Saturday, September 15, 2018

Robert Frosty Theatre Company at Elgin Fringe Festival

Nobody works so hard at something so #EFFing ridiculous as the Robert Frosty Theatre Company, whose one-act play "Frostvengers: Insanity War" unites Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer, Pope Francis, Tomahawk Peterson the Social Justice Warrior, and President Andrew Jackson 2.0 in an epic battle against a Schaumburg mayoral candidate.

Lathered and gasping from physical combat after almost every eye-popping scene, the cast splatters a melting pot of American pop culture references across the huge open floor of the Elgin Art Showcase, never looking back on their trail of mayhem.

The action is a heavy metal medley of The Three Stooges, Bruce Lee, and Wrestlemania, performed with excellent craft and powered by childlike exuberance. You'll need more than one Kleenex and possibly a diaper to contain your joy.

Catch your breath during the Guns 'n' Roses Kum-ba-yah moment. You'll need all your strength for what comes next.

The Bipeds at 2018 Elgin Fringe Festival

"Psychedelic song and dance" are just four of the words that appear in a description of "54 Strange Words," the groundbreaking work of The Bipeds, a North Carolina-based group of multidisciplinary artists. All four words are necessary and sufficient.

"Dance" is what you see first, as a couple in mysterious costume move fluidly through the space from the floor up, using every part of it as if they are inhabiting their bodies for the first and last time. "Song" follows close behind, as folksy, bluesy voices belt out cryptic lyrics and harmonies accompanied by bare finger banjo and bass fiddle.

"Psychedelic" is how the hippies referred to an experience of extreme consciousness. It's what the first humans experienced when they walked upright and became self-aware; and physical sensation, including pain, is the last thing we'll know as we leave our bodies.

"And" is what makes this piece pure art: a completely original fusion of roots music, modern dance and poetry that offers an impression of the ephemeral nature of a life, or even a species. "Strange words, strange heart" are the observations of a soul trapped in flesh for a short time on the physical plane.

You may never forget this strange piece for as long as you live, until "gravity, memory, everything has been erased."

Night Moose at 2018 Elgin Fringe Festival

Comedy improv is really the truest expression of "whatever happens happens," as actors tag in and out of a play that is literally made up one line at a time. The crew of Night Moose seem to have no fear as they riff off each other like a jazz combo, while the audience and the cast shout prompts and challenges from offstage.

Like the story you invent during a traffic stop (wait, did I just write that?), sometimes they talk themselves into trouble. But as they ad lib each other out of creative jams again and again, the trust and respect for the art is evident. And then the one-liners start.

"Sex with Patrick is like a plunger. It's something you pick up at Home Depot."

There's very little unfunny about this troupe, and you might be tempted to jump in and join them.

Audacity Theatre Lab at 2018 Elgin Fringe Festival

Every great piece of theatrical art bears the stamp of something like divine intervention, in the form of a few words from the script that sum up the piece perfectly. Awash in the torrent of words that is "Robert's Eternal Goldfish" is this phrase: "horribly adorable."

The angry rants and picayune observational humor are just camouflage for a beautifully composed long-form prose poem filled with layered imagery, expressed through vivid descriptions of cafes, apartment life, memories and dreams. This piece would read beautifully on paper.

But Brad McEntire executes it convincingly as a neurotic loner in a hoodie and knit cap, with a musical and emotive delivery that fixes your attention no matter what the hour of night -- or degree of caffeination. Like anger management group therapy, you might be healed just by listening.

Lamar Lockett at 2018 Elgin Fringe Festival

Full of Chicago references and a critical subtext, "Honey Fly Rum" isn't about life on a plantation, or is it? Combining dramatic scenes with hip-hop performance, this play underscores the tragedy of individuals selling out to corporate objectives, using not-so-subtle cues like the play's setting: radio station WFKU.

Lead actor Pierre Crawford brings considerable skills to his role as J. Smooth, a recovering alcoholic rap artist trying to find his way in the cutthroat world of mass media. Interpersonal subplots add depth to scenes interspersed with catchy and totally legit original raps that shine a light on the creative process, if not the product.

You'll leave this show reflecting on lines like "the thing you live your life trying to avoid ... still controls you." But you'll also be treated to a bite of "Honey Fly Rum Cake," bumpin' to the beats of J. Smooth and D.J. Porsh.

Memoriam Development at 2018 Elgin Fringe Festival

You might think of it as comedy with an edge, if not an agenda: "Participation Trophy" is nine sketches that capture life in 2018 as it's played out in restaurants, living rooms, football fields and corporate America. Big targets like bigotry, capitalism, violence and misogyny are easy to hit, but this troupe takes them on — and wins — in street clothes and a minimal set, with bold and well-rehearsed characterizations.

It's an equal opportunity rapid-fire satire of men and women, young and old, real and imagined, with a keen dissection of language, labeling, and social conventions. Not even the digital app you're using right now is off limits. We'd call it "skitsplaining" if we thought it wouldn't put you off this cleverly written show full of absurd dialogue, parodies and punchy endings. Put "Participation Trophy" on your list -- the bigger and looser the audience, the more fun it will be!