Pardon Our Fringe

Fringe Fest roundup: Featuring Poe, the Olsens, and the disembodied head of Sam Walton

As the 10th annual New York International Fringe Festival heads into the homestretch, reports continue to pour in from the Voice's Fringe operatives on the ground. Performances continue through Sunday. 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.

Billy the Mountain and Other American Card Tricks
Henry Street Settlement, Harry de Jur Playhouse, 466 Grand Street
Through Friday

In Billy the Mountain, Amanda Berg Wilson beautifully stages Frank Zappa's "operetta" about a mountain named Billy who decides to take his wife, Ethel (a "tree growing off of his shoulder"), on vacation, destroying everything in his path. This is intercut with several war themes, many well-conceived (e.g., a "terror alert" striptease). After he crushes Edwards Air Force Base, Billy becomes a government target; nevertheless, he is drafted.

The equation of the mountain to a soldier is, as choreographed by Annie Arnoult Beserra, almost disproportionately moving. But Matt Reed's totally unselfconscious performance as Studebaker Hoch, hired to handle the mountain situation, is the standout. Darren Reidy

I Coulda Been a Kennedy
Players Theatre, 115 MacDougal Street
Through Saturday

Dennis Trainor Jr.'s smart, suspenseful tale explores the dark side of the American dream with the O'Reilly family, a clan of Kennedy worshippers who put their hopes, dreams, and cash into making a president out of the youngest member, Devin. Presented by the Rude Mechanicals Theater Company (of the Obie-nominated Flu Season), with solid direction by Ted Sluberski, the play fluidly follows Devin's tragic path to becoming "history book material." Of the strong 12-member cast, newcomer Kelsey Kurz is especially good as the 17-year-old Devin, who gets dumped by a Kennedy relation, disappointing his family. Angela Ashman

Letter Purloined
Henry Street Settlement
(Closed)

Edgar Allen Poe's obituary announced that his death "will startle many, but few will be grieved by it." However, Letter Purloined, a cryptic collage of Poe short stories, Lacanian interpretations, and Othello, occasions little grief. This production by Theater Oobleck, who once graced the Fringe with The Complete Lost Works of Samuel Beckett . . ., is an aleatory amalgam of 26 scenes performed in random order. The form's clever, as is the dialogue scripted by David Isaacson, but as in many a post-structuralist essay, the endless deferral of meaning quickly progresses from the confusing to the tedious. Alexis Soloski

Olsen Terror
The Flea, 41 White Street
Through Saturday

The name Olsen might conjure a pair of waifs in overpriced dirty-hippie garb, dodging paparazzi and gulping venti soy mocha Frappuccinos, while running their multimedia conglomerate via bejeweled pink Razr. The last thing you would envision is a bearish 40-year-old man, singing catchy folk-pop tunes about turning into said twins. Mary-Kate and Ashley serve as catalyst for Chris Wells's ruminations on America's obsession with celebrity and power, intertwining hilarious monologues with songs (co-written with guitarist Jeremy Bass) to create this minimalist musical. Though Olsen Terror's no-frills tactics leave you feeling like something's missing, you'll find more laughs here than Olsen products at Wal-Mart. Ryan McWilliams

Puppet Government
Players Loft, 115 MacDougal Street
Through Sunday

Already the concept feels tired. Set on a countertop, Bush is a can opener, Cheney a Cuisinart, Rumsfeld a juicer, Condi a rice cooker, etc., ably manipulated by puppeteers. A salesman peddles Bush additional equipment (like a war blender) as the need arises. The appliances explain themselves through song parody (e.g., "Eye of the Tiger," now "I'm the Decider"); these are almost as clever as your usual stoned high schooler badinage. The non-song stuff—i.e., everything else—is worse. Regurgitating facts in a sarcastic voice isn't satire, especially when many of those facts are being misunderstood. This is like watching a carpenter with a bucket of 16d's trying to re-nail a coffin lid and missing every time. D.R.

Rainy Days & Mondays
DR2 Theatre, 103 East 15th Street
Through Friday

Andrew Barrett's exploration of mid-'90s gay circuit-party culture follows three celebrants searching for something more. Brian (Michael Carbonaro), an improbably poetic mama's boy, can't get over his deceased ex. David (Benjamin Gabriel), ostensibly a sexually adventurous bohunk, gesticulates unnaturally and says "K-hole" like it's today's secret word. Show-stealer Jamyl Dobson, as a Miss Fierce hedonist who has a trust fund and isn't afraid to use it, foreshadows the lifestyle's ultimate emptiness (re crystal: "It's gonna be all the rage on the circuit soon enough"). But drugs are mere metaphors; all these boys really want is to be loved—a facile observation of a scene that deserves more. Joseph McCombs

A Small Hole
Dance New Amsterdam, 280 Broadway
Through Thursday

Playwright Julia Jarcho's "mutation" of Mansfield Park, with its Sadean overlay (the Marquis's Justine replaces the German Romantic play Lovers' Vows as the internal theatrics), does its best work in showing how utterly commonplace such corseted trappings can feel: Jane Austen's problem child, as presented (a major portion of the script is taken from her text), has enough reserves of sex and politics on its own—e.g., men who believe a glass of Madeira is the fix for any female ill. The poor and virtuous Fanny spends much of the play in a box, and Elena Mulroney's portrayal goes from faintly annoying to Ibsen-level powerful in seconds. With the startlingly choreographed ball scene and its evocation of Austens past, the performance affirms the potential for inventive transformation. Phyllis Fong

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