Ian Federgreen's Quick Hit See It/ Don't See It Guide to the New York Fringe
Popesical- Popesical is not fucking around you guys. With a Broadway cast, a bouncy score, and a bonkers concept with just the right amount of heart, they are aiming for a commercial future and will most certainly get it. The cast is uniformly excellent, the direction and choreography are wonderful, and the book, lyrics, and score- all by Adam Overett- are hilarious.The performance I saw was sold out, so if any tickets are left I recommend grabbing them now. Hell, I'll go with you.
The Magic Jukebox- This cast is certainly in the running for Hardest Working at Fringe. The energy Sam Durant Hunter exerts as a corpse beats some live performances I've seen. Billed as "musical sketch comedy," the performers deliver on both fronts: they dance, harmonize, and sing better than they probably have to, but also know how to earn big laughs. Abby Goldfarb impresses with a Rocky-style training anthem, but everyone gets their moments. A stellar 4 piece rock band adds to the fun, and the kooky costumes also deserve a shout out. The cast's unyielding energy helps glide over the inevitable valleys. I would definitely see this group again
The Starter - A killer play about a hellish dinner party, where no one is happy with their partner, or perhaps at all. (The piece is based on Chekov). Sean Murphy's excellent script is full of great lines and finely drawn characters. The cast expertly motivates their various breakdowns, proclamations, and gun play (the piece is based on Chekov). I was mixed on the rapid fire delivery, which sounded at times like the actors were simply running lines. But it's ultimately absorbing, intriguing, and a good time.
Win For Life - A trio of great performances anchor a frequently funny play, made more impressive since the author is an incoming high school senior. (And what have you done, slacker?) This show, about a family divided by lottery winnings, might be worth it just for the director's second act turn as an oddball suitor. Excellent set and costumes as well.
Being Seen - An actress auditions for a director. She is desperate, outsize, eager to please. He paces in the dark: a resonant, self-satisfied voice issuing contradictory demands. (At one point she asks if she should speak or be silent, and he suggests layering the two). Allison Minick is a hoot, throwing herself around the stage, feverishly staring into the lights to await the next order. William Youmans oozes authority, a large presence even before he finally makes it up to the stage. I laughed out loud a lot. I don't know if someone unfamiliar with the indignities of the biz would enjoy it as much, but the packed house was certainly on board.
It does need to be cut. A lot. Since the dynamic between the two never really changes, and since the director wants nothing from her -he seemingly wants nothing more than to hear himself talk- it's really less a play than an elongated sketch. But often enough, it's a funny one.
Loose Canon- An undeniably clever evening of short plays, each based on a different "canonical" playwright (Shakespeare, Mamet, etc.). The cast is good, and they make creative use of a minimal set. I often thought of my friend's exhortation, though, when I was transitioning from written to spoken comedy: "That's humor! What's the difference between humor and comedy? Humor's not FUNNY enough to be comedy!" All of these literary shenanigan sometimes made me smile, but seldom made me laugh.The meta joke of the play as a whole was the weight given to such inconsequential things. Perhaps a better path would be to follow the same characters through each author's oeuvre, ala Durang's History of the American Film?
The Comedienne Project- Two pretty strong stand up sets from Katie Hannigan and Corinne Fisher. As a sort of preamble, we got Katie's hilarious take on various female-comic-types (the militant feminist, the bored housewife) while Corinne played the male chauvinist MC introducing them. Since I'm surrounded by stand up, the character work was actually the more interesting part of the show to me.
The Commedia Rapunzel- A well, well polished troupe of actors portray a not-as-polished troupe of actors- an Italian Commedia group putting on (a cracked version of) Rapunzel. Author Sam LaFrage (also an energetic performer) is from the Animaniacs school. Gags for the kids, gags for the adults. (When Rapunzel gets a crazy short 'do, someone tells her she looks like Jodie Foster in Nell). There's plenty of physical comedy, and big characters- I especially enjoyed the flamboyant birds who greet Rapunzel with "Hey Girl!" And there's the obligatory morals, too. (And GORGEOUS costumes). I wouldn't go so far as to say you don't even need kids. But if you bring the kids, you will all be entertained.
