ORLANDO – The Orlando International Fringe Theatre Festival kicks off at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, May 18 at the Lowndes Shakespeare Center, and this year the nearly three-week long festival will feature the largest line-up of shows in its history.
But not all of the plays are light and airy. “Nine” is an intense drama about two women in a prison cell, facing a horrifying future. Freeline Media checked in with the play’s director, Laurel Clark, about the show.
FM: Fringe is known for zany comedies and musicals. “Nine” has a very dark, ominous and sometimes terrifying theme. What the challenges you confronted in mixing this kind of production in a festival filled with lighter fare?
Laurel: I’ve seen published pieces and dramas begin to gather a real following at the Fringe. I think people realize there is a polish to a published piece that is worth far more than the price you pay. Also, a terrific drama will cause you to think about your experience long after you’ve gone on to the next show. “Nine” is the eighteenth show I’ve directed at the Fringe and while most have been comedies, some of my favorites have been dramas. “The Dream Jar,” “Keely and Du” and “Stop Kiss” are just a few. The true beauty of the Fringe is the broad variety of entertainment. Casting two of the strongest actresses I know will help sell the show too.
FM: The play never really identifies the background of the women or how they got into this prison — you just experience their torment with them.
Laurel: Where they are exactly and how they got there is not really important, so it allows the audience to fill in those blanks themselves. We’ve just made some stronger choices to make it clearer why they behave as they do and it’s a fascinating relationship to watch.
FM: Do you see the play as a commentary, in some ways, on either current events — or the human condition?
Laurel: When we did this show nine years ago, I felt it had a remote, nightmarish quality. Possible but highly improbable, a purely fictional drama. But now in 2016 it’s frighteningly real. This situation these two women find themselves in feels like it is ripped right off the evening news. Our world has changed that much in less than a decade.
FM: This play requires a great deal of intensity from your actresses.
Laurel: Yes it does! Playwright Jane Shepard has written an unrelenting emotional show about the resilience of the human spirit and it is physically brutal to perform. The heavy chain around their neck is a literal reminder of the pain these characters must endure and we hope, triumph over.
FM: You’ve directed this play before at the Breakthrough Theater in Winter Park. Anything different about the play this year?
Laurel: When we did the show before, it was only one piece of three that comprised the evening so since I was directing “Nine” and “Commencing,” Alia and Sarah-Lee did many rehearsals without me to focus on this very difficult dialogue. For this production I’ve spent much more time breaking the sequences down to expand the relationship between the two of them. I love the way the piece has grown in its depth of emotion and meaning. Many people loved the Breakthrough production and asked us to repeat it, so I wanted to make it something more than they remember. We’ve done that with this Fringe production of “Nine” and I’m looking forward to sharing it with audiences at Fringe 25.
“Nine” is being performed in the Black Venue at the Lowndes Shakespeare Center and is 45 minutes long, starring Sarah-Lee Dobbs and Alia Laurence.
The dates and times are:
* Thursday, May 19 at 7:30 p.m.
* Friday, May 20 at 7:30 p.m.
* Saturday, May 21 at 4:30 p.m.
* Sunday, May 22 at 3 p.m.
* Wednesday, May 25 at 9 p.m.
* Saturday, May 28 at 10:30 p.m.
* Sunday, May 29 at 7:30 p.m.
Michael Freeman is an Orlando journalist, playwright and author of the book “Bloody Rabbit”. Contact him at Freelineorlando@gmail.com..