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Fringe Dwellers

Pioneer Press writers will be reviewing dozens of shows during this year's Fringe Festival. While traipsing from show to show, they'll have eyes and ears open to notable moments, odd encounters and unusual events. Those observations will be recorded here.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Sympathetic Sucker or Gutless Wimp?

Yesterday was tough, and I'll tell you why. Here at the PiPress, as I'm sure you've noticed, we intrepid reviewers are instructed to toss each show into one of three buckets: "Must See," "Worth Considering" and "Avoid Like the Plague." This year, I'm finding that task really,
really, hard. Don't like it at all.

"Must See" is not the problem. Everyone loves finding a show that's cool or nifty or funny enough to warrant a hearty endorsement. When something really engages me for an hour, I feel great about spreading the word.

The real problem I'm having is with "Avoid Like the Plague" (ALTP). Ouch. That just hurts. It's really a bit on the harsh side for the run-of-the-mill mediocrities I've been loading up on this year.

Here's what it boils down to: In order for me to get behind a statement as harsh as "ALTP," I think the show in question has to be really offensively bad. Like, when you get that sense that a
performer is so haughty and self-centered that they never stopped to think how an audience might be bored to tears by their litany of crap. Or when a company aims to offend and stir up controversy, but does it with so little forethought or intelligence that they wind up with a big haphazard mess, instead of a provocative piece of work.

Those folks--and yes, those shows are somewhere to be found at every Fringe--those folks deserve "ALTP."

But what about the stuff I saw yesterday? Take "Bud 'n' Wally," the piece about the friendship between Marlon Brando and "Underdog" comedian Wally Cox. Great premise, but a terribly executed script.

Just terrible. Talk about clunky exposition: "We've been friends since we were 9 years old," one character would say to another. "I remember our long hikes and talks so well." Or, "Your mom was an alcoholic." Picture that for an hour. I'd be willing to bet that Brando's IMDb filmography page contains more organic drama.

Still, the script was well-acted by two earnest and talented young men. And the writer-director, a longtime journalist who was producing his first show, came down for a curtain speech and actually wept. He was so thrilled at having his show produced and seen by a real live

In the real, non-Fringe world, this show would have earned a pretty severe pan. But this is the Fringe. I'm happy for that writer-director, as bad as I found his script. His heart was in the right place, big-time. And so I wrote an honest, not-too-nice 100-word review and slapped a "Worth Considering" on it. It veered close to "ALTP," but I can't go there. Not after he wept.

Maybe we need another category. "Crappy, But Not Offensively So." Or "Won't Quite Bore You to Tears." Or "A Show Only Friends and Family Could Love."


-Carolyn Petrie


Anonymous Randy F. said...

Wow, Carolyn, you really thought you came across as sympathetic there, didn't you? Maybe you should just trash a show without the pretense of being merciful on it. You'd come across as more sincere. Or at least more self-aware.

10:44 PM  
Blogger Bill said...

I thought she sounded very sincere.

To answer your question, Carolyn, why not just change it to "Avoid?" Given that the other two levels are simple statements ("Must See," "Worth Considering" rather than "Trample Over Your Children to Get a Ticket"), the former category is a bit mean.

8:34 AM  
Anonymous Jared said...

I always hated the "Avoid Like the Plague" tags. I know it's fun to trash and say mean-spirited things re: self-indulgent bs plays, but this is "Fringe". People are laying their guts out on the chopping-block, though, as part of a festival.

Like you said, Carolyn, the journalist guy was weeping over the fact that his show was produced. I feel that the "Avoid Like the Plague" label lends itself to elitism, and takes away from a festival that is meant to be an inclusive celebration.

9:19 AM  
Anonymous Randy F. said...

The point, Bill, is that Carolyn worries about a title like "Avoid Like The Plague", then comes up with several equally insulting categories. How is THAT sparing anyone's feelings? That said, I agree with simply titling the category "Avoid". No sense kicking someone while they're down.

1:04 PM  
Blogger Tina F said...

I'm in favor of the "Only Friends & Family Could Love" moniker. Seems honest & telling without going into the "kraptacular" zone. Lord knows there are babies with a face "only a mother could love," and for many fringe acts/producers, this show is their baby.

10:12 AM  
Blogger Tina F said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

10:13 AM  
Anonymous Jared said...

Or how about the first season of Gilligan's Island...

"And the rest..."

1:43 PM  

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