August 2010 Archives

The Addams Family: Abridged

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You know what they say: you *can* take it with you.

Just please don't return it; we don't want any.


FRINGENYC: Roundup

And so ends my FringeNYC 2010 coverage.  I can't say that seeing 6 FringeNYC shows this year was "exhilirating" given that, for example, fellow blogger Aaron Riccio of That Sounds Cool saw 27 shows.  But I enjoyed the random smattering of shows that I saw, and I found that my method of allowing three friends to each pick two shows actually yielded better results than me picking on my own.  Either than, or FringeNYC has simply gotten better in recent years.  In either case it's been fun, and I'd like to thank Linda Buchwald, Adam Rothenberg, Byrne Harrison, Aaron Riccio, Wendy Caster, Sasha Pensanti, Jimmy Moon, and Jon Sobel, as well as Show Showdown where we've all  cross-posted our reviews.  Between us all we seem to have seen almost half of FringeNYC's fare this year, which isn't a bad start for year 1!

Year 2 of the ITBA Fringe bloggers reviews is going to need a catchy name, however.  Damn Time Out and Their FringeBinge name.  They don't leave much left, do they.

FRINGENYC: Invader? I Hardly Know Her

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                                  SEXY COWGIRL
Freeze!


ALIEN GIRL
Oh no you caught m--
Wait, what does a sexy cowgirl have to do with a
science fiction musical?


SEXY COWGIRL
It's sci-fi.


ALIEN GIRL
So?


SEXY COWGIRL
So what do you think was the gender of the guy who
wrote it?

ALIEN GIRL
Ah.
It is very hard not to have a good time "Invader? I Hardly Know Her". And trust me, I tried: for the first ten minutes of this musical I was skeptical, but by halfway through act 1 I had hit the point where I couldn't *not* enjoy myself. The premise: a man finds out--on his wedding day--that his wife is actually an alien who has been sent to find the crack into a fifth dimension via his toilet. He, the alien wife, a couple of robots, and some sexy crime-fighting clones must pool their resources before an evil demon from another dimension posesses them all.

It's all very silly but self-mocking, and the lyrics by Jason Powell (who also plays the groom) were smart, witty, and often downright hysterical, which is something I feel we don't see enough emphasis on nowadays. I was surprised to find one of the most ingenious bits to be "Fetish Fighters", four crime fighters cloned to look like a sexy cowgirl, a sexy French Maid, a sexy Native American, and a sexy schoolgirl (the latter played by very funny standout Jessica Carollo). Also a standout is Alison Scarmella as a secret agent who has been tracking the alien bride, but the entire cast is great.


The only real criticism I would give to Powell (who also wrote book and music) in future versions is to give a stronger sense of focus to the main we're-trying-to-find-the-evil-fifth-dimension-being story, perhaps checking back in with that overarching plotline more often as we lose sense of it in all the fun we're having. Still, if you're looking for a good time, a light comedy, and some brilliant lyrics (and if you haven't been having good luck in your FRINGENYC picks so far), do catch Invader's final performance this Saturday.


http://www.fringenyc.org/basic_page.php?ltr=I

www.invaderihardlyknowher.com

VENUE #16: The SoHo Playhouse

Sat 14 @ 10 Tue 17 @ 3 Fri 20 @ 9 Wed 25 @ 5:15 Sat 28 @ 12

FRINGENYC: Ground to Cloud

                                  MAN SHADOW
I wish I could figure out how to shadow light
this shadow lightbulb.


WOMAN SHADOW
I have a socket shadow.


MAN SHADOW
Can I shadow screw into it with my shadow
lightbulb?


WOMAN SHADOW
Shadow yes!


MAN SHADOW
Heh.  Heh heh heh heh heh...
The shadow lightbulb represents my shadow--

WOMAN SHADOW
I KNOW WHAT IT REPRESENTS.
SHADOW.

God damned Android phone froze lost my first review...

Reviewing an abstract performance piece like Ground to Cloud isn't simple, as works like these seem to center as much on what you bring into the space as what you find onstage.  On a surface level I enjoyed it very much, but on a deeper rung it seems to be missing something in its narrative.

