Fringe Festival 2008 Reviews!

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

Usher

There may be some inadvertent significance in the fact that the new musical Usher (Schimmel Center)—based on Edgar Allan Poe’s short story “The Fall of the House of Usher”—is the 13th production I've seen in this year’s Fringe. At any rate, the number turns out to be lucky—this is far and away the best show I have seen in the festival.

Unlike the manse in Poe’s story, Usher rests on very solid foundations. As revised by recent Yale grad Molly Fox, this story of a reclusive brother and sister, and the young friend who literally tries to bring light into their lives, would be more accurately described as “inspired by” the famous Poe tale than “based on." At once darker than the source material and unexpectedly funny, Fox’s version possesses a Gothic gallows-humor not unlike the cartoons of Charles Addams or Edward Gorey, augmenting a story that already contains a scary mansion, a morbid hypochondriac, a dying woman, and a premature burial, with incest, psycho head-games, and poisoning thrown in for good measure. The result is less oppressive than the original, and arguably more enjoyable.

Krapp, 39
photo by Dixie Sheridan
Krapp, 39

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But it's Sarah Hirsch’s music that truly pushes this tale of sublimation into the sublime. Mixing elements of modern pop music with brooding Romantic strains, tinkly vocal trills you might expect to come out of the mouth of Jenny Lind, and silly duets that evoke Gilbert and Sullivan, Hirsch astonishes repeatedly with the creative resources on tap (not the least of which is the ability to pen tunes that are both moody and catchy). Director Becca Wolff and a very solid cast deliver these treats with confidence, care, and gusto—there ain’t a turkey in the bunch. They even got the costumes right. That may be a Fringe first. TRAV S.D.

Krapp, 39

If Krapp’s Last Tape is a little white pill of Samuel Beckett’s concoction, then Michael Laurence has swallowed it whole. But as we watch Laurence, wracked bodily by the dramatic prescription, it becomes plain that his Krapp, 39 (Schaeberle Studio Theatre/Pace) is no mere Beckett riff— it’s a thoughtful response, a valuable contribution. On his 69th birthday, Beckett’s Krapp sits alone, becoming steadily drunk and revisiting tapes from his 30-years-younger self. Disarmed by the Krapp of birthdays past, who shunted love and produced writing of value equal to his name, he struggles to affirm the sad direction his life has taken.

Krapp, 39 finds Laurence (the writer and sole performer) turning 39, planning to record the monologue Krapp recorded at the same age, in the hopes that he’ll live to use it in a production of the Beckett one-act 30 years in the future. As Laurence ponders the imagined performance, he undergoes his own Krapp-like self-investigation: Wielding the same torturous honesty to which Beckett subjected his miserable anti-hero, Laurence videotapes himself in brutal close-up as he unearths old journals, a phone message from his dead mother, and other messy, primary-source evidence of a life about which he's profoundly ambivalent. Using Beckett’s play like a fun-house mirror, 39 presents a mesmerizing, distorted vision of Krapp’s unwholesome solitude, melded with Laurence’s own quirks and failings. With courageous candor and humor, Laurence enters into an eerie communion with Krapp, and the resulting work is a thing of startling, wounding beauty. RUTH McCANN

Cycle

You can’t tell what's going on half the time in Rose Courtney’s Cycle (Spiegelworld), but you don't care. As staged by Craig Carlisle, this refreshingly sweet dream play moves so fast and fascinatingly that you’re content to watch, trusting you’ll catch up in a minute or two—and you generally do. Courtney plays a nebbishy, bespectacled young lonely-heart named Charlotte, who plans to kill herself if she doesn’t achieve success before the sun sets on her birthday. Her salvation comes in the form of a lovable and mysteriously immortal vaudeville troupe: Having uttered the name of the Scottish play, as penance the company has been hurled into the future to help her.

The interplay of this FringeNYC piece's talented sextet—who sing, dance, juggle, scrape a fiddle, and even act Chekhov—calls to mind everything from Pirandello to The Fantasticks. Unable to think of any success but the theatrical kind, the troupers thrust themselves before Charlotte in countless guises, prodding her rung-by-rung up the ladder of stardom. In the end, true success proves to be of the “no place like home” variety. In other hands, this journey might have been nauseating. Here, it feels like an inspired, overdue, and rather brave counterweight to a decade of “edge." TRAV S.D.

Creena Defoouie

Years after her yodeling sister Mary Annabel met a grisly demise, psychotherapist Creena Defoouie is still looking for "the spoon-shape-headed bastard" who murdered her. But until she finds the culprit, Creena (the lustrous Charlotte Barton-Hoare) is killing time by killing patients at her very own counseling center, Rambey House—"the abode that homes half-wits who lack harmony and hormonal balance." In her feather-trimmed hot pants, thigh-high boots, and tailcoat, the shrink is a tad unbalanced herself. But if one is possessed of a sufficiently dark perspective on the humorous, it's nigh impossible to resist the perpetually grimacing Creena—that elastic face! Those lipsticked lips! Those thyridic eyes!

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