Each year, the Orlando Sentinel reviewing team picks 10 Orlando Fringe Festival shows for our Best of the Festival list. Here are this year's top 10, presented alphabetically… you can read the review of each and check out remaining showtimes after the list.
Best of the Festival
- 9-11: We Will (Never) Forget (reviewed by Tod Caviness)
- Bad Connections? (reviewed by Sandra Carr)
- Bursting Into Flames By Martin Dockery (reviewed by Matthew J. Palm)
- Dance for Grandma (reviewed by Jim Abbott)
- Dirk Darrow: NCSSI (reviewed by Matthew J. Palm)
- Fosgate, Ferret Loan Officer (reviewed by Matthew J. Palm)
- Lil' Women — A Rap Musical (reviewed by Jim Abbott)
- Mitzi Morris in "Dazzled to Death" (reviewed by Matthew J. Palm)
- Mysterious Skin (reviewed by Matthew J. Palm)
- Oneymoon (A Honeymoon for One) (reviewed by Tod Caviness)
'9-11: We Will (Never) Forget'
The show starts before the announcements even begin, with bystander video of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. The footage is so universally sobering that — for a while — you begin to be leery about the show's intent. For all the title's insistence to the contrary, the wounds of 9-11 are still raw enough to exploit.
No such worry. New Yorker Jason Nettle brings the pain in his one-man show, but he does so to no trivial effect. Switching between 17 characters in the wake (or the midst) of the attacks, he tackles loss, acceptance, prejudice and despair with a series of short but brutal snapshots. In each of his roles as a haunted cop, a grieving widower and a frazzled bartender, Nettle is distinct without being showy. By necessity, the emotion ratchets high — almost unbearably so, at points — but there are some welcome reprieves. (His vignette as a self-absorbed actor is one of Nettle's most subtle turns, improbably hilarious.)
The biggest triumph, though, may be what the show doesn't do: Preach. If you can't already glean it from the emotional tidal wave of his previous characters, Nettle's final monologue reveals this as a very personal show. If it's a call to action, it is only in the deepest, most personal sense, as when one of his voices admires the ability of a mere 19 people to change the world — and seethes at their decision to create such tragedy. "When do we all get to believe in one thing?" he asks. It's a question that lingers long after the lights go up.
55 minutes, Brown Venue, $11. Remaining shows: 6 p.m. Friday, 2:30 p.m. Saturday.
— Tod Caviness, staff writer
Actor Paul Cosentino portrays nine interrelated New York characters experiencing loss, pain, understanding and forgiveness while soul-searching and seeking happiness in playwright Michael Levesque's "Bad Connections?"
The story begins with a yoga instructor reminding his class, as well as the audience, to stop, look and listen and think about the connections made that day.
Cosentino mesmerizes as he brings the characters to life with only chairs and lighting changes to enhance the scene's mood.
His characters are diverse: He brilliantly portrays a gay yoga instructor, a pregnant African-American woman, a middle-aged Jewish wife to an anxious Italian man trying to let go of his past. The characters show us that we're all connected through the good and bad times — though we may have to make some changes along the way.
Make a connection with this gem and witness Cosentino's hilarious, heartfelt and unforgettable show.
75 minutes, Silver Venue, $11. Remaining show: 11:45 p.m. Saturday.
— Sandra Carr, correspondent
'Bursting Into Flames By Martin Dockery'
When you follow a Fringe artist through several years of shows, it's a pleasure to see the performer stretch artistically or surprise — especially when the result is as entertaining as Martin Dockery's latest creation, "Bursting into Flames."
Dockery, who has expertly shared personal true stories of his travels, romances and even a day at Orlando's own Holy Land Experience, tries something new this year — a solo fiction piece. In "Bursting Into Flames," Dockery is a man who has died — not a zombie as in a slew of other Fringe shows — but an average Joe who's pleasantly surprised to find there is an afterlife, which for him is like one big cocktail party.
Dockery's fans probably won't be surprised to learn the afterlife doesn't seem all the different from our mortal coil. People, especially, are much the ame, letting Dockery drop in his sharp observances of human nature — the lies we tell to support our friends, the instinct that makes disgruntled people demand "someone in charge' make things better, the way failure can be just as much a motivational thrill as success.
He's engaging as ever to watch, lanky arms akimbo, hands grasping at his T-shirt, hair flying, eyes popping. In this show, his rat-a-tat patter is more revved up, his persona more fatuous. Dockery's glee is frantic, almost relentless, even as cracks start to appear in his eternal paradise.
"Bursting Into Flames" might not be a true story — but it's full of the truth.
60 minutes, Pink Venue, $11. Remaining shows: 10 p.m. Friday, 2:30 p.m. Saturday.
— Matthew J. Palm, theater critic
'Dance for Grandma'
The title of Scott Whittemore's one-man show, "Dance For Grandma," is inspired by requests that would invariably come his way at the family gatherings of his childhood.
