Monday, August 23, 2010

Boulder International Fringe Festival 2010

Fred Blanco as Cesar Chavez in his one-man show at BIFF 2010

Here's my latest piece from the Post. (Full text below.)

I can't express enough how much fun this event is. This is my second year covering the festival and I had a blast both times, even though I was under the deadline gun and had to race home that night to write it up. I can only imagine having an entire evening to check out different pieces, leisurely strolling around town rather than racing from venue to venue to catch as much as possible.

The shows are mostly $5-$10 and if you pick and choose well, they are worth it. The great thing about most of these shows is the electricity of not knowing what to expect, and the live edginess of seeing people about to step off the cliff in something they have created and which they feel passionate about.

Personally, I would rather pay $5 for an hour of weird but top-quality theatre than pay $20 for three hours of a 'meh' reinterpretation of a 'meh' show that's been around for decades or more.

Fringe Fesitval's Time-Tripping Is Well Worth the Journey

Things aren't quite normal here.

The first indication is Howard Petrick, decked out in his peace-sign-emblazoned World War II-era helmet to promote his show, "Rambo: The Missing Years."

The second is that everyone in line at the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art seems to know everyone else; the first full night of performances at the 2010 Boulder International Fringe Festival is a chance for performers to catch each others shows, and there's a joyful camaraderie in the air.

This year, the festival is geographically sprawling, adding a "Bring Your Own Venue" opportunity as far away as Settlers' Park at the western end of Canyon Boulevard. Luckily, Boulder is the definition of a bike-friendly town, with a mad jumble of signs, flashing lights, and painted lines screeching hysterically at drivers from every corner. Otherwise the odyssey from the park to, say, Wesley Chapel, across from Folsom Field, could be prohibitive.

Still, it's worth the trek up Folsom Street to see "The Stories of Cesar Chávez," a one-man show performed by veteran Los Angeles actor Fred Blanco. Set in 1968 during one of Chávez's fasts in solidarity with striking farm workers, the show is a powerful homage to a brave, humble man.

But it's also potent social commentary that resonates with today's headlines. It serves as a discussion on immigration and an alternative to the xenophobic fear-mongering coming out of Arizona — and lately, New York and Washington.

Blanco slips effortlessly into various characters: a young, zoot-suited Chávez; an ancient abuela, her body broken from decades in the fields; a fiery revolutionary; a redneck strikebreaker.

This is one of those rare one-person shows in which the character shifts don't seem contrived. You find yourself forgetting the primary voice of Chávez until Blanco straightens his bent legs and back and unscrunches the old woman's face back to his own.

Also playing at the Wesley is an experimental work called "The Lovinator," a rock musical/dance piece that tells the story of an otherworldly hero who comes to Earth, a pirate named Captain Jesus. Through live vocals, guitar and bass, and backed with computer-recorded rhythm tracks, a six-person ensemble dances and sings its way through his story, which bears similarities to another well-known chronicle about a guy named Jesus.

The story is rather weird and muddled; of course, when it comes to religion, that's never really been a problem before. And there are some beautiful dance pieces, with striking manipulation of a plaster head representing the pirate/savior.

The music borrows shamelessly from influences like Frank Zappa, Prince, every 1970s musical about Jesus ever, and "Hedwig and the Angry Inch," but you don't really mind, especially when the ensemble busts out in haunting but humorous four-part harmony on a well- known 1980s song.

Another show gaining buzz is "Moxie," which tells three stories of women working in the entertainment business spanning the 20th century, performed and written by Alana Eve Burman and Teresa Sparks (Fringe Festival director and administrative director, respectively).

It starts a little slow, with Penelope working in a production office during the silent-film era, backed by portentous piano music and dialogue slides explicating her story. But once we roll into the 1940s "Movietone News" section of the piece, it gets much funnier.

Using the conceit of wartime newsreels, Burman plays Eugenia, an aspiring tuba player in a USO band, as well as characters commenting on her halting climb to stardom.

Burman has excellent comic chops, and she is able to slip unnoticed from the sharp-elbowed patter of a 1940s announcer to the breathless, slightly lunatic exuberance of 1950s television as Erica, a phone-bank operator for an Atlanta news show, taking phone tips from callers.

She not-so-secretly wants to be an on-air reporter and disastrously wangles her way into covering a story on a man so good-looking he causes traffic accidents on a daily basis.

No, things are not normal here. But if you ask most people at the Fringe Festival, they'll tell you normal is vastly overrated.

The Boulder Fringe Festival runs through Sunday at venues across the city. Prices are reasonable and vary, and multiple-show passes are available. Check the website at for details.

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