows more affected and less affecting. I have to exit the show for a personal emergency—and inadvertently earn the admiration of fellow theater-goers who hate it from start to finish.

Two Wrongs (Scott Caan; APK Productions) Sunday—my longest day at the theater—starts with a show that manages to make the audience gasp and mutter in anger at the “wrongs.” And while everyone hits the right notes (kudos especially to Penni Paskett) in this show, they never do it at the same time. Finally, because the wrongs create such outrage, it makes the pat, romantic-comedy ending more unearned.

Moil Beside the Rock (Ernie Curcio; Mountain Mama Thespians) In this poetic character study between yearning and steadfastness, both characters are brought to life with extreme grace by Curcio and Taylor Hanes, proving that few things are funnier than a pig farmer teaching a 19th-century lighthouse keeper how to hula hoop.

Moil Beside the Rock

The Residents/Sudoku (The Musical) (Jolana Adamson and Angela Chan; Cockroach Theatre) Considering its short length, there are a disturbing number of good songs in this musical from Adams and Chan. Jacquelyn Holland-Wright shines in “All About Me,” Glenn Heath is stunning throughout as Clint and their final duet is searing.

The Last Act Is a Solo (Robert Anderson; Speeding Theatre—Over 55) An actress, very advanced in age, along with her nephew and an admirer, confront her death in a touching portrait of three people refusing to look away from a difficult situation. The senior actors, Mary Alice Brunod Burack, Steve Williams and Mike Hubbard, bring integrity and honesty to the characters as they all balance a past that doesn’t exist anymore with the fiercely independent spirit that does.

The Fringe Shorts Program Ela Rose as the title character in Christopher Durang’s Mrs. Sorken lacks sting; God on a Roof, an original by J.J. Gatesman, feels much too callow for the profundity it wants; and Chili by Frank Shaw comes out on the losing end of comparisons to one of South Park’s most murderous episodes. Murder is also on Erica Griffin’s mind in her Waxing On, a finishing school of a most delightful kind as trashy tourists get schooled in (blood) lust by Jack the Ripper and Lizzie Borden. It never stops having fun with the conceit.

We’re nearing the end, and the crowds have thinned on this Sunday night. Near the snack bar a fellow Fringe marathoner is napping on a couch, conserving his energy. I wake him and we’re off to the last show, determined to finish strong.

The Exhibition (Thomas Gibbons; Olde English Productions) Shane Cullum works hard on his physicality while portraying John Merrick, but the cadence of his speech is so rigid it becomes about the sound as opposed to meaning. J.J. Gatesman is so thoroughly unbelievable as Treves (Merrick’s benefactor) that the ending, which should eviscerate, merely whimpers.

And, suddenly, it’s finished. I step outside to breathe in the night air, stretch my legs and plan my training for next year’s event.


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