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We’ve got some serious Fringe-ness ahead — metaphysical performance art, Disney spoofing, manic Japanese clowning — but let’s start off with a work of serious beauty.
Jakob Karr’s “Ain’t Done Bad” emotionally and powerfully tells the story of a country boy who doesn’t fit in at home, makes his way into the world and finds love. And it’s all done without speaking a word.
Karr, a “So You Think You Can Dance” contestant a dozen years back, choreographed, directed and stars in this autobiographical tale. I’m listing the dancers’ names because I want you to know them: Lauren Cannon, Adrian Lee, Jordan Lombardi, Ian Spring, Reed Tankersley and Tanner Wilson each blend athleticism and grace in perfect amounts.
And you truly don’t need dialogue when each beautifully executed move is filled with emotion.
Joel Zishuk’s mood-setting, polished lighting and an inspired country soundtrack by Orville Peck add to this gem’s luster. Karr was runner-up on “SYTYCD,” but “Ain’t Done Bad” is a winner all the way.
As with “Ain’t Done Bad,” the performer in “The Infinite Conversation” doesn’t speak either — at least not live. But Sumner Mormeneo shares his thoughts with the audience through a series of monologues that go on far too long and begin to sound like the 3 a.m. philosophical rambling shared with a college buddy after a few pitchers of beer.
The real strength of this show, at The Grove in Mead Botanical Garden, is in the superior imagery Mormeneo employs through projections on various props and digital mapping. Great surrealist art is called to mind — or actually used — as Mormeneo’s character, called The Mover, falls deeper into his thoughts and tangles with artificial intelligence.
The soundscape, too, from the driving musical choices to the ticking of a clock — both soothing and ominous — succeeds beautifully. This is a case where less dialogue could make Mormeneo’s point more elegantly.
Theater Gumbo Group is without their leading man this visit to the Fringe, and the vibe feels a little askew because of it. “Mind Eater” embodies the Japanese group’s signature mix of shameless clowning with a deeper social message that sometimes feels a bit lost in translation — though it’s hard to argue with “Follow your heart” as a moral.
Part Kabuki theater, part insane Japanese variety show, part morality tale, “Mind Eater” revels in its zaniness. An opening segment about a woman determined to lose weight is the strongest, and younger cast members, especially a hyperkinetic angel, give the entertainingly exuberant group even more energy … if that’s possible.
Finally, “The Little Merman From the Black Lagoon” at least has the pleasure of seeing Anitra Pritchard-Bryant zestfully channel Disney villain Ursula, but the rest of this soggy comedy is all wet. Too few laughs, too many unlikable characters and an excruciating “Part of Your World” parody had me wishing I could just sail away.
“I don’t know what to tell ya,” the sea captain says at one point. Yeah, I don’t either.