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


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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.


Sex With Jake Gyllenhaal
13th Street Repertory Company
50 West 13th Street
Through Saturday In Sex With Jake Gyllenhaal, four actors tease the audience, hiding naked behind sheets or robes, dressing onstage in the dark. In eight vignettes, characters begin and end relationships—always with physical violence. The scenes, set between 1962 and 2019, each coincide with a pivotal world event: plane crashes, wars, and presidential scandals. The couples acknowledge the historic moment and then proceed to the more consuming business of flirting, fighting, or screaming. In the final scene, they morph into birds ("Everything in the world starts with two," chirps one). Flying in perfect pairs, they peer down at the world and its faraway problems. R.A.


Edna St. Vincent Millay Speaks to the Committee on Immortality
Collective: Unconscious
279 Church Street
Through Saturday

Jennifer Gibbs (playwright and Millay) hits up a jury of audience members on the question of immortality—poetic, though at times we also suspect corporeal. This one-woman boudoir exorcism reaches for and misses the ferocity and elocution of the real E.St.V.M., who could toss off a line like "Or trade the memory of this night for food" in a closing couplet and still earn the sonnet's shudder. But some comedy slips through the morphine-and-mother-complex meat of it—like a flashback to 1918 Greenwich Village and the dinner-for-sex quandary of the female poor, in which Millay, with "sadistic patience," sits back "unconcerned" as her date attends to her with "moist manipulations," before she steps into a cab. Phyllis Fong


Beyond: A Little Night Opera
Connelly Theater
Closed

Here's another play that messes around with skirting death, this time a chamber opera for Catherine Gayer, formerly of the Deutsch Oper Berlin, by son and composer Danny Ashkenasi from a German libretto by Helga Krauss. After a car crash, a soprano is escorted by two angels (David L. Carson and Lance Olds), who take on multiple roles (son, lover, therapist, etc., via the switching-hats school of tripling onstage) as a life goes its course. But this life's bends are too tame and inexact to give pause, and while the score's often lovely, there's also text like "Chocolate chip brownies—I put in walnuts, sometimes almonds" set to music. One angel's comment must apply: "Artists are always the worst; they imagine they're something special." P.F.


Silence! The Musical
Lucille Lortel Theatre
121 Christopher Street
Through Sunday

Those with a taste for the macabre may take some pleasure in John Kaplan, Al Kaplan, and Hunter Bell's musical parody scarefest The Silence of the Lambs. Bad Southern accents, songs with unprintable titles, and a chorus of dancing lambs abound. Unfortunately, this promising concoction manages to be grotesque without being clever. There's not much sensibility or purpose behind its gross-out humor, and the piece offers little in the way of knowing satire or innovative mayhem. David Kornhaber

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