Seeds on the street at Fringe

Fringe Fes­ti­val of­fers a host of the­atri­cal ad­ven­tures

The Hamilton Spectator - - FRONT PAGE - LORI LITTLETON

FROM MU­SI­CALS and prob­ing dra­mas to light­hearted come­dies and one-woman shows, the 14th Hamil­ton Fringe Fes­ti­val is in full swing at10 down­town Hamil­ton venues un­til July 30. The fol­low­ing re­views are a small sam­ple of the va­ri­ety of pro­duc­tions cur­rently on stage.

Seeds Serve Ping Pong, 107 King St. E. — A to­tal of 29 shows, var­i­ous dates and times

Kit Sim­mons ex­pertly weaves themes of ur­ban devel­op­ment, sus­tain­abil­ity, noble pur­suits and good old dream­ing big into this com­pact 15minute site-spe­cific play.

“Seeds” be­gins out­side Serve Ping Pong with Sim­mons cheer­fully dis­tribut­ing plas­tic shov­els while hold­ing a box con­tain­ing sprouts and gar­den­ing ma­te­ri­als. As the au­di­ence walks around the cor­ner and down the street, Sim­mons chats ami­ably about down­town Hamil­ton and its po­ten­tial and you start to think you’ve stum­bled onto an avant-garde piece that cul­mi­nates in a green­ing of the down­town core. Thank­fully, this is not what hap­pens. When Alma Sarai sud­denly ap­pears, she and Sim­mons be­gin an ut­terly re­lat­able and well-writ­ten lover’s spat.

Sarai’s char­ac­ter clearly loves Sim­mons’ but she’s frus­trated with her seed plant­ings and never-end­ing ideas about mak­ing the world bet­ter. Sim­mons’ out­ward fo­cus is caus­ing their re­la­tion­ship to wilt. Sarai’s char­ac­ter rep­re­sents the straight and nar­row: she’s the hard-work­ing breadwinner do­ing what peo­ple should do. Sim­mons is the dreamer, the one with lofty goals who’s un­afraid of change; will­ing it to come, in fact.

“You want to change the world, but you’re so out of touch with me,” Sarai tells Sim­mons.

A sweet and en­joy­able short play, “Seeds” is ex­cel­lent food for thought.

Langston Hughes vs. Joe Mc­Carthy Art­word Art­bar, 15 Col­borne St. — July 25-27 at 9 p.m., and July 28 and 29 at 8:30 p.m.

Writer/ di­rec­tor Ron­ald Weihs has as­sem­bled an act­ing pow­er­house for this 60-minute drama.

Dora Award-win­ner Learie McNi­colls is Langston Hughes, renowned poet of the Har­lem Re­nais­sance, and Howard Jerome is Joe Mc­Carthy, a U.S. Se­na­tor known for his pur­suit of any­one af­fil­i­ated with Com­mu­nism in the 1950s.

The play is based on ac­tual tran­scripts of Hughes’ tes­ti­mony be­fore the Se­nate Per­ma­nent Sub­com­mit­tee on In­ves­ti­ga­tions in March 1953. But this isn’t a court­room drama and there’s no thun­der­ing cli­max.

In­stead, the play fea­tures Mc­Carthy ask­ing Hughes ques­tions about his po­etry. Seated, Hughes an­swers but then rises to nar­rate a poem. A skilled dancer, McNi­colls art­fully adds to his de­liv­ery of these po­ems, which punc­tu­ate is­sues such as work­ers’ rights, racism, inequal­ity and re­li­gion. Weihs also tack­les more philo­soph­i­cal top­ics such as whether a writer’s views be sep­a­rated from his work.

“Let Amer­ica be Amer­ica again,” Hughes urges. He also ad­mits, “There has never been equal­ity or free­dom for me.”

Weihs also uses mu­sic and projects pho­to­graphs of the ac­tual court pro­ceed­ings plus other images of the era on a screen be­hind Hughes’ court­room desk to re­mind the au­di­ence of the so­ci­etal ten­sions of the 1950s. Of course, look­ing at a sign that reads, “We want white ten­ants in our white com­mu­nity,” forces au­di­ence mem­bers to con­sider our cur­rent cli­mate on racism, Is­lam­o­pho­bia and xeno­pho­bia.

De­spite top-notch ac­tors and a unique, art­ful struc­ture, this pro­duc­tion’s hin­dered by its overly am­bi­tious script, which, at times, seems more in­tent on rais­ing is­sues than of­fer­ing any at­tempts at res­o­lu­tion.

The Lost Years Art­word Art­bar — July 25-27 at 7 p.m., July 28 at 6:30 p.m., and July 29 at 4:30 p.m.

The open­ing-night packed house hinted the team re­spon­si­ble for “The Lost Years” has a loyal fol­low­ing. And for good rea­son.

Di­rec­tor Al French deftly han­dles Peter Gruner’s thor­oughly en­joy­able and hu­mor­ous script fea­tur­ing cou­ple Carly (Deb Da­ge­nais) and Ben (Gruner) who date, marry and nav­i­gate their way through the ex­haust­ing world of child rear­ing.

Gruner coined the phrase “The Lost Years” as that time when par­ents’ dreams are pushed aside in or­der to fo­cus on their chil­dren’s needs. Rather than turn his phrase into a soppy mess, Gruner’s hi­lar­i­ous string of short vignettes highlight the road ev­ery par­ent trav­els. To coax Ben into hav­ing chil­dren, Carly snips, “Most peo­ple find try­ing to have ba­bies fun,” a beau­ti­ful jux­ta­po­si­tion to the se­ri­ous busi­ness it is for oth­ers.

A quick note on the act­ing. It’s su­perb. Da­ge­nais and Gruner are ex­cep­tional and their comedic tim­ing spo­ton. But the real ge­nius of this 50-minute pro­duc­tion is the script. In just a few lines, Gruner can en­cap­su­late the mood and com­plex­ity of a topic and of­fer a res­o­lu­tion. “If you have bor­ing crav­ings does that mean we’re go­ing to have a bor­ing baby?” Ben asks Carly, who con­tin­u­ously reads “the book” about par­ent­ing.

We move through epidu­rals and breast­feed­ing to birthday party in­vites, the prospect of a va­sec­tomy and the classic-to-end-all-clas­sics: what the bas­ket sit­ting at the top of the stairs means for hus­bands.

This is must-see Fringe — even for those who don’t have kids — and one hopes it finds a larger au­di­ence af­ter this week.

Alma Sarai, left, and Kit Sim­mons in “Seeds.”

Deb Da­ge­nais, as Carly, and Peter Gruner, as Ben, in “The Lost Years.”

Learie Mc Ni­colls, left, and Howard Jerome star in “Langston Hughes vs. Joe Mc­Carthy.”

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