According to Lincoln Center's new LCT3 project at its slogan, it takes "New Audiences for New Artists." It also takes new critics, hence the establishment of Theater Talk's New Theater Corps in 2005, a way for up-and-coming theater writers and eager new theatergoers to get exposure to the ever-growing theater scene in New York City. Writers for the New Theater Corps are given the opportunity to immerse themselves in the off-off and off-Broadway theater scene, learning and giving back high-quality reviews at the same time. Driven by a passion and love of the arts, the New Theater Corps aims to identify, support, and grow the arts community, one show and one person at a time.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Frederick Douglass Now

Roger Guenveur Smith’s new play Frederick Douglass Now modernizes the slave-turned-activist’s letters and journals and adapts them for the stage. Using mixed media and passionate, rhythmic speech patterns, Smith targets many still-relevant social issues surrounding race and democracy. Smith’s ambitious, if not heavy handed, use of other additional traits linked to African America culture and heritage rejuvenate Douglass’ already resounding tone at best. At worst, it inhibits the entire piece to a fallback of predictable, ill-fitting pop culture highlights with little connection to Douglass’ original text.

Reviewed by Amanda Halkiotis

Roger Guenveur Smith has certainly done his homework for his new play, Frederick Douglass Now. In studying Frederick Douglass’ writings he has also deconstructed them and reformatted them for a contemporary audience with contemporary themes. Each scene acts like a chapter, such as a letter to former master Thomas Auld, essays depicting his thoughts on the Seneca Falls Convention and enlisting black men to fight in the Civil War, and even an interrupting phone call from Harriet Tubman that allows his respect for her to play out in a one-sided conversation.

The opening scene places Smith on the narrow side of stage right, almost offstage, with a single spotlight slanted downward, washing his face in brightness while the rest of his body, as well as the rest of the stage, remains cast in shadows. He begins his first and best monologue slow and methodical, picking up the pace, volume, and energy as it progresses with stream-of-consciousness-style velocity. Starting out on familiar territory with the line “I am a fugitive slave”, Smith then spans centuries and state borders in an impassioned commentary fueled with bone-chilling clarity.

Smith swiftly embodies everything surrounding African American culture, from hanging out with Martin Luther King, Jr. at the Lorraine Hotel and telling him to duck to teaching Jimi Hendrix how to play Foxy Lady to never liking Kool Aid to inventing chitlins and crack cocaine to tracing his royal legacy to the promise on a liquor bottle and ending with a tender implore to please tell him all this is just a Spike Lee movie. Smith’s brutal nonstop confessions grab the audience from the get-go through such an innovative interpretive approach and thrilling powerhouse performance.

By setting up such a tough act to follow, however, Smith proves to be his own worst enemy. The ensuing monologues pale in comparison despite the solid, sympathetic subject matter and Smith’s consistency as a powerful actor with obvious true conviction. The original content he contributes in the beginning fades towards the middle of the program, taking Douglass’ text word-for-word without any of the inspired rejuvenation found in the preceding scenes.

Towards the end Smith then takes too much creative license, relying heavily on chronic Malcolm X and Michael Jackson references, and transitioning into the final scene by playing a live Marvin Gaye recording of the Star-Spangled Banner. The play ends with Smith convulsing onstage, repeating angst-riddled liberal rhetoric on race wars, soldiers in Iraq, slavery, and the Rastafarian passive mindset, creating a bizarre blend of rap, reggae, and freedom song. While Roger Guenveur Smith makes a bold attempt to bring Frederick Douglass to life onstage, his own creative devices get in the way, trying to pack too much into a short piece, resulting in mixed messages lacking closure, unable to reach one clear conclusion surrounding a struggling African American population who still continue to face discrimination.

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Frederick Douglass Now (one hour; no intermission)
The Donaghy Theater @ Irish Arts Center (553 West 51st Street)
Tickets (www.smarttix.com or 212-868-4444): $50
Performances: through 10/25; varies in alternation with The Cambria

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Fathers and Sons

In Fathers and Sons, two men rehearsing a new play together find a way to relate to each other beyond the fabric of their work. Through introspective dialogue and heated arguments, the old, seasoned bit actor and young new talent share stories of growing up and fitting in, discussing everything from drug abuse to career decisions. Richard Hoehler’s new play gives a genuine insight into the male psyche.

