Hy on the Fringe:

2006 New York International Fringe Festival Reviews

Covering the Tenth Annual FringeNYC, Which Ran August 11-27

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This Page Was Most Recently Updated: Sunday, July 22nd 2007


Copyright © 2006, 2007 Hy Bender

Email: hy@hyreviews.com


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Show Rankings


The following are the 65 FringeNYC 2006 shows I've seen from beginning to end, rated on a 4-star scale and listed in rough order of personal preference. To read the review of any show, simply click the title.


Tuesdays & Sundays ****

The Fartiste ***½

Girl Scouts of America ***½

Never Swim Alone ***½

Todd Robbins'  Carnival Knowledge ***½

The Complete Lost Works of Samuel Beckett ***½

The Bicycle Men ***

Minimum Wage: Blue Code Ringo ***

Billy the Mime ***

If You See Something, Say Something ***

Americana Absurdum ***

Broken Hands ***

The French Defense ***

Free To Be Friends ***

The Day The Universe Came Closer ***

Happy Sauce ***

24 Is 10: The Best Of The 24 Hour Plays (8/27/06 Show) ***

24 Is 10: The Best Of The 24 Hour Plays (8/26/06 Show) ***

Danny Boy ***

Flying on the Wing ***

Thought Prints—Starring Torkova, The Postal Prestidigitator ***

Women and the Trojan Horse ***

24 Is 10: The Best Of The 24 Hour Plays (8/22/06 Show) *** (Note: For background

on the 24 Is 10 series, read this review first.)

I Was Tom Cruise **½

Grace **½

The Infliction of Cruelty **½

24 Is 10: The Best Of The 24 Hour Plays (8/24/06 Show) **½

Billy The Mountain And Other American Card Tricks **½

The Penguin Tango **½

Walmartopia **½

Reservoir Bitches **½

Oblivious to Everyone **½

The Deepest Play Ever: The Catharsis of Pathos **½

I Want To Be Musashi: A Clown Samurai Fantasy **½

Open House **½

Chess **½

How 2 Men Got On In The World **½

Red Herring **½

Hugging the Shoulder **½

Vice Girl Confidential **½

Vote McOwskey! **½

The Prostitute of Reverie Valley **½

Dis/Appearing **½

Diving Normal **½

Lulu **½

Hermanas **½

Band Geeks: A Halftime Musical **½

Only a Lad **½

In Transit **½

The Blue Martini **½

Romancing The Terrorist: Tajiki Nights **½

The Pumpkin Pie Show: La Petite Mortes **½

House **½

Suicide The Musical **½

Perfect Harmony **½

Full House **½

Pleading Infinity **

Rainy Days & Mondays **½

Blue Balls: In & Out Of Uniform With The NYPD **½

58!: A Comedy About Bike Messengessengering **

Sunday Night Live: On Tour! **

YourPlace...or Mine?

How The West Was Spun

Puppet Government

The Yellow Wallpaper *


Reviews of all 65 of these shows follow. To read them, please click a title above; browse through reviews 34-65 below; or click to browse through Reviews 1-33.


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Show Reviews (34-65)


I've assigned all reviewed shows one to four stars, using the following rating system:


**** = Transcendently Great

*** = Solid & Worth Seeing

** = Unless Your Relatives Are in the Cast, Think Twice

* = "I Wanted to Kill Myself"


Please keep in mind that these reviews will have been written in a hurry. If you spot any factual errors, please don't hesitate to let me know by emailing hy@hyreviews.com. I'm always happy to make corrections and updates.



34. I Want To Be Musashi: A Clown Samurai Fantasy




Rating: **½

Christopher Lueck


I was chatting with Saida Cooper, the lovely venue director hosting this show, and told her I was torn between seeing Musashi and a different one-man production across the street. Saida replied, "Stay here, Hy. There's nothing else in the festival quite like this."


As usual, Saida was correct. A cross between clowning, autobiography, and audience interaction, this unique amalgam by Christopher Lueck doesn't quite come together, but it's continually sweet and interesting.


Lueck begins with a familiar morning situation: waking up to see you're late for work. He quickly gets dressed in business suit and prepares to leave...but, as often happens in life, the more he hurries, the further behind he gets. For example, closing his briefcase snaps it shut on his tie—and when he tugs mightily to get it out, he ends up pulling off all his clothes.


After this visual summary of his mental state, Lueck expands upon it with words:


I don't work, I'm just busy. And then I get overwhelmed with this stuff that I only half-care about.


Everything I do seems so good, so positive: for community, for children, for my future. But I'm making myself hollow inside.


In my heart, I'm still a little boy who wants to let it all go and be alone. I want to go on vacation all the time.


Miyamoto Musashi killing a nue

Lueck needed something to, in his words, "re-ground myself." And he claims to have found his center when stumbling across the art of Japanese sword fighting and the philosophy of legendary 17th Century samurai Miyamoto Musashi (pictured on the right slaying a mythical nue beast). In addition to being one of the greatest swordsmen in history, Musashi was the author of The Book of the Five Rings, still widely read today as a classic guide to both battle strategy and life.


