Fringe Festival reviews: ‘The Adults,’ ’99 Breakups’ and ‘Suspended’

A trio of Fringe Festival reviews from Howie Shapiro; “The Adults,” “99 Breakups,” and “Suspended.”

THE ADULTSThe intriguing “The Adults,” from New Paradise Laboratories, is a little bit of a whole lot: the somber navel-gazing of Russian master playwright Anton Chekhov, the artwork of Eric Fischl, the feel of American novelist Tao Lin’s “Taipei” that came out a year ago, and more. The show, about a lake house with six people who get into all sorts of interrelationships, is filled with outré touches that are New Paradise trademarks — it’s got plenty of stylized movement, great multi-media work, no arced storyline and almost no text. The words it does use were created (a little bit) by Chekhov, plus director Whit MacLaughlin and the cast.

I normally wouldn’t suggest a thorough reading of a show’s program just before you see it; you might get into director’s notes that muddy your mind by telling you what to think. In this case, though, at least read the character list. There’s no other way the show can explain who its characters are and how they’re related – details that provide a context for “The Adults” and allow you to parse the 90-minute one-act more clearly.

Knowing the characters also lets you understand why they may be quirky in individual ways. Curiously, “The Adults,” which was conceived by MacLaughin, who leads New Paradise, has sharp character development, no simple feat for a play with so little verbiage. That’s how the cast shines – they make us understand the personality types even if they say nothing. (Sometimes, they say nothing at great length, and without doing much, unduly slowing the show.)

The characters themselves are modern equivalents of those Chekhov might have created and set in a country house. There’s the film actress Eva (a smooth moving Kate Czajkowski), who searches her innermost thoughts, and her beau Richard (Kevin Meehan), a filmmaker who likes his camerawork. Eva’s son Alex (the buff Matteo Scammell, modeling different undershorts throughout) lives at the place and is trying to write a play. His girlfriend Mia (Emilie Krause), put-upon by the other “adults,” comes to visit with only a fish in her suitcase. Screenwriter Henry (Jeb Kreager, who offers a number of surprising non-verbal but a highly sonar reactions) is also there with his serious wife Karen (Julia Frey), who edits film. All are artsy. All display the affectations we presume artsy people might display.

The other character is Wiszie, a resident of the lake district. He’s a fantastical figure – maybe the devil — played by Matt Saunders, who also designed the enormously effective projection, which has this house looking over a serene lake with tall grasses fluttering in front of the window. Saunders, too, designed the white-walled house interior. Thom Weaver’s lighting, Rosemarie McKelvey’s costumes (for swimming and lounging) and Bhob Rainey’s music and sound design all add to the mystery and enhance the occasional fun.

You may exit as I did, unsure but satisfied. The give and take of relationships, the way we look on suspiciously as others behave this way or that, the process by which we make grown-up judgments – all of this struck me as important aspects that make “The Adults” worthwhile.

_The Adults,” from New Paradise Laboratories, runs through Sept. 14 at Painted Bride Arts Center, 230 Vine St.

99 BREAKUPS

You’d be generous to call Pig Iron Theatre Company’s “99 Breakups” not ready – it’s unusual to see a show so devoid of content. What’s more, for a work that’s mostly concept, the concept doesn’t really come across. Not that we need everything spelled out, but it’s generally a good idea for a production to show what it’s getting at.

“99 Breakups” has a large cast that includes some Pig Iron company regulars and grads from its new performance school, and their characters break up relationships in various galleries, on the stairs and in the rotunda of the venerable Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. The show more than meets the Fringe-y code (and also the Pig Iron Theatre Company sensibility) just for how it works.

The audience comes into the museum and is broken into groups of about 20. Each has a leader who guides the different groups to locations where the characters are ultimately breaking up — they separate in some way. I counted six scenes that we all saw by the show’s end. One in a staircase and another with a man and woman looking at art made no sense to me, except as needless filler that seemed like acting-school exercises. I didn’t see a scene about work termination in its entirety because the show was slow to move my group into the space. A wordless piece at an elevator shaft could be about rejection, abuse, or just being a pest. A piece performed in front of John Vanderlyn’s painting of “Ariadne Asleep on the Island of Naxos” has longtime Pig Iron member Sarah Sanford vamping in Ariadne’s pose, and is the best of them.

The final scene, which the entire audience comes together to witness, is remarkably indulgent, with the cast members meaninglessly percussing their bodies, stomp-dancing and running around in circles. Running around in circles may be a metaphor for something. (The show?) Or maybe you had to be there. Oh wait, I was.

_99 Breakups,” from Pig Iron Theatre Company, runs through Sept. 16 at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Broad and Arch Streets.

SUSPENDEDWhat can I say about Brian Sander’s brash, almost raw, sometimes humorous, generally homo-erotic (mostly guys but also gals) and often daring dance, or maybe I just said it all. “Suspended” is no joke here – Sander’s spectacularly built dance troupe (this is a show-off-your-bods presentation) hangs from several places and on several pieces that are themselves suspended from the ceiling at his large, high-ceilinged studio space in a church on Christian Street.

This show is pretty much about sex, with Sanders himself as a widely-smiling wizard who controls the proceedings. As for the dancers, the three men and three women are mostly poker-faced. They seem as though they should be having fun in their brazenly sexual states. (Do try some of this at home, but not the dangerous high-altitude hi-jinx.) Instead, they’re all business, giving “Suspended” a sharpened quality: The wild movements, mostly about bodily pleasure, contrast with the dancers’ nonchalant expressions, as if all this is another day at the factory.

Sanders’ work is always theatrical – sex here sometimes leads directly to violence — and highly athletic. The most beautiful segment is performed by Tommy Schimmel, who suspends himself in daring ways on a piece of rubber tubing. Peter Jones and Theodore Fastcher distinguish themselves on a long table in a delicate piece that could be called “Fun with Chocolate Pudding” (and you could buy the inexpensive store brand!). Julia Higdon and Kelly Trevlyn fly masterfully on suspended poles, and Chelsea Prunty partners with Fastcher in a fast-paced boxing match at one point drenched in stage blood and then in soapy water.

The whole thing has a tactile quality — oh, go ahead! Touch the person next to you, who may be stretched out on one of the chaise lounges that are part of the audience seating. The lighting by Jay Madara and sound (some of the lyrics are the nastiest part of the show) by Daniel Perelstein pump up the evening. If you’ve paid extra for the pre-show “locker-room” movement piece with the guys, be prepared for choreographed baths in barrel-tubs and a towel fight that creates its own rainstorm. And take it from me: Leave the kids at home, or maybe even far away.

_Suspended,” from Brian Sanders dance troupe JUNK, runs through Sept. 20 at 2040 Christian St.

For information about the Fringe Festival, which runs through Sept. 21: www.fringearts.com

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