Scarcity Freezer written and performed by Glenn Marla; Directed by Kathe Mull
no seconds by Korde Arrington Tuttle; Directed by Kate Eminger
JOY written and directed by Katie Cappiello
What's in Your Fridge? by Jordan G. Teicher; Directed by Ran Xia
Produced by The Arctic Group
Part of the 2017 Fridge Festival
Off Off Broadway, Short Plays
Runs through 9.10.17
IRT Theater, 154 Christopher Street, 3B
by Dan Dinero on 9.6.17
Clockwise from Left: Alexander Lambie and Chalia LaTour in no seconds. Whitney St. Ours and Marcus Crawford Guy in
What's In Your Fridge. Glenn Marla in Scarcity Freezer. Rebecca Renner and Mirabella Raschke-Robinson in JOY.
All photos by Charlotte Arnoux, except for Scarcity Freezer, by Sam Kugler.
BOTTOM LINE: Hats off to The Arctic Group—who would have thought a refrigerator-themed fringe festival could yield such a diverse collection of new work?
Consciously riffing on both the now ubiquitous concept of a "fringe" festival, and also Horse Trade's annual Frigid Festival, The Arctic Group debuted its similarly named Fridge Fest this year. Based on the four plays I saw, The Arctic Group shows how a directive (like “write a play that features a refrigerator”) need not be a limitation for artists, but can instead serve as an intriguing prompt that leads to unexpected results.
Block D features two works that are ideal for those who enjoy when festival pieces embrace their fringe-ness. Scarcity Freezer is Glenn Marla’s solo show about mothers, food, fairies, and puppets. Marla uses the trauma of the recent election as a springboard to talk about ways we seek comfort in mothers (both biological and drag ones), and in food. Yet it isn’t food that Marla pulls from the fridge—its puppets, which become Marla’s mother, a character known as “Brisket Beth,” and finally, the much beloved drag queen Sweetie, who passed away earlier this year from cancer, and is here depicted as a magical fairy with labia wings.
Marla’s pacing is leisurely, and Marla’s puppet-handling a bit amateur (I believe consciously so), which all gives the piece a downtown, performance art vibe. Yet Marla’s extensive experience on stage is evident—it takes a lot of practice to appear so casual and inviting. The title refers to a freezer in Marla’s mom’s garage, one consistently filled with all sorts of casseroles and kugel, presumably in the event of some future catastrophe. What’s perhaps best about Scarcity Freezer is how Marla moves from this literal depiction of abundance to imagine something else, an abundance of an altogether more utopian (and decidedly queer) sort.
In no seconds, we meet two characters who seem to have invaded each other’s fantasies. Chandra (Chalia LaTour, who is especially riveting) and Marcel (Alexander Lambie) are on death row for killing multiple people. Here, opening the fridge becomes climactic, with the contents ultimately letting the characters know whose fantasy this really is, and thus who will soon be executed. We don’t get much information about Chandra’s or Marcel’s crimes – there is no attempt to justify or contextualize them. (And this is something that might be helpful, perhaps in a longer version of this piece, especially since it’s difficult to imagine how these two kind-hearted characters could have committed such horrific acts). It seems playwright Korde Arrington Tuttle wants to draw focus instead to the difficult yet vivid memories evoked by the idea of last, and past, meals. As Chandra and Marcel slowly make and then eat PB & Js (kudos to director Kate Eminger for embracing the silence as they eat), they discuss how they are “tired of fantasizing about death,” a theme that certainly resonates at a time when the lives of black folk are cut short with such mind-numbing frequency.
In contrast with the downtown aesthetic and haunting metaphors of Block D, Fridge Fest’s Block E is for those who prefer realism. This is most evident in JOY, a play set in a kitchen, where the requisite fridge seems to become just part of the scene. Two teenage girls, Jessa (Rebecca Renner) and Joanie (Mirabella Raschke-Robinson), are kept under the watchful eye of their super-protective, crazily religious adoptive mother Kristy (Kea Trevett). While Jessa is the goody two-shoes, Joanie, less enamored of the rules, has discovered the sensual pleasures of ice, a big no-no in a house where anything remotely sexual is strictly verboten. When Pastor Gregory (Mike Turner) visits, the pressure is on to be perfectly pure, which means hiding Joanie’s secret diary…in the freezer.
Playwright-Director Katie Cappiello has done an excellent job shepherding this talented cast. Turner plays the paternalistic father figure well, balancing gentle kindness with some sinister judgment and an undercurrent of sexual magnetism, but never veering into caricature. Trevett is fierce, and never lets up in her manic insistence on “protecting” her daughters from any and all temptation. And as the two daughters, Renner and Raschke-Robinson are especially memorable; I had no idea these actors are still in high school. Raschke-Robinson excels in quietly but firmly claiming her innocence, and her “diary” monologue (it isn’t what you think) is the highlight of the piece. And Renner’s performance of youthful superiority and blind acceptance makes the ending that much more surprising, and heartbreaking. Apart from a few quibbles (Turner’s pants are more NYC-actor than ultra-religious figure, and Joanie’s notebook—supposedly filled with all sorts of “filth”—is clearly blank), JOY is a powerful reminder of how some people will inevitably see what they want to see, no matter the cost.
Finally, Jordan G. Teicher’s What's in Your Fridge? brings some levity to the series. As divorced couple Doug (Gerrard Quincy James) and Jaclyn (Whitney St. Ours) reunite in a bar, we flash back to discover how they met—on a reality game show where women choose a man based on the contents of the guy’s refrigerator. James and St. Ours are well cast as two strangers—thrust together for ratings—who may or may not actual have feelings for each other. And as TV host Chad Pepper, Marcus Crawford Guy is suitably smarmy. The play is slight, but enjoyable, although I question Teicher setting the TV show in 1998, years before competing on a reality show was a known path to becoming (sort of) famous. It may seem like reality TV has been around forever, but “90s reality show model” isn’t really a thing in the way it’s used here; moving the action forward even just a few years would make all the difference.
It’s impossible to know if The Arctic Group’s Fridge Fest will be an annual thing, or if this is just a one-off. Perhaps each year could center on a different appliance—Fridge Fest: Microwave Edition. But regardless of this festival’s future, it is clear that The Arctic Group is an intelligent new theatre collective, making interesting curatorial choices and producing pieces that are refreshingly diverse in every way imaginable
(Fridge Fest plays at IRT Theater, 54 Christopher Street, 3B, through September 10, 2017. Performances of Block D are 9/1 at 9, 9/5 at 7, 9/7 at 9, 9/10 at 7. Running time is 60 minutes with one intermission. Performances of Block E are 9/2 at 7, 9/5 at 9, 9/8 at 7, 9/10 at 9. Running time is 80 minutes with one intermission. Tickets are $18; the 9 PM "Fill Our Fridge" performances are free with a canned good donation. For more information visit thearcticgroup.org.)
Scarcity Freezer is written and performed by Glenn Marla. Directed by Kathe Mull. Puppet Design by Glenn Marla.
no seconds is by Korde Arrington Tuttle. Directed by Kate Eminger. The cast is Chalia Latour and Alexander Lambie.
JOY is written and directed by Katie Cappiello. Lighting Designer and Stage Manager is Lauren Bremen. The cast is Mirabella Raschke-Robinson, Kea Trevett, Rebecca Renner, and Mike Turner.
What's in Your Fridge? is by Jordan G. Teicher. Directed by Ran Xia. Additional music by Kenny Karen and Andrew Wangemann. The cast is Marcus Crawford Guy, Gerrard Quincy James, and Whitney St. Ours.