Lueck proceeds to display various types of swordplay, with a skilled but clownish slant—and a Morricone score in the background—while passing along such lessons from Musashi as, "The current of a river reflects the moon and it is transparent..."


Among the highlights is a lesson titled Combat, in which Lueck challenges three audience members to a duel with foam swords...and proves that in addition to being funny, he can strike with speed and accuracy.


I wish Lueck made clearer how his feelings of emptiness were so readily filled by his samurai training—which could be interpreted as a return to childhood fantasies rather than movement towards new growth.



But perhaps answers can be found by two statements Lueck makes at the end:


I like swords. A lot.




Perfection is not guaranteed. It must come from within, and without any preconceived ideas on our part.

And so, we begin.


This production isn't perfect. But how can you resist someone who concludes a clown show by sending his audience out on a quest for enlightenment?


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35. Open House




Rating: **½


Cynthia Silver has become one of the shining jewels of FringeNYC. First a cast member of the award-winning The Adding Machine in 2001, Silver really came into her own last year with her one-woman production Bridezilla Strikes Back!—which was my pick for best show of the entire festival.


Silver is also wonderful in this dark comedy, playing a housewife with a narcissistic husband and a daughter headed for years of therapy. Without ever going over the top, Silver uses body language, facial expressions, and endless energy to create a genuine woman you both believe in and adore.


Equally superb is Bess Rous, who plays Silver's 12-year-old daughter with the wild imagination of Snoopy and the fierce determination of Lucy Van Pelt. Rous' hilariously memorable performance is one of the very best of this year's festival.


And also outstanding is Greg Keller, who plays Rous' 15-year-old love interest (as well as her imaginary friend), running through a gamut of teen facades with wit and style.


As for the play itself...well, it's an odd mix of 50s sitcom and Law & Order: SVU—sort of a Father Knows Worst. One dad so yearns for the days when he was a handsome youth that he ends up hitting on a teen hunk; while another dad is an ex-Marine who shoves his patriotism down his neighbors' throats while continually belittling his wife. Meanwhile, the women appear to do little more than grin and bear it; and things are only resolved when the kids step in.


If this is all a metaphor (say, for the Bush Administration), the symbols are too opaque. Then again, if it's simply a play that tries to cram together many different ideas and styles in the hopes they'll magically fit in the end—they don't.


The characters played by Silver, Rous, and Keller are terrific, though. I'd be delighted to see a sequel in which they all ran away from the awful dads and pursued their own adventures.


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36. Chess




Rating: **½


For a 40-minute one-act, this play has an awful lot of cliches.

There's the selfish dad who's too busy working and dating to spend time with his daughter. There's his mother, who nags him endlessly to pay more attention and be a better father.

And then there's the young daughter, who is autistic but—you guessed it—might be a world-class prodigy.


And yet somehow, by the time we reach the last moment, it works.


The biggest problem with this production is actually that it doesn't so much end, as stop. It feels like the first third of a much more involved story.


Still, amidst all the shouting and hype of other Fringe shows, there's definitely something to be said for a quiet play that reminds us to slow down and share some tenderness.


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37. How 2 Men Got On In The World




Rating: **½


Brothers Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm traveled all over 19th Century Germany in search of folk stories and fairy tales. They then collected these psychologically rich fantasies in volumes that proved immensely popular...because they speak to our most basic childhood fears and hopes, and our struggles to fully realize our humanity.


That's the true-life tale that serves as the springboard for this show. Ironically, though, the best part of this play about two of the most important storytellers in history isn't its words or its plot, but its visual metaphor. The floor of the set is covered with paper: a paper that at times serves to ground the brothers' travels, at other times provides them with the medium to preserve their discoveries, and yet other times undulates to set them riding ocean waves or the wind.


The show's script doesn't do justice to these amazing writers, whose true story is substantially more interesting than the almost random scattering of facts provided. (For example, the brothers' original goal wasn't to collect stories at all, but to create a linguistic science to help unify their people through language. In their field research, however, they found the easiest way to get elders to talk for extended periods was to have them relate their favorite folk tales...)


Still, the use of paper as the primary element of the set is a clever one; and it creates a reality of its own that's lovely and memorable.


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38. Red Herring




Rating: **½

Thomas Jefferson Byrd and Shane McRae


Two men in adjacent cells on death row can never see each other, but pass the time speaking as they seek to "fill the space between hope and despair."


That's the essence of Red Herring, a drama by Michael Albanese that seeks to recreate the feeling of being trapped in a 10' by 15' room awaiting execution.


The play mostly succeeds at that goal, generating a credible sense of the tedium and repetitive quality of life in prison.


A key problem is that if you successfully simulate tedium, it's difficult to avoid ending up with a dull show. Further, both the writer and director choose to mostly avoid conflict—the lifeblood of theatre—in favor of verisimilitude, lowering the energy even more. As a result, I often felt that I was having no more fun that the inmates being portrayed.


The actors are fine, though, with Shane McRae as a white-trash convict hoping for a last-minute reprieve, and Thomas Jefferson Byrd delivering a touching and memorable performance as his invisible neighbor.


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39. Hugging the Shoulder




Rating: **½


The concept for this play is a strong one: A young man kidnaps his older brother and drives him across the country to make him go into a cold turkey withdrawal and beat his heroin addiction.


