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Fringe Festival Day 4: Physical Theatre & Fielder's Choice

Sep 16, 2018

PUSH Physical Theatre
Credit Jeff Spevak

Rochester’s PUSH Physical Theatre has established itself as one of the foundation acts of the KeyBank Rochester Fringe Festival. It is essential viewing each year: What amazing stories will it tell, through the simple act of moving one’s body?

On Saturday, Day Four of the 11-day festival, PUSH took its audience to laughs, tears, and to the stars. True comedy carries with it elements of poignancy and sadness. And something grander than the joke.

From a dynamic contemporary dance opening of five white-clad bodies using flashlights in the darkness to emphasize their bodies, with the lights at times seeming to emanate from within their bodies as a life force, the five-member PUSH ensemble turned on the lights for “Red Ball,” a piece that had a little bit of everything: The Ministry of Silly Walks, decapitation sight gags and the namesake red ball flitting from iPad to iPad, until it was shot from the sky and exploded to reveal its soul, a firefly to be chased through the night, until gently caught in cupped hands.

Those two pieces were remarkable visual treats. Others were solo works relying solely on movement. For “The Pew,” PUSH co-founder Darren Stevenson depicted churchgoers from a child to a dozing man in his interpretation of what audience members were up to as Stevenson’s father, a pastor, was preaching. Stevenson hiked up his trousers and aged his face just by expression to turn himself into an old man. But the rubber-bodied physical comedy soon gave way to each churchgoer clutching his heart, having received the message.

PUSH co-founder Heather Stevenson – the two are married – offered a solo piece, “The Visit,” a thoughtful, and very moving, interpretation of an elderly woman with Parkinson’s being visited by her daughter and granddaughter. Pushing aside the curtains to peer out the window, awaiting their visit, body trembling with disease, then watching out the window as they drive off.

The group, breaking three new members, closed with its remarkable “Galileo,” a homage to the astronomer, as they scurried around the stage like the workings of a clock, which the universe is, to chiming music.

Darren Stevenson’s commentaries between the pieces often dwelled on the trauma of his recent broken toe: “I could pee myself and not know it, I have so many drugs in my body.” But after “The Visit,” he reminded older people in the audience to share their valuable experience with younger people. And younger people should seek out the elderly, to learn from that experience.

And “Galileo?” Stevenson said whether you believe in a god or not – and Galileo was imprisoned because he promoted a non-deity version of the movement of the solar system – be good to each other, “because it’s the right thing to do.” 

PUSH returns to the School of the Arts’ Main Stage at 7 p.m. Sept. 20 and 7 p.m. Sept. 22. It embarks on a five-city tour next month with its interpretation of Dracula, and will perform in Rochester again on March 30 and 31 in a collaboration with The Ying Quartet.     

The old hidden-ball trick

Kevin Plinzke (L), and David Andreatta
Credit Jeff Spevak

Partial disclosure: I used to work with David Andreatta, a reporter and adventurous columnist at the local daily newspaper. From my vantage point, he was just another newspaper writer, like all of us, although clearly a good one.

A more-intimate the disclosure: Our desks were right across from each other. I know his voice. I know his furrowed brow and exasperated tone when talking on the phone with elusive government types.

Yet it was a different Andreatta that I heard and saw Saturday afternoon at School of the Arts’ Black Box Theatre. Andreatta the playwright. And the actor. He is a really, really good actor.

It seems like a vanity choice; writing a play, crafting it over the course of a couple of years, reworking dialogue, cutting characters. And then casting yourself as the lead in your baby. But Andreatta pulls it off with Fielder’s Choice, which also plays 7:30 p.m. Sunday and 7:30 p.m. Sept. 19 at Black Box Theatre.

Andreatta is Frank Fielder, a minor-league catcher who gets a shot at the big leagues at season’s end. In his first at-bat, runners are on first and second, no outs. Hero time. But Fielder hits a ground ball to the pitcher. Fielder makes it safely to first, but only through the sacrifice of the other two runners, thrown out at second and third. A fielder’s choice in the scorebook, and the worst kind, at that. A fielder’s choice double play. A rally killer. Another out, the inning is over, and so is Fielder’s Major League career.

Fielder’s Choice opens with Frank, now retired from the game, and his 12-year-old son Owen sitting in the stands, in the midst of a tour of Major League baseball parks. Frank spins stories of his own days as a ballplayer, talking baseball esoterica like a true fan. Owen is an enthusiastic acolyte. The actors’ rapport is convincingly father-son, as it should be: David Andreatta is Owen Andreatta’s father. The opening is almost too family-friendly.

It’s a set-up the playwright’s equivalent of the hidden-ball trick. When the story shifts to 10 years later, Frank and Owen – now played by Kevin Plinzke – are in a New York City hotel room, ready for their pilgrimage to Yankee Stadium. Just like the old days. But the tone has changed; Owen sees it, but Frank isn’t ready to acknowledge reality. He’s hiding in his past, still talking baseball. And after a decade, all it takes is one phone call for the family secrets to erupt. And they do so, in a tension-loaded unravelling over Frank Fielder’s choices. The failed relationships that sacrifice a son, a stepson and his relationship with his father.

Fringe Day Five

This really isn’t a day of rest for Rochester Fringe. The Sunday schedule is pretty full. The complete listings, and tickets, are available at rochesterfringe.com.

Gospel Sunday
Credit Erich Camping

Gospel Sunday, 2 p.m., Kilbourn Hall. This event, fueled by the city’s powerful gospel scene, has emerged as one of the highlights of Rochester Fringe. The Rev. Rickey Harvey of Mount Olivet Baptist Church plays host to the event, which features Joe James and the Voices of Clouds and the Zion Hill Mass Choir. It’s free, and is always a packed show.

Jesus Was No Sissy, 3 p.m., Writers & Books. The Fringe is not shy about challenging subject matter. This comedy by Kelli Dunham explores the dichotomy of religion and identity through The Lord’s Boot Camp, where “Good Christian Girls Who Might Be Boys Inside,” Christian finishing school and Christian fiction.

Aria, 8 p.m., Lyric Theatre: Main Stage. If you were among the people blown away by Kearstin Piper-Brown in Holding on Through Song earlier this week at Rochester Fringe, she’s a part of this multi-media experience. Missy Phohl Smith of Rochester’s Biodance has previously put together past Fringe sold-out spectacles such as Labyrinth and Anomaly. Aria fuses opera, dance and W. Michelle Harris’ projected images in a show that also features the fivebyfive chamber ensemble. Aria returns to the Lyric on Monday.      

Jeff Spevak, a cultural arts contributor to WXXI and Rochester-based writer, is reporting on the Fringe Festival daily at wxxinews.org. His web site is jeffspevak.com.