177 Reviews for the 2009 Edinburgh Fringe Festival (In order from most enjoyable to least)


First, you can find out about me, and my extended thoughts about reviewing at the bottom of this page.  I think that the most useful aspect for my readers is the rankings.  I base the rankings on my enjoyment of the show, so they may not reflect the quality of the script and/or acting.  I prefer plays to comedy acts, but work in a little of the latter for diversity.  I have discovered that I have a penchant for true stories.  The comments are short because I have little time between shows, and, after all, I am here for the shows.  You can also see my 153 reviews for 2008 Fringe, 162 reviews for 2006 Fringe, and my 151 reviews for 2005 Fringe.  I always enjoy chatting with both audience members and dramatic artists.  If you wish to contact me, send e-mail to Sean Davis.    While the following are in order of enjoyment, the most memorable are “Internal”, “The Blues Brothers”, “The Devoured”, and “Searching for Eden.”



My Grandfather’s Great War (*****)

Cameron Stewart portrays the events from his grandfather’s memoir/diary about serving as an officer in World War I.  While relying on the grandfather’s text for much of the script, Cameron occasionally adds his own views on his grandfather and war.   He achieves a perfect blend of recitation, dramatic interpretation, reminiscing, and political commentary.  (Aug 10)


Cocorico (*****)

An inspired French mime and a marvelous piano/trumpet playing contortionist combine to provide a splendidly varied show.  From a piano that rolls back and forth while being played, to a frustrated effort to see some fireworks, to the wonderful variations on a shadow goose there is both clever and perfectly performed.  A mimed bike rider on speed, a pianist ignoring a mime crawling all over him and his piano, a man in a suitcase—so many fantastic, memorable moments!  (Aug 20)


Words with A.L. Kennedy (*****)

The writer A.L. Kennedy sets about demonstrating how powerful words are.  Whether describing her own life as an award-winning author, or providing a debate style argument for the importance of words she always has wit and poignancy.  Her final impassioned speech about using words for good is very well crafted, and powerful.  (Aug 29)


Orphans (*****)

In an unsafe London neighborhood, a husband and wife must deal with her brother’s bloody encounter with a Pakistani.   I found quite absorbing both the moral ambiguity, and the three distinct styles of speech of the characters, particularly the wife’s omission of key words.  I think it fair to note that one of my companions agreed with me, while a director thought it “rubbish”.  (Aug 8)


Zeitgeist (*****)

An Australian company provides seven very different dance pieces.  From babies maturing to kimono-clad men, I cannot remember a dance performance with such successful diversity.  Be forewarned that the front center section does get showered with a few stray projectiles.   (Aug 14)


The Blues Brothers – Live (*****)

Elwood, Jake, Cab Calloway, three female singers, and a septet start out with the Theme from Peter Gunn, and deliver a thoroughly entertaining show of rock and roll, blues, and jazz.  Unlike last year, every singer nailed their song, and the hour flew by.  Besides the singers, I could not help but notice the pure joy of the female drummer.  If you sit in the front row, expect to join in the dancing, but with that music you’ll want to get up and dance anyway!   (Aug 5 & Aug 31!) 


The Noise Next Door: OtherWorld (*****)

The Earth has been destroyed, an improv troupe creates a new world based on audience suggestion  The premise provides a great starting point for the audience to provide interesting constraints for a variety of bizarre scenarios.  Not only did the company provide funny responses, but they adroitly handled suggestions that were beyond their scope.  (Aug 22)


Accidental Nostalgia (*****)

Years later, an odd young woman returns to her hometown after she was suspected of killing her father.   Somehow, from the moment the actress starts to speak her husky, quirky voice defined the play.   She is the soul of this bizarre mix of video, mini-cams, songs, and dances with oversized techies.   We came out of the show not knowing whether to embrace it, or reject it, and, in the end, she won me over.   (Aug 11)


Art (*****)

A long friendship between an is strained when one buys an almost completely white painting for a fortune.  While this starts out as discussion of the merits of conceptual art, it moves seamlessly into a deeper exploration of the basis of friendship.  The final disposition of the painting has some wonderful twists.  (Aug 18) 


Out of the Blue (*****)

For four years, these Oxford men have consistently provided the best a cappella I’ve seen here.  They have the mix of songs, the voices, and the moves that cannot be beat.  Since I saw them the last night, they were dressed in kilts and full of shenanigans, while the audience, filled with returnees, went wild. (Aug 31)


Billy Budd (*****)

On an early 19th century man-of-war, the preternatural goodness of a new conscript runs afoul of the ship’s sadistic master of arms.  I was astonished that this young cast could carry off this Melville classic.  As with movie, the final disposition brought tears to my eyes.  (Aug 21)


Midsummer (a play with songs) (*****)

After a one-night stand, the lives of a divorce lawyer and a minor Edinburgh criminal unexpectedly cross again after each suffer a setback, and they take a wild run through Edinburgh.   This uses a mix of well-performed songs, monologues, and a few dialogues to enliven mostly humorous vignettes covering sex to wedding decorum to reconciliation with a lost son.  The many references to locations in Edinburgh added a sense of place that was surprisingly evocative.  (Aug 6)


Little Gem (*****)                                                                      

In Dublin, three generations of women provide rotating monologues that deal with boyfriends, children, and loss.  While the description may sound trite, the play works well because each of the three actresses has a unique style and tale.  From the young woman’s slangy bar date, to the abandoned wife’s first dance with a hirsute fellow, to the grandmother’s tentative bout with a dildo, the play is filled with memorable moments.

(Aug 6)


Lilly Through the Dark (*****)

After her father dies, a young girl, played as a puppet, tries to find him in the netherworld.   The fine acting, character delineation, set, and story line all make this a touching fairy tale.  The imaginative multi-purpose set composed of books, and the simply designed articulated Lilly combined to make it was easy to forget that Lilly was only a fixed expression puppet instead of a real little girl.  (Aug 15)  


Brocante Sonore: The Mechanicians (*****)

Eleven men use all manner of objects to create lively music.  While I expected the large PVC pipes and hanging bars of steel, I was amazed at their use of garden hoses, inflated 2-liter plastic bottles, tuneful drilling, grinding pots, and violin bows on nails pounded into boxes.  Their game of musical chairs had a wonderful second meaning as each different chair was removed the loser transformed it into a flute, a chime, or a xylophone.  (Aug  26)


Adam Hills: Inflatable (*****)

Adam interacts with the front row, and tells tales from his life as a comedian.  Whether describing passing through a metal detector at the 2008 Chinese Paralympics, or talking about the unifying nature of Bon Jovi songs in a Belgian TV studio, Adam has a life affirming way about him that few can match.  The very title of the show has to do with how we can go through life interacting with other people so that they grow.  It turned out that my friend and I were subject of some his attention, as he, unlike my wife, had trouble understanding how an old married man could have a warm, platonic friendship with a pretty young actress.  (Aug 30)


Sylvia Plath – Three Women, The First Revival (*****)

A contented mother, a woman suffering from a miscarriage, and a student with an unwanted pregnancy, provide rotating monologues on the experience of pregnancy and its aftermath.   Because the first monologue of each woman was low key, I feared that the play would reflect only Plath’s depression.  Thankfully, the mother brightens, and the lyricism of the prose asserts itself.  (Aug 10)


Woody Sez (*****)

The actor/musician David Lutken, with three other musicians, uses words and songs to follow the life of the folksinger Woody Guthrie.  The show perfectly integrates Guthrie’s personal life with descriptions of the life of the poor Americans during the Depression, and his contemporaneous songs.  As a Californian, I was particularly saddened by the tales of destitute Dust Bowl farmers trying to find work picking crops in California.  (Aug 29)


The Timekeepers (*****)                    

In a concentration camp, as a Jewish watch repairman reluctantly teaches a gay man his craft they develop a friendship.  Surprisingly, this play is not centered on mistreatment, but rather on the many ways one man can nurture friendship in another.  After running for seven years in Israel, the cast is pitch perfect (even in an opera), and the script tight and compelling.  (Aug 22) 


A Night of Comedy for Ray – Hosted by Michael McIntyre (*****)

