The Fest and the Curious

Fringe Festival roundup: Gay penguins, fart jokes, Oingo Boingo, macramé, and more

The New York International Fringe Festival entered its second decade last Friday, unleashing its motley brand of madness all over downtown. And as always, the Voice deployed its squadron of Fringe operatives to survey the scene. Their first series of dispatches follow below, with more to come next week; check villagevoice .com/theater for further updates. You can buy tickets in person at Fringe Central (27 Mercer Street), by phone at 212-279-4488, or online at fringenyc.org, where you can also find a complete schedule.


Air Guitar
Henry Street Settlement, Harry de Jur Playhouse,
466 Grand Street
Through August 27

The suddenly well-documented world of competitive air guitar performance inspires this broad musical in which Drew (Stephen Graybill), a floundering musician, is taught rock's grandeur by his wife Celeste (Becca Ayers), his best friend Steve (Michael Poignand), and the invisible-to-others metal god Ulrich (Jeff Hiller), a towering snark-meister with Britny Fox hair and a Tim Curry Swedish accent. Ulrich makes for a gleefully antagonistic foil as Drew becomes a reluctant legend in the metal-miming craft, competing with the likes of "Hand Solo" and "Shreddy Krueger." In this clever production, it's one thing to rock, "but to air is divine." Joseph McCombs

Confessions
The Studio at Cherry Lane Theatre,
38 Commerce Street
Through August 25

Dongshin Chang's Confessions runs the Greek Phaedra myth through the stylistic filter of minimalist Chinese theater— a frame that fails to create more than visual interest in a story so well trodden. As the queen who lusts after her stepson, Cara Maltz makes a shivery Phaedra, but the rest of the cast doesn't always match up in diction and gravity. For a play purportedly about "how to stop love," desire seems tentative and adolescent: The refrain of characters bemoaning that they must "go to Hades," or threatening to go, at times dangles dangerously near punchline—not a good fate for a Greek tragedy. Phyllis Fong

The Fartiste
Henry Street Settlement, Harry de Jur Playhouse,
466 Grand Street
Through Sunday

Powerfully built and played in all aspects except for its title character, Charles Schulman and Michael Roberts's new musical, set at the Moulin Rouge in the 1890s, is almost ready for prime time. Based on the true story of Joseph "Le Pétomane" Pujol, a uniquely talented French baker who longed to create an "orchestral opus for the ass," it's 90 minutes of cynical songs, bright staging, and resonant performances from characters who might easily have descended into cliché. Jim Corti and Lyn Philistine hit just the right tone as an impresario and his fading star; Kevin Kraft is a little too light, and too young, as the man who wants to put the "art" back into "fart." Jon Gould Rubin directs capably. Elizabeth Zimmer

Free to Be Friend
13th Street Repertory,
50 West 13th Street
Through Monday

Gotta love the premise of this mixed-bag sketch from Upright Citizens Brigade vets, combining two decidedly 1972 elements: progressive children's television programming and women using newfound liberation to explore lesbianism and macramé. Failed kiddie show hosts Betty and Joan (co-creators Sue Galloway and Julie Klausner) are at their best constructing incongruous folk sing-alongs about personal and global liberties: "Pancakes, pancakes, Vietnam: One of these things is really wrong." And later, in a rousing finish to a ditty about how "boys and girls are different in the pants," they triumphantly conclude: "And woman is the nigger of the world!" J.M.

Girl Scouts of America
Henry Street Settlement,
Recital Hall, 466 Grand Street
Through Sunday

No merit badge currently exists to honor the successful staging of an Off-Off-Broadway show, but if it did, the performers, writers, and director of the sweet treat Girl Scouts of America would be sewing it onto their sashes right about now. Smart cookies Andrea Berloff and Mona Mansour have distilled their years as Girl Scouts into this four-woman show, which combines reminiscences with a fictional romance between two camp counselors. As the various characters endeavor to "serve God, my country, and mankind," they pause to sing campfire songs and earn merit badges for self-esteem and "realizing childhood sucks." Alexis Soloski

Oblivious to Everyone
Manhattan Children's Theatre,
52 White Street
Through Saturday

Set in a psychiatrist's office, Jessica Lynn Johnson's one-woman comedy follows Carrie, a blonde Paris Hilton wannabe, whose addictions to plastic surgery and trashy television have turned her schizophrenic. Giving a vigorous, fast-paced performance, Johnson skillfully plays 10 characters, perfectly capturing them all, from a porn star on womanizer on Elimidate. The trouble is, she and director Christopher Sorenson have added nothing new to these distasteful, clichéd personalities beyond what can be seen any time we turn on the television. Johnson's one excellent bit of parody is when she retells how her "perfect accessory," a chihuahua named Tinkerbell, recently suffocated in her Louis Vuitton purse. The script needs more outrageous exaggerations like this to be a success. Instead, all we get are tired reruns. Angela Ashman

The October Sapphire Henry Street Settlement, Harry de Jur Playhouse,
466 Grand Street
Through Friday

Nick Coyle's charmingly dizzy October Sapphire, here from Australia, welcomes a group of misfits into the dark mansion of an aged, now crazy, movie star: She awakens one morning intending to clean the peacock mess out of the gazebo, but decides to kill herself instead. Intervention comes accidentally, though expectedly, and despite a raunchy puppet monster and some embittered fellows, Sapphire, with music by indie singer-songwriter Andy Clockwise, retains a kindly and all- inclusive children's theater feel. The play believes in its own aberrations and runs with them, which is worth much. P.F.

Only a Lad
Henry Street Settlement, Harry de Jur Playhouse,
466 Grand Street
Through August 24

Playwright Andrew Loschert's half-baked musical comedy, based on the songs of the '80s band Oingo Boingo, uses 18 tunes to tell the story of Johnny, a rebellious teenager who falls in love with a cheerleader and goes to jail for running down the principal. It's a cute idea, but unfortunately, many of the lyrics don't fit neatly into Loschert's thin plot: For instance, "Little Girls" is inappropriately sung to a grown-up police detective, and the band's memorable hit "Dead Man's Party" is a letdown, featuring Johnny and a few prisoners doing some embarrassingly bad choreography on their knees. As two overhead projectors show the changing scenery on a screen behind a live band, the game 15 cast members, dressed in fun retro outfits, do their best to energize the work, but some much needed camp is sorely lacking. A.A.

The Penguin Tango Actors' Playhouse,

100 Seventh Avenue South
Through Saturday

Humboldt penguins mate for life, narrator Wendell (the marvelous Steve Hayes, a nicer Paul Lynde with great timing) informs us in Stephen Svoboda's delightful comedy inspired by the same-sex penguin couples at the Bremerhaven and Central Park zoos. The maternally impulsive Roy (John Bixler) is forced into "aversion therapy" re-education to separate him from his mate, Silo (the adorable Brendan Maroney), but triumphs, love intact. Great choreography and zingers flying all around, flamingos prancing as circuit queens, penguins knotting themselves in snowball duels, and Shakespearean plottings and identity obfuscations—it's all happening at the zoo! And with definite breakout potential. J.M.

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