Rogue picks: #txtshow (on the internet),’ ‘Good Night; Never Goodbye,’ and ‘Rosegold’
I saw a bunch of Rogue shows last weekend and still hope to catch a few more. Even if you’re not so crazy about the idea of virtual fringe performances, consider dropping in on a couple of shows just to show your support for the artists involved. Some of them have been really hurting financially. Just two days remain for the Rogue.
Here are three picks for the rest of the festival:
‘#txtshow (on the internet)’ (6 p.m. Saturday)
Brian Feldman, a Washington, D.C.-based fringe performer, has taken a live version of this show all over the world. Now he sits in his apartment doing the same thing on Zoom. I kept thinking while watching (and participating in) “#txtshow (on the internet)” that a virtual platform is perfect for this material. The conceit is simple: The audience writes the dialogue by means of sending direct chat messages to Feldman. You write it, and he’ll say it. As far as I can tell, he doesn’t say anything of his own volition; he is merely a talking puppet, and you’re pulling the mouth strings.
Feldman’s scruffy beard, black coat and meek submission to whatever text the audience wants to throw at him gives a mad-monk, Rasputin-ish flavor to the proceedings; I half expected him to start acting out lines from a Russian novel. Obviously, Feldman doesn’t have a lot of control over the script, but in the performance I attended, he managed to maintain a character-driven sense of smug, brittle alienation even as he was making racy remarks in Italian (more on that in a moment) or championing the cause of creamy peanut butter (one of the silly text prompts I provided). Also, I’d definitely list as a high point the off-kilter feeling that I felt as an audience member, especially as the show began. I walked in thinking the experience would be more like a “Mad Libs” sort of outing in which Feldman solicited key phrases and words by which he would then act out various skits and scenarios. But, no, he simply says whatever you write. It isn’t often that I feel completely disoriented as an audience member; it’s kinda fun.
Obviously, then, the quality of any given performance depends on the audience as well as the performer. On opening night of the Rogue Festival, my fellow audience members included, inexplicably, two participants from Milan, Italy. I do not know if they are friends or colleagues of Feldman, but they certainly added a multicultural vibe to the experience by feeding him lines in Italian. Lots of lines in Italian.
Another thing that intrigued me about “txtshow” was how it preyed on my discomfort at long, unplanned, gaping moments of silence. It takes a lot of dialogue to fill a 45-minute solo show; and it became clear early on that Feldman simply wouldn’t speak until someone fed him a line. My teacher’s-pet sensibilities were stirred. I couldn’t stop firing off lots of bad dialogue, including way too many jokes about creamy peanut butter. And I tried to construct a story arc involving a career on the stage for my Dostoyeskian character. I made him say: “They wanted me to be in the musical version of ‘Anna Karenina.’ I told them I was tired of typecasting.” Ba-boom-ching.
Here’s the weird part: By the time the show was over, I was getting into the swing of putting words in an actor’s mouth. Here I was, sitting in my home office on the West Coast, typing words on a screen and having them spoken by a man 2,300 miles away whom I’ve never met. There’s something, well, powerful about that. Even if he does swear a lot in Italian.
‘Good Night; Never Goodbye’ (8 p.m. Saturday)
A woman discovers her husband is having an affair. Instead of confronting him about it, she calls someone else: the husband of the woman her husband is sleeping with. Meet me in a hotel room, she says. We need to talk.
Charles Jackson Jr. and Allison Coats, of Lubbock, Texas, use that premise in “Good Night; Never Goodbye,” a piece of theater that is a satisfying blend of improvisation and filmed entertainment. I was drawn to this show not because of the storyline but instead because of the show’s crackle of acting energy. Jackson (who gives a very strong performance) and Coats (an appealing actor) filmed very long takes without scripted dialogue but while knowing where the general story is going.
Sure, I had a lot of questions about this piece, plot-wise. Why is the man so insistent for so long that the revelation of his wife’s affair is a prank? Why wouldn’t the woman talk to her husband first before arranging a hotel-room rendezvous?
But I also like that the narrative spins off in unexpected directions. And the chance to get to talk to the actors live afterward about the experience adds a sense of immediacy to the experience.
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‘Rosegold’ (6 p.m. Sunday)
Donna Kay Yarborough’s “Rosegold” takes a mountain-lion-sized bite out of the personal-trauma formula of so many solo fringe shows I’ve seen. Hey, I’ve seen some good shows by people who have overcome 1) alcoholism; 2) drug addiction; 3) religious indoctrination; 4) obsession with Cabbage Patch dolls, etc. But the trajectory of those shows is often the same: Set the scene (which usually includes crappy parents), detail the breaking point (ending up in a hospital or setting your dolls on fire), and find the road to redemption (sobriety, a Netflix series, collecting bobbleheads instead).
Yarborough, a longtime Rogue performer and a very good writer, does something different with this piece, however: She gets creepy. I won’t go into the details, but let’s just say that Jamie, the alcoholic telling her story, is drinking for reasons that are not commonly talked about in a Twelve Step meeting.
I like the details that Yarborough brings us: the images of ice cubes clinking, of a plastic chair by a pecan tree, of a daughter-father relationship that thrives on dysfunction and, yes, love. At one point, Jamie tells us about another character that gives her a look she describes as the way someone would acknowledge a pet or child they have absolutely nothing but indifference for. That line gave me the chills. If you’re looking for some darkness in your Rogue experience, this one’s for you.