The execution doesn't live up to the dramatic potential, however. The tale is shockingly shy of conflict; and the long conversations that take place between the two brothers fail to offer fresh ideas or insights.


Further, the actors who play the brothers—while solid—seldom manage to transcend the script and provide deeper truths via their performances.


That said, Hugging the Shoulder contains many small, quiet moments that mimic reality. Although this means the 90-minute production is often as dull as real life, every now and then it achieves moments that are as sweet and sublime as actual brothers reliving private memories of a childhood shared before they parted for different paths.


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40. Vice Girl Confidential




Rating: **½


Film noir gets the Fringe treatment in this parody that features a femme fatale played hilariously in drag by writer/co-star Todd Michael, and a tough detective played by Christopher Yustin who discovers his tastes don't necessarily lean towards dames.


The story isn't very fresh or surprising beyond the sexual twists; but the cast does a terrific job with those. For example, when Todd Michael first comes out in a dress (see photo on right), he elicits over 30 seconds of raucous audience laughter by just standing there...first innocently, and then increasingly glaring at us as if to say, "What exactly is so funny about me being a blonde bombshell!?!"


There are a number of such enjoyable moments—for example, a character who repeatedly says, "I'm a confirmed bachelor" with such conviction that it's impossible not to read other meanings into the line.


After catching this show, you may never see the phrase "two-fisted action" the same way again...


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41. Vote McOwskey!




Rating: **½


Steven Wright once said, "You know how it feels when you're leaning back on a chair, and you lean too far back, and you almost fall over backwards, but then you catch yourself at the last second? I feel like that all the time..."


Another way to feel like that is to attend the oddball comedy show Vote McOwskey! The brainchild of Jeremiah Murphy, who plays McOwskey, the show tosses out jokes as frequently and randomly as a baseball pitching machine. Few actually hit the bull's-eye; but as a lisping McOwskey periodically adds an s to the ends of words (e.g., "I want to be Governors of New Jerseys"), pays homage to Spider-Man, and urges us to prepare for the coming Martian invasion, the cumulative effect attains an absurdity to rival that of an actual election campaign.


Murphy's deadpan delivery is quite fun; and so is a Bill Clinton impersonation by Justin Herfel, and an utterly hilarious appearance as a hairy landlady by the extremely talented actor/director John Harlacher.


Stealing the show, though, is a human dynamo named Laura Dillman. Playing over a dozen roles—including an old lady, a seven-year-old belting out Little Orphan Annie numbers, a tambourine-playing hippie, a blonde child-hater, Cyndi Lauper, and a breathtaking Liza Minnelli—Dillman surprises and delights throughout the production.


Overall, this show tends to be mildly amusing and surreal rather than laugh-out-loud funny; and Murphy would probably benefit from working with a hard-nosed editor who'd pick out the gems from his scores of ideas. But if you're open to enjoying a highly talented group of NYC improv comics—including the atomic-powered Laura Dillman, who has the makings of a star—this is a very pleasant way of spending an hour.


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42. The Prostitute of Reverie Valley




Rating: **½


Adam Klasfeld is a smart playwright whose work is consistently thoughtful and challenging. This was demonstrated in Klasfeld's allegorical FringeNYC show last year (Good Fences Make Good Neighbors), and it's evident here as well.


The Prostitute of Reverie Valley consists of two characters: a young whore who never actually has sex, and a much older male client referred to as John. The heart of the story is revealed about 15 minutes in, when John asks, "Have you ever had a fantasy or a dream that you wanted to see happen, but you gave up on it for some reason? Reverie Valley is the place where a dream goes when a person's given up on it, but it isn't ready to die."


Exploring this notion fills the rest of this hour-long one-act. It's an intriguing idea, and there's pleasure to watching Klasfeld expand on it.


On the down side, though, the play is virtually all talk, which too often makes it come off as more of a philosophy paper than theatre.


Also, at the opening night performance I attended, the actor portraying John seemed to have trouble remembering his lines. In addition, he delivered an old-fashioned, stilted performance, while the actress gave a modern, natural performance; and so the characters seemed to be living on different planets, with a result of zero chemistry between them.


Still, there's substance in the dialogue. And by the end of the play, Klasfeld manages to plant some concepts and poignant feelings in the audience that are likely to linger.


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43. Dis/Appearing




Rating: **½


One of the lovely things about the festival is its inclusion of many different types of shows. A prime example is Dis/Appearing, which is a silent visual poem using puppets.


The springboard for this production is a poem by Billy Collins titled "Walking Across the Atlantic," which reads in part:


Soon I am walking across the Atlantic...

Checking for whales, waterspouts.

I feel the water holding up my shifting weight.

Tonight I will sleep on its rocking surface.

But for now I try to imagine what

This must look like to the fish below,

The bottoms of my feet appearing, disappearing.


The show mostly consists of just that, with the walker an eerie puppet operated by three puppeteers, and the ocean an ever-flowing blue canvas.


A drawback to the performance is that we see the puppeteers at all times. They keep their faces impassive in an attempt to be invisible, but their presence is nonetheless distracting.


