Thursday, August 26, 2010

FRINGE: when last we flew

Tony Kushner is lucky to be getting such a touching homage to his masterpiece Angels in America in Harrison David Rivers's when last we flew. Rivers clearly loves the play and isn't trying to rewrite it. The play takes place in Kansas and there are no characters dying from AIDS or closeted Mormons. At a little under 2 hours, it's not the epic that Angels is. It does, however, remind us of the power of literature.

The central characters are two African-American high school students. Paul (Jon-Michael Reese) reads Angels in America obsessively. As he struggles with his sexuality and deals with the feelings of alienation brought on by his father leaving, he finds solace in the play as well as his bathroom--the only room in his house with a lock. Natalie (Rory Lipede--remember that name) is an exceptional student who gets kicked out of her private school when she realizes that she wants to stand up for injustice. Rivers uses imagery and lines from Angels in America to invoke a similar feeling of fantasy. My guess is that a knowledge of the play isn't required to be moved by when last we flew, but I wonder how someone unfamiliar with Angels would take scenes such as Natalie crash landing into Paul's bathroom.

The young actors come across much stronger than the adults, especially Lipede, who is such a magnetic performer that the play seems to lose something whenever she isn't onstage. Reese effectively plays Paul with a nervous edge and Christopher Larkin sweetly plays Paul's best friend Ian.

Rivers has the ability to write humorous as well as poignant dialogue and I'd like to see what he can do when writing a piece not so heavily influenced by someone else.

Remaining performances are Fri 27 at 9:45 and Sun 29 at 2:30 at the Lucille Lortel Theatre.

If you are interested in other stories about artists who have been inspired by Angels in America, read Signature Theatre's blog.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

FRINGE: Getting Even With Shakespeare

For a play about Shakespeare, there are an awful lot of Beckett jokes. Though Matt Saldarelli's Getting Even With Shakespeare primarily deals with the playwright in the title, no one is safe in this hilarious madcap comedy which references everything from Star Wars to Pirandello.

The play takes place in a bar where Shakespearean tragic heroes hang out in between shows (whenever their plays are performed anywhere in the world, they have to be there). Josh Odsess-Rubin is appropriately douchey as Hamlet, Patrick Pizzolorusso is the comedic standout as the angry Macbeth, John D'Arcangelo is the pitiful King Lear, Amanda Tudesco channels Blair Waldorf as the Upper East Side princess Juliet (the only character that has conformed to the times), and Ben Holmes is an adorably innocent Romeo. The bartender is an actress known as Ophelia #482, played delightfully as an airhead by Kelsey Formost. How these Ophelias come to be at this bar is never explained, but no matter--disbelief has to be suspended to enjoy this play.

Lawyer Matt Saldarelli (Greg Ayers) stumbles into the bar one night and wants to be part of the exclusive club. The requirements are that you have to be a character in a play (he was--in a college play that he wrote), you have to drink pig's blood (he obliges), and you have to exact revenge on William Shakespeare. Saldarelli decides to do this by writing a play.

The real Saldarelli clearly had a lot of fun writing Getting Even With Shakespeare and the audience has just as much fun watching. The best moments are when the fictional characters talk amongst themselves (the play opens with Hamlet and Macbeth discussing who had it worse). I could do with less of the fictional Saldarelli. The play gets off on one too many self-indulgent tangents, but even so, theater nerds are sure to get a kick out of this play.

Remaining performances are Wed 25 at 7:30 and Fri 27 at 7 at the Players Theatre.

Monday, August 23, 2010

FRINGE: Veritas

There is no doubt that Stan Richardson's Veritas, which sold out its entire run before the Fringe Festival even began, is the hit of the festival. So, is it worth the hype? Well, it needs some work, but mostly, the answer is yes.

In 1920, Cyril Wilcox, a student at Harvard University, committed suicide at his home. His brother, Lester (an intense Doug Kreeger), discovered letters sent to Cyril implicating his classmates in homosexual activities. "The Court" was formed by the president and dean of the university to interrogate the students. The play offers its version of these events. This disturbing period in Harvard's history was only uncovered in 2002. It's an important story that deserves to be told. The writing is quite powerful, effectively using repetition and greek chorus style where the actors often speak at once. The use of music and Shakespeare monologues make this a lovely production (directed by Ryan J. Davis), but the downside is that the play is a little too artsy and it would be hard to connect to the characters were it not for the cast of talented up-and-comers. Sam Underwood deserves particular recognition as the shy and awkward Joseph Lumbard, one of only two to be deemed not guilty and allowed to return to the school, but Justin Blanchard, Paul Downs Colaizzo, Mitch Dean, Morgan Karr, Eric Nelsen, Matt Steiner, Jesse Swenson, Joseph Yeargain, and Kreeger deserve recognition for their fine work humanizing the play.

