Special Sections » Rochester Fringe Festival

Becca reviews 'The Tell-Tale Heart,' 'Childhood/The Lottery,' and 'Anatomy of a Black Man'


MDC/Dangerous Signs performed "The Tell-Tale Heart" at The Little Theatre on Friday. - PHOTO BY ASHLEIGH DESKINS
  • MDC/Dangerous Signs performed "The Tell-Tale Heart" at The Little Theatre on Friday.
Masquer’s Drama Club/Dangerous Signs’s creative retelling of Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart" at The Little kicked off my Friday night. This team does an amazing job — Fringe 2016 was my first time seeing the group, when it presented "Hands Full of Shakespeare." Through spoken word voice-over, ASL, dance, and pantomime, the tale is told, with a twist — there's an added level of PTSD trauma as reasoning behind the murderous main character’s actions.

In this version, the narrator and the old man he murders are World War I veterans, both victims of a gas attack that has left the former disfigured and blind in one eye and the latter afflicted with madness. When the narrator visits his former commander, the sight of the man’s scarring reopens his own wounds and he reacts violently.

Presented in celebration of MDC/Dangerous Signs’s 50th anniversary, the story was chosen because it was the first production created by the original members of the group. Two people play the narrator, beautifully portraying the power struggle between the outer calm and inner turmoil.

The program includes a key to understanding an important bit about perspective. Though the auditory torture the narrator experiences may seem like an odd choice for deaf players, the troupe explains: “For many who struggle with understanding the new sounds offered by cochlear implants or suffer with tinnitus, the idea that sound can make you crazy isn’t all that farfetched.”

That’s it for “The Tell-Tale Heart” this Fringe season, but you can find Dangerous Signs at facebook.com/dangeroussign.

Next I headed over to MuCCC for “Childhood/The Lottery,” two one-act plays presented by Hummingbird Theatre Co. I’d never seen a Hummingbird production before, and I'm glad I took the opportunity. The company spans generations, from pre-teens to elders, each actor as professional and fascinating to watch as the next.

Penned by Thornton Wilder, “Childhood” takes the perspective of three children, the eldest two tipping into the age of pulling for their autonomy and resentful of their parents inability to accommodate them.

A bit of comic relief comes from eldest child Caroline’s morbid obsessions. She tries to engage the younger two in games that all relate to their parents “going away” — becoming an orphan seems dazzling and freeing to her — though she has nightmares about the reality of it happening and forbids her siblings from saying the word “dead.” She’s magnificently precocious, kind of a headstrong, temperamental Anne of Green Gables with shades of Wednesday Addams.

The parents — a couple busy with their cliche post-war pursuit of the perfect home life and familial roles — also express frustration and bewilderment about their kids’ strange-to-them minds. I’m not sure if the scene that follows the story's set-up is one of Caroline’s nightmares, or if her parents are playing along with her fantasies in order to moralize her a bit, but the injection of empathy does the trick.

Next all of the company members sat in a line to perform a staged radio reading of “The Lottery,” adapted from a 1948 short story by Shirley Jackson. Based entirely on conversation between members of a rural town, we learn that everyone is anticipating — and some dreading — the upcoming lottery.

The people bicker back and forth, arguing about the validity of keeping up a superstitious tradition, but we never learn what the lottery signifies or what purpose it serves until dark realization hits close to the end. Until then, we are only occasionally, ominously offered the story’s catchphrase: “Lottery in June, corn’ll grow soon.”

Ironies abound in the tragedy — one character was casually in support of the tradition until this character became its sacrificial lamb. When I figured out what was about to happen, I thought of similar themes in Ursula K. LeGuin’s “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas.” Afterward, while waiting for the next show to begin, I heard someone utter that this story used to be taught in high school, and that it’s the original “Hunger Games.”

While discussing these comparisons with my neighbor in the audience, he said that it was interesting that only women seem to write stories along these lines of thought. I felt my eyes widen a bit, and after a heavy pause offered an agreement: “Huh.”

Childhood/The Lottery” will be performed again Saturday, September 23, at MuCCC. 7 p.m. Appropriate for all ages.

I stayed put at MuCCC for the absolutely fantastic, alternately heavy and uplifting, important performance of “Anatomy of a Black Man.” The original piece, presented by More Than Rebel Noise, blends breathless, incredible spoken word poetry with beat-boxing, stomping, percussion, and short skits that tie the poetry together into a cohesive story.

Two philosophers took the stage tonight, coming together to help one another artfully understand their experiences, emoting about the under-appreciated burden on black men to, against heavily stacked odds, be overachievers and still not be seen. To bear the responsibility to be their brothers’ keepers and become teachers to a sometimes unwilling audience, but to show up and do the work anyway. To struggle to be present for the journey toward love in the time of war waged against them.  To swallow righteous anger because society won't make a place for it any more than society will make a change. To shoulder the responsibility of explaining it all, day in and day out, to those who don’t want to get it.

The duo — Anderson Allen (Poetically Undefined) and Shaquille Payne (AOR) — say that they began writing the material for this show after they experienced Rochester’s various disappointing responses (from the city and from some allies) to the Black Lives Matter march of July 2016.

This show goes to prove that hearing about black men’s experiences should come from the mouths of black men. Allen and Payne are two to watch. I’ve caught Payne before as part of ROC Bottom Poetry Slam Team, and will be looking out for more from More Than Rebel Noise.

Anatomy of a Black Man” will not be performed again during Fringe 2017.

In This Guide...