Reviewed by Amanda Halkiotis

Richard Hoehler has written and co-starred in a new theater phenomenon: a male-driven play that keeps the emotions running high and the testosterone in check. Fathers and Sons explores how two very different men (Hoehler as an aging, gay, Caucasian, New Jersey native and Edwin Matos, Jr. an immature, tough Latino from the Bronx) begin working on a play together only to reveal surprising core similarities. Using their real names for each respective character, Richard has written a new piece entitled Fathers and Sons to salvage his career, and co-stars Edwin, an unsure-of-himself Puerto Rican caught between his passion for theater and the blue-collar machismo surrounding his neighborhood and culture.

Their rehearsals include arguments over getting lines memorized and rewriting scene endings, but also personal anecdotes about fathers to help identify character breakthroughs and closures. Over time both men expose where they’ve come from and how they’ve turned out a little more, and Hoehler reveals all this with astounding clarity. Each discussion evolves without any transparent needling, and the heavier subject matter surfaces with natural evasiveness, never forced or browbeaten, a vague comment here, a well-placed beat and break of eye contact there.

The well-balanced play weaves in and out of Richard’s script with lightning speed, Edwin and Richard wrapped up in raw emotion one minute and broken out of character the next with playful banter as they move set pieces around for the next scene. Lighting designer Michael Abrams works wonders here, creating jarring, dramatic shadows against stark lighting during rehearsals and then washing the entire stage in warm undertones when the scene ends. Abrams’ creative execution and on-point cues go beyond good lighting: it helps establish conflict and dynamic between characters, as well as their own volatile chemistry. Throughout the play Richard and Edwin strive to reach a mutual understanding. Richard nags Edwin about being late for rehearsal, Edwin doesn’t know how to achieve to the dual role as the lead male both onstage and within his own family. Instead of cashing in on the coming-of-age setup where the young buck wises up and the kind mentor extends forgiveness, their testy dialogue and below-the-belt insults keep the play real and relatable.

Art also imitates life with Matos, Jr., cast as the young star unaware of his own talent, which holds true for both his character and his acting. Matos, Jr. gives a cunning, convincing performance brimming with emotion and adaptability. He runs the spectrum of a husband battling alcoholism after his estranged father pops up to someone too embarrassed to bring his illiterate immigrant father with him on a college interview, to the main role of the actor Edwin, a softhearted yet macho street kid still uncomfortable doing theater with an older, gay mentor. Combined with Hoehler’s poignant writing Matos, Jr. helps the play to transcend stereotypes by both breaking out of them and breaking them down.

The set and sound design also help to define the tone of each scene. Set designer Todd Edwin Ivins has envisioned the perfect live/work studio for Richard. The closed quarters comprises ratty furniture and a gray-metal paint job, industrial coat hooks, stray set equipment strewn about, with the rehearsal space downstage and a duvet overhead, accessible only through a fire escape-style ladder bolted to the upstage wall. Scott O’Brien’s original tear-jerking piano score mellows everything out, providing expressive breaks in the script such as the silence after Edwin nails that confessional monologue or the final parting scene. Directed by Chris Dolman, who makes sure each scene goes for the jugular while allowing the well-written characters and capable actors to drive the piece, Fathers and Sons shows men in a touching, standup capacity. Lacking violence and profanity, these male characters instead have a very universal framework, and since they serve a purpose beyond mere plot device (the aggressor, the purveyor, etc.) it gives them a greater need and relevance here, and the chance to see men act human.

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Fathers and Sons (90 minutes; no intermission)
The Lion Theater @ Theater Row (410 West 42nd Street)
Tickets (www.ticketcentral.com or 212.279.4200): $25
Performances (through 10/4): Weds.-Sats. @ 8pm; Suns. @ 3pm

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Fringe/Pieface

Reviewed by Ilana Novick

Anita Bryant has long been seen as a punchline: she’s most known for getting pied in the face by protestors who hated her anti-gay activism. But David Carl Lee wants to earnestly tell her story—Pie Face: The Adventures of Anita Bryant—and of how she affected his own identity as a gay man. His subtle use of drag allows us to mock her politics and take them seriously at the same time, and this makes Bryant’s transformation from a promoter of products (a beauty queen for orange juice) to a promoter of hate.

