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Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Orlando Fringe Festival 2021 reviews: ‘Shakespeare’s Reservoir Dogs,’ ‘Headcanon,’ ‘The Sack,’ ‘Smooch’ and ‘We Got Love’

Posted By on Tue, May 25, 2021 at 5:50 PM

  • image courtesy Hardly Working Promotions
Shakespeare's Reservoir Dogs
BYOV: The Abbey, $12
With their last two hit Fringe shows, Hardly Working Promotions gave us Elizabethan reimaginings of Ghostbusters and Terminator 2. This year, they continue to work their way down my all-time favorite film list with a Shakespearean staging of Quentin Tarantino’s debut crime thriller, and it’s easily the best effort yet from director David Strauss and producer Deena Ronayne. As in the movie, four color-coded thieves gather after a botched jewel heist to determine which one is the canker in their hedge, but this team has traded in their handguns and pop culture references for razor-sharp rapiers and classical allusions.

Credit goes first to Stephin Hopley’s smart script, which faithfully follows QT’s original screenplay beat by beat, but transforms the text into Olde English verse; the dialogue brims with clever nods to Macbeth and The Merchant of Venice without slavishly cribbing quotations or simply swapping in archaic pronouns. But the true honors go to the gender-blind cast, led by three exceptional actresses in the central roles of the injured Sir Orange (Nikki Darden Creston), the paranoid Sir Pink (Katherine Riley) and the world-weary Sir White (Marcie Schwalm). They all tackle their testosterone-soaked roles and make them their own without imitating the iconic original actors; Creston’s brief take on Tim Roth’s drug-smuggling monologue is a particular highlight.

Fans of the film will find great fun in recognizing the iambic equivalents of quotable dialogue, but even those ignorant of the original will enjoy the potent plot, sharp performances and brutal stage combat choreographed by Bill Warriner. Fair warning: The scene where Sir Blonde (John Reid Adams) gleefully mutilates an officer of the law (Jim Cundiff) remains as gory and disturbing on stage as it was on screen. The show’s only real missteps involve Rob Del Medico’s minstrel character, who strums Renaissance rewrites of K-Billy’s super ’70s soundtrack; his audience-participatory rendition of “Hooked on a Feeling” is hilarious, but his entrances and exits seem to slow down the pace of every scene change instead of smoothing over the transitions as they should.

That one nitpick aside, Shakespeare’s Reservoir Dogs is the best such high-concept film parody I’ve seen at Fringe in years, because it understands and respects the source material without being afraid to tweak it. Lend this talented crew your ears ... just don’t expect to get both of them back.

  • image courtesy Orlando Fringe Festival
Pink Venue, $12
Did you ever spend sleep-deprived nights writing Livejournal posts about utterly unsanctioned couplings between your favorite fantasy franchise characters? If so, #Headcanon is the NC-17 dance show for you. Emcee Velvet O’Claire (aka the Good Bitch of the South) has scoured the depths of the internet for the worst fan fiction known to man, which she gives hilarious overwrought readings of while a parade of partially clad performers pneumatically pirouette around a stripper pole.

Whether you’ve always wondered what Freddy Krueger’s cock looks like, get all hot and bothered thinking about Netflix’s Bridgerton, have a thing for X Files-inspired hentai or are just unhealthily obsessed with Jeff Goldblum, there’s certain to be something casting your favorite pop-culture cult in a lurid new light. Each installment features different guest stars from other Fringe shows, and you never know what inappropriate insanity may be “randomly” selected by the Wheel of Fucking.

This isn’t your mother’s tasteful burlesque (that’s Corsets & Cuties at HÄOS) but thankfully nobody takes these absurdly awful slashfic follies too seriously. #Headcanon is sure to make you squirm uncomfortably in your seat, but at the Fringe that’s considered an added bonus.

  • image courtesy Orlando Fringe Festival
The Sack: A Play on Superheroes
Red Venue, $10
Writer-performer Jordan Bertke plays Spyn Isaac, an unassuming burlap bag maker who moonlights as a bullet-dodging vigilante with above-average bravery and below-average judgment; his arrogant older brother, the Mayor of Mega City; an incompetent Fargo-accented police officer; and an entire rogue's gallery full of comic book villains in this superb one-man superhero spoof. The lanky, likable Bertke deftly distinguishes between his four-color characters with voices, physicality and fleet footwear changes, and his self-aware script incorporates potent political pokes into the pulp fiction plot.

Although The Sack could use some technical tweaks to make its transitions flow better, this solo satire flies surprisingly high, especially if you’re the type of comic-book fanboy who prefers Adam West’s colorful comedy to the grimdark Snyderverse.

  • image via Gromalot Theatre Factory on Facebook
Orange Venue, $12
Any old superhero can avert an apocalypse, but it takes an intrepid agent from the Center of Unleashing People’s Innermost Desires — better known as CUPID — to tackle the truly thorny trouble of human love. In the comic cosmology of Gromalot’s Smooch, celestial matches are made in the clouds, then sealed at school playgrounds and drive-in theaters … but it often takes more than just a simple arrow to bring destined duos together.

Brandon Roberts remains Orlando’s undisputed master of physical comedy, and he’s well matched by his fellow Simlish-spewing, diaper-clad clowns at spinning nonverbal nonsense into side-splitting laughs. Much like a vintage Warner Brothers cartoon, Smooch is a family-friendly show with appeal across all age ranges, although its near-exclusive focus on traditional gender pairings makes this 2014 script seem a little dated at today’s Fringe. Smooch is full of silly slapstick, but is also sweetly soulful; a segment about an elderly couple bull's-eyed me in the heart like Pixar’s Up before reaching its suggestive punchline.

  • image courtesy Orlando Fringe Festival
We Got Love
BYOV: The Abbey, $12
After an extended mood-setting preshow of projected psychedelic imagery accompanied by philosophical quotations from Eastern theologian Alan Watts, Californian cabaret artist Brett McMahon opens his one-man musical rave by announcing his intention to let audiences kick back, enjoy a drink and wash away the putrid past year with an hour-long parade of songs about love. Whether singing a torch song skewering ex-President Trump, recalling ridiculous renditions of the National Anthem or rocking a country-fried cover of Kacey Musgraves’ “Follow Your Arrow,” McMahon oozes campy charisma, and his a cappella take on Scott McKenzie’s “San Francisco” was unexpectedly tender. And did I mention that this is also a striptease show, which sees McMahon sporting underwear that leaves little to the imagination?

McMahon is a fine singer, but more importantly he’s an electric stage presence, engaging his audience whether or not you recognize all his eclectic musical selections. Clap along or cringe; this self-avowed flaming homosexual just doesn’t care. McMahon’s got one thing right for sure: this show is a damn sight more fun than watching a guy in a gorilla suit sit in a rocking chair.

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