29 August 2009

Free Fringe: The Accidental Dog Detective

This post is a review of the shadow-puppet play The Accidental Dog Detective by Curl & the Burners, Laughing Horse @ the Argyle, Edinburgh Festival Fringe, 2009.

Last night Nana and I went to our first Free Fringe show, at the Argyle Bar, just south of the Meadows. The Free Fringe is the Fringe at its purest: a bunch of low-fi (or no-fi) shows, mostly comedy, crammed into the basements and back rooms of local bars, where for the price of a drink you can watch amateurs and hopefuls trying hard to turn a few precious eyes.

And "The Accidental Dog Detective," a talking-animal film-noir spoof in the form of a shadow puppet play, was everything one could hope for in a Free Fringe show. The concept was delightfully absurd, the performers eager, the audience lubricated, and as a result the show provided unrelenting (if sometimes too unrelenting) fun. Plus, the venue only added to the atmosphere: with the help of a slinky jazz soundtrack, the dim, green-lit basement felt like a 1930s speakeasy or a mob gambling den.

On the whole, the show did a lot of things well. The performers pulled off quite a few pleasing special effects, such as the film-style opening credits, and the puppets themselves were appropriately silly. Throughout, the show maintained a high level of energy, playing constantly on the absurdity of the show's form (the shadow puppet medium) and its content (a screwy hardboiled detective plot). As a result the show provided plenty of laughs.

On the other hand, many aspects of the show were a bit rough. For example, the Burner's attempt at a Brooklyn accent wasn't only way off, but also made some of his lines difficult to understand--though the actor's tendency to speed-talk surely didn't help. Curls' American accents, however, were varied and impeccable. Her only (possible) slip was in playing a minor character named Goldstein with a thick Southern drawl, though I still haven't decided if that was supposed to be a joke.

Which leads us to the main problem with the show: too often, the pace was simply too fast and the plot too scattered for the audience to keep up. For one, while the writing did produce some wonderful one-liners, quite a few of the gags were pretty stale. At one point, for instance, the puppeteers stepped out from behind the screen to remind the lead puppet that, for reasons of copyright, he couldn't call Sesame Street's Bert and Ernie by their real names. (Polite laughs all around.) At other times, gags were rushed, or simply missed the mark, such as when, for no apparent reason, the protagonist interrupted the plot to visit a seedy motel, just to set up a strange throwaway gag involving a wasp getting freaky with a roach, to the tune of (what else?) Marvin Gaye's "Let's Get it On."

Moreover, the show's only real attempt at a running joke--the dog detective's habit of speaking his internal monologues aloud for others to hear--was played long past its expiration date. In other words, while there were a lot of little laughs, the show provided few big payoffs.

Overall, while the show was thoroughly charming and frequently very funny, the script needs a cold-hearted edit. Of course, the same could be said of a lot of Free Fringe shows that aren't half as spirited and entertaining as "The Accidental Dog Detective." My verdict: well worth the price of a pint.

28 August 2009

No Such Thing as Too Much Darwin: More Fringey Goodness

This post is a review of the play The Origin of Species By Means of Natural Selection or the Survival of (R)evolutionary Theories in the Face of Scientific and Ecclesiastical Objections: Being a Musical Comedy About Charles Darwin (1809-1882) by Tangram Theatre Company at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, 2009

If you somehow managed to make it through that title to the blog post, congratulations! And I congratulate myself on making it to another Fringe post. Seriously, we have to stop going to shows. This reviewing thing is brutal.

The first question is, of course, what's the deal with all the Darwin? Not one, but TWO musical Darwin performances at the same Fringe? Why not some other significant scientific thinkers - say, a operetta about Einstein, or Copericus's heliocentric model told through interpretive dance? Where is the love?