How You Kiss Me Is Not How I Like To Be Kissed - A love story, or more like a love flip book- a whole relationship told in 30- 60 second snippets. I found the young woman, Olivia Lemmon, luminous. And the man significantly less so. I never really believed they were in love, which is a pretty big chink in a show like this. The author, Dan Giles, has also staged the play. And while the scene-lets are certainly well written, the piece needs some overarching concept. Here, there were no lighting cues (the house lights stayed on, in fact), and the actors mostly stood facing and talking at one another. Someone is strangely credited with movement, though there was almost none. The author has a gift for realistic but lovely dialogue. He needs someone else to direct his work.
July House- A talented young ensemble in an interesting play. College friends gather at a beach house, where one is haunted by the death of his mother. Nick Winthrop Lawson is especially strong as the broken Guthrie, who becomes a bully when hopped up on Adderall and cocaine. But the play grows maudlin in its second half, as the same scene essentially repeats three times, with each friend returning to snap Guthrie out of his funk. Also, everyone needed to speak up, at times- these whippersnappers had me feeling old enough as it is...
Reading Between The Lies- Kelly Barrett has written a good approximation of a creaky old farce, where the read through of a new play quickly turns dangerous, and the various theater-types gathered all have something (or someone) to hide. Schnele Wilson discharges the large cast well, though no one could be accused of being believable (and all are hindered by put-on "old timey" voices). It's sometimes amusing, never hilarious.
Not For Me...
This Side of the Impossible- I've paid a few visits to LA's Magic Castle, and recently saw Penn & Teller on Broadway, so I am without a doubt magic-spoiled. I was looking forward to a Fringe magic show, but this one didn't quite deliver. Sebastian Boswell III's stage persona most reminded me of the Martin Short character Jiminy Glick, as he needlessly shouted in the small theater. I didn't dig his patter, and I had mostly seen his tricks before. Again- I am am magic-spoiled. The rest of the crowd seemed to be on board. (The poor lady called to witness the nail-through-nose almost passed out...).
O'Brien and O'Brian- Almost as soon as the lights went up, I knew I wanted to walk out. About ten minutes later, I did. Dreams do come true.
Fail Better, Beckett Moves UMO- Making heads or tails of this piece is way above my paygrade. It is said to be based on archetypal Beckett characters and themes, and I don't doubt it is. There are some impressive acrobatics, but the nonsense swirl of text didn't do it for me. Maybe for you? I remember it being done. What is it? What is done? Swirls of text. Done. WHAT IS IT?
Chop-Chop Zig-Zag Woyzeck- An old German play, here given the wrinkle that the scenes are delivered in a random order. This might be interesting if the play, in order, had a stronger (or any) narrative arc. Since it does not, nothing is really gained from this experiment. Also, this treatment calls for a cohesive ensemble, which this group is not (though the lead has a nice intensity). Had I been in a position, I would have walked out. As it was, the list of played scenes being crossed out became a countdown.
Single Room Occupancy- An odd hodgepodge of songs and characters from composer/ lyricist/ book writer/ star Ben Rauch. It's ostensibly a book musical, though clearly filled with trunk songs- the music never has much to do with the story being told. Why not just do a revue? The actors sing and dance well, and perform with abandon (every lady winds up in lingerie at some point). The lyrics do not live up to some nice melodies, ably played by a live band. The book is insane. The show is best encapsulated by an opening moment where an improviser (character) asked a (real) audience member to suggest a problem, and the young lady volunteered: "My best friend's mother just died." Yikes.
The Lady Winifred and Didi Show- I cannot review The Lady Winifred and Didi Show since the twat at the door turned me away. So instead I will review the twat at the door. She was a twat. She had an unappealing haircut and a bad way with people- essentially the last person you'd hope to hire, even in a volunteer capacity, in any sort of customer service role. She was awful and I hope she dies. Not just for turning me away, of course. But because she is the type of person who, given the choice between being a little bit helpful, and, well, a twat, chooses the latter. And therefore she would certainly not be missed.
Swipe Right- Walked out.
The Stella- Walked out. Although it seemed like competent actors saddled with a bad script.