PHX:fringe update: Phoenix's own Space 55 production of Night of the Chicken 2: The Rise of Aunt Lulu was added to the Fringe schedule. It's a live-radio-broadcast-style show by local playwright Carrie Behrens that's suitable for the whole family. The final performance is tomorrow, Saturday, March 10, at 8:30 p.m. at 636 East Pierce Street. Tickets are $8 and $15 at the door; call 602-254-2151.
If you get a weirdly powerful sensation from seeing a piece of theater, sometimes it's because you've been on the receiving end of magical überacting. It's harder than you might think to seem larger than life and simultaneously utterly believable, thereby connecting with the audience on a level that approaches their most intimate human relationships -- even their relationships with themselves.
That's what happens when Ryan Hayes is onstage as patriarch Major von Berg in TUTOR: enter the exclave, a PHX:fringe performance from Dark Porch Theatre. The rest of the cast is fantastic and works together beautifully, but Hayes rules the show, and it's only partly because von Berg is the abuser-in-chief of his household and the Froot Loops catalyst of the plot.
The Tutor, or the Benefits of a Private Education was originally written by an insane 18th-century dude named Jakob Michael Reinhold Lenz. (Goethe eventually found him too crazy to tolerate, so there you go.) It's considered part of the Sturm und Drang movement, which was a reaction to rationalism. (And yes, that's where J.K. Rowling got Durmstrang.)
The play focused attention on some German social issues that possibly some scholarly types are still aware of. (Fortunately, it's full of plenty of violence and sexytimes as well.)
Later, Bertolt Brecht adapted The Tutor into a trippy play of his own. And in this century, Martin Schwartz and his Dark Porch Theatre company have played with it some more and are currently sharing it with Phoenix audiences.
The earth-toned, crappy moodiness of the design matches the tone of the wholly depressing story, which is about a useless young man (expat Valley fave Brandon Wiley) who becomes tutor to the children of a family that lives on a farm in the woods far away from everyone -- and then high jinks ensue. Like they do.
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According to Dark Porch's promo materials, part of the family's problem is that they live -- "literally" -- in the past. If that's the case, that part went right over my head, but it's not really important, as far as I could tell.
I love the crap out of these actors. Margery Fairchild, as von Berg daughter Gussie, is a master of the coy microexpressions that carry so much nuance on film or in a small venue like Space 55. To me, the end result of the show doesn't seem as "non-linear" or experimental as promised -- and the film projections off to one side added nothing -- but you can tell that the work's creation was wildly and successfully creative. The subtly stylized performances, spiked with appropriately compelling emotion and absurd humor, made me and Overeducated Friend very happy.
TUTOR: enter the exclave wraps up tonight, Friday, March 9, at Space 55, 636 East Pierce Street. Admission is $10 at the door, or call 602-254-2151 or click here for tickets in advance. See the full PHX:fringe schedule here.