That said, I appreciated the degree to which they all focused on expressing themselves through a collection of wires, rods, and cloth. For example, when during an especially quiet moment I turned to the next blank page of my notebook, none of the puppeteers showed any reaction—but the puppet quickly turned its head and stared directly at me.


In contrast to the hustle and bustle of most other Fringe shows, this 35-minute production makes you slow down and enjoy the simple pleasures of a waking dream..


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44. Diving Normal




Rating: **½

Jayd McCarty and Eliza Baldi


The word problematic was made for productions like this.


On the one hand, playwright Ashlin Halfnight has crafted three characters that the show's performers have a great time bringing to life. Eliza Baldi is especially compelling as a smart, sexy, compassionate young woman who for some reason feels the need to be punished. Aside from being genuinely sexy, Baldi is a pleasure to watch for her thoughtful moment-by-moment acting.


Jayd McCarty is also terrific as a slightly retarded neighbor, a difficult role that McCarty makes seem almost effortless. And Josh Heine does a solid job as a young man in a relationship over his head.


As for the story, it starts off strong but then hits a series of unfocused digressions and lags; the middle section of this 90-minute drama could be trimmed by 20-30 minutes. More seriously, although we spend a great deal of time with the three characters, we ultimately learn almost nothing substantial about them.


And worst of all, the play seems to stop a couple of scenes too soon, leaving us with the bad taste of a misogynist ending that only a man could write—particularly unfortunate considering how much energy Baldi puts into her character.


Diving Normal has real potential, though. If Halfnight can acknowledge Heine's character must be as screwed up as Baldi's to be so strongly attracted to her in the first place—and if he's willing to create an aesthetically satisfying ending—that would probably be a good start for a rewrite.


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45. Lulu




Rating: **½


Recreating a classic silent film on stage is an intriguing project. And so is selecting G. W. Pabst's 1928 Pandora's Box, which starred Louise Brooks as "Lulu," a woman who continually uses men and then tosses them aside...often indirectly killing them in the process.


To elicit a noir feel, all the characters are in white-face, and are primarily clothed in combinations of black and white. This lends a stylish look to the production.


Also, the live piano accompaniment—skillfully composed and performed by Isaiah Robinson—creates a nostalgic "silent film" feeling.


Unfortunately, these are the primary pleasures of the show.


The character dialogue is projected on a screen behind the actors. An obvious problem is that when the performers are standing in the center of the stage—which is often—some of the text is blocked and can't be read. It's difficult to become lost in a story when you're periodically swaying from side to side to try and follow what's being "said."


Also, the story comes across as hackneyed and poorly paced.  A sharp writer would've helped a great deal.


Most seriously, however, is both that the acting and stylized movements of the performers fail to generate the passion this story demands. A large part of the point of a silent performance is to emphasize the visual & visceral, and so touch deep emotions in the audience; but the latter seldom occurs in Lulu. As a result, instead of providing a moving experience, this ends up being a gimmick-based show—and at 75 minutes, way too long.


On the up side, the young cast seems earnest and talented. With better writing, direction, and choreography, a "silent theatre" production like this could definitely work.


After all, one of the very best shows of this year's festival is Billy the Mime. Billy is a performer who also appears in white-face, wears black and white, and never says a word; but in addition, he's a very witty storyteller and a master of nuanced body movement.


If only Lulu could've dated Billy...


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46. Hermanas




Rating: **½

Denise Quiñones, Kathryn Kates, and Paolo Andino Adriana Gaviria and Monica Yudovich


This 100-minute comedy revolves around two single sisters living in Texas who are both Latino and Jewish. That's a fascinating combination; but it isn't really leveraged in this cliche-ridden sitcom wannabe.


The characters include a Jewish mother who seeks out prospective husbands for her daughters with highly predictable determination; a boyfriend who's continually uttering such unwitty malapropisms as "You give me soap for my hole" (meaning You give me hope for my soul), and at one point sings into a dildo he believes to be a microphone; and a pretty woman who does little more than be pretty so the sisters can feel jealous of her. In a word, oy.


If you can overlook the lack of freshness and insight, though, you may nonetheless enjoy this show, which—as the photos above indicate—has a lot of warmth, and a fine cast.


The sisters, pictured on the right, are portrayed by Adriana Gaviria (being kissed) and Monica Yudovich (who's also the playwright). They deliver smart performances that are both funny and down-to-earth.


The over-the-top mother and boyfriend, pictured on the left, are played by Kathryn Kates and Paolo Andino, who do fine jobs tackling the stereotypes they've been handed. And the pretty woman hugging Kates is Denise Quiñones...who was actually Miss Universe in 2001 (and, as her bio notes, "­the first Puerto Rican to win the contest on her homeland").


Bridget Moloney

Rounding out the cast are Ryan Duncan, who originated the role of Juan in Altar Boyz but isn't given much to do as Yudovich's prospective boyfriend; and Bridget Moloney (right), who plays a friend of the sisters with an adorable Texan twang. Moloney has only a small part and is the youngest member of the cast (she graduated from Northwestern University in 2005), but her formidable comedic performance steals every scene in which she appears. Hermanas is Moloney's first New York stage production, and is most certainly just the start for this vibrant talent—who, at least for me, was the happiest discovery offered by the show.


