In previous years, the New York International Fringe Festival has often seemed a repository for either doleful amateurism or slicked-up Urinetown wannabes. But judging from the 14 plays sampled in the Fringe's opening days, the theatrical weather appeared sunny despite the downpours outside. As the festival runs through August 29, the forecast promises at least another week of well-acted, sweetly idiosyncratic shows.
Good weather, of course, doesn't always imply good fortune. In writer-director Colin Campbell's jaunty melodrama Golden Prospects (Linhart Theater), a Midwestern wife mourns that she ever traded Nebraska's seasons for L.A.'s corrupting sunshine. "Here is perpetual summer," wails Laura Goodman (Rebecca Lowman). "Where is the moral compass in this place?" The Goodman family soon finds itself beset by swindlers, scavengers, opium smokers, and the threat of incest. Piano accompaniment livens the show, as does a spirited audience all too willing to hiss, cheer, or shout, "But she's your sister!" While Campbell honors melodrama's heritage, Golden Prospects remains suitably modern. Indeed when our hero, Axel (Max Faugno), announces, "Los Angeles is a cruel frontier town, no place for the innocent," he might just as well have been speaking of my Hollywood high school.
Apparently the Coney Island Roller Derby of 1958 was also no place for the innocent. Rolin Jones's The Jammer! A Roller Derby Love Story (Players Theatre) speeds after Brooklyn orphan Jack Lovington (Kevin Rich). Jack forsakes respectable factory work and homely girlfriend for the siren call of the roller rink, "a place where going in circles gets you somewhere big." He wins himself a seat on the Brooklyn Bombers tour bus and falls for unstable skater Lindy (a wonderfully manic Jeanine Serralles). A sportscaster (Jason Lindner) who utters marvelously strange oaths ("Holy Christmas, Mr. Eisenhower") also features. Jones's script zips along in short scenes and fast-talking vernacular, revealing an unexpected sympathy for its charactersif not their footwear. Sadly, doubtless owing to venue limitations, no roller skates actually appear in the production.
Similarly, two-wheelers absent themselves from the uproarious The Bicycle Men (Players Theatre), "an entertainment with French overtones." While this show may not improve Franco-American relations, it will increase all-male musical comedy's reputation. Composer-lyricist Mark Nutter pounds out cabaret melodies as the four-man cast extols the bicycle: "Fast and light and so much more/It's a traveling metaphor." But cycling spells disaster (or, perhaps, désastre) when Yankee Steve (Dave Lewman) suffers a breakdown outside a charming ville. He thinks mere hours will pass before he's back astride his bike, but the repairmen mock him"You are a man without panache," sneers one; "a hollow man filled with hate," adds another. They then dispatch him to a youth hostel and a mysteriously obscene puppet show. Terror and baguettes ensue.
There's nothing mysterious about the obscenity in which Harvey Finklestein's Sock Puppet Showgirls (Studio at Cherry Lane) revels. When a puppet discusses "felching" within the play's opening moments, you can rest assured that this one isn't for the kiddies. Though the parody is occasionally uninspired, the festival offers few other opportunities to hear a frizzy-headed sock scream, "I am not a whore!"
Dixie Longate, the hostess of the interactive drag-tastic Dixie's Tupperware Party (Plaza Café at Pace), wears her whoredom proudly. While raising three children, disposing of troublesome ex-husbands, and turning the occasional trick, Dixie has established herself as the top Tupperware saleswoman in the U.S. As this was my first Tupperware party, I cannot speak from experience, but I doubt many such soirees include such creative use of storage products as falsies. Nor, I suspect, does the average Tupperware lady refer to her guests so unfailingly as "bitches" and "sluts." (The bitches and sluts in attendance ate this up with a Tupperware spoon.) While mixing herself Amaretto sours, Dixie describes her products in terrifying yet compelling detail. Surely I was not the only one to exit the theater with an unprecedented craving for a popsicle tray?
The monsters at the heart of Damian Hess and Gaby Alter's rock musical Young Zombies in Love (Players Theatre) prove only slightly less indestructible than Dixie's wares. The residents of Tombtown, U.S.A., find themselves plagued by a rash of teenage zombie-fication. While the songs run a humdrum gamut of rock, pop, and funk, the delightful zombie dancers and actors are trashily dressed and occasionally perform handsprings. Especially charming is Kevin Townley as Professor Itsucolt, an academic who disturbs secretarial corpses in search of his grant check. With such entertainments, this year's Fringe, like the youthful inhabitants of Tombtown, appears quite undead.
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