By R.C. Baker
By Alexis Soloski
By Alexis Soloski
By R. C. Baker
By Alexis Soloski
By Tom Sellar
By Araceli Cruz
By Brienne Walsh
Welcome to our special online coverage of the 13th-annual New York International Fringe Festival. New reviews will be posted every weekday, as we hunt out the best of the fest.
Baby Wants Candy
The Players Theatre
115 MacDougal Street, fringenyc.org
Boston College Comes to New York may not have the ring of the next high-grossing Broadway blockbuster, but when performed as a one-time-only, off-the-cuff musical by the improv team Baby Wants Candy, it turns out to be a pretty amusing show. In each installment of Baby Wants Candys self-titled act, the seven-member ensemble concocts a makeshift song-and-dance spectacular, complete with a live band and, oh yeah, a storylineall based around any title the audience supplies.
This particular iteration of Baby Wants Candyfeatured a gaggle of wide-eyed undergrads (Were from Boston College, and none of us have been in love before), a ravenous killer puma, and a high-stakes chess tournament in Washington Square Park. Representative songs included Buy Our Stuff and Double-Decker Bus; a few lyrics from Hair snuck into a group number. After about an hour, Boston College petered out, but by then the puma had prevailed, the chess tournament concluded, and the company was extemporizing its way through a grand finale, already looking toward the next ad-libbed extravaganza. MIRIAM FELTON-DANSKY
The billions that the U.S. government has spent on banking bailouts along with the financial chicanery of people like Bernie Madoff are the targets of Love Money. And though these are apt subjects for stinging satire, the ripped-from-the-headlines topics receive a sophomorically silly treatment from creators Thompson Davis, Lucas Kavner, and Willie Orbison in a show that feels as if it's been rushed to the stage.
Love Money hinges on whether or not bank chiefand sometimes brutal dominatrixSarah (an iron-lunged Ali Kresch) will get a second billion-dollar government subsidy after squandering her first on, among other things, a rock band for her office and a school of pet dolphins. The humor is hardly subtle, and neither are the repetitive (when intelligible) lyrics in the insistent, though promising, rock tunes that pepper the show. Some moments in Money inspire giggles, but when a sight gag with a stuffed dog receives the heartiest laugh in a show, its in trouble. ANDY PROPST
By Davide Ambrogi
Cherry Lane Theatre
38 Commerce Street, fringenyc.org
Even for a Roman emperor, Nero led a pretty juicy life: He shipwrecked his own motherthen had her executedwatched Rome burn to the ground, and studied with the tragic playwright Seneca (that is, until he ordered Seneca to commit suicide). And if that werent dramatic enough, Nero was a performer too, competing in chariot races and singing original compositions for aristocratic audiences.
Its too bad that the Italian company Artifexwhose new piece, Artifex, is a reexamination of Neros life, imported from Neros hometowndoesnt transform this rich material into richer theater. Artifexs conceit is that, in the moments before Neros death, his companions reenact his biographys high points, performing each episode in a different stylecomedy, musical theater, dance.
Unfortunately, these turn out to be an awkward jumble of tuneless chanting, haphazard choreography, and inane pronouncements about the relationships between art, power, and life. There are platitudes, pseudo-togas, and one commedia dellarte-style maskbut little to move the piece toward theatrical coherence. Maybe the tutelage of a great tragedian would have helped. MIRIAM FELTON-DANSKY
OK, everyone, gather round the campfireplaywright Laura Schellhardt has a story to tell. Called The K of D: An Urban Legend, it concerns a girl named Charlotte, whose twin brother is accidentally killed by local creep Johnny Whistler. As legend has it, when Charlotte kissed her dying brother good-bye, she obtained a lethal powerthe K of D, or kiss of deathcausing bizarre things to happen in her small lakeside town.
Exploring how rumors can take on a life of their own, the one-woman show stars the talented Renata Friedman, who gamely tackles more than a dozen parts to vivify Charlottes tale. Dressed like a tomboy in a dirty T-shirt and ragged jeans, she jumps on and off the sets rickety wooden dock, rapidly switching between the very distinct townspeopleone second shes a precocious bubblegum cigarettesmoking girl, the next shes Charlottes gruff abusive father. Indeed, Friedman spins a fine yarn.