Michael McIntyre emceed 17 comedians in the benefit for the daughter of the late techie, Ray Cowper.  It is the compere that either makes, or breaks these types of shows, and McIntyre was brilliant.  Though only Adam Hill made use of his own personal experiences with Ray in his act, except for Rich Hall’s lame foul mouthed act in which he dismissed Ray, the rest of the comedians were very good.  (Aug 23)


Lotte’s Gift (*****)

Australian classical guitarist, Karin Schaupp, describes the life of her German grandmother, Lotte.  Lotte was a beautiful singer who married her pianist in World War II when she thought the love of her life had died on the Eastern Front.  This rises above other monologues because Schaupp uses her artistry on the guitar to reflect Lotte’s love of music throughout her life.  (Aug 27)


Bane (*****)

An actor, with an electric guitar accompanist, plays Bruce Bane, a film noir action detective.  From providing the opening title sequence of the movie, to playing the prototypical hard boiled Bane dodging poison darts, to the closing ad for the sequel, the actor masters every aspect of this parody.   Instead of going for known movie themes, the guitarist wisely provides his own strong soundtrack to all of the action.  (Aug 30)


Chronicles of Long Kesh (*****)

We follow the lives of a three IRA men, two Loyalists, and a guard within Northern Ireland’s Long Kesh/The Maze prison.  The play focuses on the IRA men, as they sing excerpts Motown and later rock tunes to maintain their morale and show their defiance.  How can I forget Oscar “furnishing” his cell with his own excrement?  (Aug 19)


Mind Out (*****)

Each of five actors moves only when commanded by one of the other actors, always prefacing the command with only “You..”.  The play wisely introduces the audience to the concept with fixed master-slave relationships, but then starts to get to be really fun when the associations begin to change.  One particularly memorable scene has one actor controlling two people at once as they alternately enter and leave while searching for something.  (Aug 25)


Land Without Words (*****)

A woman visiting Afghanistan tries to use art to express her impressions of the country.  While describing life in the dirty, poor land, the actress works with clay, smears dirt on herself, and douses herself with water.  Maybe because it was the first play of the day, and I was fresh, but her efforts to become one with the land seemed perfect to me.  (Aug 24)


Funny (*****)

Based on revealed government documents, the play has a British interrogator train with a comedian so that he can use comedy to break through terrorist prisoner’s interrogation training.  The power of this play derives from alternate turns of comedy, including clowning, followed by desperation as the disciplined military man hurries to develop a technique that may save three hostages’ lives.  Add to this the conflict between the comedian and the interrogators harsh partner, and you have a taut play that makes you laugh, and then look on aghast.  (Aug 25)


Greatest Bubble Show on Earth (*****)

In this children’s show, a fellow invites kids to join him as he makes bubbles that vary in size from huge that he makes with a hula hoop to foam emerging from a horn.  To retain the children’s interest, he keeps the show moving fast with a variety of stunts, including shooting himself with a water pistol.  I gave this five stars based on the fact that all of the children stayed interested for the whole fifty minutes.  (Aug 31)


Success Story (****)

At the end of a long day of repetitive interviews, the writer/director of an Academy Award nominated picture is confronted by his ex-lover who accuses him of using her life as the basis for the story.  I never lost interest as the many layers of deceit dwarf the obvious fabrications of the interviews.  I cannot forget the wonderful range of silent facial expressions that the ex-lover, played by Felicity Wren, used during one taut exchange.  (Aug 9)


Precious Little Talent (****)

After a couple of years of separation, a 23-year old English woman visits her father, and discovers that he has a full time 19-year old American aide.  The growth of the relationship between woman and aide, and the revelations about the father’s illness proceed complement each other as they share the same graceful pace.   A highlight is how the two young people interpret their first encounter so differently; he sees it as a whirlwind romantic encounter with magical music while she sees it as an unwelcome intrusion by a brash American.  (Aug 15)


Doctor Whom? My Search for Samuel Johnson (****)

David Benson follows the life of Dr. Samuel Johnson with particular focus on the creation of the first dictionary of English.  Like Johnson’s range of interests, this play careens from excerpts from Boswell to Powerpoint pages of the dictionary to querying the audience.  While the style may reflect Johnson’s diversity, the presentations lack of organization detracts from its power.  (Aug  28)    


Richard Herring – Hitler Moustache (****)

Herring uses his newly acquired toothbrush moustache as a starting point for discussing racism.  Though there were funny moments, I was surprised, and pleased, how much of the time Herring spent seriously discussing the many aspects of racism.  I particularly liked how he explored the artificial categories of racists, and his exhortation to vote in order to deflate the BNP.  (Aug 27) 


Djupid (The Deep) (****)

We follow the day of a big, young Scottish man as he leaves his parent’s home to return to his mates on board a 150-ton fishing ship.  The large, wrinkled, middle-aged actor embodied the young man as if the character had aged from years of life on the sea.  At the beginning, his heavy accent was almost indecipherable, and his volume too unwaveringly strong, but after a short while his brogue became clear and the story more varied as he started to describe the comfortable walk to the ship, his cramped, sweaty cabin, and his dreams.  (Aug 13)  


Don’t Forget to Breathe (****)

At a remote railway station a gregarious young woman tries to draw out an unhappy law clerk.  Her mystery, warmth, and acceptance are a perfect combination to enchant the fellow.  I was surprised to find out that the playwright was the clerk because woman’s observations and advice seemed so keen. (Aug 17)


Dead Cat Bounce (****)

This four man band returns with its unique blend of witty songs, and short sketches.   The music is well played rock and the lyrics catchy and funny.  While I laughed often, nothing in particular is memorable.   (Aug 21)


Jane Austen’s Guide to Pornography (****)

A writer known for his graphic, gay, comedies has writers block, and seeks help from Jane Austen to produce something other than a story composed of one-liners about gay sex.  The mix of 19th century scenes and 21st century scenes while the writer and Jane collaborated proved winning as the two sexual cultures began to overlap.  Though an over-forceful bar scene kiss contrasts nicely with a final kiss of love, I do wish that the playwright had not chosen a stereotypical coupling of an older man with a young man.   (Aug 16)


Circa (****)

Four men and three women perform gymnastic dances.  From the beginning, the men consistently demonstrate tremendous strength and balance.   Later, the women started to provide interesting dances involving balance and grace.  In one case, a woman in stiletto heels walks over many parts of a man’s body has he goes through many contortions. (Aug 8)  


Stand Up for Freedom II (****)

Mark Bishop was the compere for five comedians.  Unlike the first Amnesty International show, these comedians seem to tailor their show to the older audience.  As in the first show, I marveled at how the two women signers accepted with such good nature, the comedians testing them with crude phrases or unusual concepts.  (Aug. 19)


Kit and the Widow:  All That Twitters (****)

Continuing a more than 25-year tradition, the singer and pianist return to Fringe with their topical ditties.  This is smooth, professional cabaret with each song well written and performed at a high level.  I only gave them four stars because, as an American, some of their British cultural references were lost on me.  (Aug 17)


Fascinating Aida: 25th Anniversary Tour (****)

Three women provide topical ditties.  This is the female version of Kit and the Widow, with a tradition of top quality song writing, easy banter, and just plain fun.  A friend pointed out that this act makes the older Brits so comfortable that they will laugh at some racy stuff that would offend them if performed by a younger group.  (Aug 19)


6.0:  How Heap and Pebble Took on the World and Won (****)

As global warming takes its toll, two ice dancers decide to move from the ice to “gliding” on a wooden floor.  The pair does a pitch perfect job of making the absurd transfer as we see them training on the real wooden floor, and conducting interviews with the press.  Their actual final performance of skating on the wood is surprisingly effective.   (Aug 11)


Crush (****)

After seven years of marriage, a wife discovers that her husband has a crush on a younger woman on Facebook.  Both her thoughts on regaining her figure, and his efforts to re-focus on the wife he loves ring with truth.  The big problem with the script is that the final plot “twists” do not depend on the characters’ actions so much as on chance, which makes the playwright all too visible.  (Aug 20)


Rat Pack – Live! (****)

Backed by a eleven piece band and three female vocalists, three young fellows sing the songs of Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Sammy Davis Jr.   While Dean did drink, and Sammy did dance a little bit, these are good singers first, and only rough imitators second.  The band did an outstanding job, particularly when Frank called for them to really hit it.  (Aug 31)


