Intro to FringeNYC 2013

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Key Festival Info

Best NYC Comedy


Hy on the Fringe: Your Personal Guide to the

2013 New York International Fringe Festival

This FringeNYC Site Most Recently Updated: Monday September 16th 2013

Please click to go directly to show ratings & rankings or to the mini-reviews.

Gertrude Stein: SaintsLula del RayRecipe For Success With Chef Michael Denardi


Coverage of the 17th Annual FringeNYC
That Ran August 8th-25th

Introduction to FringeNYC 2013

From relatively humble beginnings, the New York International Fringe Festival has grown to become a major force in New York theatre...and an absolutely wonderful event for anyone who loves vibrant live shows.


The largest multi-arts festival in North America, this 17th annual FringeNYC offers 185 productions running from August 8th through August 25th. The festival's shows are playing in 18 Lower Manhattan venues—including such historic East & West Village theatres as the Connelly, the Kraine, and Theatre 80 St. Marks—totaling over 1,000 performances. And they'll attract more than 75,000 people, making the New York International Fringe Festival the fifth largest annual public event in NYC (the other four are the New York International Auto Show, Tribeca Film Festival, New York City Marathon, and New York Comic Con).


The "International" part of the fest's name is reflected this year by shows from 13 different countries, including Japan, Australia, Bulgaria, Slovakia, Sweden, Holland, Italy, and Spain. The fest also represents 17 US states, including California, Missouri, Utah, Illinois, Ohio, Florida, and Minnesota. And the types of shows include comedy, drama, musical, dance, puppetry, and children's programs.


The main challenge of New York Fringe 2013 is figuring out which of the 185 productions to see. This page exists to help you do precisely that. I'll be seeing scores of shows, and creating a rating and mini-review for each one, providing you with an at-a-glance guide to what's worth catching and what you might consider avoiding.


Of course, there are a number of other sources of reviews besides this website. For example, you can find smart (albeit limited) coverage of FringeNYC via The New York Times, which can be read online at


In addition, there'll be a comprehensive collection of FringeNYC reviews available via Spearheaded by the site's founder, Martin Denton, this is a terrific resource for learning about every single Fringe production.


And reviewing most (though not all) FringeNYC shows is Time Out New York, NYC's invaluable guide to—well, pretty much everything.To read TONY's coverage, please click here.


The only downside is that and TONY use a small army of writers to cover the shows. That can make it hard to get a fix on the tastes of any one reviewer and figure out whether they jibe with your own.


If you read what follows, though, you'll quickly get a sense of my tastes, which is likely to help you in judging my comments about any particular show. (For example, if you discover that you love everything I dislike and can't stand everything I recommend, that still means I'll be providing you with helpful guidance—simply believe the opposite of everything I say...)

The following FringeNYC 2013 shows are listed in rough order of personal preference, with each production assigned one to four stars using this rating system:


**** = Transcendently Great

*** = Solid & Worth Seeing

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

* = "I Wanted to Kill Myself"


I'll be updating the list every single day, so please make a habit of checking this page frequently.


Please also note that I very seldom give a show four stars. The past two years were the first in which I've ever given three shows in the festival a **** rating. This year I've assigned that rating to four shows. (Naysayers notwithstanding, FringeNYC continues to get better every year...)


At the same time, you might notice I haven't given any show a * rating. There were actually several shows that made me want to rip my head off. However, for the sake of my health, I left them all mid-stream (and list only shows seen from beginning to end). If you encounter one of these beasts, I encourage you to flee as well.


Each mini-review includes a show's website address and a representative photo. Clicking the address opens a new window taking you to the show's official site. Clicking the photo opens a new window taking you to the show's listing on the site. You can use the latter to read the official description of the show, see when and where it's playing at the festival, and order tickets.


Please keep in mind these reviews have to be written in a hurry. If you spot any factual errors, please don't hesitate to let me know by emailing me, Hy Bender, at I'm always happy to make corrections and updates.


