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Over the weekend, I learned firsthand the awesome power of fruit. Hours before I was set to see Citrus Andronicus, the high-octane Shakespeare parody presented by Philadelphia Artists’ Collective as part of the Fringe Festival, I sliced open my pinky while attempting to cut, of all things, an orange. Oh, the irony. My blood-soaked kitchen resembled the set of a revenge tragedy, and I spent a few days with an immobilized digit. But all’s well that ends well: I made it to the show.
I clearly don’t possess the impressive acumen of Eli Lynn and Peter Nicholls, who slice, dice, smash, and maim a passel of produce over the course of 70 messy minutes. (A warning to the wise: avoid the front row if you don’t wish to be splattered.) As a pair of delivery workers who hijack a calamitous conference presentation by an earnest literary scholar (Madeleine Garcia) and render Shakespeare’s great gory tragedy with lemons and bananas, Lynn and Nicholls prove the innumerable ways one can separate flesh from pith.
Citrus Andronicus, devised by Lynn and directed by Charlotte Northeast, feels like old-school Fringe. The performers demonstrate a healthy balance of reverence and insouciance toward their source material. Although Garcia, in her guise as a rigid academic, dutifully takes the audience through the plot of Titus, narrative seems secondary to the physical world created by Lynn and Nicholls. In particular, the loose-limbed physicality displayed by the two clowns prompts moments of riotous laughter and feats of prop comedy that left me wondering how they accomplished their goals with such precision. It’s Shakespeare meets Gallagher with more wit than brute force.
As a play itself, though, the material runs out of steam before the actors’ energy begins to flag. As with most entertainment that relies on physical comedy, a little goes a long way, and while Northeast does her best to keep the proceedings brisk, a feeling of repetition creeps in at around the hour mark. The academic framing device ends up trapped somewhere between realism and self-conscious absurdism, and in the end, it falls short of either.
Still, the committed company creates a memorable evening largely on the strength of sheer spirit, along with several other memorable design elements. (James Lewis’s lighting design, a study in extremes, is among the best I’ve seen in Philly this year.) The vibe here is fun and fearless, and while I worried for the fingertips of those onstage, I was ultimately happy to share in the bounty of their harvest. And for the next little while, I’m going to leave the citrus handling to the professionals.
What, When, Where
Citrus Andronicus. By Eli Lynn, after Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus; directed by Charlotte Northeast. $15-$35. Through September 17, 2023, at Poth Brewery, 3145 W Jefferson Street, Philadelphia. (215) 413-1318 or phillyfringe.org.
Poth Brewery is a wheelchair-accessible venue.
Masks are not required.
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