Again, though, Hermanas has some real sweetness and heart. If the tedious retread material was replaced with nuanced characters and carefully observed situations, there could be potential here.


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47. Band Geeks: A Halftime Musical




Rating: **½


This musical includes a great line. When a boy is asked how he became an orphan, he replies, "Both my parents died during childbirth."


That's hilarious. (Further, it's virtually an IQ test, as one counts the seconds it takes for each audience member to digest the information and laugh...)


Otherwise, Band Geeks has lots of enthusiasm, but little depth. The characters are all painfully stereotypical, and the situations seem random, building no comedic force for the overall story.


Even the title is problematic. I happened to sit next to a self-proclaimed music geek during the production and asked her periodically, "So is this any kind of childhood flashback for you?" Her consistent reply: "Absolutely not." I had a similar exchange later with a gal who'd been in a school band for six years. If you're expecting any sort of insights about either bands or geeks, save your money.


Still, the young cast is appealing, including writers/costars Becky Eldridge and Amy Petersen; and there are some energetic dance routines. With a whole lot of rewriting, this show could have potential targeting college-age audiences nostalgic about their days as budding musicians.


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48. Only a Lad




Rating: **½


There were high hopes for this show based on the songs of Danny Elfman (who's composed the soundtracks for such megahits as Pee-Wee's Big Adventure, Good Will Hunting, Chicago, Batman, Spider-Man 2, and on and on) back in his days at rock group Oingo Boingo.


The music is fine, the young cast is enthusiastic, and the dance routines in the first 15 minutes are entertaining. But the story then gets bogged down by focusing on a crime drama whose tone doesn't fit the high energy of Elfman's songs—and that proceeds with the speed of a snail. At 2½ hours, Only a Lad becomes endlessly dull.


Doing a musical with Oingo Boingo songs is a good idea. But not this musical.


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49. In Transit




Rating: **½


In Transit starts off cleverly, as a writer tells us of his struggles to find the right metaphor to describe his feelings about 9/11; and as he explains, "An artist without a metaphor is like...like..."




And so a metaphor is settled on for this play: traveling. For the series of NYC mini-stories that follow, settings include a bus, a cab, a Central Park boat, the subway, and eventually—and inevitably—an airplane.


The problem is, virtually all of these tales are filled with cliche characters and situations that shed no real light on anything, let alone a subject as complex as 9/11. This becomes even truer as the play goes along and becomes increasingly dopey.


In Transit is well-directed by Padraic Lillis, and all 10 members of the cast do fine acting work. The show also provides sporadic laughs. But the script just isn't fresh or deep enough to create resonance, and so the whole production is quickly forgettable.


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50. The Blue Martini




Rating: **½


Over the course of a few hours, a bartender who doesn't say much but we're repeatedly told is good-looking leads one woman to consider dumping the boyfriend she's been with for four years, and the woman's best friend—a tough nightlife columnist dubbed "Chicago's most single barfly"—to want to dump all her beliefs about independence. He doesn't do this by displaying any particular wit or kindness or charm; for some reason never made clear, the women just seem to want him.


When encountering such productions, the first question to ask is, can you imagine a woman writing the play? In this case, definitely no.


And the next question is, by any chance did the actor portraying the bartender write the play? A quick check of the playbill reveals that yes, he did.


There are sporadic witty lines in this show, but its vacuous foundation—essentially a male fantasy—robs the tale of any genuine weight.


On the up side, the cast is solid. I can't comment on Candace Thompson (pictured in the stylish photo above), as at the performance I attended her role of boozy writer was handled by an understudy (who periodically read from a script she carried with her for the entire show...). However, co-star Emily Vitrano delivers a wonderful performance, running the gamut from playful to comedic to tearful. Also fine is John Peery, who pulls off his thankless stereotype role of the women's gay friend with humor and grace.


Otherwise, this play offers about as much nourishment as a blue martini...and without the happy buzz.


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51. Romancing The Terrorist: Tajiki Nights




Rating: **½


This comedy about an American President learning to become buddies with the leader of an Arab terrorist group—and eventually discovering his true sexual preferences in the bargain—is so cartoonish and cut off from the genuine issues involved in Middle East conflicts that I found it hard to swallow, and also hard to laugh with.


That said, I have some affection for this show because of the special circumstances of the performance I attended on August 18th. About 40 minutes before the play by writers/directors Mike Wallach and Negin Farsad was scheduled to be performed at the Players Theatre, someone broke into the car of Wallach and stole his laptop—on which was stored the show's 65 sound cues. Wallach therefore had to go in front of the audience and announce that instead of professionally recorded music, phone rings, explosions, etc., the sound cues would be performed live by himself and Farsad.


Happily, the audience responded with a roar of laughter and enthusiastic applause to the guerilla-style solution; and, in fact, it turned out to be the most hilarious part of the show.


Huge kudos go to Farsad and Wallach for their witty adaptability; and also to the audience for being so open to the improvised soundtrack.


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52. The Pumpkin Pie Show: La Petite Mortes




Rating: **½


There's a lot to like about The Pumpkin Pie Show. It consists of a small group of performers sitting in a semi-circle, as if around a campfire; and, one by one, getting up to the microphone to tell the equivalent of a ghost story. While this is happening, a jazz band behind them plays appropriate music to accompany the monologues.


