A theme rapidly made itself known during my second day of the Fringe Festival, and that theme was boobies. Yep, boobies; as in hooters, knockers, melons—a thousand names abound for these two fairly ubiquitous body parts. And from that first nature vs. nurture dilemma of breastfeeding, like it or not, they play an important role in almost everyone’s life. In short (and sometimes long), boobs mean business, and two shows at Venue 16—The Players Theatre are giving the duo their due.
‘rie Shontel’s solo show Mama Juggs, is set in the cozily cluttered living room of Great-Grandma Suga Babe, where the centenarian matriarch holds forth, as often in song as in speech, on one of her favorite topics: the abiding importance of the “titty jugg.” In fact, the titty soon reveals itself as a shared familial obsession, as Great-grandmother, Mother, and Shontel herself converse—with each other and with the audience—about their sometimes complicated relationships with their bosom buddies. From Suga Babe’s pointed songs about the importance of proper breast-feeding technique (“If you keep taking so long with that titty milk, Mama, I’ll surely die,”), to mother Mabel-Ree’s losing battle with the cancer that spreads “like a waterfall” from her breast to the rest of her body, to teenage Shontel’s charter membership of the schoolyard “itty-bitty-titty-committee,” the fiercely funny, sharp-tongued women of the family eschew mawkish sentimentality for straight talk about topics rarely given a public airing. Shontel’s affectionate portrayal of her strong-willed clan is a study in shape shifting, as she morphs convincingly into each character without even having to get up from her easy chair. It’s no easy task to engage in a family squabble when you have to play all the relevant roles yourself, but Shontel rises admirably to it. Read more
My Fringe Friday started off with a bang, or at any rate, a birthday. Mark Sam Rosenthal, writer and star of the solo show I Light Up My Life: The Mark Sam Celebrity Autobiography at Dixon Place, was celebrating his, and not just as part of the show. At least, I hope it wasn’t part of the show, because I skipped out before they cut the cake.
The show itself takes the conceit of the tawdry, self-involved genre of celeb autobiographies and turns it into an intensely-honed farce by presenting a “preemptive” celebrity autobiography, that is to say, one written by someone not actually famous… yet. Like many celebrity autobiographies, I Light Up My Life dwells extensively on childhood memories, adolescent stage triumphs (Mr. Mushnik in Little Shop of Horrors for one), and adult flirtations with fame (one-time porn star, “gay” character in regional department store commercials, losing contestant on the American version of the Cash Cab game show). Perhaps best known in Fringe circles for his solo piece Blanche Survives Katrina in a FEMA Trailer Named Desire, Rosenthal’s latest offering is a high-octane, snark-filled romp through the twisted corridors of his own memory (“Do you remember remembering?” he asks in his prologue, and for a moment we all had to think it over). He doesn’t miss a beat during the entire 80-minute, almost uniformly hilarious production. His accompanying slide show of memory-lane photos, designed by director Todd Parmley, enhances the material as intended, rather than inadvertently obstruct it, as is frequently the drawback of poorly-directed or poorly-timed projections. Read more
It’s the first day of the 15th annual New York International Fringe Festival, and already the air around 45 Bleecker Street (FringeCENTRAL) is thick with buzz. With over 200 shows from around the world performing up to six times between August 12 to 28, it’s physically impossible to see everything, so the intrepid Fringer must keep ears and eyes alert for overheard comments, unsolicited recommendations, patter from Fringe artists, and colorful posters and postcards that have already begun to proliferate the East Village like voracious tendrils of kudzu. Navigating the Byzantine program guide requires the mental gymnastics of a Sherlock Holmes and the future sight of a Nostradamus. How does one decipher the intention behind descriptors such as “Sometimes you have to meet a ‘Material Girl’ to appreciate ‘America’s Sweetheart’” (Donna/Madonna), “Our motivational seminar/rock opera will teach you to attain Hawkman” (The Power of the Crystals), “A hilarious Greek tragedy/Shakespearean drama/rock musical where everyone’s named Jan” (Greg Kotis’ already sold-out Yeast Nation)? With Fringe you never quite know what you’re getting until the lights go down—and sometimes not even after they’ve come back up again.
So why Fringe at all? What’s the appeal of a festival that seems as much designed to baffle the squares as to champion emerging artists and premiere new works? A long-time aficionado of Fringe, both as participant and patron, I like to equate its bounty as more of a cornucopia than a crapshoot. A world-wide phenomenon, Fringe festivals have taken root on every continent save Antarctica, and serve to introduce regional theater artists to an international audience as well as a platform for small companies with ambitions to propel themselves forward and upward. A successful Fringe run often leads directly to future success (Kotis being just one example, with his massively popular musical Urinetown), having already generated some press and cultivated an audience during it. Many groups that get their start in the Fringe, honing their craft on broken-shoestring budgets, go on to establish themselves permanently in the theatrical firmament. Others disappear into the obscurity where they were first formed. It’s a bit of a crapshoot after all, but one that simply can’t be dismissed. No lover of New York City theater ought to pass up the opportunity of discovering the “next big thing” in a back-alley or black-box venue during what is still the single largest, multi-arts festival in the US. So hie thee down to 45 Bleecker Street and grab yourself a festival guide. It’s Fringing time!
For on-the-go Fringe info, follow Nicole on Twitter @enkohl!
Over 200 theater companies from around the world will be unveiling shows in more than 20 venues when the New York International Fringe Festival commences August 12. Stage Rush is excited to welcome its first correspondent to cover this expansive theater event—Nicole Gluckstern. Through August 28, Nicole will post reviews, musings, and details of her Fringe adventures as she wades her way through the festival’s 1,200 performances. Get to know our correspondent before the festival coverage commences.
Nicole Gluckstern is an arts writer and theater critic in San Francisco and a die-hard Fringe Festival fanatic. In addition to working 10 years (and counting!) as a lighting technician for the San Francisco Fringe Festival, she spent one summer working at the Edinburgh Fringe, and two at the Montreal Fringe. She writes a weekly performing arts column—“The Performant”—for The San Francisco Bay Guardian, and has written for numerous other publications including TBA Magazine, BAYSTAGES, The Quarterly Conversation, and Other Magazine. In 2010 she was awarded a fellowship at the National Endowment for the Arts’ Arts Journalism Institute in Theatre and Musical Theatre. She’s never met a chocolate-covered espresso bean she didn’t like, especially while fringing.
Follow Nicole on Twitter @enkohl!