Year of the Horse (****)

Tam Dean Burn provides brief narrations for 52 recent political cartoons drawn by the late Harry Horse.  I was impressed with diversity, power, and level of detail that Horse produced on a weekly basis.  Burn is superfluous, and more of a distraction from the slides.  (Aug 29)


Kursk (****)

A hunter killer submarine leaves port on a mission that takes it to the North Pole, and then, on a surveillance task, it witness the August 2000 onboard explosion and sinking of the Soviet submarine Kursk.  The show takes place as the audience is free to roam among the actors in a huge mock-up of parts of the British submarine.   While the performance does a fine job of conveying the various aspects of life on board a modern submarine, I found the most intense part was when the entire set went completely dark,  and we were treated the experience of the few Russian survivors of the explosion hearing only slowly dripping water while they wait for their death at the bottom of the sea.  (Aug 26) 


The Penny Dreadfuls Present..The Never Man (****)

A policeman, a little boy, and an amnesiac combine forces to defeat a trio of henchmen of a mysterious billionaire on his newly opened island amusement park, Beefland.  From a seven foot little boy to an assassin who specializes in pushing people to their death, the trio of comedians create six characters that produce a perfectly silly satire of spy adventure movies.  On this night, after a particularly violent scrum it appeared that two of the actors really had it in for each other, though in a playful way.  (Aug 25)    


Certain Dark Things (****)

A young Basque man comes of age politically and sexually during Franco’s repression and suffers the consequences.  As a cellist plays, the play quickly changes from scene to scene as the placement of a single chair indicates the wide range of settings.  Though the settings provide a clear vision of the turmoil and tension of the times, I was left to guess why he was punished.  (Aug 19)


Jason Byrne : The Byrne Supremacy at Assembly (****)

Jason mixes stories from his lazy eyed childhood and home life with audience interactions.  This is the third time I have seen Jason, and I continue to laugh at most of the things he says, and tries.  However, this time I became more aware of how dependent he is on ridiculing the audience and participants on the stage.  For example, during a “saw a man in half” stunt using two men selected (not volunteers) from the audience, he spent most of the time criticizing the men as they dealt with a cheesy corrugated box that he knew was  designed to make their tasks needlessly difficult.    (Aug 7)


Stefan Golaszewski is a Widower (****)

In 2051, an award winning TV actor recounts his wondrous loving relationship with his wife and baby, and how it changed in an instant.  Stefan’s sunny clearness and evocative metaphors exude the depth of his joy of sharing life with his wife.  Most memorable for its novel intimacy is his story about their shared secret language of subtle touching to indicate that some person at a dinner party is full of it.

(Aug 6)


The Devoured (****)

In a Jewish concentration camp, a father, played by Steve Lambert, recounts his family’s story from German bombing to gas showers and incinerators.   The play is relentless, starting with an exhausting, repetitive run in place, through the public humiliation of the man’s mother by an SS officer, to his final running lament on cowardice.   The play is a marathon for Lambert and the audience, with a steady rhythm of high energy repetition followed by short passages of slower, tender exposition, that, by the end, proved too exhausting for me.  (Aug 5)


Internal (****)

The audience of five meet five actors, and go off as couples into separate booths to have short, intimate conversations.   What follows must be left to those who are willing to try interactive theater.  As a married man,  I  found my re-immersion into the romance of dating a pleasant experience, though quite thought provoking—Thank you, Sophie.

(Aug 8)


The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (****)

In the 1930s, a strong-willed, flamboyant teacher at a conservative girl’s school tries to enculturate a small band of girls into her liberal philosophy.   The play provides many subplots to explore the facets of cultural conflict, both interpersonal and professional.   While all of the rest of the characters seemed real, Jean, with her constant posing and facial contortions, is not a person, but a caricature of Margaret Thatcher combined with Isadora Duncan.  (Aug 7)


I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change (****)

The musical comedy provides vignettes about romantic relationships from first dates to widowers searching for mates at funerals.  No voice disappointed me, and all but title song had both good music and good lyrics.    I was surprised with how well a keyboard and violin provided quite satisfying accompaniment.  (Aug 9)


Bedtime Stories (****)

The bed on stage is the focus of ten sketches.  From a scene about snooze buttons to a pillow fight started by an ignored wife to a boy thought caught masturbating, I was most impressed by the diversity of subjects.  There wasn’t a bad sketch in the lot.  (Aug 28)


Up and Over It! An Irish Dance Spectacular (****)

Irish dancers Suzanne Cleary and Peter Harding literally take off straightjackets to apply the techniques of barrel dancing to a variety of musical forms.  They integrate their quick moves into ballet, hip-hop, and jazz dance, and even have table slapping duet.  Their adaptations were consistently interesting, but their homemade videos detract from the experience, albeit the videos did give them time to rest and change costumes.  (Aug 31)


Austen’s Women (****)

For each of her thirteen fictional women, Jane Austen sketches their descriptions, and then assumes their roles for excerpts from her books.  The writer/performer carefully wrote using only Austen’s words to provide both an overall theme of the plight of 19th century women as well as concise illustrative examples.  While I am steeped in Austen theatrics, others who had read Austen could derive more pleasure from the play.  (Aug 22)


Been So Long (****)

This musical centers on two women who visit a familiar bar to catch-up, but find themselves becoming involved with the bartender, a womanizer, and a deluded rapper.   From first to last, all the music and voices are great, but the lyrics of most of ballads are uninspiring.   I was particularly impressed in how the actor who played the womanizer could exude that charismatic mix of style, charm, and masculinity.  (Aug 8)


The Overcoat (****)

This almost completely mute physical theater piece has an office worker striving to earn an overcoat so that he can win the heart of a woman he works with.  Whether in the huge, frantic office, or his cramped bedroom with a live portrait of his parents looking on, all of the performances are top notch.   I wish that the office manager’s orders had been in English so that I could better understand the leads shortcomings and successes.  (Aug 19)


Fucked (****)

Working back through time, a lap dancer tells of the aftermath of each of her first sexual experience with each of her boyfriends.  While many shows that tamper with chronology do not work for me, the clear effect to cause pattern worked well here.  My young companion said that she could identify with many of the woman’s dating situations.  (Aug 10)


Beachy Head (****)

After accidentally filming a man committing suicide off a cliff, a documentary film crew interviews both his wife as she tries to understand her husband’s act, and the medical examiner for the clinical facts.  The staging uses video well, and provides a nice pace as we cycle through following the trail with the wife and husband, hearing facts from the doctor, and ethical discussions by the filmmakers.   In the end though, the husband still seemed elusive.  (Aug 11)


The Virginia Monologues – Why it’s great to be old  (****)

Virginia Ironside, an “Agony Auntie”, makes wry observations on her life now that she is 65.   While she did not ignore the drawbacks, she concentrated on the more subtle advantages of being older like realizing that she feels safer because hoodlums will now smile back at her.   It did bother me that she was happy that sex and travel were behind her.  (Aug 9)


The Red Room (****)

This series of dances portrays the story of a medieval duke who tried to boost morale during a plague by inviting his healthy men to a wild party, complete with jester.   I found it hard to ignore the wizened choreographer/duke as he ruled the party whilst showing off his own little dance moves.   When he leaves the action, the dancing often seemed to become monotonous.  (Aug 8)


The Island (****)

Two men who have shared a cell in a in South African island prison prepare to present the play “Antigone” while reviewing their incarceration.  I felt that each aspect portrayed was compelling.  The final speech by Antigone was a great inditement of a government overreaching human rights.  (Aug 21)


Don Carlos (****)

The crown prince and queen of Spain conspire to save Flanders from the harsh wrath of their king.  It was intriguing how Don Carlos’ friend, Posa, manipulated the many vested interests to best help his friend and promote human rights in Flanders.  The modern setting, with cell phones and ear buds, did not suit a story of kings and their power.  (Aug 22)


The List Operators (****)

Two fellows create lists of all sorts of things as well as few other routines.  They start with a list of  countries that the audience thinks it is OK to be “racist” about, and finish with the audience learning to speak Australian by waving ping pong paddles labeled with four words.  One memorable routine has Matt act as a shopkeeper that repeatedly responds to a customer’s questions in a seemingly infinite different variations on pronouncing “hello”.  (Aug 30)