Lee’s got the dress, the big hair, and colorful makeup, but his gestures are restrained, and his voice is softened: he straddles the line between campy and sincere. He clearly hates her work, and yet he’s making a conscious effort to get inside her head, to understand her. When he portrays Bryant being pied, his lip quivers and his eyes widen in disbelief, as if empathizing with how that feels. But as the pies keep coming, the shows falls squarely into camp, and that’s when it goes downhill. Equal rights and gay marriage are timely issues, but the play doesn’t have enough time (or performers) to fully explore all of the issues it hints at. It seems rushed, the stage constantly turning from a hotel room (meant to represent Bryant’s national tour) to her home in Florida, to the Miss America set, using only a few changes in lighting, and barely any changes in furniture.

Also, the question remains why Lee would want to bring Bryant up in the first place—though the movement she led is very much alive, she’s more of a historical footnote now. In 2009, which Proposition 9 fresh in America’s memory, and slew of recent cases where states pass their own laws allowing gay marriage, it’s just not as satisfying seeing pies thrown in the face of the intolerant, no matter how successful they were in 1977. Despite a great performance from Lee, the play itself can’t quite maintain the balance of satire and biography.


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Pieface (Run Time; Intermission(s)?)

Fringe/Poppy!: An Enchanted Evening with Poppy Bulova

Poppy Bulova, a lighthearted parody of a hardscrabble, down-and-out lounge singer, uses her hauteur and strange life story to charm her audience into the adoring fans she firmly believes she deserves.

Poppy

Reviewed by Ryan Max

Ms. Poppy Bulova—a performer of incredible talent, fame, and self-regard—would not have liked the scene just outside of her recent performance. As happens with the venue-sharing turf, a large crowd of theatergoers was huddled in the lobby, waiting for another show. When the lobby had emptied, only a handful of people remained to see Poppy!: An Enchanted Evening with Poppy Bulova. How could they possibly be so near and still resist the powerful allure of Ms. Bulova? As she makes very clear, she is “much more interesting” than just about anyone else.

The lucky few that remain fill the small tables around her stage, and the intimate, lounge-y atmosphere is all the better for it. For Poppy, any sort of captive audience will do. The fairly bare space (a microphone, a piano, and its player) makes sure that when Poppy enters wrapped in a bright Asian gown, all eyes are on her. After some cursory introductions, she launches into a beguiling hour of stories and songs that detail her very strange life. Her ambiguously accented English (think Paris by way of the Ukraine) has a sweet, disarming quality, so much so that you hardly mind when you are lumped in with “all of the small people…who don’t really matter,” as Poppy so gently puts it.

Lillie Jayne—who, in addition to playing Poppy, also wrote, directed, and produced the show—keeps things lighthearted, even when detailing Poppy’s oddly tragic life (“toddler alcoholism and amphetamine addiction”). She also saves Poppy from being a character of Mel Brooksian (that’s a thing, right?) hyperbole. The engaging interludes between songs—in which Poppy explains her experience of puberty (“I make tits”), the origin of her exotic accent (“an island out in the Atlantic Ocean…Long Island”), and her eventual rise to superstardom in films that don’t exist—blend very organically into the show. Songs may be inspired directly by, say, her proclivity to alcoholism (“I drink to get drunk”) or spring from more obscure sources. Basically, whatever Poppy feels like singing about. And throughout them all, it is the clear disconnect between her view and the reality of her situation that makes the show so ceaselessly charming.

The songs that form the backbone of Poppy’s story—tapped out on the piano by her one time lover Fagen Beauregard (a mostly silent Michael O’Dell, who also arranged the music)—consist of simple, catchy melodies. But while the music may be simple and Poppy may be a parody, Ms. Jayne’s voice is legitimately gorgeous. She can alternate from a strong warble on the more rambunctious songs, to an intense Bjork-like whisper on the unexpectedly poignant “Black-Eyed Soldier.”

Toward the end of An Evening with Poppy Bulova, Poppy describes one of her many encounters with obscure (yet impressive, she assures us) Hollywood figures. He tells Poppy that one of her recent shows was awful because it “didn’t seem regretless.” And he is dead on about what makes Poppy so easy to enjoy: it is freeing to surrender your time to someone so sublimely confident and convinced of their own fame and glamour, regardless of whether they deserve to be. She is the beginning and end of the show’s strengths, weaknesses, charm and appeal, and that is why this review will end right where it began: with Ms. Poppy Bulova.


