Orlando Fringe Review: Queer Up!

Editor’s Note: The Annual Orlando International Fringe Theatre Festival 2024  is being held now through Monday, May 27 at different venues in and around Loch Haven Park and downtown Orlando. Stay up to date on those Freeline Media reviews.

ORLANDO — It’s been said that we all have a story to tell, and that’s certainly true about Natalie Anne Doliner. Her new show at Orlando Fringe, Queer Up!, deals with familiar themes: Coming Out to your family, finding your place within the gay community, dealing with love and heartbreak.

But if the topics she covers in this hour-long show are familiar, her presentation certainly isn’t. Doliner, a talented actress, singer and comedic performer, covers a lot of ground in that hour, shifting us from gentle humor, to darker humor, to heartbreak. It’s all in her presentation, which is downright spectacular.

The show has two more performances over the Memorial Day weekend, so I’d highly recommend you get online now and book your tickets.

What is the Fringe Show Queer Up?

Autobiographical shows can run hot and cold at Fringe; some create an engaging sense of intimacy, and others delve far too quickly into a kind of uncomfortable TMI territory. Still others can be downright boring, a vanity project by someone who thinks they have a decent life story to tell, and no clue how to tell it.

That’s not at all a problem for Doliner.

Doliner takes us through a childhood where she had no idea what the word “lesbian” meant, but she knew she was more into things boys like — playing with toy trucks, having short hair, wearing pants — than little girlie stuff. Her mother was a bit frustrated at first, but Doliner grew up the daughter of liberal Jewish parents who taught her what love means and how to appreciate it. Not a bad start.

But so much of her path forward was problematic. Doliner discovered a gay community and had found her world; she even found a woman she quickly fell in love with, then married. But at that point, the fairy tale story (no pun intended) hit rocky waters: several failed marriages, a drinking problem, even losing a close friend to AIDS.

And to top it all off, one of life’s great mysteries for Doliner was the coming out process to her mother. You see, she wrote her mother a letter, explaining everything about being a lesbian, then waited for her mother’s response.

And waited.

And waited some more.

When she would call her mother, mom would just say she wasn’t ready to talk about “the letter.” A liberal mom who can’t talk about … “that”? The response started Doliner, and she and her mom began drifting apart. Life got even rougher from them.

What’s unique about the play is it manages to be sad, moving, even heartbreaking at times, but it never becomes a pity party. Doliner reflects on her life with an irresistible sense of humor that demonstrates how effectively she was able to pick herself up, dust herself off and heal those bruises. And as it turns out, she became a stronger and funnier person (and performer) as a result.

Queer Up! benefits not just from Doliner herself, but from the funny performances by Marcie Schwalm as her mom, and David Houde, juggling multiple characters in her life. Ned Wilkinson, veteran of the Winter Park Playhouse, provides an appealing musical accompaniment.

Queer Up! is what used to be called a “crowd pleaser,” and it sure got Doliner a rousing standing ovation at the end. Whether you’re gay, straight or just plain confused about your role in life, there are heartwarming moments in this show that you’re certain to relate to.

Where Can I See Queer Up?

Queer Up! is being performed at the Orlando International Fringe Theater Festival in the Pink Venue at the Orlando Shakes, 812 E. Princeton St., in Loch Haven Park. The show runs for 60 minutes. and is geared toward audiences ages 13 and up. Tickets are $15 and can be purchased online or at Orlando Shakes.

The play will be performed on Friday, May 24 at 8:10 p.m. and Sunday, May 26 at 7:25 p.m.

What is the Orlando Fringe Festival?

The Orlando Fringe Festival is the oldest Fringe in the nation. It was created in 1991 by Terry Olson, Andy Anthony and Rick Kunst, and held in 1992 in downtown Orlando.

The concept was simple: a festival featuring multiple theatrical shows, mostly done in venues in empty storefronts. In 2004, the festival started to relocate to Loch Haven Park, and from 2005 on, the festival has been held entirely in that park and in nearby Ivanhoe Village. It’s the longest running Fringe Festival in the United States, a 14-day festival held in the spring.

Michael Freeman is an Orlando journalist, playwright and author of the terrifying book “Bloody Rabbit”. Contact him at Freelineorlando@gmail.com.

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