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Monday, 15 July 2013 21:58

Performing arts review: Not Quite Right Improv Group, 'Civil War Remembered: An Evening With General Ulysses S. Grant,' 'No Stopping, No Warping, No Dying' and Ashleyliane Dance Company at St. Lou Fringe Festival 2013

"Country Joe" Rosier at St. Lou Fringe Festival 2013 "Country Joe" Rosier at St. Lou Fringe Festival 2013 Kathryl Powell Photography
Written by Christopher Reilly
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Not Quite Right Improv Group

Perhaps because it was the 11th show I had seen over a two-day marathon of shows, or because it was the last slot of a very long weekend spanning four days and over 100 performances, I struggled with Not Quite Right improv group.

They weren't helped by the fact that their first two skits had what I would consider "mean" premises, such as instructing your heartbroken son in the art of revenge and ruining a woman's life for breaking up with you. And then there was the scene where two men perform a scene (I think) blindfolded, barefoot and surrounded by cocked mousetraps. This passes for funny? Two guys stepping on mousetraps? It wasn't funny to watch; it was painful.

In all fairness, they did elicit some laughs from the audience, some of whom liked the show better than I. I think the group would be better served by asking the audience to suggest scenes and situations -- something actionable that gives them something to act and someplace to go -- rather than asking the audience to yell out emotions. Any acting teacher will tell you not to play emotions. It's easy and does not comes off well.

The group does have a good stage presence and the confidence necessary to do improv, they just need to make some different, positive choices. I hope they'll chalk this one up to experience and get back to the business to being funny.

I did not find this group very creative. I could point out that many of their sketches were -- at their core -- mean in spirit, and that asking the audience to suggest scenes (you know, with conflict, a story) rather than just emotions, that this might improve things for them; push them to make some choices besides using meanness to attempt to get laughs, as though it's funny because it's mean and makes us uncomfortable, but the bottom line is, I just didn't find them funny.

"Civil War Remembered: An Evening With General Ulysses S. Grant"
"Country Joe" Rosier

In "Civil War Remembered: An Evening With General Ulysses S. Grant," storyteller "Country Joe" Rosier portrays Grant recounting stories about the his involvement in the civil war and his personal life. Mr. Rosier commands a wealth of Civil war information, and those who have an academic interest in the subject will most likely find this show interesting. As a piece of theater, however, it fails to satisfy. Fortunately, the problems are fixable.

In its current state, the show seems little more than telling one story after another, with little variation. With some help from a scriptwriter, the narrative could be fashioned into something more personal, with peaks and valleys, emotional highs and lows, where the audience could get a stronger sense of the private man. Is there anger? Heartbreak? Defiance? A scriptwriter can get these into the script, and a director could help Rosier (the actor) fill those moments with a Ulysses S. Grant the audience has never seen before. I think he has the ability to play this new Grant, as there were telltale hints in his performance as it was.

Technically the show was fine. Pre-show music ("When Johnny Comes Marching Home") set the mood nicely, the minimal set served its purpose, and Rosier's sharp, Union Army jacket, bearded appearance, and solid stature presented a spot-on facsimile of Grant. Rosier's personal good nature suited the character nicely.

Part of the Fringe experience is sometimes seeing works that are in earlier stages of development. Such is the case with "Civil War Remembered." I would like to see Rosier return next year with this show, new and improved.

"No Stopping, No Warping, No Dying"
1Up Productions

"No Stopping, No Warping, No Dying," by 1Up Productions out of Chicago, is a highly-imaginative look at a lifelong friendship told through a series of short, crisp vignettes that take place over many years. The show is accompanied by a creative 8-bit soundtrack. When we first meet the two friends, they are adolescents absorbed in a game of Nintendo Pac-man, arguing over whether warping constitutes cheating, or at least deprives you of the pleasure of playing the game, each step in its turn. One insists its okay to warp through the game, but for the other, there is no warping. No stopping, no warping, and definitely no dying. His goal is simply to continue to play the game, a goal that will be mirrored in the game of his real life.

The Nintendo console reappears in every subsequent scene, even though the scenes span 20 or 30 years (it's never specified). Whenever one is visiting the other, the console is taken along as though it were an ancient artifact, and the two friends can't resist its pull. A game of Pac-man always ensues, as do arguments, misunderstandings, laughter, and a lifetime of friendship compressed into this tidy little play, scene by scene, sometimes touching and often funny.

The two performers carried their parts skillfully, bringing nuance and life to their roles. The script -- aside from its obvious creativity -- blends naturalism with absurdity to create a comedy/drama that's compelling, thoughtful, and entertaining. Easily one of my top picks for the festival, "No Stopping, Now Warping, No Dying," was a very entertaining, captivating work exploring the formation and limits of friendship.

Ashleyliane Dance Company

I had heard good things about the Ashleyliane Dance Company, but this was my first opportunity to see them in action. Their blend of modern dance with hip hop, jazz, ballet, tap, and more in a mash-up style had me totally captivated and gives the dance company a unique personality. The skilled dancers coupled with creative and interesting choreography, made for a high-energy performance that was felt and shared with every member of the audience.

Founded by Ashley Tate, the company is part of a St. Louis dance studio that caters to people of all skill levels, with the goal of simply sharing the joy of dance regardless of ability. Performing at Fringe was Ashleyliane's advanced dance company (with a few guest dancers from a younger company), and their joy of dance was evident from the first moments. The show bursts onto the stage and barely lets up. There are both large and small group numbers along with solo performances. Every dancer was strong in a variety of dance styles, and Ashley Tate's emotive solo performance must be experienced: if that doesn't make you "feel" a dance you never will.

Ashleyliane reaches the audience on a visceral level, and that's a lot of feelings packed into Satori with over a dozen dancers on the stage. Whether they're all doing a balletic leap or a pop and lock, the audience was caught in the middle of it and loving every minute.

Ashleyliane Dance Company makes several appearances throughout the year around St. Louis. Keep you eye out for them and treat yourself to their unique blend of dance.

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