Veritas loses its footing a bit at the end. A dream-like scene in which Lester is playing a game show at the end of his life is very out of place with its humorous and surreal tone as is the epilogue in which the characters break the fourth wall. Sometimes, Richardson and Davis could trust the story more rather than relying on these devices, but this is a very promising first run and I expect to see an even stronger production in the near future.

Remaining performances are Tue 24 at 4:15, Thu 26 at 3:30, Fri 27 at 5:15, and Sat 28 at 8 at HERE Arts Center. Performances are sold out, but there is a cancellation line.

FRINGE: I Don < 3 U Ne Mor

If you see one musical at Fringe this year, make it the endlessly fun I Don < 3 U NE Mor, with music by Frank Grullon and Cathy Thomas and lyrics by Daren Taylor. With its tight book (also Taylor) and John Hurley's fast-paced direction that never drags, this fully realized production could transfer with very little editing, a rarity for Fringe.

The musical begins with "Out of Service/Out of Touch," a number with colorful costumes and dance moves (courtesy of choreographer Curtis LeMoine) that look like a parody of High School Musical. The dancers repeatedly stop mid-song to answer their cell phones, which is a smart set-up to a show about the dangers of technology. Ron (Dewy Caddell) and Sam (Elise Link) are about to lose their jobs as archivists for an Internet company after a merger leads to the creation of Verizon Micronet unless they can come up with a new job position. In the midst of trying to save his job, Ron is also trying to win over the girl of his dreams, Daliya (Felicia Hudson), who doesn't know he is alive until Ron's roommate Nic (Cameron Leighton Kirkpatrick) introduces him to the power of cell phones, texting, and My Facester.

Let's be honest--this isn't the type of show that will change your life. The musical isn't earth-shattering in its opinions of technology, but that doesn't make songs like "The Internet Makes Stalking OK" any less true or funny. The score is lively, the cast is fully committed and nails the comedic timing, and the show is unapologetic in its silliness. What more could you want out of a 90-minute evening?

Remaining performances are Tue 24 at 9:30, Wed 25 at 12:45, Fri 27 at 2:15, and Sat 28 at 9:45 at the Lucille Lortel Theatre.

FRINGE: Together This Time

Together This Time is like a City of Angels for literature instead of film. Scenes are split between a novelist's life and the characters in his novel, sometimes overlapping. There is a fundamental problem, though, that makes it impossible for the show to work. The story our protagonist is writing sounds so dumb that I cannot imagine why anyone would want to read it.

Jay Allen Jones (Jonathan Whitton) was a successful writer in New York City, but he moved to Colorado to get away from it all. He has spent the last four years working on a novel about two 18-year-olds in love, Jamie Gower (Andrew Redlawsk) and Gillian Wilder (Emily Olson). His girlfriend and editor Emily (Tro Shaw) wants to move back to the city, so she leaves him, and he follows her, winning her back through his novel. Emily is apparently an in-demand editor (as we learn through the song "Can You Help Me With My Book?") and Jay is a critical darling, so why would they be spending all their time on a book where nothing much happens except that Jamie and Emily leave home to start a life together and then come back home but this time it will be different because they will be in their own apartment.

The rock score by Andrew Heyman is repetitive, but at least it's performed by a live and very capable band. The lyrics by Heyman and Zac Kline (who also wrote the book) sometimes offer a spark of what this show could have been, such as when Emily sings about falling in love with Phillip Roth at the age of 12. The actors all seem to be directed by Troy Miller to clutch their chests and fists as if every song is a life or death situation, which would be distracting in any case, but seems especially out of place when the stakes really aren't that high.

Remaining performances are Mon 23 at 1 and Thu 26 at 4:30 at the Lucille Lortel Theatre.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

FRINGE: Have A Nice Life

For a show called Have A Nice Life presented by Nice People Theatre Company (the most adorable name for a theatre company ever), the characters are not very nice. I wouldn't want to spend 90 minutes hanging out with any of them, but spending 90 minutes watching them is not so bad.

The show takes place during a group therapy session led by Patrick (Benjamin Michael). Jackie (Amy Acchione) brings her new best friend Amy (Miriam White), who she met only three hours earlier, to join the session. Each character gets a song or two, but we never get to know much about them beyond their basic problems, which are pretty familiar (mommy and daddy issues, etc.). Book writer Matthew Hurt often brings up topics but doesn't explore them, such as when it is mentioned that the macho Frank (Gregg Pica) might be gay. I suppose this is realistic in that not everything can be addressed and dealt with in one group session, but that doesn't make it any less frustrating.

