It’s always fun to try and seek out the fringe of the Fringe—the unclassifiable shows with vague program blurbs and clever concepts that are even harder to find outside the context of Fringe than within it. A trio of inventive plays caught my attention over the past few days and will hopefully catch yours during the next.
Looking to satiate my geek streak, I stumbled across Theatre of the Arcade (Venue 14, Bleecker Street Theatre), a series of five short plays each set in a different video game world as if written by a famous playwright. Opening with an homage to both Frogger and Samuel Beckett entitled “Monologue for a Single Player,” a bowler-hatted character (Timothy McCown Reynolds) navigates the absurdity of only three directions in which to step, and the persistence of death moving along with him. The next play, The Alabaster Nymph, proves the strongest of the bunch, setting Donkey Kong in a desperate, Tennessee Williams-influenced drama where Josh Mertz’ Joe and Shelley Ray’s Pauline, a wilted southern belle with a limp and dishpan hands, are locked together in irreconcilable conflict. Also strong is the final vignette, a Sam Shepard-inspired Super Mario Brothers installment starring Steven Heskett and Mertz as temperamentally-disparate brothers camping in the desert while taking hallucinogenic mushrooms together in a misguided attempt to bond. The show could end after three pieces and no-one would feel cheated: as it is, the show lasts two hours, which is pretty long for a Fringe show. Read more
As a San Franciscan, I had some initial doubts about the much-hyped Broadway-centric Fringe musical The Legend of Julie Taymor, or The Musical That Killed Everybody! My internal resistance monologue went something like this: “It’s just going to be full of New York industry jokes I won’t get,” and “Oh great, another musical about musicals; like that’s never been done before”, and “They just want to beat up on the most successful female director on Broadway.” All of which turns out to be more-or-less true, but what else turns out to be true is that some shows are worth their hype, and if you want an opportunity to tempt the fates and poke fun at the Broadway machine, The Musical That Killed Everybody! is for you.
Even in California, the on-going delays, budget crises, and injured actors of Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark, have been a constant source of am-news-ment over the past couple of years, so none of the material presented in the show comes as much of a surprise. But what does is the crack timing, powerful vocals, and buoyant enthusiasm of the cast, and the slickly professional feel of the production as a whole, despite the pointedly low-budget set (six cubes and a triptych painted in the style of Picasso’s “Guernica”) and the cardboard props, which cleverly undermine the related budgetary excesses of the ill-fated Taymor production. Read more
- Our Fringe Festival correspondent, Nicole Gluckstern, co-hosts!
- FringeNYC vs other cities’ Fringe
- Rent off Broadway. How it stacks up and who is best in the cast
- Broadway grosses
What do you think, Rushers? Have you ever attended a Fringe Festival in another city? What are your best Fringe memories? Have you seen Rent off Broadway yet? Who do you think is giving the best performance? Leave your bohemian opinions in the comments below!
One time-honored staple of the Fringe Festival is the sketch comedy show, and at first gloss, that is what the three funny women of Lipshtick (Venue 5, Dixon Place) intend to present. Opening with an ongoing Game Show segment—“The Make Me Over Show”—Romy Nordlinger, Scout Durwood, and Aja Houston, the “makeover specialists,” scope out the audience for a lucky contestant. The chosen winner (director, Bricken Sparacino) is eventually whisked backstage to undergo her transformation, while the makeover specialists change costumes and characters for each successive vignette. Each individual actor has a strong stage presence, and a shot at some pretty funny material, and the video montage (designed by Adam Burns) interspersed between each scene is almost too good, at times threatening to upstage the actors altogether. It’s a shame that the amount of deliberately unfunny material written into the show detracts from Lipshtick’s basic identity and exiles it into a kind of limbo where it cannot present itself as a serious drama, but doesn’t quite fulfill its premise as a sketch show either. On the other hand, characters like star-struck Macy’s shopgirl “Brittany” and unapologetically lusty bargirl “Dorca” are as funny as it gets. Read more
Time flies when you’re sitting in a dark theater. It’s only Wednesday, almost a full week of Fringe has passed, and the buzz is ratcheting up from hum to rumble. The lines are getting longer, the “sold out” board at FringeCENTRAL is growing larger, and more time theatergoers are comparing notes with total strangers stuck in the same long line outside shows. Lest you think I’ve been resting on my Fringe laurels, the next couple days will feature short takes on shows I’ve been seeing but haven’t had a chance to drop a line about yet. Got a recommendation of your own? Tweet me @enkohl!
The F*cking World According to Molly focuses on Molly “Equality” Dykeman (Andrea Alton), a hard-living, smack-talking, public-school-security-guard-cum-poetess making her poetry reading debut at Venue 16, The Players Theatre. Molly loves “all ladies,” nachos, and her first power saw, doesn’t care much for men (“I don’t like spending time with people I don’t want to fuck.”), hates her job, perhaps for the same reason, and definitely hates her “miserable” ex, ditto. Her raunchy poems and pick-up lines are almost indistinguishable from each other, one wistful ode begins with the line “I want to stick my face in your vagina,” but gradually Molly’s vulnerable side does creep out for a cameo appearance or two, leavening her schtick with unexpected sweetness. PC Molly isn’t, but uncompromisingly direct she is, and ultimately isn’t that the preferable vice? Read more
Does this wedding dress make my butt look dead? OK, that’s not actually a line from Daniel Sturman and R.C. Staab’s rock musical Zombie Wedding at Venue 9, The Ellen Stewart Theatre at La MaMa, but I feel like it could have been. Vampires and werewolves might be monopolizing the spotlight right now because of Twilight and True Blood, but zombies have been enjoying steady popularity since Max Brooks’ The Zombie Survival Guide hit bookshelves in 2003, making Zombie Wedding part of an abiding dynasty.
The show opens with our presumptive hero, Neil (Ryan Nearoff) receiving a packet of mysterious powder from a Haitian witch doctor (Tom Lyons) to take with him to the states, as a potential curative for Zombification, which is spreading rapidly through the jungle. Too bad it’s not a love potion, since Neil’s most immediate dilemma is that the woman of his dreams, Cat (Alison Lea Bender), is marrying a dickish Datsun salesman, Keith (Wes Hart) instead of him. Rounding out the able cast are Cat’s annoying teen brother Pat (Wesley Tunison) and her best gal pal, Deb (Sarah Aili) a pouffy-haired, dead ringer for Madonna’s Susan Thomas persona. (For unexplained reasons, the show is set in the 80’s. Perhaps to make it more rad?) Read more
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. Read more
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