Tuesday, August 13, 2013

EPICish - A Journey Through Georgia

EPICish, written by & starring Eve A. Butler. Part of the 2013 FringeNYC Festival, playing at Venue #9, Jimmy's No. 43, through August 25th, 2013.

Upbeat pop music with a violent undercurrent leads us into Eve A. Butler's examination of three women in Savannah, Georgia, coming back again in the brief interludes between each story (including Foster the People's "Pumped Up Kicks" and Lily Allen's "Fuck You Very Much"), reminding us that inside the friendly atmosphere, beneath the veneer of southern charm, and behind the sweet doe-eyed face of Ms. Butler, darker thoughts and actions dwell.

Playwright and performer Butler has written three monologues inspired by some of the great heroes of traditional epic poems - Bea Woolf (Beowulf), Masha Gilyov (Gilgamesh), and Odessa (Odysseus) - all set in Nausicaa, a small coffee shop in Georgia. There is a satisfying interconnectedness of the pieces, though they tell disparate stories, as Masha mentions in passing the fate of Bea, or Odessa and Bea reveals a friend in common.

The setting is basic in the extreme - fringeNYC shows traditionally inhabit a wide variety of downtown spaces, and EPICish is hosted in the back room of a bar, Jimmy's No. 43, on a small raised stage with no wings. This location could have been a disaster, but Butler embraces the limitations and works them to her advantage. When she storms the stage, as spitfire self-defense expert Bea, for an impromptu open mic, she even acknowledges "Jimmy," apologizing but explaining that her story needs to be told, and needs to be told now. And later, when a group in the neighboring bar sang happy birthday, Butler as Odessa, sweet but naive, toasted the birthday girl, "Mazel tov."

Butler is a versatile performer with clear distinctions in voice, physicality, and characterization for her three heroines - the adrenaline-fueld Bea, the deliberately recalcitrant Russian immmigrant Masha, and the optimistic bad penny Odessa - but her real feat comes across in the writing of the various pieces. She has a real ear for dialogue, creating distinct, rounded voices for her characters, with a natural rhythm and a hint of poetry that lifts but does not overwhelm.

In her program notes, Butler explains that Bea Woolf first existed as YA novel, and Masha and Odessa followed as she began to explore more characters in her constructed world of Savannah. That distinction is subtly felt, as one senses during Bea's monologue that there is much more to the story than she's telling us, of things before and things to come, whereas the tales of Masha and Odessa feel slightly more contained, more full in and of themselves - they are short stories to the excerpt from Bea's novel. That being said, they are nonetheless fully satisfying narratives, and as Odessa winds down, she asks us, "My life's pretty epic, though, right?" Yes, Odessa. Yes, it is.

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