Saturday, July 14, 2007

The Fringe Fest makes you think irreverent, off-kilter, experimental, right? What about topical, serious, controversial?

Most of the theater offerings at the second annual Capital Fringe Fest are just what you’d expect — absurd, satiric or surreal — but some of the artists and playwrights are tackling thornier issues in their original pieces.

Emerging playwright Lynette Long, a D.C.-based psychologist and author who claims to have coined the phrase “latchkey kid,” takes on the hot-button topic of abortion in her work “One in Two,” which will be performed July 25 through 29 at the Atlas Performing Arts Center in Northeast Washington.

“I decided the first year to write a play and then thought about abortion, which is such a polarized issue,” says Miss Long. “It’s killing a baby versus removing a one-pound mole — although the reality is somewhere in the middle for most women.”

“One in Two” (the title refers to the statistic that one out of every two women in America has had an abortion) delves into the psychological impact of abortion by interweaving three stories told from the point of view of a 40-year-old white Jewish woman and mother of three daughters, an 18-year-old goody-two-shoes Catholic girl who gets pregnant and believes her boyfriend is going to marry her and a black girl who is raped on the way home from school.

“I wanted to cover different scenarios, religions and family structures, as well as all the emotions experienced before and after an abortion: guilt, fear, shame, relief,” Dr. Long says. “Abortion is legal in this country, but it is a secret. You have the right to choose, but it is not a free choice. Nobody comes up to you and says, ‘I’ve had an abortion.’ I hope this play helps people develop compassion, to see how trapped a woman feels when considering abortion.”

Solo performance artist Courtney McLean attacks another one of society’s bugaboos — the beauty and fashion industry — in “Super Glossy!” a futuristic science-fiction satire that suggests that women’s magazines spur self-hatred and suppression by perpetuating an impossible standard of female beauty.

“Super Glossy!” is a living magazine, complete with letters from the editor and reader feedback, ads for silly and unnecessary beauty products, horoscopes and “do’s and don’ts.” There’s also a subplot centered on a science-fiction story about a lonely, dorky Plain Jane who gets tangled up in a world of brainwashing and baby-snatching, all under the masthead of an influential publication.

“The show asks just what is the motivation behind encouraging the homogenization of females through these monthly instructional manuals that tell you how to be a woman,” Miss McLean says. “Is it to build an army of helpless women who are too concerned with their looks to concentrate on living a truly joyful life?”

Miss McLean, a Capital Fringe Fest veteran who performed “Normal-C” at last year’s inaugural festival, says the idea for “Super Glossy!” came to her after encountering a mixture of distraction and alienation — countered with feelings of inspiration and opportunities for self-improvement — while reading a bunch of women’s magazines from cover to cover.

“A lot of women experience the same feelings, and the themes I deal with in the show include how the beauty magazine industry endeavors to keep women in their role as mega-consumers and how celebrity idolatry and the beauty myth makes us feel we’re not good enough and we’re not getting enough love,” she says. “I hope people enjoy a good laugh with the show, but the ending is very dark and I hope to inspire some of the same reactions I get when I read women’s magazines.”

“Super Glossy!” can be flipped through July 21 and 25 through 28 at the Warehouse Arts Next Door space.

An absurdist future is also the focus of Scot Walker’s one-act drama, “The Lesbian and the Flying Pig,” at the Mead Theatre Lab on Friday and July 21, 24, 26 and 28. The one-act, set 20 years into the future, depicts a U.S. government controlled by born-again Christians.

Every Sunday, after the morning worship service, baptisms and a potluck supper, there is the stoning of homosexuals. “I wrote the play to honor the principles of freedom of speech and the press for the few remaining years we are allowed to enjoy it,” says Mr. Walker, a poet and author of fiction and nonfiction books who grew up in a conservative Christian household and attended a fundamentalist college in upstate New York.

The play depicts a chief executive officer of a missionary-driven organization dedicated to defending the rights of children. She is haunted by memories of her childhood that occurred under the neon sign at the Flying Pig BBQ and Grill in Selma, Ala. Mr. Walker describes his work as “an unconventional drama reminiscent of ‘1984,’ ‘The Children’s Hour’ and ‘Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?’”

A different kind of America is presented in playwright Charles L. Mee’s “bobrauschenbergamerica,” a play inspired by one of our country’s greatest and most playful painters. It will run Thursday through July 22 at the Long View Gallery in the Penn Quarter section of Washington.

The work takes audiences through a Rauschenberg-esque collage of people, places, icons, music, dancing and love stories. Written before September 11, Mr. Mee’s musing on Americana and its optimism, openness and inclusive nature has taken on an elegiac poignancy. “Our production of ‘bob’ incorporates dance, movement, video, animations, puppetry and paper dolls to explore ideas about our nation and nationality,” producer and director Carmen C. Wong says. “I’ve been very energized by Rauschenberg’s vivacity, something I think Charles Mee has captured brilliantly, especially that all-embracing sense of all arts, of all peoples and the quirks and lovability therein.”

Miss Wong believes that September 11 has colored the play “from the outside. Mee’s decision to celebrate the era that Rauschenberg thrived in — the 1950s revives a lot of national pride and a nostalgia for a time when everything seemed simpler,” she says. “But the play also deliciously pokes fun at what it is like to be an American and also makes us ponder about the costs involved and what’s worth fighting for.”

Another aspect of Americana — Coney Island — is also explored in “Low Tide Hotel,” an original movement piece by Mark Jaster and Sabrina Mandell that will be performed Friday through July 22 at the Mead Theater Lab.

“It’s a Dada day at the beach, a nostalgic postcard, a surrealistic voyage,” Miss Mandell says of the show, which incorporates song, dance and iconic seaside imagery. And, oh yes, saltwater taffy. The chewy candy, from Dolle’s famous boardwalk stand in Rehoboth Beach, Del., will be on sale in the lobby, along with souvenirs.

Miss Mandell, who has a captain’s license, worked on sailboats and schooners in Nova Scotia when she was in her 20s, which she said contributed to her “very strong maritime associations. I wanted to do a piece based on the idea of coming ashore.” The first part of the play will be a traveler’s journey, reminiscent of the old silent films that start out as a pinhole and move outward, while the second part “is more somber, an acknowledgement of those lost at sea,” Miss Mandell notes. “The third part is pure absurd entertainment, a trip to Coney Island with synchronized swimmers, mermaids and other attractions that are like a theatrical scrapbook.”

Festival co-founder Julianne Brienza says the mixture of serious and silly subject matter is indicative of the organizers’ goals for the second annual festival, which hopes to attract 36,000 culture seekers.

“We’re a tad more diversified this year,” she says. “We always want to have a balance, to define how the Fringe re -flects the D.C. theater community.”

For a complete schedule of Capital Fringe Fest offerings, visit the Web site at www.cap

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