F.L.O.W.  (****)

Neel de Jong uses performance art to create a new world each day.  On this particular day she silently rearranged branches and twigs in three piles on the stage for 15 minutes, and then spoke quietly about life for another 10 or so minutes.  While on another day I might have dismissed this as arty dreck, after a day of bad drama her serene performance soothed and re-invigorated me.  (Aug 23)


Shakespeare for Breakfast: A Midsummer Night’s Scream (****)

The five actors use much of the plot of Midsummer’s Night Dream, but little of the language.  In the past, this show relied on clever excerpts from other Shakespeare plays for its humor, but this time it relied more on topical references.  Nonetheless, the audience laughed throughout at the good natured fun.  (Aug 26)


In Search of Miss Landmine (****)

This was a combination of lecture on the history of landmines, and a true story following the life of a landmine victim.  The slow, careful pronunciations by three Italian actresses provided a grace that added much to the presentation.  I wish that instead of video graphics for the beauty contest, they would  provided more real photos.  (Aug 18)


Sound & Fury’s Sherlock Holmes and the Saline Solution (****)

Three Americans provide a lighthearted satire of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories.  The trio clearly enjoyed making fun of their own mistakes as much as they did Doyle’s style.  With Professor Moriarty out to sabotage the tea dependent English, this is nothing more than good-hearted fluff, but I loved it.  (Aug  27)


The Secret Life of Robert Burns (****)

This two-part program had a medical research present a lecture on the life of Robert Burns, followed by a pair of other researchers singing ditties associated with Burns and Scotland.  After so many plays, the lecture, complete with well-chosen slides, was a welcome change.  He provided a fine selection of excerpts of Burns’ work as well as solid evidence debunking many of the myths about Burns being an alcoholic wastrel.  (Aug 20)


The Shadow Orchestra (****)

A magician/musician uses a video backdrop in many novel ways.  When in front of the screen, he produces a prodigious number of items from nowhere, while when he is behind it we see chairs and instruments come alive.  While I could discern how his trick cymbals worked, his manipulation of reappearing glass balls impressed me.  (Aug 27)


Late Night Impro Fight (****)

Six actors from a variety of shows got together for an improve competition judged by the applause from the audience.  The quality of improvisation was pretty high, with all earning at least four out five ratings from the audience.   My companion revealed her Zimbabwe childhood when she suggested “hippopotamus guts” for a skit on solving famine.  (Aug 31)


Morecambe (****)

Bob Golding portrays the well loved British comic Eric Morecambe, telling of his life from childhood joker to his third and fatal heart attack.  Golding skillfully weaves in Morecambe’s personal life with excerpts from his many famous and loved routines.  As an American, I had never heard of Morecambe and would have to give this four starts, but Golding received a standing ovation from the audience who clearly loved the homage.  (Aug 31)


Jazz A Cappella – The Oxford Gargoyles (****)

Five men and five women sing a variety of cool jazz songs while doing a little choreography.  The songs are well chosen, and we all had fun as their stilted leader emerged as a star.  As with last year, when given the lead the two high-register female singers were often drowned out by the background singers.  (Aug 30)


Searching for Eden:  The Diaries of Adam and Eve (***)

Eve wakes on her first day, delighting in Eden, but then must contend with a man that would rather have things as they were before she arrived.  Whether Eve is fumbling for words to name things, or Adam is hiding in a tree from the new “beast”, a wonderful sense of innocence pervades this play.   While I will admit that the total nudity of the beautiful Eve was sometimes distracting, her airy movements and lack of self-consciousness made a critical contribution to the theme of innocence in Eden that I can still feel days later.  (Aug 5)


The Shadow Within (***)

A young priest hears an ominous confession, and later the same day is visited by his ex-lover who is now a psychologist.  While the mystery side of the story has a nice twist, the romantic side seems pedestrian.  The final scene is just annoying to the audience. (Aug 24) 


Crave  (***)

Four characters in a café talk and share their inner thoughts with the audience.  There are many times that the audience does not know to whom the characters are speaking—themselves or one of the others.  The sum of the chaos worked for me on that day.  (Aug 26)


Pythonesque (***)

Four actors portray the six members of Monty Python as we follow the group from their college days through their TV shows and movies.  The actors do reasonable impressions of the men as they perform several sketches in the styles of the Python’s most memorable sketches.   Because of copyright infringement issues, the group could only do new sketches that paled in comparison to the originals.  (Aug 29)


The Trial (***)

As Kafka’s protagonist is shuffled through his legal system so too is the audience moved around the room as the play takes place.  The dark and smoky setting provides the right amount of oppression, but I had trouble hearing much of what was said.  I found that I spent much of my time analyzing the format, instead of working to find place from which to hear better.  (Aug 28)


Matinee (***)

A troupe of mimes present several send-ups of movies such as “Superman”, “Pink Panther”, and the Kung Fu genre.  There were some fine miming and inspired moments, particularly in the Superman piece.  It will be long time before I forget short Kung Fu master created by the actor kneeling and placing his knees in tennis shoes as he jumps up and does the classic midair kicks.  (Aug 21)


The State We’re In (***)

Based on Brian Haw who has pitched a tent in front of Parliament for the last six years, we learn about a fictional Tom Price and his cause through the interactions of Tom, his wife, his reporter friend, and a MP.   From the oft choked up idealist Tom, to the smooth talking MP, all of the acting seems spot on.  While the play provides good breadth and context, I was left wondering about how Tom/Brian became such an idealist.  (Aug 16)


David Leddy’s ‘Susurrus’

With and ipod and headphones, I walked to different set points in the Botanic Garden listening to the opera ‘Midsummer Night Dream’ and a tale of the fall from grace of it lead opera singer.  The story was interesting enough, but the real enjoyment comes from wandering in the park.  I am sure of this because the first time I attempted this experience, I discarded the headphones, and spent my time exploring the gardens with a new friend.  (Aug 30)


Merman on Broadway! (***)

Dominic Mattos impersonates Ethel Merman and gives a little background for most of the songs he sings.  I was surprised at how well Mattos matched Merman’s range and volume.  I did not like that he chose to sing medleys of many of her hits, while choosing to sing less known songs in their entirety.  (Aug 31)


Light Bites (***)

Like “Tasty Treats,” this is three short plays presented in thirty minutes.  In the first, an artist bargains with an art dealer, in the next a widower deals with his wife, and the last has the police dealing with a suspect who speaks in Shakespearean language much of the time.  Each little play worked pretty well and felt complete.  (Aug 31)


After Magritte (***)

A family at home must deal with an unexpected investigation by the police.  This whole play is just an excuse to provide scenes from Magritte’s paintings.  While I did recognize the allusion to a man with a bowler, and the policeman in the window, I would have enjoyed it more if I had studied Magritte’s works beforehand.  (Aug 26)


The 14th Tale (***)

A man presents a (autobiographical?) monologue about his prankster childhood in Nigeria, and new life in England.  Despite finding many parts interesting, I found myself falling asleep on the warm afternoon.  He told an inspired tale of squirting stinging toothpaste on strategic places on a sleeping bully so that when he awoke each of his attempts to wipe his eyes would only compound his torment.  (Aug 25)


And All the Children Cried (***)

Two women in prison for killing children, share their stories of child abuse.  The story of the lead works well as it provides a twist that runs counter to the belief that abused children go on to abuse their own children.  The second women’s story had less time, and seemed less compelling.  (Aug 22)


Controlled Falling Project (***)

Under the direction of a grunting lab coated scientist, three silent gymnasts perform various acts of balance and strength.  The gymnasts are amply skilled, but the music is overload and the scientist wastes time with his dolls and incoherent scribbling on the floor mat.  The repeated, reinforcing jumps on the seesaw was the most memorable part of the act for me.  (Aug 14)  


Tasty Treats (***)

This a collection of six short plays presented in an hour.  They vary from a man visiting his aging barber over the years, to two skydivers being reincarnated as praying mantises.  The acting is fine, and none are overlong.  (Aug 14) 


Adam, Jason, and Friends (***)