Unfortunately, Schellhardts spooky premise never really produces any of the spine-tingling chills or surprises you might hope for. Despite some creepy sound effects, director Braden Abraham could have exploited more of the scripts ghost-story elements to evoke an eerie mood. Where we wanted to feel goose bumps, we just felt bored. ANGELA ASHMAN
Eli and Cheryl Jump
By Daniel McCoy
The Players Loft
115 MacDougal Street, fringenyc.org
The beauty of fairy tales is that theyre simple and linear. Daniel McCoy's Eli and Cheryl Jumprevolves around one that Eli (Charles Linshaw) heard nightly as a child. This fable is about a prince who repeatedly escapes fatal accidents. But his good fortune comes at a costsomeone close to him dies in his place. The story beguiled him when he was little and has shaped his view of the world and himself.
McCoy reveals this tale after he's established the eponymous couple's plight: They're attempting to escape a burning building. And because doom seems imminent, we watch the playwhich jets back and forth through timenot so much intrigued by how Eli has internalized his mother's story, but waiting for the moment when Eli survives and Cheryl (Cassandra Vincent) dies. Director Nicole A. Watson's elegantly minimalist staging creates some tension, and Vincent charms, playing a host of roles, from Eli's mom to a high school girlfriendthe princesses in this promising, but unnecessarily convoluted attempt at a theatrical fairy tale. ANDY PROPST
Emlyn Morinelli and Jennifer Sanders, the authors/performers of A Fine Line, each have extensive improv credits. Sadly, their work here retains some of this genres less welcome traits (awkward pauses and interruptions, half-baked sequences that overstay their welcome practically on arrival) minus the compensatory flashes of spontaneity and off-the-cuff ingenuity. The result, directed rather choppily by Gary Rudoren, is a sort of shaggy-doctor tale that mashes a publicity-mad periodontist, unrequited love, and a chipper womens-prison inmate (she pins Cathy comic strips on her cellmates wall) into a scattershot and ultimately unfulfilling comedy.
Both women contribute a decent variety of characters, with Ms. Sanders showing a slight advantage in terms of versatility. And the seemingly disparate threads end up converging in a satisfying and not implausible way. But this is slim consolation given the slightness of many of these threads. A final twist implies that excessive enjoyment of ones surroundings can tip abruptly into psychotic rage. By this standard, audience members at A Fine Line should be safe. ERIC GRODE
By Stanton Wood
CSV Flamboyan Theater
107 Suffolk Street, fringenyc.org
The original Candidean 18th-century novella by Voltaireskewered Enlightenment-era optimism, presenting such unflattering portraits of the French government and clergy that the book was banned immediately. But Candideeluded the censors grasp, surviving to become a perennial vehicle for satirizing bigotry and political blindness.
Stanton Woods snappy adaptation, Candide Americana, fits squarely into this tradition, selecting a target closer to home: Voltaires trek through 18th-century Europe becomes an amusement-park ride through post-9/11 America. Woods Candidenaively chasing his true love, and bumping into his tutor, the unflinchingly optimistic Dr. Pangloss, along the wayescapes the Staten Island Ferry crash, an abortion clinic protest, the September 11 attacks, Hurricane Katrina, and an unmarked CIA detention center. If this is the best of all possible worlds, what are the other ones like? our hero wonders.
Few of Woods jokes are new or unexpected, but the quick dialoguebolstered by Edward Elefterions efficient direction and a boisterous ensemblemakes for an amusing, if safe, diversion. Centuries later, Voltaires classic is still a sturdy framework for cultural caricature and quick political jabs. MIRIAM FELTON-DANSKY
David S. Singer's Union Squared would seem to have the right elements for a zippy contemporary comedy. Brad (Levi Sochet) is having an affair with Shannon (Carlina Ferrari), his yoga instructor/masseur, but one day mistakenly sends a text to his wife Rachel (Annie Meisels) rather than Shannon. When Rachel confronts Shannon, the two realize they should join forces to teach Brad a lesson, and ultimately they embark on an affair of their own. Complicating this messy triangle is Brad's need to maintain the appearance of a happy marriage for his mother Sophie (Anita Keal). She's about to give him control of a $27 million bank account that could rescue his devastatingly bad investments.
