There's a crisp fall edge to the heady pee-asma of the Tenderloin as huddled, roaming packs of theater scavengers move hourly among the tolerant local traffic — two unmistakable signs of the SF Fringe Festival. How like Halloween it all seems too, the greedy devouring of tricks and treats at the Fringe, that 12-day carnival of the theater world gleefully unimpeded by judges' panels, censors' boards, or the general plague of good taste.
The open-door policy of the Fringe makes for a thoroughly unhinged program of nearly 40 local, national, and international acts, all under an hour and all under 10 bucks. In this situation, word of mouth and capricious fortune serve as the principal guideposts for sporting patrons ricocheting from one show to the next among 10 different venues, including such nontraditional environs as Original Joe's restaurant-bar and the mobile fiesta known as the Mexican Bus.
Amid opening night's offerings Sept. 6 came the latest from Fringe superstars Banana Bag and Bodice. Something of a superstar satire itself, The Fall and Rise of the Rising Fallen explores, exclaims, and explodes the mass-cultural phenomenon ("mass retardo reactions") surrounding a legendary band, the Rising Fallen, six years defunct since playing just one glorious gig.
Part one of a longer piece, Rising Fallen unfolds as a pretentious and outlandish presentation by a grad student expert (Christopher W. White) writing his thesis on the "post-wave neo-nick nick scene." His quickly wayward lecture includes testimonials and reenactments featuring former lead guitarist Taylor Taylor (Dave Malloy), number one groupie Janey Jane (Rebecca Noon), and some other dude (a roving protean presence played by Joseph Estlack). Amid a couple of microphones and practice amps, an electric guitar, a handheld light source, a video monitor, and a suitably quirky musical score by Malloy come various ego-refracted takes on the myth and mystique surrounding the band's long-estranged lover-founders, Jacko and Grandma Mo. They are played remotely if indelibly via some recorded images and a pair of cell phones by BB and B's New York founders, Jason Craig (who cowrote the piece with Malloy) and Jessica Jelliffe.
Word-struck, wryly antisoulful, but only fitfully inspired (especially by comparison with their previous shows), Rising Fallen never quite finds its legs. Ironically, Craig’s and Jelliffe's charismatic but elusive personae might have held the piece together more had the actors actually been live onstage.
The following night saw two premieres with strangely similar themes by SF companies. Get It? Got It. Good., an absurdist three-act play by SF playwright-director Dan Wilson (Vagina Dentata), begins as a desperate hunt by two losers (Catz Forsman and Sam Shaw) for an elusive "it" sought by their clients (a frustrated couple played by Kevin Karrick and Stefanie Goldstein) and ends with an inquiry into the nature of good and bad that devolves into a Luigi Pirandello–like unraveling of the play itself. Although the play tends to substitute volume and verbosity for more penetrating writing at points, Wilson and his capable eight-person cast reach several high notes (not least actor Hal Savage's Catholic sermon).
The ghost of Pirandello haunted the stage once more that evening. This time it was in the back room at Original Joe's on Taylor, where RIPE Theater unveiled its latest, @six, an amusing set of interconnected scenes written by the company that eventually turns its purported premise — a series of coincidental encounters between two antagonistic couples (Sarah McKereghan and John Andrew Stillions; Mark Rachel and Deborah Wade) and a silent bystander (Noah Kelly) — inside out.