SF Fringe Festival 2000
- review in San Francisco Chronicle by Steve
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- One Positive `Reaction' in 10 Hours
Trevor Allen's piece soars above
festival's other plays
- Steven Winn, Chronicle Theater Critic
- It happened at the Morrison Planetarium Sunday
night, six hours into a marathon day at the San
Francisco Fringe Festival: A piece of real theater
- ``Chain Reactions'' is just the sort of thing that
to bloom at this annual festival of risk-taking,
noncommercial work -- but so rarely does. This
suggestive show about physics, fear and love offers
an intelligent, artful sketch of greater things to come.
That stands out like an island in a sea of amateur
auteurism, campy self-indulgence and earnest
- For dedicated Fringers, just being there for
whatever happens must be its own reward.
Audiences apparently thrive on their treasure hunts
through an unjuried mass of shows. Nearly 8,000
tickets were sold last year. Similar numbers are
expected for the 2000 slate of 240-odd shows that
continue in various venues through Sunday.
- My own daylong return to the Fringe, after a year's
hiatus, may have been rewarded with ``Chain
Reactions.'' But it took 10 hours, $56 worth of
tickets and plenty of tedium to manage it. Those are
- For 50 minutes at the planetarium, at least, the odds
could be forgotten. The audience is in on something
in the making here, as writer-director Trevor Allen
concocts a suite of beguiling monologues, quartets
and one duet for a company of four absorbing
voices. The show's three sections have been
performed separately before. Allen has assembled
them into a fascinating, if possibly unstable, whole
for four Fringe performances. ``Chain Reactions''
plays again at 7 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. Sunday.
- The first section, ``Synchronicity,'' begins with
rather dense overture delivered by a physicist (Ellen
Koivisto). Then a street bookseller-panhandler
(Kieron Edwards) chimes in with his more
earthbound philosophy: ``A buck for a book,'' he
growls. They're joined by the delightfully crusty
Helen Slayton-Hughes as a skeptical woman being
romanced by a poet in a bar and the becalmed Paul
Gerrior as a professor.
- The four voices overlap, diverge and fuse in the
ensemble's choral interplay. Then Allen takes his
verbal fugues apart and lets us hear the voices on
their own. The speaker's quirks and unintended
connections to other realities wink in and out of
- The drifting, musical quality of ``Chain Reactions''
enhanced by the setting. Stars float across the
planetarium's domed ceiling, studded now and then
by photo-illustrations that mark each section like
silent epigrams. The amplified voices echo
soothingly in the space.
- Slayton-Hughes plays Einstein, and Edwards is his
wartime nuclear physicist colleague Leo Szilard in
the anguished if somewhat stiffer middle section.
Part 3, ``The Mistaken Variations,'' turns the
disparate imagery of stoplights, a bachelor's
fishbowl, a coma and pregnancy into a ravishing
meditation on life's patterns and uncertainties.
- Though ``Chain Reactions'' benefits from the
planetarium's light-speckled sky and spacey
acoustics, the show hews to the Fringe Festival's
mobile, low-tech principles. The actors work at
music stands without props or scenery or even
much movement. It's the language and ideas that
- All Fringe productions must load in and out quickly
to accommodate a crammed schedule of
performances that repeat through an 11-day bill.
Most of the back-to- back shows are booked into
small houses in the downtown district west of Union
- Light and limber may be the producing reality, but
my own selection of Sunday's fare seemed anything
but. In the day's opener, ``My Penis In and Out of
Trouble,'' Antonio Sacre told generic tales of his
sexual awakening in a catatonic monotone, then
tacked on a gratuitous mock confession about his
- Six members of New York's Angry Jellow Bubbles
troupe traveled out of a time warp to share their
heartfelt ideas about a beauty- obsessed culture:
Dieting is hard. It's OK to have small breasts.
- Then I caught a puerile, laugh-free comedy about a
failed flight attendant and a sewer dweller, ``Jack
the Ripper Slept Here,'' that earned its biggest
reaction with a charming line about Michael J. Fox's
- Things looked up when I headed out to Golden
Gate Park for a site-specific dance- theater piece
behind the Queen Wilhelmina Tulip Garden. The
panicked bride and tree-climbing dancers of
``ma-ma-Mammalia'' didn't add up to much for me,
but it was pleasant enough to be out there following
them around at sunset with the Dutch windmill
blades shooting shadows through the foliage. And
then it was time for ``Chain Reactions'' at the
- Afterward, I drove back downtown to catch Kevin
Augustine's ``10,'' a buzzed- about puppet piece
from Philadelphia at Il Teatro 450, and ``Imbecillus:
A Lunatic Quest,'' an Alaskan clown show at the
Exit Theatre. Augustine's Frankenstein-inflected tale
of a failed puppeteer has a certain frenzied
poignancy and a sweetly pathetic puppet with
unfinished limbs and a lumbering dance routine. But
the day had taken its toll on my ability to respond.
- ``Pretty heavy stuff,'' a woman said, as we shared
an elevator back to the street. I nodded mutely.
Maybe I would have agreed more strongly without
a backlog of Angry Jellow Bubbles and ``Jack the
Ripper'' behind me. By the time those clowns from
Juneau started quoting Beckett and ``Macbeth'' and
roasting marshmallows, I knew I was through.
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