The Capital Fringe Festival is back and with 137 shows it’s bigger than ever. Like always, the festival is featuring a wide-ranging selection of offbeat art, theater, music by scores of artists (some well- known, others not so much). Below is a small sampling of varied theatrical Fringe offerings of special interest to LGBT audiences.
Rebecca Gingrich-Jones has written a musical. “It didn’t start out that way but as I was writing the egg characters they suddenly started singing so I had to go with it,” she explains. “I teamed up with a friend who wrote the music and continued to work on the book and lyrics. The result is “Singing Eggs and Spermless Babies.”
The musical, says Gingrich-Jones (who is currently pursuing a master’s in playwriting at Catholic University), is without a doubt a comedy, bordering on farce. It’s the story of a lesbian couple who are trying — in oh, so many ways — to have a baby, but can’t. In their quest for mommyhood, the women inadvertently find themselves on a gay and lesbian cruise where they meet a suicidal fertility doctor, drag kings, a gay fundamentalist Christian and the actual eggs with which they’re trying to conceive.
In addition to scribe duties, Gingrich-Jones, 29, is co-producer and responsible for marketing. Her wife, queer activist Candace Gingrich-Jones (Newt’s younger stepsister), is featured in the show as “Erin,” a lesbian considering switching teams.
When casting the title character for “Horrible Child,” gay director Jose Carasquillo almost immediately thought of Daniel Eichner. “He’s a fearless actor, able to lose himself in a part,” Carasquillo explains. “I didn’t want just anyone putting on a bunny suit and hopping on stage.”
In this Fringe production penned by Lawrence Krauser, Eichner plays “Horrible,” a gay bunny rabbit, whose humanoid parents (played by Lee Ordeman and talented lesbian actress Delia Taylor) find their furry offspring so repellent that they hire an exterminator (Greg Twomey) to destroy him. Unexpectedly, the exterminator and Horrible fall in love at first sight.
“Thematically, the play is about parents coming to terms with children who grow up to be different than what they had expected, and the anxiety associated with that,” explains Carasquillo, who splits his time between Puerto Rico and D.C. “The language is inventive and acrobatic. It’s a wonderfully deranged and experimental play. I’ve wanted to do it for some time.”
“The Miss Teen Jesus Pageant” is the musical story of two gay fathers who stage a beauty contest to raise funds to send their daughter to Bible college. For their score, gay playwright Patrick di Battista and his writing partner and best friend Anne Laffoon have cleverly selected six different traditional Christian hymns, mostly from the 1800s.
“The songs have been re-arranged [by composer Ben Camp], but the lyrics remain the same,” explains di Battista. “We use ‘Blessed Assurance,’ a hymn written in 1872 by blind composer Fanny Crosby, into a gay love song. Lyrics like ‘my savior in me,’ and ‘oh what a foretaste of glory divine sound pretty good to us. If someone finds it offensive that’s OK by us.”
By “us,” di Battista refers to Laffoon and the actors and crew who make up LaGoDi, a nonprofessional theatrical group whose core members initially got to know each other while two-stepping at Remington’s on Capitol Hill. “We’re not trained in acting or singing. We think of ourselves as a tribe really,” explains di Battista. “Ours isn’t a polished one-man show. We have a cast of 10 accompanied by a small choir of five. Our productions feature lots of eye candy and rampant cross dressing.”
Written and performed by Manuel Simons, “Queer in the USA” is the tale of Johnny, a New Jersey teen obsessed with Bruce Springsteen. To Johnny, Springsteen is the ultimate man: masculine, successful, talented and compassionate. Johnny longs to be a rock star like his idol, but every time this sexually confused wannabe rocker opens his mouth to sing, out pours a lovely, almost operatic soprano that sounds more like Barbra Streisand.
Teased by his peers about his perceived sexuality and gender identity, Johnny runs away to New York City where through a series of chance encounters with a gay rocker, a gypsy woman, and others (all played by Simons) he is set on a path toward self-discovery and acceptance.
Simons’ show is heavily autobiographical: “Growing up in Philadelphia, I was on the receiving end of a lot of taunting and bullying in school. The boys considered me a girl and refused to allow me be a part of their teams,” recalls Simons, who now lives in New York. “My character Johnny seeks solace through music; I found my identity and learned to embrace myself through theater. Like him, the arts have been my sanctuary and salvation.”
Suzanne Knapik’s Fringe entry “Mother-In-Law: The Musical” is also drawn from real life. About three months after Obama was sworn into office, her partner’s mother moaned that our then freshly minted president was exclusively responsible for the country’s tanking economy. More than mildly disgusted with her mother-in-law’s absurd assessment, Knapik decided to vent her frustration by writing a musical.
“My show is basically a true story about my relationship with my partner and her mother,” explains Knapik. “It’s made up of five scenes spread out over Thanksgiving Day. Typically the three of us spend holidays and some vacation time together, and differences come up. Song titles include: ‘God Bless America Only,’ ‘Obama is a Muslim,’ and ‘Mother-In-Law Blues.’”
Will the mother-in-law be at opening night? “Oh no,” Knapik replies matter-of-factly, “She won’t be seeing the show. It’s been very tricky keeping it from her — she’s quite spry and alert. My partner will be there. I’m hoping she’ll like it.”
Capital Fringe Festival
Through July 25