Review: Saturday at Fringe brings brilliant dance, oddball drama

11:34 PM, Sep 21, 2013


Written By Jeff Spevak | Staff music critic

What is art? Or “arrrrrrrrrrrrrrt,” as trilled by the main characters, the surrealist painter Salvador Dali and the poet Federico Garcia Lorca. It’s a big question for the hour-long ¡Ole! to answer. But these two men have the outsized personalities to take a few whacks at it. “At the age of 7 I wanted to be Napoleon,” Dali announces, in a line taken from his autobiography, The Secret Life of Salvador Dali. “And my ambition has grown ever since.”

Saturday’s show at Blackfriars Theatre continued an early trend at the First Niagara Rochester Fringe Festival of imaging encounters between famous artists. Thursday’s Karl Rogers dance, “We Too Cling,” brought together the twin seersucker-clad Tennessee Williams and the artist David Hockney. In the same vein of exploring dead artists’ brains (with apologies to Hockney, who is not yet dead), Almighty God Bierce explores writer Ambrose Bierce Sunday and again next Saturday at Geva Theatre Center’s Nextstage.

Dali and Lorca have grand ideas as to the nature of art. Lorca is the more spiritual of the two, Dali the science-minded one.

Sexuality is also a main theme of ¡Ole!
, presented by a small New York City company, Theater In Asylum, which touts its mission as “to provide asylum to highly charged subjects and characters.” If ever a theater company was built for a fringe festival, this would be the one.

The evidence seems ambiguous, but Paul Bedard, who conceived and directed the play, believes the bromance was real, and in the program notes defends his right to present it as such.

Guitarist Randall Benichak and dancer Sofia Lund have strong supporting roles. They never leave the stage, interacting with Dali and Lorca through Flamenco music and dance, and occasional comic relief (although it seems unlikely that the sword is supposed to break, as it did in Saturday afternoon’s matinee). And ¡Ole! does open a little flat, as the audience doesn’t know quite what to make of the Flamenco dance that evolves into an interpretive bullfight. Highbrow art, or joke?

But Jake Lasser as Dali and Frankie Alicèa as Lorca soon take command, and their portrayals of the two very different giants of art quickly becomes hugely engaging. They deflect the sometimes dead weight of serious art debate with quirky dances and clever exchanges of wads of paper. Their words are the actual words drawn from the writings of the two men. Lorca is a serious poet and a love-sick puppy. Dali is passionate about art but distant in love, maintaining to Lorca that their alleged affair “didn’t take place.”

Dali goes on to become an oddball surrealist superstar, but all ends badly for Lorca. And therein lies the charm of watching a small theater production. The connection between art and artist. As Lorca closes in on his death at the hands of Spanish Nationalists during the Spanish Civil War, I glanced over at Paul Bedard, who conceived and directed the play, sitting a few seats away. Even in the dim light, his eyes were glistening as he stared, transfixed, at what he had created on the stage below.

Mad as hell and beautiful

Influences and inspirations, yes. But “Psychopomp & Pageantry,” a set of four mind-blowing dances by the FuturPointe dance troupe, was nevertheless free of expectations and stereotypes.

After an opening of posing for family and gag portraits, the dancers exploded into an exciting Afro-swing, ballroom jive to “Istanbul (Not Constantinople).” Rituals of African and Eastern spirituality and athletic leaps merged with the optical illusions of magician Nickle Van Wormer, who pulled off the famous zig-zag box illusion while surrounded by a whorl of dancers.

Dramatic lighting, costumes, subtle humor and audio and visuals drew from many sources: a cerebral George Carlin rant, Peter Finch’s famous explosion of “I’m as mad as hell and I’m not gonna take this anymore” from the film Network. And there were images of inexplicable beauty including a crystal figure, lit by points of red light exchanged by the dancers, lifted heavenward in the dramatic finale, “Midwife to the Dying.”

This brilliant set of dances returns for two shows Sunday, at 1:30 and 9:30 p.m., at Geva.

All your darkest, funniest thoughts addressed

A radio play about two bicyclists using a machete to cut the heads off of pedestrians in their way? One of a dozen or so short skits that made up All Your Questions Answered, a fast-paced, seamless collage of music and offbeat comedy by a talented troupe of 10 young local performers who are part of Geva Theatre’s conservatory.

It’s a play that relentlessly crashes through the fourth wall, that imaginary barrier between audience and cast. So “a post-show discussion during the show” featured an iPhone conference call to New York City with the play’s author, Tony Award-winning Greg Kotis, and questions from the cast about how the audience thought it was going so far. “A little disturbing,” someone offered.

Skits included a man obsessed with smelling babies’ heads, and who’s poisoned by the dander in the child’s scalp. A chipper climate-change observation about, “Hard to think about the end of the world when you can buy salad in a plastic bag!” And lots of examinations of the relationship between actors and playwrights and producers done as cop-show parodies, and hopeful authors who bring their scripts to be judged in hell.

And after 90 too-quick minutes, a closing number: “There’s nothing worse than a play or show that doesn’t know when it’s time to go.” All Your Questions Answered returns 7:30 Sunday, 3 p.m. next Saturday and 8:30 p.m. next Sunday. It’s a don’t miss.