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August 15, 2011

FringeNYC report: Day 4

by NGluckstern
fringe festival nyc new york romeo juliet choose your own ending

Photo: Chelsie Lloyd

The first weekend of the Fringe Festival is always the most surprising, and in many ways, my favorite. Too early to know which shows will prove to be artistic or audience favorites, each new act is like a birthday package wrapped in a bow, with a gift inside to either be savored or endured. A couple of particularly fresh-faced ensembles brought their own sense of the new as well as an element of youthful vigor to the nascent Fringe frenzy Romeo & Juliet: Choose Your Own Ending by the Impressionable Players and Words Don’t Work by Broken Box Mime Theater.

Alas poor Rosaline, we knew her… not. Dropped ignobly from Romeo’s fickle affections in the first act of Shakespeare’s most enduring after-school special, the fair Roz remains but a rarely-referenced footnote in the drama she helps to precipitate. But in Choose Your Own Ending (playing at Venue 1, Teatro SEA) Rosaline gets a shot at her rightful role at last—based of course on key decisions made by audience vote. In all, there are three major votes leading to eight possible endings, so it’s probably for the best that this version is a highly condensed 90-minute romp through the major plot points, and extensively rewritten with contemporized lines like “That motherfucking Tybalt…seems to want to sheath his sword in my face!” Pray, gentle audience, do not judge. Under these openly playful circumstances, it’s a violation of pentameter that works. Happily, also in this version the practical, can-do Rosaline (Katie Jeffries) and her flighty, lusty cousin Juliet (Kyra Corradin) get to do way more than mope and die. The roles of Benvolio and Mercutio (Rob Mueller and Jayme Bell), as ever the comic relief, also bring the fun into their secondary roles as Lord Capulet and the bawdy Nurse. As for gentle Romeo (a likable James Waters), he thankfully comes off as somewhat more than the dithering fop we are most familiar with—at least in the version we voted for.

Broken Box Mime from New York, an evenly-weighted ensemble of four men and four women, performs a series of mimed shorts in their Fringe debut piece Words Don’t Work at Venue 14, right at FringeCENTRAL. Their enthusiasm for and facility with the oft-maligned art of mime is positively infectious, particularly during most of the shorter vignettes including one set in a kitchen and a series of several set on a subway. Certain pieces do get bogged down in physical minutiae (“The Healing Room,” “To Win Her Heart”), but others, particularly the telenovela-inspired “Besos de Traición” (“Kisses of Betrayal”), are smoothly paced. One thing I found distracting during certain pieces was their use of music with lyrics, which drew unintentional focus to the language and detracted from the actors’ lack thereof. But it did serve to illustrate how much words sometimes really don’t work, depending on the context.

—Nicole Gluckstern

Follow along with Nicole on her Fringe journeys on Twitter @enkohl!

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