Fringe Day 3: A violet queen, superficial pop art, and broken plates 

Queen for a day
Queen Mary” | One night only

The audience ranged from young people who have probably never seen MTV to older folks who have their original vinyl copy of "A Night at the Opera" squirreled away somewhere in the attic. Queen Mary, on Thursday evening at The Theater at Innovation Square, was nostalgia for a certain kind of ’70s bombast, although not of the "Night Ranger" kind.

click to enlarge PHOTO PROVIDED.
In the Rochester rock band Violet Mary’s tribute to the flamboyant queen, it was not odd at all that the role of Freddie Mercury falls on a woman. His vocal range was a notable four octaves, comfortably reaching a powerful falsetto.

As the band was rehearsing this show a few weeks ago, “There’s a tune where he just goes and does this almost animalistic kind of shriek. And I kept listening to it, I tried it a couple of times – and I was like, ‘You know, I’m gonna hurt myself,” singer Mel Muscarella said.

“I’m gonna let him have that moment.’”

Yet Muscarella had her moments as well. From the opening suggestiveness of “Tie Your Mother Down,” she strutted across the stage and posed with her back to the audience with one arm raised, like a marching-band leader summoning the music, a very Mercury thing.

Other moments Thursday night included “Killer Queen,” with the appropriate guitar solo. The audience followed along with the band’s voyage of discovery into lesser-known Queen songs; for every bounding “Crazy Little Thing Called Love,” there was a lovely acoustic guitar ballad such as “Love of My Life.”

Muscarella’s husband, guitarist Mike Muscarella,  along with guitarist Jason Tortorici, bassist James Sconfitto, and drummer Scott Kockler, didn’t dig too deep into the closet to go beyond the band’s usual groove-rock look. And that’s fine. There was only room onstage for one Freddie Mercury anyway. And on the stage this night there was only room for one Mel Muscarella. She managed to find some couture that Freddie Mercury would have granted a nod of recognition: a yellow jacket with buckles across the front that looked similar to one sometimes sported by Mercury.

She was queen for a day, on a very fun night. —JEFF SPEVAK

Doing stupid, and doing it well
The Comedy Trio Happy Hour in The Meaning of Life” | Sept. 15 + 16 | $38, or $178 for a booth | Adult material

In past Rochester Fringe years, Matt Morgan has been the creator of the Spiegeltent’s variety-show headliner, “Cirque du Fringe.” This year, that slot was handed over to the wild dance and aerials of Circolombia. But Morgan’s still lurking around the venue. Later in the week, he’ll be reprising “Shotspeare,” his literary drinking experience lampooning The Bard (this time, it's "Othello"). But Thursday night, he was back with the first of three performances of “The Comedy Trio Happy Hour in The Meaning of Life.”

click to enlarge PHOTO PROVIDED.
Teaming up with two other faces from Fringes past, Mark Gindick and Ambrose Martos, the comedy was what we’ve come to expect from Morgan. The Comedy Trio delivers. Ridiculous. A blend of physical comedy and physical foolishness.

We see Morgan and Martos as sperm, wearing jockey shorts, frantically chasing a giant egg through the venue aisles in a pantomime of the cycle of life. Mayhem ensues. They are bearded wise men hoping to meet the Christ child. Mayhem ensues. Morgan strips down to his dad bod. Mayhem ensues. An approximation of The Blue Man Group forms a human table. Mayhem ensues. A medley of movie scenes unfolds. Everyone dies.

Deep into the second half of the show, the comedy becomes surreal, approaching comedic pathos. Morgan, as some kind of weird being, entices audience members to bite into a carrot lowered into their mouths. Martos is trapped in a bird cage. They transform themselves into human statues wearing gold lamé underwear.

Again, with the underwear!

Or maybe not underwear. In a reprise of previous shows here, a choreographed bathrobe dance routine daringly leaves underwear or not to the imagination.

If you want to go there, these guys do stupid, and they do it very well. —JEFF SPEVAK

click to enlarge DANIEL J. KUSHNER
A superficial look at a superficial artist
Warhol: Bullet Karma” | Sept. 21 - 23 | $15 | Ages 16 and over

“Warhol: Bullet Karma” is a character exploration of the legendary Pop Art auteur by writer-actor Garry Roost. But rather than provide the complete picture, the play offers fleeting snapshots that suggest an explanation for Andy Warhol’s fame without producing any concrete answers.

Roost is a gifted storyteller who can entice the hearer with shifting cadences and an attention to detail in his phrasing. His performance at Geva Theatre Center’s Fielding Stage was understated, without being underbaked.

"Bullet Karma" gives us different perspectives on the era-defining artist from the man himself as well as various figures in his orbit, including Factory superstar Edie Sedgwick, musician Lou Reed, and writer Truman Capote. Roost’s rendering of Capote is particularly spot-on.

If there is any “action” in the play, it revolves around frustrated artist Valerie Solanas’s attempt to kill Warhol, and her justification that "he had too much control over me.” There is no universal truth to be found, but if “Warhol: Bullet Karma” communicates anything more than a superficial impression of its subject matter — completely fitting for the artist’s approach and subject matter — it’s that cultivating a cult of personality can have unintended consequences.

