By Mukul Khurana
The 2016 San Diego International Fringe Festival arrived a month earlier than last year. There must be good reason, but it wasn’t announced. Almost everything else remains the same. Bi-national shows (San Diego and Tijuana being so close to one another) are now a fact since last year. The venues are pretty similar to last year too. However, this year, there are essentially two “centers.” Downtown has always been a base. Diversionary Theatre in University Heights got added to the mix.
Worth mentioning—the emphasis on nurturing the next generation of artists continues in the form of Family Fringe (7/2/2016 at the City Heights Performance Annex). Emerging Fringe (Competition for grades 7-12) happens the next day—7/3/2016 on The READER’S Spreckels Mainstage. The burst of creativity known as “The Fringe” also means buskers and street performers downtown and in Seaport Village. Enough said about logistics. Now, the creative and imaginative side.
Attending the first day of the festival, would have meant that you would have gotten watermelon to eat—really! At one of the shows, you would have partaken of Qaddafi’s favorite foods. Qaddafi’s Cook, written by Lance Belville and co-authored by Carlos Ambrosi, is said to be a play inspired by true events. No way to verify that story, but this play, directed by Lynn Lohr is a powerful piece of theatre (regardless of the fact that is based on a true story or a product of pure fiction).
It takes place in the present in an office in Mexico City. But, it really takes place in Libya prior to 2011. As most people will recall, Muammar Qaddafi ruled Libya with an iron fist from 1969 to 2011. As the story goes, sometime during those years, he hired two Mexican chefs—an executive chef (Sergio) and a sous chef (Fredy). That, however, is not how the story begins. Sergio’s sister is reading from his diary—except it is Fredy narrating. And that brings us to the two characters in this extraordinary play about cooking and politics—the woman/sister reading (Paola Madrigal) and Fredy (Alvaro Flores).
In dictatorships, a person usually comes to power by violent means (and is usually deposed in the same manner). Qaddafi lost power during the Libyan Civil War and was killed by rebel forces. Qaddafi’s Cook takes place while the dictator is still in power and calls all the shots. Paola Madrigal was specifically chosen for the role because of the Outstanding Actress Award from last year’s SDIFF. Of the same caliber is Alvaro Flores trained in London as an actor and a mime in France–one can tell by the way he moves across the stage. They deliver great performances.
Fredy’s journey begins with drinking copious amounts of Jack Daniels on a first class flight to Libya. If that sounds good, consider the fact that their passports are taken way upon landing in Qaddafi’s country. Furthermore, different routes are taken to work every day and the plates in the “palace/bunker” cost $200! Along with a chef from Mexico, there are chefs from France, Germany, Spain, and Morocco. There seem to be no rules for traffic in Tripoli, but the kitchen has very clear rules…
Playwright Lance S. Belville says the following about the watermelons being served: “Remember, there are no seedless watermelons in Libya. What we take for granted means extra labor for the kitchen staff. Once the audience eats what the dictator himself eats, it has become complicit.” Director Lynn Lohr writes in a similar vein: “Tastes and aromas help tell the tale.” Bons Tempos, the company that presented the show, hails from San Francisco. Do not miss this fine performance.
Dance Performances at San Diego International Fringe Festival
Attesting to the diversity in the arts as encouraged by festivals such as this one, 7 Mujeres is an upbeat performance celebrating the empowerment of women through dance. Dressed in bright red, the ladies make up the Divas Dance Company. The amount of energy generated by their enthusiasm is contagious. You will be asked to dance (and will enjoy it). Paper Glass comes to us courtesy of MonTra Performance from Boulder, CO. It is an interesting viewing of the adult world seen “through the logic” of a child. It is a solo show. Unidentified Dance presents a dance performance incorporating elements of Latino culture in contemporary America. The Feathered Serpent is another piece with vibrant energy coming from the communities of San Diego and New York.
[personwhowatchestoomuchtelevision] by Concrete Collective
If Qaddafi’s Cook is about tastes and aromas, [personwhowatchestoomuchtelevision] is about the art forms of dance, poetry, and music. The mood is set by Dan Thorpe playing music on the cello. Rhys Nixon wrote the piece. It is performed by Concrete Collective (which includes three young and technically proficient dancers from Adelaide, Australia—Mieke Kriegesvelt, Cayleigh Davies, and Alex Charman). Together, they create a mesmerizing meditation on technologically induced alienation. In our technology oriented society, it is so possible to isolate oneself and go into a trance.
Dan Thorpe performs that feeling of emptiness with great precision. Meanwhile, the dancers move to the music and echo the sentiments with excellent body control. The music and the motion say so much—but the silence and the stillness say just as much. As in language, meaning is sometimes not in the literal words but rather in the silence between the words and sentences—even in the spacing… In dance too, the lack of motion or the repetition of motion can convey much. Concrete Collective understands and expresses nuances in a hypnotic way.
Like the music and dance in the performance, the props on the stage are sparse—they consist of a couch, TV, and coffee table. You watch TV, change channels, order things online, and watch videos on YouTube. You go through various psychological states such as depression, anxiety, and isolation (resulting in multiple nights of sleeplessness). All the while, the dance is choreographed so as to use the whole space—when needed (or not, when it comes time to accentuate the negative states). It is a true delight and a powerful meditation. Don’t miss this chance to see fine art from Australia.