Rebecca reviews "Twain's Amazing Tales" and "Shitty Lives" 

I spent the second night of the Rochester Fringe Festival taking in two shows staged back-to-back at MuCCC. "Twain's Amazing Tales," put on by James Landers and Classics Theater of Rochester, featured dramatic readings of excerpts from "Captain Stormfield's Visit to Heaven," which I have not read, and "What Stumped the Bluejays," which was part of Landers' Fringe offering last year.

In the first performance, the late Captain (played by a brash Landers) is held up at the wrong gate of heaven. He can't be checked in by the clerk angels - who play their role with as much apathetic sass as any government employee - because they've never even heard of the galaxy he's from, let alone "Californ-eye-ay." Stormfield admits that he did take a detour when he decided to race a comet on the way to the afterlife, arriving "millions of leagues from his own gate."

This is a problem because "a fella's got to be in his own sorta heaven to be happy," as Stormfield finds out. But when matters are resolved, he finds himself ill at ease in any case, as paradise proves to be an overblown bore.

The reading was a little stiff, and held up at times by Landers losing his place amid Twain's pages. But the second reading of "What Stumped the Bluejays" went much more smoothly, as Landers has memorized the monologue by this time, leaving him to focus entirely on his stage presence, providing some very engaging storytelling.

Landers expertly drawled and trumpeted through Twain's clever personification of wild animals in the act of problem solving and, like humans, revisiting an anecdote of one of their own acting a fool. The story has a bit of the trickster tales flavor, but the experience is familiar to anyone who's ever spent some patient observation and imagination on the secretly complex lives of non-human critters.

"Twain's Amazing Tales" will be performed again on Friday, September 25, at MuCCC. 7 p.m. $8. Appropriate for all ages.

Straw Mat Players presented "Shitty Lives," a drama in several acts filled with poop jokes. Carried out on a set that included two water closets and little else, the production peeks into various vignettes of human life, each cleverly unfolding as it might in a public restroom.

The company's guest writer, Cathy Smith, toys with the stall's fourth wall and amusingly makes the story arc self-conscious when her characters and "limited omnishit" narrator (played by a sassy Midge Marshall) go off-script, and cause a shitstorm.

The show's characters and circumstances were a little too dramatic at times, and had way too much restroom floor-sitting and removal of shoes for my comfort, but that was almost certainly to make the audience squirm (mission accomplished). Marshall was a total gem, even if the cussin' elders trope is a bit cliché.

"Shitty Lives" will be performed again on Saturday, September 19, at MuCCC. 7 p.m. $10-$12. Appropriate for ages 18 and older.

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