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Rochester Fringe Festival, Day 4: "Gilgamesh," "Breakdown," and Patton Oswalt reviews

Did the geek-friendly comedy superstar make our critic laugh?


I started off Saturday at the Fringe Festival at Geva for Charlie Bethel's performance of "Gilgamesh." Now I'm not going to sit here and pretend to be a Gilgameshian scholar, because I'm not. But I thought his take on the Sumerian legend was an interesting one.

The play, retold with somewhat modern sensibilities through Bethel's narrator character, took a much more comedic tone. That struck me as odd, given the denseness and weight of the story as a whole. That might have been the point: take Gilgamesh's tale and make it more entertaining, more palatable. But I found that it undercut the weight of everything else that was going on.

That being said, Bethel's enthusiasm was what carried the one-man show. Words flowed from his mouth at the speed at which Gilgamesh's faithful Enkidu ran, and his shifting roles and physical demonstrations of each character were powerful. I just couldn't shake the comedic nature and didn't feel the tragedy.

Next up I shimmied down to Christ Church to check out Breakdown: Dance/Sound. You know how you feel when you are taking a test you haven't studied for, or are trying desperately to understand a joke that everyone else is laughing at? That's how I felt through the start of this multidisciplinary performance, which seemed to be weird and out there just for weird's own sake. Combining dance troupe BIODANCE and Sound ExChange's 30-member orchestra, I saw the possibilities, for sure. But it seemed like two stories going on that weren't moving together, and I just didn't get it.

On the second piece things started to click. It was a weird tonal performance musically, with symmetry matched by odd twitching, people-carrying, and other awkward movements by the dancers, and the different ways this could be applied to cross over between music and dance started to take form.

And then, on the third piece, I really got it. The number started with audience input: spaced claps brought in the different parts of the orchestra, as dancers hidden in the audience slowly awoke, dancing on people and pews alike. One of them was right in front of me and I didn't even notice her until she started dancing. I like surprises and I was caught off guard. For me, moments like this are what the Fringe Festival is all about.

Next up I headed to Kodak Hall to check out comedian headliner Patton Oswalt, who reminded me how hard comedy can be to review. Humor is so subjective. He was funny and had a ball on stage, picking on himself for being underdressed and how unworthy he was of the fancy Eastman stage. And there were a few big laughs (thought they were spaced out). But most of his stories, while funny, were more humorous and of the "Ah, I get that and see what you did there!" variety instead of roll-on-the-floor laughing type.

Oswalt was having fun with the crowd, but perhaps I've just seen too many Rochester comedians play with sign-language interpreters to find it funny anymore. Having seen almost every comedian that came through RIT over the past few years do the same thing, the bit felt a little old. Big props for the "Luigi's Mansion" reference, though, and his ending bit on why Germans aren't funny. (Note: it all comes back to the Holocaust.)

After that I tried to make it to see GCI's Zombie Apocalypse at Geva, but the improv-comedy group's show was already sold out and I couldn't get in. Ah, well. What has been your favorite Fringe show so far? What are you excited about on the last day?