Philly Fringe reviews: 'LEO' and 'The Sea Plays'
LEO. Fred Astaire danced on the floor, the walls and the ceiling of a room in the 1951 movie, "Royal Wedding." It was a trick of scenery building and of camerawork -- optical, illusional and also visionary. In the wonderfully done Fringe show called "LEO," the trick is updated
and performed for just over an hour, by William Bonnet, whose impressive strength and facile movement make this an eye-popper.
It's also a Fringe show suitable for the family. Here's what you see: On the left side of the stage, Bonnet is shown on film as he performs his highly skilled movements. On the right side of the stage, he's giving a live performance of those same movements at the same time. But the rooms are tilted in your vision, 90 degrees from one another. It's a cool image, and brings the phrase "turning on its head" into a new context. Sometimes, it's disorienting to watch the two William Bonnets at impossibly different angles. Mostly, it's the sort of curious and memorable hour that seems to come only in a Fringe festival.
Montreal's Y2D Productions and Chamäleon Productions from Berlin produced "LEO," with its creator, Tobias Wegner, as the original performer. Wegner says his fascination with gravity-defying optical tricks came from watching "Royal Wedding," so hats off for this idea and its execution to both Wegner and Fred Astaire. Just don't leave them – the hats or the guys -- on the ceiling.
"LEO" runs through Sept. 22 at the Arts Bank, Broad and South Streets. For information on all FringeArts shows in the festival, including dates, times and venues, visit www.fringearts.com
THE SEA PLAYS. Aboard the Tall Ship Gazela, anchored on the Delaware River at Penn's Landing, the Philadelphia Artists' Collective is presenting two Eugene O'Neill one-acts written before he was A Playwright, and the capitals are intentional. O'Neill was writing plays as a young man who also pursued other interests. At one point he was a merchant seaman, and the Artists' Collective offers these two early O'Neill works, both set at sea.
The plays are so short, the production's an hour. It's a fine hour, too, a chance to watch these rarely performed works as they unfold down below in a real tall ship, where the setting is the 1883 ship itself.
I knew nothing of these plays, and now I'm reading all seven that O'Neill set on the sea – spurred by seeing the Fringe show. The first of the two plays is "Bound East for Cardiff," a largely expository work in which a severely wounded seaman recounts his life and dreams as his best shipmate watches over him. It's basic playwriting (O'Neill wrote it in 1914, when he was 26), with a script heavy on Irish-accented spellings and some evocative writing.
John Lopes plays the man, wounded from a tumble, with uncannily realistic wheezing and groaning. His shipmate is played by Brian McCann, and together they present a portrait of people who lead very basic lives despite adventures in the likes of Argentina, Australia, Singapore and South Africa. The production adds a recitation of "The Lord's Prayer" by the captain (Mort Paterson) at the end as the cast moves off the playing area – a neat way to clear the deck for the second play that immediately follows.
That one-act is "In the Zone," a more skillful piece that O'Neill wrote in 1917. It centers on an aloof sailor (Brian Ratcliffe) aboard a British vessel during World War I. Because of something he witnesses, a crewman (played by David Blatt) suspects that the sailor keeps to himself because he's a spy for Germany, and sets about convincing the others. The crew, transporting a boat filled with ammo during World War I, fears attack and a flaming death, and turns its fears on the sailor.
"In the Zone" is itself convincing – abetted, again, by its setting. Damon Bonetti directs both plays, and moves 10 actors around the confines of the ship's space remarkably well. The other members of the first-class cast are Adam Altman, Keith Conallen, Adam Rzepka, Luke Moyer and Eric Scotolati.
You can read all seven O'Neill sea plays online at http://is.gd/bjkCTW
"The Sea Plays" runs through Sept. 23 aboard the Tall Ship Gazela, at the north end of Penn's Landing, Columbus Boulevard at Market Street. For information on all FringeArts shows in the festival, including dates, times and venues, visit www.fringearts.com