Button Wagon performs through Saturday, July 11.
The Santa Cruz Fringe Festival runs July 13-22 with over 40 shows spread throughout five venues in downtown Santa Cruz. We've made it our mission to see as many Fringe Festival shows as possible and will be bringing you constantly updated reviews, observations and warnings to help you achieve the ultimate Santa Cruz Fringe Festival experience. Check back daily (or hourly, or just whenever you get lonely) for updated information. Follow us on Twitter @santacruzweekly, where we will be tweeting festival updates with the tag #scfringefest. Finally, see a show we haven't mentioned? Leave a comment!
(Updated Sun 7/22 10:40am)
The Pretty Smart Circus Cabaret
As we have said before, Olivia Hallie Lehrman is like the cosmic child of Kristin Wiig and Steve Martin. Her one-woman-show, The Pretty Smart Circus Cabaret, is goofy, well rehearsed, and super cute. Perhaps more than any other show I’ve seen at Fringe, Lehrman’s cabaret would be the perfect date night show. It’s surprising and fun, giving the couple something to talk about afterwards, but not especially deep—leaving conflicting existential views to emerge after a viewing of Inception, or you know, a holiday visit to the parents’.
Warning: a hefty amount audience participation is required of one male audience member, and sitting in the back or the middle does not necessarily exempt the (un)lucky fellow from Lehrman’s choosing. Good luck and godspeed. (Georgia Perry)
See it: The 418 Project — Sun 7/22 8pm
In Tim Lee’s stand-up show, Scientist Turned Comedian, Lee, also known as “The YouTube Comedian,” blends scientific formulas and diagrams with humorous observations about the world with mixed results.
Sometimes funny and worthwhile, Lee, for example, points out that “body wash” is most likely just shampoo in a different bottle, grabbing knowing laughs and nods from the audience, likely rethinking their purchasing choices as a result of his insight. His visual presentation, which employs slide projections just like a college lecture, is interactive and engaging.
I had high hopes for this show, as his YouTube clip was intriguing, but after about ten minutes it became clear why Lee is known as “the YouTube comedian.” Yes, videos of him can be found on YouTube. But more importantly, this is a dude who spends way, way, way too much time on the internet.
With tired, expected jabs at the easiest of easy targets: Lindsay Lohan, Charlie Sheen, and the cast MTV’s Jersey Shore, Lee doesn’t put in the effort (or doesn’t have the creativity) to say anything surprising or different about these characters, who have literally been on every single comedian in America’s radar for several years.
Though, at least the audience knew who those celebrities were. One entire joke was based around TLee’s taking delight in the misfortune of a man in a supposedly popular video floating around online. The problem? Absolutely nobody in the audience had seen the clip (really, he asked). Lee had to describe the video second-hand to the audience, something that is never, ever, ever worth doing (The humor in YouTube videos can empirically be classified as "you had to be there"). The patience of the audience as it listened to Lee's ambling recount jettisoned the show into a different dimension: the audience “humoring” the comedian. (Georgia Perry)
See it: See it: Center Stage— Sun 7/22 4:30pm
When I was growing up we sometimes took our family dog to a boarding facility called Best Friends, which provided us with a "report card" of our dog's behavior after each visit, which my mother and I would gleefully read aloud in the car while patronizingly praising our dog, who obviously had no idea what the f*ck was going on and was usually asleep anyway. The report card was simply list of adjectives that could potentially describe our labrador's mood and "elimination habits" lined up next to rows of check boxes, some checked and some blank.
While watching dancer/choreographer Christine Suarez one-woman dance show, Mother.F*cker, which chronicles the before, during and after of her pregnancy and explores her varying emotions about motherhood, I found myself mentally accumulating a dog report card for her, as her personality is what shone the most in this performance. Suarez is a fine dancer, but a better writer and actress. It was her acute sense of humor and insight that stood in the foreground of this performance while the dancing took a backseat and was, at times, kind of clumsy.
Anyway, here is my dog report card for Suarez:
Likeable - check! (Scored a standing ovation!)
Playful - check! (She especially enjoyed chasing a red dot coming out of a laser she was holding herself.)
Honest - check! ("After giving birth, your labia looks like two hot dogs.")