Singer undermines the promise of Union, though, by layering on mammoth amounts of commentary about unscrupulous businessmen and addictive behavior. Director Diana Basmajian only compounds the scripts problems with a flaccid, perfunctory staging that deflates potentially zestful comic situations. The performersparticularly Ferrari and Meiselsattempt to instill some lightness into the production, but it's not enough to energize this leaden piece. ANDY PROPST
By Théâtre du Rêve Expérimental
New School for Drama
151 Bank Street, fringenyc.org
You can leave your cell phone on during the performance of e-Station. Thats because in this dreamlike movement piececreated by Chinese company Théâtre du Rêve Expérimentalcell phones, digital cameras, and other electronic media devices are the stars of the show.
Inspired by the physical techniques of director Ohta Shogo, e-Station sets its performers mesmerizingly deliberate motion against technological gadgetrys speed. With ritual solemnity, the black-clad actors drag computer keyboards along the floor, swath themselves in cable, and pan video cameras across the audience, projecting live feed onto a screen upstage. Cell phones blink like giant fireflies in the darkness.
e-Stations sensual approach to digital devices helps us see them as objects, not just gateways to images or information. Occasionally, I wanted more from the troupea comment on their digital dance, or an electronic apotheosis. But technology is a constant backdrop in the world outside, and as e-Stations performers inch out of the theater, keyboards and cables in tow, its clear that revealing our real-life digital surroundwithout conclusion or culminationis the point. MIRIAM FELTON-DANSKY
Harold Pinter wrote, so often, for three characters at a timeemphasizing not the direct conflict of one-on-one, but the subtle shift of alliances amongst a group. The surreal thing about The Loverand 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 resetonly 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.
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 Pinters dry comedy with a bit more precision, but they certainly find the near-psychotic desperation driving the couple's gamesa crucial aspect of the play, and one that might give way to pure farce without the darker Ashes to Ashesas 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 Ashesexpecting 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." Thats 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. Barbaras central plotline about trying to adopt a baby from the confines of the closet takes a backseat, tying up tidily in a scheme thats 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
Its 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, NDthe town and subject of Population: 8, Nicholas Grays wistful, contemplative new playboasts between five and nine residents at any given time. Its blustery and freezing, and theres no one else around for miles.
Population: 8 stitches together the tales of Lokis sweetly quirky inhabitantsa teenage radio host with under 10 listeners, a deaf kid who talks to cloudsinto a meditation on the importance of home and community, and the ravages of isolation. Amanda Hagys 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 towns population sign (when it drops to Population: 6, trauma ensues). Gray frequently dips into sentimentality, but Marc Stuart Weitzs clean direction, and an enthusiastic ensemble cast, make Loki worth the trek north. MIRIAM FELTON-DANSKY
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.
Mathers staging has its strengths. His representation of Naomi (Ginsbergs mother) in the later, calmer years of her insanitywhen paranoiac visions of anti-Communist spies gave way to tales of cooking lentil soup for Godis simple and touching; and his reading of a posthumously delivered letter from Naomi, at the end of the evening, vibrates with invocatory power. However, Mather and his director (Kim Weild) rely too heavily on the bells and whistles of theatrical productionespecially ceaseless and unnecessary underscoring. Mather often hides behind this soundtrack, relying on its rhythmic drive and tonal manipulation, rather than doing what Ginsberg did: mount the platform and let the languageecstatic, mournful, and playful by turnscourse through his body afresh. CHRISTOPHER GROBE
The narrator of Jonathan L. Davidsons Victoria and Frederick for President assures us that the show wont be a plodding history lesson. Instead, the tale of the 1872 campaign of Victoria Woodhullthe first female presidential candidateand her running mate, Frederick Douglass, the first African-American nominated for VP, will shock us with its contemporary resonance. Like many campaign promises, though, this guarantee proves falsea historical primer is just what Victoria and Frederick becomes.