Adam Hills and Jason Byrne compere five other comedy acts.  While the comedy acts were better than average, they paled in comparison to the interaction of Adam and Jason.  It will be hard to forget Jason’s section yelling like drunkards while the audience on Adam’s side of the stage yelled “huzzah” when beckoned.  (Aug 13)


Zemblanity (***)

A prim, deadpan ringmaster, Hans, tries to control four antic clowns as he woos the top half of a mannequin.  Somehow, Hans provides a perfect counterbalance to the clowns to keep this zany without being just silly.  The highlights were his indignant efforts to follow a reappearing spotlight, and his aplomb driving a children’s car.  (Aug 23)


Shade Ain’t Right (***)

In a Prohibition cabaret, a dark Black chorus girl is jealous of a new light-skinned Black girl getting the headliner spot.  The interactions of the two Black women work well, but the Southern hayseed White chorus girl seemed too naïve.  This half hour play lays the groundwork for a fine play exploring intra-racial bigotry, but ends before there are any satisfying explorations.  (Aug 15)   


Bach for Breakfast (***)

A flutist and pianist played five sonatas from J.S. Bach and his contemporaries.  Both artists performed well, and the tea and scone after were welcome.  It was a nice way to start a day, but nothing extraordinary.  (Aug 16)


Showstopper! : the improvised musical (***)

The company creates a musical based on an initial setting provided by the audience and a guest, and from there on mostly under the guidance of the narrator.  The concept is fun, and there were a few inspired moments.  However, throughout the play I could feel the heavy hand of the narrator, and I was repeatedly reminded that only three stars the large company had decent improvisation skills.  (Aug 24)


Origins  by Steven Canny and John Nicholson (***)

Starting with his grandfather, the company portrays significant aspects of the family of Charles Darwin.  As its title suggests, the play investigates the diverse elements that led to Darwin finally boarding the H.M.S. Beagle.  I was a bit disheartened when the play ended with him starting his trip instead of continuing through his life.  (Aug 26)


Elvis Still My Heart (***)

In 1970 London, a shy, stilted, woman with a secret love of Elvis reluctantly rents a room to two outgoing women.   The story works well to provide opportunities for dances set both Elvis and the rock music of the late 1960s.  Both the big brash roomer who unlocks the landlady’s secret, and the gentler Welsh roomer combine nicely to accept and encourage her.  (Aug 12)


Tap & Chat with Lionel Blair (***)

The choreographer/dancer from the postwar English stage and TV tells stories from his life with only an occasional effort at dancing.  The highlight of his life for both him and me was a video clip of him dancing with Sammy Davis Jr. at a Royal Command Performance.  Because the older, British audience recognized many more of British celebrities in his stories than I did, I am sure they would have given this show at least four stars.  (Aug 23)


Play On Words (***)

A director, an actor, and technician try to retrace what happened to the director’s girlfriend.   As the title suggests, the play is full of sometime clever word play, but seems to do it at the expense of clarifying the plot.  While I regret that I saw the play after very little sleep, others in the audience also found the plot confusing.  (Aug  12) 


My Life with the Dogs(***)

A four year old Moscow boys runs away from his drunken mother, and joins with a pack of three dogs.   The 40-year old actor conveyed the wide-eyed innocence of the boy perfectly, and the rest of the cast  proved able canines and nemeses. After the boy shares a cigarette with the dogs during their initial encounter, I remained confused as to whether I was watching an allegory, or not.  (Aug 5)


Go to Gaza, Drink the Sea (***)

We see the plight of the normal Gaza residents during the Israeli incursion through the eyes of a young Palestinian and a BBC reporter.  The play mixes super titled songs, dance, drama, and Aljazeera broadcasts to tell the story of the suffering Gazans.  While the reality is compelling, the play itself has serious flaws in many areas, from the set composed of piles of shoes that too readily harkens to the Holocaust Museum’s room of shoes, to the misplaced English tunneler character, and finally to the ill conceived dance.  (Aug 13) 


The Interminable Suicide of Gregory Church by Daniel Kitson (***)

The humorist recounts a tale of spending three years piecing together another man’s life from the 33,000 letters that he left behind after his purported suicide.  Daniel has crafted an ingenious series of wry excerpts to explore how one could flesh out diverse aspects of person’s life from such records.  While I laughed at many of his observations, I found myself (and some others) dozing as the story gently meandered without any perceptible destination.   (Aug 6)


Becoming Marilyn (***)

Marilyn Monroe talks about her life, and intermixes some of her songs as she goes.  Not surprisingly, the actress does not quite look like Marilyn, but her presentation is pitch perfect.  The problem with the play is that it dissects all the bad events of her life, while only alluding to her triumphs.  (Aug 7)


The Jewish Chronicles (***)

A middle aged Jew uses his own songs to tell of his life growing up and participating in various Jewish life events.  His songs tell extended stories, and have nice tunes.  He provides a nice slice of Jewish culture, but there is nothing thought provoking here.  (Aug 23)


Catwalk Confidential (***)

The 1970s fashion model, Robyn Peterson, tells of her modeling career rising from a 16-year old runaway from Miami to become a top model in Paris married to her photographer.  She certainly had an interesting ten years, including having her stilettos nailed to board for a shoot in the Sahara.    She is still working on remembering the script, and her efforts to sneak a swig from a water bottle rather than just drink in front of us seemed odd.  (Aug 13)


Unit 46 (***)

A 50-year old unemployed bureaucrat and a 39-year old English teacher who lives below him, complain about each other even though they have never spoken.  The program had indicated that this play was about the importance of communication, but it seemed to be more about living in isolation.  A highlight was hearing the man singing the praises of his too brief letter for which he was fired because after six weeks of diligent work his version simply said, “We regret.” (Aug 30)


I-Witness (***)

A cast of four retraces the four-day hike along English coastline described by WG Sebald in “The Rings of Saturn.”  Just as Sebald’s book is a collection of disparate facts and fictions purported to be facts, the subjects of the play vary widely as each actor retell part of Sebald’s book as well as tell of their personal experiences on the hike.  In the final chaotic literal dissection of a copy of the book, I was concerned for the safety of actors as they casually wielded a power grinder among themselves.  (Aug 26)


Sea Wall (***)

A young man, played by Andrew Scott, tells of his visit to his father-in-law in the south of France with his wife and young child.  Andrew has a gentle, too quiet, halting style suited to the plain, short story.  The play suffers from following the longer “Stefan Golaszewski is a Widower,” which has a similar plot and more time and more evocative prose.  (Aug 6)


The Event (***)

A very personable, and accomplished actor, David Calvitto describes his craft in real time in the third person.  The first twenty minutes of this show is fantastic, but by then it has thoroughly mined the concept, and the topic switches to a commentary on 21st century society.   At about that time, he begins to periodically announce the time left, and I realized how the time dragged for those last forty minutes.  (Aug 11) 


Palace of the End (***)

This has monologues by actors portraying Lynndie England (Abu Ghraib prison leash holder), Dr. David Kelly (WMD whistle blower), and Nehrjas Al Saffarh (as the wife of the leader of the Iraqi Communist Party under Saddam Hussein).   The fictional monologues of all three grated on me because they seemed so extreme.   England is portrayed as devoid of compassion, Kelly is suicidal though there is little evidence and no note, and Al Saffarh’s part is little more than a litany of torture.  (Aug 8)


The Sound of My Voice (***)

An alcoholic business executive spends a week dealing with his too understanding wife, children (referred to as “accusations”), and office workers.   While an actress provides a few opportunities for dialogues with various female characters, the bulk of the play is listening to the pseudo happy thoughts of the businessman as he deludes himself.   The repetitive daily routine went one day too long for its desired effect, and I sensed no seemingly unusual cathartic event that would trigger his transformation.  (Aug 10)


The Critic (***)

This farce has two critics, one harsh and one effusive, approach people and a play differently.  The broad treatment obscured the scripts fine lampooning all aspects of the creation and critiquing of plays.  In particular, the mincing and mugging by the lady in waiting in the play being critiqued was way over the top.  (Aug 28)


School for Scandal (***)

While a May-December marriage is full of bickering, a man must decide between whether his ward should marry a seemingly upstanding fellow, or his ne’er do well brother.  This fluff is more about celebrities hamming it up in a farce than anything else.  Since I only recognized two of the ten celebrities, much of the fun was lost on me.  (Aug 26) 