All that said, here are the 50 FringeNYC 2013 shows I've seen to date from beginning to end. Please click any underlined title to see its mini-review:


Gertrude Stein: Saints ****

Recipe for Success with Chef Michael Denardi ****

Big Dummy: Me & My Old Man ****

Naked in Alaska ****

Lula del Ray ***½

Count Down My Life ***½

Another Evening of Awkward Romance ***½

The TomKat Project ***½

En Avant! An Evening with Tennessee Williams ***½

Lollapacoacharoozastock Music Festival ***½

Waiting for Waiting for Godot ***½

Cowboys Don't Sing ***½

The Spider ***½

Ndebele Funeral ***½

Kinematic ***

Rubble ***

Baptized ***

Off the Desk ***

The Great III Am ***

Human Fruit Bowl ***

Landscape With Missing Person ***

Orbiting Astral Bodies ***

The ABC’s to Getting Famous ***

Woman of Leisure and Panic ***

Shyama—The Legend of Krishna ***

Listen...Can You Hear Me Now? ***

Breaking Kayfabe ***

Disremember ***

Pilot Fish **½

Bradley Cole **½

Very Bad Words **½

The Office of Dead Letters **½

They Call Me Q! **½

Worst Year Ever **½

Save the Date **½

EPICish **½

Scarred for Life **½

The Mythmakers **½

The Skype Show or See You in August **½

The Nightmare 'Dream' **½

The 3rd Gender **

The Famous Play *½

Uncommon Ground *½

Melting in Madras *½

What's an Anjan? *½

Suicide Math *½

Occupy Olympus *½

Horsehead *½

The Dead Hooker Play *

Whammy! The Seven Secrets to a Sane Self *


1. Gertrude Stein: Saints


Rating: ****

Gertrude Stein: Saints


Smart, energetic, fresh, sexy, exuberant, embracing, and beautiful, this mostly a cappella song & dance execution of Saints librettos by Gertrude Stein—incorporating gospel, rap, jazz, rock, and country—will take your breath away. Its FringeNYC run is sadly over, but keep an eye out for more from the superb artists who created this top show.


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2. Recipe for Success with Chef Michael Denardi


Rating: ****

Recipe for Success with Chef Michael Denardi


While I've caught only a fraction of the 185 productions at the fest, I feel reasonably confident in saying this is the funniest.


Peter Grosz isn't an actor playing at comedy; he's the real deal. Grosz was staff writer for The Colbert Report 2007-2010, winning two Emmys; and has performed on HBO's Veep and Curb Your Enthusiasm, Comedy Central's Insider Amy Schumer, and over 100 humor-based Sonic fast-food commercials. He was also a member of highly respected improv troupe 4 Square in Chicago.


Grosz's vast comedy experience and world-class skills are fully evident in this one-man show that delivers high-energy, non-stop laughs for its entire joy-filled 70 minutes.


But Grosz isn't "merely" a comic, either. While consistently providing laughs per minute, he also creates material that builds on itself in careful steps, and results in a long and emotionally satisfying work that few other comedians would be able to manage.


The fusion of pure character comedy and theatrical storytelling results in the most fall-on-the-floor hilarious show you're likely to see at FringeNYC...or probably anywhere else in New York this month. This is my second favorite production of the entire festival, and has my highest recommendation.


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3. Big Dummy: My & My Old Man


Rating: ****

Big Dummy: My & My Old Man


Mary Dimino has been in the NYC comedy scene for years. She won the 2008 Gracie Allen Award, the 2010 MAC Award for Outstanding Female Comedian, and the 2010 FringeNYC Outstanding Solo Show award for her superb production Scared Skinny (which she subsequently turned into a book).

But all that pales before this show, which is among the best-written and most humane to ever grace the Fringe. Enormously enhancing the perfect script is Dimino's lovely down-to-earth, compassionate, and always entertaining delivery.


