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Fringe Day 9: Garden quiz, whodunit, and enlightened embarrassment


Thanks to everyone who came out for our annual TriviaCITY event at Rochester Fringe's Spiegelgarden last night!

Congrats to our three winning teams.

See you next year!

Art Director Jacob Walsh hosted Wednesday night's TriviaCITY. - NARADA J. RILEY.
  • Art Director Jacob Walsh hosted Wednesday night's TriviaCITY.

Booker’s monster of a show
"Elsa Lanchester: She’s Alive!" | One night only

“People don’t sing as much as they used to,” Charlotte Booker lamented. “Or maybe we don’t hear them.”

So Booker sang. “Who Stole the Pennies From My Dead Mother’s Eyes,” reflecting on the old practice of placing coins on the eyes of a corpse. Beyoncé hasn’t covered that one.

And Booker told stories, many featuring acclaimed actor Charles Laughton. As Booker said Laughton would say of Elsa Lanchester, to whom he was married for 32 years, “‘she remains my wife because she knows where the bodies are buried.’”

It’s a big graveyard. "Elsa Lanchester: She’s Alive!" is Booker’s tribute to Lanchester — if you call spilling the gossip about Lanchester’s Hollywood years a tribute.

Lanchester’s extensive career in film, theater and television ranged from roles in "Mary Poppins" to the movie she is most remembered for, as the title character in "Bride of Frankenstein."

Writer and performer Charlotte Booker plays the solo role in "Elsa Lanchester: She's Alive!" - PHOTO PROVIDED.
  • Writer and performer Charlotte Booker plays the solo role in "Elsa Lanchester: She's Alive!"
And Booker’s had a long career as well, as part of excellent projects such as the 2010 series "Boardwalk Empire" and the 2013 film "Inside Llewyn Davis."

But that’s not what the audience at The Theater at Innovation Square came for on Wednesday night. This was campy cabaret, as Booker name dropped like a Hollywood phone book. Bette Davis, Gary Cooper, Robert Mitchum. Even Albert Einstein.

She was accompanied by Mark Nutter on piano, along with some sound effects and a  handful of props and wardrobe accessories. With a scarf draped over one shoulder and a flapper headband, she became Isadora Duncan singing “Thirty-Two Ways to Plant a Cabbage.” (And all the sexual innuendo that goes with that, if you speak French.)

Booker was funny, bawdy, and fine with pouring herself a little something from a flask as she moved back and forth between her observations on Lanchester, and playing Lanchester. Observations drawn from close study of Lanchester’s life, including her autobiography. Lanchester was married to Laughton, a gay man, and did not spare herself of criticism for having at least one abortion. “He was a sodomite,” Booker said, speaking as Lanchester, “and I was a murderer.”

Booker dug even deeper into Lanchester. “She enjoyed the challenge of seducing her husband’s leftovers” right on the living room furniture, where his indiscretions sometimes unfolded. “That’s alright dear,” Booker said, taking on her Lanchester persona, “we can always get rid of the sofa.”

Booker allowed herself only sly references to "Bride of Frankenstein," until the closing moments: a pounding noise boomed through the room. It was as Dr. Frankenstein himself proclaimed, “He’s alive!” The monster banging on the door, wanting to get in on the story, as Booker donned what the audience was waiting for: Her "Bride of Frankenstein" wig. —JEFF SPEVAK

Whodunit? Everyone’s a suspect
"You Know the Old Slaying" | Sept. 21 (two shows) | $15

Pre-show, through the intermission, and even during the show, mingling with its audience is a Moorland Productions thing.

A good 15 or 20 minutes pre-show consisted of the actors milling among audience members in the Salena’s event space in Village Gate, chatting amiably and talking selfies. One of actors from the Western New York ensemble said to me, “Thanks for coming out today.”

“I needed a glass of wine, anyway.”

A Theater Plot Slide Rule, if such a thing exists, would have helped as well. When a scenery-chewing actor falls dead from poisoning in "You Know the Old Slaying," the deductive powers of the remaining five characters, and the audience, is put to work. And the Fourth Wall, separating performer and audience, takes a beating.

Standing over the dead man, one of the actors announces: “under the circumstances, there’s no way we can do a performance tonight."

Yet the play continues, with the troupe recreating the events leading up to the murder, and enlisting the audience’s help to figure out what has happened.

Good luck with that, if you attend one of Thursday’s performances. And take notes. "You Know the Old Slaying" is like a game of "Clue." Who did it, where, and how? Evolving circumstances point to any and all as guilty of murder. The intermission is followed by a question-and-answer session with the five surviving characters, each audience member then voting 'whodunit.'


In one of any five possible outcomes for "You Know the Old Slaying," the biggest vote-getter, whoever it turns out to be, is revealed as the killer through a confession that turns on any of many non-binding hints from the first half of the show. —JEFF SPEVAK


Breaking barriers
"Motha Has Lived: Almost A Memoir" | Sept. 21 + 23 | 16+

Zoe Walker-Itoh is the self-proclaimed “Cadillac of ladies, with headlights like high beams, junk in the trunk, and a well-groomed interior.”

On Wednesday night, Walker-Itoh took the stage as herself to tell the first part of her life story: a young performer who took to New York City to follow her dreams. Featuring some of the decade’s hottest tracks, this one-woman show flows through time with music, dance, and love as her markers.

But even the humor of the show can’t mask how hard it was for her to make it. During one scene, she tells an agent she’s headed to LA to pursue her art and is told, “You are a stale talent. Nobody is checking for a Black girl in Hollywood.”

She displays the pain felt when another audition falls through, the challenges faced when another lover does not work out, but most importantly — just how fun it all was. Walker-Itoh doesn’t claim the journey was easy, but she never backed down from a challenge and always went for what she wanted.

She provides audiences with some key lessons: reminding them to always put on a show, showing what it looks like to choose your dream career over love, and never  forgetting that thick thighs do, in fact, save lives.

But the real lesson learned was the power behind being authentic. She demands attention on stage and captivates her audience. It is clear that, from then to now, Walker-Itoh has not made herself smaller to fit the mold of what was expected. —GLORIA RIVERA


From Embarrassment to Enlightenment
"Catharsis Time 2.0" | Sept. 23 | 13+

Misfortune has the power to teach core life lessons, while also reminding folks to take themselves just a little less seriously.

On Wednesday night, "Catharsis Time 2.0" followed the format of an open mic night. In total there were 10 performers; many choosing to tell stories of an embarrassing moment from their youth, or one that taught them some important life lesson.

Laura learned as a teen that maybe her dad was not as bad as she thought. Pat learned how to navigate love, while also straying from a religion that sheltered him. And Lisa learned she’d do just about anything to see Paul McCartney.

Catharsis appears for not just the performers, but for the audience, too. Each story builds in intensity, just vague enough that those listening don’t know where it’ll go. Then, at the pinnacle of the piece, the punchline.

The moments shared on stage show the joy in looking back on a tough moment to laugh, or a reflecting on the memory of a lost loved one and holding close the time shared. Those onstage invited those offstage into their world and created an environment where laughing at pain is not so bad.

"Catharsis Time 2.0" is a chance for audiences to embark on a journey where embarrassment is embraced. It’s a reminder that in every mistake, mishap, or hardship there can be good to come from it — depending on how you spin it. —GLORIA RIVERA

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