Jeff Larson, Caleb Hammons, and Andrew Dinwiddie are Brooklyn-based curators of absurd performance. Their aesthetics and tastes are disparate, unconventional, and, well, Brooklyn-y. The seven performances, a one-off FringeArts production at the former Bok Technical High School in South Philadelphia, were not interconnected or thematically bound by any commonality. But somehow they worked together as an event, though some soared far higher than their peers.
Cynthia Hopkins began the night with a haunting darkness, a tone that would not reappear. She said she really wanted to "tell you guys" a story about an act of God, a fire that destroyed her journals, songs, costumes, and instruments.
She broke into operatic song with guttural sadness and woe and sauntered through the crowd with a whistle to finish. The crowd sat on the gym floor while viewers stood on the periphery, cracking beers and fanning themselves. Beer, as the producers have said before, is the secret. It disarms people and gets them enjoying themselves.
You'd need to be relatively disarmed for Daniel Park and Jimmy Grzelak's piece, a conversational performance that saw Park's iPhone turned into a live projection to rehash their Grindr introductions and to hash out a live-Tindering, including group evaluation of profiles. Park admitted to his preference for Grindr over Tinder because, as a "nonwhite person," "his identity makes Tinder much more complex."
Kemar Jewel and the Xcel Dance Crew received, by far, the most vocal crowd approval. They screened the entirety of his viral YouTube hit "Voguing Train" and then started the song over to screams, applause, and awe. It was the highlight of the night.
Annie Wilson walked up to the microphone and summarily dropped her pants. She saw it as an act of vulnerability as old as time and riffed on audience participation. She initiated a chant of "it's the hardest for the ones left behind," dancing with eerie sophistication and wild abandon.
The second act was simply disappointing and unremarkable. Brooke O'Harra interviewed the audience, including very intimate questions to which audience members often shouted their answers.
Ric Royer's performance was barely that. And Erin Markey's comedic moment was all about planning her funeral as an audience, just in case she dies during her time slot.
Theater and comedy about theater and comedy can be truly taxing as an audience member who's not a theater maker or comedian. And the beer helped a bit, but only a few performances were memorable.