The Sticky Bivouac (***)

A young comedian brings his interpretation of a young Steve Martin to the stage.  While he matches Martin’s low key delivery and offbeat humor, I am not sure why he felt the need to imitate Martin’s voice.  His demonstration of difficult juggling using a baby doll, a frying pan, and a corded phone was inspired.  (Aug 17)


Camille O’Sullivan: The Dark Angel (***)

Camille is a singer that works hard to provide a good show for the crowd.   She roams the audience, changes wardrobe frequently, and ranges across many styles of music.  Maybe because I was in the balcony, or maybe because I know Holly Penfield (an older entertainer with a similar style), but it seemed that she was working too hard to entertain—her artifice was showing.  (Aug 7)


Burn (***)

Three recently deceased people awake on a small island surrounded by boiling liquid, and try to escape by recounting their lives more and more honestly.   The acting is impressive, but the reverberating acoustics of the Big Belly made about a fifth of their lines unintelligible for me.  I was most trouble by the unexplained understanding of the situation by one of the characters.  (Aug  24) 


Rachel Rose Reid: And They Lived … (***)

Rachel brings a bright, cheerfulness to her storytelling and music.  The gifted storyteller makes this feel like a series of spontaneous stories rather than an oft-repeated show.  Regrettably, my own self-conscious efforts to keep time with alternate clapping and feet stamping made me miss many of the words of her songs.  (Aug 24)


If That’s All There Is (***)

Two weeks before his wedding to an insecure woman, a control freak seeks help from a dismissive counselor.  Despite the fine acting, I must admit the mix of dreams and reality completely lost me.  Once a friend, helped me better understand its structure, I could see that it could have been very good.  (Aug 18)


Snatch Paradise by Van Badham (***)

An amnesiac boy-band star returns from three months in jail for battery, and tries to understand his life of contrived pop celebrity.  From the opening sexy chorus line number by the all-girl cast, a feeling of sleaziness permeates the whole play that makes any empathy for the characters almost impossible.   Except for the lead, these are not desperate people trying to make their lives work, but rather empty characters stripping needlessly for the playwright’s pleasure.   (Aug 12)


My Name is Sue (***)

A talented fellow in drag plays piano, and, with help of a trio, sings absurd songs.  All of his piano playing was outstanding, and most of the intelligible songs were quite fun.   Some of the songs had a dark twist that I missed for lack of local references.  (Aug 5)


An Evening with Psychosis (***)

The crew of a Star Trek Enterprise type ship tries to maintain the sanity of the Earth through satellites as they also read from nine real interviews of people dealing with psychosis.  The set and action aboard the ship mimic Star Trek nicely, and the varied interviews are interesting, but the interviews do not match well with the story.   The two aspects detract from rather than complement each other.  (Aug 12)


My Darling Clemmie (***)

Rohan McCullough’s, plays the wife of Winston Churchill.  Rohan seems to have the character of the upper crust Clementine, but the story lacks vitality.  Even when I hear of her having to bundle up on the floor of a frigid bomber, the story seems to be told by a dispassionate observer instead of the bone-chilled woman.  (Aug 28)


Micaela Leon: Kabarett Berlin (***)

Micaela presents the lives and associated songs of several Berlin cabaret singers of the Weimar Republic era.  The only singer I knew was Marlene Dietrich, and it seemed to me that despite the appropriate costume, Micaela’s voice and style did not reflect the star.  I did find it gratifying when she recounted what happened to each singer after the Nazis took power.  (Aug 29)


Stand Up For Freedom (***)

Despite its good cause, this was a night of mediocrity.  Much of the comedy was the typical sex and dating fodder aimed at twenty-somethings, when much of the audience was older.  It is telling that the most memorable moment h the hounding of bigoted heckler out of the theater.  (Aug 12)


As You Were (***)

We compare the postwar lives of two English veterans, one a former Japanese POW in World War II, and the other recently returned from Iraq.  The play does a fine job of telling the history of post traumatic stress syndrome.  On the other hand, the portrayal of a man suffering from PTSD is becoming too common to be interesting.  (Aug 22)


Escape (***)

The Earth will be uninhabitable in thirty years, and a space colonist who as returned to Earth tells of his experience to a reporter friend.  This half-hour play has all the hallmarks of a short story; it has intriguing premise and plot, but the characters are only sketches.   Though the video commercials for the colonial transport organizations were unpolished, they still worked well to describe the mental state of the world.  (Aug 15)


Why do all Catherines call themselves Kate?  (***)

On New Year’s Eve, the son of a recently deceased loan shark visits his half-brother’s flat, only to discover his father’s girlfriend is there.  The characters run through a series of verbal thrust and parries that cause unexpected damage.  In particular, the older brother cowers when bullied by his younger brother, but then reasserts himself minutes later.  (Aug 16)


Words of Honour: The Mafia Exposed (***)

A mafia boss explains how the Mafia is integrates itself into Italian society by relying on honour.  While I liked learning that people with many non-violent jobs are members of the Mafia, the whole show seemed like an Italian accented Wikipedia article, with little drama.  I suppose it is telling that I spent some of my time analyzing the white shade cloth that served both as a screen for videos and, with other lighting, as a transparent wall.  (Aug 13)


Killing Alan (***)

After attacking his brother, to be honorable, Alan agrees to allow his brother stab him in exactly one year.  Though there is a simple plot here, this dark, morality play seems to work hard to be confusing.  The completely separate prolog and epilog caused most of my confusion, but the lack of recognition of his brother after a year’s time also contributed.  (Aug 20)


Lola: The Life of Lola Montez (***)

The fiery dancer and self-made celebrity of the early 19th century tells of her life while her conservative Irish stands by rejecting much her joie de vivre.  The lead brings requisite high energy to her role, and the male flamenco dancer maintains it to little purpose.   When we suddenly discover that she dies of syphilis, I realized that I had learned of her conflict, but little else.  (Aug 10)


East 10th Street Self Portrait with Empty House (***)

This is a memoir by an actor describing the crazy inhabitants of his rooming house in New York City.  The low set lighting and his macabre bass voice make this seem like a ghost story around a campfire.   The late introduction of a love interest, and the unexplained disappearance of his sister both detract.  (Aug 6)


King of the Gypsies (***)

A gypsy man, played by Paul McCleary, recounts the history and persecution of Gypsies from before Christ India to England 2009.  McCleary proved personable, but the play lacked much drive.  The poor quality of the excerpts of news reports and interviews did not help.  (Aug 5)


Animals of Butter Bridge (***)

A badger, mouse, and panther agree to track down an untrustworthy fox who has eloped with a naïve bunny.  This is a grim fairy tale with tragic endings, and no moral.   Though the costumes were minimal, each animal had an appropriate personality, with the fox most notably doing a nice sly Alan Rickman turn.  (Aug 21)


God: A Comedy by Woody Allen (***)

A playwright and actor have troubles getting a play written while dealing with play within a play issues.  The cast is enthusiastic, but Allen’s play seems stale now.  The staging using people as furniture, and even toilets, was quite imaginative.  (Aug 18)


The Kosh in the Storeroom (***)

A physical theater piece that has a woman in a storeroom reliving the events that led up to her murder conviction.  The play is an imaginative mixture of storage box props, acrobatics, and even ventriloquism.  While the actress demonstrated great versatility, her talent in each area is only average.  (Aug 18)


The Visitor (***)

In a future London of war, gangs, and rubble, a woman discovers an injured man on a bench, and takes him back to the hideaway she shares with another man.   The play does a good job of creating an atmosphere of desperation by combining her tale of forced re-location with her current reverence for a used tea bag.   I had trouble with when she scrubbed the visitor’s face, and none of his grime and blood came off.  (Aug 17)


St. Kilda – Island of the Birdmen (***)

This massive International Festival uses every imaginable form of entertainment to describe the life on the remote island of St. Kilda where the economy of the twenty residents dependent on harvesting feathers from the puffins and other birds on the nearby rocky islands.  While I can appreciate the high concept of the project, the use of Gaelic and French without supertitles made it inaccessible to me.  The vintage photos and films, and the ethereal singer (when not obscured by the orchestra or chorus) were the highlights.  (Aug 15)


