—>artblog contributor Alaina Mabaso begins her rapid-fire coverage of the now come-and-rapidly-going 2013 Philadelphia Fringe Fest. Stay tuned for more coverage in the next days from Alaina, and get out there and see some Fringe! –>theartblog editors————————>
Crack the Glass Theater Company‘s director Polly Rose Edelstein says her inspiration for mounting four short plays at this year’s Philadelphia Fringe Festival was over 100 years in the making. According to her, in the 1908-09 Broadway season, 12.8% of the shows produced were written by women. Fast forward to 2008-09, and make that 12.6%. Raising the profile of female theater artists is Crack the Glass’s mission.
Edelstein’s 4PLAY, a compilation of four, bite-sized plays, all written by women, won’t shatter that ceiling. But the quartet did make for an entertaining show at Grasso’s Magic Theatre, in what Edelstein calls the “no man’s land” on Callowhill between Old City and Northern Liberties.
A Date with Howie
Jan O’Conner’s “A Date With Howie” kicked off the show. Young Howard (“not Howie!”), played by Cris Welti, arrives to record a video introduction for a dating service. He’s in a tweedy blazer and khakis, blond bangs flowing like a 90’s sitcom heartthrob.
But a steely, spangle-sneakered Veronica (Erin Carney) thwarts him angrily at every turn—though not with any apparent romantic interest of her own.
Because, it turns out, Howie has nothing to say that a thousand other match-seeking hopefuls haven’t said before.
Veronica has made a compilation, which you see performed live by the versatile Austin Stanton and Wade Corder. From the mama’s boy to the redneck biker to the high-powered career woman and pop star wannabe, every last one of us claims to be sincere and sensitive with a good sense of humor.
O’Conner’s short play is a send-up of romantic clichés rather than an exploration of any deeper motivation. The audience is ultimately left with the same question Howie has after Veronica presents her dating-service domain’s hall of shame: “Why did you show it to me?”
Janice Kennedy’s “Blink” comes next. It’s an immediately-compelling, albeit gruesome dialogue between Lionel (Brian Weiser), a soon-to-be released convict in an orange pantsuit and improbably-shiny black Nikes, and Catherine (Tess Kunik), a journalist in a single glove, who has much more on her mind than getting the story. Meanwhile, a watchful triangle of murdered girls that only Lionel can hear (maybe) watches Catherine’s revenge plot unfold, as she gives the ex-con the contraband he asks for.
The sweet “Dog Days” is next, written by Lynne Moses. Since his beloved wife’s passing, elderly Mr. Kransky (an affecting Mark Collmer) is condemned to a lonely, shut-in life of mac-n-cheese that hasn’t been toasted on the top. A teenage caretaker, Juanita (Austin Stanton again), in khaki short-shorts and prodigious gold hoop earrings, is trying to smooth the transition as she leaves for college. A long-disused leash hanging in the pantry gives her a clue as to what might get Mr. Kransky back out in the world.
Finally, Anne Flanagan’s “Karma” veers into the surreal, as Paul (a very funny Wade Corder) stumbles into an administrative purgatory he thinks is the DMV, after getting flattened by a texting debutante in a Hummer. A Twizzler-chomping young clerk in skinny jeans and white Chuck Taylors (Sarah Braverman) explains the cut-backs that mean people near death watch themselves on a laptop monitor instead of floating overhead in a haze of light.
While Paul tries to wrap his brain around a spiritual fate that relies on demographic data like that mined by today’s mega tech companies (it’s an efficient system, not a fair one, the clerk explains), a parade of unexpected characters, some more savory than others, wheels and in and out of the afterlife thanks to bribes, bargains and the miracles of modern medicine.
Director Edelstein marshals a versatile cast, some of whom are almost unrecognizable from play to play. Sharp attention to staging and costumes, and minimal effective props overcome the somewhat garish setting of the magic-show venue: a gold-glitter curtain as a backdrop, and artifacts like nail beds (not to mention a bug-eyed, life-sized mummy at the door). But venues off the beaten path are the fun of the Fringe Festival, and 4PLAY makes the trip worthwhile.
4PLAY, presented by Crack the Glass Theatre Company, is running at Grasso’s Magic Theatre at 103 Callowhill Street on September 7th at 8pm and September 8th at 7:30pm. For tickets, visit the FringeArts website: http://fringearts.ticketleap.com/