Show #1 – Do Not Disturb: I’m not really a big opera person and I actively dislike farce. So why did I go to see what appeared to be an operatic farce? Well, I am a fan of the Victorian Lyric Opera Company, who put on this show under the moniker "The Forgotten Opera Company," which they apparently use as an alter-ego for producing contemporary works.
Anyway, this 90 minute opera tells the story of a young lawyer, Ethan Rosenblum (played by the composer, Sean Pflueger), who calls in sick to take his girlfriend, Emma, to a resort, where he plans to propose to her. His boss, George Rosenburg, also shows up at the resort, where he is having a tryst with a judge named Virginia. His cover for the affair is that he is taking his niece, Roxanne, back to college. But Sandra, George’s wife has hired Roxane to try to get proof of the extra-marital affair. Throw in a desk clerk who spends all his time looking up trivia on his cell phone and, therefore, gets Rosenblum and Rosenburg confused, and you have classic farce, with guests being taken to the wrong rooms and so on.
The music was rather atonal and, frankly, not to my taste. But the lyrics were sufficiently Gilbertian to make this amusing. The real highlight was the quality of the performances. Sean Pflueger obviously wrote the role of Ethan to play up his strengths. Alexandra Friendly was impressive as an increasingly frustrated Emma, while John Boulanger did well as the unlikeable George and Stephanie Kruskol was a convincingly millennial Roxanne. The best performance was by Michelle Kunz, as the sultry judge, whose antics with a gavel were suggestively over the top. All in all, this was a fun show.
Show #2 – Perfect Liars Club: Four people tell stories. Three are true and one is a lie. The audience gets to interrogate them and tries to decide who the liar is. This was the fringe edition of a monthly D.C. event, which has featured several storytellers I know. The first teller was a Cambodian woman named Davine, who told a rambling and disconnected piece involving a potential arranged marriage, a fortune teller, and a sexually charged relationship with someone she reencountered after a decade. Then came Cait, whose well-told piece involved meeting a third cousin in Ireland and exploring a potential relationship with him, despite his interest really being in how marriage would enable him to get a house he wanted. A guy named Andre told a story about teaching in Hungary, getting invited to a pig roast, and possibly being coerced into smuggling over the Croatian border. Finally, a man named Mike told of an encounter with Donald Rumsfeld and what he wanted to say to him but didn’t.
The interrogation was pretty wide ranging, but, frankly, the tellers who were more polished (Cait and Andre) remained so, while Davine and Mike still came across as nervous. Given the impressions they made while performing initially, this didn’t really help with in figuring out who the liar was. I voted for Cait, largely on the grounds that it’s easier to be more polished with a lie. The audience went mostly for Mike, with a significant minority for Davine. Alas, the liar was Andre.
Overall, this show was reasonably entertaining, not least because of Cara Foran’s emceeing. But the quality of the storytelling was highly variable and I think this sort of thing works better in a bar environment than it does on a stage in a library basement.
Show #3 – Ready to Serve: This is the show I was more or less obliged to see, as Ellouise Schoettler is a friend and I know she is an excellent storyteller. This piece, one of many she has done for the Capital Fringe over the years, had to do with women who went to France as nurses in World War I. The conditions they worked in were deplorable, with freezing bunkers as wards (and dormitory) and no hot water. And, of course, there was the emotional stress of dealing with men who had had limbs blown off or were gassed or were just sick. (Remember, far more people were killed by disease in WWI than by the war itself.) Ellouise painted vivid word pictures through the eyes of one (composite) woman and frequently used simple repetition to emphasize the horrors of the conditions. Overall, a very well-done piece with stories that need to be heard more often.
Show #4 – Romanov: I will admit that I chose this show largely because it was a convenient location and time to fill out the four-pack of tickets I’d bought. Of the shows that met the time and location criteria, a pop musical about the end of the Russian dynasty sounded fairly appealing. The idea was that the 4 sisters (Olga, Tatiana, Marie, and Anastasia) and their brother Alexei have come back for one night only to give a concert telling their story. I can’t say there was anything there I didn’t already know, but it did turn out to be pretty entertaining, with surprisingly catchy songs. Composer and co-lyricist Danny Baird played Alexei, the hemophiliac tsarovich, while his lyric-writing partner, Meghan Stanton, was Marie and directed the show. The other sisters were played by Catherine Purcell (Olga), Alicia Osborn (Tatiana), and Allie O’Donnell (Anastasia). This was pretty much an ensemble piece, though each performer did get a highlight number. The final song,"Romanov," was a bit of an earworm, though the real musical highlight was "The Next Room.”" This was decidedly fringy and not mainstream theatre, but I think they said that about Hamilton at first, too. Baird is clearly talented, though Lin-Manuel Miranda he’s not. Still, it was worth the investment of a little over 45 minutes.