If your theatrical tastes tend to the left field of the artistic domain, you are probably one of the many faithful who annually make their way up north around this time of the year for the Acre International Fringe Theater Festival. This year’s thespian bash takes place September 24 to 27 with, as usual, a broad swathe of theatrical entertainment on offer, indoors and al fresco, with some musical slots added for good measure.
The foreign fare comes from the US, Uzbekistan, Spain, the Czech Republic and Germany. The latter is offering an intriguing work called My Teacher’s Living Room, inspired by legendary Czech-born Israeli actor and director Yosef Milo, which marries onstage acting with video work.
If you’re looking for high-energy high jinks, not a little emotion and mood swings, you could do worse that get yourself over to Bet Yad Lebanim, on September 25 to 27 (4:30 p.m. and 7 p.m. daily), where director and choreographer Tommy Lewey and fellow actor Morgan Skiles will go through a couple of emotional wringers and, no doubt, will pull the audience through with them in the process, in The Red Couch. This award-winning dance-theater romantic romp is about two people who like each other – maybe more than like – and act out a gamut of feelings and expressions, all on the titular richly hued furniture item.
Lewey says he got the idea for the highly visual English-language show from a literary work aimed at the young crowd, which set him thinking about a rarely addressed emotional state of affairs.
“I wanted to challenge myself creatively and create a light-hearted piece. My then-partner and co-creator at the time, Mikael Burke, gave me a children’s book titled, I Like You, and I realized that most people do pieces about being ‘in love,’ but never being ‘in like’ with someone.”
Lewey has been down that conceptual avenue before. “All of my work focuses on human relationships and interactions,” he notes. “How we treat each other to get something out of the other person. To date, Red Couch stands out amongst anything I’ve ever made because it’s more of a romantic comedy than dramatic dance theater.”
Why red? “The couch is as much a character in the show as the two people,” he explains. “I wanted a sense that the couch was blushing as we watched the relationship develop on the couch.” Nothing like animating a piece of furniture.
Red Couch touches on sensitive areas of individual behavior and interpersonal relationships, and Lewey incorporates subtle comedic undertones to help underscore his message. He says that making people laugh is not his forte, but that there are funny aspects to everyday life, if only you know where to look for them.
“I’m not really a comedian. I believe in performing every moment on stage as honestly and true to life as possible. Sometimes life is funny. I wanted to focus on how awkward and uncomfortable the early stages of a relationship can be sometimes. That’s where the comedy comes from – life is funny sometimes.”
That can involve taking risks, and treading a fine line between challenging material and PC-sensitivity. Lewey says that comes with the territory.
“I think that’s the challenge every artist faces. For me, I think I have an obligation to explore subjects and themes that may be ‘uncomfortable’ or ‘challenging.’ However, I do think there is a way to do it that keeps the audience engaged and not feel alienated. I like to push the boundaries of my craft, blur lines between the absurd, the avant-garde, the accessible, and the most universal.”
Red Couch is something of a physically challenging work to perform, and seems to demand a sort of nip-and-tuck onstage dynamic.
“Morgan and I have a very intuitive and fluid professional relationship,” Lewey observes. “We are both fearless and willing to try anything because we trust each other implicitly. This is invaluable in a working relationship. Especially when we have to be vulnerable on stage and when both of us get tired, one is there to support the other. I am so grateful for her! “
As a very physical offering, Lewey draws heavily on the dance side of his oeuvre to date. “Choreography is the physical language that communicates the relationship to the audience. It’s of the utmost importance to be very specific about the intentions the dancers have behind each movement. Not just about what the dancers are doing, but how and why they are doing the movement.”
At the end of the day, Lewey wants to leave us with a sense of having been right royally entertained, and with several morsels to mull over.
“I want the audience to leave with a sense of nostalgia and cheer about relationships of past, present and/or future. “
For tickets and more information about the festival: http://www.accofestival.co.il/