Fräulein Maria at ADF
by Kate Dobbs Ariail
July 13, 2009, Durham, NC: Whoops, I just started to write "dateline: 1959" — which points up the big question raised by Doug Elkins and Friends’ Fräulein Maria, a good-natured take-off on The Sound of Music. What year are we living in? If we are in 2009, are we stuck in some swamp of nostalgia — sort of like Bunyan’s Slough of Despond, but all saccharined-up? So far this summer in the Triangle we’ve had Steely Dan and The Jersey Boys — and now the Von Trapp family?
I guess anything can become classical, even “Do[e], a deer,” but personally I’d hoped that one would fade away. For those of us who are vocally-challenged, every repetition recalls the whiplashes of scorn applied to us by those born to lift ev’ry voice and sing. Before the dancing started, I nearly fled the theater when the simulacrum of my junior high chorus teacher appeared to assign the audience their notes by section. Arrgh!
But Fräulein Maria is a sweet thing, in its mild way. It started life as a revivifying little project by choreographer and former B-Boy Doug Elkins, and was originally performed at Christmas-time in Joe’s Pub of New York’s Public Theater. It has won a Bessie and a pile of positive reviews. Undoubtedly it is more simpatico in a cabaret setting than in Duke University’s Reynolds Theater, where the American Dance Festival is presenting it this week as a little sample of “downtown” dance from New York (although hardly the freshest example). I expect it would be a lot more fun in closer quarters, where the homemade-performance-in-the-living-room aspect would be more pronounced, the broad jokes could better extend their reach into your heart, and the less-than-pristine recording of Julie Andrews would sound more at home.
There are charming, low-cost, inventive stage effects, and there is
a lot of wit in the concept, with plenty of gender-bending, sexual
joking, and innuendo — none of it mean, or even, really, ironic,
which is refreshing. There’s some interesting movement of many
types — highly referential, and probably best-appreciated by
a dance in-crowd able to recognize the tropes. The ADF-heavy audience
on opening night lapped it up, especially Elkins’ solo — in
hoodie, as the Abbess. I seemed to be the only person there who thought
the dances dragged (and the scene changes more so). By the time the
show got around to “The Lonely Goatherd,” I found my eyes
glazing and my head flopping forward like a forlorn marionette stranded
along a pop culture byway.