There are two reasons it's all about Darwin. First, this is the bicentennary of Darwin's birth and the 150th anniversary of the publication of Origin of the Species (see here, here, here, and here for only a few of the many individuals making a fuss). Second, Darwin studied medicine at the University of Edinburgh for two years in the 1820s. He didn't graduate and didn't cover himself with any academic glory, but universities tend to forgive matriculants just about anything if they're successful in later life (witness Yale, which expelled James Fenimore Cooper as an undergrad over over pranks including, apparently, training a donkey to sit in a professor's chair and setting off an explosion in a classmate's room, and then later gave him an honorary degree). In this year and this city, then, Darwin is a big deal.

The Origin of the Species... is a one-man show set in Darwin's study, with the conceit that he audience is actually in the space listening to and responding to Darwin. The real reason to see this show is that the actor playing Darwin, John Hinton, is entertaining beyond all belief. The music is not particularly hummable - the fun is in hearing him perform it, (accompanying himself on an acoustic guitar, which he claimed to have learned at boarding school) and occasionally joining in. Yes, there's some funny audience participation in the show, as when he asks some people seated in the front row to pantomime the lyrics to his "Barnacle" song. It sounds harmless enough when he's talking about eating and sleeping, but when the barnacles have to mate, things get pretty entertaining. He also, at various times, used an audience member as a music stand, discovered and juggled rubber spiders from under a chair, and asked us all to rise to demonstrate the differing characteristics of South American, European, and Galapagos Island finches. You just can't resist having a good time.

It didn't feel at all redundant to see both this show and The Rap Guide to Evolution. The Rap Guide was more of a show about evolutionary theory - what it says, how it works, how it relates to the modern world - whereas Origin of the Species was more biographical. Darwin told stories about his youthful academic misadventures, his journey on the HMS Beagle, the risks of marriage to his cousin Emma ("Little Charlie has six fingers on one hand..."), and the successful publication of his famous book.

This was our first time attending a sell-out performance (although Rap Guide was close to full) and I'm sure that helped keep the energy up. Still, I give a lot of credit to the actor playing Darwin. He had great energy. He used his body language and voice well, assigning accents and quirks of gesture or posture to do impressions of Darwin's relatives and scientific acquaintances, which helped you keep the characters straight. He also improvised well, wondering how a woman with a cell phone ringing had managed to fit a brass band in her bag.

All in all, it's a great show, and suitable for late middle school and up, depending on one's own tolerance for pot innuendo and the sexy side of evolution. I had a wonderful time.

27 August 2009

On the road again: Fringing the Canterbury Tales

This post is a review of The Canterbury Tales by Tabard Theater, as performed at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, 2009.

For a long time, I think, Chaucer fell into the same trap as Shakespeare: people just took him too seriously. High school English teachers probably bear a lot of blame here. Many of them seem to do their darndest to keep anything from being too much fun.

That was emphatically not a problem with The Canterbury Tales here at the Fringe (note that there are two productions; Justin and I saw the Tabard one). The cast came out with the assumption that everybody knew it was a comedy, and they carried us along by simply refusing not to be funny. They made me laugh at Chaucer the way I feel audiences must have felt about hist stories seven hundred years ago. (If you're not familiar, a word of caution: Chaucer's humor is as bawdy as Jane Austen's is droll. They celebrated that but never crossing the line into TMI territory. The famous butt branding scene, for instance, was suggested by blacking out the lights, and all adultery and fornication was simulated at more than adequate distance, with all clothing intact.

The show was performed as a series of vignettes. Each actor played one of Chaucer's band of pilgrims (the Wife of Bath, the Reeve, Chaucer himself, etc) and served as the narrator of his or her own tale. During the course of the tale, the other pilgrims took on new identities as the characters within the tale and acted out the narration. I was very impressed by the way they constructed so many settings and characters with minimal props and only minor costume changes. Each actor wore black and added accessories to change characters - vests, shawls, and even animal masks to play horses and chickens. 

