Saturday, September 9, 2017

Chicago Fringe Reviews: Day 2: Mistero Buffo, Dandy Darkly, and LoFi Records

For my second foray into the Chicago Fringe, I saw three shows on Friday night.  I was a little disappointed that none of the shows were particularly well attended. (I estimate that the 7 pm show I saw had 15 people, the 8:30 pm show had about 25, and the 10 pm show had 5.)  For a Friday night and for the quality of the offerings, this is too low.  Start Fringing people!  There are just two more days (including today!) to see shows for this year, and there's still lots of great stuff going on.

Here are reviews of the shows I saw last night:  (pardon any grammatical errors, I want to get the reviews out there.)

PLEASE NOTE: As with many of the theatre shows I review on this site, I did receive free entry to the shows with the hope that I would write about them.  My opinions remain my own, uninfluenced by the price.  I take my integrity seriously, and so should you.

(and if you want to read some of my other reviews of the Fringe, here they are:)

Preview of Chicago Fringe 2017

Chicago Fringe Day 1:  Just Add Gravity, Underneath the Lintel, Mark Toland Mind reader.

Chicago Fringe Day 2:  Mistero Buffo, Dandy Darkly's Myth Mouth, LoFi Dance Records

Chicago Fringe Day 3: That's Weird Grandma, Murmurations, Melody Superhero Ballet

Mistero Buffo performed by Panos Vlahos.

I was very excited to see this show, as I am a big fan of Dario Fo.  (In 1996, as part of Copenhagen Cultural city, I went to a conference by ISTA in Cultural Anthropology.  I went because Eugenio Barba, Jerzy Grotowski, and Dario Fo were all going to be in the same place at the same time.  Just after my conference, there was a Commedia Dell'arte Festival which I crashed, and I ended up taking a workshop with Dario Fo, and then basically just followed him to all of his events and performances.  In 1997 he won the Nobel Prize for Literature.  Now, I am NOT saying that there is a causal connection between my studying with him and him winning the Nobel  I leave that for others to decide!  :O)  )

Mistero Buffo (The Clown Mysteries) is Dario's take on medieval mystery plays-- he tells stories and parables from the Bible from the clown's point of view.   I've watched Dario perform some of those pieces, both on video and in person, and Dario has a very light touch, so that he tells these stories in a way that is first funny, and secondly serious.  (Actually as a performer, I took this idea from watching Dario work:  To tell great stories from a vulgar point of view)

The comedy makes the tragedy very powerful, and leapfrogs what is possible if it were a straight tragedy (or even just a comedy)  This is what makes Dario's work so wonderful, it contains both tragedy and comedy, and the comedy is so funny that it knocks you down, and the tragedy is so strong it makes you cry, and if it hits you just right you are laughing and crying at the same time.  Dario performed this play in football stadiums during the 80's and 90's.

The show starts with a great promise.  The audience is in the round, and Panos has slipped into the circle.  While we are waiting for the show to begin, Panos asks somebody quietly "Are you here for the miracle?"  And he continues to ask this, of multiple members of the audience, and then through this he starts to tell his story.  And what is theatre if not a miracle?  As he starts to enact the miracle, he tells the story of how he was changed by Jesus, and then he starts to act out all of the parts.

Panos is a strong and supple actor with a lot of range.  He's graceful, he's handsome, and he has a winning personality.  His characterizations and his mime/physical body work are strong.  To say he is no Dario Fo is no insult, but after watching the show, I was still a little disappointed that he is no Dario Fo.

To my mind, the show was too strident too often, and Panos used his powerful physique and voice to hit the door, to yell, to run around without the subtlety that makes the sum more than its parts.  The show overstressed the tragic elements and didn't have a light enough touch for me.  Part of this is the presentation- Panos presents himself as a guy telling his story, and the stories are connected.  When Dario tells it, he tells it at a remove.  He is Dario Fo, putting on a character telling a story, and after the story he becomes Dario Fo again. And then tells you the next one.  Panos is the character from the start.

I still recommend seeing this show, as the acting work is strong, and the stories are great.  Perhaps the flaw is that I am too knowledgeable.  I wanted to see Dario Fo do this work again, and not a different interpretation.  (Which brings me to my favorite fortune cookie, which is often true for me, and seems apropos here:  The joy of what you have is lost by wanting more. )

One word of warning:  The age recommendation says G- general audiences, but there is at least one graphic scene in which a man's wife is raped in front of him.  The F word is used several times, and I am glad that I didn't have my 9-year-old son with me for that.