The format, in some ways reminiscent of The Prairie Home Companion, is a winning one. In addition, the performers are terrific—with Daryl Lathon and Abe Goldfarb as standouts—and the lively band, Praise of Folly, is superb.


However, the most important element of a show like this is the script...which in this case is deeply flawed. The theme is death, a subject that requires wisdom and a deft touch; but the monologues are pretentious and vacuous, saying things virtually everyone already knows in a dramatic manner that implies great truths are being handed down from on high (e.g., "painkillers treat the symptoms, not the cause"). This has the effect of treating the audience like idiots...and, despite everything else about the show being really fine, making it want to leave. (In fact, at the opening day performance I attended, about a quarter of the 20 or so audience members fled within 20 minutes...)


I want to make clear that everyone involved in The Pumpkin Pie Show is talented, very much including its writer/co-star Clay McLeod Chapman. This is actually the fourth appearance of the show at FringeNYC, and I've heard good things from those who attended previous versions in 1997, 1999, and 2001. However, each of those earlier shows had its own unique script., and so were all distinctly different in content from the 2006 edition.


No one hits it out of the park every time, and that's evidenced by this current script having all the charm of an EST seminar. That said, if at some point The Pumpkin Pie Show returns to NYC with a fresh set of tales—or, for that matter, an encore version of one of its earlier productions—I'd still be eager to see it.


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53. House




Rating: **½


This play has one of my favorite performances in the festival.


The character is a Turkish wife named Ruya; and NYC actress Jessica Marie Smith portrays her with a sweet, adorable befuddlement reminiscent of Gracie Allen. Whether offering home invaders cups of tea or clinging protectively to a Christmas tree, Smith remains a shining light throughout the production.


The other cast members are also fine, with Luis Galli particularly strong as Ruya's husband Cumhur, and Miguel Belmonte and Mercedes Vasquez sharp and effective as a fiery Latino couple.


The script, by David Bromley and director Handan Ozbilgin, starts out with wit and power as the second couple barges into Ruya's and Cumhur's house, claiming it's their own home. However, this promising opening soon devolves into a series of bizarre scenes—e.g., hunting for rats in the basement, lesbian flirting—that, at least to this audience member, felt like digressions that go nowhere. So even though I really wanted to like this show, I ultimately couldn't get past the opaqueness of whatever symbolism the authors intended.


Still, I was charmed by Jessica Marie Smith's portrayal of graceful cluelessness. If Bromley and Ozbilgin decide to create further plays with Ruya, I simply hope they consider some more accessible storytelling approaches to reach a broader audience.


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54. Suicide The Musical




Rating: **½


Despite the title, this isn't a musical so much as a spoken-word cabaret show with sporadic songs. And it isn't really about suicide but enduring the pain life brings.


The creator and focus of the production is Helen Blanche Stratford, an old-time East Village performance artist who plays the accordion while rather offensively bemoaning the difficulty of finding success in New York theatre for "a middle-aged non-Jewish heterosexual woman."


Stratford also rails at drag queens who she claims imitate her act and get much larger audiences than she does. Presumably to address this, Stratford has six drag queens on stage behind her (wearing all-black outfits similar to hers) who occasionally join her in song. In addition, two actors wearing skeleton costumes sway at the two ends of the stage, accompanied by sticks with little skulls on them, adding to the bizarre atmosphere.


Over the course of the show, Stratford tells us of her many hardships in life; for example, "I had eating disorders before they even had names for them." She tries to find salvation from suffering and poverty in the "glamor" of art; when seriously ill, she thinks, "how ironic, sent to rescue me are not the poets but the paramedics."


Stratford feels our country treats most woman badly, though it has a love affair with "dead white woman" who are "controversial while alive and sanctified in death." She later adds, "I want to be a star and kill myself!"


At other points, however, Stratford is more vulnerable, declaring, "My heart and soul are laying on the floor of this theatre" and "All I really want is for you to love me."


Towards the end, Stratford asks for applause...and seems genuinely surprised when she receives it. "Okay," she says, "let's see what effect this has on the show!" She then heads for "the benevolent ending I'm sure we all hope will occur."


This is the kind of production that used to pop up frequently in the East Village but is now about as rare as beatnik poetry. It's definitely not for every taste—frankly, including mine. But the show is distinctly personal and memorable, which is a large part of what the Fringe is all about.


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55. Perfect Harmony




Rating: **½


To sing harmonic a cappella is highly challenging, because making even a small error not only messes up your own performance but risks throwing off your entire group. This creates a lot of pressure—especially for kids in a national high school competition striving to achieve their "perfect harmony."


That's the premise of this play, and it's a genuinely compelling one. So are occasional insider tidbits, such as the information that to be considered for a group you need to be able to do three things: read music; hold your own part while others around you are singing something utterly different; and blend, i.e., have a voice that doesn't stand out too much...which disqualifies many wonderful singers.


Unfortunately—and, in a sense, ironically—the plays falls flat in its execution. The script meanders instead of focusing on its premise and on crafting believable characters; and most of the dumb jokes land with a thud. Even the a cappella singing, which in a show like this cries out to be transcendently great, is merely okay.