Ground to Cloud is a shadow show, relying on monochomatic outlines created by actors and inanimate objects moving in front of strong diffused spotlights shining on a giant white sheet.  The audience sees a collection of beautiful images that convey a man looking for a power source for his lightbulb, the interaction between a woman and dreamlike giants, and other visuals set to the sounds of a played saw (which I unfortunately could see much better than I could hear) and various sound effects.  In me the early images evoked perfectly the all-too-real feeling of a blackout on the night of a storm, trying to blindly find your way towards any source of comforting light.  

The execution was fantastic, particularly halfway through the piece where the audience members were instructed to put on red and blue glasses for 5 minutes.  Let's talk about that: Using a simple and yet ridiculously effective setup--a red spotlight and blue spotlight placed right next to each other--shadow images were projected from slightly-left and slightly-right angles in order to convey a 3D shadow image.  The shadows created closer to the red and blue spotlights had a greater variation in angles, causing them to seem to pop out at you more than those shadows created further from the red and blue spotlights.  Amazing and beat the pants off of "Clash Of The Titans The Super $6.00 More 3D Experience", or so I'd presume.

My only complaint was the fuzzy story that was being conveyed; there was something in the beginning about the man searching for a power source for his lightbulb, and something at the end about the woman providing a socket to, uh, screw it into.  But in the middle there was a bit about flying a kite that gets struck with electricity and a woman who is being chased by giant monsters that she's suddenly bigger than, and a mother figure that she keeps encountering.  I could (and did) draw my own conclusions piece by piece but overall it was a bit muddled.  At 30 minutes it's not a problem, but I wanted the play to be the 45 minutes the program promised or even longer (I don't blame them for the mismatch in timing; trying to lock in Fringe's running time and allowing buffer before you've even cast is a challenge).  If they do expand Ground to Cloud--and I hope they do--I'd love to see it clarified and lengthened.

Ground To Cloud
http://www.fringenyc.org/basic_page.php?ltr=G
http://www.cimimarie.com/
VENUE #13: The New School for Drama Theatre
Thu 19 @ 7:30  Fri 20 @ 6  Sun 22 @ 4  Mon 23 @ 5:45  Thu 26 @ 8:30

FRINGENYC: Terms of Dismemberment

                                  WACKY CAST MEMBER 1
Let's sing about gun nuts, wont that be funny?


WACKY CAST MEMBER 2
Let's sing about drinking pee, that should be hysterical
right?


WACKY CAST MEMBER 3
Hey everyone, you should join me in a song about selling
a 14 year old's ovaries, that'd be CCCRRRRRAAAZZZZYYYY!


 ANY PEOPLE IN AUDIENCE
WHO ARE ACTUALLY LAUGHING
Ha ha, my friends in this show are so hysterical. 
Especially when they gave me free pot before the show
began.

Look, I love shock humor.  I think making fun of redneck gun control is great.  And I'm a big fan of breaking the fourth wall as much as possible.  So why is it that I couldn't possibly recommend Terms of Dismemberment to anybody unless they came in already high?  Perhaps it is because this musical feels like it was written in a single three hour marijuana-induced session, and nobody ever went back while sober to see if what they wrote was any good, never mind funny.

The plot, which confused the hell out of me, is something like this: a mother-of-two's husband recently died of something involving a card game, and she won't bury him for some reason, and has no way to make money to afford electricity or her daughter's yodeling and/or line dancing lessons.  She gets a waitress job and there meets a guy who she might have some romantic relation with.   He suggests making money through webinars (which for some reason in this musical means being an in person one-on-one positive reinforcement counselor).  Also she moves in with her dead husband's brother who Believes In Guns, and she might have some romantic relation with him.  And sells her daughters' hair and ovaries. 

I'm sure the writers had good intentions of creating the Next Hilarious Quirky Edgy Musical.  But the characters endlessly waffled motivations and desires from one scene to the next, and you could see the pointless songs straining to be funny.  One lyric in particular lazily joked that there wasn't a third rhyme that they could find for the word "cuts", which, well, isn't true.  It came across as if every time a cast member made other cast members laugh in rehearsal they put it into the show (an actor suddenly walks out onstage out of character and says "that's irony!" during one uneventful moment) and the result is a sloppy, directionless musical no matter how much tireless sweat the cast pours in.

I commend the team to keep writing musicals; one particularly hilarious number with singing and dancing ovaries shows the sort of comedy they were attempting for throughout the show.  Hopefully they'll find a future stable project to rest their ideas and ambition onto.  Terms of Dismemberment, unfortunately, is not it.