I agree with other reviewers that the Miller, Tom Garner, and the Prioress, Fiona McKenzie, were outstanding. I thought they did an excellent job differentiating their many characters with body language and voice (the Miller was the only one I remember taking on different English accents; Justin estimates it was about four). My favorite, however, was the actor who played the Host, Michael Quirke. Since the Host doesn't have a tale of his own (neither in this production nor in the versions we have of the Canterbury Tales; the versions, however, are incomplete), Quirke had to play the most roles. I liked his unrelenting energy and his complete commitment to whatever part he was in at the time. He blustered as the king, he scratched and preened as a chicken, and he howled as the butt-branded student.

One reviewer made the good point that the actor playing Chaucer showed little variety in his roles, playing every characters as a nervous fidgeter. It did bother me when that was his portrayal of the knight, but I found him so engaging that I just let it slide. I thought the weakest actor was the Reeve. She probably had the most difficult position, as she had to play both male and female roles. Unfortunately, she played every single role with not only the same body language and voice, but a body language and voice that felt affected and unnatural. She had a habit of cocking up her head and sniffing that drove me nuts. During the Wife of Bath's tale, she had on a fake nose that magnified her sniff to the loudest thing on stage. It also would have helped her play both genders had she been wearing a slightly longer and looser shirt - as it was, her midriff poking out when she leaned spoiled the illusion of all of her male characters and her ugly crone character in the Wife of Bath's tale. The Wife of Bath herself was fine but nothing special, which was too bad because she's a very funny character.

When I reviewed Emma, I kvetched about the problems of obstructed views on a thrust stage. It's a pet peeve for me because my high school theater (and middle school theater, for that matter) were like that, surrounded by audiences on three sides, and we worked our buns at blocking to make sure we... well, didn't block. Canterbury Tales was definitely better than Emma in this regard, although helped by the fact that the stage was further away and the risers were higher. But our production only had enough audience to fill one side, so I couldn't see the telltale craning that tips you off that the blocking failed. Since the narrators spent so much time talking from the front, I bet a sold-out performance of this show might be really lousy from the sides.

But that's me being fussy. It really was, at the time, the second best thing we'd seen, behind The Rap Guide to Evolution - where, if you'll check out the comments on my review, you'll see that my review actually got read by the star himself! (Why at the time? Stay tuned for my review of ANOTHER Darwin musical performance!)

Justin Eats Weird Stuff for Your Entertainment: Haggis Edition

(On our old Korea blog, we did a running feature on eating and drinking strange things for the merriment of our readers. Here, the series continues.)

If there's one thing Americans think of when they think of Scotland (after kilts, bagpipes, whiskey, and golf, perhaps) it's haggis, more affectionately known as "the heart, lungs and liver of a sheep boiled in its own stomach" (cf Earthworm Jim).
(Haggis, neeps & tatties--aka turnips and mashed potatoes, 
accompanied by a half-pint of Caledonian 80/-)

If you put it that way, of course, haggis sounds utterly disgusting, but then again so does a hot dog, or most sausages and savory puddings for that matter, if you get down to the nitty gritty of what actually goes into the things. And nowadays, there's not any stomach involved--the casing is entirely artificial. You can even get soy-based vegetarian haggis, though I can't yet vouch for how near it gets to the real thing.

(You only live once.)
The truth is, haggis is delicious--like an excellent ground meatloaf or the filling of a shepherd's pie, with a nutty, oaty flavor (that would be the oats, I guess). Fans of black pudding (post forthcoming) will especially appreciate the richness of the dish.
The traditional sides are nice, too. The plainness of the tatties and the mild acidity of the neeps (sounds kind of rude, doesn't it?) are a good complement to the richness of the haggis. And the Caledonian 80/- ale was a fine match, smooth and malty, with a bit of toasted malt and a mineral aftertaste.

The pub where we tasted said haggis, neeps, and tatties also deserves a mention. The Last Drop, on the Grassmarket just below (literally, as in downhill) from the Royal Mile, is, like many Grassmarket establishments, named after the gallows that used to stand at one edge of the square. 