The cast is solid, though, with three actors clear standouts. Foremost is Jeanine Serralles, who's actually one of the finest performers to ever grace FringeNYC. Serralles last appeared in the festival in 2004, starring in the all-Yale production of The Jammer!: A Roller Derby Love Story—for which she created one of the most hilarious comedic performances of the year, off or on Broadway. Serralles isn't utilized remotely as well in Perfect Harmony, but she's still a gem in her small roles as an Eastern European girl with a dark past and a deliciously peppy voice talent manager named Kiki Tune. A total pro, Serralles is always on—e.g., when colleagues are simply standing around waiting for their next turn to deliver a line, Serralles is making subtle movements and facial expressions appropriate to her character that, to anyone paying close attention, brings otherwise stale scenes to life.


Also notable are David Barlow, who's superb as an ultra-nerd who sheds his dorkness while singing, and who demonstrates his range by also playing the punk brother of Serralles' gloomy gal; and Marina Squerciati, who manages to make us like her despite the tired role she's handed as a sufferer of Tourette's, and is much fun in a brief second role as a "voice therapist."


Given the high calibre of the cast, the sloppiness of the script is all the more disappointing. The premise remains strong, though; so with massive rewrites, maybe this show could eventually hit the right notes.


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56. Full House




Rating: **½


I genuinely applaud FringeNYC's commitment to including international productions, including non-English speaking troupes.


But the festival might try working with these theatre companies to ensure what they bring over is accessible.


When the Japanese company for Sakura No Gotoku arrived, it quickly learned that its English subtitles made little sense. The troupe ended up projecting nothing but the message "Subtitles No Good."


Full House fared much better, as the content of its subtitles was fine. However, they were projected on just one side of the stage, and in relatively small letters that covered several minutes worth of dialogue per screen. It would've been much better to project subtitles on both sides of the stage; and to display only a few lines at a time in large letters, matching the dialogue as it was actually being spoken.


As for the production, it's a show within a show along the lines of Noises Off!: Act 1 gives us a play being rehearsed on-stage; and then Act 2 is the same play as it appears from backstage while as it's being performed for its intended audience (via a cleverly constructed convertible set).


The writing is far from sophisticated. However, it's simply interesting to watch a comedy—even a not very good one—done live by a Japanese theatre troupe. The costumes, makeup, characters, and over-the-top performances are all very different from what one normally experiences in the US; and one of the points of the Fringe is to expose us to different styles and perspectives. In that sense, Full House succeeds.


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57. Pleading Infinity




Rating: **


It's tough to make a one-man show come to life when you're not a professional actor. And that's even truer when you're doing all the writing and directing yourself.


And so I was seldom grabbed by T.J. Walsh as he spun yarns sitting in a chair, speaking in a laid-back way and calling on a tad too many cliches—with the subjects of his tales ranging from alien abduction to childbirth in a retail store.


The only story I found really compelling was about a meeting with a movie studio producer who was determined to destroy a project purchased by his predecessor. Not only did the details feel credible, and the choices between integrity and betrayal gripping, but Walsh grew visibly passionate while relating them.


When this tale ended, I actually thought the show was over, and was pleased it had gone out on a high note; but then one other story began, which felt anti-climactic.


T.J. Walsh is very likeable, and a serious writer. But, at least for my tastes, this show would play better if it were tighter and more high-energy.


That noted, when he was walking out of the theatre and someone asked him how things went, Walsh replied, "I'm satisfied." There's something to be said for accomplishing what you set out to do.


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58. Rainy Days & Mondays




Rating: **½


The postcards and Web site featuring a half-naked man (see above) undoubtedly had a lot to do with this show selling out quickly.


On that score, it delivers. This play features four gay male characters, all good-looking, and all periodically taking off most of their clothes, which gives the show a certain energy.


Also a plus is actor Jamyl Dobson as the fast-talking, thrill-seeking Lenny.


Unfortunately, there's not a whole lot more to this surprisingly talky and dull production about a group of friends doing The Circuit, a series of sex & drug-filled parties whose craze peaked during the play's period of the mid-1990s.


You might expect a show like this to offer sparkling, witty dialogue that turns every moment into a party. Unfortunately, the script too often instead supplies cliches and monologues that seem endless.


Even the attractiveness of the actors at times works against the story. At one point I heard someone behind me remark, "That boy is supposed to be dying of AIDS? He doesn't look like he's been sick a day in his life!"


Towards the end, one of the Circuit Boys declares, "It may be over, but I've got one hell of a story to tell." This was news to the audience.


Throughout the production, various characters say things like, "I'm cute, not smart." That assessment also sums up this play.


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59. Blue Balls: In & Out Of Uniform

With The NYPD




Rating: **½


This production's title might lead you to expect an insider's look at the New York Police Department, along with juicy anecdotes about life on the beat for gay cops.


Instead, though, roughly the first third of this 90-minute production are about writer/performer Michael Tester's growing up; and the other two-thirds offer only glimpses of how things work at the NYPD, with the focus on Tester's personal life (including campy scenes acted out by three supporting performers).


