Fringe Elements

Huge ensembles and one-person shows, history and the future, dada and packing tape

All over Lower Manhattan, internationaltourists and local theater buffs have been lining up in the streets to partake of the diverse offerings of the Ninth Annual New York International Fringe Festival. Only a few more days remain to dip into this profusion. For tickets and information, go to fringenyc.org, or call 212-279-4488 or 888-FRINGE-NYC.


A Different Woman: A True Story of a Texas childhood
Collective: Cabaret
279 Church Street
Through Sunday

Jason Alan Caine and Laura Walczak lust after Jake Gyllenhaal.
photo: Carol Rosegg
Jason Alan Caine and Laura Walczak lust after Jake Gyllenhaal.

Gertrude Beasley (Veronica Russell) stands before us, a sober-looking schoolmarm in staid black clothing. But don't be fooled by her stuffy appearance: She is anything but reserved. The year is 1925 and she's recounting her "first 30 years." Growing up in West Texas was no picnic for this feisty proto-feminist. Then history, and the censors, tried to snuff out her memoirs as quickly as they surfaced. But in a lively 90 minutes, she manages to fit in incest, bestiality, abortion, and (ack!) socialism. Russell's subtle retelling keeps the story compelling and her audience sympathetic. Elizabeth Lawler


Basura!
P.S.122
Closed

In Colette Searls's Basura!, each of the loosely connected episodes is more delightful and exuberant than the last. First, newspaper animals jig to a giddy soundtrack. Then, two bits of packing tape strain to dance with one another, performing a tender love scene. Next, a grocery bag comes to life and reaches out for a friend, yearning for love as eagerly as a baby bird. The puppeteers give their refuse a broad range of emotions with the tiniest flick of a wrist. And by engaging the lyrical beauty in common garbage, they remind us that wonder is not the exclusive purview of children. E.L.


Weight
13th Street Repertory Company
50 West 13th Street
Through Friday

In this pointed one-woman piece, Melanie Hoopes, who wrote her dissertation on the relationship between theater and anorexia, plays four characters with food issues. One 500-plus-pound "big mama lady" recently had to be hacked out of her apartment. A bulimic country star tears her esophagus with all her vomiting and then writes a new song: "I'm so hungry, but if I eat I'll die alone. Woo!" With a flair for awkward giggles and spazzy hand gestures, Hoopes impressively assumes the characters' neuroses while taking aim at all the usual targets: magazines, models, and uptight moms. Rachel Aviv


Amerika
Mazer Theater
197 East Broadway
Through Thursday

So it turns out The Metamorphosis wasn't a comedy. Armed with this news, Kafka's editor must commission something more marketable: an American adventure story! Somehow the nebbishy Kafka and a con artist co-author trap themselves inside the world of their new manuscript, where a few strokes on Kafka's magic typewriter allow them to play God. It's a cute concept but one riddled with more inconsistencies than your average time-travel flick, especially since playwright Alex Poe has trouble remembering whether or not his characters have free will. Ultimately the play is guilty of the vice it condemns most: the arrogant hijacking of Kafka's artistry. Catherine Rampell



Love & recycling: Jessie Touart in Basura!
photo: Terry Cobb
Rada Dada's Unexceptional Tricks
Collective: Unconscious
279 Church Street
Through Saturday

In the spirit of Duchamp, Tzara, and various outsider artists, Max Rada Dada, a fiftysomething nomad who tours from a base in North Carolina, entices New Yorkers to play as he performs visual puns, creates clattering chaos with pots and pans, shares collections of bizarre objects. Wearing his old Eagle Scout uniform, a twirly ringmaster mustache penciled on his handsome face, he enlists us as an impromptu percussion section, calls on us for help with the riskier tricks, takes our money. This probably works better when his precious collections are spread out as a carnival sideshow, rather than delivered to a captive theater crowd, but it's still a real eye-opener; John Cage would have loved it. Elizabeth Zimmer


Travis Tanner
Soho Playhouse
15 Van Dam Street
Friday at 3

Dubbed "a contemporary oratorio," Melanie N. Lee's unwieldy piece, to music by Robert Stephens played by an onstage quartet, mobilizes 27 performers, all of whom sing, many beautifully. They spill off the tiny stage to march up and down the aisles. They harangue one another. In a climactic scene, heroine Leila Knowles, a black graduate student (played by Lauretta, a performer with only one name), lectures an unfunny comedian; it's hard to know whether she has the hots for him, wants to convert him, or what. "I read your book for Lent," she tells him. He ducks her rant by listening to his cell phone. Lee has a tin ear, and much of her thumpingly pedestrian, rhymed-couplet script rings false even as it seeks spiritual truth. E.Z.


Sunset Bitch
Ace of Clubs
Closed

Exquisitely turned-out Jessica Martin, a petite performer and writer from London's West End and television scene (possibly American born), plays Veronique Raymond, illegitimate daughter of a Busby Berkeley dancer. If we are to take her rap at face value, Veronique is now at least 90 years old. In rhinestones and red velvet, she offers impressions of great 20th-century pop divas, from Marlene Dietrich to Barbra Streisand, and sings a number of mildly amusing songs. Major critique: She's not nearly bitchy enough, and too many of her jokes are lame. Musical-director Nathan Martin accompanies her on piano; I'd love to hear this duo in a program of classics from the American songbook. They deserve better material. E.Z.

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