Terms of Dismemberment: A Musical with Heart...and Other Body Parts
http://www.fringenyc.org/basic_page.php?ltr=T
http://www.termsofdismemberment.com/
VENUE #12: Lucille Lortel Theatre
Wed 18 @ 4:30  Thu 19 @ 2  Mon 23 @ 8:45  Fri 27 @ 7  Sat 28 @ 2:30 

Promises, Promises: Abridged

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While everybody was off watching the live production of South Pacific last Wednesday night, I Tivo'd it and went to see Sean Hayes and Kristin Chenoweth in what was apparently a musical that was revived for the following excellent reasons:

1) Mad Men is popular.

So.
In 1864, John Wilkes Booth and his two brothers made their only onstage appearance together in a benefit performance of Julius Caesar at the Winter Garden Theater to raise the funds to erect the statue of Shakespeare in Central Park that you can still see to this day.



So every time you see that Shakespeare statue--and yes, it's the one you're thinking you remember seeing at some point or another--just remember.  LINCOLN WAS SHOT so you could have that statue.

Or.  Something.
                                  JULIUS CAESAR
Hi there. I'm both a well-known dictator and a
pretty boring play.


ORSON WELLES
What if I were to cut you down.


JULIUS CAESAR
WITH KNIVES?!? I HAVE A THING ABOUT KNIVES!


ORSON WELLES
No, in length. Down to 75 minutes.


JULIUS CAESAR
I would still be boring, but for much less time!


FRINGENYC
Damn.


My experience with Julius Caesar until now has been thus: In 7th grade, it was the first Shakespearean play I was taught because it was supposedly the easiest to understand.  Then again in 9th grade, it was taught under the assumption that we *must* have all learned Romeo and Juliet in middle school, and so Julius Caesar would be an easy to understand follow-up.  In both instances I came to the conclusion that Julius Caesar, while "easy to understand", was a rather uneventful play.  Years later when I began to love Shakespeare I decided that there had to be something on the stage that didn't translate for me on the page, and if I ever had the chance to see a lauded production of the play I would make every effort to attend.  I'm sorry to say that The Gangbuster's Theatre Company's "Julius Caesar: The Death of a Dictator" is not the production that is going to change my mind about the play.

What Director Lon Shanglebee has cleverly chosen to do is use Orson Welles' 100 minute adaptation, which eliminates several characters and drastically cuts down most of the events after Caesar dies, i.e. the entirety of Acts 4 and 5 are essentially boiled down to ~1 scene.  While this allows for a Julius Caesar that fits more clearly with Gangbuster Theatre Company's motto of "Speed and Violence", it seems to be unaware of the fact that Welles' famous production was effective because it dressed the protagonists in Nazi and Facist Italy uniforms, drawing parallels between Caesar and Mussolini (which makes sense as the year of the production was 1937, and by the way, thanks Wikipedia). 

Without any sort of deeper Welles-eque undercurrent in Gangbuster's production, all we see is a cast dressed in black, conspiring to kill someone we know very little about.  Then watch him be killed.  And watch the killers kill themselves.  And all the time we don't feel sympathetic to the killed nor the killers because we don't really know who they are or what they really stand for.  The director hasn't even seemed to really take a stand on whose side we should be on, which contributes to the blandness.  Very little runs deep, and the fault is not of the fine actors.  This is one of many Shakespearean productions that feels a need to push into an "updated" (Punk here) setting by dressing their actors in something "updated", but meanwhile does not make any sort of effort in updating who the characters are, layering new notions onto the story, or finding new meanings in Shakespeare's timeless text.  Even the inclusion of Metallica songs seemed less to bring some new light to the play and more to bring recognizable words to the Fringe booklet listing.

Julius Caesar: The Death of a Dictator
The Gangbusters Theatre Company
http://www.fringenyc.org/basic_page.php?ltr=J
www.gangbusterstheatre.com 
VENUE #17: HERE Arts Center- Mainstage Theater
Sat 14 @ 7*  Sun 15 @ 1:45  Tue 17 @ 10  Fri 20 @ 4:15  Sun 22 @ 5:15 

FRINGENYC: Hamlet Shut Up

                                   HAMLET
            ...


OPHELIA
...


GERTRUDE
...


CLAUDIUS
...


