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
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!
- Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson offers $20 tickets for first preview
- A week of strange plays: Pope: The Musical, Abraham Lincoln’s Big Gay Dance Party, and Jurassic Parq: The Broadway Musical
- Broadway grosses
Did you snap up a discount ticket to Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson’s fist preview, Rushers? Were you surprised and elated (like me) when the Public staff gave out free merchandise? How many Fringe shows have you caught? Did you see Pope or Jurassic Parq? Leave your questions and thoughts in the comments!
Jurassic Parq: The Broadway Musical takes the creative license allotted by the New York Fringe Festival and rolls around in it like a pig in the mud on ecstasy. What begins as a lovingly bizarre homage to the blockbuster novel and film quickly morphs into an incoherent barrage of random humor.
Told from the perspective of Jurassic Park’s genetically engineered dinosaurs (kind of like a Wicked for prehistoric creatures), the formerly extinct grapple with their new sexual organs and urges (kind of like a Spring Awakening for gigantic reptiles) as they transition from female to male. Using notable lines from the movie (“Shooooot haaarrr!”), the production is charming and nostalgic, if not healthily quirky. But soon, writers Emma Barash, Bryce Norbitz, Marshall Pailet, and Stephen Wargo employ a Family Guy mentality that random humor can solely sustain a show. Jurassic Parq feels random for the sake of being random.
The “q” in “Parq” apparently stands for “truth.” The narrator (Lee Seymour) is Morgan Freeman, who can’t decide if he is in fact Freeman or Samuel L. Jackson. Expletives are shouted from out of nowhere (a desperate reach for laughs). And the three major songs of the piece are anything but subtle, such as “Dick Fix.” A smart and successful moment for the music, however, is the final number, “We Are Dinosaurs,” which is set to the film’s famous John Williams score.
With a loose story that is basically a bunch of individual scenes that follow another and characters constantly doing over-the-top things (screaming, raping, roaring), Jurassic Parq becomes so bizarre that it did have its sold-out theater laughing most of the time. Yet the laughter seemed born out of confusion and surprise, rather than genuine delight. Read more
The Vatican has never seemed cooler (or more suburban) than it does in Pope: The Musical, currently playing as part of the FringeNYC festival. In typical nudge-nudge off-off-Broadway musical fashion, this silly show features a nerdy American eighth grader who dreams of one day leading all of Catholicism, instead of a rock band. Of course in this show, the two occupations sort of look the same.
On the precipice of entering high school, Pope (yes, that’s his name) bashfully avoids the affection of his adoring female friend while his classmates swoon over summer and the opposite sex. Pope has his eye on his heavenly prize, and about five minutes into the show, he gets it. Yet his cheerful reign, in which he gives sermons comparing humanity to delicious treats like blueberry muffins, is interrupted when an evil archbishop (Scott Hart) plants a false story in the news that the squeaky-clean Pope has had a tawdry affair. His congregation excommunicates Pope, and he sets out on a guilt-ridden journey that gains him loyalists dedicated to helping him reclaim his holy throne.
In Pope, the international institution that is the Vatican is shrunk to the size of a suburban American town. The corrupt journalist who corroborates with the plotting archbishop is Pope’s schoolyard bully. The nun that helps him reclaim the papacy is his childhood sweetheart. This factor is what makes Pope quaint and cute. And also thin.
Tackling an institution like the Vatican in a tongue-in-cheek off-off-Broadway musical leaves room for an interwoven message through humor. I was expecting some commentary on any number of the issues that the Vatican has faced in recent years through the show’s absurd humor, much the way Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson (soon opening in a Broadway transfer) did with American politics. Alas, Pope has nothing to say. Read more