Two Hawk writers returned to the Chicago Fringe Festival in weekend two to catch three very different productions. Read our Weekend One Wrap-Up here.
Mark Toland: Mind Reader
Modern audiences are full of skeptics. In a world where we are inundated with constant streams of questionable information, it’s only natural to doubt.
But Mark Toland is impervious to that doubt. Doubt has no affect on his charm, nor his astounding exploits, precisely because he never presents anything worth doubting. The feats he performs during the course of his show, Mark Toland: Mind Reader, seem inexplicable, but he specifically disavows any claim to supernatural abilities or tricks. He is simply a mind reader. As he explains, he has no desire to fool the audience or make any outlandish assertions, but just wants to use his talents to inspire a sense of mystery in a world where so much has already been explained.
Toland may already be an accomplished performer, but his fringe show remains a very intimate experience. The show involves a large amount of audience interaction, as you might expect, and the whole experience feels almost akin to a group activity rather than a demonstration. Between segments, he peppers the performance with entertaining comedic and sometimes surprisingly philosophical anecdotes which often serve to provide some interesting insights on his profession. As for the mind reading, each trick proves to be more exciting than the last, culminating in one final mystery for the audience to ponder as Toland exits the stage. Mark Toland has created a performance that delights and astounds even the most die-hard skeptic, and is well worth seeing.
Review by Eric Vierling
P is for Pepe (NoMads Art Collective)
The year is 2232, and a group of young adults is making a video tape to send back to our present time, showcasing an alphabetical list of information on the alt-right. Why is this happening, and how? Why are they using a camcorder from 2006? Where are they, and why do they feel the need to create the video? None of this is explained in Ben Claus' half-baked script.
The energetic cast (which features Kristen Alesia, Ryan Claus, Dyllan Rodrigues-Miller and Andrew Yeni) try their best with the material, but their charm and chemistry cannot save a production that completely lacks context. Ryan Claus' character morphs into a full-blown MAGA hat-wearing Trump supporter while Alesia's track showcases the 'angry woman' trope. A play exploring the extremes of the right and left could have been interesting, but these caricatures completely lack grounding or reasoning for their actions. The other characters are even more perplexing - Rodrigues-Miller is given almost nothing at all to do, and Yeni seems to be the "baby" of the group, often acting out like a young child and needing support from the others. The final moments of the play include a "big reveal" that causes a catastrophic imbalance among the group but didn't make sense in any timeline.
P is for Pepe is an ambitious play from a young company, and I admire their efforts to respond to current events in a timely fashion. However, by presenting a play that only features stereotypes and provides no context, I ultimately left the theatre feeling like NoMads Art Collective may be on Team Trump.
Review by Jason Berger
With the Weight of Her Fate on Her Shoulders (The Chicago Iowa Theatre Collective)
War and its devastating effects have become such a common subject in art and media that it’s often hard for a story to stand out within the genre. The Chicago Iowa Theatre Collective seems to have kept that in mind when creating their ambitious new production, which delivers to viewers a unique story of wartime trauma that manages to be both alien and intensely personal.
With the Weight of Her Fate on Her Shoulders follows a young woman named Atlas, living in a wartorn land, praying for the return of her brother Tithon. When his fellow soldier and friend Chiron arrives, she must strive to help him maintain sanity amidst the chaos, in hopes that he can venture back out into the hellscape and bring back her beloved sibling.
Abstract, poetic dialogue and minimal exposition make the play a somewhat surreal experience, which creates an intriguing atmosphere, but also makes it difficult to follow the conversations and events of the story at times. Despite this, heartfelt performances from the cast help create some sincere emotional moments that hit regardless of context. If not the most casually accessible work, the show is a novel idea that strays well off the beaten path.
Review by Eric Vierling