And though there aren't too many fancy steps in Whittemore's 60-minute performance, the combination of songs, stories and old-school shtick is a sweet tribute to his grandmother's memory — one that offers plenty of emotional touchstones for anyone who misses a family member.
Whittemore's skillful singing, ukulele strumming and comedic timing was impeccable, a reflection of six years of performing at Walt Disney World, most recently as "Six Bits" in the Hoop Dee Doo Revue at the Fort Wilderness Resort. Compared with the unpredictable levels of musicianship typical of Fringe shows, this production was showroom smooth.
It also had plenty of heart.
On stage, Whittemore rummaged through his grandmother's attic, allowing family keepsakes to inspire his tales. A lot of attention was devoted to homemade sweaters, one of those familiar images to anyone of a certain age:
"I wore the sweaters to school," Whittemore said, modeling a particularly garish one. "The teachers would see me and immediately lower their expectations."
He slipped a pair of tap shoes on his hands and offered a quick soft-shoe; he read old letters.
"You like magic?" he asked, before flubbing a simple trick with comedic unawareness that Steve Martin might admire. He juggled scarves and twirled a few rope tricks.
"My grandma's cooler than yours," he sang in a catchy ditty, then explained:
"She wasn't always perfect, but she was a perfect grandma."
And the inspiration for a nearly perfect show.
60 minutes, Patrons' Room, $10. Remaining shows: 2 p.m. Saturday, 11 a.m. Sunday.
— Jim Abbott, music critic
'Dirk Darrow: NCSSI'
It's a magic show. Wait, it's a comedy routine. Oh no, it's a mystery. I guess it's all of those things, but whatever you call it, it's consistently entertaining.
In "Dirk Darrow," Tim Motley keeps the focus squarely on him — literally, as his film-noir private eye spends lots of time in a solitary spotlight. It's Motley's charisma that makes all this work: He banters with the audience, he reads minds, he cracks jokes — all with an arched eyebrow and grin that say, "Yeah, you paid for this, just sit back and enjoy the ride."
And an enjoyable ride it is. The solution to the mystery framework doesn't register as clearly as it might, but strangely that didn't seem important. There's enough else going on in the wisecracks, mentalist tricks and illusions to make Dirk Darrow a man to remember.
60 minutes, Yellow Venue, $11. Remaining shows: 10:15 p.m. Saturday, 7:30 p.m. Sunday.
'Fosgate, Ferret Loan Officer'
"Fosgate, Ferret Loan Officer" is the kind of Fringe show critics dream of. A clever concept, sharply executed, with catchy songs, a witty script and a talented cast. Best of all, it doesn't take itself seriously and knows when enough is enough.
Written by Ned Wilkinson ("Julie Bunny Must Die!"), "Fosgate" is inspired by Shakespeare's "Merchant of Venice." In this spoof, Fosgate is the Shylock character, a moneylender, who faces bigotry because he's ... a weasel. He loans money to other animals with horrifying terms buried in the fine print. (You do know where the phrase "a pound of flesh" comes from, right?)
But Fosgate's schemes could be derailed by his conscience-stricken secretary — a sheep played delightfully by Sarah-Lee Dobbs, a quintessential British "dolly bird," straight out of an old "Carry On" farce or 1970s Britcom.
She's far from alone in being perfectly cast. Jason Wood is weaselly in every twitch of his nose, Laura Hodos is in top voice and channels a tougher version of Mary Poppins as a no-nonsense barrister, Matt Horohoe is charmingly downmarket as a blue-collar pig, while Holland Hayes makes slow-thinking Henry the Horse a likeable lug. And Joshua S. Roth brings the dumb-but-energetic devotion of a dog to life, with his vacuous grin and dancing eyes.
I won't ruin the clever jokes for the Shakespeare buffs, delivered with the requisite light touch under the eye of director Christopher Leavy. (When the jokes are deliberate groaners, that's cheekily acknowledged, too.)
Horohoe's pig character might cry, "Weasels out!" but I say "Fosgate in!"
50 minutes, Brown Venue, $11. Remaining shows: 11:15 p.m. Saturday, 11 a.m. Sunday.
'Lil Women — A Rap Musical'
Word to your mother.
Or is that word to your Marmi?
Marmi — matriarch of the March family in Louisa May Alcott's beloved literary classic, "Little Women" — is part of an inventive hip-hop adaptation of the tale produced by Orlando improv troupe Nobody's Sweetheart.
Yeah, "Lil' Women – A Rap Musical" sounds like a joke, so it's only appropriate that there are more than a few hilarious moments as the fates of sisters Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy unfold in a beat-driven 60 minutes. More impressive is the way the show retains so much of the book's integrity.
Powered by the music of Isaac Folch and words of show creators (and cast members) Sara Stock and Lindsay Taylor, "Lil' Women" audaciously mashes together elements of the book's original 19th-century backdrop with outrageous rhyme-spitting production numbers.
