Smallpox Theatre’s A Grim Era is an odd piece showing great promise. I hope lots of people support the show so that they will be encouraged to continue on their eccentric way.
A soundtrack of soured brass notes struggled through the air to the crowd outside of An Abandoned Quilt Factory in Brunswick. Inside, tattered bunting is made whole with underwear, suitcases lay scattered around wooden orange boxes and pallets, and a patched curtain are the improvised set of what appears to be a miserable carnival. A Grim Era, featuring two performers and a mixture of clowning, puppetry and mime turns out to be a more varied experience than an initial impression and the printed fringe blurb would lead you to believe.
An unexpectedly comical opening sequence introduces a male and a female character: Is and Isn’t. The wordless tale of their relationship has moments that are appealingly silly, and there is a clever device to indicate the passing of time. Through their symbolic physical language the company achieve some moments that are almost heart breaking, and I’m sure that I saw tears in the audience.
While I feel satisfied by the surprises and visual elements of this performance, the piece would benefit from some further refinement. Certain scenes, having achieved what they needed to, ran for a bit too long. Some of the puppetry interludes were more useful in advancing the story than others. An element of the introduction, echoed in the conclusion, suggested a cyclical rhythm to the relationship between Is and Isn’t. I felt that this could be better supported by the arc of the story.
Regardless, this is undoubtedly a worthwhile Fringe offering by a local company. I’d very much like to see Smallpox Theatre build on their command of atmosphere to create another off-kilter world for us to experience.