For my tastes, Tester didn't demonstrate a good storyteller's eye for the right details, nor did he offer a sufficiently compelling, brutally honest account of his time as a police officer.


That said, most of the audience was continually laughing and seemed to enjoy every minute of the show. So as long as you aren't hoping to learn anything new about cops, you might have a good time with this tale of gay life...culminating in a failed, and apparently unwarranted, lawsuit against the NYPD.


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60. 58!: A Comedy About

Bike Messengessengering




Rating: **


The writer and star of this show, Tony Mendoza, is charismatic and engaging.


However, his series of anecdotes about his real-life experiences as a Chicago bike messenger are, at best, mildly interesting now and then.


Mendoza must have encountered thousands of people over the course of his job. It's hard to believe there were all as shallow and dull as the two-dimensional characters in this show.


Mendoza seems like a talented guy, and he's definitely a likeable performer. But his show cries out for more carefully made observations, deeper characters, and a meaningful journey. As is, 58! simply doesn't deliver.


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61. Sunday Night Live: On Tour!




Rating: **


These young Canadian comics, called The Sketchersons, are talented and show promise.


However, at the opening show I attended, their dozen sketches hit the audience like lead balloons. The writing was juvenile in a way that didn't jibe with the tastes of relatively sophisticated New Yorkers, so there were painfully few laughs; and every now and then, small groups of people got up and left in between sketches.


If that wasn't bad enough, at the end the comedy troupe received some slight, polite applause; and then the two guys who occasionally provided guitar accompaniment receiving rousing applause. Ouch.


The Sketchersons are enthusiastic performers, but they need more practice at crafting strong comedic material. I'm hoping they don't shrug off what happened at their FringeNYC debut, but instead take it as a wake-up call to dig deeper.


Meanwhile, if you crave smart sketches, check out  24 is 10: The Best of The 24 Hour Plays, which features an entirely different set of lively short plays for each of its five FringeNYC performances.


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62. YourPlace...or Mine?




Rating: *½


This show starts out strong, as relatives and friends angrily mourn the passing of a young man who died while driving drunk.


But when his sister realizes one of the clean-up chores she must perform is to deal with his "YourPlace" profile—an obvious allusion to the popular MySpace Web site that millions of people employ to interact with each other—the show quickly switches from a personal tale to a hodgepodge of scenes involving people we're supposed to believe are typical MySpace customers.


Thing is, so many people use MySpace that there's no such thing as a typical one. Even worse, none of the characters we're introduced to are very interesting. And the show offers no real insights regarding the MySpace phenomenon...or, for that matter, dating, drunk driving, or the grieving process.


There's actually a fine show based on MySpace that pops up occasionally at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre. Improv comics select a volunteer from the audience, visit that person's MySpace page on the spot and ask questions about its most interesting elements, and then instantly make up skits based on the profile. The show works because it deals with individuals, not abstractions.


There's surely also a fine play or musical that could be written based on a deep understanding and sensitive treatment of the MySpace experience. But, unfortunately, YourPlace...or Mine? ain't it.


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63. How The West Was Spun




Rating: *½


This may sound cruel, but every now and then I watch a FringeNYC production and can't help thinking, "How in the world did this get into the festival?"


A one-man show, How The West Was Spun starts out with some lame political jokes in the performer's own persona. He then inexplicably shifts to performing very well-known lines from Will Rogers which, since many audience members probably already know them by heart, seems pointless. During all this, he periodically attempts rope tricks which are far from compelling. (And yes, I have seen others perform breathtaking rope tricks; but they require both imagination and great skill.)


The performer is a likeable guy, and there's a nice moment at the end when he twirls a rainbow-colored lasso. Overall, though, How The West Was Spun comes off more like college party tricks than a professional show.


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64. Puppet Government




Rating: *½


If you're a fan of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, imagine bits about the George W. Bush administration that are 1/10th as funny—and that were barely fresh two years ago. Now picture those jokes told by household utensils with bits of fuzz for hair, plastic noses, and googly eyes glued to them, and you've pretty much got Puppet Government.


I actually quite liked the silly-looking utensils, which include electric can openers, blenders, popcorn poppers, and a rice cooker representing Condoleeza Rice. But whenever they spoke, I grew nostalgic for the biting political satire of Carrot Top.


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65. The Yellow Wallpaper




Rating: *


The most common mistake actors make when playing someone insane is to go over the top, e.g., bulging their eyes, speaking too loudly, moving quirkily, etc.


However, the lead of this play had the opposite problem. Her acting was so laid back that she might as well have been sedated; and her lack of energy threatened to put members of the audience into a coma.


I've known a number of people suffering from depression and other forms of mental illness. None of them was ever as dull as this performance.


My companion for the play previously caught a one-woman show in Canada based on the same source material—the classic 1899 short story The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman—and she says it was electrifying. But that other actress was smarter about picking and choosing what text to include for the stage; and she made much wiser acting choices.


As for this production, about the nicest thing that can be said is that sitting through it will help you understand how easily one can be driven to madness...


If you want to see this sort of thing done right, rent the 1965 film Repulsion. Roman Polanski's direction is brilliant; and Catherine Deneuve is unforgettable as a young woman slowly losing her mind.


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