The NOLA Fringe is under way, and I’ve survived the first two days. Survival wouldn’t normally be an issue, but with some post-midnight conversations, after-theatre drinks, and a Fringe party, I haven’t seen my bedroom before 1:30am in three days. But no matter, here’s a summary of the shows so far.
For Kingdom and Fatherland
Who wouldn’t be intrigued by a mullah-lifting female Pakistani-Norwegian standup comedian? This was my first show of the Fringe this year. Shabana Rehman is all that lead-in claims and more. But this is not a standup routine, rather it’s Shabana’s immigration story, beginning with her family’s move to Norway from Pakistan, and her subsequent move to New York. She’s had a fascinating and sometimes harrowing life, but her delivery isn’t quite up to the drama. I’m not sure if it’s because English is her third (or forth) language, or if she’s too unscripted, or if this is just all new material she’s working with, but she’s not as compelling as the material she’s working with just yet.
Can I just start out by saying, I love Pandora Gastelum? Pandora is the proprietor and chief puppet-master of the Mudlark Public Theatre here in New Orleans, and every few month, she and the Mudlark crew have a new show. I try to catch them all. In Blue Book, they tell true history of the rise and fall of the Storyville with special attention to Lulu “The Diamond Queen” White, one of the most infamous madams of all. Pandora’s scripts, even the fictional ones, are heavily researched, and here she’s quite attuned to the ironies of race and history. Paper cutout prostitutes perform sex acts and rod puppets re-enact history from the days of French government in New Orleans to the end of the red-light district.
The She-Wolf of Spain St.
In this walking tour of the Faubourg-Marigny, Lisa Pasold spins a yarn of a age-old female werewolf whose travels though the district correspond with the history of New Orleans. You’ll learn about coffee-colored creoles and coffee importers, and the South American herbs that calm the soul of a blood-thirsty werewolf.
The Dark Fantastic
This is a one-man show by New York’s Martin Dockery. It’s gotten high marks at other fringe festivals, and it’s clear that Martin is a gifted storyteller. With minimal effects (lights, sound) he weaves a dark, surreal tale of a world almost like our own. At his best, he’s mixes Borgesian mystery with Stephen King-like creepiness. Personally, while I liked much of what he did, I though he relied on certain tropes a little too heavily, but others in the audience were quite happy to inhabit his world.
Toy theatre meets Red Emma. In this charming piece, intricately-constructed toy theatre sets combine with life-sized objects to help Lorna Howley and Martina Plag tell the story of Emma Goldman. The puppetry is well done, and the script is an adaptation of one by historian Howard Zinn. Unfortunately, the 50-minute run time of the show precludes telling her entire life story, and the show ends just as Emma is deported from the United States. I wanted more.
This is a raucous, randy, and rather loud performance of old-style freak show tricks, including the bed of nails, spikes through the face, fire-eating, a hand caught in a beaver trap and much more. To enjoy this show, grab a beer or two and scream for “More Danger” as the tricks get trickier.
Finally, The Poetry Brothel showed up at the Shadowbox Theatre, which was hosting Thursday night’s after-party, and the burlesque troupe brought to life selections from Booze, Broads, and Bukowski. A good time was had by all lasting far into the morning hours.