Serious and silly, these are women worth watching: Orlando Fringe Festival reviews

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Today’s Orlando Fringe Festival reviews include “The Elephant in the Room,” “Femmillennial,” “Happy Go Lucky,” “The Merkin Sisters: Deux,” “A One Woman Titanic Parody in 59 Minutes or Less” and “Rivulus: Poems for God.”

We begin today with a trio of feminist productions that make their female-first points in very different ways.

In “The Merkin Sisters: Deux” (Orange venue, 60 minutes), Ingrid Hansen and Stéphanie Morin-Robert return with a wild show that belies the laws of sequels and proves stronger than their first outing. This is some serious clowning, funny with impressive physicality, but it’s the imagery that leaves the audience breathless — some from laughter, some likely from shock.

The Sisters arrive looking like extras on an Esther Williams swimming spectacular, and indeed their synchronized dancelike movement impresses. But Williams would have lost her cap at what follows.
Creepily real prosthetic male torsos; a, shall we say, living vagina; a clown-style ode to breastfeeding. This inspired lunacy is a salute to real womanhood. And even if you feel a bit queasy at times, that just makes you question why.

By the time, the music is belting “You can’t tear me down, I’m a self-made queen,” you’re cheering along.

Meanwhile, Victoria Watson Sepejak tackles a similar theme with even more gasp-inducing moments in “Rivulus: Poems for God” (Teal venue at 54 W. Church St., 60 minutes). She opens her fast-paced show with a cute-little-kid lisp, sings a cute-little-kid tuneless song and bundled up like one of the Peanuts kids about to go skating. Don’t be fooled, this kid more likely comes from “South Park.”

The cuteness soon vanishes as Sepejak skates right to the edge to make her points; a “pedophile hunter” segment with a very committed audience volunteer left me uneasy; an interpretive dance with a bottle of body lotion — a riff on who do society’s beauty standards for women actually benefit? — came to a climax that’s seared in my brain. A very funny behind-the-scenes look at the opening musical number of “Beauty & the Beast” was safer ground: Why does that woman so desperately need six eggs?

But safe is not what Sepejak is doing here. The most pointed, and searing, bit in her quest to “save all women” involves the Village of Aborted Babies. This is powerful, point-of-view stuff, delivered full throttle on the knife edge of humor and horror.

In Kylie Thompson Dance’s “Femmillennial” (Blue venue, 60 minutes) dancers Kiera Breaugh, Dana MacDonald and Claire Whitaker sum up their feelings about society’s treatment of women: thrusting their middle fingers at the audience and mock vomiting.

They have good reason, from the sexist song that opens the show to the horrifying clip of young Beaver telling his mom “Girls have it easy, they don’t have to be smart.” It’s a little too on the nose at times for me, but with good reason. And the justifiable anger that underlies the show is expressed in athletic, pulsating movement that both interestingly brings the women together in solidarity and lets them have their own journeys. It feels like — and perhaps causes — catharsis.

On to three solo-women shows.

Priyanka Shetty provides an idea of the limitations women face in her native India, as well as how the American dream isn’t all it’s cracked up to be — at least for nonwhite immigrants — in “The Elephant in the Room” (Green venue, 60 minutes).

As she awaits the arrival of her parents for a performance, Shetty’s actress alter-ego relives past challenges thanks to a mystery gift of Ganesha-themed Tarot card pack. Shetty tackles a lot so some of her characters and relationships get short shrift in an hourlong show. But she is a compelling and relatable performer who delivers her material with passion and vigor.

On the lighter side, Fringe vet Katie Thayer pays homage to her teen fandom days in “A One Woman Titanic Parody in 59 Minutes or Less” (Savoy, 60 minutes). She romps through the material, with confident timing on how to land a joke, and land many she does as she mocks the film’s clunky (and unnecessary) foreshadowing as well as the lazy stereotypical writing.

Her visual jokes are funny too; even though it’s a one-woman show she has an able supporting cast of props. And she does the best double-sided wig work since Broadway’s “Jekyll & Hyde.” For those who remember the film fondly, it’s good, silly fun.

Finally, in “Happy Go Lucky” (Savoy, 60 minutes), Yanomi Shoshinz uses creative puppets to tell lighthearted stories. The first amusingly says something about human nature while reminding us that we have the power to make the lives of others — and therefore ourselves — more pleasant or more challenging.

Shoshinz also showed she can handle a curve ball at my performance when she somehow found the only audience member in America who couldn’t follow the prompts of the story of “Little Red Riding Hood.”

Things turn poignant in the final vignette, featuring an elderly woman puppet in a touching story that’s like watching a Pixar animated short come to life.

Orlando Fringe Festival

  • Where: Shows at Loch Haven Park are in color-coded venues; off-campus locations are identified by name.

  • When: Through May 29

  • Cost: $10 button required for ticketed shows, then individual performance tickets are no more than $15.

  • Schedule, tickets and more info:

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