Heartfelt - check! (Heart wrenchingly so - I CRIED, y'all.)
Accessible - check! ("I don't want anyone to get lost during this performance because of some overly artsy metaphor.")
Hip - check! (She expertly pop-and-locks to mashups by Girl Talk.)
Perfectionist - no check ("As a mother, you just need to accept that most things will have to be half-assed.")
While this show certainly wasn't "half assed," go for Suarez's words as much, if not more, than her moves. (Georgia Perry)
See it: Motion at the Mill — Fri 7/20 8:30pm; Sat 7/21 3pm; Sun 7/22 6:30pm
Ember Bria, whose character has an affinity for sewing supplies as big as she is, can lie face-down and curl backwards into a ball, lifting her legs over her shoulders. Then she touches her face with her feet. Bria's bearded dancing partner Poki shares her passion for body contortions and home economics equipment.
Button Wagon is like a Cirque du Soleil production of The Borrowers—or if you prefer, that long-awaited Disney sequel, Honey I Shrunk the Creepy Doll-like Adults.
The performance is totally silent except for a bizarre, a capella rendition of Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World.” You can add that to a list of things about this show that don’t make any sense.
Also on the list: the characters’ fascination with buttons; their obsession with needles and thread; and last but not least, what are these creatures, anyway (mice maybe)? While I’m at it, where are they? And how the heck do the two of them know each other?
Having said all this, sometimes there's nothing wrong with not understanding what's going on.
Similar to all the rest of the acts seen I’ve seen this week, Button Wagon isn’t comparable to anything I’d ever experienced before Fringe. Still in contrast to the other festival acts, I can’t even find any basis on which to begin describing the play or explain why it worked so well.
It is, in essence, a one-hour immersion into a world filled with very, very small, slow-moving creatures who are trying to make sense their miniature environment and explore the world around them. Also I didn’t know the human body could bend like that. (Jacob Pierce)
See it: Louden Nelson Community Center—Fri 7/20 6:30pm; Sat 7/21 11am.
Tom Noddy's Bubble Magic
As bubble magician Tom Noddy stands onstage waiting for everyone to find their seats, the Santa Cruz resident holds a plastic wand to his lips, blows a perfect sphere and says, “Testing: one, two” into his floating liquid creation. The audience responds with curious laughter.
Noddy reaches for the bubble, pops it with a firm grasp and proceeds to place his closed fist into a into a pouch in his large black jacket. “Save it in my pocket for later,” Noddy says of the bubble. “In case we need an extra.”
Noddy is several things besides a magician. He’s a comedian and a philosopher of sorts. He also has an amateur science streak in him. “Bubbles are thinner than wavelengths of light,” he tells the audience with excitement.
In one part of the show, Noddy pushes two separate bubbles into one and turns the demonstration into a metaphor for love. (Noddy has a knack for innocently blending adult humor with more naïve child material, kinda reminiscent of the original 1979 Muppet Movie).
Here is a list of some of Noddy's other tricks:
· The caterpillar bubble
· Blowing smoke into bubbles
· Putting smoke-filled bubbles into clear bubbles
· Putting clear bubbles into smoky bubbles
· Making a cubic bubble
· Spinning a smoke vortex inside a bubble
· Spinning a carousel bubble
· And the two-story carousel bubble
Noddy, a former Pacific Avenue Street performer who went on to enjoy international novelty fame, has been playing with bubbles almost everyday for forty years and has watched a lot of bubbles pop.
“I love that,” Noddy says as one of his liquid creations fizzles out like a July 4 firework and sprinkles to the ground. “Every bubble I’ve ever made is gone. That makes them precious. You never see an old, dusty bubble kicking around the toybox.” (Jacob Pierce)
See it: Louden Nelson Community Center—Fri 7/20 8pm; Sat 7/21 12:30; 5
This is a play for anyone who ever wondered what it's probably like to be an extra in a horror film.
Flesh is set in bar, and it’s one of the few “Bring Your Own Venue” shows at the Santa Cruz Fringe Festival. That means there’s no stage: the entire 40-minute scene unfolds around the audience, who’s sitting on barstools and at tables.