Unlike many other Grassmarket eateries, however, the Last Drop eschews the typical tourist markup and offers cheap, classic pub fare without a lot of fuss.

UPDATE: Nana from the comments: "I ate some too! Me me me! I liked the bite I had, but it was way too rich for me to eat more. That doesn't seem to bother Justin." No, it certainly does not!

26 August 2009

Sightseeing: Calton Hill, Edinburgh

A few days ago, just before our Fringe debut, Nana and I found ourselves at the foot of Calton Hill with a good forty minutes to spare, so we decided to have a little walk up and look around.

Calton Hill is one of three major hills in the Edinburgh area, the other two being Arthur's Seat and the Castle Rock. All three are remnants of ancient volanoes, worn down by glaciers. Of the three, Calton Hill is probably the favorite of photographers, artists, and casual walkers: the high meadows of its easy summit offer 360-degree views of the Firth of Forth, the New Town, the Castle, the Old Town, and Arthur's Seat.

It is also, like most hills in Europe, overrun by Germans.

Below are some shots taken from the top of Calton Hill. Unfortunately, the shots of New Town and Old Town washed out with the western sun behind them.

Looking north to the Firth of Forth (say that ten times fast), with the Leith area in the foreground:
Two shots of Edinburgh's infamous National Monument to those lost in the Napoleonic Wars:
(I say infamous because legend has it that the monument was supposed to be a complete replica of the Parthenon, but for lack of funding and political will, the replica was never completed, and still looks a bit unfinished and overgrown today.)
Some shots of us with Arthur's Seat in the background:
Arthur's Seat on its own, with Holyrood Palace, the official residence of the royal family in Scotland, in the left foreground, and the Dynamic Earth exhibition to the right:

Darwin is my homeboy: The Edinburgh Fringe Fringes On with Baba Brinkman'sThe Rap Guide to Evolutoin

This post is a review of The Rap Guide to Evolution, performed at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, 2009

Having written a review of Jane Austen in the voice of Jane Austen, I'm now worried that I've set myself up to review The Rap Guide to Evolution in rap. Even my woeful lack of rap qualifications - I'm both white AND Canadian - don't provide me with an excuse, because the star of this one-man show, Baba Brinkman, is ALSO Canadian and white. But I'm afraid I will punt on this challenge and just give this review in my own arrhythmic voice.

It. Was. Freaking. Awesome.

Until this show, I hadn't walked out of anything here without thinking of ways it might be improved. The only flaw in this show was the fact that Brinkman's voice appears to be suffering from two hour-long rap shows daily (he's also performing in The Rebel Cell) and I sometimes felt some sympathy throat pains. His show doesn't just summarize Darwin; it uses rap as evidence for Darwin's theories. From the review of the show in The Scotsman, which said it so well I'd have to plagiarize if I didn't direct quote:

Just as some species in the natural world prosper and others die out, Brinkman explains, so some rappers adapt and survive while others "go extinct like Vanilla Ice". Evolution, it transpires, has much to teach us about hip-hop, and vice versa: bling is a fitness display [while] the process of natural selection operates on iPod playlists...

As a kid, I loved Gordon Korman's MacDonald Hall books, and at one point he had the nerdy character Elmer Drimsdale play the frontman vocalist of a massive 100+ piece marching band, and in this capacity, lacking any other ideas, he shrieks science facts as fast and as loudly as he can. He boasts proudly to a reporter that the band is loud, but "What's more, we are always scientifically accurate." The Rap Guide to Evolution can boast the same. A professor from the University of Birmingham (Dr. Mark Pallen, author of The Rough Guide to Evolution) commissioned the show after hearing Brinkman's version of The Rap Canterbury Tales. He asked Brinkman "to do for Darwin what he had for Chaucer" - Brinkman dryly notes his pleasure at hearing "for Chaucer" instead of "to Chaucer" - but as the project was due to receive British Council funding, the professor insisted on checking all of Brinkman's lyrics for scientific accuracy. Consequently, Brinkman now claims to have the world's only peer-reviewed hip-hop show.

