Independent alternative theater will always carry risks. As it aims to skirt convention and test the limits of dramatic art, it also can try too hard and lack artistic substance. While I certainly appreciate the intentions behind Finnigan’s Festival of Funky Fresh Fun, unfortunately, I found most of it unrefined and insubstantial.
The production consisted of eleven 10-minute plays, interspersed with short monologues about sex. The Festival collects local talent in playwrights and actors every year to add new voices to the theatrical dialogue. This is undoubtedly important to forwarding both the city’s standing within the arts and the general propulsion of theater culture. It can also lead to a mixed bag of results.
Most of these short plays felt overwhelmingly like comedy sketches that went on for way too long. I find this my main complaint. All but one of the vignettes had a central comedic premise and ran like normal 2 or 3 minute sketches you would find in improv classes or on Saturday Night Live, only these continued long after the main joke had been explored and wrung dry. I did enjoy many of the premises. Hiring a narrator for your life, an on-call empathy team, grave robbing, and suspecting a hamster of killing people are solid jokes for a short sketch. However, without larger narrative scope to add any depth, these just seem to keep going.
Even when stable scenarios led to promising comedy, many times the actors resorted to yelling. I know it sounds like a small irritation, but too often it seemed that either the directors or the actors thought that loud equals funny, which just is not true. The shrill screams for comedic effect quickly grew old.
There were a few high points of the evening. One fell on the play Women Who Love Gay Men by Finnigan artistic director Brian Walker, which even though it also played like a sketch premise managed to wriggle its way out and become something troublesome and enjoyable. I also enjoyed Abby Braune and Corey Long’s engaging performance in Life is but a Dream.
Though the tired slough continued through Greek Tragedy and Stick-Up, I still find the very notion of Finnigan’s Festival of Funky Fresh Fun imperative. It is a welcome necessity to continue the search for new writers and comedians to move the culture forward. And while I lodge such complaints, I must say that the audience around me seemed genuinely entertained. No matter the circumstances, new productions of original art are a priority and I very much hope to attend Finnigan’s sixth Festival.
Image: Courtesy Finnigan Productions