Within the Fringe


The ninth annual New York International Fringe Festival got under way Friday, with 184 shows opening on a rolling schedule at 20 venues across Lower Manhattan. Herewith, reviews of an early crop; more to come next week. Detailed schedules can be found, and tickets ordered, at Fringe Central,, 212-279-4488, or 888-FRINGE-NYC.

Elements of Style
13th Street Repertory Company
50 West 13th Street
Through August 27

Does Wendy Weiner’s Elements of Style do for copyediting what Baywatch did for lifeguarding? Not in this copy editor’s obsessive-compulsive dreams. But her well-wrought, quirky comedy will touch the souls — or is that solecisms? — of people who fancy themselves, to paraphrase her copy chief character, the guardians at the gates of language. Set in the fictional Condé Nast chick mag Glamorous, the hour-long dash stars Weiner in six hilarious roles: Noo Yawk-talkin’ fact checker, Don Juan freelancer, insecure cub reporter, conceited features editor, the aforementioned grammar constable, and her daughter, a poetry-slamming 22-year-old whose poem-within-a-play brings down the house. Jokes may fly past audience members who don’t understand the difference between it’s and its, but for those who know how to wield an en dash or a serial comma, Weiner’s take does make copyediting seem a little bit sexy. — Danial Adkison

Shakedown Street
Village Theatre
158 Bleecker Street
Through August 25

Deadheads starved by a Jerry Garcia-less decade will no doubt flock to this vehicle for his music, expecting to discover a lost gold nugget. Advice to the disciples of the dancing teddy bear: Don’t bother panning this placer. You’d almost never know the late jam-band deity penned any of the songs. Chalk this up largely to sound snafus and tricky blocking in the heavily mic’d production, which left us staring at actors’ backs during climactic moments. Otherwise, the adaptations of familiar ditties like “Truckin’ ” and “Shakedown Street” call for dance hands more than roach clips. The clichéd San Francisco detective-thriller plot stinks like the South Bay at low tide, and most of the hard-boiled noir-speak comes across as mumbling. Fashionistas, though, will appreciate the costuming — an attractive ensemble of fedoras, trench coats, and three-day stubble. — D.A.

Bronx Express
Linhart Theater at 440 Studios
440 Lafayette Street
Through August 24

In this musical adaptation of Osip Dymov’s Yiddish play, religious button-maker Hungerproud abandons his Jewish roots and loving family in order to strike it rich. When his new evil millionaire friends complain that Jewish traditions are bad for business — silly Sabbath laws reduce consumption of valuable goods like cigarettes — Hungerproud markets his own million-dollar idea: Force Jews to work on Yom Kippur, forever crippling their devotion to tradition (note: pretend this is still shocking). Unable to transcend their fable-like context, the fears presented in Miriam Weiner’s moralistic production just come off as bafflingly dated. Especially considering the show opened, ahem, on a Friday night. — Catherine Rampell

Andrew Dennard and Rebekah French in Byzantium
photo: Troy Scheid

Byzantium: a new musical
Village Theatre
158 Bleecker Street
Through August 21

When Emperor Justinian marries a promiscuous actress instead of the princess offered by a conquered land, the slighted ingenue incites mass riots promoting another claimant to the throne (while, naturally, finding her own forbidden liaisons). Everyone but Bram Heidinger, as a silver-voiced monk, forgoes enunciation in favor of showy vibrato, rendering most of Troy Scheid’s lyrics incomprehensible, and John Kaiser’s book gets too caught up in haphazard attempts at political topicality to help clarify the story. Only Steven Jamail’s pleasantly melancholy melodies get the point across: You can’t always get what you want. — C.R.

The Day the World Went Queer!
Players Theatre
115 MacDougal Street
Through August 20

When their town council legalizes same-sex marriage, all of the Leave It to Beaver-like residents of Sanctityville turn gay overnight. As soon as they homosexualize, of course, they become negligent parents, irresponsible citizens, and/or promiscuous, buttless-leather-chaps-wearing degenerates. When it comes to championing gay rights, it doesn’t take much to win over a New York audience. But Jonathan Matthew Gilbert’s brilliant production leaves no stone unturned in its efforts to find fresh and funny ways to satirize conservative fears of the queer agenda and the alleged infallibility of heterosexual marriage. — C.R.

Mazer Theatre
197 East Broadway
Through August 24

Nate Weida’s “new gibberish musical,” up from North Carolina, almost manages to be a brilliant send-up of all the social protest shows you’ve ever seen, as well as Cats. Think Rent, Jesus Christ Superstar, all of Brecht and Swados, plays and movies set in South African homelands — everywhere the powerful prey on the weak and the weak triumph through strength of will, close harmony, and jazzy dancing. Barefoot in a back alley, attended by a passel of monkeys, speaking a language through which English keeps threatening to break, the scruffy, agile cast struggles with repetitive, meandering material. But it and they would clean up real nice. — Elizabeth Zimmer

The Miss Education of Jenna Bush
Village Theatre
158 Bleecker Street
Through August 26

Even hungover, Jenna Bush (Melissa Rauch) is a chipper Southern belle. On the eve of her first day as a schoolteacher, she welcomes us into her home. Expertly multitasking, she drawls through revealing family anecdotes and secrets, all while working on her to-do list (“Order Chinese food. Check!”). And while the show makes constant digs at the Bush administration, Rauch infuses her character with true poignancy. Despite all of her giddy privilege, Jenna exudes surprising charm and sweetness. Ultimately, from beneath the satire, there emerges the story of a girl struggling to grow up — still yearning for Daddy’s love and attention. — Elizabeth Lawler

Linhart Theater at 440 Studios
440 Lafayette Street
Through August 26

Aquarium, Robin Maguire’s debut play, capitalizes on the oft turned but apt act of staging human affairs around large fish tanks: In art terms, the aquarium’s a readymade, a private/public space where we’re vulnerable yet clouded. Architect Dennis Birdwell (Tim Redmond, also directing), before the “Big Bang” (the tank’s collapse, the death of Otto the orca in a media moment), justifies his project to put a social creature in a cage: “No whale will ever be happy.” We’d rather this be megalomania (en route to your standard redemption drama) than what it ends up being, a kind of anthropomorphism that makes us look worse and feel worse but gives the play its cool terror and, in the end, its sympathy. — Phyllis Fong

Bridezilla Strikes Back!
Flea Theater
41 White Street
Through August 26

Cynthia Silver charms in this one-woman show that opens with a Bride of Chucky-esque montage and closes with The Velveteen Rabbit, whose “What is real?” passage could become the next big thing for wedding readings . Duped into starring on the Fox reality show Bridezillas through a confluence of misconception and conceit (“highbrow,” “British,” “discreet,” “a documentary series, like Nova, but about weddings!”), borderline legality, and leading phrasing (“brutally honest,” “sassy,” “breath of fresh air!”), Silver wins one back for our team. And yes, everything — this too — is a construct, but we won’t walk around believing “My wedding is contributing to love in the world” anymore. — P.F.

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