In some ways, Warhol was a victim of his art and the ways in which it resisted intimacy and human connection. As Roost depicts other prominent cultural figures of the day opining about Warhol, the tragedy of a man misunderstood comes into focus. —DANIEL J. KUSHNER

Dare you to laugh
6th Dimension Comedy” | September 15 + 17 | $15 | Ages 16 and over

The trio of New York City-based artists comprising “6th Dimension Comedy” at School of the Arts — Matthew Silver, Andrew Steiner, and Steve Girard — did not present conventional stand-up. Instead each performer, in his own way, engaged in an anarchic endeavor to get laughs and test the audience’s appetite for discomfort.

Of the three comedians, Silver is arguably the most well-known. A performance artist at heart, he gained notoriety with viral videos of his performances at New York City’s Union Square as he assumed the role of the village idiot in order to convey profound messages about love, human connection, and the meaning of life.

click to enlarge DANIEL J. KUSHNER
Silver’s performance was less a stand-up set than a manic motivational speech warning against spiritual constipation: “Who farted? It’s ok. We can fart here … You know what it rhymes with? Art! And heart! And if we don’t release these things, you know what happens?”

He began the show wearing olive green coveralls, but slowly shed layers to reveal he had stuffed a small parachute and a rainbow tutu in his pants. Silver encouraged the spectators to join him in his antics, and this writer quickly found himself wearing the tutu and dancing with Silver in an improvised ballet. It was undeniably silly, but that was the point.

Steiner’s stream-of-consciousness set was more challenging, and he seemed to delight in its inanity. He told stories and sang songs that were both nonsensical and crude, and led a guided meditation that somehow included mention of Dan Rather’s penis.

The comedian took a major risk when his improvisation included a story about being a 4-year-old who gets lost in the Louvre in Paris and being led by a man into a storage closet containing knives to eat ham. It was an exercise in daring the audience to laugh at the suggestion of something uncomfortable, even horrific. The audience response was mixed; one couple seemed to silently judge those around them who laughed.

“6th Dimension Comedy” is one of the weirder acts at the festival, and if you’re easily offended, it may not be for you. But the show rewards those willing to go on the comedians’ wild ride. —DANIEL J. KUSHNER

click to enlarge A scene from 2022's "The Painter" at Rochester Fringe Festival. - KEITH BULLIS.
  • A scene from 2022's "The Painter" at Rochester Fringe Festival.
All the feels art can inspire
"The Painter" | Sept. 14 + 15, 17 | From $20 | All ages

“The Painter” brings the audience through the stages of grief faced by Corinne Yancone after grieving the passing of her father. The show depicts art as a way of coping while incorporating  dance, music and expression.

The dancers performing move gracefully, accompanied by Yancone either dancing alongside or painting upstage. As every dancer knows, a three-minute-long performance can be challenging, but these performers shine with the same amount of energy for the entire 45-minute performance.

The music and dance tells the story of grief and how difficult it can be to overcome the passing of a loved one. Songs like “Marjorie” by Taylor Swift, “The Scientist” by Coldplay, and a beautiful cover of “Mad World," capture the feelings of emotion eloquently brought to life by the dancers.

Yancone paints on six different canvases throughout the show, bringing them together at the end surrounded by the dancers who, by that time, are covered in the neon paint themselves. It's a satisfying end to encourage everyone going through a hard time that there is light at the end. —CAITLIN WRIGHT

A soprano spell
"Songs to Drink Wine To" | Sept. 13 + 14, 18 + 19 | From $14 | Ages 13+

“Songs to Drink Wine To,” performed by Sophia Mostafa, begins with a piece showcasing her wide range of soprano skill. Accompanied by a pianist, Mostafa transports the audience through different decades with her arrangements, not only reaching hard to obtain notes but also singing in French, Italian, and Spanish.

click to enlarge PHOTO PROVIDED.
The show is a narrative about her, giving glimpses of her sweet personality with each intro. Pieces by Puccini, Satie, Bolcom and more are delicately sung by Mostafa. Recognizable pieces from "La Boheme." A bit of cabaret in her set like Bolcom's "Toothbrush Time."

A glass of wine, or even a bottle, is a great pairing for the show, as she alludes in one of her songs. Luckily, The Spirit Room is a magical place with creative drinks that go beyond just wine.

Mostafa delivers an emotive performance for all who love classical music, making the audience feel as though they are at a mini opera.—CAITLIN WRIGHT

When psychedelic rock n’ roll was all the rage
"Infrared Radiation Orchestra" | Sept. 14 + 16| From $10 | All ages

click to enlarge PHOTO PROVIDED.
Opening with a literal crash of dishes on stage, Infrared Radiation Orchestra brought psychedelic rock ‘n roll to The Spirit Room on Thursday night, kicking things off with a rendition of Frank Sinatra that was all rock ‘n roll, featuring heavy drum hits and wicked guitar solos.

Not only did the ambiance of the venue help to create the perfect vibes, but Infrared Radiation Orchestra brought a crowd and got them dancing.

The band played both original songs and classic covers; a psychedelic hypnosis of sound waves that included a theremin player with magnetic rhythms.

Each performance will  feature a different set list to keep the audience guessing. —CAITLIN WRIGHT

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