Teetering under its weighty exposition, the play duly displays Ulysses S. Grants incompetence (his wife calls him Useless), Woodhulls plucky politicking, and Douglasss oratorical genius. There are high pointslike Woodhulls catfight with Susan B. Anthonybut theyre mostly drowned out by the casts overly sincere declamations and swishing Victorian skirts.
Davidson is anxious to link Woodhulls and Douglasss historic candidacies to the Obama and Clinton campaigns2008 election videos (Hillary pronouncing, Obama orating) hammer this point home. But what point, exactly? Should we revel in national progress? Indict our blinkered past? Despite his glut of information, Davidson doesnt seem to know. MIRIAM FELTON-DANSKY
Fallons the butcher, Brooms the thief, and Rocks the boy who buys the beef. This jingle sums up both the plot and the intended tone of Dan Balkins stage adaptation of The Doctor and the Devils, a little-known Dylan Thomas screenplay. The Faustian tale concerns Dr. Rock, a pioneering anatomist who ignores, to his peril, the dirty deeds of Fallon and Broom, the body-snatchers (later, murderers) who keep his school stocked with bodies for dissection.
I say intended tone, because for most of the eveningdespite the raw force of Thomass language, and an eclectic sound design (by Daniel Carlyon) that can only be described as badassthe play feels like an unfortunate cross between a Dickensian skit and a Halloween pageant. Actor David Jenkins caricatures Dr. Rock, making little or no use of the characters Shavian bluntness and wit. Why would this flat, sententious ideologue attract even one eager disciple, let alone the record-shattering numbers he supposedly does? What's more, Balkin lets his Fallon and Broom get dragged 10 yards behind the engine of the plot, finding no driving moral or emotional arc of the sort that could take them so quickly from selling cold corpses to killing warm friends. CHRISTOPHER GROBE
By Rob Benson
Manhattan Theatre Source
177 MacDougal Street, fringenyc.org
In the program note to his monologue Borderline, writer and performer Rob Benson asks for our empathyan understandable request, given that he based the monologues speaker on personal friends of his who fell into the British club-drug scene. But its an eerie request, too. After all, empathy was one of the original (and more apt) nicknames for MDMA, the chemical compound commonly known as Ecstasy. This uncanny (perhaps unintended) pun sums up this monologues method: Its cheeky, its morally complex, and it makes the characters experience of drug-induced psychosis and fragile recovery seem unsettlingly familiar, even to a presumptively straight-edged audience.
Benson does not condescend to his subject. Hes clearly more interested in consciousness-raising than didacticism or judgment. The narrators story of how his first shot at drug-dealing turns into a Robin-Hood-ish redistribution of joy is, for instance, downright charmingif queasily so. But, thanks to the perfectly erratic pace of this lean 50-minute monologue, and thanks to the bizarre, jangling rhymes hidden within Bensons fluid writing, we never quite lose the sense of latent insanity, impending doom. This speaker, as the borderline diagnosis would imply, could go either way. But what is anyone doing to help him go the way of sanity? CHRISTOPHER GROBE
By Anthony Fascious Martinez
The Actors Playhouse
100 Seventh Avenue South, fringenyc.org
The title of Penumbra, a one-man musical by slam poet and hip-hop theater artist Anthony Fascious Martinez, refers to the faint echo of light encircling a shadow, as in an eclipse. For Fascious, this sort of shadows shadow is all that remains of the models of personal greatness that have given shape to his life. His spiritual ancestors, the pre-colonial inhabitants of Puerto Rico, were crushed by Spanish conquerers long ago. His grandfather, a WWII veteran and a great (if taciturn) man, has been silenced by death. And his father, divorced then imprisoned, was less a shining presence than a luminescent absence. What spark is left to ignite a young spirit?