There are two more shows in the Chicago Fringe,  Saturday, Sep 9, 2017 @ 5:30pm and Sunday, Sep 10, 2017, @ 2:30 pm.  Find out more here:

Find out more about Panos and his show at

And here's a taste of Dario Fo, performing The Resurrection of Lazarus in Italian for Italian TV in the early 1990s.  Stick with it.  Even though you might not understand Italian, he's still great!


Dandy Darkly's Myth Mouth

Dandy's poster from the Edinburgh Fringe
Dandy Darkly has no more shows in the Chicago Fringe (he's moving on to San Francisco this week and Charm City Fringe in Baltimore after that)  But I want to make sure I review the show because it is great and well worth seeing for my readers in those areas.

Dandy is an alt cabaret performer, performing stories behind a musical backbeat, with drums and music and sound effects backing up what he's saying.  It's kind of what I imagine a hipster beat poetry reading being like, if hipster beat poets were flamboyantly gay, dressed in outrageously Fabulous clothing, adorned themselves with glitter, and replaced their "cool" vibe with a rococo vibe.

His words are florid and over the top, which matches his costume and glitter makeup, and that matches his personality.   Over the top is only bad when it is not filled, and Dandy does a great job of filling it all up.

The show was well-rehearsed, and his character was fabulous, but it was the words that seemed to me to be the stars of the show. His writing is in a loose scansion with enough rhyme to make me know that he was speaking poetry but not so strong that I was distracted by the scansion.  It was just right.

The stories he told went back and forth from a VR addicted college professor to a Russian dog who hates cats.  A recurring character was Cha-Cha the caveman, the first gay caveman who invented story and song and the wheel (and although not mentioned) probably glitter.  There were lots of laugh lines.

I didn't see a live band, but at the end of the show he thanked his musicians, as well he should because the music was exceedingly well timed.  It was so well timed that it made me wonder if he somehow traveled with live musicians.  (Knowing the economics of the Fringe, I highly doubt that)

There were just 25 people or so in the audience, and I felt like this show should have completely sold out.  Everybody I talked to mentioned it as one of their favorite shows of the Fringe.

Here's a little taste for you:  If you are in the area, definitely check it out!

Find out more at


LOFI DANCE RECORDS: Choreography by Halie Bahr

The last show of the evening I attended was LoFi Dance Records, a set of 3 dances created and performed by 4 female choreographers from Minneapolis.  They met at a dance program in Wisconsin, graduated in 2015, and are now working together in Minneapolis.

The show was relatively brief (30 minutes or so) and ended with a very earnest Q and A.  There were only 5 people in the audience, and two of them were friends of one of the dancers, so it was a very light turnout.  I've completely been there as a performer.  (One of my first solo shows, the opening night audience consisted of my aunt and uncle from Boston, the stage manager's friend, and the reviewer for the Providence Journal.  Tough crowd!)

The dances were interesting and abstract and played a lot with meeting and connection.  The first piece was a work in progress, and one thing I thought was very interesting was the fact that the dancers were checking in with each other a lot, and even touching each other.  At first, I thought it was maybe because they were unsure of the choreography, and that might have been part of it, but I also felt it was a deliberate choice.  So much modern dance doesn't include actual connections between the people, as they tend to focus on the movement and not on the person behind the movement.

The dances were pretty athletic and had some interesting movement.   I found it refreshing. At the Q and A, I asked about the process, and they mentioned that some of the dances came about through playing games and that fun of playing games shone through.  The dancers are young and talented, but I wanted a little more physical virtuosity and precision then I saw.   My suggestion to the choreographer is to get EVEN more precise, even more varied, and to make sure that all of the dancers are completely in synch.  The sync was broken a couple of times, and for me, that ruined the symmetry.  Still, well worth watching, and a different kind of show for the Fringe.

They have one more show at the Fringe- Saturday at 4 pm

Get tickets here:
Find out more about their work at


I went back to the bar and had a great conversation with Randy Ross of the show Chronic Single's Handbook.  He's got two more shows in the Fringe tonight and tomorrow night, and although I won't get a chance to see his show, I wanted to shout him out.  (But don't bring the kids!)

See it if you can, and if not here, he's  performing next week in Elgin, Illinois's Fringe Festival.


by Randy Ross

from Somerville, MA

    About This Show

    A chronically-single guy takes a trip around the world hoping to change his luck with love. The show offers an unflinching look at how men feel about sex, love, marriage, and massage parlors. Adult situations, adult language, and more adult situations including a visit to a body spa named The Curious Finger.
    “Fun to watch. Four stars” (review from Winnipeg fringe festival)
    “Literary” “Funny” “Raw” (from DC fringe festival)
    “Sharply funny… a quality solo show” (from Edinburgh fringe festival)

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