Fringe Fest Reviews
Fringe Fest Week 2! Time is going by so fast! We saw a lot of great pieces this week. Here’s what we’ve seen and what we thought!
Nick Paul – Impossible Feats of Fake Magic
Mike: Nick Paul’s Impossible Feats of Fake Magic show is an amazingly fun, back to the roots of magic, magic show. The illusions are well done and presented with a child-like enthusiasm. This is such a charming show. He plays home movies of himself as a child to add to the charm. You can tell that Nick loves what he does and how hard he’s worked to get where he is. He is silent for the most part through the whole show (which may remind you of Teller from Penn and Teller), but that doesn’t take away from the show. For the people he selected to help out, it was still very clear on what he wanted you to do (pick a card, write something, hide it, etc). He performs a variety illusions from sleight of hand card tricks to disappearing/reappearing items. Outside of the great tricks he performs, the biggest reveal is when he does speak. That one line had such an impact on me and was a great way to end an awesome show. You will leave this show smiling, wanting more, and will keep asking “How did he do that?’ to the people around you.
Russell: The Fringe Festival has proven to be a very welcoming home to many styles of magic shows and it’s always great to have the chance to see a performer with a reputation like Nick Paul’s in such intimate spaces. I am so happy to hear how much Mike enjoyed this show I have been looking forward to it the entire festival and will be checking it out very soon.
Mike: This wasn’t initially one of our picks top picks, although it was on my radar. It was one of those “well this seems cool, I’ll try and see if I can fit it in”. I am SO glad I did! I saw the poster in the window of a venue where I was seeing another piece. I looked up some reviews and the ones I read seemed…negative, but what they said that was negative was what made me really excited to see this.
After seeing this show, I can understand why there are negative reviews. I picture those patrons being older, hating video games (and fun), and being more of a traditional theatre person, which is fine, but this show is not for them. If you like video games, crowd participation, or escape room elements, then SEE THIS SHOW.
You start off by meeting Praxis 45-O and filling out a brief questionnaire (basically to see if you’d like to participate). Once inside and seated he then tells you the story of the United Nation-States of Surveillance (UNSS) and he’s chosen 3 people to help. If these people fail, he will call others to take their place. The “missions” are timed and themed and you have to get to the final stage where you meet and must defeat Corporal and Nefarious Disk Operating System (CaNDOS). You have to complete timed tasks in order to move forward. Each mission helps the story along. The day I went, the first 3 made it through the first mission and then failed the second. There are no extra lives here! With them gone Praxis 45-O called up the next 3…and I was one of them! I had vowed (in my seat and in my head), not to let this group of strangers down! I’m happy to say, that we were able to complete that mission and the rest of the missions and defeated the evil CaNDOS!
Even if you’re not participating in defeating CaNDOS, watching it is just as much fun. When the first crew was up there, I was feeling myself get tense and saying things like “No over there!!”. This was such a fun experience and I hope there is more like this in the future. Props to this team for thinking outside the box on what a show can be and actually making it happen. It’s not like anything else you’ve seen before.
For more information on Oblivious, check out their Facebook page.
Russell: This is an interesting but wildly uneven show. An opening scene of domestic violence plays out with such dramatic punch the audience is taken off guard when the tone shifts to almost comical moments. An act of murder is committed, and the one hour production spends its time dealing with the interrogation of a suspect and court case that results.
Mike: That opening scene was so uncomfortable… in a good way. The fact that it made me feel so awkward and uncomfortable shows the strength of the actors. From that opening scene, you really put yourself into the story and think about what you would do and how you would react.
Russell: Working with a surprisingly large and obviously earnest cast, the show never quite finds a stable overall tone. There are valid points being made here, but leaving the audience in doubt whether it’s appropriate to laugh or be horrified actually undercuts the material. This is also another example of a show where the Fringe Festival description works against the show. Claiming to be an immersive piece is misleading, even though the audience is asked a specific question that does directly affect the outcome of the plot. That does not qualify it as being very immersive. It is an interesting device and I will not reveal how it affects the ending. The ending does provide a fascinating quandary for the audience. You are left to ponder and appreciate the freedom we enjoy as our everyday lives go by. Our actions have consequences and our lives do intertwine and affect others. Despite the production’s flaws, that point is well delivered.
Mike: Interesting points, but I disagree. I really liked this and the issues it brought up. I can understand what you mean about the “immersive” description, but I think for the general public, who don’t do really immersive pieces, this is pretty immersive. I really liked how they did it. You are the crowd, the spectators, the witnesses. I was one of the chosen to give my testimony and due to the things I’ve seen in this piece and in real life, I kept my mouth shut. “I saw nothing, I heard nothing”. This story, unfortunately, happens every day. The injustices with our legal system, eye witness testimony, racial bias, and sketchy cops. It’s a shame that we live in that type of world. I hope my “unhelpfulness” to the reporter and cops didn’t derail this for them, but if you’ve ever seen any gangster movie, you know you don’t rat.
Russell: Mike’s situation is definitely what I liked most about the show. The uncomfortable feeling he describes is the reason the show did stick with me. What do you say if asked to incriminate someone? What are the ramifications of our words?
Mike: Another thing I’d like to point out was that this was written by Grischa M. Petram, a friend of the cast who unfortunately passed away and were doing this as a tribute. In fact all the proceeds go to the preservation of turtle wildlife. I had wondered why there were so many people involved (ie, did they really need a court stenographer?), but after reading more about it, it made total sense. They did it for their friend.