Fascious, a pint-sized dynamo, creates his own sparks. His language strains at the limits of prose before bursting into impassioned poetry, which eases, with the addition of some synth and a beat, into free-flowing rap. His stories, which range from an idiosyncratic and personal retelling of Socrates' Allegory of the Cave to an eye-witness account of the near-fatal shooting of his father, emerge not in leaden anecdote, but in a series of glinting fragments that leave his main subjectsidentity and masculinitylurking somewhere behind them. But these penumbral glimmers are enough to alert us to the great light beyond. CHRISTOPHER GROBE
Mutti's After Supper Stories
By Iris Rose
The Cherry Pit
155 Bank Street, fringenyc.org
In Mutti's After Supper Stories, director Iris Rose tries to walk the line between the horror in the dark and twisted tales of the Brother Grimm and the safe, child-friendly packaging they usually come in, but she ends up leaning toward the latter. Rose sets a handful of the more well-known fables, including "Little Red Cap" and "Hansel & Gretel," to folksy guitar tunes by Hugh Hales-Tooke and casts an entire family of DePaulas (mom Noelle, and kids Juliet, Colin, and Lily) to enact them. The performances of the two youngest siblings as several famous Grimm characters are disciplined and promising, and the patchwork and Velcro set is refreshingly, functionally no-fi. While the stories remain more disturbing than escapist, Muttiis no Coraline. Rose, Hales-Tooke and the DePaula clan don't get very far mining the psychological depths of tales in which little ones are disowned by their parents, or terrorized simply for taking a walk in the woods. SHARYN JACKSON
By Mark Leydorf and Michael Brennan
Minetta Lane Theatre
18 Minetta Lane, fringenyc.org
Citizen Ruth, a wickedly funny musical send-up of the abortion debate, with book and lyrics by Mark Leydorf and music by Michael Brennan, concerns Ruth Stoops, a foul-mouthed, paint-huffing mother whos already given up four children for adoption when she lands back in jail, pregnant again. But a judge makes her a scandalous deal: Hell drop the charges against her if she has an abortion.
Based on the 1996 film by Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor, Citizen Ruth is scathing political satire of the best kind, evenhandedly skewering both sidesthe Bible-thumping Baby Savers who want Ruth to keep her baby and the militant feminists who want her to choose abortionwith a script thats hilariously over the top and up-to-date (Ruth is one mother in our jihad! earnestly sings a Baby Saver). Howard Shalwitz, cofounder and artistic director of the edgy Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company in Washington D.C., deftly directs the talented 12-member cast, who play more than 30 parts. Standouts include the terrific Garrett Long as the raunchy, clueless Ruth and Janet Dickinson as the new-agey feminist Diane. Youll probably go to hell for laughing along, but its worth the risk. ANGELA ASHMAN
By Arthur Schnitzler
Here Arts Center
145 Sixth Avenue, fringenyc.org
In turn-of-the-century Vienna, sexual obsession was everywhere: While Freud plumbed the depths of human carnality, Arthur Schnitzler was writing La Ronde, a catalogue of modern desire (and a testament to his own erotic obsessionsSchnitzler reportedly kept a daily tally of his orgasms). Each of La Rondes stark scenes features a seduction and its aftermath, linking a series of lovers in a libidinous daisy chain: a prostitute with a soldier, the soldier with a parlor maid, and so on.
Larry Biedermans spare production sums up the communal desperation, and the fleeting pleasures, in Schnitzlers amorous merry-go-round. Jumbles of neon tubing light up to identify successive characters, all played by Alyson Weaver and Ken Barnettthe condensed casting succinctly suggesting the universality, and anonymity, of desire and conquest. An enormous white sheet billows upstage, by turns a projection screen, a curtain concealing dirty deeds, and lovers rumpled sheets. Not all of Biedermans efforts pay offthere are unfinished voice-over experiments, and some misguided opening videobut Schnitzlers social portrait, harsh and prescient, hasnt lost its bite. MIRIAM FELTON-DANSKY
By Elizabeth Audley
The Actors Playhouse
100 Seventh Avenue South, fringenyc.com
In this one-woman show, writer-performer Elizabeth Audley describes her recent car trip across America through a series of monologues. Retracing her drive from Wyoming to Oregon to San Francisco and back across the country, Audley shares her thoughts on each locale: Yellowstone Park is the best place I've ever been to! I think Utah is actually, like, magical! and, upon drinking Dr. Pepper while looking at the Grand Canyon, Dr. Pepper is DELICIOUS, the Grand Canyon is AMAZING! It's not exactly This American Life.