Stand by Your Van (***)

Similar to the dance marathons of the Depression, to win a new truck, twelve contestants must keep at least one hand on it for as long as eighty hours.  While I found some of the interactions among the diverse contestants interesting, the play felt like a marathon for the audience as we were subjected to eleven, repetitive dismissals.  Because of the Fringe length of the play, and the time taken for the dismissals, there was not enough time to provide satisfying back stories for most of the characters.  (Aug 5)


Jordy Pordy:  Taking the Bull by the Horns (***)

Jordan Herskowitz, a young mascot for some professional sports teams in the U.S., provides an autobiographical monologue covering his Jewish home life, his work as a mascot, and his brother’s battle with cystic fibrosis.  Because I had seen the three other Jewish plays at the Sweet, I was bored with that aspect of his life.  As would be expected, the ten minutes he spent on his life in a mascot suit were the most entertaining.  (Aug 22)  


The Yellow Wallpaper (***)

In the late 19th century, a physician rents a house, and tries to treat his frail wife’s anxiety by placing her in a nursery room with strange yellow wallpaper.  The wife does a wonderful job of portraying an isolated woman slipping into hysteria and hallucinations.  However, her rejection of her sister-in-laws help, and the unrelenting sternness of her husband have no explanation.  (Aug 26)


Coffee (***)

A trio of advertising people spend a day trying to come up with an ad campaign for Donkey Coffee.  While there are a few funny moments, I never began to care for any of them.  It was particularly troubling that one character expressed a severe allergy to coffee, but when he drank some he just had a antic caffeine high.  (Aug 20)


Unknown Album (***)

A bored receptionist working on her PhD agrees to a celebrity TV date with the quiet member of a popular boyband.  The relationship between the proceeds nicely enough, but his decision about his sexuality has no conviction.  The third character, a guardian of a young girl admirer of the celebrity, is ill-defined and portrayed with bursty speech that I often could not understand.   (Aug 20)


Parents’ Evening (***)

As parents of the children of a private school during its parents’ evening, the audience is treated to teacher introductions, short quizzes, and the scandals of the school.  Having the “teachers” join us in the audience helped us participate in the play, but they all seemed one-dimensional and uninspired.  The British mother next to me thought a little better of it.  (Aug 23)


A Grave Situation (***)

During World War II, a family of gravediggers are drafted, sent to Dunkirk, and then miss the evacuation.  This comedy starts out quite promising as it deals with shortages, and innocence, but takes a wrong turn into a literal hell with Nazi devils and heaven in literal clouds.  The initial scene dealing with a shortage of coffins really had my hopes up.  (Aug 18)


Opening Night of the Living Dead (***)

The company of “Romeo and Juliet” must deal with a techy who becomes a zombie, and an egocentric Romeo who has his own over-the-top ideas of how to play his part.  The play has a nice romantic parallel in the gulf between the Juliet actress and her secretly admiring techy.  While originally fun, the zombie angle devolves into just a lot of “zany” chases.  (Aug 17)


Take the Empire:  The Great Big Marvellous Victorian Game Show (***)

Two pairs of the audience spend the evening competing with each by answering questions supposedly based on the Victorian era, and performing tasks.  The first set of questions were based on Victorian fact, but with later questions such as “What part of a wolf am I thinking of?”, and tasks such as building towers of cardboard and tape, the show became just silly and uninteresting to me.  (Aug 15)      


The Grind Show (***)

This allegory has the ringmaster of a bizarre circus repeatedly trying to have a child join each of the various dysfunctional acts.  From a beast tamer who uses pain to recreate herself, to a pair of knife throwing twins that repeatedly impale each other, the symbolism is dark and macabre.   The concept is coherent in its way, but unpleasant to behold.  (Aug 14)  


Let’s Do It: a Celebration of the Works of Cole Porter (***)

A man and a woman singer, accompanied by a pianist, present more than twenty Cole Porter songs.  While the performers are quite capable, the show is poorly directed.  The techie had the piano overpowering the singers, and the order of the songs had his hits at the beginning, and then followed them with a long series of more obscure downbeat ballads.  (Aug 27)


Underground:  A Forgotten World (***)

In the near future, with everyone living underground, a detective seeks the Charring Cross for one of seven sisters that rule much of the The Underground.  There is some smart dialog, but the plot is a mishmash with the quest continuing even though the Cross is returned midway through the play.  For instance, the character of Sapling, a tree/elf, serves as a guide, love interest, and an unnecessarily horrific sacrificial lamb.  (Aug 22)


Luck (***)

The daughter of the leader of a team that exploits bad blackjack dealers at casinos tells of her life on the team, and dealing with her compulsive gambler father.  The explanations of how such a team works together, and her anecdotes work quite well, but her attempts at strange video and dance fall flat.  I found her tale of her father attempting to scam her as she is about to walk down the aisle of her wedding most poignant.  (Aug 24) 


A Doubtful Guest (***)

In the late 19th century, a Gothic family must deal with large beast that intrudes into their staid household.  This is full deadpan melodrama combined with zany antics.  As usual, my Brit friends loved the same silliness that left me cold.  (Aug 18)


Hou Hou Shahou’s Chorus of Descent (***)

In the early 19th century, a wife takes her child and leaves her drunk abusive husband to rebuild her life, but gin again befouls her life.  The cast is young and enthusiastic, but the play requires more of them that they can give.   (Aug 15)


Generation Crunch Presents (***)

The character Hans from the Bedlam show “Zemblanity” emcees this cabaret.  This night acts were an average comedian, a lousy comedian, an excerpt from “Zemblanity”, and a pair playing a bass clarinet and steel drums.  (Aug 23)


Ernest and the Pale Moon (***)

A man who has spied on his neighbors from his darkened room kills one, and stuffs her body in a wall.  Though the whole play exudes the macabre, it moved too slowly for me.  (Aug 27) 


Fistful of Snow (***)

An Australian screenwriter tries to find his muse by agreeing to guard seeds on remote island in the Arctic Ocean, but instead of a month, his stay extends to eight months.    His conversations with an inflatable reindeer head, and doorbell ringing polar bear are fun, but the absurd storyline of his successful movie was touched upon too many times.  The poster for the movie, “Nullarbor Gunslinger”, looked incredibly real.  (Aug 14)


Ritter, Dene, Voss (***)

The brilliant, but mentally unstable philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein, returns to his family home to be with his two heiress sisters who own the theater in which they infrequently act.  While there are few interesting observations by Ludwig, on whole the play is just too dense.  The mobiles composed of the letters of the names of his friends and families was a nice allusion to the philosopher’s interest in the relationship between words and reality.  (Aug 19)


Cardenio (**)

After wooing and raping a chaste maid, the younger brother of a duke, Henriquez, tries to steal the heart of his best friend’s fiancé.  From the opening rape, I knew this abridged version of Shakespeare and Fletcher’s play would not have a satisfying way of redeeming Henriquez, and I was correct.  The play had little of Shakespeare’s beautiful prose, and most of the actors were weak.  (Aug  26)


The Dentist (**)

The daughter of a Jewish survivor of a Nazi concentration camp tells of her home life and his experiences in the camp.  This was the third play this year that I have seen dealing with the Holocaust, and it seemed the weakest.  The meandering story provided little new, and the title itself reveals the “surprise” ending.  (Aug 23)


Snatch Paradise by Van Badham ( **)

An amnesiac boy-band star returns from three months in jail for battery, and tries to understand his life of contrived pop celebrity.  From the opening sexy chorus line number by the all-girl cast, a feeling of sleaziness permeates the whole play that makes any empathy for the characters almost impossible.   Except for the lead, these are not desperate people trying to make their lives work, but rather empty characters stripping needlessly for the playwright’s pleasure. (Aug 13)


Weepie (**)

A man is trained, seduced, and interviewed by another man before they commit a crime.  I know that that is not a perfect recapitulation of the play, but that is its problem.  It is designed as tour de force for the actors, and they both are great, but the story is too choppy.  (Aug 26)


How to Survive a Zombie Apocalypse After Dark (**)

