The Rogue Festival, Part 2

The Rogue Festival, Fresno’s 10th annual fringe/performance art festival, comes to a close tonight (March 12) after its usual complement of running around the Tower District to see shows, constantly running into performers, word of mouth about performances and, occasionally, copious amounts of alcohol consumed at the Starline Grill.

With my box-office volunteer duties out of the way, I’m planning on seeing three shows today. But I wanted to check in on what I’ve seen this week, since the first and third shows here have one performance left. See the above link for the remaining schedule. And have fun:

“52 Pick-Up,” Cal Arts Academy/Severance Building, Tuesday, 3/8: I should warn you to take this review with a certain degree of salt. That’s because the star of the show, Gemma Wilcox, has been staying at the house where I’m living, as she did last year. But I can assure you that no bribes were exchanged in the making of this blog, I wouldn’t rave about the show if I didn’t like it, and besides, I’m hardly the only person saying good things about her or her show.

Gemma, a transplanted Londoner living in Boulder, Colo., has been dazzling Rogue-goers in recent years with some of the fest’s most talked-up shows. “The Honeymoon Period Is Officially Over” two years ago and “Shadows in Bloom” last year showcased her ability to seamlessly channel a gallery of characters, and at eye-blink speed. And the characters are so convincing at times that you don’t see the body of the lithe, petite, chestnut-maned dynamo standing in front of you.

This year’s performances show another side of her versatility. This time around, she presents “52 Pick-Up,” a play by T.J. Dawe and Rita Bozi, and she brings along a co-star from Boulder, Sam Elmore. This time, it’s just two characters, an unnamed girl and guy, telling the fractured (in more ways than one) tale of a couple who meet, mate, enjoy bliss, get neurotic, fall out of love, break up and then meet again eventually. And it’s all on random shuffle play, in more ways than one.

The pair start by literally playing the childhood card game of 52 pick-up — they toss their playing cards in the air, the cards scatter all over the stage, and one of them picks up a card. Each card corresponds to a vignette in the relationship. And owing to the randomness of the cards and the order in which they’re chosen, the production is guaranteed to play out a different way each night. (On this night, the first three scenes were telephone scenes.)

It’s a gimmick, to be sure, but it’s one that works because of the strength of the performances. Gemma and Sam, with the help of a cleansing deep breath before each new card is played, manage to quickly and seamlessly shift not their characters, but their characters’ moods and frames of minds. Being able to tell a fragmented and disjointed story — and quite convincingly, as they have — takes a lot of talent and, from the sweat they were generating, a lot of energy.

In the end, the show is also a testament to the workings of the human mind and how we process information. The play, at first, doesn’t make sense, but as we see more vignettes, we’re able to patch the story together from the disparate fragments and weave together the continuity in our minds — to see where and how one scene morphs into another, even a while later.

One person complained to me that “It’s too long.” Well, do the math: 52 vignettes in 80 minutes. That’s hardly long at all. And at 10 bucks, and with the caliber of actors and performances here, maybe it’s the Rogue’s best entertainment value.

“Lies My Father Told Me,” City Arts Gallery, Thursday 3/10: Marcel Nunis is merely the person who started the festival nine years ago with a performance in his backyard. And while he disconnected amicably from the festival a couple years back, The Roguefather still can be seen, in his trademark tan pith helmet, walking around the Tower and taking in shows. And, a couple of times this festival, he was “roguing the Rogue” — staging unofficial performances at Joe Osejo’s City Arts Gallery — unofficial yet, of course, very spiritually connected.

I caught the final-ever performance of his best-known show. I had seen him perform briefly at his place about four, five years ago, and I had seen his collaboration with Blake Jones, “The Ill-Advised Solo Lies My Father Told Me,” about three years back. But in my seven years here, I’m ashamed to say I had never caught his full-on show. Better late than never.

With many Rogue performers, the performance is the thing — one-person shows highlighting a wide range of emotions and characters. Marcel is the opposite — the story is the thing. He leaves the emotions up to the audience. And he tells tales masterfully. Adorned in a sarong, he sat on a table up front and, in his soft-spoken, even-tempered demeanor, he quickly drew us, and with sharp focus, into his life as a boy in late-’60s Malaysia. His father, Harold, would tell the children stories — sometimes on birthday picnics in the jungle, sometimes while bedridden — about his life growing up in what was then the British protectorate of Malaya. And Marcel was passing these tales down to his Rogue children — his extended family in the States. At the end of 40 minutes, I felt I at least knew his late father, or his uncle Cuthbert, or Tok, the Sinoy tribal leader who befriended Harold after he saved the chief’s daughter from drowning.

So, were the tales true? Were they, as the title implies, a bunch of fables? It doesn’t matter. But since Thursday night’s show was his final performance of “Lies,” I’m not giving away anything by telling you the ending, a happy one and a true one: After 30 years in this country — he came here to study journalism at Fresno State — he is working on getting his American citizenship. This is home now. And maybe it’s the source of some “Lies Marcel Told Me” down the road …

“Airplanejayne: An Accident Waiting to Happen,” City Arts Gallery, Friday, 3/11: I had a friend back home named Lightning Harry Dee who, it turns out, came across his nickname the old-fashioned way: He survived being hit by lightning in the early ’70s. (And his college buddy, who just missed being hit. was tagged with the name Mr. Lucky.) Well, Jayne Day’s story somewhat parallels theirs. And I never knew that until her performance last night.

Jayne is the festival’s current co-director (and newly minted Fresno Unified School District Middle School Teacher of the Year). A usually upbeat ball of energy and a Tower District acquaintance, I never knew where her nickname came from and never really thought to ask before — she was always Airplane Jayne to me, and I’m sure there was a story, but I never bothered to find out.

Well, I found out. Painfully. For her, anyway. Before a friendly crowd that included her boyfriend, several friends and more than a few Rogue performers (“No pressure in that!” she said), she told us, in her usual gregarious persona and usual smile, about a series of unfortunate events — wrapped by returns, in bit by juicy bit, to the tale of the skydiving accident, and near-death experience in the hospital, that supplanted her childhood nickname (Plain Jayne in Pain) with her permanent one. Well, let’s hope it’s permanent and that there’s not another calamity for Jayne.

Sometimes subtly, sometimes very comically and broadly brushed, she shared her 40 minutes of pain. It’s a tale of hurt, of redemption, of triumph, of choosing to view life as a series of opportunities rather than one of accidents and misfortunes. (Coming on the second anniversary of my unemployment, perhaps this was a message I should heed, right?) And in the end, there’s a lesson to be learned. And that lesson is: Never jump out of a perfectly good airplane.

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One Response to “The Rogue Festival, Part 2”

  1. The Rogue Festival: The final day « Franorama World Says:

    […] Franorama World The wild, woolly world of someone who's in between two worlds. Strap in — it's some ride … « The Rogue Festival, Part 2 […]

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