Fringe Festival 2008 Reviews!

Missing Man, Ariel View, Keep Your Eyes Open, and more

Stay tuned here to our own "Fringe Central" as we post online reviews of productions in this year's New York International Fringe Festival. New reviews added daily. (For tickets, show times, and addresses, check out www.fringenyc.org).

Missing Man

It’s easy to envision Mary Scruggs’s Missing Man (The Players Loft) as a wonderfully quirky motorcycle documentary, maybe with some Baez tracks to underscore poignant interludes and Dylan for moments of wistful sexual tension. As is, Scruggs’s 90-minute recounting of her expedition across America with a hundreds-strong pack of hog-riding Vietnam vets suffers from its one-woman-ness and lack of visuals. When Scruggs describes clutching the leather-clad hips of Iron Mike, the crapulous pack-leader who calls Scruggs darlin’ as they careen down the highway at 90 miles an hour, it’s frustrating not to have tangible evidence of Mike and his shell-shocked cohorts, who sound like they’re worth some serious screen-time.

Krapp, 39
photo by Dixie Sheridan
Krapp, 39

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Scruggs, who went for the ride to gather the bikers’ stories and spend time with a flaky co-worker, demonstrates a keen sensitivity to her companions’ ties to Vietnam, present wars, psychological battles, and the motorcycle cult. She’s a good talker, but Missing Man is more of a pitch for a project than a project in itself—so let’s hope her next move will be to pick up a camera. RUTH McCANN

Mourn the Living Hector

Mourn the Living Hector (CSV)—Paul Cohen’s mashup of the Trojan War and the plight of veterans today—establishes its grip immediately with two potent scenes. The explosive opening only begins to explain why Mike (Jeff Clarke, who doubles as Hector), a Marine returned presumably from the Middle East, has woken up in a bed soaked with blood. The play then cuts to a somber discussion between Hector and his lieutenant Polydamus (David Skeist), whose ominous reflections are punctuated by a persistent cough.

Performance Lab 115’s young cast brings Cohen’s enigmatic, witty, and emotionally charged script beautifully to life. Birgit Huppuch gives a riveting performance as Hecuba, scary in her self-control, while the closing, doom-haunted dialogue between Clarke and Rebecca Lingafelter as Andromache achieves a somber poetry. The contemporary plot feels at times a little forced, one of the risks of competing against Homer. But this fine production, like the best works of Charles Mee, demonstrates the continuing relevance of ancient stories to our own contemporary tragedies. JOHN BEER

Ariel View

“You do not do, you do not do,” Sylvia Plath writes at the opening of her exuberantly tasteless poem “Daddy.” The creators and ensemble of Ariel View (45 Bleecker Theaters) a tepid examination of Plath’s life and work in a series of sketches, do not do much of anything with their brilliant, ferocious subject.

During the course of the piece, we learn that manic depression often correlates with unusual creativity; that confessional poetry begat language poetry which begat the Beats; and, over and over and over, that academics and journalists and Plath’s family members all wanted to dictate how her life should be understood. It’s like watching Plath: The Wikipedia Entry as directed by Janet Malcolm.

Did I mention there’s a dance sequence set to a recording of Plath reading her monumental “Lady Lazarus”? During which the dancers express the poet’s delicate state of mind by, well, freaking out? This is actually a high point: Plath’s voice and words provide a vitality and drama sorely needed elsewhere. JOHN BEER

Keep Your Eyes Open

All the 11-year-old girls starring in Keep Your Eyes Open (Cherry Lane Theatre) know the "Soulja Boy" lyrics and the accompanying dance. And judging by these ladies' canny looks of disapproval, it seems they know exactly what Soulja is saying about that ho. These girls are barely a decade old, and it's soul-crushing to be reminded that the full burden of Hilton-Richie-Spears-dom is being allowed to fall on their tiny shoulders. But the kids are coping well, and they've pulled an energetic show about female preadolescent hell from their own small wells of angst.

Based on workshops the girls did with the PossEble Theater Company, Keep Your Eyes Open comprises a string of scenes and reflections from girl-world, all emceed by the young Winnifred (Winnifred BonJean-Alpart, who performs better than many adults at Fringe). The plot (the kids become less fretful, more feministy) is as thin as an Olsen, and the girls would be well-served by some mics, but the sparkling young ones provide frequent moments of sheer, hilarious glee (Winnifred declaims "Soulja Boy," beat-poet-style). The girls vent about chauvinistic gym teachers, fickle friends, climate change, Disney’s "subliminal bullying," and the dearth of women in their history curriculum. Though we've heard it all before, it's heartening to see the sincerity flashing in those 11 pairs of doe-eyes. RUTH McCANN

Anaïs Nin Goes to Hell

Why a male playwright would choose to write a staunchly feminist play about dead women mooning through a vaguely polytheistic afterlife defies comprehension, but thank the gods for David Stallings’s Anaïs Nin Goes to Hell (the Connelly Theater). With Stallings’s well-paced script, Cristina Alicea’s subtle direction, and a compulsively watchable cast, this thoughtful two-act is a uniquely polished presence at the Fringe.

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