PHX:fringe Opening Weekend: Confessions of a Mormon Boy and Schreibstück

Missionary position: Steven Fales (Confessions of a Mormon Boy) tried hard to keep those good Catholics in Portugal from going to Hell.
Missionary position: Steven Fales (Confessions of a Mormon Boy) tried hard to keep those good Catholics in Portugal from going to Hell.
courtesy of Steven Fales

In our world of choreographed flash mobs and revolution-by-Twitter, it may seem odd that an arts festival takes time to grow and develop over the years. But it does. Ideas lead to plans lead to experience leads to word of mouth, which generates new plans and experiences, until something reaches a tipping point of rabid festivity and renowned cool.


PHX:fringe Festival is in its fourth year, and performers from out of state, let alone other nations, are still in a minority. Relatively easy-to-tour solo shows predominate, and I would say too many acts have ASU ties, except that's often a wonderful thing. (Not always.)

But the schedule is filling out nicely, and the number of participating venues is gradually increasing. Tipping point, here we come.

In its current incarnation, PHX:fringe runs two weekends. At this midpoint between them in the schedule, some shows have already closed (as planned), some open in a few days, and some got their feet wet the first weekend and continue through the second one. It's a fun little logistical game for the theatergoer, and an intricate yet messy dance for the staff.

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On Friday's official opening night, PHX:fringe producing artistic director Patrick Demers appeared to be giving as many gung-ho curtain speeches as possible. (We didn't see his Segway in the lobby of the Third Street Theatre, but one would have come in handy.) Before the performance of Steven Fales' Confessions of a Mormon Boy, he welcomed the crowd, urged us to see more Fringe shows, and guaranteed that some of them will be "mediocre." Which felt kind of savvy in its candor. (And yes, we'll explore mediocrity later in the week.)

Although Mormon Boy, finally reaching our Valley, was presented for only two days, Demers hopes that Fales will return to PHX:fringe in subsequent years and share its sequels (of which there are already two) with us, so this mini-review might help you get psyched for your next opportunity. Personally, I am in favor of any trilogy that lets us look at posters like these, and although Fales is no spring chicken any more, he still looks damn good live in underwear.

A true story told by a gay ex-Mormon ex-prostitute ex-addict, Mormon Boy is engaging, rich in detail, and upbeat in theme. Occasionally funny, generally entertaining, and often relate-able, it seems to resonate particularly with its communities: the excommunicated, the currently or previously closeted, loving parents in "alternative" lifestyles -- those who've tried to live life abundantly and with grace while denying their very identity. I didn't need to weep and touch Fales' hand after the show, but having both grown up in Mesa and earned a theater degree, I believe I understand those who did.

If you're prone to do mental math after someone shares his life story, you might come to the conclusion that Sales had to conflate, compress, substitute, and make some things up to get his message across clearly (with which I have no problem, and for which he more than makes up with blasts of searing honesty, some supported by audio recordings -- "Mormons record everything," says Sales, a former BYU Young Ambassador and choir leader who's just full of music -- of moments that obviously still affect him greatly).

Sales admits in his blog that he's ready to go on to being more than Mormon Boy. Toward the end of this first of the series' three parts, he reaches a post-9/11 encounter-group epiphany , facilitated by something that sounds a lot like the Forum (which is fine if it helped him). I'm happy for Sales (as well as grateful, as an audience member who has access to unlimited straight male kvetching) that he's come to terms with his responsibility for his own choices, rough though the road has been. His Confessions are fascinating, inspiring, and mind-expanding, even without the E and G.

MEANWHILE, AT THE SCHOOL OF DANCE . . .

Schreibstück might result in this. Or it might not.
Schreibstück might result in this. Or it might not.
Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts School of Dance

Curtains found itself hanging around Phoenix Theatre's Little Theatre between two Fringe performances (one of the serendipitous blessings of festivals per se) on Sunday, April 3, and got to experience the final performance of Schreibstück, presented by three teams from ASU's Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts. It's a dance performance that has a verbal score (you can click on a PDF of it here), written several years ago by German choreographer (and visiting ASU instructor) Thomas Lehmen.

The nine actual dancers (or, in some cases, "dancers") may speak, move, dress, and behave in whatever way they and their colleagues interpret the score as directing them to do, so Schreibstuck is always different. And apparently always about 70 minutes long. I'm not a dance critic, so I'm glad that one can drink in that venue.

Nevertheless, it was rather cool and fun for an ordinary person to watch, and I recommend checking it out under any circumstances, or maybe even getting permission to present it yourself. Why not? I mean, either the Estonian or the Portuguese company (I wasn't there, so I don't know which one completely misunderstood Pina Bausch) has already caused critic Franz Anton Cramer to write that "it may be concluded that Wuppertal-style tanztheater dramaturgy and movement generation no longer necessarily ranks among the world's most important nor exclusively valid cultural legacies for dance," so how much more Teutonic ire could you possibly generate?

A couple of people walked out when the undergraduate men started putting their hands down their (own) pants. Lightweights. Those who stayed were refreshed and tickled by a mix of meta pop culture, self-conscious "philosophical bullshit," visual delights, and brilliant, quirky humor.

Tune in throughout this week for more Fringey goodness.


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