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A wide-ranging night of local theater results in some interesting surprises

Rochester Fringe Festival, Day 3: The Geriactors, "Football," "Death of (An) Artist," and "The Gay Fiancee" reviews 

A wide-ranging night of local theater results in some interesting surprises

I kicked off a full Friday of Fringe with local theater troupe The Geriactors at GevaNextstage. I think the 4 p.m. start time was a bit ambitious on the part of whoever did the scheduling. Anything starting prior to 5 p.m. on a weekday is going to struggle to fill seats, and the 20 or so patrons at this show were a testament to that fact. (Although the torrential downpour outside at the time surely didn’t help.)

As you might guess based on the name, The Geriactors is made up of local actors who happen to be senior citizens. The traveling troupe performs various programs in libraries, schools, and other institutions, as well as at private parties. I’ve wanted to see the troupe in action for some time. I’ve caught several of its members in other local productions, and they are among some of the most talented actors in the Rochester theater scene.

For Fringe Festival, The Geriactors are performing “We Were There: Ordinary People in Extraordinary Times,” a show that features oral histories from regular people who were impacted by various wars. Some of the stories come from ancestors of members or former members of the troupe, some of them are the stories of the people retelling them on stage. The conflicts covered range from the War of 1812 and the Civil War up to World War II, with a nod to the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Group members involved in this show include Greg Byrne, Rogers Gans, Melissa Githler, Ellen Herzman, Darrell Lance, Ginni Pierce, and Jim Scholes, directed by Jean Gordon Ryon and accompanied by pianist/music director Elaine Fuller on the two group sing-alongs. The rest of the show features each actor coming up one by one to share an individual tale. All of the actors in the show are consummate storytellers, and the stories themselves are interesting and rich with history -- not to mention a reminder that the younger generations really have it amazingly easy compared to some of the situations our forefathers had to deal with. (NOTE: The Geriactors will also perform “We Were There” Saturday, September 22, 11:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. at Geva’sNextstage. Tickets cost $15.)

After that I went to the other end of the age spectrum with acting students from Brighton High School performing “Football [and other things theatrical]” at RAPA’s East End Theatre. The primary draw for me was getting to see one-acts by playwright Christopher Durang, specifically “For Whom the Southern Belle Tolls” -- an amusing spoof of “The Glass Menagerie” -- and the vicious Hollywood satire “A Business Lunch at the Russian Tea Room.” This is the only production in Rochester Fringe to feature high-school-age performers, and the six actors in the show do a good job handling some fairly adult material. The plays themselves are hilarious, balancing witty observations and pop-culture references with some occasionally juvenile humor. (NOTE: “Football [and other things theatrical]” will also play Saturday, September 22, 4-5 p.m. at RAPA. Tickets cost $5-$10.)

I stayed at RAPA for its next show, the collaborative multidisciplinary piece “Death of (An) Artist.” This was easily the most avant-garde entry I’ve seen thus far at Fringe. Writer/director Esther Rogers combined theater, music, improvisation, dance, and I’m sure I’m missing something else to raise questions about the essential nature of creativity, and why/how people might squander it. The show begins with a hooded figure dragging the corpse of the physical embodiment of artistic expression across the stage, and then two detectives set about interviewing various characters -- named Human, Doer, Teacher, Thoughtful -- in an attempt to solve the crime.

The concept is interesting, and the show features some evocative moments. But some of it borders on esoteric (almost certainly intentional) and the cast ranges wildly in terms of acting ability (standouts include Steven Marsocci as the detective and Miranda Cologgi as Mother of Human).

The larger problem for me, however, was how self-indulgent it felt in parts. Academia is clearly cast as the enemy of creativity here, and hey, I’m not going to argue that point. But if a person really just wants to express herself artistically, why go to school to begin with? If you’re not interested in learning technique or a specific discipline, and simply want to paint/sing/act/play an instrument for your own enjoyment, why not just create your art? Who is stopping you? And if someone has a “day job” but still works on their artistic endeavors on the side, are they also guilty of “killing” their inner artist? Is that not putting a restrictive definition onto what is and is not acceptable creativity? Doesn’t that fly in the face of creativity itself? And just like that, we’re down the rabbit hole. And that’s why ultimately I’m glad I saw this show. (NOTE: “Death of (An) Artist” also takes place Sunday, September 23, 8-9 p.m. at RAPA. Tickets cost $10-$12.)

I wrapped up the night with the 10 p.m. showing of “The Gay Fiancee” at the fantastic little performance space in the upper level of Writers & Books. “Fiancee” is an original work by local playwright/director David Henderson, and Kevin Indovino stars in the one-man show as Harvey, the gay fiancée of the title. This is a surprising show, one that mixes in some absurdist elements (Harvey is about to marry the Man in the Moon -- no, really, the actual Man in the Moon) and some other outlandish plot points that keep viewers guessing as to exactly what is going on with the protagonist. I won’t spoil it for you. But I will say that Henderson’s script is nuanced, assured, and peppered liberally with some great laughs. It also rewards audiences that pay attention, as details that seemed inconsequential at first are perhaps a lot more salient to the situation at hand.

Indovino’s delivery makes it easy to remain engaged from start to finish. On Friday night he was fully immersed in the role, creating a character that the audience could latch on to almost immediately. He goes through an extensive range of emotions in just 50 minutes, and all of them felt authentic. This was a great marriage of an interesting, polished script with the right performer for the job. And hey, I got a free bubble wedding favor on the way out. Mazel! (NOTE: “The Gay Fiancee” also plays Saturday, September 22, 8-9 p.m. at Writers & Books. Tickets cost $15.)

Speaking of Rochester Fringe, Fringe Festival

  • A wide-ranging night of local theater results in some interesting surprises

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