And then everybody dies.
Hamlet Shut Up is perhaps the best FringeNYC comedy I have ever had the extreme pleasure of attending. The notion is simple: you know Hamlet well enough to be able to understand it with zero dialogue, right? So why bother with Shakespeare's tedious poetry when it simply keeps Hamlet from being the tight, satirical, hysterical laugh fest Shakespeare probably never (but apparently very much should have) intended?

Armed with a piano player who is adept at sliding from Chaplin-esque pieces to Unchained Melody to the Theme From Jaws, Director Jonas Oppenheim and the Sacred Fools Theater Company of Los Angeles fast track it through a version of Shakespeare's masterpiece where Ophelia needs an exorcism, giant sharks attack on land, Poor Yorick is a master juggler, and a hiding Polonius is given away due to a particularly annoying cellphone ring.

Not to make HAMLET SHUT UP sound like it is simply full of random jokes however; the show takes a cue from silent theater while shoving in enough hysterical moments to easily fill 90 minutes without even for a moment sagging or rehashing already-treaded ground. At least a few times through the play I laughed out loud in amazement, shock, and genuine concern for the twisted things this group was able to devise. From the moment Hamlet finds a dirty, smelly fish in a bucket labeled "Denmark" to the final appearance of the land-walking shark, you're sure to enjoy Hamlet Shut Up.

VENUE #5: The First Floor Theatre @ LA MAMA
Sat 14 @ 8:30 Mon 16 @ 2:30 Wed 18 @ 9:45 Fri 20 @ 8:15 Sat 21 @ 2:30
http://www.hamletshutup.com/
http://www.fringenyc.org/basic_page.php?ltr=H

South Pacific Reminder

Just a reminder: if you hadn't seen South Pacific before this Wednesday's Live from Lincoln Center broadcast, you might now enjoy South Pacific Abridged more.

That is all.

FRINGENYC: Richard 3

                                   KING RICHARD III
            I am goth!  Look at my eye makeup!


                                   ELIZABETH
            I am also goth!  Look at everybody die!


                                   EVERYBODY
            When World War 3 is over, anybody who doesn't die will be
            Goth!


                                   CAST OF AMERICAN IDIOT
            We'd complain that you stole our "thing", but you sing better
            than us.
It's been said that there are two types of Shakespearean productions: those that are performed by actors who understand the fiber of every word they say with a sense of truth and understanding, and those which are performed by actors who might convey the general jist of the line, instead depending on the overarching concept of the production to carry it home.  Director James Presson's solid and compelling production of RICHARD 3 at FringeNYC accomplishes the first fantastically, but occasionally falters at the second. 

The premise (as told to me by the program but not so much by the show itself) is that a post-apocalyptic Britain has left behind a world run by punk rockers donned in some impressive mood-evoking costumes by Marissa Parkes.  Jake Ahlquist centers the production with a maniacally-demented King Richard as if he were played by a younger Jim Carrey (or as my fringemate said, Heath Ledger-as-the-Joker-as-Richard, complete with the eye makeup).  The cast is uniformly excellent, with Rachel Buethe's Elizabeth being a particularly moving standout.  Where the production suffers is in the premise; I found that the use of punk songs often stopped the play's momentum.  And yet the inclusion of an onstage band made the music-less portions seem to feel even slower without bits to break up the slower first act.  I probably felt this way because of the intermission-less two hour running time, but I'm going to give the cast and crew the benefit of the doubt that the show was originally conceived with an intermission that they were forced to remove because of time constraints. 

Regardless, this is more polished and solid a production than most Fringe I've seen, and by the second half I was rooting for the blood, Cory Asinofsky's effective fight choreography, and Mike Fabano's very catchy finale music. It is rare to find a Fringe production of Shakespeare that shows that Shakespeare is more than just "something we can perform for free", and RICHARD 3 is just that rarity.

Richard 3 plays as part of the 2010 New York International Fringe Festival. 
SAT 8/14 @ 2:45; SUN 8/15 @ 8:30; WED 8/18 @ 1:45; THUR 8/19 @ 4:30; FRI 8/20 @ 9:15  VENUE #7: The Ellen Stewart Theatre @ LA MAMA
Based on the play by William Shakespeare.  Adapted and Directed by James Presson
Purchase tickets at http://www.fringenyc.org/
More information at http://lessthanrentproductions.com/

FRINGENYC 2010

For the past year and a half I have been closely involved with steering the Independent Theater Bloggers Association, or ITBA, which is a group of 50 bloggers who are all into seeing theater of Broadway, Off-Broadway, Off-Off-Broadway, and non-NYC-centric persuasions.  This year, a group of us are taking a shot at, collectively, becoming among the top 5 groups to see a whole lot of FringeNYC.  Time Out New York grabs every staff member and intern they can get each August to take a stab at reviewing every FringeNYC show out there, and NYTheatre.com has historically undertook the same task. 