While Audley's reflections on America and Americana aren't always profound, her confessions of twenty/thirty-something paralysis certainly feel authentic. Midway through All Over, Audley plays a tape she recorded while having an emotional breakdown somewhere out West. Her voice comes through the theaters speakers: high-pitched and sobbing, its saying something we can almost understand. But we can't, so instead of words we just hear this beautiful human voice, in pain. Its an incredibly self-exposing moment. If the writer-actress could extend this kind of direct connection beyond the one or two isolated scenes in which it occurs, as well as cut 10 minutes of the shows 80-minute run time, we might be ready to fall over All Over. BEN BEITLER
Walking into America's Next Top Bottom anticipating high art is like walking into a leather bar hoping to meet a polo-and-chino-wearing preppy guy. But even with the lowest of expectations, Top Bottom disappoints. Rather than offering a comic spin on reality shows by focusing on the sexual preferences of the five contestants, the playcreated and directed by Efrain Schuniorregurgitates bad queer camp.
A tacky Southern housewife and a drugged-out club refugee whos dressed a bit like Liza M. in Cabaret, bowler hat and all, are the judges. The contestantsfrom the lisping, pseudo-Irish Corky Adaire to the crassly stereotyped Asian Harajuku Sulu to the new-agey Glittercertainly seem like they'd be submissive in bed, but the show's challengescreating poetry using three random words and plate spinninghave absolutely nothing to do with the subject. Theyre there just to get cheap laughs. To their credit, the guys improvise well within the context of the lame setups, but it's not enough to elevate the piece above bottom-tier comedy. ANDY PROPST
Camp Super Friend
By Bethany Wallace
The Cherry Lane Theater
38 Commerce Street, fringenyc.org
Does it signify that, before my 14th birthday, I had attended both Christian Camp and Jewish Camp? My parents religious confusion aside, I don't remember much about Christian CampLegos, vague guilt, etc. One memory of Jewish Camp, however, survives.
On the last night of camp, a counselor named Zeke led me and 10 other painfully pubescent boys to the top of a hill. There, Zeke asked us to appreciate the beautiful stars. To savor the Northern Californian air. To partake in prayer, then in silent meditation. Finally, after the mood of serious companionship had been set, Zeke invited us to ask him any question we could think of. Any question. Go. Without hesitation, a fellow camper asked the only thing we lost, pimply Jewish boys wanted to know.
"So have you ever gotten a blowjob?"
Zeke had not. When no one raised his hand for a follow-up, we descended the hill in silence.
No such dirtiness occurs in Camp Super Friend, which is a nice show about the son of a superhero who learns to make friends while away at a summer camp for superheroes. It is part of Fringe Jr. and probably appropriate for children ages 5 through 9; it is usually performed at elementary schools; audience participation is a possibility. It would have been good if the show's promoters had made all this a little clearer before we arrived, but no hard feelings. BEN BEITLER
Some Editing and Some Theme Music
By Jean Ann Douglas & Company
Robert Moss Theatre
440 Lafayette Street, fringenyc.org
Hi, uh, my names Chris? And The upglides, the filler, the halting syntaxwe all recognize it by nowthe language of the vlog. Well, its been nearly three years since You were Times Person of the Year, and now (what took so long?) the Fringe Festival has a play written in your languageexcept, in classic Fringe style, Jean Ann Douglas's Some Editing and Some Theme Music is actually a meta-analysis of identity in the age of YouTube, mixing live and pre-recorded video diaries with snippets of commentary on ye olde paper kind: notably, those of Samuel Pepys and Virginia Woolf.