Mike: The coolest thing about this piece was also the most frustrating. Hello World! uses a Virtual Reality component for their show. This sounds really cool in theory, but unfortunately, it caused more frustration for the crowd than amazement. I felt like the first 15-20 minutes was getting everyone’s phones ready. In order to watch the VR portion of the show, you needed to download an app, have that ready, then put it in Google Cardboard. Sounds easy enough right? For some of the crowd, this was not easy and since we all needed to hit “play” at the same time, everyone needed to wait for everyone to be at the same spot.
Once everyone was at the starting point, the show finally began. The use of VR was cool, but I feel it didn’t add a ton to the live show. Also, it seems that people didn’t know when to take off VR experience to see the live show. I saw multiple people with their cardboards on the whole show, even though there was nothing they were seeing except a timer. I know this is mostly user error, but these same people will be talking about this, not even knowing there was live portion, so it might be a good idea to put in “Please take this off now” for those people. Bless the person giving the instructions. This man has the patience of a saint.
The show itself was ok. The actors were great, but, I just didn’t get it. There’s no dialog, just sounds. Were they cavemen living in today’s world? The other people I spoke to felt lost as well.
I applaud them for trying this and going in this direction, but I feel that until it’s smoother and less time consuming, it’s back to the drawing board.
For information, please check out their website.
Mike: I finally got to see this and…Wow! I am so glad I did. The reason this first hit our radar was because of how dark it sounded. We joked that it sounded very “haunt-like”. I mean, kidnapping someone and keeping them in the basement? I’m in! I was drawn into this story instantly. We start with Charles getting ready to leave from college when James kidnaps him and keeps him tied up in his basement.
From that point onward we see the changes that everyone involved goes through. We see the love and obsession of James and find out why he did what he did. We see Charles start off being scared and begging to be let go to wanting to stay. We see his brother and girlfriend go from being worried to being untrustworthy scumbags.
Russell: Glad to see Mike enjoyed this show. It’s been on my mind since I saw it. Definitely, for me, the most challenging piece I saw during the entire festival. With dark themes of lust, betrayal, obsession and friendships that may or may not survive tough times, this was a piece of theater that demanded you to think about your own obsessions.
Mike: The conversations between James and Charles are some that I think we can all relate to. We all have that one thing or person we love so much that we would do anything to be with them. You can tell that James is not a bad guy. He does not seem to have a sadistic side to him. He just has so much love for Charles, that it made him act out irrationally.
Russell: Yes, what he does seems irrational, but one of the things I found most interesting is that James may be the most calm and level-headed person in the piece. When Charles finally starts to reluctantly explore his odd situation, his mixed emotions are sad to witness but also may lead to some healthy self-discovery. However, he is the victim of a crime, which makes the entire process incredibly uncomfortable to watch!
Mike: I wondered what was going on in Charles’ mind. Was this the Florence Nightingale effect? Did he really develop true feelings for his kidnapper? Was he a confused teenager that just needed to be shown “true” love as opposed to simple lust with his girlfriend? The conversations between them make up such a beautiful (albeit twisted) love story. It’s a love story that shows that some people will do anything to be with the one they love.
Mike: This was one of my top picks for this year’s Fringe. Knowing that the writer goes to the same haunts and other immersive experiences as I do made me really excited that some of those influences would be used..and they were. This is one of the better truly immersive experiences. You walk around Hollywood, but this is not a touristy walking tour.
You first meet with the doctors from Shine Labs and they tell you about how we were selected for a reason (they say they were watching us and all we do). Then we were told to use the headphones and a soundtrack that is given to you. This will help you read people’s thoughts.
On your adventure, you come into contact with various people and they tell separate parts of the story. Some people in our group were given clues, others given more background of a situation, etc. At the end of the journey, you do learn about a certain person. Each of the stops of this piece had a mini plot that worked into the overall story arc. These situations really blurred the line between real life and art and people’s emotions. The first scene in particular has had a lot of people speak up. For someone like me, knowing it is a performance, do I stand by and listen and watch or do I act how I would in real life? Both situations have happened.
There were a couple things that stuck out to me though. While we found “someone”, we never got a full explanation on where she went/how she became how she is currently. I’m glad we found her, but wondered what happened to her since the party. Another thing is the soundtrack was mostly mood music, which was great, but there was such an opportunity to take this with the next level. In one scene, we actually do hear the performer’s thoughts and it was SO powerful. If more of the interactions we had were like this, this would be a next level type of thing that would walk along with the best of the best. One last thing I wanted to mention, is the ending is somewhat confusing. We are told that the choice is ours, but when the ending happens, we have no choice. We tried, but it was made clear that we shouldn’t. Overall, this was a great, adventurous, fun, and impressive piece of immersive art. I’m really excited to see what this group comes up with next.
For more information, check out their Facebook page.
Russell: A solo performance by Daniel Llewellyn-Williams, this is one of the absolute highlights of the entire Fringe Festival for me.
Weaving a story of a young boy who idolizes the magician Harry Houdini, Williams (who also wrote the piece), is mesmerizing as he manages to link his character’s history to actual events that occurred in Britain in early 1900’s, including a horrifying disaster that changed the young man’s life forever. There is a tragic tale being told here, and the show manages to convey the extremely personal side of a disaster that causes the death of many.
Williams is a master storyteller. His performance is thrilling, actually eliciting gasps of horror and exclamations of encouragement from the audience as his tale unfolds. Filled with humor, adventure, sadness, horror and hope, this is a story you will not soon forget. I must admit, I was truly frightened listening to a portion of this show. His misadventures as a young boy will leave you dumbfounded, but it might also make you recall that there is a time when we all feel invincible. If we are lucky, we manage to survive long enough to realize… we are not.
It is a tribute to the writing, acting and direction that a solo performance can instill such fear and joy in an audience. This is a thrilling, heartbreaking ride!