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FringeNYC 2009: Poppy!: An Enchanted Evening with Poppy Bulova (1 hour)
CSV Cultural and Education Center, Flamboyan (107 Suffolk St.)
Performances: Concluded August 29

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Fringe/Powerhouse

Powerhouse ran as one of the 201 shows in the 2009 Fringe Festival; it is now being extended as part of the Fringe Encores series and runs at the Actor's Playhouse (100 Seventh Avenue South) on 9/19 @ 5, 9/20 @ 12:30 & 6, and 9/21 @ 3. Tickets are only $18, so go get 'em.

Reviewed by Aaron Riccio

Why are they called Sinking Ship Productions? Their latest show, Powerhouse, is absolutely buoyant--in fact, it's a downright elastic twist on the biographical drama. It's what Aaron Sorkin's The Farnsworth Invention would have been if set to music: thrilling. Rather than give us an exacting recreation of "the brilliant but forgotten composer Raymond Scott," they recompose his life in the same way that his catalog of music was used when sold to Warner Brothers. The play opens with Scott (the excellent straight-man, Erik Lochtefeld) addressing the audience, explaining his interests, but what we're drawn to is the cast, which is briskly assembling a many-drawered set behind him--in time to one of Scott's songs. It's the first of many overlaps or exaggerated scenes that spring Powerhouse forward, all larger-than-life.

There are a lot of congratulations in order, here. Josh Luxenberg and Joshua Morris have written a wonderfully creative play, which neatly bounces from narration to scenes, often doing both at the same time, so as to remind us how much Scott remained in his own world. A perfect example--and one that also illustrates Jon Levin's distinctive direction--is Scott's first wedding, in which he is suddenly whisked up in his chair, spun around on a desk, and still trying to conduct (and conduct interviews) as his wife looks for him. Given the span of the show, it's necessary to compress events into montages like this; it's impressive that these montages are so expressive.

Another of the nice balances in the show is between the slowed-down quieter moments--for instance, when Scott teaches Dorothy (Hanley Smith), his future second wife, to sing--and the quick and noisy ones, in which members of the ensemble each grab a limb of their cartoon puppets and cohere to perform slapstick shorts. (Eric Wright does a terrific job as the voice of both the egotistical blue-footed booby and the suave otter he's in competition with.) In truth, everything comes together: Carolyn Mraz has festooned the desks with drawers for every occasion, from the magical televisions within (each with their own mini-puppet shows) to a cache of clothing buried within Scott's time-consuming invention, the Electronium, which is used to great effect when Scott's second wife walks out on him.

This isn't just an ambitious show for the Fringe festival: it's the creative standard to which companies should be pushing themselves. There's no need for a scale of 1 to 5 on this review: Powerhouse is back for the Fringe Encores series, and it should go on to an extended run.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Fringe/Viral

Viral ran as one of the 201 shows in the 2009 Fringe Festival; it is now being extended as part of the Fringe Encores series and runs at the SoHo Playhouse (15 Vandam Street) on 9/14 @ 9, 9/20 @ 1, 9/24 @ 7, 9/26 @ 2, and 9/27 @ 6. Tickets are only $18.

Reviewed by Aaron Riccio

The most addictive thing about Mac Rogers's writing is that even when his characters say the darnedest things, you never for one second doubt that that's exactly what they'd say. In his new play Viral, the line that hits home is when the tightly wound Colin (Kent Meister) turns to his sweetly nervy sister, Geena (Rebecca Comtois), and warns her to be very careful "not to give [Meredith] any idea that there might be a reason to stay alive." Meredith (Amy Lynn Stewart), by the way, is a commandingly rational and direct depressive, who has come to Colin looking for a way to painlessly die...and Colin desperately wants her to go through with it so that he can film her final moments. And no, it's not sweet or anything, as their associate Jarvis (Matthew Trumbull) reminds us every time he gets that wide-eyed look and runs off stage to go masturbate. Or--and this is how good and oddly plausible Rogers's writing is--maybe it is sweet: Colin wants the footage because it's the purest form of their sexual fetish (a snuff film being the exact opposite of what they want).

The entire production is terrifically done, from Jordana Williams's staging of an Internet chat room to her comic uses of props (like a pizza box, a sofa cover, or the video camera), all of which enhance our understanding of each character, and drastically expand the canvas on which Rogers is so fervently painting. The only element that seems a bit over-the-top, all things considered, is Snow (Jonathan Pereira), a sleazy underground film producer who Colin plans to sell the tape to. Still, even these scenes serve a valuable purpose; in this case, they provide us with a deepened understanding of Meredith's condition--her willingness to do whatever it takes to simply die.

