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David reviews "Chocolate Casi Amargo," "You Are Where," and "M.I.A."


I only know a few words of Spanish, but I really enjoyed "Chocolate Casi Amargo," ("Chocolate, Almost Bitter"), a one-act written and directed by Candide Carrasco and presented Saturday afternoon on the TheaterRocs Stage at Xerox Auditorium. The play has no plot to speak of, it's just a late-night conversation between a long-married couple, Isabel (Elena Nápoles Goldfeder) and Francisco (Rubén Lorenzo Gómez). Over mugs of chocolate, they argue about their old life in Cuba, their relatives, and the happiness of their gay son. What makes the play unusual is that most of the dialogue is in Spanish -- the couple only occasionally, and helpfully, lapses into English. Carrasco uses this pointillistic English (and the actors' body language) very skillfully - even if you don't know Spanish, you still get the idea of what's going on and can still respond to some of the humor. The actors help tremendously: Goldfeder and Gómez both have great presence, play off each other with gusto, and hit all the notes in the script, whether bitter or sweet.

For a show that hasn't been on TV for almost 60 years, "You Are There" casts a mighty long shadow. That is probably because it is an inspired idea: presenting historical situations as just-breaking news stories, reported by actual TV news reporters. In the original version, CBS newsmen (and men only; this was the 1950's) reported on everything from Socrates' trial to the death of Billy the Kid. In this new, Rochesterian edition, titled "You Are Where," the historical events come from the Flower City, and include two of our famous flops: the failures of Eastman Kodak and of the Fast Ferry. Presented in vignettes, written by Justin Rielly and Spencer Christiano, and directed by Don Bartalo, the production presents ordinary people's reactions to the situations, along with news reporters and politicians (in the Fast Ferry section, one actor gets to play Mayor Bill Johnson). The individual scenes are written with humor and an edge, and the acting company is very engaging. Bartalo would like to turn "You Are Where" into a regular radio series, and I hope he succeeds.

My Fringe Festival reviewing ended on a high note with "M.I.A." This play was also written by Spencer Christiano, and performed by him as well. He scores on both counts in this heartfelt and satisfying solo show. Christiano's great-uncle, Joseph, was shot down over Laos in 1965. He was at first classified as missing in action, then as a casualty, but no one was sure he had actually died. Forty-six years later, some objects finally recovered from the crash site proved that Joe Christiano and four other men were on the plane; they received a funeral with full military honors. In a detailed, vivid monologue, Spencer tells of his entire family's trip to Arlington National Cemetery for the funeral, and of his own search to learn the details of Joe's life and to determine his own place in his family. Spencer describes "M.I.A." As a memory play, invoking Tennessee Williams' "Glass Menagerie," and the comparison is apt. His rich script is both deadly serious and very funny, and his performance is perfectly paced.

In This Guide...

  • Adam reviews "Spoon River Rochester" and "Bushwacked"

    Combining aspects of a flash mob, performance art, and historical ghost walk, the wonderfully eerie "Spoon River Rochester" adapts the text of Edgar Lee Masters' "Spoon River Anthology" with a cast of over 150 actors (including Mayor Lovely Warren) delivering poems from the work, each one an epitaph of a single resident of the titular, fictional small town. Dressed all in white and shades of gray, faces painted pale, each holding a single candle, the performers are certainly striking to look at.

  • Frank reviews Teressa Wilcox Band, Violet Mary, the Heroic Enthusiasts, and The Campbell Brothers

    I've been going to see Teressa Wilcox since she was a teenage chick with a pick. And her voice's timbre has always taken a back seat to her gentle phrasing.

  • Rebecca reviews "Moment of Impact"

    Created and performed by Bronwyn Sims of Strong Coffee Stage Company, "Moment of Impact" is a strange, multimedia, one-woman show that explores how trauma experienced and tragedy witnessed can change the trajectory of a life. Inspired by real events, the story is told through the creative use of a sparse set, theater, dance, and aerial acrobatics.

  • Casey reviews "Garth Fagan Dance: Up Close & Personal"

    Experiencing Garth Fagan Dance perform is a little bit like coming home, especially when you live in Rochester where the cutting edge contemporary dance company (now in its 44th year) also resides and works. Familiar dancers, familiar pieces, familiar Fagan -- both wise and jocular in his comments and anecdotes.

  • Adam reviews "140 Characters or Less" and 20 Penny Circus

    The second social media-centric comedy show of my Fringe Festival experience this year, "140 Characters or Less: A Twitter Comedy Show" delivered the #funny. Hosted by comedian Dario Josef with a rotating cast of local stand-ups, the show shares some DNA with Comedy Central's popular "@midnight" program -- mixing Twitter-based humor with traditional stand-up comedy.

  • Casey reviews Biodance and "Diaghilesque"

    All of Rochester could have been lit by the energy Biodance exuded at GEVA's Nextstage last night. The show reminded me of a collection of excellent short stories.

  • Rebecca reviews "Merged II"

    The final Fringe Festival performance of "Merged II" was presented on Wednesday night at Geva'sNextstage. This deeply moving and visually stunning series of performances was a fantastic celebration of the human body's capabilities to strive and express and explore and persevere.

  • David reviews "The Cougar and the Cabana Boy"

    If you're not quite ready to say goodbye to summer, slip on your flip-flops and catch one of the remaining performances of "The Cougar and the Cabana Boy" at Xerox Auditorium. This original musical by Dresden Engle and J. Daniel Lauritzson features a very agreeable cast and a story as light and colorful as the beach balls that get thrown around in one of the big numbers.

  • Photos from "TriviaCITY"

    CITY Newspaper's second annual trivia night at the Rochester Fringe Festival featured 17 teams competing at 5 rounds of questions about Rochester, the Fringe, and weird-knowledge trivia. Questions ranged from disco-song-origins, to fill-in-the-blank limericks on notable Rochesterians, a visual round of local logos, and a test of knowledge on the history of the Erie Canal.