Theater review: Asheville Fringe performances

The cast of Julian Vorus's Mothertongue by the Magnetic Theatre

NOTE: All Friday, Jan. 22 performances are cancelled. Ticket holders should contact the event organizers for a refund or to chance tickets to Sunday.

If you like a healthy dose of the unusual and quirky when it comes to live entertainment, the 14th annual Asheville Fringe Arts Festival has just what you are looking for. Fringe, by definition, is on the outer edges of the mainstream, so it is safe for audiences to expect the unexpected. With dozens of shows spread across six venues throughout Asheville, audiences have their pick of live theater, movement, spoken word and more, all packed tightly into four days

Among the offerings are these three shows that perfectly exemplify the Fringe concept.

Ruts! The Oregon Trail Experience comes to Asheville Fringe from New England (not quite as far or as arduous a journey as the actual Oregon Trail, made famous in our history books and infamous in a 1980s computer game). This show finds a hapless family of pioneers encountering a computer keyboard and a digitized booming voice narrating their path as they chose to live the game, in all its idiosyncratic glory, complete with a midi musical score. Along the way, the computer voice dictates random information — from parsing out sudden broken legs and bouts of typhoid, to introducing new characters who rob the original pioneers or entice them to follow certain paths. It is a jolly, jaunty adventure that lovingly mocks the tropes of the once-popular game. The audience at The Altamont Theatre was even brought into the fun, being asked to hold up cardboard recreations of animals from the video game, as the father stalked through the crowd hunting for food to resupply the dwindling rations. All the while, the computer voice naggingly prodded the cast along. (Encore performance Saturday, at 9 p.m.)

Do You Know Me? by returning Fringe performer Mina Samuels, was The United Solo Theatre Festival 2015 winner in New York. In a dynamic and deeply personal performance at The Mothlight, it follows the humorously frightening inner struggle of a woman with short-term memory loss. (Encore performance Saturday, at 7 p.m.)

• The Magnetic Theatre joins the Fringe this year with its new venue in the River Arts District. There, Mothertongue, by local playwright Julian Vorus, is a wildly twisted tale of dark Southern Gothic family dysfunction. It’s reminiscent of the starkly moving work of Sam Shepard at his most prolific. Vorus channels that balance of quirky, disturbing and disarmingly laugh-out-loud funny. It is impossible to predict what peculiar turn the story will take next, and you can’t take your eyes off it. Steven Samuels’ deft direction of the cast makes for one of the cleverest and most entertaining shows you’re likely to see all year, inside or outside of a Fringe type setting. Fortunately, for local audiences, the show will have an extended run through Saturday, Feb. 6. (Asheville Fringe encore performance Saturday, at 9 p.m.)

For more info and the full Asheville Fringe Arts Festival schedule, read Xpress’ preview .

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About Jeff Messer
playwright, actor, director and producer, Jeff Messer has been most recently known as a popular radio talk show host. He has been a part of the WNC theatre scene for over 25 years, and actively works with and supports most of the theatres throughout the region. Follow me @jeffdouglasmess

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