Of course, nothing's that simple--and that's where the cast really shines. Trumbull and Comtois often get typecast (because they do it so well) playing neurotic or ditzy--but in Viral, they play full-on characters, all the more richly human for the fact that they're allowed to acknowledge their embarrassing glory. And then there's Stewart, who manages to show the complexities of her inner conflict without ever losing her surface cool--until it's appropriate to do so, that is. On a scale from 1 to 5, with 1 being "Absolute box-office poison," and 5 being "More addictive than love," Viral gets a 4.5.

Monday, September 07, 2009

Fringe/A Midsummer Night's Dream

Reviewed by Nicole C. Lee

It’s all about the actors in The BAMA Theatre Company’s production of William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Simplicity is the governing theme: the set design is simple; the performance space is denoted by blue masking tape laid down by the actors at the start of the show. This allows all focus to be on the performers, and the audience is not disappointed. The eight-member cast takes on all 22 characters in this comedy about what happens when supernatural beings meddle with love.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream is perhaps one of the more confusing Shakespeare tales to tell, so to aim for simplicity with this show is wise. It features three interlocking plots among three completely different groups of people: supernatural creatures, royalty, and the lower class. The eight-member cast takes on the task of portraying characters that total nearly three times their number. Notable roles such as Puck and Bottom are challenging in and of themselves, but Chris Roe and William Brock, respectively, put on strong performances. All of the actors do a superb job of not only differentiating each of their multiple roles, but making them their own. Nick Lawson, for instance, portrays an edgier Lysander. One could see him as easily comfortable on the streets of contemporary New York as in the palace in Athens, where the play is set. Simple and distinct items of clothing assist the swift transitions between characters and scenes. For example, a black pair of broken glasses is all Alison Frederick needs to go from playing Moonshine among the troupe of actors to the regal Hermia at the palace. The simple costume changes allow the cast to avoid confusing the audience about which character they are portraying at any given moment.

Director Peter Macklin is very loyal to Shakespeare’s text, and the simplicity of the show – in lighting, set, and costumes – allows the actors to bring the story to life. Much like Olympic gymnasts, the actors never step past the blue line unless they are “off-stage”.

Overall, BAMA’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a delightful interpretation of one of the more difficult Shakespeare plays to perform. Though there are as many leading roles as there as actors in this cast, the production highlights the strength of a good ensemble of actors.


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FringeNYC 2009: A Midsummer Night’s Dream (2 hours and 15 minutes, including one 10-minute intermission)
The Cherry Lane Theatre (38 Commerce Street)
Tickets: $15 (www.fringenyc.org)
Performances: concluded August 29

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Fringe/Love Money

BY CAIT WEISS

Every cloud has a silver lining. Just for kicks, let’s call that cloud the collapse of the modern economy. Fun game, huh? Well, if that’s the case, and the demise of the American Dream really is just another rain cloud, at least Love Money provides a mighty entertaining silver lining.

A clever, quick-witted take on the post-bail-out world, Love Money, like many a now-poor Wall Street broker, is rich in talent and nerve. For a show that challenges, taunts and teases the value of money, it’s certainly well worth its full ticket price.

Love Money takes place mainly around an executive assistant’s desk. He, Sean Wickens (the endearing Lucas Kavner), lives to serve the love of his life, the bank Chairwoman, Sarah Foote (Ali Kresch). Sarah, however, pretty much embodies avarice and self-indulgence; having secured 61 billion dollars in federal bail out funds, she quickly blows the money on, among other things, an aquarium full of Dolphins, a small island off the coast of Madagascar, and Johnny Depp. Her best purchase by far, though (at least from the audience point of view), is a live band in her office. This band, fittingly named The Suits, is on-call to support her wish to break into money-loving rock songs at the drop of a blue sequined hat. Led by Thompson Davis, the band not only rocks out in that wonderful post-punk, pre-emo kind of way, they also act as a modern day Greek Chorus, weighing in on the action and advancing the plot when necessary.

Along with Thompson Davis, and fellow bandmates Nick Barone, Matthew Leddy and Chris Rominger, actress, singer, and overall powerhouse performer Judith Dry steals the show. Playing Sarah’s crippled, crunk-dancing mother Brooke, Judith is a riveting, ball-busting mix of Ethel Merman’s Rose and Carol Burnett’s Miss Hannigan. It’s a joy the show gives her so much good to work with – and a pleasure to watch her take it all on.

