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Fringe Day 2: Confused comedy, one-star reviews, and worst-kept secrets


Ghostly liaisons
"Desperate to Be Seen, Horrified of Being Known: a Ghost Story" | Sept. 14, 17, 19 | $15 | All ages (some obscenities in the dialogue)

When the audience sees a stage set up with simply a bare mattress and a double bass, it has to be intrigued as to what might be coming. Classical music porn?

Collarless Tweed Jacket We’re seeing a lot of ghosts at this year’s Rochester Fringe Festival. "Desperate to Be Seen, Horrified of Being Known: a Ghost Story" is a short comedy drama at Geva Theatre Center: Fielding Stage, a story barely longer than its ponderous name. But the San Diego-based group that created it packs a lot of twists in the plot.

A few spoilers are begging to be revealed here. You won’t get them today. Except, after what in the opening moments feels like a pedestrian melodrama, it is slowly revealed that the play’s two characters (played by Michael Simpson and Vic Terry) are actually dead. Now they’re meeting in the afterlife. Blame for each other's end is argued out in various death scenarios to the remaining stage piece of the trio, the soundtrack of Verdell Smith’s omnipresent double bass.

Simpson blames Terry’s death on a “one-nightstand with a serial killer.” Or perhaps it was “falling overboard at a yacht party.” We’re never sure, until yet another twist. And, as we learn, the afterlife is a second chance. —JEFF SPEVAK

No crying over spilt milk
"Unleashed! Improv Presents: Secrets" | Sept. 22 | $10 | All ages (maybe)

Rochester audiences are too polite to say no. So when the local comedy troupe Unleashed! Improv opened its show at The Focus Theatre by calling for personal secrets, the audience obediently filled a plastic jar with scraps of paper on which were scribbled horrible, horrible things.

Improvisation comedians think unnaturally quick, like the glib, oversized personality at
 a cocktail party. But improvisers also know how to construct comedy. And the audience’s pain became comedy gold in the hands, and minds, of the pros of Unleashed! Improv: Ken Klamm, Jeff Suida, Patricia Lewis Browne, Dan Hart and two women well known for their nightly Bushwhacked presence at Rochester Fringe’s Spiegelgarden: Kerry Young and Abby DeVuyst.

They pulled six of those confession scraps from the jar. Unlike "Desperate to Be Seen, Horrified of Being Known: a Ghost Story," there’s no fear of revealing spoilers to a show that completely re-makes itself with each outing. And Unleashed! Improv repeats the same audience-confession stunt Friday at The Focus Theatre. So here goes:

Someone you may know peed their pants in the second grade and blamed it on spilled milk… someone you may know has a left hand that is much bigger than their right hand… someone you may know created a fake school report card to cover up for bad grades, and showed it to their parents…

And if you were wondering about the spilt milk, this reviewer’s confession did not make the cut. —JEFF SPEVAK

(Don't) leave a review
Bossing” | One night only

You’ve heard of ‘dinner and a show’ — but what about dinner that creates a show?

On Wednesday night at the Salena’s event space in Village Gate, a packed crowd gathered for the one-night only performance of “Bossing,” a collection of (and reflection on) one-star reviews about local restaurants. The show is the brainchild of Kelly Metras and Kelly Bush (with a shout out to Metras’s husband Aaron, who “made it all happen"), local restaurateurs and co-owners of Bossy Rochester, a support group for female small business owners.

After the custom playlist was turned down — think "Fearless," by Taylor Swift — and audience members were munching on chips and salsa and sipping margaritas from Salena's next door, Bush kicked it off with a question.

“Does anybody have a problem with swearing?”

“Hell no!” came the answer from somewhere in the room.

And it’s a good thing, too, because the next 60 minutes were peppered with profanity, between reviews and the stars of the show themselves, Metras and Bush. The show was half entertainment, half confessional, like a podcast or a live TikTok stream. Script-less, the duo conversed with the audience between reading (real!) one-star reviews, and each audience member had a Bingo sheet (feels like a drinking game could also work here; i.e., take a shot every time a review mentions ‘food poisoning’).

While the show is meant to make people reconsider leaving negative reviews – alleged data points to a revenue loss of $10K for every star deducted online (no source was cited) – Metras and Bush admitted that constructive reviews do help them make better business decisions.

And the show? Metras said it may have a future iteration. Stay tuned. —LEAH STACY

The bar area at The Spirit Room. - PHOTO BY LEAH STACY.
  • The bar area at The Spirit Room.
Physical comedy of errors
"Confusion" | Sept. 13 + 14 | $21 | All ages

From the beginning of the show, it was clear that “Confusion” was aptly named.

The 10 p.m. show at Spirit Room’s Conjure Box, a narrow room lined with old church pews, started closer to 10:10 p.m., playing to an audience of about 15 people who stayed out late on a school night.

The Spirit Room’s bar was open beforehand, providing libations to the stalwart Fringe-goers. Some settled into their seats with glass coupes and goblets sporting tiny tiki umbrellas as Philadelphia-based theater clown Hank Curry took the stage.

Or rather, stumbled onto the stage with a giant rolling suitcase. The show began without fanfare: no lights dimming, no music change, even the door to the noisier bar area was closed by a nearby patron.

For the next 30 minutes, Curry performed a slapstick skit without words: a man trying to figure out which of his three phones was ringing, rummaging around in his luggage as he pulls out costume pieces and other gadgets, Mary Poppins-style. Then, Curry transforms into a woman fixing her makeup and attempting to catch a bus; and then back into a man – this time, an orchestra conductor – repeatedly trying to hoist a music stand to the proper height (spoiler: it doesn’t work) and right a wrong-sounding instrument (Curry made each sound with his mouth).

All this, performed next to a life-sized ostrich under a shining disco ball on the Spirit Room’s makeshift stage, pieces of which kept sliding apart during the more ambitious physical parts of the show.

Curry’s show is part tongue-in-cheek, part mime, part frustrating comedy of errors. Things are going wrong, quietly. The orchestra bit had the audience chuckling into their cocktails toward the end of the show. That said, physical comedy needs to be more than occasionally funny to work. “Confusion” feels like a workshop, and maybe it is; Fringe is a great testing ground for new work. But not at a $21 price tag. —LEAH STACY

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