Post Date May 27

Dominican fringe fest swings from satire to solemnity

Edgy, electrifying, out-of-the-box mini-plays.

That’s what I’ve eternally hoped to discover at fringe festivals.

I was surprised, therefore, to find a five-playlet Fringe of Marin program mostly satisfying, in spite of it leaning heavily on conventional theatrical forms.

Its playwriting, acting and directing generally were a notch better than I’d expect on any campus.

My favorite piece in Program One at Dominican University was “Andrew Primo,” a lighthearted look at relationships in a phantasmagoric world populated by speed-dating devotees, androids and horny women.

Writer-director Gaetana Caldwell-Smith cleverly utilized her 20-20 satirical eyes to amuse me.


And that was sandwiched by two noteworthy shorts – “Fourteen” and “Fighting for Survival” – well-crafted by a lone playwright, Inbal Kashtan, and well-staged and well-paced by a single director, Jon Tracy.

“Fourteen” was a serious look at a self-starving, self-imprisoned teenage girl plagued by the absence of her mother and hospitalization of her cancer-ridden dad.

Stefanée Martin, a young actor with exceptional promise, used nearly every muscle in her face and body to depict her torment as Annie, a girl who makes prank phone calls and convulsively whips off one T-shirt after another to the click-clack beat of time passing.

“Survival” spotlighted the first-rate acting of Sarah Mitchell as a dying lesbian, Maya, and the comic exuberance of Lucas Hatton as Brent, a wilderness census-taker.

And it deftly shifted tone from slapstick to solemnity.

Gina Pandiani, managing artistic director, confided that “what Fringe of Marin’s all about for me is developing young talent.”

She’s already taken giant steps toward meeting that goal, quite a feat considering she’s been at the helm only since shortly after the 2013 death of 88-year-old company founder Annette Lust.

Moreover, she’s been flourishing without needing to embrace wild experiments.

This marks the festival’s 18th year (although, because there are annual spring and fall versions, it’s also its “33rd season”).

Opening night, I was quickly able to determine that the double-program festival provided lots to praise – even when the slightly uneven hour-and-a-half of vignettes (that ranged from under 15 minutes to about 35) didn’t quite jell.

And I was a virgin attendee.

Regulars, I suspect, became regulars because of Fringe of Marin’s quality.

Case in point: “Little Moscow,” the last show in Program One (and the sole reprise for the five-play second), which consisted of a long soliloquy about anti-Semitism and a man tattooed as a traitor because he dared criticize Russian life.

It could have been terrific if only…

• The rich, accented voice of Rick Roitinger – who squeezed every possible emotion from the Aleks Merilo-penned play as a reminiscing tailor – hadn’t sometimes gotten lost in the cavernous Angelico Concert Hall in which no microphones were evident.

• The actor’s voice hadn’t also been overwhelmed by recorded background music (that nevertheless helped the piece’s moodiness with – in rapid succession – melancholic, dramatic and sentimental strains).

• The poetic, sensitively written piece in which Roitlinger starred didn’t feel longer than a Russian winter.

“Pre-Occupy Hollywood,” an amateurish glimpse of Tinseltown as background film actors view it, forcing them momentarily to contemplate a revolution, was the weakest link in the evening.

And it was tolerable.

Opening night drew only 40 appreciative, supportive theatergoers, and that’s a shame because Fringe of Marin clearly merits vastly bigger crowds.

Post Date May 16

Fringe of Marin One-Act Play Festival Celebrates 25 Years!

The Fringe of Marin is one of the oldest Fringe Festivals in the country and the oldest in the San Francisco Bay Area.  The Fringe of Marin is now celebrating its 25th season with some of the most innovative work of San Francisco Bay Area playwrights, directors, and actors.

Established by Dr. Annette Lust in 1985, who was a professor at Dominican University and who continued to run the festival until her death two years ago in late February.  At this time, Gina Pandiani, Dominican alum who graduated in 1985, stepped up to the plate as Managing Director to make sure that the show will continue to go on at the Fringe of Marin.

This review is centered on Program B which consists of four plays and one monologue.  Program B was presented on Saturday, May 2, and Friday, May 8 at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, May 10 at 2:00 p.m. at Angelico Hall at Dominican University.

