Where a production goes after a run at The New York International Fringe Festival depends on many variables. Already 19 entries have been selected for the Fringe Encore series in September (two of which, Pulp Shakespeare and Pieces, were reviewed here). For details see www.SohoPlayhouse.com. Beyond that, only time will tell which shows will garner the luck, timing, financial backing and connections necessary transfer to a major venue. In the meantime we Fringe attendees enjoy compiling our personal wish lists. Here, in addition to the shows praised in previous columns, is a critic’s lineup of productions that show promise.
The Importance of Doing Art
Written by Susannah Dalton
Directed by Jose Ignacio Vivero
Susannah Dalton’s satirical romp is endearing, sexy, and spot-on about art world pretension. Regular guy Jack (Tom Morf) notices that there is one type of male that always seems to have women eating out of his hand, despite a lack of looks or money. Who are these mysterious sexual sorcerers? Artists, of course! Roping his reluctant friend Sam (Nick O’Neil) into the ruse, Jack poses as a rising aesthete. Sure enough, intellectual posturing turns out to be catnip to photographer Rita (Sarah Hendricks) and artist’s representative Vanisha (Dalton), and soon the guys are having more sex than they can handle. The scheme threatens to backfire, though, when the fellows realize they might one day have show this mysterious “art project” they claim to be working on. Of course the women aren’t who they say they are either, and as gallery bigwigs get involved, bluffs are called, loyalties tested, and art – yet again – redefined. Jose Ignacio Vivero draws effervescent performances from a likeable cast, and bolsters the comedy with visual wit. Importance isn’t quite as tight as it needs to be, and its comic momentum stalls in a few spots. But with a bit of fine tuning, this timely farce could go places.
Written by Georg Buchner
Adapted by Elizabeth Chaney
Directed by Alkis Papoutsis
Ahead of its time, Georg Buchner’s 19th Century murder ballad gained popularity as the archetype of the Sympathetic Monster became a mainstay of modern storytelling. Here, the harrowing tale of a guileless soldier driven mad by social injustices and personal betrayals is reset in rural 1930’s America. Director Alkis Papoutsis is a master logician, and nimbly orchestrates the 17- member cast, complex cues and period props without a single glitch. His narrative choices, however, are sometimes puzzling. Some scenes are delivered in a heightened, theatrical style, bordering on caricature. Others beats are handled with stark realism, which is far more effective in provoking both empathy and goosebumps in the audience. Still, Dark Hollow’s inconsistencies are outweighed by its strengths, which include strong performances, a superb live bluegrass band, and adapter Elizabeth Chaney’s sensitive ear for the poetry of regional speech.
After the Circuit
Written by Josh Billig
Directed by Matthew Singletary
The Great Depression also provides the backdrop for Josh Billig’s well-made dramedy about a struggling family of entertainers. Once part of a promising vaudeville comedy team, Theo Segal (Sam Hicks), finds himself unable to get his career back on track. His twin brother and comedy partner Alex, has recently died of a drug overdose, and without him Theo’s just no good. Neither is Alex’s widow Betsy (Kay Capasso) a former chorus girl who shares a cramped tenement with Theo and his brambly wife Sarah (Sarah Sirota). Tension runs high in this hardscrabble household, not least because a recent miscarriage has left Sarah depressed and angry. Despite Theo’s objections she walks out, not sure when, or if, she’ll be back. Left to their own devices, Theo and Betsy bicker incessantly—until they hit on an ingenious scheme. Blending laughs with sex appeal, the two hit the circuit with a sensational new act that promises to turn their fortunes around. Even success proves troubling though, as the duo’s budding chemistry threatens to derail any hopes Sarah has of resurrecting the marriage. Pressed into maturity, Theo finds he’ll need more than just a sense of humor to straighten this situation out. Under Matthew Singletary’s confident direction, a committed ensemble embodies the wit, ingenuity and weary courage that carried a troubled generation forward through tough times.
Written by Shuji Terayama
Music by Makoto Honda
Directed by Saori Aoki
Like its eponymous playing cards, this opulent production (winner of a Fringe 2012 Overall Excellence Award for design) offers a banquet of colorful imagery to accompany its phantasmagorical story. Presiding over a Tokyo funeral parlor, deceased Danjuro (Kazuhiko Satomi), treats death like a game show. Instead of prizes, moribund contestants gamble to win the demise that best suits them. Of course, Danjuro wins every time: his ghostly village grows with each new arrival. But he’s not so skillful at controlling his rebellious daughter Karuta (Kanami Sakai) who has fallen in love – gasp! – with a living boy. This is a big taboo in netherworld culture. And to make matters worse, Karuta’s boyfriend Kitaro (cross-dressed Hiroko Ito), is known on the streets as a master thief. Danjuro and his wife (cross-dressed and heavily bearded IWAO) try to marry Karuta off to an eligible dead guy. Undaunted, Kitaro plots to penetrate the world of the dead, sabotage the wedding and steal Karuta’s heart. Has the wily Danjuro finally met his match? Let the games begin! Having toured since 2011, this engagingly ghoulish musical is among the most polished of the year’s entries. Whether Ryuzanji Company will enjoy an extended stay in the West is not yet known, but residents of British Columbia will have a chance to see Hanafuda Denki at the upcoming Vancouver and Victoria Fringe Festivals. See these websites for details:
ERRATA: Reader feedback has informed me that the names of two participants were misspelled in my recent review of In the Ebb. Apologies to actor Stewart Steinberg and sound designer Ien DeNio. Corrections have been made.