Fringe Festival 2008 Reviews!

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

Zombie

Given its brutally detailed descriptions of the rape and torture of boys, Zombie (Players Theatre Loft) is not for the faint of heart. But Bill Connington's 60-minute adaption of Joyce Carol Oates's 1995 novella of the same name certainly rewards intrepid theatergoers, delivering a haunting glimpse into the mind of a serial killer.

In addition to adapting, Connington takes center stage in this solo show, playing thirtysomething Quentin P., a man bent on creating an automaton sex slave for himself. Under the sure-handed direction of Thomas Caruso, Connington brings Quentin to life with the chillingly benumbed demeanor of someone who's overly medicated or, perhaps, coping with a learning disability. As Quentin details his crimes, and some factors that may have contributed to them, this placid, guy-next-door exterior gives way to disturbing flashes of vicious arrogance. Deirdre Broderick's original score and Joel E. Silver's lighting design beautifully underscore this eerie, captivating performance. ANDY PROPST

Krapp, 39
photo by Dixie Sheridan
Krapp, 39

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KNB—The Musical

It's easy to imagine U.S. servicemen and women looking for any diversion that might serve as a way of coping with being deployed in the Middle East. Naval reservist Christopher Carter Sanderson, who was stationed at Kuwait Naval Base (KNB), chose an interesting option, writing a musical: KNB (Schimmel Center), a haphazard and frivolous look at service-life that borrows from everything from operetta to [title of show].

In KNB, a boy-meets-girl love story combines with a tale about two Navy petty officers attempting to attract "females" by writing a musical. Another aspect of Sanderson's book details how a second paycheck is the true motivation for reservists. These plots rarely cohere, and Sanderson's tunes seem randomly placed within them. Choreographer Erin Porvaznika follows Sanderson's lead, referencing a variety of choreographers in her dances, often to surreal effect. And though KNB might have given Sanderson some respite from the service, it's hardly escapist magic for theatergoers. ANDY PROPST

Dreadful Penny’s Exquisite Horrors

It’s a bloody mess in the Deluxe tent at Spiegelworld, where some nattily dressed actors are getting smeared with gore—some of it real, most of it fake (we hope). The lights are barely up when the all-too-aptly-named Dreadful Penny’s Exquisite Horrors reaches a climax of sorts as a brave lady-magician gets a six-inch needle straight through the forearm. Gosh!

But that’s about as exciting as things get. Though it promises “burlesque,” Horrors isn’t so much a cheeky Dita Von Teese number as it is a jolting foray into the big wide world of BDSM. Penny (Jennifer LaTurner) presides as our dominatrix-style MC, a Dr. Frank-N-Furter wannabe who forces her ragtag gang of five to perform an enervated variety show in which the charmingly bumbling magician (still bleeding!) is a fleeting bright spot. But song, striptease, drama, and magic all fall to ghastly pieces as Penny proceeds to administer a hose-beating of the emotions: As Penny cackles and kvetches, a timid man is provoked until he assaults a costar, and a fumbling stripper is reduced to sobs. In the midst of it all, Penny’s thong is removed, but don’t expect to see anything; much like her conclusions about illicit sensuality, Penny’s own exquisite horrors remain obscured. RUTH McCANN

Woodhull

A shrill, almost universally hated woman runs for president, sticking with the race when even her closest advisors and supporters have long abandoned her. Sound familiar?

Evidently the creators of Woodhull (Schimmel Center) hope so, given the former First Lady’s bid for the White House earlier this year. Yet, while the efforts of a forceful but basically unlikable personality to get ahead in politics is an excellent theme for a play, it's not the sole the focus of this one. Indeed, one would be hard-pressed to say just what the play is about. Playwright Liza Lentini offers a sprawl of facts and exposition, events and relationships, and while those elements may add up to the life of 1872 presidential candidate Victoria Woodhull, they do not necessarily add up to a cohesive theatrical experience.

This is a frequent pitfall in biographical playwriting, and Woodhull’s complicated, colorful life only increases the temptation to throw everything into the soup. While her presidential candidacy is the ostensible peg of the piece, we also learn that Woodhull was the daughter of a medicine show huckster, a former prostitute, a communist, a suffragette, and an advocate of free love. Her running mate was Frederick Douglas, and she pimped out her sister to Cornelius Vanderbilt. Any one of these details is more than enough to hang a story on. Including them all runs the risk of being, as Woodhull apparently was herself, so overly “interesting” as to be repellant. TRAV S.D.

The Redheaded Man

Schizophrenic. That's the diagnosis that Brian—the wunderkind architect at the center of Halley Bondy's The Redheaded Man (Barrow Street Theater)—has received from psychiatrists. This diagnosis can also be given to Bondy's drama-comedy, which aims for tears with a sad tale of how Brian (an appealing David Jenkins) has never resolved issues about his mother's mysterious death when he was a child. Unfortunately, Bondy undermines Brian's story with broad comedy about Dr. Jonas (played with flair by Michelle Sims), Brian's pill-pushing, self-medicating shrink.

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