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Friday, May 28, 2021

Orlando Fringe Festival 2021 reviews: ‘Always Now,’ ‘Good Girl Gone Single,’ ‘Josie & Grace’ and ‘Kidnapping Amy’

Posted By on Fri, May 28, 2021 at 3:54 PM

  • image courtesy of Orlando Fringe
Always Now
BYOV: Häos on Church, $12

Dancer Michelina Moen, who will be familiar to fans of VarieTease, puts herself through a torture test and emerges with flying colors in her improvisational solo show Always Now. Prior to each performance, audience members are invited to write down answers to questions randomly selected from a deck of personal prompts, which then provide the emotional inspiration for Moen’s propulsive dancing. The lighting design by venue technician Isabel Hernandez and diverse musical selections are also different for every show, and included Queen, Katzenjammer and Celine Dion during the show I attended.

Despite all the happenstance, Moen’s impassioned impromptu movement often creates the illusion of intentional choreography, as she deftly flips from physical humor and athletic floorwork to hard-hitting hip-hop and high-flying leaps with finely tuned lyrical timing. While I can’t exactly claim I could identify any of the specific themes being explored, watching Moen command the stage with unflagging energy for over 45 solid minutes was one of my favorite expressions of pure kineticism at this Fringe.

  • image courtesy of Orlando Fringe
Good Girl Gone Single
Red Venue, $12

Sherilynn Cherry, a theater educator and writer-performer from Virginia, makes her Orlando Fringe debut with Good Girl Gone Single, an unpolished but potent piece of bold performance poetry chronicling her odyssey through divorce, dating and single motherhood. Scorned by the man whose child she had just delivered by C-section, Cherry shares her struggles through vicious verses and sassy soliloquies evoking STD-ridden toilet seats, debt-inducing bedroom furniture and delusional white-knight suitors. Some of the sharper segments include a Dating Game parody parade of ineligible bachelors, an enigmatic exchange with an internet tech support hotline, and a rousing church sermon on Matthew 6:22.

Much like the buzzing fly that bedevils Cherry throughout her show, Good Girl Gone Single got under my skin and burrowed into my brain. She definitely needs a director’s help to shape her transitions and tweak the abrupt ending, but Cherry represents a unique voice among this year’s Fringe performers, and she’s earned my attention.

  • image courtesy of Orlando Fringe
Josie & Grace
Silver Venue, $12

A chance encounter at Manhattan’s legendary Stork Club led to a lifelong friendship between two of the mid-20th century’s most iconic artists, and forms the basis for this beautiful new play from the creators of the hit musical cabaret Josephine. The script (by writer-composer Tod Kimbro and producer Michael Marinaccio, with dramaturge Paris Crayton III) spins a compelling story from the slim historical record of pioneering Black songstress Josephine Baker’s (Tymisha Harris) relationship with Rear Window star and with future royal Grace Kelly (Rachael Comeau). For those who have seen Harris’ previous solo turn as Baker, much of the factual material will be familiar, but the parallels with Kelly’s struggle against Hollywood’s misogyny adds poignancy to Baker’s battles with racial prejudice.

Harris has never sounded better belting Baker’s songs, as well as two killer Kimbro originals; Comeau captures both Kelly’s icy bombshell exterior and the wounded woman beneath the blonde tresses. Aradhana Tiwari’s dreamlike direction flows cinematically through the decades, with an assist from Stephen Lima in multiple male characters (including Alfred Hitchcock) and a chiaroscuro lighting design by Alexander Hehr. The elegiac tone could use an injection of energy at certain moments, and the script could stand some tightening, especially as it approaches its heartbreaking end. [Full disclosure: I provided the creators feedback on an early draft of the play.] But the love and loss that bonded this unlikely pair is palpable in Harris’ and Comeau’s winning performances, making Josie & Grace the rare show with potential to travel far beyond this year’s Fringe.

  • image courtesy of Orlando Fringe
Kidnapping Amy
Yellow Venue, $10

Frazzled by frustration after attending endless failed auditions, struggling actress Darcie decides that the surest way to stardom is not training and hard work, but kidnapping her comedic idol, Amy Poehler, and Stockholm Syndrome-ing the SNL alumna into becoming her mentor. That’s a terrible career plan, but a decent enough promise for a high-school comedy club skit, which this inauspicious Fringe show closely resembles.

Unfortunately, even with a slim running time of barely 30 minutes — about half the advertised length — the script manages to be both overpadded and underdeveloped. And although the lead performer shows some promise in the fast-paced opening moments, the energy swiftly dissipates, and her co-stars all look uncomfortable on stage. Even the biggest Parks & Recreation fans will want to pass on this one.

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