Fringe Festival 2008 Reviews!

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

Love Is Dead

For a guy who was so dull as a child that his parents divorced him, nebbish-y mortician Orin has remarkable luck with women in adulthood. In Love Is Dead (45 Bleecker Theatres), he's pursued not only by the girlfriend of a serial murder victim on whom Orin's performing an autopsy, but also Dana Strand (a delightful Megan Johns), the forensic geneticist who's working with Orin on solving a serial murder case. Oh, and yeah, there's also Jane (the sultry Lyndsay Hailey), another one of the serial killer's victims. She was a major nympho in life, and she maintains her lustiness in death.

Yes, Love is a musical about a murder spree and necrophilia, and this ensemble-created piece has a zingy, often hilarious book and a tuneful, if uneven, score. With some judicious cuts, an energy-sapping intermission would disappear, and Love could prove to be a musical worth keeping around and resurrecting post-Fringe. ANDY PROPST

Krapp, 39
photo by Dixie Sheridan
Krapp, 39

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The Grecian Formula

Just as only those of a certain age will get the joke of this play’s title, only those with an affectionate, lifelong immersion in the theater and its history will fully appreciate the thousand subsequent jokes in this production. Luckily, this is New York and the Fringe Festival, and there are doubtless innumerable potential fans for The Grecian Formula, a Ridiculous Theater–style imagining of the birth of drama in ancient Athens.

In an act of navigation worthy of the Phoenicians, playwright Carter Anne McGowan manages a voyage through the past 2500 years of Western drama, from the slave comedies of Rome to the romantic comedies of Shakespeare to modern musical blockbusters. McGowan pulls off more than one amazing feat here, not the least of which is making us care about the travails of ill-used ghost writer Alidocious (Todd Lawson) in an atmosphere of cheesy and wheezy theater in-jokes. So deft is her hand and so great her apparent love for the art form, that she gives us an entire scene that lampoons theatre administration—and in rhyming couplets, no less. Mary Jo Lodge directs the sparkling ensemble with assurance and enthusiasm. Who’d have imagined that tragedy could be so comical? TRAV S.D.

The Pantyhose Grid

It's a truth universally acknowledged that academics are at their rhetorical best when shitfaced, blotto, and three sheets to the wind. After a shot or three of Scotch, it’s only a matter of time before Bill (Tom Martin), hero of The Pantyhose Grid (Connelly Theater), finds cause to call stockings "nylon signifiers of erotic desire" and exclaim to his adorable sidekick (Doug Roland): "You will get tenure! You’ll never have to work again!"

Playwright Cynthia Frank can’t quite master serious academic-speak, but she has an eerie knack for reproducing that intoxicating cocktail of dialectical gold and utter bullshit that spills from liquor-loosened professorial lips. After a rollicking game of "Which authors in the canon would you like to be sucked by?" (not Woolf), these Columbia profs pour over a long-lost Jane Austen diary, and Austen herself (played with delicious impertinence by Lauren Beth Ferebee) is revealed in flashback form. As Jane chatters, she discloses her much-speculated-upon sexual preferences (she prizes women’s “manual dexterity”) and conceives of a mind-blowing, pantyhose-based theory of the universe. Though the stocking conceit is as flimsy and pointless as nylons themselves, it’s still tremendous fun to watch a philosophizing, snogging Jane who isn’t (thank Jesus) Anne Hathaway. RUTH McCANN

Becoming Britney

The widely reported highs and lows of Britney Spears's life have given people around the world cause for both concern and schadenfreude. Molly Bell and Daya Curley take advantage of the latter emotion in Becoming Britney (45 Bleecker Theaters), a retrospective of the pop-tart's life told through a musical-theater parody. What happens when Britney arrives in Manhattan? Cue a comic take on the "NYC" production number from Annie. When it's time for Spears (cunningly played by Bell in a hilarious array of wigs and an ill-fitting baldcap) to open up in rehab, she sings "My I Want Song."

For musical theater fans, such references amuse, but they feel out-of-place in the context of Spears's world. The show only succeeds when it takes on Spears at her own level—like when a very pregnant Britney shakes junk. Mirroring Spears's life, Becoming Britney is ultimately a sad waste of both talent and a good idea. ANDY PROPST

Blanche Survives Katrina in a FEMA Trailer Named Desire

A slim joke turns curiously dark in Mark Sam Rosenthal's solo show Blanche Survives Katrina in a FEMA Trailer Named Desire (Players Theater), which finds the heroine of Streetcar Named Desire rambling through New Orleans following the devastating hurricane of 2005.

Rosenthal, wearing men's streetclothes and speaking in a soft drawl, evokes the character by donning a blonde wig. While Blanche, always looking for magic, recounts her first days in the Big Easy following Katrina's onslaught, we're amused by some of her delusions—the bus driver who takes her to the Superdome is a pirate. But soon a racist edge creeps into her observations, which gives the show an unduly bitter taste.

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