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2017 Philadelphia Fringe Festival Review: ‘These Terrible Things’ by the University of the Arts and The Berserker Residents at the Caplan Studio Theater

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It’s a zany self-referencing case of art imitating life in These Terrible Things, as the University of the Arts and The Berserker Residents team up for an absolutely hilarious parody of training students in the techniques of method acting. Jack Tamburri directs a cast of five current UArts theater majors (Annika Cowles, Tess FitzPatrick, Christian Flynn, Rudy Schreiber, and Julya Van der Sloot) and three of Philadelphia’s funniest and most seasoned purveyors of alternative comedy (Justin Jain, Dave Johnson, and Bradley K. Wrenn) in an original ensemble-devised piece, written by Dave Jacobi and the performers.

Justin Jain, Dave Johnson, and Bradley K. Wrenn. Photo courtesy of the artists.

Dressing-room photo of Justin Jain, Dave Johnson, and Bradley K. Wrenn. Photo courtesy of the artists.

The aptly-named trio of Berserkers team-teaches the aspiring young artists the bogus “Hillerson Acting System,” which they expound and demonstrate (supplemented by a priceless description in the printed program) before putting their pupils through its processes and exercises, then critiquing their skills (and soliciting the opinions of the audience). From trusting their cast-mates to catch them while “FALLING!” to fully inhabiting the beings of “Four Primary Animals” to reaching into their “trauma box” to access their deepest emotions, the side-splitting segments lampoon a series of risible acting clichés, while testing the students’ mettle and dedication to their chosen field.

Lindsey Mayer’s set evokes the image of both a spacious but cluttered rehearsal area and a black-box stage, with traditional trappings and black curtains that open and close. Like the cast, the artistic design team is comprised of current students, whose silly costumes and masks (Corrie Meehan), theatrical lighting (Ryan J. Stofa) and dramatic sound (Edward Smith), assortment of familiar props, including breakable plates that the actors smash (Kat Wheary), and digital projections (Sara Marinich) that offer a tongue-in-cheek apology for the iconoclastic show, effectively support the comical theme.

For their uproarious Fringe production of These Terrible Things, and for the seriously invaluable opportunities they give talented students to work with the best in Philly on full-stage productions that are open to the public, the University of the Arts and The Berserker Residents get an A+ from me. In the words of Jain, “I’m going to double that score!”

Promotional image with the ensemble.

Promotional image with the ensemble.

Running Time: Approximately 65 minutes, without intermission.

These Terrible Things plays through Saturday, September 23, 2017, at the University of the Arts and The Berserker Residents, performing at the Caplan Studio Theater in Terra Hall – 211 South Broad Street, 16th floor, Philadelphia, PA. For tickets, call the Fringe box office at (215) 413-9006, or purchase them online.

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