Equally impressive is the emotional range, which shifts from the somber, candlelit farewell to dying sister Beth to a well-crafted comedic homecoming when the girls' father returns from war.
The song in the latter scene, "I Feel Like the Commander-in-Chief," offers the show's best laugh line tucked into lyrics that included such winning couplets as "not the president/ setting precedents/ in the present tense."
Roll over Louisa May Alcott and tell Jay-Z the news.
60 minutes, Green Venue, $8. Remaining show: 1 p.m. Sunday.
'Mitzi Morris in "Dazzled to Death"'
Did you know that in the 1940s a detective was also referred to as a dick? As in, a private detective was called a "private dick."
Once you have that piece of information, you have all you need to appreciate the humor in "Mitzi Morris in 'Dazzled to Death.'" It's a super-silly and super-funny brisk outing in which every other line is some sort of double entendre. But the heavy-breathing humor is carried off with so much panache, you can't help but be, well, dazzled.
Mitzi "herself" is a cross between Vicki Lawrence and Joel Grey. She sings (funny songs by John B. deHaas and Kevin Kriegel), she tap dances, she changes one striking costume for another. Michael Colavolpe is the hard-boiled detective, the biggest dick in town. ("I'm 6-foot-3," he says suavely.) He keeps to himself because "people disgust me," but gets caught up in murder when Mitzi's husband is killed. Her vampy stepdaughter and studly driver (Jamie-Lyn Markos and Connor Marsico, both fun to watch in stock Fringe roles) are the other key players.
Modern phrases — "tap that," "What, too soon?" — incongruous to the 1930s film noir style add to the silliness.
"A man in a dress?" Mitzi worries. "Now people will think we're that type of show." Yes, it is that type of show. But a fabulous example of how that kind of adolescent silliness can be a really good time.
45 minutes, Yellow Venue, $10. Remaining shows: 3 p.m. Saturday, 4:20 p.m. Sunday.
"Mysterious Skin," adapted by Prince Gomolvilas from Scott Heim's novel, shows there is always a place among the silly clowning at Fringe for adult drama. And by adult, I don't mean people taking their clothes off for fun: I mean thoughtful, challenging and mostly compelling storytelling about a delicate and disturbing subject.
Young adult Brian Lackey thinks he may have been abducted by aliens as a child. Lonely, awkward Avalyn Friesen is sure she has had an alien encounter. Devil-may-care Neil McCormick is drifting through life, making easy money as a gay prostitute.
But all is not as it seems. And seemingly unrelated stories have a connection deep in the past.
Yes, there is cursing — it's a story about 20somethings — and yes, there is graphic nudity — it's a story about sex, too. But those interludes are there for a purpose, and director Jeremy Seghers uses them to tell us something about his characters.
Anthony Pyatt Jr. is appealingly twitchy and gawky as troubled Brian. Michael Martin's lines sometimes get swallowed up in the large Orange Venue but he lets us see the cracks beginning to form in his easy surface confidence. Marcie Schwalm makes Avalyn much more than a freak or object of pity.
Music artfully helps set the scene in the late '80s-early '90s. And lighting and sound help move the story along.
The audience will likely figure out what's really going on before Gomolvilas' script reveals it. But that doesn't make the journey any less tense or emotional.
90 minutes, Orange Venue, $10. Remaining shows: 9:15 pm. Friday, 3:15 p.m. Saturday, 7:15 p.m. Sunday.
'Oneymoon (A Honeymoon for One)'
Christel Bartelse's one-woman show isn't about "finding a guy, or not finding a guy," she asserts – or at least her alter-ego Caroline does. And for a while, she's so deliriously happy with her independence, you believe her. Caroline is so independent, in fact, that she defiantly marries herself, complete with a gaudy ring (and the audience as wedding guests) and embarks on her "one-ymoon" to the Bahamas.
But can she truly be happy with someone so fussy? Caroline certainly has more than her fair share of baggage, enough that you grow to accept her "marriage," or at least understand the neuroses behind it. Not that the concept ever loses its comedic punch, and that's a credit to the writing (to which Fringe fave Jimmy Hogg lent a hand). In Caroline's flashbacks to past dating disasters and her doubts about a future alone, Bartelse manages to keep up a cartoonish pace while retaining a very human connection. For the amount of gags and gimmicks thrown at the audience, it's amazing how many of them stick. (A bit that has audience members delivering wedding speeches is especially hilarious, thanks in no small part to the bride's reactions.)
Bartelse has a cheerleader's energy, and her show is something of a pep rally for independence. But she's savvy enough to know that the jitters along the way to loving yourself are where the comedy lies.
60 minutes, Brown Venue, $11. Remaining shows: 4 p.m. Saturday, 5:45 p.m. Sunday.
— T.C.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun