Aspen Fringe Fest 10th anniversary hosts ‘A Doll’s House, Part 2,’ Lucas Hnath & a Marcel Duchamp-inspired dance
IF YOU GO…
What: Aspen Fringe Festival
Where: Aspen District Theatre & Black Box Theatre
When: Friday, June 8 through Monday, June 11
How much: $20-$35/single tickets; $85/Fringe Pass; $250/VIP pass
Tickets: Wheeler Opera House box office; http://www.aspenshowtix.com
More info: Fringe Fest is also producing Lucas Hnath’s ‘The Christians’ at the Aspen Chapel on July 5 and 8; http://www.aspenfringefestival.org
ASPEN FRINGE FESTIVAL SCHEDULE
Friday, June 8, 7:30 p.m.
Aspen District Theatre
ka-nei-see collective, ‘Readymade’
Saturday, June 9, 7:30 p.m.
Black Box Theatre
‘A Doll’s House, Part 2’
Sunday, June 10, 7:30 p.m.
Fringe Lab with playwright Lucas Hnath
Monday, June 11, 7:30 p.m.
Black Box Theatre
‘A Doll’s House, Part 2’
Armed with taste and talent and a guerilla theater attitude, the Aspen Fringe Festival has spent 10 years on the cutting edge in Aspen.
The early summer festival has consistently produced the kind of new and challenging theater that Aspenites usually have to go to Denver or beyond to find.
In its 10th year, the festival is hosting one of the first regional productions of “A Doll’s House, Part 2” since its Tony-winning 2017 Broadway production and is bringing its author and playwright-of-the-moment Lucas Hnath to town to discuss his work (see related Q&A on page B8).
“Fringe Festival has far exceeded anything we could have imagined, in terms of the quality and the camaraderie,” said founder David Ledingham, an Aspen native, actor and proprietor of the Snow Queen Lodge. “The work we have produced, at the budget we’ve had to produce it, has been stunning even to us.”
Working on a shoestring, Fringe Fest has hosted leading contemporary playwrights like Michael Hollinger, Sharr White and Penelope Skinner, putting up staged readings and workshop productions of their newest works. It’s taken on war in “An Iliad,” art in “Red” and sex in a 2014 production of “Venus in Fur” that became one of the most buzzed-about happenings of the summer — prompting a wintertime encore in the Wheeler Opera House. And it’s earned its fringe-y moniker with offbeat shows like the musical “Lumberjacks in Love” and the raw Trump era one-man show “The Trump Card.”
In its annual dance programs — overseen by Adrianna Thompson, who also founded the San Francisco-based Soulskin Dance — it has hosted renowned companies such as Robert Moses Kin Co., Morphoses and choreographers like Anjali Austin.
“Angry Alan,” a biting satire of the men’s rights movement by Skinner — commissioned and staged by Fringe last summer — is now taking off internationally. Fringe Fest co-artistic director Don Mackay reprised his role as the title character for a production in India and this summer is doing a run in London and at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. A group of London producers also have bought television rights to it and are at work on a pilot.
Fringe Fest’s producers have resisted more commercial middlebrow fare — instead aiming to foster conversation and challenge Aspen audiences.
“At this time, art is the only thing that people will listen to,” Thompson said. “Looking back, I feel really proud of what we’ve done.”
But Ledingham and Thompson — who are husband and wife — have been frustrated by their failure to raise significant funds to boost the festival, and have been disappointed by their inability to find partners in the Aspen arts community.
“I’m a bit of an idealist,” Ledingham said. “I believe that if you build it — in terms of the art, if you create great art — they will come. But I’ve learned that’s not all of it. It takes a community and collaboration to take that to the next level.”
A DOLL’S SEQUEL
A critical Broadway sensation last year, Lucas Hnath’s “A Doll’s House, Part 2” boldly dares to ask what happened after door slammed at the end of Henrik Ibsen’s 1879 stage classic and foundational feminist text “A Doll’s House.”
If it’s been awhile since you read it in high school, a quick recap: Nora, rebelling against her subjugation, abandons her husband, Torvald, and their three children at the conclusion of Ibsen’s “A Doll’s House.”
Hnath’s play imagines Nora knocking on the door and returning 15 years later. Informed by the progress — and lack thereof — for women’s rights in the century-plus since “A Doll’s House” shook the world, the new play is a bitingly comedic social commentary that mixes period costumes and contemporary language (and a box of Kleenex). Premiering on Broadway last spring, in the wake of the national women’s marches and just before the dawn of the #MeToo movement, it became — along with pink hats — the definitive artwork of our cultural moment. Nominated for eight Tony Awards, it won a Best Actress trophy for Laurie Metcalf, who played Nora.
