Fringe Day 7: Hallmark fever dream, Cher turns up, and evil nuns 

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You knew Cher would turn up
"Drag Me to Drinks" | One day only

Through the 12 nights of the Rochester Fringe Festival, it seems as though you can’t look behind a D cup without finding a drag queen.

If you’re gonna go there — the drag queen thinking is — then go big.

It was a Monday night of four drag queens in glittering flying squirrel outfits at the Spiegeltent, wigs that could serve as a condor’s nest, and a lot of booze and breast jokes. “Drag is not a crime!” exclaimed Mrs. Kasha Davis.

The night’s theme: “It cost a lot to look this cheap.”

Quick-witted Rochester drag queens that they are, it would take all night to report their rapid-fire jokes. It was high energy, booming music, drag queens sitting on a few guys’ laps. And, in the fashion of any strip joint (so I’m told), perhaps this audience was planning on going to work Tuesday and expensing the buckets of cash showered on the queens throughout the entire hour.

click to enlarge NARADA J. RILEY.
Backstage must have been a flurry of costume changes. Mrs. Kasha Davis in silver and black, with the headdress of a Thai queen. Aggie Dune as a mad majorette white queen from Alice in Wonderland, urging the audience to sing along to Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody.” And later returning to the stage as Cher, an icon of gay society, twirling in her gold robe until it fanned out like the rays of the sun.

Darienne Lake in a floor-length black dress that didn’t last long; she dropped it to reveal a wild, spangled fishnet outfit. Ambrosia Salad parading the stage in a tangerine fringe lamp shade dress, explaining, “They said it was the Fringe Festival, and I said, weeeeell….”

Much, much fringe. And more celebrity appearances.

Mrs. Kasha Davis as Tina Turner, in gold with dangling fabric chains, vamping to Turner’s “We Don’t Need Another Hero.” And then breaking some intriguing news: Davis’ “Imagination Station” drag show for children at Blackfriars Theatre had, just that afternoon, signed on with a production company. It’s early in the planning, but the show would amplify a message that drag queens can certainly deliver:

“If you happen to see someone different in the world,” Davis said, “treat them with kindness.” —JEFF SPEVAK

Hallmark fever dream
My Unauthorized Hallmark Movie Musical” | Sept. 23 | $15 | All ages (I guess?)

Fringe invites the strange and offbeat, but the JCC Centerstage may be home to one of the most surreal shows of the festival with “My Unauthorized Hallmark Movie Musical” by JP Queenan Productions.

Your $15 ticket gets you a viewing of a pseudo-Hallmark movie on a large screen, with occasional singing and commentary from the only in-person actor, played by Alyssa Rzasa. The premise is that she’s writing the Hallmark movie musical you’re watching, but the effect is that she’s just another fan watching alongside the audience, interjecting with “So cheesy!” and “I love the best friend heart-to-heart!” That is, until the characters appear on the two onstage monitors to encourage her with lyrics like “I am the story in your head / Lift up your pen or I am dead.”

How do you parody a genre that, at its most enjoyable, already feels like a parody of itself? In this case, you don’t try. You just show blandly beautiful actors fall in love through stilted dialogue against the backdrop of a convoluted plot involving a secret prince, an overbearing boss, bad dreams, and forgettable upbeat musical numbers.

I genuinely thought there would be a twist. Maybe we’d learn something about the writer’s life outside of her comfort movie that would make her feel somewhat three-dimensional. Maybe the duet about how “it’s hard to ask for help” sung by two men in a tree avoiding wolves would set up a larger point about toxic masculinity. Maybe all the random mentions of how women should have free will weren’t so random, and the lead heroine would break from her predictable script, a la Greta Gerwig’s “Barbie.” Surely all the uncanny absurdity would culminate in something thought-provoking, daring, and theatrical, right?

Nope. It’s Hallmark. Nothing makes sense, we know exactly how it ends, and we love it anyway. And if we’re lucky, can’t the same be said for our lives? —KATHERINE VARGA

To the edge, and back
"Runaway Princess: a Hopeful Tale of Heroin, Hooking, and Happiness" | Sept. 19, 20, 21, 22 | $16 | Mature audiences

With a taxidermy ostrich stage right – it’s a regular part of the creepy décor of The Spirit Room – New York City actor Mary Goggin brought to center stage an otherwise one-woman show that was at first quite perplexing.

click to enlarge PROVIDED PHOTO.
Where was the heroin and hooking, amid this tale that shifts from Irish potato famine to evil nuns? Patience, patience, as this biographical tale unfolds in increasingly harrowing fashion.

Goggin’s "Runaway Princess" flits through the geography of Ireland, The Bronx, Chicago and San Francisco. It zigs and zags between seemingly unconnected imagery of a dead body washing up on the beach, the “dirty deed” of sex, tripping on acid to Jefferson Airplane, and an aside that “horseshoe crabs have 10 eyes and were really dinosaurs.” A useful factoid at cocktail parties.

But right about then, the audience was likely thinking: “What is this avant-garde weirdness? Where is the heroin and hookers? Am I at the right show?” And here they come, a painful raising of the curtain.

Goggin reveals the alcoholism, the drugs, the beatings, the turn to prostitution. It is no holds barred. Goggin has lived this, it can be seen in her sincere eyes.

And then, the hope of which the title speaks. “I am only as sick as my secrets,” Goggin says. And this is the hope. “Thirty-six years sober.” —JEFF SPEVAK

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