Entertainment » Theatre

Atlanta Fringe Festival: Part 1

by TK Hadman
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Wednesday Jun 15, 2016
Susan Bennet
Susan Bennet  

The fifth annual Atlanta Fringe Festival celebrates another strong year presenting over twenty different daring performances by emerging artists from all over. Fringe Fest seeks to provide enthusiastic audiences with opportunities to connect with artists and each other as a vital way to keep their local arts scene alive and well.

"I Said No!"
Susan Bennet's moving personal narrative about overcoming abusive relationships is an intimate and raw feminist triumph.

She begins her story with the birth of her five daughters to an alcoholic husband dubbed "Bob Two Shoes." We feel for her as she details her marriage and laugh with her as she regales us with the difficulties of home birth while renting. Susan weaves together vignettes of life with "Bob Two Shoes," her relationship with her father growing up, and the near-fatal second marriage to a manipulative, toxic man.

Her narrative follows a conventional understanding of romantic relationships, one that implies relationships with our parents' influence over those with our significant others. A feminist critique offers that non-negotiation and manipulation from her father carries over into her relationships with the men in her life, leaving Susan feeling powerless.

Susan has a spiritual revelation, from a voice outside herself but perhaps from a long-ignored sense of self-preservation, urging her not to follow through with certain commitments. She ignores it at first, but the voice persists until she finds herself the day before her wedding, unable to go forward with it. In that moment, Susan realizes her power and agency in simply refusing.

The questions that follow Susan's climatic, "I SAID NO!", are answered, but do not much matter. We witness her finding her voice and rejoice that she chooses to act in her own best interests. The details of how and why pale in comparison to the utmost importance of standing up for oneself in the face of insidious emotional abuse.

Malcolm Grissom  (Source:Facebook)

"The Voices Made Me Do It"
Malcolm Grissom bares his soul over the course of an hour, taking us through his childhood experiences in dealing with disability and finding himself in a world not built for him.

Using character voices, he depicts different influences in his life from his mother to "The Wiz" to Richard Pryor, who comes back to visit him in times of distress. They help shift his perspective, offer hope and support, or become the nagging voice of doubt.

Grissom describes his sudden onset of Reye's syndrome at age 9 by bringing us back to the exact moment he awoke confused and paralyzed in a hospital bed. Even in that terrifying moment, he manages to work in a dose of humor.

He details returning to school while trying to recover from the ensuing brain damage. As a kid with trouble expressing himself, children are inexplicably cruel, leaving him desperate to show that he is the same person as before.

With time, he finds his voice and regains the sense of purpose he had as a child. Stand-up comedy becomes a mode of self-examination, as a way to process his experiences and study how other people see him. A particularly difficult show forces him to grapple with racism for the first time and he begins to fully embrace his blackness.

Grissom tells his story with an incredible depth of emotional expression. His experiences seem to have a universal sense. They are ultimately his, yet they touch on something deep within each of us: isolation, identity, finding one's place, and struggling to be heard.

"Disaster Aboard The Orlando"
Eli Banks's hilarious sci-fi horror comedy, "Disaster Aboard The Orlando" is a heartfelt homage to the science fiction action-adventure genre, filled with tropes familiar to its fans: incomprehensible techno-babble, mind-bending plot twists, interpersonal drama, and a dash of social commentary for those willing to indulge it.

The show posits the audience as a group of refugees taken aboard the Orlando from their former home world to be repatriated elsewhere. Immediately, things go haywire as the daring and bold Capt. Anne T. Neal must determine the best course of action and deliver her passengers to safety.

Featuring stellar performances by Stephanie Rucker, Ben Bowlin, Rob Bullard, Brandon Miguel, Jennica Hill, Tiana McKnight, Desirae Golden, Marlinda Phillips, James Yates, Brooklyn Cole, Seth Williams-Welch, and Krista Carothers, the show boasts a dizzying array of cast members who find themselves lurching from one crisis to the next in search of answers while trying to dodge the curveballs they encounter. From killer androids to computer viruses to a conspiracy to assassinate the entire crew and passengers, the crew manages to tread water until the inevitable disaster strikes.

In typical "Star Trek" fashion, "Disaster Aboard The Orlando" touches on facets of the human condition. Capt. Neal expresses insecurity while alone with her first officer, and the cadre of mutinous robots explore the gamut of emotions in a bizarre dance ritual.

Seeing characters from a technologically advanced future struggle with the same kinds of anxieties we face in the present reminds us that, even while surrounded by robots or aliens, we're still only human.

The Atlanta Fringe Festival runs through June 12 headquartered at 7 Stages Theatre and showing at several venues around Atlanta. For tickets or information, visit atlantafringe.org


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