Composer and lyricist Conor Mitchell borrows too frequently from others. Several numbers sound like lesser Sondheim and there is a song that Barbara (Nicole Paloux) sings about writing hate mail that is reminiscent of "The Cell Block Tango" from Chicago. Still, a new musical with conventional musical theater songs is appreciated and the voices of the cast are among the best I've heard at a Fringe musical this year. Nancy Berman Kantra's choreography, especially when the actors dance with umbrellas for a cute number about how romance has changed, is the highlight of the show.

There are no Fringe performances remaining for Have A Nice Life.

FRINGE: Hamlettes

Going into Hamlettes, I expected a light comedy about 12-year-old girls staging Hamlet (this is not the first time I've been misled by a Fringe blurb), but the show was unexpectedly dark, and was all the better for it.

Alex (Alexandra Bassett) is given a book of Shakespeare plays for her birthday and falls in love with the play Hamlet. When Chloe (Savannah Clement) performs a Claudius monologue in class, Alex asks her to form a drama club. They decide to stage Hamlet with Alex in the title role and Chloe as everyone else. When Chloe decides she can't play Ophelia because she doesn't relate to her, they cast the shy new girl, conveniently named Ophelia (Lauren Weinberg). Up until this point, the play is very funny due to Patrick Shaw's ability to write realistic dialogue for 12-year-old girls who think they know a lot more than they do. Once the girls decide to never drop character, themes of betrayal and sexual awakening are introduced. Because pre-pubescent girls already deal with these emotions, the fact that they would get so caught up in a play like Hamlet makes so much sense that it's a wonder no one has thought of it before Shaw, but luckily he also has a capable director, Lillian Meredith, to execute his ideas. The actors are all very believable as teenage girls and Weinberg is the standout with her heartbreaking performance.

The show still needs a little work--some of the scenes felt a little muddled towards the end--but it already will have a future life (it's being staged in Chicago). Perhaps in the future it could be performed for all girls schools, which would be very compelling and educational.

Remaining performances are Tue 24 at 9, Wed 25 at 4:15, and Sat 28 at 7:15 at The Cherry Pit.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

FRINGE: Richard 3

Let's get this out of the way. Richard 3 is misleadingly billed as a punk rock musical, but most of the music by Mike Fabano does not fit the punk description. Although there is a band onstage, the songs are often sung a cappella. This is not to say that the music, which has a haunting quality, doesn't fit the show, it does, but if I'm promised a punk rock Richard III, I want to see a punk rock Richard III.

James Presson's reimagining of Shakespeare's play takes place after World War III. The show actually owes a greater debt to Spring Awakening than American Idiot, by having characters speak Shakespeare's words and then using modern language when at the microphone. There is not much in the production to suggest a nuclear wasteland, but the look of the show, which is more punk than the music, provided by Marissa Parkes costume design and Rebecca Zoltoski's make-up, is quite polished, as is Cory Asinofsky's fight choreography. The 18-person cast is the largest I've seen at Fringe. Though the young cast is uneven, Jake Ahlquist is a revelation as Richard, capturing the qualities that make him both alluring and frightening.

Tonight was the final scheduled performance, but I suspect we'll see more of this show, either in the Fringe Encore series or another production down the line.

FRINGE: William and the Tradesmen

If you want to spend an evening with Morrissey, Joe Strummer, and Paul Weller, look no further than William and the Tradesmen. All three are channeled to remarkable accuracy by Eli James, who also wrote the one-man show.

The three British musicians are Will Bray's idols. Will imagines them guiding him in his quest to be a successful musician, even though his band never shows up for gigs. James has a nerdy appeal as Bray and his Morrissey is particularly brilliant. The songs are well-written, but not so exceptional that you can't see why Will has never had his big break. As both a theater nerd and an Anglophile, I especially appreciated "The Second Song Is An I Want Song."

When the biggest misstep in Francesco Campari's production is that the show opens with Eli James miming typing on a computer when maddeningly there is a laptop on his bed just a few feet away, you know the show is in good shape.

The final performance is Wed Aug 25 at 7 p.m. at The Club at LaMaMa.

Friday, August 20, 2010

FRINGE: The Beatitudes

The final performance of Eidolon Ballet's The Beatitudes is tonight at 8 p.m. at Dixon Place. I recommend trying to make room for it in your Fringe schedule. At only 35 minutes, it can easily fit in between two other shows.

