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Year-round fringiness has a home at the FringeArts building, hosting shows like Holden by Philadelphia-based George & Co. This troupe, better known at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival ("Best Ensemble" award) than they are here, created the 2013 Philadelphia International Festival of Arts play Animal Animal Mammal Mine under the name Penn Dixie Productions.
The quirky drama Holden, a "devised" or ensemble-created piece conceived by George & Co., imagines writer J.D. Salinger (Bill George, director Anisa George's father) holed up in a bunkerlike cabin with three men who apparently inhabit his subconscious.
Scott Sheppard plays John Hinckley, who shot President Ronald Reagan in 1981, and Jaime Maseda plays Mark David Chapman, who killed John Lennon in 1980; both claimed to have been influenced by Holden Caulfield, the main character of Salinger's Catcher in the Rye. The third, Zev (Matteo Scammell), is the new guy who says, "I'm going to kill Alex Trebek." All three try to inspire, cajole, and provoke Salinger to write.
The Beatles song "Golden Slumbers" opens the play, and Hinckley recreates violent scenes from the film Taxi Driver (which also inspired Hinckley), while Salinger putters along, not conscious of these bickering forces in his head. Salinger's apparently writing about his haunting World War II battle experiences. "We need to wrap our arms around the terrible memory," says Hinckley, "so we can squeeze all the juice out of it."
Their antics show how Catcher in the Rye and obsession with the reclusive Salinger could guide unstable minds. We hear little from Salinger himself, but he seems more stable than his acolytes, especially when comforting daughter Peggy (Adele Goldader).
The staging is expert, with Rebecca Kanach's subtle costumes, Seth Reiser's atmospheric lighting, and Alex Bechtel's adventurous sound design, in addition to Nick Benacerraf's scenic design that creates walls with piled firewood, which Salinger adds to through the 90-minute performance. Overall, though, we witness a condition more than a story. Salinger keeps his demons in check while writing and storing his output in a safe, an uneasy coexistence that doesn't explain or illuminate his major work's toxic influence on a few people.
"A writer without a reader is nothing at all," Hinckley says, suggesting that even these most passionate yet misguided readers serve some purpose for Salinger, and perhaps for anyone pondering art's effects on us.
What, When, Where
Holden by George & Co. Anisa George directed; written by Anisa George and the ensemble. October 8-17 at FringeArts, 140 N. Columbus Blvd., Philadelphia. FringeArts.com or 215-413-1318.
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