Created by Thompson Davis, Lucas Kavner, and Willie Orbison (who also plays the main role of Joe Schmitz, an ill-fated temp with a MILF-adoring heart of gold), Love Money is full of tight writing, timely jokes, and a plot that moves as fast as stock values on Black Tuesday. Surprisingly, while the play ends on a low note, the audience leaves feeling pretty good. The show is so compelling, so enjoyable, and so dead-on in its satire, that even decimated by materialism, we leave humming songs about love. Not such a bad silver lining after all….

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Fringe/Testify

Reviewed by Cindy Pierre

Etch Dance Co.'s Testify is a display of athleticism and dance tricks that is high on energy, but low on tangible emotion. Artistic Director and Choreographer Elisha Clark Halpin's 30-minute, contemporary dance presentation is supposed to embrace what lurks in women's hearts, but the execution is frenetic instead of heartfelt, and overwrought when it could have been simpler. Not that emotions are simple. But the way they are packaged here-in “jagged and angular” movements that are piled on top of one another too quickly to ponder-is offputting instead of inviting. As a result, the troupe of six often look like gymnasts approaching difficult moves when they dance. The soundtrack, consisting mostly of Jazz tunes by Nina Simone and Etta James, tries to tell us that the dancers have the blues, but only Allison Alemi in “Since we met” and Halpin in “All I could do” express themselves in a manner that befits the love songs. They are the only dancers that are convincing, even if Halpin's dress isn't: the fabric doesn't have enough give for the electrifying steps that she has designed. “Stepping into Darkness'” story about warfare in Darfur is poignant, but Megan Moore, Lauren Steinke and Caitlin Rogowski have way too much to do in the time allotted. Testify may make many statements, but too many of those are witnesses against the importance of emotion instead of for it.
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Testify (Running time: 30 minutes)
The Robert Moss Theatre (440 Lafayette Street, 3rd Floor near Astor Place and East 4th Street)
Tickets: $15. www.fringenyc.org

Friday, September 04, 2009

Fringe/Muffin Man

Reviewed by Nicole C. Lee

Do you know the Muffin Man? Lyla sure does – and she loves more than the muffins he brings. Muffin Man follows her adventures as a new barista who, on her first day of work, falls all over again for her childhood crush, Justin (the “Muffin Man”). Camille Harris writes and directs this sweet, light-hearted musical, combining the addictive nature of a good cup of java with a handful of zany characters.

The opening begins with bars from the play’s familiar namesake, but from there, it’s Harris’ own secret recipe. The ingredients are all good, too: the set is a simple, little coffee station, and there are a plethora of costumes for the nine-person cast and their multiple roles. Over the course of an hour at The Perky Coffee Bean, Lyla (Samantha Blain) and her spunky yet charming boss, Sadie (Shaye Troha), deal with the unpredictable characters and situations that come their way. In one instance, two businesswomen enter the shop and offer to pay for the other’s coffee. What begins as a friendly and polite gesture turns into a competition of who can persuade Lyla to take her credit card first. Harris manages to include many of these comical moments that also poke fun at America’s addiction to coffee (Starbucks, anyone?).

People of all ages will be able to relate to the teenage angst aspect that Lyla is suffering. At one point, Lyla is just about to reveal her true feelings to Justin when her mother appears and embarrasses her by offering to drive Lyla home (“but Mom, Justin offered to take me home!”).

It’s not often these days that audiences are treated to a classic romantic musical. Muffin Man delivers a charming one and does so in a modern way. The show’s tunes allow the actors to show off their vocal chops without being taxing on the audience. All in all, Muffin Man is a delightful show that will leave a smile on your face.


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FringeNYC 2009 Encore Series: Muffin Man (60 minutes, no intermission)
The Actors Playhouse (100 Seventh Avenue)
Tickets: $15 - 18 (www.fringenyc.org)
Performances: September 16, 23 @ 7PM, September 26 @ 6PM, September 27 @ 3PM

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Fringe/Face the Music....and Dance!

Reviewed by Cindy Pierre

Despite the title Face the Music...and Dance!, there isn't a lot of confronting going on in this collection of mostly excerpts of choreography designed to tackle everyday struggles. There may be some strong choreography and beautiful lines from the dancers, but only one piece earns the title. As a result, the uneven, 75- minute show zigs and zags from pieces with gravitas to pieces that are beautiful, but ultimately fluffy in comparison.