The Rap Canterbury Tales, by the way, was also a Fringe show, based on Brinkman's Master's thesis. We bought a couple copies of his Evolution show as gifts, and we're going back today because he promised to have a copy of Canterbury Tales, which he'd accidentally left at home. Justin is salivating.

I wish I had some lyrics on hand to quote for you because he's simply brilliant, but unfortunately there's no headphones at the library computer so I can't check out the CD. It was just an uproarious show and I'd recommend it to anybody. He does have a couple of clips available online at his website, so you could watch some of his previous performances.

This show is what a Fringe show should be: wildly creative, off-the-wall, and performed brilliantly. I loved it.

25 August 2009

Further Infringement: Jane Austen's Guide to Emma, by Jane Austen

This post is a review of the production Emma at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, 2009.

Gentle readers,

It was with some degree of pleasure that This Author observed that her Work, a novel by the title of Emma, had been converted for the stage and selected for performance at a festival to the North. The performance drew an audience of which no theatrical company ought to be ashamed, especially as theatrical companies are generally ill-acquainted with that emotion and might not perform it creditably. The aforesaid Audience endured a Venue of excessive warmth (the first such situation of record in Scotland); nevertheless, Emma was received with no small degree of approbation, making for an enjoyable afternoon.

The cast must surely be numbered among the greatest strengths of this production. Emma herself triumphed over a woefully inaccurate costume, a circumstance regarding which This Author acknowledges a disproportionate degree of interest and experience. Just as, however, an animal enthusiast might be pardoned for distressing himself over the casting of a poodle as a Great Dane, a clothing scholar must beg your forgiveness for her discomfiture at seeing Emma, in a dress in the fashion of 1905, share a stage with Jane Fairfax's 1815 gown and Mrs. Elton's wardrobe from that unfortunate era of the war with the Colonies.

To return from that digression, the cast is to be generally lauded. Emma anchored the production admirably, displaying the excess of confidence but rightness of intention which are the hallmarks of that particular young lady. Harriet Smith was sweet in disposition and aware of her own shortcomings. One may be pardoned for thinking that Emma, in spite of her social superiority, might gain as much from that friendship as Harriet.

Those who oppose fiction on the grounds that its characters seldom provide sound moral examples for today's youth would be sure to object to the performances of Frank Churchill and Mrs. Elton, which the two performers of these roles must surely take as the highest compliment. Mr. Elton, the vicar, convinced the audience in succession of his admiration for Emma, his distress at discovering that his feelings were not returned, his self-satisfaction in his marriage to Mrs. Elton, and his chagrin as he found that his marriage, intended for the discomfiture of Emma, was rather more likely to result in discomfort for himself. The actress who played Mrs. Elton was perhaps the most singularly talented of the production, also performing as Mrs. Weston. This measure gave rise to a moment of amusement when Emma received an enquiry as to Mrs. Weston's whereabouts, with Mrs. Elton on stage in plain view.

Mr. Knightley, alas, cannot be praised so unequivocally. For a man considered to be the foremost Gentleman of Highbury, he displayed an excess of feeling, and seemed less in control of his passions than a man of seven- and thirty ought to be. As noted previously, Emma suffers from an excess of confidence arising from her elevated social position and upbringing; no one chides her and consequently she finds herself rather more perfect than a more objective observer might. Mr. Knightley's role is to encourage Emma in Self-Reflection and provide corrections with the best of intentions for Emma's character. In this production, however, Mr. Knightley appeared to offer these comments out of erroneous belief in his own perfection, demonstrating a more extreme version of Emma's flaws than Emma herself. He and Emma consequently did not convince of their emotional attachment.

