Fringe Festival 2008 Reviews!

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

Visiting the Fringe Festival from the Isle of Wight, Creena Defoouie (Studio at Cherry Lane) is a vampy, pitch-black comedy that revels in the same twisted (but deeply satisfying) British sensibilities that make Little Britain and Mitchell and Webb so delightful. Musical numbers penned by costar-director James Hoare are polished and catchy, despite their unusual subject matter: The bucktoothed "nutter" Kenny sings away his dental worries, and Creena belts about her lost love Bertie ("Tell me why, oh, you moved to Ohio!"). Even as Superintendent Hardon (Hoare) comes ever closer to putting Creena behind bars, the piece keeps up its mesmerizing energy, with Creena dancing (and dildo-fighting) her way to the bitter, schizophrenic end. RUTH MCCANN

That Dorothy Parker

Carol Lempert’s thin biographical solo show That Dorothy Parker (Soho Playhouse) begins in January of 1943 with the famously quick-witted writer struggling to compose a eulogy for critic and fellow Algonquin Round Table member Alexander Woollcott. Flashing back to their first Algonquin lunch in 1919, Lempert takes us through Parker’s literary career—from her work at The New Yorker to her stint as a screenwriter in Hollywood to her time in Madrid during the Spanish Civil War—and all the lovers, marriages, suicide attempts, and bottles of Scotch in between.

Krapp, 39
photo by Dixie Sheridan
Krapp, 39

A capable performer, Lempert deftly vivifies Parker and her many starry friends, including Hemingway and Harold Ross. But though this Fringe Festival piece is touching at times, and Parker’s acerbic wisecracks are always funny (“You can lead a horticulture, but you can't make her think”), a better title for the play might have been Dorothy Parker’s Greatest Hits, as it often feels like Parker’s best loved one-liners, poems, and other writings were strung together without any attempt to provide more insight into her life than a Wikipedia entry. Unless you really hate to read, save yourself the time and curl up with The Portable Dorothy Parker instead. ANGELA ASHMAN

Behold, the Bowery!

Among the infinite number of possible historical settings for a work of drama, few would be as colorful or entertaining as New York's Bowery in the mid- to late-19th century. A sound instinct therefore motivates playwright-director Daniel Pfau's maiden effort. This is, after all, the milieu of The Gangs of New York. In Behold the Bowery (The Connelly Theater), we follow the doings of a cocky actor (Daniel Abeles) and an impecunious Polish immigrant (Alex Coppola), both of whom cross a ruthless Irish gangster (Einar Gunn). The piece feels a lot like one of the melodramas of the era, which were the equivalent of today's TV hackwork (all plot, no reflection). As a theatrical experience, that's not such a bad thing. It's exciting, amusing, and moves along at a good clip.

Still, the production leaves plenty to be desired. The services of a dramaturg are badly needed, for anachronisms and incongruities abound in both the dialogue and the production design. For the most part, the acting is superficial and broad, roughly suited to a college production of Guys and Dolls.

When the smoke clears and the villain is duly dispatched, we're given an unexpected coda, a recitation of Whitman's celebratory "I Hear America Singing." After the seedy story that precedes, we hope the epilogue is intended ironically, but we fear it's not. It's one thing to hear the singing, another to fathom the song. TRAV S.D.

I Heart Hamas: And Other Things I’m Afraid to Tell You

“Cautious” probably isn’t the first word you’d associate with a monologue titled I Heart Hamas (The Players Loft). But Palestinian-American actor Jennifer Jajeh’s hour-long exploration of her life in California and the occupied West Bank rarely reaches the level of provocation suggested by her title. The most engaging section of the piece relates an odd, funny anecdote about a custody battle between Jajeh and a Jewish friend over a cat named Judah; even a cat, she suggests, can be drawn into the Arab-Israeli conflict.

In the American sections, Jajeh’s agility as a performer and gift for mimicry are fully displayed. But when the setting shifts to the city of Ramallah during the Second Intifada of the early 2000s, the piece becomes more generic. For a period, Jajeh documented abuses at Israeli checkpoints, standing with a video camera at a distance; much of the second half of her piece seems rooted in a similarly detached perspective. JOHN BEER

Nudists in Love

The innocence exuded in Nudists in Love (45 Bleecker Theatres) engages nearly completely. The musical centers on the scandal that erupts when the people of Gardenia, an almost utopian suburban community, discover that Trevor (Adam J. MacDonald), the upstanding, kind-hearted president of their housing association, is (gasp!) a nudist. Given today's far worse scandals involving politicians much higher up, the Gardenians' shock about Trevor's distaste for clothing at home seems seductively quaint.

Shannon Thomason's satirical book goes further, merrily indicting the fickleness of the electorate: After Trevor is "outed," his neighbors vote Roger (Todd Faulkner), a power-hungry attorney, in as community president. He promptly enacts inane and unpopular restrictions, which make the populace seek Trevor's leadership once more. With an appealing cast (particularly Beth Ann Leone and BJ Hemann as a bickering couple) and Nirmal Chandraratna's buoyant but sometimes awkward score, "Nudists" charms in a goofball sort of way. ANDY PROPST

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