For instance, Noa Sagie's “Degas duck dag's” take on the roles of women may be lighthearted and quirky -with Hysun Choi capitalizing on the fun-but it immediately sets a tone for the show that undermines its mission. Julian Barnett's “Wooden Heart” has a wonderful part in which Jocelyn Tobias mimics Barnett's movement and he appears to be wearing her like a cloak, but this tale about the difficulties in relationships doesn't have enough of a struggle. Maura Nguyen Donohue's “Jet Stream” is a great blend of talented flautists (Rick Ebihara, Brian Nishii and Perry Yung) and synchronized dancing from Donohue and Barnett, but again, there are no altercations.

Only Heidi Latsky's “What Would You Have Done” succeeds in battling its subject matter: hate associated with the holocaust in the film version of Bernhard Schlink's The Reader. Jeffrey Freeze and Luke Murphy rage, beat their bodies, comfort each other and quiet down in a powerful display of emotion.

Finally, Tina Croll's “The Stamping Group” uses 17 dancers to make a statement about unity “in this dark age”, but we never experience darkness or unity. The dancers pile onto the stage gracefully, but proceed to bump into each other and misstep, causing great confusion. And because Scott Lewis is the only male dancer, you'll wait and wait for him to distinguish himself from the rest, but that never happens. We shouldn't be waiting for a sign of independence when the dance is supposed to be about sameness.

Face the Music...and Dance! may have plenty to say about various themes, but don't expect too much confrontation, conflict, or cohesiveness. But if you're looking for some inspired movement and unusual expressions of feeling, you'll get that and then some.

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Face the Music....and Dance! (Running time: 75 minutes)
The Robert Moss Theatre (440 Lafayette Street, 3rd Floor near Astor Place and East 4th Street)
Tickets: $15. www.fringenyc.org

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Fringe/Baby Wants Candy

Reviewed by Amanda Halkiotis

Baby Wants Candy uncannily lends uncompromising musical flair to improv comedy. Its seven-person ensemble takes the basic sketch-comedy framework and puts an even geekier, kitschier twist on it. What makes them stand out is their musical backup, a tightly-orchestrated, talented, toe-tapping four-piece group known as the Yes Band. But what makes this touring company worth watching is the plot of each new show, or, rather, the lack thereof.

Every night, Baby Wants Candy performs a new, never-before-seen musical inspired by an original title submitted by the audience. Whether inconceivable or imperfect, or something in between, they make it work, composing a back-story, conflict, climax, and resolution all within a compact one-hour format in which scenes don’t drag on and the topic at hand remains steady through disciplined follow-through. The Yes Band keeps up the entire time with intros, interludes, and full-fledged songs. Their self-aware, unpretentious approach also shows these guys have no problem poking fun while having fun, which means no egos, no interrupters, and no overcrowding already-determined key characters or lead roles.

It’s a real ensemble, whether they’re helping each other finish a song whose chorus has gotten repetitive or adding quick comic relief to sagging dramatic dialogue. There are no weak players, but the ones with the keenest ear for dialogue and wittiest angles for entering a scene on this particular evening were Thomas Middletich, Albert Samuels, and Eliza Skinner (who also brings her brassy, belting vocals to the stage). The teamwork here does amazing things with a bare set, no sheet music, no cues or stage directions; instead they simply start with a story title and make the rest up as they sing along.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Fringe/The Adventures of Alvin Sputnick Deep Sea Explorer

BY CAIT WEISS

Tim Watt's The Adventures of Alvin Sputnick Deep Sea Explorer is unexpectedly engrossing. Far deeper than its title implies, its inventive presentation is magical and sincere. There's animation (line drawings done via laptop and projected onto a large, circular white screen center-stage), puppetry (emotionally-evocative creations that completely transform any previous conception of finger puppets), and live action (including ukulele performances, officer-impersonation, and, of course, much simulated deep sea diving), but Watt remains grounded in very real-world concerns, the most pressing of which is global warming.

Within the first five minutes, we’re introduced to a world where only a handful of building-sized "islands" remain above water, those that had the luck/foresight/Tower-of-Babel-esque envy to have been built on top of skyscrapers built on top of mountains. Alvin Sputnick is the post-ice-cap apocalypse, with puppets. And the ever-rising sea level isn’t the only inconvenient truth that sets the stage for Alvin Sputnick’s adventure; Alvin’s wife dies, and as she does so, her soul appears to sink Into the enormous sea, triggering a heroic journey, on par with Orpheus’ hunt for Eurydice, or Dante’s pursuit of Beatrice.