It’s 1:30am and apparently the zombie apocalypse has begun (and no, it isn’t only in Florida). Faithful patron Randy and grumpy bartender Jerry are arguing about whether or not to go outside and face a mysterious disease being covered on news reports that blast over the radio. All of a sudden, a creepy lady enters the scene and tries to convince the men she can save their lives.
The play is a little weak on plot development. The characters essentially spend the whole final two-thirds of the play arguing about whether or not to go outside, and it finishes with an anti-climax that feels so unresolved I wouldn’t have known the thing was over if the director hadn’t started clapping. I also wouldn’t have known this mystic program was about zombies if it hadn’t been for all the paper program and all the publicity the show’s received, some of it from us. The play felt more like a mystery to me than a zombie tale.
And while Fred Webre puts on a nice performance as Randy, the mostly rigid acting and stiff dialogue might be better suited for a traditional stage, where actors have to perform to every last row in the house.
When we’re standing right next to these people, we’re able to see through every insincerity.
But this is still a unique experience, and it’s Santa Cruz Fringe’s only 21 and over show. With a Motiv bartender serving delicious drinks the entire night, it isn’t too difficult to sit back and appreciate the ambitious, one-of-a-kind production. (Jacob Pierce)
See it: Motiv (upstairs)—Sat 7/21 6pm; Sun 7/22 8pm.
Manchego: The Birth of Cheese
Manchego, who will be prancing around Center Stage for the next few nights, feels like a lost Sacha Baron Cohen character.
In this humorous one-man show, the fictional entertainer dances down a delicate line between the innocent and the obscene—doing his best to adhere to his self-proclaimed mission of getting his audience members to make out with one another.
“Thanks for coming out to see me! You all would have been totally justified standing in the bathroom at the mirror and drooling,” says Manchego, played by Ambrose Martos, who has experience with Cirque du Soleil, although you wouldn’t know it based on the type of this performance. “But you didn’t! You’re here.”
Manchego, probably the
worst least effective womanizer of all time opens his show with a few awkward dance numbers as he tries to decide which cute audience member will be the recipient of the red rose in his hand. Manchego is oblivious to his own ironic idiocy—very much in the same vein as Cohen’s Borat or Bruno (but also Will Ferrell’s Ron Burgundy, Steve Martin’s “The Jerk” and other comedic gems too).
After getting some dancing out of the way, Manchego, who resembles Fleetwood Mac’s Lindsey Buckingham and even has the same thinning afro hairstyle, proceeds to tell his life story through a series of monologues. He starts with the time his grandmother sat him down and told him to go forth into the world to share with his greatest talent, kissing. Next, the story chronicles his job as a clown, roller skating waiter and night club dancer. The show is funny partly just on its ridiculous premise or perhaps any lack thereof.
At times the act is hilarious—and at others, tiresome. But like many strong comedic stories, Manchengo’s tale is as heart-warming and touching as it is silly and crass. (Jacob Pierce)
See It: Center Stage— Wed 7/18 10:30pm; Thu 7/19 10:30pm; Fri 7/20 10:30pm; Sat 7/21 11:30pm.
More Like Laurie
I believe it was Aristotle who first said, "You can either be boring or self-absorbed, not both."
Oh, actually, you know what? Now that I think of it, it wasn't Aristotle who said that. It was me. Yes, that very thought popped into my mind while I was fidgeting in my seat at More Like Laurie's Fringe Festival show, and stayed in my head until damn near the end of the program.
The first three performers in this show recited scripted stories in an overly presentational, acted-out style that was awkwardly half-mimed (think finger guns and performers walking through invisible cars and tables mere moments after establishing them onstage). Especially painful was Laurie Guerin's internal monologue of a grown woman sitting on a plane, agonizing over whether to make small talk with the cute guy sitting next to her. It was as if a Judy Bloom character, all grown up, materialized as that annoying woman in the grocery check out line who feels her anecdote about her last dinner party, which she is sharing with the (trapped) checkout girl, is worth holding up the entire line for.
Appropriately, this show is the Fringe Festival's longest, at 90 minutes.
As I fantasized about when I would have the chance to escape and eat the rest of the sandwich I stowed in my purse, the show's big payoff came. Damn it! I really wanted this show to be terrible, but Alex Mercedes, the final performer, ruined that for me. Her calm presence and thought-provoking, honest monologue tied everything together with insights about the nature of conversation, like this jaw-dropping philosophical bomb:
"All talking inevitably returns to silence. Silence always gets the last word."
