David Ozanich's The Lightning Field is the kind of play that keeps me coming back to the Fringe. This edgy new work is a dynamic exploration of the complexities of human relationships; marriage (gay and straight), domestic abuse, passion, fidelity, and parenthood are just a few of the issues addressed here in a smart and compelling fashion. The play is also quite funny, and the shifts between moments of hilarity and high drama are skillfully done.
Sam (H Clark) and Andy (Cory Grant) are a gay couple at a crucial juncture in their commitment to each other. They're vacationing in New Mexico along with Sam's father, Gerrit (Ron McClary) and Andy's mother, Lori (Bekka Lindström). The four arrive at The Lightning Field, an outdoor art installation by sculptor Walter De Maria consisting of 400 stainless steel poles installed in a grid measuring one mile by one kilometer; when lighting strikes, the effect is supposed to be amazing. Sam and Andy's love is tested as difficult truths come to the fore. Meanwhile, an attraction is beginning to develop between Lori and Gerrit, which has not gone unnoticed by their sons. "We could be step-brothers if we're not careful," Andy tells Sam.
While some of the dialogue verges on the didactic -- e.g., "Love is acceptance; commitment is control" -- the superb ensemble cast is so committed to the play that even such heavy-handed lines come across as natural. Ozanich also includes much more emotionally complex declarations. When Gerrit asks his son if he loves Andy, Sam's response is: "I don't know how to be without him anymore." He doesn't deny love but doesn't declare it, either.
Clark and Grant have the kind of combustible on-stage chemistry that makes them ideally suited to play the troubled young lovers. McClary is extremely effective as a father who is trying very hard to reach out to his son. (As Sam painfully reminds Gerrit, the two were never very close.) Lindström is also quite moving as a woman who felt stifled by her marriage and doesn't want her son to give up his individuality. Andy is not normal, she insists -- and that's how it should be. Each character is sharply defined and impeccably performed. Director Jared Coseglia guides the action masterfully, building to a climax that is felt as much as it is witnessed.
The Lightning Field doesn't provide easy answers; even after the emotionally wrenching conclusion of this taut, 90-minute production, there is a great deal left unsettled. Things have changed irrevocably -- maybe for the better, maybe not. But that very uncertainty gives the play its charge.
While many of this year's Fringe offerings are strictly for adults only, a handful of shows -- labeled "Fringe Jr." entries -- are aimed at family audiences. Among them is Extraordinary, a musical smartly crafted by book writer and lyricist Dante Russo and featuring a peppy, hummable score by David F.M. Vaughn.
Extraordinary chronicles the story of nine-year-old Lester (Richie Cook), the self-proclaimed "king of everything." The boy has no friends his age, other than Fred (Maxwell Glick), who's imaginary. Lester meets his cousin Hope (Sandie Rosa) and, upon discovering that she's deaf (but can see Fred), he leads Hope and Fred on an expedition to the Land of Quiet to find Hope's hearing. They discover that the land is ruled by a queen who'll grant one wish to anyone who can make it to her castle. They begin the journey and, along the way, they encounter others who have attempted the trek before them. They also learn the importance of friendship, the value of differences, and to be careful what they wish for.
Cook has a goofy energy that's fitting for Lester, while Glick is absolutely adorable as the imaginary Fred. Rosa has the difficult task of creating a nuanced character without uttering a single word, and she pulls it off admirably. Mary Theresa Archbold is very good as the Girl with Legs of Stone, but she and Rick Kunzi go over the top in their portrayals of the Dustmites that police the Land of Quiet. Likewise, Kunzi overplays his role of Peter the Chocolate Eater, and Kristen Seargent is too shrill as Mother and Lonely Lucy.
Russo, who also directs, keeps things moving at a brisk pace, and the live band sounds fine under the musical direction of Jad Bernardo. While Extraordinary may not fully live up to its title, it's an enjoyable romp that is bound to please both children and parents.
Wade is a loser. He works a dead-end job as a dishwasher, sweats a lot, and hangs out at the laundromat, hoping to meet girls. He's the kind of guy you wouldn't normally think twice about. Written, performed, and directed by Steve Barney, Wade invites the audience to spend an evening with the title character as he does his laundry and reflects upon his life. It's a far more enjoyable, insightful, and poignant experience than you might expect.
The stories that Wade relates are often extremely funny, though not to him. My favorite is his description of his first and last attempt to pick up a girl at a supermarket. Cornering the unfortunate woman by a row of mayonnaise jars, he tries to impress her with his knowledge of different brands; her expression changes from incredulousness to fear as she abandons her groceries and leaves him standing forlornly in the aisle.
But there's more to this show than making us laugh at its unlikely hero; Wade's feelings of loneliness and insecurity are easy to relate to. By play's end, you come to care about the character, and may even find yourself rooting for him to make the elusive connection that will give meaning and purpose to his existence.
Since Barney doesn't vary his speech rhythms very much, this solo show does become static after awhile. A director other than the writer/performer might have been able to help him navigate the pitfalls in pacing that mar his generally strong performance.
Few modern plays have spawned more adaptations than Arthur Schnitzler's 1896 drama Reigen (or La Ronde) -- Hello Again, The Blue Room, and so on. The latest version is Jack Heifner's all-gay roundelay seduction... Unfortunately, it doesn't live up to its potential for erotic heat or intellectual stimulation.
Theatergoers whose taste runs strictly to the prurient may leave satisfied, since the game cast of six British actors -- Adam Blake, Richard Gee, Phil Price, Peter Sundby, Graham Townsend, and Gareth Watkins -- doff their clothes freely and frequently. But Heifner's simulated sex scenes have none of the passion or conviction of the man-on-man action we've seen on TV's Queer as Folk.
A larger problem is that Heifner is content to let his characters be completely defined by their professions -- actor, writer, producer -- and he draws many of them as a collection of stereotypes. Yes, they can be intermittently funny, as when the actor sings "This is the Moment" or the producer makes a smart quip about a Melanie Griffith movie. But humor is no substitute for depth; with each of the 10 scenes lasting about 10 minutes, every word and action needs to really count.
For the most part, the cast is able. Townsend makes a surprisingly strong impression in his two brief scenes (the show's first and last) as a rent boy. Blake brings pathos to the role of a love-starved handyman, though he overacts just a bit as a vain author. And Watkins -- the finest actor in the bunch -- scores as a nervous professor who hopes to dally with an eager, if annoying, university student.
Director Peter Bull does well enough with the production, using James Galloway's set of six white blocks in clever ways to create 10 different locales and choosing some interesting music cues to set the various scenes. But neither he nor his cast can fully seduce their audience -- no matter how willing -- with such underdeveloped material.