The Venue for this production, in addition to being rather warm, placed the actors in such proximity to the audience that they were at times a mere arm's reach away. The actors displayed much skill in never once allowing their eyes to divert to the faces of their observers. Yet it seems as if the Director for this production had little experience with that form of theater known as the Thrust Stage. This construction (almost certainly named by a male) seats the audience on three sides of the stage and requires considerate forethought to prevent actors from obstructing the views of their colleagues. In several scenes, notably a party at Mrs. Weston's home, the focal actors of the scene were from many perspectives entirely obscured by their nonspeaking colleagues. In some productions, of course, such an act could only be considered a service; with such a cast, it became unfortunate.

Ultimately, This Author recommends this production to any considering Fringegoers, and thanks you for your consideration in partaking of her Thoughts on the Matter.

24 August 2009

Infringement: A Midsummer Night's Dream, China-style

This post is a review of the production A Midsummer Night's Dream at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, 2009.

For our second Fringe experience yesterday evening, Justin and I saw the totally trippy Beijing Film Academy production of A Midsummer Night's Dream, and here is my attempt at some form of review.

Why the Film Academy production at a theater festival, you ask? The University of Edinburgh has a partnership arrangement with them. This production has been in the works for over a year, coordianated through both universities.

It is kind of hard to express what this production was like. For starters, I have to agree with the excellent review at Allthefestivals.com which points out that the production's connection to the original Shakespeare play is loose at best. Yes, there are two couples involved in a love... quadrangle, I guess. Yes, there is a separate pair of mischief-makers and their sidekick, Puck. But the couples in love are video game characters, and the fairies are human players, and the love potion of the original Midsummer Night's Dream is a computer virus. And in the grand finale, the four lovers commit a five-minute long mass homicide/suicide, only to be resurrected by a Robot Angel, a character I don't recall from Shakespeare at all...

The best part of the play was certainly the staging. The perfomance took place in McEwan Hall, which you can see here, with a platform constructed for a stage in front of the organ in the picture. I have trouble describing what they did, but with light projected onto the organ and portraits above, they created moving light backdrops for sets, including a fantasy landscape, a matrix-style image of the computer virus downloading, red double-happiness banners (associated with Chinese weddings) for a conversation between lovers, and more. They even had an animated gecko character that climbed on and through projected "holes" in the organ. At the very end of the play, the light image overlayed on the painting exactly matched the painting, but then began to move and deliver the ending lines to the audience. It looked like the Hogwarts pictures in Harry Potter - paintings in which the characters move and speak. If you're on Facebook, you can see some of those videos on their Facebook site here.

The costumes were also interesting, based on traditional Peking/Beijing Opera style costumes (you can see two small costume pictures here). Thanks to the color-coded hats, this was actually the first production of Midsummer's in which I could keep the four lovers straight (and it's my third time!). I am fairly certain that they recast the play to put each of the characters into a traditional Beijing Opera role. There are, according to my quick Wikipedia and Google checks, multiple "stock" female roles. I think Hermia was played here as the "graceful, elegant" aristocratic female type, Helena was the scrappy, sometimes comical one (you've seen that girl in martial arts movies - she makes exaggerated faces, clings, fights well, and whines a lot), and Puck was clownish, a bit bawdy, and mischievous. I would love to read a review of this production by somebody who knows more about Beijing Opera and could tell me if these ideas were correct.

When this show failed, though, it failed hard, and it failed spectacularly in the area of dialogue. I've been to China multiple times and many Chinese speak outstanding English - but those people were emphatically NOT in this production. The production mixed English dialogue with Chiense, and sometimes, I couldn't even tell which one it was supposed to be. Since the plot is a very complicated one, and their modifications to it more complicated still, not being able to understand the exposition seriously affected the play. Since they already had the stage set up for light projection, it would have been much better to perform the whole play in Chinese and run supertitles, like they do at European opera productions in the U.S. As it was, I got a headache trying to pick out one word in six in either language and construct some kind of purpose to the conversation.