While Mercedes stands out and nearly redeems the show, I still wouldn't recommend it for anyone without a prescription for Ritalin handy. (Georgia Perry)
See it: Center Stage — Wed 7/18 7pm; Sat 7/21 6pm; Sun 7/22 1pm
Dangerous Neighbors Sketch Comedy
The Santa Cruz/San Jose-based sketch comedy troupe Dangerous Neighbors created a new show for the Fringe Festival aptly titled, Fringeworthy. While they list "low budget" along with "adult themes" and "language" in their warnings, they don't need to--this show looked professional and was well put-together. We gleaned several pearls of wisdom and life lessons from the show and now present them below to you, for your emotional and existential growth:
Something you may or may not know about those in the service industry:
'You know, waiting tables was actually my Plan B."
Why cannibalism slips through the cracks in the Catholic Church:
"I have enough on my hands dealing with all these trumped up molestation charges."
How to be a successful priest:
"Let a couple of unwed mothers cry on your shoulder, bless a couple of dying old farts."
Why you shouldn't feel threatened in the face of a giant, blood-covered weapon:
"I assure you, my harpoons are exclusively decorative."
Why you shouldn't complain about your job anymore, ever again:
"How would you like to be on 24-hour blow job patrol in the bus depot?"
Possible reason God is not answering your prayers:
"Lets just say I don't spring off the Lazy Boy like I used to."
Possible reason Jesus is not in a hurry to come back to Earth:
"Even dogs get put to sleep peacefully, the son of God they nail to a cross." (Georgia Perry)
See it: Center Stage — Thu 7/19 7:30pm; Fri 7/20 9pm; Sat 7/21 12:30pm; Sun 7/22 6pm
Daniel Mollner, Project 52
This charismatic local dancer and filmmaker, who’s making a short dance film every week for the duration of 2012, is pushing boundaries and taking risks that could land him out on a very shaky limb. Luckily for us he has the instincts, wit and technical chops to pull it off.
For Fringe, Daniel Mollner is showing the 3-5 minute films from the second quarter of his year of living cinematically. They run the gamut: funny and uplifting (“I Am Free,” in which he dances with a sandwich board on a busy street and convinces others to join in); soul-baring (“My Dance is My Own,” a series of dance stills on the beach against a haunting soundtrack and voice-over); comically wise (“Concrete Buddha,” a goofy riff on human drama); intense (“Dive,” an almost extreme-sports video set in an empty pool to a hypnotic electronic beat); and hilarious (“SJC PHX DTW,” which features an unbelievable conversation between Mollner and his mother filmed en route to visit a sister whose faith prohibits dancing). Humor is big in a lot of these videos, and the music, which ping-pongs between world beat and EDM, is pretty uniformly excellent. Only a few films actually feature Mollner himself dancing—these are meditations and inquiries more than they are ego trips—and when he addresses the camera and asks for money to keep his project going, it feels like an invitation to join a movement. (Traci Hukill)
See it: Center Stage —Sun 7/22 11am
Subtitled Wrassling with My Bubbe, Julie Oak’s mostly one-woman show takes on themes of identity, immigration and youthful rebellion in the desultory tale of a Jewish woman’s evolving relationship with her Russian immigrant grandmother. While Michelle Newman accompanies and provides sound effects, Oak, of Soquel, plays seven characters—including a child, a teenager and the Yiddishism-spouting bubbe of the title—which can lead to some confusion, especially because the story line bounces between time frames. The child and teenage characters can be grating, and the accents aren’t always convincing, but Oak manages to bring her bubbe to life over the course of what winds up being a soulful show about a woman’s coming to terms with her Jewish heritage—and about just plain growing up. She also does some cool conceptual stuff with a bunch of balloons, her only prop. That fart? Pretty rich. This show isn't for everyone, but those with a taste for adventurous theater and/or an interest in Jewish culture will find good grist. (Traci Hukill)
See it: Center Stage — Wed 7/18 9pm; Thu 7/19 6pm; Fri 7/20 6pm; Sun 7/22 7:30pm
"A multimedia study of a codependent triangular relationship...where three individuals test the limits of their own bodies and of time as they tormet and abuse each other," reads the description of No Exit, a dance piece choreographed by Christine Bonansea and inspired by the Jean-Paul Sartre play.
