BWW Review: AN OAK TREE Comes to Life While SEAGULLs Bemoan It at the Seattle Fringe Festival

A play where only half the cast knows the story and a trio of snarky seagulls who are rife with tragedy. These are just a few of the offerings from the 2016 Seattle Fringe Festival performing all over town this weekend and next. Now I wasn't able to catch everything this weekend and next week I'll be bringing you some fantastic goings on in New York but for now I wanted to let you in on the few shows I did see.

An Oak Tree from Radial Theater Project

An Oak Tree
David Gassner in An Oak Tree at
The Seattle Fringe Festival
Photo credit: Armen Stein

It's every actor's nightmare to be told they're going on in a show they've never read. Well that's exactly what Tim Crouch's play "An Oak Tree" delivers as in this two person cast, only one of them has any knowledge of the script. David Gassner plays the Hypnotist and the one who knows what's going on and brings to life through flashback and his hypnosis act the tale of a tragic night in his past. And in this story he's joined by the Father whose life was forever changed by this tragedy. However, each night a different actor will play Father as the convention of the show is that the actor playing the role has neither seen nor read the play.

Now before you think that it's an improv exercise, let me assure you there is a script and the new actor each night is fed character notes, staging and lines from Gassner in a variety of ways making the choices fresher and more in the moment. For example, you could see Keiko Green (who performed the role the night I saw) physically transform herself as she and the audience find out who the character is for the first time. Green managed to keep the heart of the character she'd just met quite alive and stayed quite focused despite the edgy situation. And Gassner took on the role of the hypnotist with glee and showed off not only his acting but directing chops as he guided Green through the evening.

Beyond being a funny and very moving piece it was also a fascinating look at the theatrical process. And so with my three letter rating system I give "An Oak Tree" a YAY not only for the moving story but for the daring element of risk throughout the evening. And you can still catch the remaining performances with local talent such as Sara Porkalob, Brandon J. Simmons and Kate Jaeger joining Gassner.

Uncle Seagull from The Libertinis

Uncle Seagull
Hattie Hellkat, Tootsie Spangles and Woody Shticks in
Uncle Seagull at The Seattle Fringe Festival
Photo credit: Cyn Boldly Photography

Once I left one tree I ventured off to another to meet the Seagullovich Nestova sisters, Sasha, Vera and Katya (Woody Shticks, Tootsie Spangles and Hattie Hellkat). These freshly hatched seagulls are fascinated by the goings on of the Chekhovian Russians beneath their home even as they deal with their own Chekhovian lives. Yes, everyone's favorite Russian Poet Anton Chekhov is the basis for not only what the gulls are dealing with but how they view their world.

I must applaud the wonderfully fun and graceful staging throughout the evening as well as the fantastic costumes and props making this world all the more fanciful. And while the thought of seagull sisters living the lives of Chekhov's characters is fun, the joke tended to wear a bit thin. Sure there were some wonderful laughs but there's just so much you can do with that joke before it becomes just another interminable SNL sketch. And while they emulated the various stories of Chekhov they never managed to capture much of an arc and so the show just kind of petered out and ended.

Still, each of the Libertinis stayed quite engaged and fun in the roles and did supply quite a few laughs and so with my three letter rating system I give "Uncle Seagull" a chuckling MEH+. And like with all Fringe shows it's a short one and so those chuckles can carry you quite far.

And like I said that's just a few of the offerings. For more information on tickets and the other shows at the Seattle Fringe Festival, check them out at www.seattlefringefestival.org.

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