Editor’s Note: The 32nd Annual International Fringe Theatre Festival is being held now through Monday, May 29 at different venues in and around Loch Haven Park and downtown Orlando. Stay up to date on those Freeline Media reviews.
ORLANDO — As any Fringe veteran knows, Fringe Festival shows can feature some massive productions with multiple cast members, a live band, and a huge chorus of singing voices. But a lot of Fringe shows can be quite intimate as well, and in fact, solo shows quite often outnumber those big scale productions.
So, what about those solo shows? A single artist getting up on stage and talking …is that it? That’s an overly simplistic way of looking at it, because depending on the skill of the artist and their material, solo shows can be a riveting as anything else on the Fringe stage. Freeline Media watched two fine examples of that on Sunday.
Wit & Wrath
Actress Claudia Baumgarten does a stunning job embodying the wit, charm and sharp claws of the legendary poet, screenwriter and social critic Dorothy Parker in Wit & Wrath: The Life & Times of Dorothy Parker. You know you’re in for some fun early on, with Baumgarten’s Parker says with a smile on her face, “I lost my virginity for fear of being rude.”
Parker was known for her caustic wit and razor-sharp wisecracks which made her a highly popular figure in literary circles in the 1920s, and Baumgarten’s cunning and crafty depiction of her is positively delicious early in the show. She gives us a grand and quite believable sense of what Parker — who died in 1967 at age 73 — might have been like if she had done either stand up comedy or perhaps an autobiographical show on Broadway.
But it’s an enormous credit to Baumgarten’s performance that the show strays far beyond Parker’s fame as a writer and theater critic, and extends to her unhappy childhood, failed marriages and multiple suicide attempts. In a hospital bed after slicing her wrists, Parker notes to her visitors that she signals the head nurse to stop by whenever she wants an hour of peace and tranquility.
That gives you a good indication that the show neither glorifies Parker nor exploits her tragedies like a TV-style docudrama. Even when describing her husband Edwin’s descent into serious drug addiction or her own bouts with loneliness and depression, Baumgarten makes certain Parker’s cynical outlook and puckish exterior keeps her sounding like the life of every party, an Auntie Mame for the ages.
The show carries us through Parker’s arrival in Hollywood in the 1930s as an exceptionally well paid screenwriter, while skipping over much of her left-wing politics (which got her blacklisted in Hollywood.) In Baumgarten’s talented hands, this is like a very posh party you definitely want to get invited to.
Upcoming how times are:
- Monday, May 22 at 8:45 p.m.
- Tuesday, May 23 at 6:45 p.m.
- Thursday, May 25 at 5:30 p.m.
- Friday, May 26 at 8:50 p.m.
- Saturday, May 27 at 10:05 p.m.
Multitudes: A Dream Play
Orlando Shakes veteran Timothy Williams has billed his solo show Multitudes as a “one-man satire of a true-crime docudrama,” but his real focus is on cults, and how a — well, multitude of social, emotional and societal problems, including our deep political divisions, can prompt people to go searching for saviors, someone who can shine a light on us and guide us to a sense of happiness, passion and fulfillment that our lives painfully lack. As Williams so effectively notes, there’s good reason why cults usually fail miserably at achieving that goal, especially when they’re dominated by a single charismatic figure.
The show, which Williams conceived, wrote and performs, opens with flashbacks to some of history’s most egregious cult figures — the Hitler who cast a spell over Germany, the Charles Manson who convinced his followers to commit savage murders for him, the Jim Jones who got his followers to commit mass suicide.
To illustrate how the spider lays out the trap, Williams portrays a multitude of characters — Mary, Peter Paul, Mary’s parents, etc. — on their journey from seeking greater control over their lives to finding it totally ruined; there’s a suicide, one mental collapse, and one 25 year prison term. Gotta love those cults, right?
Throughout the performance, Williams has a knack for providing something to everyone; he’s alternately wildly comical, sometimes scary and intimidating, and finally harrowing in his character’s blind rage. If you’ve seen Williams perform comical and dramatic roles in Shakespearean plays at the Orlando Shakes, this is an opportunity to see him displaying a uniquely different side of his talent.
Multitudes is as gripping as it is thought provoking, and another reminder of how innovative solo shows can be.
Multitudes: A Dream Play is being performed in the Yellow Venue at the Lowndes Shakespeare Center, and tickets are $12. Upcoming show times are:
- Monday, May 22 at 7:55 p.m.
- Wednesday, May 24 at 7:40 p.m.
- Saturday, May 27 at 5:20 p.,.
- Sunday, May 28 at 5:20 p.m
Michael Freeman is an Orlando journalist, playwright, and author of the book A Christmas Eve Story. Contact him at Freelineorlando@gmail.com.