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Killer comedy and people in ‘Jeopardy’ news

Today’s Orlando Fringe Festival reviews: “Dandelion: A Comedy About Fatherhood,” “The Family Crow: A Murder Mystery” (Highly recommended), “I Lost on Jeopardy” (Highly recommended), “Idealistic,” “Shakespeare’s Aliens” and “Triple Bypass.”

The narrator of “The Family Crow: A Murder Mystery” (Brown, 60 minutes, highly recommended) warns us that the ensuing tale is “not for the faint of heart.” In fact, the performance is for anyone who appreciates a creative vision, superb execution, a dollop of weirdness — and, of course, eye-rolling puns.

Adam Francis Proulx won a Critics’ Choice Award for his “Baker’s Dozen: 12 Angry Puppets,” in which a single puppet embodied a slew of characters. This time, the puppet — a remarkable monocle-wearing crow — is a single character, on the scene to investigate a murder. The human Proulx plays the other members of the dead man’s family as the case progresses.

It’s a daffy mixture of Agatha Christie meets “Airplane” with exchanges like:

Disgruntled military man addressed by the wrong title: “That’s General.”

Instant reply: “No, it’s quite specific, Sir,”

The silliness is delivered at a rapid clip and with a knowing twinkle by Proulx.

A murder mystery, even one played for laughs, depends on atmosphere — and “The Family Crow” delivers, with a parade of sound cues (original music is by Alexander Baerg), inspired lighting from a semicircle of desk lamps and a fine, feathery costume by Jessica Smith.

Byron Laviolette’s direction, with Proulx’s laugh-stocked script, deftly balances the mystery with the comedy. And in the finest British-mystery tradition, the Sherlock Crowlmes detective (see I can do it, too) explains it all at the end.

It’s self-deprecating, self-aware and some seriously funny highflying fun.

“Idealistic” (Brown, 60 minutes) is also concerned with death — namely what will we think when the moment arrives and we look back on our lives.

Steven Andrews’ one-man show looks at how his medical career has helped him adjust his own outlook on life and its hopes and dreams. The storytelling lacks structure, and dramatically the show comes to an end rather than builds to an end.

Yet “Idealistic” has multiple anecdotes of interest, introduces interesting characters and raises engaging ideas. Andrews himself is easy to watch, quick to gain the audience’s sympathy and passionate about his ideas. It’s also relatable, especially to anyone who has struggled with insecurity or depression.

Really, what is it this year with the Fringe and death?

“Triple Bypass” (Purple, 45 minutes) consists of three short plays by Deena M.P. Ronayne dealing with the subject. As cleanly directed by Monica Long Tamborello, the strongest is the first one — a gripping look at a dying man with an appalling past and the stranger who arrives as a guardian angel … or angel of vengeance? Terry Olson and Sarah Mathews do fine work in a story that it would be fascinating to see expanded.

In the second piece, Dina Najjar and Jennifer Coe also create memorable characterizations as two celebrities you might recognize waiting for the afterlife to get rocking, and Ronayne supplies a searing rant against the music industry. The third piece, about a black widow spider and other bugs, takes a turn to the absurd and seems wildly out of place with the other two.

Still more death: The folks behind previous Shakespearean takes on “Reservoir Dogs” and “Ghostbusters” present “Shakespeare’s Aliens” (The Abbey, 60 minutes), written with a light touch and even a few poetic moments by David Strauss.

Shakespeare buffs will recognize lines of dialogue and hear familiar titles name-dropped. “Aliens” fans will enjoy watching the plot play out and Alan Ostrander’s creatures. Director John Reid Adams lets the audience see his cast having fun — especially Katherine Riley, who’s all darting eyes and portentous warnings as young Newt: “Mostly at night they doth come. … Mostly.”

Rob Del Medico is a hoot as Hudson, with his emotions always dialed up to 11. Reducing the story to its plot essentials leaves Lyn Adams’ Ripley mostly yelling, but the soundscape of scrabbling, scritching, dripping and crunching helps convey the tension of the film. It’s good fun.

With a completely different tone, Aaron Malkin explores a mystery here on Earth: How do you explain the bond that forms between father and son?

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In his “Dandelion: A Comedy About Fatherhood” (Silver, 60 minutes) Malkin explains it quite well, not by talking about that bond per se but by showing it to us with gentle reminiscences about his own young son.

There’s a tenderness in Malkin’s style that lets you see the aura of fatherly love around him. He lightly touches on the difficult issue with his own father that shaped his idea of parenthood, and in a particularly interesting segment reflects on the times he may have failed as a new parent.

But this show radiates joy and love. Yes, all parents think their children say and do funny things. But Malkin, half of the popular James & Jamesy clowning duo, has the skill to make this more than “see what little Julian did.”

Finally, George Buri’s “I Lost on Jeopardy” (Pink, 60 minutes, highly recommended) is a treat for fans of the TV show, full of behind-the-scenes details. But more than that, it’s a guide map for life — about following dreams, the importance of challenging ourselves and especially how to react if the dream eludes us. And it’s funny.

Buri elicits instant empathy — we all know the feeling of coming so close, right? — and he deftly conveys his personal story among headier issues. It’s a beautiful paradox that a show in which the performer states and restates, “The only thing guaranteed in life is failure” is so hopeful.

Buri doesn’t say if performing at Fringe Festivals is his latest personal challenge. But if that’s the case, he’s a champion.

  • Where: Most shows take place at the Lowndes Shakespeare Center, Orlando Repertory Theatre, Orlando Museum of Art and the Renaissance Theatre at or near Loch Haven Park. Show venues in those locations are identified by color; off-campus locations are identified by name.
  • When: Through May 30
  • Cost: A $10 button is required for ticketed shows; then individual performance tickets are a maximum of $15.
  • Schedule, tickets and more info: OrlandoFringe.org

Find me on Twitter @matt_on_arts, facebook.com/matthew.j.palm or email me at [email protected]. Find more Orlando Fringe Festival reviews and information at OrlandoSentinel.com/fringe.

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