The San Francisco Fringe Festival is a dizzying experience. Now in its 22nd year, the Fringe has a different one-hour show on each of the Exit Theatreplex's three stages every 90 minutes, six days a week -- 158 performances of 36 shows in all. The fare is so varied that it's impossible to know what to expect, even for the organizers. The acts are selected randomly by lottery, so inclusion doesn't necessarily imply anyone's stamp of approval. It's word-of-mouth and audience reviews on sffringe.org that separates the wheat from the chaff. Even knowing the local theater landscape pretty well, I found myself practically flying blind as I chose shows to see on opening weekend, and the uncertainty was exhilarating in itself.
Several of the acts I caught are one-woman shows. Written and performed by Jill Vice, The Tipped & the Tipsy is a celebration of the hardworking bartender. Directed by David Ford, the go-to developer of solo work in the Bay Area, the show goes back and forth between scenes taking place in a seedy bar and lighthearted asides such as heroically narrated "Tales of Alcohol-Induced Courage." The central story is sobering in more ways than one, as the hard-boiled bartender tries to intercede to stop a regular from drinking himself to death. Vice's portraits of the colorful barflies are memorably distinct if distractingly cartoonish, but the arc of the story is compelling and poignant.
Nell Weatherwax's Storyzilla Full Frontal Human Movie is a bit more rambling, a free-associative personal narrative about being an introvert and how anxiety affects her personal relationships, day job and performing life. She makes dancerly movements as she talks, which are hypnotic even if they rarely seem connected to what she's saying. The story bounces around a lot in time, making it difficult to keep track of which job or boyfriend she's talking about. From time to time there's a turn of phrase so funny and wise that it makes the confusion worthwhile.
Maria Grazia Affinito in Eating Pasta off the Floor; photo by Serena Morelli.
Hilarious and bittersweet, Maria Grazia Affinito's Eating Pasta off the Floor is a powerful, personal piece about her relationship with her loudly eccentric Italian immigrant mother. From embarrassing trips to Safeway to a revelatory journey to her mother's hometown, Affinito spins a spellbinding tale with beautifully drawn, distinct characters that she makes instantly recognizable by voice and posture alone.