The Books
By Michael Edison Hayden
The Cherry Pit
155 Bank Street,

The Books is the post-golden-shower-literary-discussion romantic dramedy you’ve been waiting for. Tender, cheeky and only a tiny bit maudlin, Michael Edison Hayden’s charged two-hander unspools a series of welcome twists on a patently ludicrous concept.

Nearly the entire play, directed with unobtrusive skill by Matt Urban, takes place either during or immediately after a series of S/M sessions between a burly handyman (Scott David Nogi, quite good) and an Egyptian-American dominatrix (Aadya Bedi, even better) in his cluttered Astoria apartment. As wordy and even glib as the sessions are, they pale in comparison to the increasingly probing discussions (many of them plumbing the client’s well-thumbed piles of books for psychological insight) that follow them.

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

The dom is also an aspiring actress, and her laments about the clichéd roles she’s offered lose some of their effectiveness when the actress delivering them is wearing a latex bustier and stiletto-heel boots. But Hayden’s ear for topical dialogue and crisp emotional reversals culminate in a weirdly gentle finale that comes awfully close to transcending its hackneyed nature. Henry James and James Joyce must be spinning in their graves to hear their works discussed in this context. (Well, maybe not Joyce.) But who would have pegged Isabel Archer as such a good subject for pillow talk? ERIC GRODE

By Kirk Wood Bromley
The Players Loft
115 MacDougal Street,

This one-man show about the performer's schizophrenia could evoke a modicum of empathy or pity. But neither writer-director Kirk Wood Bromley's work nor Dan Berkey's performance in Remission inspire these emotions. Instead, brought pretentiously to the stage, Berkey's nightmares prove annoying.

After a cloyingly poetic prologue in which Berkey explains that his schizophrenia is in remission, the play recounts the details of Berkey's life. A barrage of words and calculated lyricism, delivered passionately, but frequently unintelligibly, tell of parental emotional abuse and sexual abuse by a teacher. These events precede the voices and visions that Berkey experiences throughout his life, an existence that also includes substance abuse and, ultimately, homelessness. The play seesaws—appropriately— between moments of lucidity and manic behavior, but these latter sequences, which include one involving an inflatable sex doll and red paint, cause nervous smiles instead of dismayed compassion for his suffering. Relief sets in when Berkey recounts the post-rehab vision that led to him flush his meds, a first step toward his disease's remission, but only because it means the piece is concluding. ANDY PROPST

The Most Mediocre Story Never Told!
By Jay Sefton
The Actors’ Playhouse
100 Seventh Avenue,

August in New York means a windfall of sundresses, an embarrassment of tourists—and, yes, thanks to the Fringe Festival, a glut of one-person shows. The Most Mediocre Story Never Told!, Jay Sefton’s contribution to the genre, is different, though, insofar as it’s premised on your being sick and tired of actors and their confessions.

Part parody, part earnest specimen of the form, Sefton’s schizophrenic performance has him playing two selves clashing over how to narrate the same life story. Which will prevail: the self-aggrandizing “authenticity” of a crotch-grabbing cad, or the painful sincerity of a sensitive lad? Manly mockery of the confessional monologue, or (queer?) participation in it?

Sefton wants it both ways and gets neither. Like a cocky magician, he'd like to show you the machinery yet leave you, despite yourself, believing in magic. It can be done, no doubt (as it arguably was, in the realm of prose memoir, by Dave Eggers), but the magic had better be damned good, and the machinery ingenious. Sefton's sincerity and parody don't enrich one another by contrast; they cancel each other out. This work isn't heartbreaking enough—nor the genius sufficiently staggering—for this tactic to succeed. CHRISTOPHER GROBE

38 Witnessed Her Death, I Witnessed Her Love: The Lonely Secret of Mary Ann Zielonko
By LuLu LoLo
Robert Moss Theatre
440 Lafayette Street,

The rather labored title of LuLu LoLo’s engrossing 38 Witnessed Her Death, I Witnessed Her Love: The Lonely Secret of Mary Ann Zielonko instantly brings to mind the 1964 murder of Kitty Genovese, whose late-night cries for help resulted in 38 witnesses and zero calls to the police. With so much ensuing talk of those men and women and their collective guilt, it’s easy to forget that there was a 39th guilty party in Kew Gardens that night; his name was Winston Moseley, and LoLo’s all-but-affectless recounting of his confession sees to it that audiences won’t forget him any time soon.

But Moseley isn’t the focus of LoLo’s solo show. Nor is it A.M. Rosenthal, the New York Times editor who assigned the initial article on the bystanders. After opening 38 Witnessed Her Death with depictions of these two men, LoLo devotes the second half to MaryAnn Zielonko, an even more anonymous name in this sad story. Genovese’s sexual orientation wasn’t disclosed until decades after her death: She was a lesbian, and Zielonko was her partner. LoLo vividly depicts the floodgates opening in Zielonko after 40 years of mourning in silence.

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