Aspen Fringe Festival: A different kind of theater
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
ASPEN – Looking for a piece of familiar theater you can sink into, like a cozy, old, well-worn couch? If so, look somewhere other than the Aspen Fringe Festival.
The Aspen Fringe was launched last year by Pegasus Theatre Company, whose directors – Aspenite David Ledingham, and his longtime artistic partner, Don McKay – are interested in things other than comforting their audience. They seek to provoke and challenge and, perhaps most of all, give people something new to think about. The works they present may not endure like “Grease,” and may not become part of the community theater repertoire like “Forever Plaid,” but they will show theater in a fresh light.
“There’s something exciting about new plays,” Ledingham said. “They may not be fully realized yet, but there’s this excitement and hope that you’ll find the right formula of casting and direction to make this piece sing and soar.”
The second annual Aspen Fringe Festival opens this weekend with two works that, for certain, will not be fully realized. “Goldfish” and “Shining City” will be presented as staged readings, rather than full productions, at the Rio Grande Commons, in the Old Youth Center.
“Goldfish,” directed by Ledingham, is set for Friday at 7:30 p.m. Ledingham characterizes the piece, written by John Kolvenbach, as a romantic comedy. But he goes on to note that weighty issues – namely, having to deal with the advice and baggage that parents hand down to their children – are as prevalent as romance and comedy. The one title that Ledingham brings up as a point of comparison is “Death of a Salesman” – most definitely not a romantic comedy. The play – featuring an all-local cast of Gerald Delisser, Jane Robertson, Kim Nuzzo and Leigh Rogers – centers around a young couple just out of college and attempting to break away from their parents’ influence.
“The father says this line: ‘A goldfish will keep eating till it dies,'” Ledingham said. “Meaning, the son has been taking really good care of the father, keeping him in line. And now the son is going off and the father’s saying, ‘You’ve done a good job; you’ve given me enough to keep me alive. And now the goldfish is being flushed down the toilet.'”
“Shining City,” being presented on Saturday, May 29 at 7:30 p.m., seems even darker. Conor McPherson’s play, says director Jim O’Connor, is an Irish tale of ghosts. We get ghosts who may or may not be ghosts, and characters who may or may not be seeing them. And of course, it’s about religion – it’s Irish. And guilt.” As far as plot, O’Connor said “Shining City” involves a priest trying to come to terms with life beyond the priesthood.
The “Shining City” cast features McKay and Delisser, as well as Louis Lotorto. It is rounded out by Hillary Ward, who starred last year as a survivor of African genocide in the memorable drama, “I Have Before Me a Remarkable Document Given to Me By a Young Lady from Rwanda.”
When the Fringe Fest cranks up again next week, it will be with a fully staged production at Aspen High School’s Black Box Theatre of another of Kolvenbach’s plays, “Love Song.” The comedy stars the Los Angeles-based Lotorto as Bean, a man who, if diagnosed, would likely register on the less severe end of the autism spectrum. At the very least, noted Lotorto, Bean is “a little different from everyone else. He retreats into his own world, isolates himself.”
When that world is invaded by a burglar, Bean begins to sprout. “He becomes a catalyst for everyone around him to change,” Lotorto said. “He blossoms into this new person, a reborn human.”
“Love Song” has begun establishing a track record. It was premiered at Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theatre, among the most prominent regional companies in the States. A West End production earned a nomination for an Olivier Award. But the play isn’t even four years old, and unknown to the general public. Which makes it a major attraction for the stage veterans behind the Aspen Fringe.
Taking account of his surroundings in Aspen, O’Connor, who lives in South Carolina, said of a new play, “It’s finding a new hill to ski on. It doesn’t have any tracks yet. You may make it down, or you may fall and break your ass.”
Adding to the element of risk is the way the Fringe Festival productions come together. The first cast read-through took place just two weeks ago, with cast members spread out from South Carolina to Southern California, connected by a balky Internet video conferencing system. Several cast members have been rehearsing daily in a borrowed house in Old Snowmass, but Ward, one of the stars, only arrived yesterday. O’Connor had never met any of the members of his cast until last week.
But while the material is new, the performers are experienced. And in line with the spirit of the Fringe Festival, they embrace working on a tight, frantic schedule.
“That’s one of the things about theater – instant camaraderie,” said O’Connor, who recently spent a year in Malaysia directing a version of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” – in Malay, a language he doesn’t speak. “I’ve never been to Aspen before, never met these people before. But it works like jazz musicians – they haven’t seen each other for years, so they sit down and play, and that’s how they find out how each other has been: ‘Oh, you’re serious these days.’ Or, ‘Hey, you weren’t this funny before.’
“It’s kind of high-risk behavior. It’s titillating. But I don’t mind getting on the high wire – as long as it’s not too far up.”
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Determining where the fish are in the river can be a challenge in itself, but during runoff the predictability factor tilts in your favor.