The New York Fringe Fest: Cocaine-Snorting Juliet Meets Japanese Electra
We stepped back into this year's New York International Fringe Festival, which continues through Sunday. Below, some highlights and lowlights of a recent batch of theater-going.
Revision of a Classic Highlights: Butoh Electra; Dreamplay In Butoh Electra, Jordin Rosin reimagines Sophocles' tragedy: Mycenae becomes feudal Japan, the chorus an ensemble of Butoh dancers, and Electra dons a variation of hakama pants. Rosin's successful synthesis of classical Greek and Japanese traditions enriches the myth at the piece's core, as do commanding, physically impressive performances from the Ume Group.
Joseph Thierren's Dreamplay, an adaptation of August Strindberg's dizzying masterpiece A Dream Play, focuses the original's abstract, surrealist elements by combining masks and puppetry with the talents of seasoned performers and Suzuki movement. The result is compelling, if grotesque: Dreamplay is nightmarish in the best way possible.
Lowlight: Ampersand: A Romeo and Juliet Story While Ampersand boasts a creative concept -- a female Romeo and a cocaine-snorting Juliet, Ladies Capulet and Montague as rivals in drag, an unexpected Iowa setting -- the script fails to deliver on the promising premise. An overwritten book and flat musical numbers weigh heavily on this production. The gifted cast struggles valiantly, but the material just isn't there. All concept and very little content.
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Philosophically Bent Piece Highlight: In the Summer Pavilion Inspired by German philosopher Reinhart Koselleck, Paul David Young's poetic script explores the (possible) futures of three recent college grads, portrayed by a talented young cast. Meena Dimian's Nabile is dangerously charming in each of his many incarnations, and Julia Taylor Rose's Clarissa morphs seamlessly from idealistic college student into jaded professional and back again. But Ryan Barry's Ben stands out most in his infectiously anxious vitality. Kia Roger's lighting is also noteworthy: She defines half a dozen decades and spaces with ease, no small feat considering the limited light board.
Lowlight: The Interim In The Interim, two spirits visit the world of the living, choosing severely depressed Albert as the subject of their study and inflaming his existential crisis. All three actors, including the playwright, Gregory Cioffi, deliver decidedly single-note performances. The two specters equivocate in maddening monotones, which puts a great deal of pressure on Adam Ginsberg's Albert. Unfortunately, he spends most of the play either wailing or in tears, overcompensating for his emotionless cast mates. You will be begging to escape this purgatory.
One-Man Show Highlights: I Might Be Edgar Allen Poe; YA MAMMA! I Might Be Edgar Allen Poe is centered on a mental patient convinced of his personal connection to Poe. Under the able direction of Tim Vasen, Craig Mathers gives a dynamic, physically taut performance as the unnamed patient. He commands attention both in moments of self-reflection and in his dramatic recitations of Poe's work; it's his committed performance that makes Poe a standout.
YA MAMA!, written and performed by Nina Domingue, presents a powerful reflection on having and being a parent. Domingue addresses her biological mother's suicide, her fraught relationship with her stepmother, and her own transition from daughter to parent with clarity and grace. The material, which could easily have slipped into melodrama, is hilarious and surprisingly fresh, and Domingue delivers an effervescent, honest performance.
Lowlight: I Will be Good Tricia Rose Burt's I Will be Good is what every theatergoer fears when heading to a one-man show: self-indulgent and tired. The piece involves 80 long minutes of uninspired anecdotes, apparently Burt's attempt to hold her conservative Southern upbringing accountable for an unhappy marriage, feelings of emptiness, etc., etc. The comedy is as drained as the subject matter. You've seen this one before.
Socially Minded Children's Play Highlight: There Was Once an Old Woman Who Swallowed a Fly and Other Heroines Who Reach for the Sky In There Was Once an Old Woman, the lady who swallowed the fly, alive and well, introduces two princess-obsessed preteens to a host of more forceful heroines from African, Asian, Middle Eastern, and European traditions. The lively script provides an antidote to the damsels-in-distress who plague many popular fairy tales, and a vibrant color scheme alongside energetic performances engage young and old audience members alike.
Lowlight: Goldilocks and the Three Polar Bears This play's message on climate change fails to connect, thanks to lackluster songs and choreography, and an unbearably condescending tone. The redeeming quality: beautiful shadow puppets.
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