The 3rd Gender, at The Connelly, is a futuristic sci-fi drama written by Peter Zachari. The premise: In the year 2397, being transgender is considered the highest evolution of humanity; cisgender humans (those whose gender identities match their anatomy) are given up to 20 years of treatment in an effort to make them trans in “spirit.” If the treatments fail, they are abandoned to “The Zone,” a fate close to death. The problem with this play—apart from lead actor J.P. Serret’s distracting, hyperactive mannerisms—is that in its attempt to address a nonbinary view of gender, the characters nevertheless exist in a gender-polarized world. While there is homosexuality, acknowledging a sexual-orientation spectrum, there is no spectrum of gender, only “spiritual” poles of male or female gender residing within opposing physical “conduits” (bodies). In this play, there are no “two-spirit” (or androgynously identified) beings or intersex beings, only binaries within binaries. Thus, the script fails to fully explore the very concept its title suggests.

One of the refreshing delights of the weekend was Peter Pan & Stardust Dancers, a dance concert choreographed by Eva Dean, presented at the Theater at the 14th Street Y. (To my astonishment, the YMCA has one of the largest, best-air-conditioned black box theaters downtown—with very comfy seats!) For an audience of parents with shockingly attentive young children, a company of seven dancers performed a short pantomime of Peter Pan set to music. But the real treat were the pieces that followed, creatively using glowing balls hanging from string, juggling on Rollerblades, and incorporating other props in fun, gracefully executed dances. At 45 minutes, it was exactly the right length, a joy from start to finish.

Playwrights generally regard two-person plays as being among the most difficult to write. How do you keep the action moving forward—and the audience invested—when there are just two characters? In Still Life, by Zeke Blackwell, the characters are two grapes hanging on a vine, so they have little choice but to talk to each other. They pass the time by debating everything under the sun, from semantics to linguistics to astrophysics. Most of the play is heady argument and wordplay with little emotional depth beyond Orley the Grape’s optimism and Donald the Grape’s pessimism. For this reason, the characters feel thinly written (more like the playwright arguing with himself) for three-fourths of the overlong 90 minutes, until Donald makes a pivotal decision to jump off the vine. That said, actors Gabe Greenspan and Tommy Bazarian carry the script with admirable energy. Greenspan in particular is superb: relaxed, natural, and lightning-quick.

Penko Gospodimov and Anastassia Liutova play conjoined twins in “The Spider”
Courtesy The Drama League
Penko Gospodimov and Anastassia Liutova play conjoined twins in “The Spider”
From "Clown Play"
From "Clown Play"

For another take on the two-person play there is The Spider at The C.O.W., an intense, hour-long drama from Bulgaria about a pair of adult conjoined twins (one male, one female) on the eve of their separation surgery. Actors Penko Gospodinov and Anastassia Liutova speak in rapid Bulgarian, but the depth of their brave, raw performances transcends language. The text appears in English subtitles on a screen behind them, and the script—by Dimitar Dimitrov and Yordan Slaveykov, who also direct—is economical and profound as it excavates the core relationship, one that is only as freakish as it is intimately relatable. Plays like The Spider are the reason one goes to the theater. If you see just one FringeNYC play, see this one.

My weekend ended with Pilot Fish, a satire of pilot season in Los Angeles, when actors, writers, and producers are clamoring to be “attached” to a fledgling TV show. Superficiality, sexual coercion, and plagiarism seem to be the stuff these prime-time sitcom dreams are made of. A hysterical masturbation monologue by actor Tom Coiner is a highlight, and Liam James Daniels stands out as he morphs between playing a jaded stand-up comic and various bit roles with the chameleonic skill of a great character actor. The script by Patrick Kennedy feels like an insider’s take on Hollywood; beyond earning the laughs it aims to deliver, it will make you glad you live in New York.

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