Strong female-centric shows dominated at this year’s sold-out Orlando Fringe Winter Mini-Fest

Candice Roberts in 'Larry'
Candice Roberts in 'Larry' Photo courtesy of Orlando Fringe

Summertime, and the Orlando Fringe theater festival that heralds its return, doesn't arrive for over four more months. But just try telling that to the 80-degree weather or the arts patrons who packed the Lowndes Shakespeare Center for last weekend's Orlando Fringe Winter Mini-Fest, which saw multiple sold-out shows for the first time in its four-year history. The four-day festival kicked off last Thursday night with the unveiling of a provocative poster campaign for the full Fest in May, which features graffiti-style stencils and the slogan "Incite Art."

"For the past two years we've given a message of community and embracing each other. ... This year our climate has changed a little bit," Fringe executive director Alauna Friskics explained during the presentation. "There are people whose liberties might be in jeopardy, they're losing their voice, and we want to give a pathway for those voices to come back."

One artist whose voice was definitely heard last weekend is Vancouver's Candice Roberts, who was awarded the Critics' Choice top prize for Larry, her boldly transgressive one-person comedy. In a plot embodying the spirit of "anything can happen at Fringe," one of this year's performers has failed to show up, which leaves lanky, long-haired stagehand Larry an ideal opportunity to prove that it can't be that hard to put on a show. What follows in an increasingly surreal series of awkward variety acts – ranging from a barrage of bad penis jokes, tap-dancing to heavy metal music and audience-participation Budweiser chugging – all wrapped in a blanket of casual misogyny.

With his patently fake ZZ Top beard and incessant string of sexist non-sequiturs, Larry is like the Canadian poster boy for toxic masculinity, but he's trying his best to get "woke," if only to impress the girl of his dreams. Larry's odyssey of self-actualization involves an unforgettably awful cover of a Pink Floyd classic, and culminates in a soul- (and skin-) baring dream sequence that demonstrates the fearless lengths Roberts will go to for her audience. Roberts calls her unique brand of feminist physical theater a "clown show," but it sure ain't Cirque du Soleil. Whatever you label it, Larry packed the full breadth of the Fringe experience into one performance.

In addition to Larry, Roberts also led The Myrtle Sisters: Out of Time, another of my favorite Mini-Fest offerings, albeit on the opposite end of the family-friendly spectrum. Emerging from a lo-fi steampunk time machine, the trio of bespectacled siblings from the Jazz Age has smashed into our era with a Macarena- sworn mission to collect and share dances from across the centuries. It's a sad commentary on current culture that the best moves 2020 has to contribute are flossing and the Baby Shark dance, but the Myrtle Sisters observe and ape it all with enthusiasm during the audience-participation opening of this delightful all-ages show.

This talented trio of physical comics could easily milk an hour of material out of some interactive improv and their repertoire of toe-tapping old-timey pop tunes like "Sister Kate," which they sing in nostalgic three-part harmony. But Out of Time achieves a higher level of entertainment by investing each character with a distinct personality and objectives, which are winkingly illuminated in fourth-wall-breaking asides. Shirl (Candice Roberts) is the high-strung, guitar-strumming leader; Gladys (Kat Single-Dain) is the underappreciated worker bee; and goldfish-obsessed Edna (Nayana Fielkov) may seem dim, but she shines the light of truth when it counts.

The sisters' affectionate arguing and acrobatic dance moves reminded me of the Triplets of Belleville. The action, which includes slow-motion pie fights and fishbowl headstands, is nothing less than inspired, and the briskly paced production leaves its audience wanting more. This adorable adventure would make a perfect first Fringe experience for kids and kids at heart.

The list of strong female-centric shows at Winter Mini-Fest continued with Lindsay Taylor's knockout solo turn in The Lightweight, Eleanor O'Brien's educationally erotic How to Really, Really? Really! Love a Woman, and Jennica McCleary's talent-packed Winnie's Rock Cauldron Cabaret.

One more to watch for during its encore at May's festival is Six Chick Flicks, or a Legally Blonde Pretty Woman Dirty Danced on the Beaches While Writing a Notebook on the Titanic, in which the crack comic team of Kerry Ipema and KK Apple affectionately skewer six classic so-called "chick flicks." The show, which was created in collaboration with "Fringe God" TJ Dawe, consists of 10-minute, two-person parodies of a half-dozen movies, beginning with Titanic (whose buoyant doors become a running gag) and ending with a ridiculous re-creation of Dirty Dancing's iconic choreography. Ipema and Apple spoof the flims' storylines and stars with SNL-worthy aplomb, but also step outside the narrative to point out how these supposedly female-friendly films reinforce the patriarchy.

This story appears in the Jan. 15, 2020, print issue of Orlando Weekly. Stay on top of Central Florida news and views with our weekly Headlines newsletter.

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