Fringe Festival 2008 Reviews!

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

On a deserted rock just a few knots away from the Island of Karen Carpenter, five long-dead broads—Queen Victoria, Cleopatra, Andromeda, Joan of Arc, and the medieval abbess Heloise—wait mulishly for their beloved men (Joan is keeping a candle burning for our Lord, yelping, “I am ze sword of ze baby Jesus!”). But the women’s hopeless vigil is interrupted by the arrival of infamous French feminist, diarist, and erotica-writer Anaïs Nin, who immediately pops a lithium tablet into Joan’s gaping mouth.

Sounding like a Gallic Madeline Kahn, the svelte Nin (Shelly Feldman) delivers blow after coy blow to her companions’ much-cherished delusions, asserting that women can only think clearly when they’re completely man-free. Reductive it might be, but Nin redeems itself with moments of joyful whimsy: When Heloise, Andromeda, and Queen Vic belt the Carpenters' "Superstar" in three-part harmony, all philosophical gaps are forgiven. RUTH McCANN

Good Pictures

Krapp, 39
photo by Dixie Sheridan
Krapp, 39

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by Trav S.D.

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Just as one measure of the ability of a pop singer is if they can do it "unplugged," a trusty test of directors, playwrights, and actors is whether they can handle the "two guys in a room" play. Such two-handers are the theatrical equivalent of working without a net—no shifts in space to avoid knotty story problems; no butlers to walk on to announce that the inspector is at the door.

Ashlin Halfnight's Good Pictures (the Studio at Cherry Lane) is such a vehicle. Set in a small-town jail cell in the aftermath of a guard's murder, the play keeps us in lockdown for 90 minutes in the company of a mismatched, volatile pair of criminals (William Jackson Harper and James Nugent). One of the strengths of Halfnight's script is that he manages to wring tension not only from the nail-biting situation (as the inmates wait all night for the inevitable arrival of the relief guards), but also from the mystery of who these men really are. Halfnight doles out this information piecemeal over the course of the play. In time, we learn that neither man is as good nor as bad as any single detail about their lives would make them appear.

Director Dominic D'Andrea keeps a tight rein on his actors—the pace is natural and unhurried without dropping the energy for the most part. Harper and Nugent both manage to be simultaneously sympathetic and scary. From time to time, they even manage to be funny, even if it is gallows humor. This tight little production is a nice illustration of what can be accomplished with a few simple ingredients. TRAV S.D.

The Seven Little Foys

As a hard-core vaudeville fan, I regret to report that Chip Deffaa’s new musical The Seven Little Foys (Schimmel Center) is for old-school show-biz buffs only—and undiscriminating ones, at that. The story of vaudeville’s most popular kiddie act, created (in every sense of the word) by song and dance man Eddie Foy, this is a yarn with the potential to educate and tug the heartstrings, even as it amuses.

Unfortunately, the new show fails on all of those levels. The little action the book contains seems copiously plundered from the 1955 Bob Hope film of the same name, including that movies’s many gross inaccuracies. The rest of the script is padded with reams of often irrelevant facts, presented without subtlety or integration. And then there are the songs—all 46 of them. Five of these are by Mr. Deffaa and seem like the beginnings of an original musical score. The remainder are period songs—eight of which are from the wrong period.

As old man Foy, Michael Townsend Wright, a former stooge with the likes of Joey Faye and Uncle Floyd Vivino, brings with him a certain authenticity, if not an ability to act. The show’s one saving grace (and a truly magical surprise it is) is the presence of Eddie Foy’s great-grandson Ryan Foy in the cast as George M. Cohan. Ryan clearly has both the family bug and the family talent. He lights up the stage whenever he appears, even as Wright appears to be under heavy sedation. TRAV S.D.

La Vigilia (The Vigil)

There are shipwrights, wheelwrights...and playwrights. Vincent Marano forges plays with a woodworker's old-fashioned sense of craftsmanship. La Vigilia (The Vigil)—his tale of postwar Italy, playing at the Connelly Theater—mixes the seemingly incongruous elements of commedia del’arte and Italian neo-realism to produce a hybrid that, while not completely successful, is deserving of further exploration.

James Michael Armstrong plays an urbane, philosophical drifter named Sagesto, who masquerades as the long-lost husband of wealthy widow La Signora (Victoria Bundonis). In this effort he's egged on by various servants and other characters, all of whom have designs of their own.

The production’s main problem is tone. While the plot is farcical in structure, broad comedy occurs only in sporadic flashes. And while the entire script is rich with witticism, folk sayings, and clever philosophy, the overall pace is heavy, almost funereal—which may be appropriate for a story about a widow, but clashes mightily with the script’s comic aims. To straddle both would require the skills of an Anna Magnani. Bundonis acquits herself well with her character’s melancholy aspects, but could do with some of the electricity displayed by Elka Rodriguez as the hotheaded innkeeper Ferra. The creators have built a very good furnace here—they just need to stoke up the fire. TRAV S.D.

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