FrogWoman Even Weirder Than It Is Charming and Thought-Provoking

Portia Beacham is FrogWoman, Queen of All Media.
Portia Beacham is FrogWoman, Queen of All Media.
courtesy of Soul Invictus

Not every theater company can take a metal-roofed, tin-ceilinged building with no central A/C in a Phoenix July ("an oven," as Soul Invictus artistic director Franc Gaxiola astutely described it in his curtain speech) and turn it into a venue that's relatively comfortable if you dress appropriately and sit still. It takes some prep time, technical know-how, old-fashioned desert common sense, a few strategically placed devices, and a liberal hand with the bottled water and ice pops.

You know what? If people are willing to work that hard to make a show (the people in this case being the current FrogWoman company, who have to do a lot more in the space than sit still) and throw all their humble resources at my comfort, I'm going to surf their enthusiasm until I wipe out.

So up went my hair and the hydration, and on went the show. I also must salute my date's courage. 

I'm quite fond of Theatre in My Basement founder (and FrogWoman author) Chris Danowski's brain secretions -- I've seen and enjoyed several of the performance pieces he's created for the annual ¡Teatro Caliente! festival and his company's standalone works over the years. Danowski is intelligent, funny, and thoughtful, and his events tend to be rich in imagery and multisensory stimuli and vague enough to be extremely evocative for each individual in the audience. They are, in a word, weird, and in the good, artsy way. (FrogWoman's been presented a couple of times before, but I didn't catch any of those performances.)

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Gaxiola, who directed the current production, has assembled a dedicated cast and honed their performances into something that, as far as I can tell, transcends its rather simple theme (i.e., the cult of celebrity has fried our brains and spawns entirely outrageous behavior that has nothing to do with art) and honors and promotes the storyline itself, and its characters, as something that possesses relatability and inherent interest. And that opens up another entire box of meta, in the sense that as the play becomes more traditionally watchable and less "performance-art-like" (as Gaxiola suggested was his aim, and for lack of a better way to describe it), it approaches the mass-appeal paradigm embraced by the fictional creators and producers of FrogWoman the character, a sheltered and exploited, artificially freakish film star.

Deep breath. Okay, enough of that -- but that's kind of where it's all coming from. What you'll see is a longish, very weird play constructed of short scenes with alternating recurring characters and situations that build to a crisis and all slam into each other -- a well-written script for its type, presented with precision timing, absurd humor, and a frighteningly compelling performance from Dion Foreman as the film producer, who moves from one kind of madness to another in a triumph of focused rage and disorientation.

I had a good time, and I think this play and this production are worthy of a look, but I have to tell you that my main visceral response was, "This is so weird," and I pretty much knew what I was getting into ahead of time. It takes a lot to make me think that. So use that information as you wish, for what it's worth.

FrogWoman continues through Saturday, July 31, at Soul Invictus, 1022 Grand Avenue. For more info or to order tickets, $15, click here, or take your chances at the door.


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