This piece is skillfully performed with true committment from dancers Rosemary Hannon, Marina Fukushima and Sebastian Grubb, with Grubb especially standing out as he portrays through movement and facial expression the countless different ways our thoughts and impulses pull us each instant. (I know. Heavy stuff for a Sunday afternoon.)
Beginning with jarring noise and featuring a 5-10-minute long interlude where the dancers stand in a huddle draped in one another's hair--which, I suspect, made more sense to the professional dancers who made up most of the audience--this is not an especially accessible dance performance for novices. The skill of the performers, however, is unquestionable.
So, I'll say this: Last night as I lay in bed eating a tuna melt sandwich and watching episodes of Louie, there was a scene where Joan Rivers told comedian and star of the show Louis C.K. that he is "a comedian's comedian," and that he won't draw big crowds of regular Joe's. Bonansea, methinks, may be a choreographer's choreographer. (Georgia Perry)
See it: Motion at the Mill — Sun 7/15 6pm; Mon 7/16 8pm
Santa Cruz Sirens Burlesque
This wasn’t your typical burlesque show.
The drawn-out, seductive sleaze-tease was not emphasized here. And at times the performers seemed to be moving more like girls looking for an excuse to dance in their underwear. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
Instead of storming the stage in layers of dark lace and slowly dropping one at a time, the dancers usually took a “less is more” approach. In choreography they shed their shirt or corset, often willingly, to reveal their busty lingerie or even—on a couple of occasions—a pair of tasseled titties.
The show features a diversity of performances and dance numbers, including ballet and modern dance pieces. In one memorable solo jaw-dropper, group leader Laina Copley (stage name: Madame Honey Divine) does a slow, one-girl country show in a loosely buttoned flannel shirt to Pistol Annies’ “Hell on Heels.”
The songs are mostly short at about three minutes length. The girls appear mostly to be in their twenties—and their bodies mostly voluptuous but still look (ahem yes again, “for the most part”…) au natural.
My fellow reporter Georgia Perry tells me old-school burlesque is more vaudevillian—before dancers started bringing sexy dance beats and 21st century moves to the classically over-the-top art form.
Anyway, I guess rules were meant to be broken. (Jacob Pierce)
See it: The 418 Project — Thu 7/19 7:30pm; Sat 7/21 4pm; 10:30pm; Sun 7/22 5pm.
To Have Loved
Flex Dance Company's Fringe show, To Have Loved, is the dance show you should go see if you don't think you like dance shows. With music by the likes of Junior Boys and Sleigh Bells and innovative moves flawlessly synched with each nuance of the music, this contemporary show is highly relatable and always exciting.
Their show of vignettes exploring what it means to love hits hard the idea of power in a relationship--how one person always seems to be carrying the other. They visit this theme literally again and again, with variations on one performer walking tall and pulling, dragging, carrying another at a bent angle. Before it gets too repetitive, though, the show builds to a strong finish with the solo piece, "Forget" performed by Carly Ostergaard, which explores the period of moving on after a relationship, the bent person standing tall all on her own. Finally finding the elusive perfect love is celebrated in a group number to the climatic track, "Cup of Tea" by Audiafauna.
With contemporary artists like Kanye West and Christina Perri incorporating classic dance styles into their music videos, Flex Dance Company has great timing, and they've got the talent and creativity to be highly successful. Choreographed with just the right mix of etherial beauty and accessible, "I see what you did there" metaphors, this show invites a wide range of audience members to appreciate, enjoy and relate to it.
Bottom line: Don't blink during this show--you won't want to miss a move. (Georgia Perry)
See it: Motion at the Mill — Tues 7/17 6:30pm; 8; Sat 7/21 7:30pm; Sun 7/22 2pm.