23 August 2009

Our Fringe debut: The Importance of Being Earnestina

This post contains a review of the production The Importance of Being Earnestina from the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, 2009

First of all, I should probably explain what the Fringe is, or what it's actually a fringe of. All of my information here is courtesy of my cousin Xela, who did her dissertation on the Fringe, in all its Fringey nuance.

After World War II, Edinburgh started an arts festival. It was intended to revive culture, and probably also to bring in some cash, and Edinburgh was physically almost untouched by the war, so it made a good location. Since the festival (today, the Edinburgh International Festival) was government-sponsored, it was by-invitation-only. Some enterprising uninvited theater companies decided to capitalize on the crowds by setting up shop independently at - you guessed it- the fringe of the festival. The Fringe is now skillions of times larger than the Festival, with over one thousand shows a day. Shows range from children's shows to stand-up comedy to dance to music to improv to opera - if it can be done for an audience, you'll find it here.

This is sustainable because of the Fringe's unique management structure. There is a small board - the Fringe Society - responsible for things like the program, the main box office, and the web site, along with other advertising. They do not select or subsidize any shows. The middlemen are the venue managers (of which my cousin was one), who book everything from university theaters to church basements to giant purple inflatable cows (more pictures here). Theater companies then contract with the venue managers to use the space. A portion of the box office goes back up to the Fringe Society, and although a show does not have to be affiliated with the main Fringe, they nearly always choose to be. With over 1000 shows a day, you have trouble being found if you ARE in the Fringe program and web site. Heaven help you if you're not.

Although there are no numbers (available, anyway) I suspect that lots of shows here lose money. Many are actually free. The Fringe has some cachet in theater circles as a place to be discovered, so many people are here hoping a promoter will pick them up for a tour (especially stand-up comics). There's also, I think, the fact that without the need to be prescreened, anybody can put on a show, picking up some resume cred and some experience. And then of course people do it because being on stage is their passion.

Justin and I saw our first Fringe show yesterday, a student production of Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest, gender-flipped to be Earnestina instead (all the male roles were female, and all the female roles were male).

One of the hallmarks of the Fringe is that you never know if you're going to wander into a cheesy little student production, a phenomenally gifted student production, a terrific professional production, or even a junky professional production. This was clearly a bit on the cheesy side (although other people gave it very good reviews) but that's all part of the whole Fringe experience. In any case, it gave Justin and me a lot of great conversation topics for what could have been adjusted to improve the play and the reverse-gender conceit.

Here are some random thoughts on the play. If you don't know it, by the way, I recommend the film version (with Colin Firth, Judi Dench, et. al). It's very well done.

1. Lady Bracknell becomes Lord Bracknell

This actor was the weakest link in the show. He rushed his lines and sometimes ran over the tail end of the other castmates. But beyond that, he never really used the gender flip to do anything interesting with the character. Lady Bracknell is a famously masculine character, a battleaxe, and it really didn't add much to have her played by a man. Justin and I decided if we redid it, we would have enjoyed seeing a blustery, crusty, harrumphing old man interpretation. Think the elephant from Disney's The Jungle Book: "A handbag! Hrumph humph humph!"

2. Accents

Whenever you do a British show with U.S. actors, the question is always whether or not to put on an accent. At multiple moments in the show, I found myself thinking, "So they are doing accents," and then realizing whoops, they're just actually British. Most of them, anyway - two of the cast, seemed to have other regional accents, or maybe just speech impediments (one sounded Caribbean, one actually sounded French), and were at times very difficult to understand.

3. Venue

We loved the church basement where we saw this show, but it was even better because yesterday was stunningly beautiful, clear and warm, and we got in a hike up Calston Hill before the show. I know some people have asked for pictures, but until we get internet, that's going to be dicey. We took a lot of great ones and I'll endeavor to get them up.

All right! Must get lunch before trying for student tickets to a Chinese production of A Midsummer Night's Dream! As we have no IDs yet, wish us luck.