For the first year of our "Fringe Push", we're not intending on aiming to see every single Fringe Show, but collectively we've signed up to see 70-some-odd shows of the 200.  In memory of our dear departed and sorely-missed Blogger friend Patrick Lee, who was the original one to get the Fringe Push started, we'll be posting on our own blogs as well as cross-posting/linking on Show Showdown, which as of the moment already has 9 reviews up. 

I myself have signed up for six; they were chosen partially based on my interests (comedy, sci-fi, Shakespeare, musicals) and mostly based on what friends have chosen.  Since festival shows are a crapshoot, I figured that letting them pick was as good a method at finding the diamonds as any. 

I'll be seeing about as many NYMF shows this year; so far I've signed up for Without You and Fellowship!, and I'm waiting for the cast lists before I choose some others.
That Pop Tarts store in New York that I was talking about?  The AP brings us on a little tour. 

Watch for the Pop Tarts Sushi, which looks exactly what sushi would look like if designed by Pop Tarts' average user base.

On the Importance of Tradition

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My wife and I have a recent tradition, and it's this: every year, on our dating anniversary in December, we go see the biggest, most overblown, can't-possibly-be-good Broadway musical we could find.

  • In 2007 it was the vomit-inducing Little Mermaid.
  • In 2008 it was that highbrow piece of theater, Shrek.
  • 2009 was Little Night Music.  Okay, fine, Sondheim usually isn't overblown in the Mermaid/Shrek way.  But Phantom II didn't open in time like they had at one point said it would, and the whole Catherine Zeta Jones thing seemed overblown enough in of itself.  Shame I was proven wrong when she won the tony, and everybody in the entire world agreed that she was the best actress ever forever ever.
Well, I happened on a piece of news today that made me sling for joy:


THIS IS GOING TO BE THE BEST DATING ANNIVERSARY EVER.

A Pop Tarts Store in Times Square?

Again, this is real life:
The store will put on a brief light show every hour. First, visitors will “get frosted,” Mr. Schoessel said, with a red light and a white light. That will be followed by brief pulses of light, “all different colors to mimic the sprinkles,” he said, “then another really bright light” to evoke wrapping the tarts in foil.
I'm going to come right out and say it: I'm all for this fancification of Times Square.  Someplace needs to have this sort of ridiculousness, and Vegas is too far away.

A trip to Hershey Park last week reminded me how disappointed I was when the Hershey store opened in Times Square some years back.  I expected it to have a Hershey's Chocolate World ride.

Thumbnail image for Hershey Ride Picture.jpgNow I'm sorta curious whose family that is.  Not enough to consider taking the photo down...
Wonderland-2c.jpgSupposedly going to Broadway directly after Tampa.  Or so says that magazine that insists on writing articles in sentence fragments:
Frank Wildhorn tuner "Wonderland" has mapped out its path to Broadway, trying out in Tampa in January ahead of a Main Stem berth that begins perfs in March.

The legit "Alice in Wonderland" redux, subtitled "A New Alice. A New Musical Adventure," brings Lewis Carroll's highly recognizable property to the Rialto.  Plot follows an adult Alice, whose perspective on the pressures of her career and her family life is changed by a trip through the looking glass.

So there you go.  Unbridled proof that Germany really loves Alice in Wonderland. 

Or something.



RECENT BLOG ENTRIES

The Addams Family: Abridged
You know what they say: you *can* take it with you.Just please don't return it; we don't want any.…
FRINGENYC: Roundup
And so ends my FringeNYC 2010 coverage.  I can't say that seeing 6 FringeNYC shows this year was "exhilirating" given…
FRINGENYC: Invader? I Hardly Know Her
SEXY COWGIRL Freeze! ALIEN GIRL Oh no you caught m-- Wait, what does a sexy cowgirl have to do…
FRINGENYC: Ground to Cloud
MAN SHADOW I wish I could figure out how to shadow light this shadow lightbulb. WOMAN SHADOW I have…

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