No historical figure or cultural celebrity is safe from the KeyBank Rochester Fringe Festival.
Not the living: Cher, Tina Turner, Celine Dion, Liza Minnelli and Leontyne Price. Not the dead:
William Shakespeare, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Frederick Douglass, Josephine Baker, Oscar Wilde, Toulouse Lautrec, the drag queen Divine, the theologian and philosopher Teilhard de Charidin.
All are represented at this year’s fest. But nothing makes for greater drama than a tragic literary figure. And there he was, the most tragic of all Wednesday at the School of the Art’s Black Box Theatre. Edgar Allan Poe.
The Spyglass Seven, written and directed with arsenic intensity by Michael Seebold, is an off-Broadway production by Seebold’s Evening Crane Theatre, a troupe of young actors who have taken on the flowery language of the early 19th century in an exploration of Poe’s tortured soul. Nine of the 11 characters in the play are dead from the start, although those bleak percentages haven’t slowed The Walking Dead. The actual Spyglass Seven are seven women who were in love with Poe when alive. Each is a metaphorical spyglass, trained on a different aspect of Poe’s soul. The seven women have been resurrected for one night of a Romanticism reality show, to allow the writer to decide which one is his soul mate.
The costumes are perfect period, although in some cases the shoes look suspiciously like they’ve been ordered online. And gravedigger Jake Minter has a shovel that looks like it’s come from Home Depot as he drunkenly stumbles through the opening moments like Foster Brooks at a Dean Martin celebrity roast. “Here’s to the sleepers who never snore,” he says, ear to the ground. And moments later Rufus Griswold, played by Carlo Maria Velardi, confirms for the audience that Poe is among the sleepers, with a eulogy that includes the observation that the American writer, who many credit with popularizing the mystery novel, is well regarded in Europe, but here has “few or no friends.”
Soon the seven women are drifting around the stage like mimes on ether, each introduced by a specter named Beauty, played by Ireland Glennon. When the writer Elizabeth Ellet (played by Elizabeth Pietrangelo) holds a knife to the throat of Frances Osgood (Brette Morningstar), another writer vying for Poe’s attention, Osgood reminds Ellet that the knife won’t do much good, they’re already dead. “Cemeteries were our favorite places in life, weren’t they?” one of the women reminds Poe, played with the stoic heart of a headstone by Dillon Herbig. Already you’re probably wondering why any of these women would want to be picked to spend eternity with the morose Poe.
He saves them the trouble. They’re all losers. “My soul mate,” he says, “is the grave.”
Answers, whether you like them or not
The women of the Ask Us Anything booth in the Spiegelgarden have been dealing with unexpected traumas. Suri (that’s Joanne Brokaw) and Celexa (Sara Moore) have been fielding questions ranging from marital troubles to a guy who suggested, “You never know when you’re talking to a serial killer.” As Brokaw says, these are “things that should be addressed by a professional.”
Nevertherless, I tested them with some serious questions.
A classic pop-culture question: If the Professor could make a radio out of coconuts, why couldn’t he fix the hole in the S.S. Minnow and get the castaways off of Gilligan’s Island?
Celexa: “There wouldn’t have been a show if he got them off the island. And he probably didn’t know how to use a hammer.”
Suri: “Yeah, he was probably book smart, not street smart. Did you know you can sing almost anything to the theme from Gilligan’s Island? Like ‘Amazing Grace.’”
(The two begin singing “Amazing Grace” to the tune of “Gilligan’s Island.”
A question from my friend Bob: If bullets bounce off of Wonder Woman, how is it she has pierced ears?
Celexa: “It’s a matter of intent.”
Suri: “Exactly. If she goes to the mall to get her ears pierced, it does what she intends. But if she shoots herself, she dies.”
Suri: “Gouda. Goat cheese gives me diarrhea.”
Celexa: “Sharp cheddar. And we’ve already been asked that question.”
What’s the best way to remove blood from a rug? A lot of blood?
Suri: “Remove the body, first. And probably just remove the entire carpet.”
Celexa: “Wrap the body in the rug.”
Suri: “Bind the two together. Then clean the floor.”
Celexa: “If it’s a super-absorbent rug, you’ll be OK.”
What’s between the space and the wall?
Suri: “You mean, ‘Who’s between the space and the wall?’”
Celexa: “The Borrowers (The Borrowers was a 1952 children’s book, later a movie, where tiny people live in the walls of a house, surviving by stealing things from the big people).
Suri: “We have bats in our walls. They probably ate The Borrowers.”
Last question: What does the future look like?
Suri: “Oh, we can show you a picture.” She fishes through a box and sets a photo on the counter of the Ask Us Anything booth. It is a photo of a lobster. “Lobsters are going to rule the world.”
The Ask Us Anything booth is open from 7 to 9 p.m. in the Spiegelgarden.
Fringe Day Nine
Check rochesterfringe.com for a complete schedule and tickets. A few selections coming up Thursday:
Confessions of a Prairie B!*@h, 7 p.m., School of the Arts: Ensemble Stage. Allison Arngrim, whose Hollywood confessional was a much-talked about hit at last year’s Rochester Fringe, is back with her stories of life as a bratty star of Little House on the Prairie. Besides the dish on Michael Landon, she promises to tell all on Liberace.
Banachek’s Telepathy, 9 p.m., School of the Arts: Main Stage. You’d need to be sawed in half – by a properly-trained magician, of course – too see all of the magic acts at this year’s Rochester Fringe. Banachek’s one of the big ones, and has also created mind games for Penn & Teller and Criss Angel. Banachek also performs 3 p.m. Saturday.
The Picture of Oscar Wilde, 8:30 p.m., MuCCC. The iconic artist of Paris, Toulouse Lautrec, visits Wilde, best known for his acerbic wit, and his novel The Picture of Dorian Gray, on the night before Wilde is to go on trial for gross indecency, which in 1895 was the law’s label for homosexuality.