Program B opened with Chill, written and directed by Nathan Day.  In Chill, a bickering young couple, Suzy (Iris Mallgren) and Bobby (Nick Coelius) are dressed in bathing suits and sitting in beach chairs.  It is supposed to be warm, but they’re freezing to death.  They wrap their beach towels around themselves.  Bobby’s towel is very patriotic – like the American flag.  Chill was well cast with a good contrast in character.  It was well directed with a lot of laughs from the audience.

That light satirical play was followed by Wii, written and directed by Gary Green.  Stacey Anderson plays Sharon, a transgender (who was Liam’s father but is now Liam’s mother).  Nico Canivet, a child actor plays Liam, who was trying to make a difficult adjustment.  Director Gary Green should have moved the important scene on the couch forward toward the audience instead of at the back.  Nico Canivet is wonderful as Liam in a challenging role.

The last play before intermission was Alby and Me, written, directed, and acted by veteran Fringe favorite, Steve North.  Steve North is a real pro, who has performed stand-up comedy at the Marsh in Berkeley.  Steve has a great sense of comic timing, and he had the audience roaring with laughter as an aging actor trying to remember his lines.  He carries a script as a prop.  “Alby,” in the title, comes from the albatross which he drags in at the end from the Rime of the Ancient Mariner.  Steve North has the skill to keep the audience in the palm of his hand.

The second half of Program B opened with Sheroe by Nick Hadikwa Mwaluko and directed by Sydney Painter.  In this play, Jasmine Williams plays Cheryl, who is visited by the ghost of her dead Mother, skillfully played by Paige L. Mayes.  This play was beautifully acted and directed.

The final play of Program B was Safe House written and directed by Fringe Festival veteran Charley Lerrigo.  In Safe House, a hurricane drives the Sheriff John Hurlbut, solidly performed by Bruce Carlton to the safe house of Hattie Peterson, a long-time friend, seductively portrayed by Sanna Cook.  She offers the sheriff something warm to drink and sets about to seduce him.

Program A was performed on Friday, May 1, Saturday, May 2, and Saturday May 9 at 7:30 p.m., and Saturday May 2, at 2:00 p.m., at Angelico Hall.

At the end of the Festival program, Gina Pandiani announced the 2015 Fringe of Marin winners.  All of the winners were from Program B, except for the Best Ensemble, called Pizza Man from Program A.  These are the results:

Best Director: Sidney Painter
Runner-Up: Gary Green

Best Male Performance: Nico Canivet
Runner-Up: Nick Coelius

Best Female Performance: Jasmine Williams and Paige L. Mayes
Runner-Up: Iris Mallgren

Best Ensemble: the cast of Pizza Man

Best Play: Sheroe
Runner-Up: Chill

What a wealth of talent I witnessed in Program B, of directors, actors, and playwrights!

Congratulations to Gina Pandiani for keeping the show going on!

Flora Lynn Isaacson

Post Date May 10

2015 Fringe of Marin Winners

(Left to right) Stacey Anderson, Bruce Carlton, Sanna Cook, Gaetana Caldwell-Smith (front), Gary Green, Nico Canivet, Paige Mayes, Jasmine Williams, Sidney Painter, Nick Hadikwa Mwaluko, Charley Lerrigo, David Hirzel

Congratulations to 2015 Winners and all who participated.

Best Ensemble: Pizza Man, playwright Kyleigh Hoye
director, Sandi Weldon,  actors: Lillian Barnett as Amy, Lucia Barnett as Tina, Elmer Montes as Pizza Man.
Director: runner-up--Gary Green, Wii.
Best Director--Sydney Painter, Sheroe.
Male Performance: runner-up--Nick Coelius, as Bobby in Chill, playwright & director, Nathan Day.
Best Performance--Nico Canivet, as Liam (10 years old) in Wii, playwright & director, Gary Green.
Female Performance: runner-up--Iris Mallgren, as Suzy in Chill, playwright & director, Nathan Day.
Best Performance: Jasmine Williams, as Cheryl
AND Paige L. Mayes, as Mom in Sheroe,
director Sidney Painter, playwright Nick Hadikwa Mwaluko,
Best Play:  runner-up—Chill, playwright Nathan Day
Best Play:  Sheroe, playwright Nick Hadikwa Mwaluko
favorite people
Long time Friends of the Fringe: Playwrights, Gaetana Caldwell-Smith & Charley Lerrigo with actor & critic, Flora Lynn Issacson