When looking over the program for the 2017 Seattle Fringe Festival* three words popped off the page: John. Patrick. Shanley. Yes, Lungfish Productions and Lion. Fish. Theater. Company bring us a play written by the author of Doubt and the movie Moonstruck during his struggling years. Directed by Kyle James Traver, this is a work of a sure-handed writer in the hands of a confident ensemble.
Shanley himself was 34 when he wrote about a motley collection of five high school classmates who drift into the same bar, like a joke with no punchline. His own life was going nowhere at that time and he was dealing with his first divorce. He was working a string of odd jobs and using the discipline he developed from service in the Marines to get up at 5 am each morning to write for three hours before work.
Shanley sets this play on a dreary no-action Monday night in an even drearier 1983 Bronx. In 1983, commercial, civic, and political so-called leaders were letting the Bronx literally fall apart, and the lives of these five were stalled as well. As the audience enters Murk (Jared Baron Spears) is well established behind the bar and actually dispensed drinks to audience members who wanted one—if their tastes ran to wine or beer.
April White (Larissa Schmitz) sits alone folded into herself and with her feet up on a table. There are a couple of dead plants and a few other tables and chairs. That’s the set. Murk has “rules” one of which is patrons of the bar, well, are drink-buying patrons. He insists April order a drink which she does, but she cannot pay. He gives her a cleaning rag which she quarter-heartedly swishes across a couple of tables.
Denise Savage (EmilyRose Frasca) comes in like an ocean squall. This is the third bar she’s been to and nothing’s happening in any of them. Murk comments “It’s Monday night all over, sit down!” She can’t. She’s hungry for something to break her out of the limbo she feels her life to be, “I don’t want to sit in that apartment that smells like a cat box with my mother, who looks like a walrus, for one more second or I will die.” She can’t get April or Murk interested in playing pool or cards. She can’t even feed the jukebox because it’s out for repairs. It’s limbo all over for her.
Linda Rotunda (Kelsey Boulton) comes in, finds a chair, sits down, and breaks into tears. She can’t go home, “it’s to early and my mother will know something’s up.” Another 32 year old living at home. Denise gets her to share her troubles, and it’s a common issue between men and women, but Shanley gives it a fresh twist: Tony Aronica (Gregory Kleckiak, her boyfriend) “want to see ugly girls, I don’t know why. That’s the f**king news, so don’t tell me otherwise,” she says.
Denise, seemingly serious about getting out from under her mother, tries to befriend Linda, and they begin to talk about getting a place together. April inserts herself, if she can have her own room, and now the three women are planning to find a place.
Of course, eventually, the leather pants-wearing Tony arrives. All plans are off as the women vie for his attentions. He explains himself about his new found attraction to ugly women: He was collecting himself after a couple of drinks while sitting in his parked car. A woman opens the door, slides in, and then talks to him for two hours about the Soviet Union … “why they need American wheat … the type of tanks in Eastern Europe.” He has sex with her in the back seat and she disappears, but the experience is a revelation. He thought he would always be attracted to girls like Linda, but now, he feels like he passed a portal in a sci-fi movie and entered “the dimension of ugly girls.” He needs to explore this dimension or he will “lose his place.”
Everyone except Murk has now declared they are ready for a change. Murk, true to his name, stays murky, but before the end of the play he reveals some plans for changes of his own.
The whole cast participated in a staged reading of the show in December and their comfort with the script and confidence in one another clearly shows. The acting was nearly flawless and everyone displayed mastery of the range of emotions their character needed to express. Seeing such a gem of a show despite the usual Fringe challenges of limited rehearsal times and spaces lifts ones spirits.
* What is a Fringe Festival? There’s plenty of dramatic action happening during this year’s Fringe Festival: 34 shows in 5 venues running from March 23 to April 1. Read Drama in the Hood’s preview and visit the fringe’s website for more details. Fringe theater festivals trace their ancestry to 1947 and Edinburgh, Scotland. That year, eight theater troupes who were not selected into the official first Edinburgh International Festival organized their own performances. According to Wikipedia, “Robert Kemp, a Scottish journalist and playwright, described the situation, ‘Round the fringe of official Festival drama, there seems to be more private enterprise than before … I am afraid some of us are not going to be at home during the evenings!’”
Fringe festivals have become one of the most accessible institutions in the world and the one in Edinburgh is the planet’s largest arts festival. Festival organizers welcome any and all performers to submit applications for inclusion. A lottery is held to pick the shows. Applicants pay minimum fees to to cover the festival’s overhead and advertising. All acts get about the same number of performances and get to keep all box office income.
Expect brief shows (from 45 to 60 minutes), minimum sets so shows can setup and break down fast, and extreme originality. Get out there and support fringe theater!
Cast – EmilyRose Frasca, as Denise Savage ][ Kelsey Boulton, as Linda Rotunda ][ Gregory Kleciak, as Tony Aronica ][ Larissa Schmitz, as April White ][ Jared Baron Spears, as Murk
Production Team – Stage Direction by Kyle James Traver ][ Assistant Direction by Kathryn Wahlberg ][ Stage Management by Abigail Pishaw ][ Costume Design by Amelia Wade
This Show May Contain Adult Language, Sexuality or Simulated Sexual Depictions.
Savage in Limbo by John Patrick Shanley, directed by Kyle James Traver. 2017 Fringe Festival (A Program of Theatre of Puget Sound). Lion. Fish. Theater. Company. Center House Theatre Black Box, Seattle Center, 1st Floor, 305 Harrison St. Tickets: seattlefringefestival.org Four performances: 3/24 8 PM, 3/26 4 PM, 3/30 8:15 PM, & last show – 4/1 6:15 PM.
Hello Marie (and Mark)!
Thank you very much again!
Kyle James Traver