THEATER REVIEWS

Sad/funny plays find a home on the Fringe

‘Thank You Notes’ by Vicki Vodrey leads a pack that tackles abuse, drugs and sexuality.

Updated: 2012-07-26T01:22:46Z

By ROBERT TRUSSELL

The Kansas City Star

How nice it would be to see every single KC Fringe performance. Alas, that would be impossible unless your humble theater critic could be cloned three times over.

But the best of five shows I caught during the first weekend of the annual festival was “Thank You Notes: Headed to Heaven With Flat Jimmy Fallon,” a play by Vicki Vodrey, for whom raucous humor and profound tragedy are in no way incompatible.

Steven Eubank directed the show, which is playing at the Unicorn Theatre during the festival, and had the benefit of a superior cast in the form of Vanessa Severo, Scott Cox and Mandy Mook. Severo plays Angela, a suicide victim who becomes an irreverent presence at her own funeral as her twin brother Ethan (Cox) reads a eulogy composed entirely of “thank-you notes” Angela wrote before she died.

The play is an eccentric comedy in the early going, but its seriousness is revealed as Angela’s notes become increasingly revelatory. The funeral becomes a transformative event for Ethan and his wife, Betsy (Mook).

Severo and Cox are equally matched, each handling difficult roles with spectacular results. This play is disturbing, but it’s also inspiring. Vodrey has a unique voice. There’s one more performance at 8 p.m. Friday at the Unicorn Theatre, 3828 Main St.

Other shows from the first weekend:

•  “Ice Cream Social … Issues” by Natalie and Talia Liccardello is a clever comedy about a family intervention that goes as wrong as possible. People have gathered for an ice cream social in a church basement in an effort to get help for a family member who is a heroin addict. Everything deteriorates rapidly. Manon Halliburton, as a Xanax-gobbling aunt with control issues, is excellent. She delivers a memorable comic performance and anchors an excellent cast. Directed by Warren Deckert, who demonstrates a keen eye for character details.

Performances are at 6:30 p.m. today and 9:30 p.m. Saturday at the Unicorn Theatre, 3828 Main St.

•  “Tack Driver,” written and directed by Jerry Genochio. I caught this on the opening night of the festival, and I imagine it’s considerably different now. This is Genochio’s first play, in which Kyle Hatley and Matt Rapport are cast as brothers who swore an oath to kill their abusive stepfather. Apparently rewrites could continue right through the festival. At times on opening night, Hatley and Rapport performed holding pages with new dialogue. It’s intriguing and rich with possibilities — and it’s fun to watch Hatley and Rapport work together. It’s at 7:30 p.m. Friday at the Off Center Theatre in Crown Center.

•  “Foreign Bodies” by Arika Larson. Larson’s three-character comedy imagines what might happen if a gay man and a lesbian fell in love. Directed by Scott Cordes, this smart comedy of manners about sex and love in an urban, digital world highlights Greg Brostrom, Kate O’Neill and Missy Fennewald. It continues at 6 p.m. today and 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Just Off Broadway Theatre, 3051 Central St.

•  “4Play,” a quartet of one-acts by Jose Faus, Ken Buch, Michelle T. Johnson and Jack Phillips. This grouping of short comedies covers religious mania, sex, love and hypocrisy with varying degrees of success. Best of the bunch: “As the Guiding Light Turns,” a witty piece by Johnson about church politics and sexuality. See it at 11 p.m. Friday and 6:30 p.m. Saturday at the Metropolitan Ensemble Theatre, 3614 Main St.

To reach Robert Trussell, call 816-234-4765 or send email to rtrussell@kcstar.com.

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