Fringe 2009: Review—”Storm Still,” Two and a half stars

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by Matthew A. Everett | 8/5/09 • A Little Masturbation Goes A Long Way

“You’re bound to lose people when you start having dialogue like this.”

The Nonsense Company

Storm Still

I write the following as a big fan of The Nonsense Company. Their first Minnesota visit with The Great Hymn of Thanksgiving/Conversation Storm in 2006 knocked me on my artistic butt for longer than many a show in recent memory. It landed them on my Top 10 list for 2007, and even a last minute tech disaster and substitution didn’t keep their show, The Prince Myshkins (formerly American Folksongs), from utterly delighting me (and Mom). Their preview in the Out-of-Towner showcase this year promised great things, no surprise there. But though I am a big fan of The Nonsense Company, I am, sadly, not a fan of their current show.

single white fringe geek is the blog of matthew a. everett. in addition to being one of seven bloggers covering the minnesota fringe festival for the daily planet, he blogs throughout the year about theater and culture.

This, despite the fact that their current show, Storm Still, has within it three of my very favorite moments of the Fringe thus far.

Those moments…

The very beginning – a microphone on a stand is positioned over an open book. Someone flips through the pages of the book – and the voices of all the characters within the book flutter out in rapid fire words and phrases, too fast for the human ear to catch and process them all, but a lovely little moment nonetheless. Then a conch shell is set down on the book, underneath the same microphone, and we hear the sound of the sea.

They would return to this use of microphones and sound effects, some matching the item and movement to which they were holding the mic, some in opposition to the item being mic’d. It was an intriguing, bewildering, sometimes disturbing, often quite funny, bit of stage trickery.

Later – an edition of King Lear is being questioned. The book cover is being pulled open and shut like the mouth of a puppet with a piece of fishing wire. Simple, but nonetheless fun, and a bit magical.

Later – A tender scene between two human characters. The set-up for the play is that this boys school has been abandoned in the middle of a war. The young men have to fend for themselves when the war raging outside claims their parents, who never come to pick them up from school. So they are left there, continuously revisiting the text of “King Lear” as one way to pass the time. They bond with one another. This scene I like explores one such bond. Ryan Higgins, who plays their Lear, has become inconsolable when the turn of conversation brings up their absent parents. Rick Burkhardt, who plays their Fool, offers comfort to Ryan. First this comfort is emotional, then physical. Rick’s character loves Ryan’s character, much as the Fool loves Lear, and vice versa. Rick assures Ryan that though others pledge their loyalty and lie, he will not abandon him, he will always be present. I don’t recall them ever using the word “love” – in fact, they probably avoid that, as they avoid saying a great many things. But the bond between them is sort of breathtaking in its simple sweetness, sincerity and strength.

I enjoy Shakespeare, and often seeing Shakespeare deconstructed. Any play with lines like “The Prince of Darkness is a gentleman” is a play I don’t mind watching other people play around with. There is war in “King Lear,” abandonment by parents of their children, and by children of their parents. The cost of personal wars becoming wars between countries, and vice versa, telescoping out and in – the loss of humanity in bulk and one-on-one. All this is rich soil to be tilling in.

These guys can do it. They’ve brought me with them twice before.

I was sorry they left me behind this time.

There were at least three different kinds of plays going on here. Any one of them on its own would have been ample material for a single Fringe show if explored in greater depth. There was the playing with Lear. There was the tale of the abandoned school. There was the brilliant low-tech/high-tech theatrical trickery going on. Unfortunately, for me as an audience member, these three lines of attack didn’t gel into a single coherent experience. Each of them regularly seemed only skin deep, and they all seemed as if they were fighting one another, getting in each other’s way, rather than accumulating into something greater than the some of the many parts.

I don’t mind watching people pretend to jerk off on stage, literally or symbolically, alone or in pairs. That’s fine. I don’t even mind watching someone being sodomized, as long as they look like they’re enjoying it. That’s fine.

But there needs to be a point. Otherwise I start to think it’s just pornography.

I knew this wasn’t going to be your average run-of-the-mill Fringe offering.

I was prepared for it to be longer, and more challenging, and more obtuse.

I was trying, very very hard, to meet this show halfway, even three-quarters of the way.

But the more I strained to reach out to it, the more I felt it pulled away from me.

It’s not for the faint of heart. It’s not for the easily frustrated. It’s not for the sensitive.

And yet, it should be for the faint of heart, the easily frustrated, and the sensitive. They’re exactly the types of people who should get tweaked by theater like this. Not out of spite, but to shake them up and engage them in the kind of things that only live theater can do so well.

But I honestly couldn’t tell you how to grab a hold of this one and hang on.

Because I never got a handful of it myself.

And those three moments I loved so much? In almost 100 minutes of performance?

They got lost.

And so did I.

Their websites – nonsensecompany.com and www.princemyshkins.com

Their show page

Fringe 2009 – 10:00 Saturday – show #15

Matthew A. Everett is a local playwright and three-time recipient of grant support from the Minnesota State Arts Board. Information on Matthew and his plays can be found at matthewaeverett.com.

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