FRINGE REVIEW: Extremely Public Displays Of Privacy


Brandon_Lafving.jpgBY BRANDON LAFVING Philly’s own New Paradise Laboratories broke new ground at this year’s Fringe Fest with Extreme Displays Of Privacy, a three-act live thriller that straddles almost every fence currently dividing up the performing arts. Act I commenced with an interactive website ( that presents a series of edgy and exhilarating video cuts, photographic montages, and music tracks to set the stage for the budding relationship of Fess Eliot, an aging singer/songwriter, and the gorgeous Beatrix Luff, a sublime and diabolical anti-heroine. Beatrix wants to teach Fess how to get attention, and the ennui-laden songwriter is just depressed enough to do whatever she’s told. Among the technological gewgaws New Paradise uses to cross the boundary between performer and audience are Facebook profiles for the two actresses, which showcase the stalker (Beatrix), who is, even as you are reading this, asking where her prey (Fess) has flown. Audience members are invited to channel the heightening tension via the social media outlet of their preference.

Act II is a video podcast that takes the audience on a walking tour-reenactment of some of the social dares that Fess has performed on Beatrix’s orders, wherein her husky, lip-licking contralto utters eerily empowering statements, such as: “Fate is made of unlikely intersections,” and “Thinking is counter-productive, Fess.” Though I appreciated these moments for their ambition and creativity, they were slightly confusing. Still, while the first two acts were raw and unfinished, they had enough ingenuity to keep me interested in what was to come in Act III.

I showed up on the southwest corner of 17th and Sansom ready for anything – nudity, violence, drugs, etc. Then I realized the performance would take place in the First Baptist Church of Philadelphia.We were ushered down into the building’s underbelly, where a large screen showcased alternating and fading images of Beatrix, who was either remaking the Mena Suvari-bathtub scene in American Beauty, or mysteriously sucking on a red lollipop. The sound of the ocean came and went, until a door opened and our group was pushed inside.

The entertainment of the evening was a solo performance by Fess, who played guitar and sang some of her favorite tracks. These were interspersed with awkwardly familiar exchanges between the bi-polar actress and the audience. Childhood pictures were handed out, then a lemon-half and ginger root, for olfactory sensation, while Fess imbibed/sprayed a perfume called “Everything.”

There are not very many musicians who would be able to keep me entertained for 75 minutes on their own. Even with all of Beatrix’s help, Fess Eliot, I am sorry to say, is not among that group and after the first 15, I started watching the clock. Extremely Public Displays of Privacy translates Search Engine Marketing to the performing arts. Perhaps it even sets a new example for cultural publicity. But unfortunately it proved to be an edgy, innovative build-up with not much pay-off. Still, this group is full of talent, ideas and ambition, which has the potential to provide a huge payoff to the Philly arts scene in coming years.

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