Cocooned in Kazan Nikolai Gogol, Russian-Ukrainian novelist and short-story writer, wrote about a young rake in 19th-century St. Petersburg. He could win his deceased mother’s wall-safe-bulging inheritance; all he has to do is mend his ways and get married.
Reader's Spreckels Theatre, 923 First Avenue, downtown
The Royal Kung Foolery, a physical comedy company from England, turns the tale into a silent film with antic voiceovers. Cam Abbott, Lauren Brainch, and Ellise Martin move as if flicker-framed and sometimes shout as if to audiences across the street. Most of it works. You can sometimes tell if a troupe has done fringe festivals before: they’re slow to start. They ad lib so late arrivals can find seats. Kung Foolery’s obviously been to a few. The wait was long. But once the piece got going and Abbott’s Konstantin flashed his philandering credentials (“women are like cheese; they come in all kinds; I like all kinds of cheese”) the comic bits worked far more often than not.
Konstantin must travel to Kazan, his hometown, to attend his mother’s funeral and receive the news: monogamy and millions or unfunded bachelorhood and the constant variety of cheese?
Some of the best-told parts of the story were wordless. Brainch and Martin have a knack for being both comic (Brainch’s eyes can really bug out) and credible (Martin, who must make full costume changes in seconds, it seems, injects genuine hurt into the slapstick). And Abbott’s reactions can be a hoot.
Letters from the Wall (Cartas del Muro) Dave Rivas, a founding member of Amigos del REP and DaveyBoy Productions, has been collecting letters and stories “from those affected by the United States/Mexico International border wall: immigration, deportation, and separation.”
The format is flexible; Rivas adds new stories and revises old ones. For the fringe, he and five actors read/perform sagas drawn from actual events. Each puts human faces on bare statistics.
In the opening piece, a slender young man limps across the stage. “I think I’m dying,” he says in a prayer/confession to the Lord. Then explains why: he waited ten years for a Green Card; on his way to the U.S. border he injured his leg. The group left him behind. He’s had no food or water since. The border’s at the top of the next hill. He’s almost there.
Slides projected on a screen show walls and deserts as the other stories unfold: a woman thanks the Border Patrol for allowing her to reunite with her brother at Friendship Park; a ridiculous snafu won’t allow a U.S. veteran to receive his rightful benefits; the funeral of John and Jane Doe at Holtville, in the Imperial Valley.
The performances are uneven, and all should project out and up, since the acoustics at the Geoffrey, though improved, could use a tarp on the ceiling.
But the stories can hit home hard.