Regional Reviews: San Diego
San Diego Fringe Festival
Also see Bill's coverage of the Tribes
Over 50 productions appeared at the festival, many that were San Diego based but also several that came from other U.S. cities and five international performances (two from London, two from Toronto, and one from just across the border in Mexico). There was also a small Off Fringe component, and some of the Fringe shows performed at additional times (most Fringe shows ran three times total) by scheduling themselves Off Fringe as well. The Fringe used three main venues, all of them located in the more "arty" and less developed East Village section of downtown San Diego. Off Fringe shows played at additional venues, including one show that performed at a strip club. A collection of buskers performed at Seaport Village, a prime tourist destination across downtown from the center of the action. The 10th Avenue Theatre complex included a mainstage, a cabaret space, a space for a performance art installation, and a rooftop space that served as festival headquarters where performers and audience members could interact over a beer or a glass of wine.
The arts press in San Diego made an effort to come out in force to support the mostly-young artists whose energy had been instrumental in making the Fringe happen. U-T San Diego, the daily print newspaper, provided a good deal of advance coverage, and critics James Hebert and Pam Kragen both published stories during the run of the festival describing their experiences attending a variety of the one-hour festival performances. SanDiegoStory.com, a local arts journalism website, ran several admiring reviews of individual festival events while they were still performing, and other reviewers covered the festival from blogs, Twitter, and Facebook. Numbers of shows seen varied (I saw seven of the shows across three days), and some of the critics (including me) also reviewed mainstream productions during the time the festival was running. As I noted earlier, summer is busy in San Diego.
The major news of the festival was the recognition of the work of Philip-Dimitri Galas, who began writing as a young man in San Diego, eventually moved to Toronto, and succumbed at a young age, in 1985. Two of Mr. Galas' pieces were on display from his Toronto collaborators: Baby Redboots' Revenge, a play written for and performed by Sean Sullivan, and Mona Rogers in Person, which was performed by Anne Meighan. Redboots showcased the tour-de-force acting and clowning of Mr. Sullivan, who has performed the piece for years and has evolved it as he has moved from being young to being a man who is 25 years older than when he started. The critics were asked to tweet or email "critics choices" as the festival progressed, and Redboots emerged as the clear favorite for a critics' "Best-of-the-Festival" award that was given Sunday evening at the 10th Avenue Theatre's rooftop bar. Coincidentally, the show was about to begin its final performance, and many of those who hadn't seen it (and some who had) marched downstairs to the mainstage to savor Mr. Galas and Mr. Sullivan's collaboration.
The other promising performance that emerged during the festival was The Warrior's Duet. Written by long-time San Diego theatre writer Charlene Baldridge, the dance/spoken-word collaboration was based on the poetry of Charlene's daughter, Laura Jeanne Morefield. Ms. Morefield's verses, both funny and touching, chronicled her journey after being diagnosed with terminal colon cancer. Ms. Baldridge's script featured the poems, recited by a character that represented herself (performed by Kathi Copeland), one that represented her daughter (performed by Samantha Ginn), and a group of dancers, choreographed by Anne Gehman. The performance, co-directed by Ms. Gehman and Katherine Harroff, was produced by a local theatre collective called Circle Circle Dot Dot. It not only proved to be popular with audiences but also very promising as a piece of theatre. I hope that the festival exposure will bring with it a full-scale production.
There was not a good deal of overt support for the Fringe from the established theatre community, but the La Jolla Playhouse did present one of the two London-based performances, Carpe Minuta Prima, which was performed in a hallway just off the heart of the Gaslamp District downtown. Participants were recruited as they passed by (unless you knew where to look, as I did) and were asked to perform for one minute in front of a camera positioned in a private booth. We were instructed to do anything we wished but to "make it good." Afterward, we were able to sell the recording of our minute for $1, with the understanding that someone could purchase our DVD (identified by first name only) at the end of the festival, after which all versions of the performance would be destroyed. I did not go back to see if anyone bought my partial recitation of the "quality of mercy" speech from The Merchant of Venice, but I do hope it was good. By the way, Carpe Minuta Prima will return the first weekend in October, as part of the Playhouse's WithOut Walls (WOW) festival
The Fringe featured a number of solo performances whose quality, as you might expect, varied widely. There were also a few unheralded gems, such as Diane Alexander, Barbara Tobler, Shauna Hart Ostrom, and Shelly Hart Brennamen, four local singers who gamely performed opera and show tunes as "La Divina" outdoors, despite trucks coming and going and helicopters flying over.
From an audience perspective, though, there were a lot more hits than misses. The Fringe promises to be back next summer, and I hope that it will become a San Diego tradition, along with the fair, the races, the pride parade, and Comic-Con.
For more information, visit sdfringe.org.