This is the only production of the festival that made me cry. Others I've spoken with who've seen the show had the same reaction. Considering this is a comedy filled with laughs, that's an extraordinary achievement. There are lines—especially near the end—that I'll remember for the rest of my life.


I'll be writing a fuller review post-Fringe, when I have more time to do justice to Dimino's stellar work. For now, just know this is a must see.


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4. Naked in Alaska


Rating: ****

Naked in Alaska


One of the greatest pleasures of FringeNYC is discovering wonderful new talent.


That's absolutely the case with Valerie Hager, a dazzling artist who can pretty much do it all. Hager's one-woman show is based on her true-life experiences in her 20s as a stripper in Mexico, Alaska, and California. The writing is smart, honest, and brave; but just as impressive is Hager's ability to bring the other people in her story to life.


Hager captures not only each character's unique dialogue and behavior, but how each character sounds and moves. Hager's has a superb gift for voice mimicry; and her dance expertise is fully evident when she instantly morphs into various stripper colleagues by making artful adjustments to her facial expressions, poses, and body language. For example, one of the most jaw-dropping scenes is Hager turning into her friend and rival Raven, who is considered to be the best of the best at the club. Hager sizzles with danger and sexuality as she performs one of Raven's famous routines; and then shrugs helplessly as herself when Raven tells her "You could never do that." It's a supremely satisfying moment for both Hager and the audience—who at that point is totally rooting for her.


No review of this show would be complete without mentioning Hager's skills on the pole—which are spectacular. She does tricks that I never even dreamed were possible (and I say this as someone who's seen every Showgirls parody to grace an NYC stage...). The pole dancing alone is worth the price of admission. But Hager is a perfectionist who delivers much, much more.


If you're an audience member, come see one of the very best shows of the festival.


And if you're in the industry, hire Hager. She's got what it takes to be a star.


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5. Lula del Ray


Rating: ***½

Lula del Ray


Brilliant use of projection shadow puppetry tells the tale of a girl with dreams. This amazing production incorporates actors skilled at being evocative in silhouette, over 200 bits of art, and split-second timing. Remember the wonderful The Nightmare Story and The Mountain Song shows at the 2010 and 2011 FringeNYC festivals that helped launch the commercial career of PigPen Theatre? This is another razor-sharp group of young artists on the rise. Don’t miss this unique and haunting show.


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6. Count Down My Life


Rating: ***½

Count Down My Life


Insanely insular, slow-paced, and yet riveting all-Japanese rock opera about a playwright sitting in his room trying to create an award-winning work before his 30th birthday so he doesn't have to move back in with his mother. This highly professionally executed production (aside from the occasionally mangled-English subtitles) is especially notable for its live band and superb singer/actors. Tekkan (the lead) brings admirable intensity and commitment to a character whose stakes that are, at best, subtle; and Kouta Someya (the mysterious friend) and Megumi Iino (the lost love) are iconic and unforgettable. I ended up seeing this twice (a very rare thing for me during the fest), and loved it even more the second time. This show is so wildly different from anything else that it's a prime example of the tremendous service the Fringe is providing to New York. Thank you, Elena K. Holy, for bringing us a spectacular show from Japan two years in a row (to read about last year's triumph, please click here). Crossing fingers this becomes an ongoing FringeNYC tradition.


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7. Lollapacoacharoozastock Music Festival


Rating: ***½

Lollapacoacharoozastock Music Festival


Smart, keenly observed, and hilarious parody of the affectations of various types of music stars, ranging from bubble gum pop to country to rock. If you enjoy music and laughter, see this.


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8. The Spider


Rating: ***½

The Spider


This dark drama from Bulgaria—with subtitles projected on a screen behind the two actors, Penko Gospodinov and Anastassia Liutova—is about conjoined twins arguing the night before they're scheduled for an operation that will separate them. The sister yearns to be a free individual who can experience everything that "normal" people do—romantic love, sex, marriage, and children. The brother, pointing out there's only a 50-50 chance that both of them will survive the procedure, wants things to stay just the way they are. While on the surface this is a show about two people debating in a bathtub, it doesn't take much imagination to see this as political allegory, with factions who prefer the safety of the status quo battling those committed to change and growth.


