foolsFURY Factory Festival

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Physical theater and performance

The room we are milling around in is a small black box. On three walls are projected newsreel footage from World War II. Nazis march in lines, Churchill stands before an assembly, J. Robert Oppenheimer looks out from underneath his battered-looking felt hat. The images are blurred and black and white. They are impressionistic, at times the pattern of light and shadows fading into indefinite motion and shape. Now and then words appear white on black as a counterpoint to the images. fear! reads one frame.

There are three half spheres of clear plastic suspended from the ceiling. If you duck under one, you can hear someone talking about the atomic bomb, Los Alamos and the race to develop the bomb before either the Germans or the Russians. The spheres can drop down, quickly, making you want to duck and cover. The voices rattle on—in the room and under the domes—layered and difficult to decipher.

The information that we are being given about the bomb is decades old. It is shocking how its inaccuracy, its naiveté, is delivered with such blasé assurances.

Eventually the viewers tire and begin sitting on the floor and against the wall. A young woman with short blond hair and dressed in a suit begins to dance. Her steps are convulsive, twisting inward, falling downward. She spins around the floor, retreats to the sides of the room, reenters the space, and retreats again. The badly focused black-and-white films become more frightening—clouds rise, objects vaporize, buildings explode. We’ve seen these films; they have been emblazoned into the mind of anyone who lived through or was born after that crucial day, August 6, 1945, when Little Boy was dropped over Hiroshima. But they are always worth experiencing, and, as is the case with David Szlasa’s interactive performance Gadget, they are worth more when experienced in new and unusual ways.

Gadget was one of the final performances of Fury Factory 2009, which ended this past weekend in San Francisco.

For three consecutive years, foolsFURY, the small and ferociously innovative San Francisco–based theater group, has presented a three-week festival of ensemble theater, with companies from all over the map, including the UK and Afghanistan this year. Many of these small theater groups have the kind of whimsical names that you might find bedecking a rock band—names like Witness Relocation from New York, Hand2Mouth from Portland, Oregon, Butchlalis from Panochtitlan from Los Angeles, and Mondo Bizarro from New Orleans.

And if you’re expecting a new and interesting version of a tried-and-true play—something like The Importance of Being Earnest, for example—forget it. For the most part, these companies develop their own material, and the plays are a combination of dynamic, classically based acting with personal and idiosyncratic narratives. The stories are often developed by one or two people over a number of years, as they move from Fringe Festival to Fringe Festival.

The plays are usually short, just under an hour, and two to three run a night. Before Gadget, the Brooklyn-based Under the Table performed The Only Friends We Have, described in the program as “a dark and physical comedy about three eccentric friends each trying to wrestle the world into submission. Plagued by social dysfunction as well as an actual plague [of bed bugs], the trio declares war first on the resident bug population, and then on each other.” I actually can’t describe it better, other than to say that the staging was brilliant, the acting perfectly timed, and the whole thing a hilarious and absurdist comment on the treacheries of human need and friendship.

Sadly, we have to wait till next June for another mind-blowing festival, but in the meantime, check out foolsFURY, the organizers and our own radiantly inventive resident theater group. You won’t regret it.

—Jaime Robles

Originally published in the Piedmont Post