With the help of a survivalist, a weapons expert, a scientist, and a counselor, the head trainer helps the audience to learn how best to deal with zombies.  After less than ten minutes of introduction to the world of zombies, the show turned into improv based on the questions and answers provided by the audience.   The show was quite week simply because other than the trainer/emcee, all of the actors had little skill in improvisation.  (Aug 16)


Timeshare (**)

On a vacation to Spain a couple rents a condo near a another couple from work, but discover that Macbeth and his retinue are living in the condo between the couples.  While you would think that with modern day Malcoms, Duncans, and MacDuffs running around, this would be a fun farce, it is instead a drama centered on pregnancy and mistrust.  From the modern lives that only occasionally parallelthe Scottish play, to the inexplicable potions and smells of gas, this play never gels.  (Aug 23)


All That Gomez (**)

A lesbian Latina stand-up comedienne follows the typical pattern of audience interaction followed by her routines.  She had a tough audience composed of six lesbians (two of whom could barely understand her English)  and me spread around the venue, so she finally resorted to humorless interviews of each of us.  While her Latina jokes would be expected to have little traction, I was surprised at how most of her lesbian humor seemed to stir little reaction.  Some of her stories had small witticisms that it seemed only I got.  (Aug 16)


Bob’s Date (**)

Actors play various aspects of Bob’s personality attempt to prepare him for his first date in two years.  As a man with a degree in psychology, I was perplexed at how the play considered the artifacts of nerves, bull, and confidence as having equal weight to the much broader concepts of libido, logic, memory, and emotion.  Each aspect did have a few entertaining moments, but many of their interactions seem as childish and ill considered as the division of characteristics.  (Aug 17)    


The Lamplighters Lament (**)

Three actors play a lamplighter whose young daughter dies.  This slow, somber piece spends an hour using puppets and overusing thumb lights to tell the slightest of stories.  There is not much here.  (Aug 15)


The Fuss (**)

Two brothers move in to their sister’s house as she dies of pancreatic cancer.  While there are some scenes that are sincere and work, particularly with the sister, most of the scenes between the brothers lack authenticity.  For example, the hyper-dominant brother forces his shy brother to play scrabble, but then does not keep score.  (Aug 11)


Self-Murders (**)

After meeting on the Internet, a young woman invites a young man to take a trip to the mountains to leap off a cliff with her.  Though in English, its dark Russian source permeates the work, even during the symbolic rebirths in a water trough.   Her transformation seemed out of step with the other events of the piece.  (Aug 9)


The Origin of Species  by Means of Natural Selection …or The Survival of (R)Evolutionary Theories in the Face of Scientific and Ecclesiastical Objections: Being a Musical Comedy about Charles Darwin (1809-1882)(**) 

Charles Darwin tells of his life using musical ditties, audience participation, and brief reenactments of important events of his life.  As the first play of the Fringe for me, I could not help but think how the play represented the Fringe as a whole—original, but uneven.   The acting was fine, but while I found the ideas behind many of the songs amusing, most of their lyrics and performances were forgettable.  (Aug 5)


A Stroke of Genius (**)

To provide for her old age, a librarian whose library is about to close, hatches a scheme to artificially inseminate herself with the genetically modified sperm of a world class scientist.  The actress is wonderfully eccentric, but her male companion is inexplicably horrific.  In particular, we see him cleaning gruesome slicing implements as another character reads of his sadistic murder of an innocent young woman.  (Aug  12)


In Bed With Poets (**)

A very nice woman reads from her “Erotic Poetry for Vegans and Vegetarians.”   While it was clear that she could feel the eroticism of her poems about vegetables mixing with spices and sauces, only rarely could they resonate with me.   A reading with her techy did work well though.  (Aug 13)


Heroin(e) for Breakfast (**)

A 26-year old man shares, his ex-girlfriend, and his young lover share a flat, and then some heroin (in the guise of Marilyn Monroe).   Starting from the initial self-centered tour-de-force of sex positions and continuing through his seeming immunity to the ravages to heroin addiction, the male role just does not work.  While the interactions of the women seem real, their interest in demonstrably ignorant, selfish fellow has little foundation.  (Aug 12)     


Icarus 2.0 (**)

For the past 15 years, a hermit has obsessively trained his equally isolated son to be able to fly with wings.  The quirky, always just slightly useful, training regime intrigued me the first time.  While the play remains true to the concept throughout, the interactions with the outside world, and the primitive wing development did not work for me.  (Aug 9)


Withheld  (**)  A woman suffering from hallucinations has lunch in a restaurant with a an old girlfriend.   I was confused by what was real, and what was not, since there was never a response from the management or other diners.  In the end, it mattered little to me, because the play seemed to go nowhere.  (Aug 8)


The Gannet (**)

Hansel and Gretel escape a diseased future land through a tunnel, and enter a disquieting world of talking animals and endless candy.   While the new world does have a cheesy (actually marshmallow) surreal feel to it, the initial serious tone left me hungry for explanations.   What was this oft spoken of disease, and why do the pair willingly step into the oven?  (Aug 12)


Koi (*)

While she assumes various roles, including a koi and a water lilly, a Japanese woman has members of the audience read parts of her play from copies of the script that she hands out.  The audience actors had to scour the script because the individual parts were poorly indicated.  Though personable, her acting skill seemed minimal.  (Aug 29)


After Circles (*)

Sometime in the future, sisters share a dingy space of deprivation with a young woman.  While I had no problem with the acting, the play provides no explanation of why things are the way they are.  As the play progresses,  in each new situation the characters act in bizarre ways based on some unseen political/social influence, but in the end we are left asking ourselves why did they do any of that?  (Aug 13) 


Or f unny (*)

A brother and sister left alone at home create havoc with all manner of food.  I just got nothing out these Italian performance artists pouring milk and ketchup over themselves.  There is one nice section where they bend over the ends of table and interact with each other under the tabletop.  (Aug 14)


Puppet Grinder Cabaret (*)

This early evening cabaret relies only on acts that utilize puppets.  The acts ranged from a passable ventriloquist with a bear dummy to worthless videos made by a university student.   I am surprised that Assembly would allow such a low quality show under its roof. (Aug 10)


Me Too – A Sideshow (no stars)

A woman portrays Siamese twins with two heads, three breasts on her chest, and two breasts on her butt.   This was amazing disaster.  The accompanying videos contributed nothing, she hid her face behind the dummy head when attempting ventriloquism, and the introduction of a talking baby dummy only added to the confusion.  (Aug 21)



I am a 56-year old Computer Science lecturer from the University of California in Davis who thinks even a bad play is better than no play at all.  Besides teaching, I work as a house painter / handyman to earn the extra money to pay for my travels.  I have been to the Fringe six times before.  Six years ago, after two weeks touring France, my wife and I spent nine days of our honeymoon at the Fringe.  We shared 45 plays, and I attended ten other events besides.  In 2005, I fulfilled a dream of seeing an entire Fringe Festival.  I saw 151 performances.  You can read my short reviews of those at 2005 Reviews.  In 2006, I saw even more, 162, by devoting most days to only one venue to maximize the number of performances I could see.  Those reviews are available at 2006 Reviews.  In 2007, I did not come because my nephew had his wedding in August in California.  In 2008, I returned for the whole Fringe, though I did take a day off to visit a friend in Peabody, and saw 153 shows.  Those reviews are available at 2008 Reviews.  I expect this year to be similar to last—lots of performances, lots of new friends.


After attending more than 450 performances, I have a much better idea of my biases and prejudices in the role of a critic.  To limit my analyzing shows during their performances as much as possible, I have intentionally avoided any training in criticism and the dramatic arts, both formal and informal.  I find that I prefer fact to fiction, innovation to repetition, coherence to creativity, the concrete to the symbolic, and cleverness to depth.  I realize that many of these are antithetical to the spirit of the Fringe, but I cannot deny my nature.  In particular, I just do not like shows that push the bounds of creativity beyond my ability to make sense of them.  Because I choose to fill time slots with whatever is available, I still expose myself to such shows, and do not mind.  However, I do feel a little guilty giving a low rating to a show on which a company has worked so hard, and with such commitment.  But I envision that that is my role—to accurately report my enjoyment so that others may better use my ratings.  In all but a very few cases, I admire the effort of each company, and wish them well.


free stats