Good Girls' Guide: Dominatrix for Dummies
Even before she strutted onstage in a costume and hairstyle resembling Bette Midler's character from the (seminal) film, Hocus Pocus, I had certain expectations about Eleanor O'Brien's one-woman show, Good Girls' Guide: Dominatrix for Dummies, advertised as being about her time spent working as a professional dominatrix in New York City. But rather than the one-note sketch comedy-esque production I anticipated, Dominatrix for Dummies gave the audience--which, by the way, was completely full; buy advance tickets for this show--a heartfelt rendition of her journey to self-love through introspection, dance, and yes--nipple clamps. See the below chart for further explanation:
What I Was Expecting
|What I Got|
|Costume||Leather, whips, stockings||Ankle-length velour robe|
Choice of a spanking or a hug
Disclaimer: "All spankings come with hugs!"
|Acting||A expert dominatrix, schooling audience members on how to be baaaad||A sensative, shy woman who walks us through the story of her flirtation with the professional dom life, plus all the bold and vibrant characters she met along the way (all played by O'Brien)|
|Theme||Hedonism! Sin! Rawrrr!||The beautiful, never-out-of-style and impossible to deny adage: "You have to love yourself before you can love another," with a PS, "You're beautiful and worthy! Now who wants a spanking!?"|
See it: Center Stage — Sat 7/14 10pm; 8; Sun 7/15 4:30pm; Mon 7/16 7:30pm.
Engel The Elder's Shaxpere After Midnight
In the third grade I went on a school field trip to see a modern interpretation of William Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream in my hometown of Indianapolis. The only distinguishing element making it "modern" was the costume--I remember Puck, in particular, wore a black muscle tee. Don't get me wrong, Puck was cute, but one muscle tee didn't make those convoluted words any more accessible. Engel The Elder's Shaxpere After Midnight, the festival's latest show with regular midnight slots, successfully bridges the gap between the words of William Shakespeare (or, as Engel insists, Shaxpere) and present times. Let me say this: You certainly do not have to be a fan of Shakespeare to enjoy this show. In fact, Sheakespeare-haters may even like it more.
Beware, introverts: there is no fourth wall in this production. If you sit in the front row you will likely be engaged in conversation, which can be annoying, especially at midnight. But on the other hand, you might also get a snack. (!)
A sort of Shakespeare's Greatest Hits, this show is largely improvised and conversational, with sprinklings throughout of unbelievably well-delivered monologues from the bard's hit list, including Hamlet and Much Ado About Nothing. This is a great date night show, as I literally saw a woman tear up when Engel delivered a love monologue to her and told her to pretend it was coming from her husband, seated next to her.
Expect surprises--or, better yet, expect nothing and be surprised. (Georgia Perry)
See it: The 418 Project — Sat 7/14; Fri 7/20; Sat 7/21 all shows at midnight.
Steve Seabrook: Better Than You
Laugh early and often. Steve Seabrook: Better Than You, this festival’s fake self-help seminar, feels a little like a scene from The Office. But this show's dry mockery of feel-good-ism can produce such a range of emotions it’s easy to forget how hilarious it is.
“You need to learn to live vicariously through yourself,” a beaming Seabrook explains to his audience before pausing for dramatic emphasis.
Seabrook, played by improv actor Kurt Bodden, unpacks a never-ending supply of inspirational non sequiturs. And rather than explore any of those metaphors in depth, he instead jumps from one example to the next, as if constantly redefining the premise of his entire
scheme scam. That’s what makes it so funny.
“How do you make your car go faster?” Seabrook asks. “You take your foot on the gas pedal. But! You also have to take your other foot off the brake.”
Slowly Seabrook’s childhood stories—about M&Ms, golf lessons, umbrellas, The Wizard of Oz and gas pedals—start to reveal his own insecurities also. It adds a level of hilarious poignancy to the character, but it’s hard to know what to make of it at first. And looking around the room, I can’t help noticing a curious mix of audience expressions—amused, moved, touched, bewildered, even a little sleepy.
After the show Bodden, who looks to be in his fifties and has sandy red hair, says there’s a huge supply of material in the self-help industry and so much to be skeptical about. “I just felt you can shoot holes in this stuff,” Bodden says.
If audience members had been expected to pay the full $1185 required for Seabrook's fictional, faulty seminar—instead of the $10 the performance actually costs, the shenanigan would probably would be a lot less funny. But maybe it would feel more affirming as well. (Jacob Pierce)
See it: Tannery World Dance and Cultural Center — Sat 7/14 12; 8; Sun 7/15 3pm; Mon 7/16 7pm.