The companys energy can be infectious. A rapid-fire rendition, by actor Evan Prizant, of possible opening lines for his vlogs epitomizes the actors charm and aplomb. But the pieces concept is too unwieldy for them to carry the whole way. When, about a half-hour into the performance, the actors began to repeat the show from the beginning, this time sotto voce and with Directors Cut DVD-style commentary playing over the loudspeaker, deep sighs began to rise up in the audience. The point had already been madeand made, I should say, in a compelling and entertaining fashion: Nearly all naked self-expression is, in fact, painted over with layers of mediation. But now must we watch them dry? CHRISTOPHER GROBE
The Boys Upstairs
By Jason Mitchell
The Soho Playhouse
15 Vandam Street, fringenyc.org
Hilarious zingers fly in Jason Mitchells The Boys Upstairs, a new comedy thats Sex in the City meets Boys in the Band. The play centers on perpetually single Josh (Nic Cory), a trust-fund baby who aspires to become the gay Carrie Bradshaw of his generation. The Bradshaw-like questions that Josh offers up about queer life between scenes are generally inspired by his two best friends, roommate Seth (Joel T. Bauer)whos fallen, inexplicably as far as Josh can tell, for an older guyand Ashley (Kristen-Alexzander Griffith), who spends most evenings on the couch in Joshs apartment. Ashley is generally waking up with the guy she picked up the night before. (David A. Rudd ably plays the tricks and boyfriends who parade through the apartment.)
Director Matthew Corozines zestfully speedy staging serves this light-as-air confection well. More importantly, he ensures that his ensemble delivers the characters with emotional truthparticularly Griffith, who imbues Ashley with a grand combination of Blanche DuBoiss vulnerability and RuPauls fierceness. Ashley has a heart of gold, and so too, does The Boys Upstairs. ANDY PROPST
By Michael Edison Hayden
The Cherry Pit
155 Bank Street, fringenyc.org
The Books is the post-golden-shower-literary-discussion romantic dramedy youve been waiting for. Tender, cheeky and only a tiny bit maudlin, Michael Edison Haydens 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 clients well-thumbed piles of books for psychological insight) that follow them.
The dom is also an aspiring actress, and her laments about the clichéd roles shes offered lose some of their effectiveness when the actress delivering them is wearing a latex bustier and stiletto-heel boots. But Haydens 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, fringenyc.org
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 seesawsappropriately 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
August in New York means a windfall of sundresses, an embarrassment of touristsand, yes, thanks to the Fringe Festival, a glut of one-person shows. The Most Mediocre Story Never Told!, Jay Seftons contribution to the genre, is different, though, insofar as its premised on your being sick and tired of actors and their confessions.
Part parody, part earnest specimen of the form, Seftons 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 enoughnor the genius sufficiently staggeringfor 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, fringenyc.org
The rather labored title of LuLu LoLos engrossing 38 Witnessed Her Death, I Witnessed Her Love: The Lonely Secret of Mary Ann Zielonkoinstantly 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, its easy to forget that there was a 39th guilty party in Kew Gardens that night; his name was Winston Moseley, and LoLos all-but-affectless recounting of his confession sees to it that audiences wont forget him any time soon.
But Moseley isnt the focus of LoLos 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. Genoveses sexual orientation wasnt 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.
With her raspy contralto and Emma ThompsonmeetsMartha Graham visage, LoLo is no Sarah Jonesstyle chameleon; each of her characters has a similar look and sound, and she was wise to focus on just three of them. (Actually, dropping Rosenthal would have done the piece no harm.) 38 Witnessed Her Deathdirected smoothly by the modern-dance choreographer Jody Oberdorfer, who has also created a pair of genially racy duets for herself and Shila Tirabassi as Genovese/Zielonko surrogatesis all the more captivating for the relative conventionality of Zielonkos thoughts. She dwells on the specifics of the evening, she remains furious at those (directly and indirectly) responsible, she objects to the funeral outfit that Genoveses parents pick out, she misses her lover. They are, in short, utterly predictable statementsand yet we had to wait almost a half-century before she could give voice to them. ERIC GRODE
MoMA Rock Concert Musical
By Richard Caliban
CSV Flamboyan Theater
107 Suffolk Street, fringenyc.org
Writer-director Richard Caliban, onetime artistic director of Cucaracha Theater, could be on to something with MoM, which imagines a quintet of suburban mothers forming a rock band as an outlet for their frustrations and achieving global fame. It's a little like Desperate Housewives on a Susan Boyle adventure.
