Review: 'Fry Tales' succeeds again


Posted: Sunday, January 28, 2001

This year, I won't bore you with a historic treatise on the evolution of commedia dell'arte, from 16th century Italy through France (with a witty but ultimately pointless digression on Shakespeare's zany clowns); its influence on music hall, vaudeville and burlesque; and how that affected the development of motion pictures in America and subsequently everything you see from improvisational theater to television. No.

This year, I won't even rant about the circus, a uniquely American expression of an ancient Roman form of entertainment that perhaps unintentionally captures the theme of Perseverance's American season better than any play thus far, its crass commercialism mixed with sawdust dreams, and the hype and the romance of the roving Spectacle. No.

I won't even blush for this twitter-pated triviality being my recurring guilty pleasure of the year.

(I saw more than a few pillars of the community present that didn't even have the excuse of escorting a pre-adolescent charge to their defense.)

This year's "Fry Tales" - All New! Next Generation! - is certainly bigger than last year's (and is haltingly, brilliantly skewered by Emily Windover, the Commander of the Clowns, in the introduction).

Ibn Baily as Clifford Huxley III and Dawn Pisel (now hypen Davis) as Clara Bella are back from last year, with Felicity Englund as Prof. Penelope Plum (strong contender for this year's pedant pendant, who's only contender so far is Anita Maynard-Losh as Vivian Bearing from "Wit"), and, in new roles, John Leo as Lawrence William Oliver and Anni Stokes Hutchinson as a raft of characters. Shaina Fay, Ariel Lyon, Maya Pisel and David Bernstein join them as their respective mini me's. Ariel Lyon, in particular, as the young Clara, can't possibly be as good as she appears unless she started acting classes as an embryo.

Add to that the Clown Brigade, 10 topsy-turvies who provide the breaks between every scene and you have the elements of the beginning of a tradition.

The stage is, of course, the sawdust-strewn center ring of the circus; the backdrop is the flap of the big top.

The theme of the play is somewhat more fractured than Fry Tales I: whereas last time they all were on a quest together, now Larry and Clare are involved in a love story, Penny is searching for feeling and Cliff is overcoming fear. All the threads are gathered together at the end, over and amongst the howls of the participatory audience, in an ultimately satisfying conclusion.

My theater companion, Isadore, who turned three the night before, lasted 80 minutes, as opposed to 40 minutes the year before (all about us, 2-year-olds were crashing to the floor). Then he was out in the lobby, chatting up the vendors and looking for the artistic director. Eventually he went back inside, and let me catch the trapeze act and the finale, while he attempted to pick up a couple of 7-year-olds that had camped out under our seats.

Perhaps he'll like it next year better than the Tootsie Roll and cheesy plastic windmill he got as a reward for not rushing the stage on opening night; perhaps not.

Regardless, I'll be there, my built-in excuse in tow.

PS: This show might be OK for kids, too

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