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Rochester Fringe Festival opens with zany 'AfterParty,’ serious 'Ghost Story'

Sep 15, 2021

Cirque du Fringe: AfterParty features plenty of charmingly anachronistic dance moves and cheesy outfits.
Credit Ashleigh Deskins / WXXI

The glittering mirror ball overhead, a thumping disco version of “Let the Sunshine In,” and the promise of karaoke to come signaled that the “Cirque du Fringe: AfterParty” would be delivered with a hefty portion of not-so-well-aged cheese.

Tuesday’s opening night of the 10th annual KeyBank Rochester Fringe Festival delivered what we’ve come to expect: sideshow shenanigans that ranged from the downright stupid to the astounding, presented by Las Vegas showman Matt Morgan.

But even the stupid made sense in this no-jokes-barred parody of post-wedding celebrations. The reception, and the afterparty. Perhaps set in the early 1980s, judging by the music (or maybe not, as the only playlists that The Average White Band makes these days are at weddings).

Or perhaps the show was dated by cast member Ambrose Martos’s tuxedo jacket — an eyesore that looked like it was made from the same red-checkered material that they used to make car-seat covers in the 1950s.

Whatever the time frame, wedding receptions and afterparties haven’t evolved much over the years.

Credit Ashleigh Deskins / WXXI

The Victorian Spiegeltent from years past — parked at the intersection of Gibbs and E. Main streets — is missing from “AfterParty,” stuck in Belgium due to COVID restrictions. In its place is a roomier Italian circus tent, which did nicely. Morgan’s Cirque du Fringe partner through their years at Rochester Fringe, Heidi Brucker Morgan, also missed this gig, at home with the new kid. So Matt called on his partners from their Comedy Trio Happy Hour — Martos and Mark Gindick — to guide the audience through our satire-ready wedding traditions.

The dance numbers by the three guys were charming anachronisms. Synchronized moves from the early days of hip-hop and the cheerleader pop of Toni Basil’s “Mickey.” Ridiculous routines, including the Morgan tradition of revealing his tighty whities, that wedding staple “The Macarena,” and a show-closing, comically risqué number with Morgan, Gindick, and Martos wearing only bathrobes.

And “AfterParty” delivered on the promised karaoke competition, sung by innocent audience members holding a microphone sealed with a COVID-minded condom.

Acrobatics abound in Cirque du Fringe: Afterparty.
Credit Ashleigh Deskins / WXXI

But it was the four incredibly athletic women of the Cirque du Fringe company who stole the show. Twirling hats, juggling balls and knives — the kind of skills that the Cirque du Fringe is known for. Extreme balancing acts. A gravity-defying pole dance. And hoop dancing — just as the limit of hoops rotating around limbs and bodies seems to have been reached, more hoops join the action.

And, not incidentally, you will leave the show having learned a new trick for your kitchen blender. — JS

“Ghost Story”

File “Ghost Story” under tough-to-watch but glad-I-saw, especially if you know someone, or more likely some people, who are battling cancer. 

The 2015 play by English playwright, actor, and journalist Mark Ravenhill was presented by Aspie Works at the intimate Multi-use Community Cultural Center on the first night of the 2021 Rochester Fringe, starring three actors playing three women enmeshed in disease, death, and the complex responses of anger, horror, and guilt that erupt and disrupt life when you or someone you know faces the end.

Lisa (Andrea Daszkiewicz) has already endured a mastectomy and her cancer is back, having migrated to a lung. The trajectory of her illness and her personal circumstances are eerily identical to those of her therapist, Meryl (Chanelle Davis), a healer who promotes the positive-thinking cure, and who at the start of the play is struggling to give her fury- and despair-filled client direction on the power of thinking yourself well when she reluctantly shares her own history of illness with the devastated Lisa.

Chanelle Davis, Jane Farrell, and Andrea Daszkiewicz portray three women grappling with disease and death in Ghost Story, presented by Aspie Works at The MuCCC for the 2021 Rochester Fringe.
Credit Matt Burkhartt / WXXI

Of course, the willpower required to hold that kind of grace in place trembles and cracks, and that’s what this story is about — the business of dying is neither simple nor unmessy, and we grapple with both the denial that we have to rip down for ourselves and the kindly, brave face that we present for the benefit of others.

Meryl’s younger girlfriend, Hannah (Jane Farrell), has a pure belief in her partner’s powers to heal, which sets her up for devastation when Meryl metaphorically, but kinda metaphysically, carries Lisa home from her sessions, and makes a grim confession. 

Overall, director Justin Rielly led his team to present very good work. They delivered such lines as “everything is falling away and I see a skull” and “sometimes my cancer is my lover; we sleep and we whisper…” in a way that a lump formed in my throat and my eyes watered. 

Chanelle Davis and Jane Farrell, portraying Meryl and Hannah, embrace in Ghost Story, a play presented by Aspie Works at The MuCCC on the first night of the 2021 Rochester Fringe.
Credit Matt Burkhartt / WXXI

My one criticism is about the British accents affected by the cast, which felt unnecessary and at times made some lines inaudible as the cast fumbled over the accent. Though the work is British in origin, it’s universal in experience and certainly could have been presented with the actors’ natural accents.

In under 60 minutes, the actors delivered an unflinching portrayal of the sometimes inevitable anger and horror involved in death, and the hard work of piecing together what is left with what is left. 

“Ghost Story” will be performed again on Monday, Sept. 20, at 7 p.m. at The MuCCC, 142 Atlantic Ave. $10. Suitable for ages 18 and over. Proof of vaccination and masks are required. — RR

Coming up

Crooner Daniel Henry will recreate the 16 songs from Frank Sinatra’s 1993 Rochester War Memorial concert at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Java’s Cafe. Sinatra had asked for a bottle of whiskey to be left in the dressing room when he arrived, and he reportedly got into it to some degree before the show. Frank Sinatra Jr., who was conducting the orchestra, could be seen at the side of the stage, yelling at his father, who at one point broke into a German accent.

The complete Rochester Fringe schedule is available at rochesterfringe.com. Go to “Find a Show,” create a list of events by date, venue and genres, then hit the “Filter” button. Tickets to each event are available at the web site, by calling 957-9837, or at the venue one hour before the start of the show if they are still available. — JS