★★★★☆ - Delicious
Las Vegas Little Theatre’s “VEGASFringe Festival” provides a comfortable setting for local artists to step out of their comfort zones and perform one-acts they’ve been drooling over or showcase new collaborations in front of open-minded live audiences. This year marks LVLT’s seventh annual presentation of the event, and fueled by junk food and energy drinks I was lucky enough to catch the shows given on their Mainstage theater this past weekend.
‘Peppy Piper’s Playpen’ (*****)
Poor Richard’s Players once again make magic with their signature blend of twisted comedy and earnest immediacy in this plucky musical parody by Happy Hour Improv (with contributions from the cast), directed by Mark Valentin. Peppy (Brenna Folger) is the Pollyanna-ish host of a children’s television variety show who is about to get her cheerful bubble burst. During a live broadcast episode Peppy and her friends Bear (Maxim Lardent), Drama Queen (Amanda Kraft), Klocky (Marcus Skrinak), sock puppet Oliver (Anthony Barnaby), and puppet monster Dippy (Jake Taylor) explore the meaning of friendship both on-the-air and off during commercial breaks. Like a demented fairytale the show is horrifyingly hilarious and will have you rolling in your seat.
For a moment the script feels unsure of which direction to take toward the end but comes around with a tidy resolution, and otherwise the presentation is sheer perfection and just right for fringe with its simple set and lights by David Clark. The talented cast all around are both funny and endearing, with Folger fully giving a conscience to the story with her optimistic and pure Peppy, and Kraft providing the opposite with her catty, Disney-esque Princess gone bad. They both get to show off their vocal abilities to the original, lighthearted score by Barnaby, and kudos to him and Taylor for their puppetry skills, to Lardent as a bitter alcoholic trapped in a floppy bear suit, and to Skrinak trying to keep order in chaos as Klocky. “Peppy Piper’s Playpen” is definitely not for kids.
‘The Fear Project’ (****)
FounDoor Theatre Company’s montage of original pieces written and directed by its members epitomizes the spirit of fringe with this daring, visually arresting work that lingers on the mind for many days after taking it in. Though some parts are so disparate the show doesn’t always blend seamlessly and though it takes itself a little too seriously at times, when it does come together the result is dynamite. Like the title implies the theme is fear, of both the realistic and existential types, and in particular the fears of the participating artists who must break through them to find the freedom to create.
Presented reader’s theater style, the performances are polished and taut and the look very stark. The most poignant piece titled “A Mother’s Fear,” directed by Sarah Spraker and Stacia Zinkevich, is presented in three parts at balanced intervals throughout the show and is so meaningful it feels like it should inform all the other pieces that come between. Sticking to familial fears as the overall thread and perhaps incorporating more male points of view on that might better pull everything together.
Part one of “A Mother’s Fear” is a humorous yet disturbing take on childbirth given in the vein of “Cell Block Tango” from the musical “Chicago.” By the time part three comes around the show has taken a somber turn, and presents the fear of a child being kidnapped by telling the real-life story of one who was killed by other children. Another piece that fits the narrative well is “Falling” directed by Rhona Sherley, and features an irrational man in the midst of a nervous breakdown who feels the world is unravelling when actually it is his marriage that is falling apart. On a whole “The Fear Project” is a gutsy show that provides plenty of food for thought.