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[See parts I and II to this 2012 IndyFringe series here and here.]
By night three of this week's IndyFringe adventure, I was running late. I scarfed down a plate of Yats (my third order this week, no less) before dashing off to my first show at the Phoenix Theatre. Then I speedwalked back to my car, parked all the way down by Bru Burger Bar, to zoom off to the Cook Theater for the second. But luckily, I made it just in time to both, and was treated to quite the quirky, absurd display:
THE BLIZZARD SELLS OUT Livia & Steve Russell Theatre at Phoenix Theatre. Aug. 25, 9 p.m.; Aug 26. 3 p.m.
Put on by the Bloomington Playwrights Project, this production is an ADD-addled, speed-of-light journey through 30 plays in 60 minutes, counted down by a digital clock on the left side of the stage. Each minute-plus play focuses on a different Indianapolis business, including everything from quintessential places like Bazbeaux and Sun King Brewery to the more obscure like CheddarGetter, that one featured in a mini-piece appropriately titled, You Try Writing a Play About Online Billing. The six performers are delightfully silly. Their energy is infectious and comes without a moment of silence on the stage—even in between acts, they constantly shout and yell to both themselves and the audience.
The tiny plays themselves were hit and miss. Some were delightful crack-ups, such as the flipper-and-snorkel ballet Under Swan Lake inspired by Divers’ Supply Indy, which was shockingly well danced despite the floppy footwear. A parody of Salt-N-Pepa’s “Shoop," adjusted to Shop, as the three female actors rapped about getting new clothes from Pitaya, also made me smile. Some of the others, however, simply fell flat.
What I couldn't get out of my head was how much of the dialogue reminded me of the product placement that always induces cringing on favorite TV shows. An actor announced at the beginning of the show that the businesses did not pay to be in the show, but I wasn’t entirely convinced while watching. Many of the lines seemed ripped from advertisements, and while some were clearly commercial parodies, others blurred the line. I’m fairly certain that the references to the businesses were supposed to be tongue-in-cheek (the summary on Blizzard's website even alludes to this) but somehow, it wasn’t obvious enough. I may be biased by an intense loathing for product placement, but the fact that it was all a joke needed to be more overt.
At the end of the show, viewers were asked to submit their four favorites among the mini-plays via ballots and drop them in a box for a chance to win a trip to Bloomington. I did so, and here are my top four:
THE BLUE MONKEY SIDESHOW PRESENTS: “NEW BLUE” Cook Theater. Aug. 25, 3 p.m.; Aug. 26, 1:30 p.m.
This spectacularly funny show now rivals Don’t Cross the Streams for my favorite of Fringe thus far. Although the crowd was small at only about 15 people (a volunteer told the audience that some people are having a difficult time locating the Cook Theater, which is off of the beaten Mass Ave path), the audience harbored no shortage of enthusiasm, as viewers chuckled and cringed at a variety of sideshow acts.
The performers pushed the gross-out envelope with Zja ‘Dega, a not-so-silent mime, who shoved nails and carving tools into his nostrils. Freakshow Foley pulled a female audience member on a wheeled horse across the stage using—wait for it—his earlobes. But not all the acts made viewers clutch their stomachs. Show leader Krembo K’s juggling act was delightful, if not more impressive than the ear-pulling, as he was (largely) able to successfully juggle up to five balls in time with catchy, video-game-esque music.
Hands down, the funniest and yet most frightening moment of the show came when Swami B’mon, who earlier in the show had laid on a bed of nails, began walking on and standing on his hands in broken glass. The audience flinched when he stuck his face in the glass shards, but all hell broke loose when narrator Krembo brought an audience member up on stage to help with the bit. The woman was asked to stand completely on Swami’s skull as he lay in the broken glass. The young lady was hesitant, as anyone would be, but finally managed to get one foot on Swami’s bald head. She started to lift her other foot to stand on the man’s head, but in a flash, suddenly leaped over him and into the pile of broken glass. I might add that the woman, having previously taken off her wedges at the beginning of the show, was also barefoot.
I have to imagine Krembo and Swami had a small heart attack, as did the audience, but thankfully, the woman was unharmed. With Krembo holding her hand, she finally managed to climb up on top of Swami’s skull, emitting a squeak before finally being allowed to take her seat. Sure, this insane event would have been horrible if someone had gotten hurt, but because everyone turned out fine in the end, it became a running gag for a good portion of the show.
Checking out Blue Monkey is a must, especially if, like me, you’ve never seen anything remotely similar to a sideshow before. It makes sense why this type of spectacle was so heavily attended in the past, and what makes Blue Monkey even more entertaining is that they not only use smart humor throughout their acts, but they explain how their crazy stunts are performed. Swami can lie on the bed of nails because the weight of his body and the amount of pressure the nails can support has been measured, insuring that Swami won’t be impaled. He has also learned how to channel the pain caused by lying on nails. But after feeling confident that science is helping Swami stay alive on the nails, Freakshow Foley comes out and stands on his chest, making the audience fear for poor Swami’s life. That kind of shock-and-awe is exactly what brings audiences back for more.
Photos courtesy IndyFringe
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