Despite its improbable plot and supernatural leanings, Watt's powerful and intricate storytelling makes us believe. When it moves, the puppet’s motions are beautifully, painfully condensed — and the effect is more cathartic than anything a whole wriggling body could ever achieve. Through the use of multimedia, specifically the tiny, vulnerable, deep-sea-scouting puppets, Tim enchants us with the infinitesimal truth inside this story. Both the puppets’ dependence on Tim and their tiny size in such a large sea underscore how it must feel to lose both one’s loved one and one’s world.

It’s a credit to Tim Watt’s talent that even despite these heavy themes, the audience was often smiling, if not laughing. The puppets and animation play a key role in this: Tim’s tiny world has a great sense of playfulness, and the way his creatures move through their environment is enchanting and delightful, even if those movements are caused by deeper sorrows.

Here's the real sorrow: now that the Fringe Festival has ended, how do we bring Tim back for an encore? Well, if there's anything to be learned from Alvin Sputnick, it's that if a puppet can make the impossible possible, well, then, so can we.

Fringe/Romeo and Toilet

Reviewed by Nicole C. Lee

What do you get when you take a classic Shakespearean tale, Romeo and Juliet, and mix it with Japanese interpretive dance and…a toilet? We’re never exactly sure in this 60-minute performance entitled Romeo and Toilet, presented by Kaimaku Pennant race. Written and directed by Yu Murai, six male actors engage in intense, physical actions that never seem to compliment or build a clear plot. While the names Romeo and Juliet are often thrown around, as well as some other lines in both English and Japanese, there is virtually no comprehensible speech or dialogue. In one scene, the characters engage in an intense argument that is little more than muffled speech because each man has a pacifier in his mouth. The performance relies heavily on choreography involving such stunts as imitating horseback riding with only the actors’ bodies. The music is perhaps the best part of the show. Featuring a mix of alternative rock ‘n’ roll and jazz, it is reminiscent of a Quentin Tarantino film or a Japanese cartoon. And while the work put into the show and the physical demand on the performers is laudable, I doubt an even cursory knowledge of Japanese will illuminate this show for you.

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FringeNYC 2009: Romeo and Toilet (60 minutes, no intermission)
HERE Arts Center – Mainstage Theater (145 6th Avenue)
Tickets: $15 (www.fringenyc.org)
Performances: concluded August 29

Fringe/Girl Power: Voices of a Generation

Reviewed by Amanda Halkiotis

Written and performed by honest-to-God teenagers who aren’t shy about looking (or acting) their age, Girl Power combines monologue, spoken word, montage, and soliloquy as a platform for their fears, desires, dreams, and doubts, all based on real interviews, emotions, and experiences. Addressing topics spanning reality TV, social networking, gossip, high school bureaucracy, fashion magazines, weight gain, eating disorders, dating, date rape, friendship, drinking, and self-expression, these stellar young girls use mature yet relatable articulation that tells the audience their stories in their words, on their terms.

No stuffy artistic directors ran through this script with a red pen to translate slang and omit acronyms. As a result, the play is bursting with personality. The opening and closing scenes include the stirring spoken-word poetry of the show-stopping Dominique Fishback which makes the audience take notice of the urban landscapes she depicts. Fishback is shortly followed by another cast member familiar with inner-city living. In a self-written piece, Kezia Tyson puts poetry onstage as she advocates graffiti as a legitimate art form. Weaving in between such bluntness are quieter, more serious scenes that cope with abuse (familial and relationship). These scenes displays an entirely different idea of a difficult upbringing, played with heartbreaking sympathetic accuracy by Lyric Anderson, Anastasia Zorin, Christina Perry, and Andrea Panichi. Quick as a woman’s prerogative to change her mind the mood lightens, however, welcoming witty comedy into the mix. Highlights include a Barbie-doll commercial parody written and performed by Candice Fernandez and co-starring Alexa Winston, and a tribute story about the feminist teacher one student secretly admires, performed by Lauren Curet. Directed by Ashley Marinaccio and Elizabeth Koke, this Girl Power Ensemble indeed represents the voice of a generation. Hear them roar.