Fringe Daily Report 2004

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Black Hole Theatre
Adult puppet theatre - non-verbal
Divadlo Na Prádle

Review by Amiel Bruch

Black Hole Theatre’s production is quite an accomplishment: inventive and surprising visual effects, delightful and evocative sets inhabited by magnificent and disturbing puppets and a multi-layered narrative that involves the puppeteers/ actors as much as the puppets themselves are all rolled into a hour’s tale of longing, love and lust, fantasies of escape, greed and murder. The over-all aesthetic is gritty, grey and rain-soaked – the company’s publicity mention puppets meeting Pulp Fiction, but I would say it is more reminiscent of aspects of Lynch’s Wild at Heart. More appropriately, it is its own and does not rely on cheap references or borrow too heavily from other styles.

The central narrative of Caravan surrounds the arrival of a carnival in a nameless town that could be anywhere. Initial curiosity and excitement brought by the carnival is quickly transformed into more destructive desires as the plot spirals downward into a seedy tale culminating in murder. Inevitably, it seems, the nastiness of the tale creeps into the puppeteers/actors themselves and the already complex narrative takes on another level. While this extra theatrical layer was well integrated and often funny, it was not always seamless and at times interrupted the rhythms and felt forced. Likewise, the filmed sequences often felt extraneous and took too much focus from the main narrative, making it very difficult to follow the main thread. Perhaps due to it being the first performance of a long tour, this performance lacked the tight rhythms that are necessary to balance the humour and horror (always difficult); likewise, there seemed to be a struggle between an impressive impressionistic visual performance and the main story lines. That said, there are more than enough imaginative treats and surprises – visual, comic and disturbing to make this well-worth seeing. I also believe Caravan will only get stronger through the week.

Trick Boxing
Sossy Mechanics
Nosticovo divadlo

Review by Audrey Swanson

It was a sound choice to open this year's Fringe Festival with Trick Boxing, a lovely little gem of a piece, set in 1930s America.

Curiously compact, with one actor playing a handful of characters, the show tells the story of Dancing Danny David, apple-seller, romantic and the greatest boxer to walk this earth…or so his promoter would have us believe.

The real story revolves around the promoter (and narrator), the boxer-to-be and, of course, the girl. Call it a love triangle with a twist.

Throughout the hour-long performance, the main actor plays the part of the shifty promoter, the immigrant apple-seller, the bookie, the announcer and the swindler. The charm of this piece lies in the carefully composed transitions between each of the charismatic characters.

Brian Sostek does a beautiful and effortless job of moving from promoter to immigrant to bookie and back again. The ease of the transitions is considerably aided by the wonderful dance sequences inserted intermittently throughout the show. It's clear from watching these sequences that both actors are, first and foremost, polished dancers. Their routine is exuberant and light-hearted, embodying all the adrenaline and grace of the swing era. Even more delightful, however, are the training sequences that display the symbiotic nature of dance and boxing to excellent effect.

Given the polished portrayals of the male characters, one would hope to see the same level of characterization happening with the female lead. This dance hall girl who tutors the apple-seller in the art of dance, boxing and love, lacks the same vibrancy as the other characters. Perhaps, it is because she is more of a dancer than an actress. Still, her character is a minor one in many respects and her movements are what carry much of the dance and training sequences.

Furthermore, despite the polished nature of each of the male characters, the storyline itself did not live up to the characters within it. This is partially because we (or at least I), as the audience, are not led to care about the main characters. I felt a lack of connection that would move me more simply to a place of emotional involvement with the characters. In some ways, the strengths of this piece are also its weaknesses, as the constant shift from persona to persona does not always allow for a more intimate involvement with the protagonists.

All in all, the show comes recommended. The minimal stage design and the very compact nature of the show lend it a fluidity and light-hearted grace that moves the viewer to applaud its fairy-tale ending, despite its triteness.

Trick Boxing is playing every day at 7pm at the Nosticovo divadlo theatre until Sunday, June 6th. There are also extra shows on Saturday, June 5th and Sunday, June 6th at 2:30pm.

NE 2nd Avenue
Teo Castellanos
A Studio Rubín

Review by Audrey Swanson

Before I begin, let me freely admit that I'm completely biased in my opinions about this show.

Let me explain why. It's not that I'm in any way related to Teo Castellanos, never even met the man. No, it's that upon seeing his solo-characterizations based on Miami's inner city neighborhoods, I became completely, overwhelmingly homesick.

Those of you who come from the rich, raw, mixed and often maddening diversity of the US will know what I mean. I haven't seen such a range of ethnicities, styles, accents and cultures since I quit teaching high school in Oakland, California. Nor did I realize just how much I missed it until I saw NE 2nd Avenue last night.

Through a skillful blend of music, minimal costume changes (hats and shoes), and extraordinary insight and perceptiveness, Castellanos is able to bring to life a miscellany of characters taken straight from the streets of Miami and indeed almost any major city on the coasts.

I recognized two of my old students in his portrayals, one a proud, young black woman, knowing herself to be a queen but not yet knowing how to fulfill her own prophetic dreams. The other was a young man selling weed on the streets, a complex and contradictory mix of compassion and cruelty.

The other characters I knew from neighborhoods and community centers, my local bus stop and my friends. Castellanos' talent lies in his ability to depict both a universal type of person (perhaps even a stereotype in some cases), while imbuing his characters with an individuality and emotionality uniquely their own. Thus, we as an audience recognize the other and ourselves in his portrayals.

My only criticism of the piece is a certain lack of cohesion between the parts. Although there was the motif of a tourist, it felt forced in places and detracted rather then added to the effectiveness of Castellanos' story-telling style. I wanted to see more inter-connection between the characters and perhaps even the presence of the playwright himself. There were occasional dips in energy and understanding, yet for the most part, it held our attention through and through.

I highly recommend this winner of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and can only urge those of you who miss the layers, the ironies, the humor and the beauty of living in a diverse setting, to go and remind yourselves of it! And for those who have never experienced this, go and discover it…

NE 2nd Avenue is playing every day at 10pm at A Studio Rubín until Sunday, June 6th.

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