The Fringe Fest production — running Saturday and Monday at the Black Box Theare, on a stripped-down set dominated by that iconic “Doll’s House” door — is helmed by South Carolina-based director Jim O’Connor, who previously directed Fringe productions of “The Other Place” and “Love Song.” Erica Tobolski — who also played the lead in “The Other Place” — takes on Nora, with local actors Wendy Perkins, Mike Monroney and Sophie Sakson in the supporting roles.
After a rehearsal last weekend, Ledingham, O’Connor and the cast got to talking about whether Nora is a hero or a villain. Some said hero. Some said villain. Some said both.
“You can cite all the places where she’s being selfish and inconsiderate and puts her own needs before others,” Tobolski said. “But there’s also a line about, yes, when a woman does that she’s a monster. And when a man does it, it’s ‘Ah, that’s the way men are.’”
They’re hopeful Aspen audiences can walk away with similarly varying readings. And they’re aiming to make it the kind of experience that will inform people’s relationships, enrich their lives and stick with them for years to come.
“I hope some people will come out and argue about it,” O’Connor said. “And I hope that five years from now there’ll be a couple and one will say to the other, ‘Remember that play and how we was treating her? You’re treating me like that. It was wrong in the play and it’s wrong now.’ ”
The original Broadway production closed in September. International productions are due to mount in Mexico and Australia, but this Aspen Fringe run is among the first regional takes on “A Doll’s House, Part 2.” For Ledingham, it’s an ideal Fringe Fest play.
“It doesn’t make a statement,” he said. “It’s asking questions. That’s what we like to do at the Fringe Festival.”
The Fringe cast has been rehearsing for three weeks, but Tobolski has been working on her Nora for more than three months — memorizing monologues and weighing her task of being, as she put it with a laugh, “the Laurie Metcalf of the provinces.”
She prepared by reading different translations of Ibsen’s original, by reviewing the feminist movements that have come along since then, and by simply reading the daily news headlines about workplace harassment, Harvey Weinstein and the gender pay gap.
“Here we are 120 years later and a lot of things have changed, but a lot of thing have not,” she said.
Yet she and her cohort are not losing sight of the fact that this absurd sequel is very much a comedy.
“I was looking at Lucille Ball last night,” she said, “thinking about how I need to get some more comedy into this.”
Taking a cue from conceptual artist Marcel Duchamp’s most famous and infamous work — a porcelain urinal he called “Fountain” — the hour-long ballet “Readymade” features six dancers and hundreds of rolls of toilet paper.
Conceived by San Francisco-based choreographer Tanya Chianese, the avant-garde production is based on Duchamp’s “readymade” theory, which revolutionized the art world a century ago. After the performance Friday night at the Aspen District Theatre, Aspen Art Museum director Heidi Zuckerman will join a panel discussion of Duchamp’s work, his “Readymade” philosophy and the dance he inspired.
Thompson saw the piece in San Francisco two years ago and knew she needed to bring it to Fringe.
“I was blown away,” she said. “It’s so innovative. I hadn’t seen anything like that in a long time and I didn’t want it to end.”
Chianese founded ka-nei-see collective in San Francisco in 2014 and has been making a name for herself with audacious new works and innovative ideas.
“I’m excited about Tanya — she’s a young and new emerging female choreographer,” Thompson said.
But the announcement of a competing dance event tonight —“Nu-Topia” at the Wheeler Opera House — took some wind out of Fringe’s sails and sunk ticket sales for its presentation of “Readymade.”
“This is truly disappointing, considering what we’ve given this community over 10 years,” Thompson said.
The Wheeler event is the product of a new city of Aspen initiative to fund the arts. The city-owned venue provided $15,000 in in-kind support and $40,000 in cash from the city for the “Nu-Topia” events, which have been running since Monday and may eclipse Fringe this weekend. Wheeler executive director Gena Buhler said that when she booked “Nu-Topia” and awarded it city grant money she was unaware of its dance elements or that it would be directly competing with Fringe’s evening of dance.
“It was an unfortunate set of circumstance that we put it on the books the same night,” Buhler said.
She met with Ledingham and Thompson last week. All three are hopeful that they can collaborate on the Fringe Festival next year and bring some of its events into the Wheeler.
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