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Lies, Phalluses and Fairytales, performed just three times over the 10 days, played its first night to a small but vocally supportive crowd at the Unicorn's Main Stage. (I somehow got from Crown Center to 39th and Main with several minutes to spare before the 9:30 start.) A creation of the talented artists' collective Red Theater Omaha, it isn't a traditional theater piece but rather a mix of 25 very short "scenes" — averaging a couple of minutes apiece — performed in quick succession, some incorporating movement, song, dance or poetry. Many are funny, some are serious, a few don't work quite as well. (No performance is the same, according to Colin Ferguson, artistic director and one of the writers and performers.) One, written that day and titled "Perspective," takes on the Aurora, Colorado, movie shootings. It was an effective (and, I thought, affecting) expression of Fringe's fluidity and immediacy, and it didn't overpower a fast-moving, participatory and energetic hour.
I got an earlier start Saturday, beginning with a 6 p.m. show at the Fishtank (1715 Wyandotte). The theater filled to capacity for The Greatest Speech of All Time, edited and performed by Timothy Mooney, who brought historical figures — Socrates, Frederick Douglass, Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Winston Churchill and Martin Luther King Jr. — to life, and relevance, through their own words. It was a powerful performance, and it proved impossible to top as the high point of my evening.
After a quick stop at the nearby Pieroguys, I headed straight down Main Street to the Unicorn. A show had just let out, and a crowd, including many involved in local theater, had already gathered in the lobby for the next event. (Each performance doesn't set up until the show before it has been dismantled.)
We were waiting for Ice Cream Social ... Issues, a one-act written by local actress and playwright Natalie Liccardello with her sister, Talia Liccardello. The play got off to a slow start before developing into a comic mélange of family conflict. The witty dialogue quickened, and the seven-person cast played off one another with timing sharp enough to disguise areas of the script that could use some fine-tuning.
Next up: Metropolitan Ensemble Theatre, close by on Main, for four short one-acts by the Kansas City Playwright League, based at MET. Some of the Unicorn audience showed up as well. As a night progresses, and over the course of the festival, faces become familiar — in the crowd and onstage. One of the actresses in Ice Cream Social (Meredith Wolfe) walked into the MET lobby for a role in the first of the four vignettes.
Homegrown one-acts often aren't made for keeping, and the four 15-minute plays in 4Play add up to a mixed bag. Local actors — including Philip "Blue Owl" Hooser and Alan Tilson — performed well to Saturday's full house, and there was room for the farcical, the crude and the simply entertaining. Ultimately, though, the quartet came up a little short and more than a little silly. One, involving a math-oriented sexual kink, was memorably hilarious. (Not as memorable: 4Play kept bringing up mayonnaise.)
But even disappointing work can be forgiven easily when it's local and it's Fringe. At show's end, at 10:30, I was ready to call it a night — and happy to map out the next day.
Two shows on my list overlapped, forcing another tough decision. Though Dead Wrong hadn't impressed me at its Thursday-night preview (admittedly a narrow context), an acquaintance I ran into at 4Play recommended it. I was in: 3:30 p.m., the Red Room at Nica's 320.