Caliban's songs are a terrific mix of styles, and the lyrics, while not elegant, aim for humor and genuine emotionoften inspiring both. While Calibans characters intrigue, the book proves ungainly, lurching forward from the group's first appearance through their meteoric rise, never fully committing to a narrative that's either linear or pure flashback. As a result, the soap opera clichés that slip into the scriptone woman's drug and alcohol abuse and a pair of the moms becoming loversfeel like forced attempts at creating drama. Thankfully, these surmountable problems are diminished by the engaging and appealing performances from the company, particularly Donna Jean Fogel and Bekka Lindström. A life for MoMpost-Fringe is undeniable. ANDY PROPST
A Long Walk Home
By Lauren Marie Albert
Robert Moss Theatre
440 Lafayette Street, fringenyc.org
It wouldnt be a Fringe Festival without the likes of A Long Walk Home, an undoubtedly heartfelt, wildly indulgent journey deep into creator-director-performer Lauren Marie Alberts navel. From the banal conceit (a jilted lover nurses her bruised ego by affecting a series of bad accents before achieving a level of female solidarity through song) to the passable but relatively uninventive snippets of dance that punctuate her material, this Long Walk is as exasperating as the title would indicate.
A pair of womenone in ballet slippers, one wielding a guitarjoin Albert for some of the more intricate dances as well as a handful of vaguely Appalachian-style folk ballads. Its during one of the latter sequences, which includes the lyric I reach out to the midnight of you, that ones mind turns to its own temporal musings. Musings along the lines of This is one of the shorter Fringe shows Im seeing, right? Right?? It is, and in less time than it takes to commute to Midtown, the lights go up and the crapshoot that is the Fringe Festival begins again. ERIC GRODE
Those who missed her reign as Florida orange juice spokesperson and anti-gay evangelist can get a history lesson on the downfall of a wholesome entertainer in Pie-Face! The Adventures of Anita Bryant. Nailing Bryants appearance in flowery frocks, hair perfectly smoothed and flipped, writer-actor David Karl Lee lipsynchs the singers record hits of the '50s and '60s, recites her musings on religion and homa-sec-sha-ality, stars in faux newsreels about Bryants antics, and unearths historical footage and texts. The show peaks early with a screening of a gay assailant mussing the former beauty queens china-doll complexion with a pie in the face. "At least it's a fruit pie," she concedes in this YouTube treasure. For much of the show, Lee re-enacts the extensive interviews Bryant granted Rolling Stonejournalist Ken Kelley in 1978. Her damning words are hilarious and appalling enough to be milked for all they're worth, but the momentum dissipates when director Kenny Howard insists upon a deeper emotional response: Lees sermon on being yourself and a closing slideshow of gay Pride pictures proves more sugary than a tall glass of OJ. SHARYN JACKSON
By Johnny McGovern
110 Seventh Avenue South, fringenyc.org
There's a moment in Dirty Stuffwhen a nerdy, closeted gay man sings a duet with a gay pimp about the virtues of boys' soccer teamsthat demonstrates how multi-dimensional a solo show can be. As Jonny McGoverns timbre hops from nebbishy whine to Audrey 2-style bass, one forgets that both of these voices are coming from one button-cute performer. McGovern is an NYC nightlife personality and comedian who's found fame on Logo's Big Gay Sketch Show, but in this Courtney Munch-directed pastiche, he spins an elaborate tale of five wayward folks who discover their full potential after a night of gay clubbing. The lily-white McGovern slips seamlessly into the roles of the closet-case, a pimp called the Velvet Hammer, an Arabic fashion designer, a washed-up blaxploitation film star named Chocolate Puddin', and Puddin's trailer park neighbor Lurleen Famous. The big-haired, tight-dressed Lurleen thrills when she first steps into Club Shelter and notices how the "women" there look exactly like her; indeed, McGovern's story proposes that the microcosm of a gay nightclub isn't so different from the mind of a fame-hungry Southern white-trash teen. It's quite the revelation. SHARYN JACKSON