Fringe Day 8: Literary victims, sock storm, and a dose of realism 

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NARADA J. RILEY.

The ‘Crazy Train’ of Shotspeare
"Shotspeare" | Sept. 20, 21, 22, 23 | Starting at $33, VIP booths starting at $156 | 21 and over

click to enlarge NARADA J. RILEY.
  • NARADA J. RILEY.
The Rochester Fringe Festival’s glittering Spiegeltent, in the otherwise unremarkable parking lot at E. Main and Gibbs Streets, has been the Las Vegas-based Matt Morgan’s playground for years. Shows featuring acrobats and comedians. Audiences will never forget the women standing on her head, using her toes to hold a bow and shoot an arrow into a target.

William Shakespeare never stood a chance in this company. Not with "Shotspeare," the booze-fueled treatment that Morgan presents each year. This year’s literary victim is "Othello."

Scenes are interrupted as the 'Wheel of Soliloquy' gets a few spins, urging the audience to pause for a round of beer pong, tossing ping-pong balls into a plastic beer cup. Or giving the paying customers permission to shower the actors with rolled-up white socks, a storm so dense the stage had to be swept off after intermission.
click to enlarge NARADA J. RILEY.
  • NARADA J. RILEY.


And the audience could call for the actors to pause to do a shot of liquor, even in the midst of a scene with three bodies onstage.

Modern culture reared its ugly head at appropriate times, including occasional  obscenities, conversational punctuation good for a laugh, because such language is out of place in this Globe Theater-like setting. As was a booming recording of Ozzy Osbourne singing “Crazy Train,” as the actors swirled around the stage in a ribbon dance.

A surprise star emerged as Morgan combed the audience for a volunteer to play along: Michael Vassallo, a bearded Rochester engineer in a Shotspeare T-shirt who was up for the role beyond any expectations of a man and his beer. “This guy put on a wig and kissed a guy,” a delighted Morgan exclaimed. Vassallo did even more than that, chugging a beer and putting up with Morgan’s inappropriate sexual advances. Wearing a horned Viking helmet while enthusiastically reading his lines from a script that was a significant departure, as was all of this evening, from the original 17th-century text. —JEFF SPEVAK

click to enlarge NARADA J. RILEY.
  • NARADA J. RILEY.
Playing Chi TheRealist
"Ventilation" | Final performance


What does Rochester hip-hop soul artist Chi TheRealist mean by “ventilation?” The holes left in the human body after another city shooting? Or, “Can I vent?” A man who has some things to get off his mind.

“I’m a Black man, I’m too strong to cry,” he claimed.

Yet it’s not that easy. This is a complex story, there are a lot of pieces here.

In his one-man show on the Geva Theater Center Fielding Stage, Chi TheRealist combined spoken word with poetry, rap and drama. Delivered by a handful of characters. A series of evolving personas. The first, a Black man who rages against society, played out against audio of news reports of Breonna Taylor, the 26-year-old Black woman who in 2020 was killed by police when they forced their way into her Louisville apartment. Chi TheRealist recited a list of Black Americans who became major news stories, for a day or two or maybe a week, “shot for suspicion.” White T-shirts, “turning red.”

click to enlarge NARADA J. RILEY.
  • NARADA J. RILEY.
But that is too obvious in today’s Black community. A story too familiar, too predictable, too driven by the news.

And suddenly, the story changed. Chi TheRealist shifted to “somewhere in another part of my brain.” Dancing across the stage, exclaiming, “Love is beautiful, don’t you agree?”

Oh, were it only that easy. And another shift, a mocking, disembodied laugh proclaiming, “the best part about love is heartbreak.”

There are no easy answers for Chi TheRealist. Confronting negativity, everywhere. Images of the Twin Towers falling. A rant against the consumer delivery giant Amazon, then contradicting his self-righteous anti-consumerism by accepting the delivery of a large inflatable mattress.

We all want to be comfortable.

He speaks of being humiliated by a girlfriend. He evolves into a homeless man.

Throughout this shifting, fragile mind scape, the largest piece of the puzzle emerges. Chi TheRealists’s life has been a battle with depression. He’s had thoughts of bringing this all to a close, but, “suicide was a tough pill to swallow.”

And yet another shift. To his longing, since childhood, to be an actor. And the realization that he has a role to play here.

“Maybe I just have to trust the path I was given,” Chi TheRealist said.

And the understanding that, “you are needed here.” —JEFF SPEVAK

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