This year's Frontera Fest features fantastic entries from the Trouble Puppet Theater Company and the Tutto Theatre, two local groups known for their artistry and innovative productions. Read on for reviews of two standout shows, playing this weekend as part of the festival.
The new plays in FronteraFest's Long Fringe offer lots of strange, interesting entertainment, but Trouble Puppet Theater Company's The Crapstall Street Boys might be the only one prefaced by a circus act. After the charming antics of Chickendog Circus' juggling, trombone and accordion and Jingles the dog, the Troubles dove into their much darker fare. This new play evokes Dickensian drear from its title to the gloomy industrial sights and sounds on the single level tabletop stage. But of course, the message seems aimed right at our consumerist society today.
In Crapstall, a young boy named You Lad is farmed out to a factory by his nasty parents, who seem ripped from the pages of Roald Dahl. There, many young boys manufacture the Monster Masher 3000 (the latest in anti-monster security systems), and unwittingly become monsters — or monster feed — as the brutish, unfeeling ways of the factory take their toll.
A hand-held camera offers a puppets' eye view of the action in a creepy, surveillance cam-style. One might detect hints of the FoxConn plant in Shenzhen, where iPads and nearly every other techno toy are made, with its 12-hour shifts, alleged underage employees, and nets to prevent workers from jumping to their deaths.
This FronteraFest Long Fringe piece definitely is a workshop piece. Connor Hopkins' script feels like a barebones first draft, set pieces are a bit unstable; and at less than 45 minutes, it may be the shortest of the Long Fringe. But seeing the company introduce a new style of puppet (Czech marionettes) and including live video, on top of the creepy little cautionary tale, is a real treat. Though much of the new work presented during FronteraFest has a pretty polished look, even a messy Trouble Puppet show is one of the more interesting nights of theater in town.
The final production of The Crapstall Street Boys plays Feb 4th at 6:45pm. Purchase tickets here.
What would you do if you were pregnant, and the father was an alien? No, really.
Tutto Theatre has one answer in its production of The Alien Baby Play at FronteraFest. In it, Brooklyn-based playwright Nicholas Walker Herbert has built an hour-long monologue for Bethany, an isolated and extremely pregnant schoolteacher, who has invited curious Internet onlookers into her warehouse hideaway for the birthing of her otherworldly infant.
Former Austinite Kathleen Fletcher’s solo performance is fabulous. With nervous laughter, she recounts painful childhood memories and describes “sexytimes” with her UFO baby daddy while chomping on the usual odd pregnant lady food like whole bell peppers and gumdrops.
The monologue is punctuated with Bethany being knocked down and lifted up by her increasingly frequent contractions. Bethany is depressing and charming as she reaches out to her audience in one of the loneliest home birth experiences ever.
Tutto Artistic Director Gary Jaffe creates an intimate audience-actor relationship in the Salvage Vanguard mainstage space: with close-in seating for about two dozen, front row guests find themselves inches from Bethany’s bed. (Expect her to make contact with you, especially if you sit up front). In spite of the cozy setup, the show’s air of loneliness never wavers — the audience can empathize, but cannot truly help this woman.
But why an alien baby? That much is never clear. The playwright gives us lots of information about his protagonist, but there are confusing elements, things left unsaid. The baby definitely isn’t human — this isn’t a case of hysteria — and it’s certainly thrilling and unsettling to watch an otherworldly event in the making, but the piece builds to an unsatisfying anticlimax.
Until then, though, stick with Bethany — she needs someone to talk to, and she’ll make it worth your while.
The final production of The Alien Baby Play shows Feb 5th at 7:15pm. Purchase tickets here.