Harold Pinter Pair
By Harold Pinter
SoHo Playhouse
15 Vandam Street, fringenyc.org

Harold Pinter wrote, so often, for three characters at a time—emphasizing not the direct conflict of one-on-one, but the subtle shift of alliances amongst a group. The surreal thing about The Lover and Ashes to Ashes, two Pinter one-acts mounted together under the title Harold Pinter Pair, is how Pinter continues to write for three or more characters even with only two people onstage.

In The Lover (1962), a superficially staid couple has gotten into the habit of multiplying themselves through romantic role-play; the action explodes beyond comedy when one of them tries to haul down the curtain on this dream world. If fantasies augment the dramatis personae of The Lover, schizophrenic nightmares multiply the cast of Ashes to Ashes (1996). A man probes his wife for information about her past, but each question seems merely to trigger some sort of cognitive “reset”—only certain recurring images of sexual and emotional violence seem to unite her fractured selves into a single traumatized whole. In each play, Pinter seasons a simple two-person cast with a dash of schizophrenia in order to explore the kind of psychological and dramatic complexity usually reserved for larger ensembles.

"MoM—A Rock Concert Musical"
Richard Caliban
"MoM—A Rock Concert Musical"

Under the direction of Patrick McNulty, this pairing of plays results in a richer production of each. Chris Thorn and Julianna Zinkel, in The Lover, could handle Pinter’s dry comedy with a bit more precision, but they certainly find the near-psychotic desperation driving the couple's games—a crucial aspect of the play, and one that might give way to pure farce without the darker Ashes to Ashes as a companion piece. Similarly, Allen McCullough and Christine Marie Brown find the humor in Ashes to Ashes, where it exists. Any sane audience would sit down to a play called Ashes to Ashes expecting a doom-and-gloomy evening at the theater, but, well, we're not exactly a sane audience after the madcap climax of The Lover. So, instead, we hang on every impish gleam and optimistic glimmer in the script, holding out (far longer than we should) for comfort, for resolution. The steady, morose spiral of the play is therefore all the more devastating. CHRISTOPHER GROBE

And Sophie Comes Too
By Meryl Cohn The Cherry Pit
155 Bank Street, fringenyc.org

"You think everyone is looking at you," the recently comatose mom Sophie tells the audience, "but they're not." That’s something every gratingly self-centered character would do well to grasp in And Sophie Comes Too, a comedy about three dysfunctional adult offspring who finally learn to express themselves to their mother only when she is unconscious. While the notoriously narcissistic Sophie is rendered silent due to a head wound, her single lesbian daughter Barbara, married straight daughter Rose, and transitioning female-to-male son Ray treat her sickbed as a confession booth with sometimes funny, frequently self-pitying results.

But when Sophie comes to, she suffers an after-effect of the injury: the inability to censor herself from sharing everything, be it a new philosophy or a raunchy fantasy. Barbara’s central plotline about trying to adopt a baby from the confines of the closet takes a backseat, tying up tidily in a scheme that’s downright unethical. Any laughs there might have existed in this cliché-packed piece make way for a sappy fable about the capacity to reinvent oneself, "even if you're old." SHARYN JACKSON

Population: 8
By Nicholas Gray
The SoHo Playhouse
15 Vandam Street, fringenyc.org

It’s easy to imagine why North Dakotans were once desperate enough to try attracting more people to their state by dropping the “North” from its name. Loki, ND—the town and subject of Population: 8, Nicholas Gray’s wistful, contemplative new play—boasts between five and nine residents at any given time. It’s blustery and freezing, and there’s no one else around for miles.

Population: 8 stitches together the tales of Loki’s sweetly quirky inhabitants—a teenage radio host with under 10 listeners, a deaf kid who talks to clouds—into a meditation on the importance of home and community, and the ravages of isolation. Amanda Hagy’s set conjures a tiny, self-contained world: A white clapboard backdrop serves as home and church, and as a screen for projected fantasies and nightmares. Residents track their fluctuating numbers through the ritual updating of the town’s population sign (when it drops to “Population: 6,” trauma ensues). Gray frequently dips into sentimentality, but Marc Stuart Weitz’s clean direction, and an enthusiastic ensemble cast, make Loki worth the trek north. MIRIAM FELTON-DANSKY

Kaddish (or The Key in the Window)
By Allen Ginsberg, adapted by Donnie Mather
Here Arts Center
145 Sixth Avenue, fringenyc.org

During his long lifetime, Allen Ginsberg only publicly read “Kaddish,” a long narrative poem mourning his mother's madness and death, a few times. He once explained that reading it too often risked turning the piece into a “performance” rather than an “event.” The danger in staging the poem, as Donnie Mather does for the Fringe Festival, is that the conventions of theater, relished too much for their own sake, can get in the way of the power of "Kaddish" as a naked, ritual event.

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