The dance piece begins with Ray (Jerry "Chip" Scuderi) serving in WWII and follows his journey as he returns to New York, discovers the Beat Generation, heads west, and eventually returns home. The dance is set to jazz music as well as readings by Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac. I don't claim to be a dance critic, but to these eyes, the dance set to spoken word is particularly engaging because it enhances the poetry of the language. The choreography by Melanie Cortier is lovely, if at times repetitive. Scuderi, Maureen Duke (as his girlfriend Alvah), Alfredo Solivan (as his best friend Dean), A. Temple Kemezis (as Maggie), and the rest of the company are captivating.

According to the press packet, Eidolon is dedicated to make dance more accessible to the community at large. With accessible pieces like this one, they are succeeding.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

FRINGE: Feed The Monster

Feed The Monster starts off strong when Rita Emerson (Stephanie Ehrlich) takes the stage to perform the title song by Ehrlich, who also wrote the show, and composer Jim Keyes. She channels a psychedelic rock goddess and for that moment, it feels as though we've been transported to the 70s, but unfortunately, the rest of the show is a little dull in comparison.

Rita is playing a farewell concert for the fictitious The Village Vestibule, where she got her start as a folk singer in the 60s. The Club at La MaMa is the perfect venue for a show that takes place at a New York nightclub. She tells us about her Jewish upbringing in Brighton Beach, her beginnings as a folk singer, her move to San Francisco, and how she eventually found her way back to Brooklyn. Ehrlich is a likable narrator, but the humor often falls flat. She looks like a nice Jewish girl, so when Rita speaks about waiting for a man naked in bed, all 250 pounds of her (Ehrlich is not overweight), it's tough to believe. For a concert, she spends too much time talking and not enough time singing. Almost all the songs she performs are fragments, which is unfortunate, as she is at her most engaging when singing.

Remaining performances are Sun 22 at 5 and Thur 26 at 9:45 at The Club at La MaMa.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

FRINGE: Bunked!: A New Musical

Beware the buzzed-about Fringe show. It's impossible to guess how shows will fare until they begin performances and it's often the ones that sound best on paper that end up disappointing. Bunked!, a musical about summer camp counselors, sounds like a campy (pun only partially intended) good time, but the lack of dramatic tension makes for a tedious evening.

Each counselor is a stereotype: Anabel (Amanda Jane Cooper) the goody two shoes, her flamboyant twin Oliver (Tim Ehrlich), Carmen (Lizzie Klemperer) the bitch with a heart of gold underneath, Max (Jake Loewenthal) the boy with a secret, and Stewart (Ben Moss) the over-achiever who is sick of doing what his parents want. There are themes of summer romance and jealousy, but there isn't much of a story arc. In the opening song, "Best Summer Ever," Seth Sikes's direction is over-the-top, setting the audience up for silliness, but the show ends up being too sincere for its own good. When serious topics such as suicide are introduced, they feel forced, and the characters are too one-dimensional for us to care, as much as the hard-working cast tries. The most successful bits of the evening are the loudspeaker announcements provided by Michael Urie.

The songs by Alaina Kunin (book, lyrics) and Bradford Proctor (music, book, lyrics) do not propel the story enough to be necessary and though they are pleasantly tuneful, they all sound alike.

The show is sponsored by LogoTV and the quickly resolved plot points would lend themselves to a YouTube series, which seems like a logical step for this show, rather than another production.

Remaining performances are Fri 20 at 4:15, Sat 21 at 2:15, Sun 22 at 8, and Wed 25 at 10:45 at the Lucille Lortel Theatre.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

FRINGE: Pigeons, Knishes, and Rockettes

Cynical theatergoers should probably avoid Diana Rissetto's Pigeons, Knishes, and Rockettes, but those who smile at the thought of Christmas cookies and cry every year during It's a Wonderful Life (full disclosure: I am in the latter category) may be unable to resist the charms of this romantic comedy.

Eve (Julia Arazi) is a bubbly romantic who knits scarves and is obsessed with Christmas. She is used to being overshadowed by her tall and attractive best friends/roommates, Georgia (Kristin Muri), a Rockette, and Cherokee (Matthew Waterson), an actor who, as you might expect, is gay. Then she meets Peter (Carl Howell), a jazz singer with a Christmas album who hates the holiday, but actually notices her.

Arazi and Howell are believably awkward in their courtship, providing some genuine laugh-out-loud moments. At the Fringe, with its avant-garde shows, it's refreshing to see a wholesome love story. Costume designer Lisa Renee Jordan and sound designer Jay Spriggs provide the knitwear and Christmas music that contribute to that winter coziness, even on a muggy August night.

Remaining performances are Wed 18 at 3:45, Fri 20 at 2, and Tue 24 at 4:30 at The Cherry Pit.