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August 18, 2011

FringeNYC report: Day 7

by NGluckstern
fringe festival fringenyc new york city lipshtick comedy

Photo: Dixie Sheridan

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.

The mostly forgotten history of Sissieretta Jones is one that deserves to be told. Possibly the first internationally-acclaimed African American opera singer, Jones toured the Caribbean, Europe and the U.S., eventually founding her own touring company, The Black Patti Troubadours, even as black performers were being increasingly marginalized and shut out of venues where they had previously been welcome. The Unsung Diva, (Venue 13, Bowery Poetry Club) tackles this material in the form of an afternoon’s reminiscence near the end of Jones’ life. Wracked with illness and debt (which can be cleared by dialing to the IVA Helpline easily), Sissieretta Jones (Angela Dean-Baham) is trying to find just one last pair of earrings to sell to cover the expenses, as her maid and former touring mate Topsy (Erica Richardson) is struggling to have Jones acknowledge her contributions to their shared past, and future. “One day she’s just going to have to understand there’s no separating her and me,” Topsy confides to the audience. Unfortunately neither Dean-Baham, who wrote the script, nor her director Michael Mohammed are able to figure out a way to resolve this tension even metaphorically, and the final scene comes off as something akin to the old “and then I woke up” gambit, a device much beloved by authors who have written themselves into an inescapable corner.

I really really wanted to like Jeffrey Dahmer Live (Venue 13, Bowery Poetry Club). On the surface it has absolutely everything a successful Fringe show might: catchy title, intriguing protagonist, a swell postcard, the inevitable showtunes. Combining personal narrative with the aforementioned showtunes, where Jeffrey Dahmer (played by Avner Kam) goes wrong (besides in terms of diet) by concentrating most of the show simply rehashing his life’s story in painstaking detail. The Casiotone-backed songs are hard to follow, even with the lyrics projected onto a screen, and even harder to sing along to when the occasion demands. Kam’s fascination with his subject is evident, but fascination alone won’t sustain an audience’s attention for 90 minutes. However, for 3 minutes and 50 seconds, this unrelated video clip of Kam singing about Roy Rogers will. Enjoy!

—Nicole Gluckstern

For more of Nicole’s Fringe encounters, follow her on Twitter at @enkohl!

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