The fact that Bulgaria, a country of around 8 million, suffered about 1.2 million young adults leaving between 1980 and 2005 in pursuit of better lives, and currently has one of the lowest population growths and birth rates in the world, adds to the poignancy of this drama—and to the intense ending.


The Fringe is primarily known for lighthearted comedies and musicals—which I dearly love. But this play demonstrates the tremendous range of the festival...and is a reminder that one of theatre's primary goals remains to shake audiences out of complacency.


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9. Kinematic


Rating: ***



This all-female dance troupe, utilizing dancers from over a dozen countries, delivers two shows for the price of one. The first, Perfect Prototype, was choreographed by the company's Artistic Director Svea Schneider, and is a dazzling exploration of the cookie-cutter images created by the fashion industry vs. the beauty of real and individual women. It features models on TV screens, dancers who look like mannequins, and a breathtaking number involving super-long arms (see dancer in background above).


After a 10-minute intermission, the troupe performs Insekta, choreographed by Svea Schneider in collaboration with its dancers...and which indicates Schneider does better when working alone. This homage to the insect world provides pleasures via its fusion of breakdance and modern dance, and its use of motion detection projections, a firefly light show, and a simulated spider's web. But while it's more high-tech ambitious, it's also less focused and compelling. Perfect Prototype is the gem, and what makes this show worth catching.


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10. The Great III Am


Rating: ***

The Great III Am


Matt Graham is a Scrabble champion who at one point ranked #2 in the world (he's prominently featured in the bestselling book Word Freak). Graham is also a former writer for Saturday Night Live and Conan O'Brien. In this production he blends his Scrabble and comedy expertise to create a funny, oddball show for everyone.


I hesitate to say more because The Great III Am is a moving target; Graham is rewriting it after every performance to make it increasingly stronger. Will therefore simply note that I saw the third performance, and despite having never played Scrabble I found it interesting and entertaining throughout. I might even go catch it again to discover how it's further evolved.


If you're a Scrabble fan, this is a must see. Even if you're not, though, this is an opportunity to enjoy one of the most brilliant and quirky writer/performers in the festival.


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11. The ABC's to Getting Famous


Rating: ***

The ABC's to Getting Famous


This multimedia production is mostly a series of documentary interviews with Asian actors about how hard it is for them to land substantive roles in show business. It's framed by faux lectures from Sai Somboon on how to make it as an actor if you're Asian—which are actually all satires espousing the exact opposite of the beliefs of Somboon and the show's writer and director, Ming Peiffer & Kat Yens. The interviews are mostly fascinating, but the scripted portions less so; and there aren't as many deep insights or wise conclusions as you might hope for. Still, the production forces you to think about how we stereotype, and how we rationalize that behavior; and how nice it could be to live in a world where the most talented person lands the job...and actors are allowed to act virtually any role they can tackle.


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12. Shyama—The Legend of Krishna


Rating: ***

Shyama: The Legend of Krishna


Straight-up classic Indian dance by performers trained from around age six to do this well—with especial skill demonstrated by the show's star and choreographer, Ramya Ramnarayan (above).


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13. Listen...Can You Hear Me Now?


Rating: ***

Listen...Can You Hear Me Now?


Growing up as a hearing child with deaf parents put considerable stress on Gloria Rosen. In this one-woman show, Rosen explains she was the designated "listener," which meant answering phone rings and doorbells..but also keeping an ear out for any noise indicating the family's life was in danger. That's a lot of responsibility for a little girl.


Rosen's mother didn't help matters by being super-controlling. For example, she forbade Rosen and her brother from learning sign language—even though that's the only method Rosen's father had for communicating. That meant anything to be said to her husband, or that her husband had to say to their children, had to go through her.


Rosen provides many notable details about her situation, and of the deaf world in general—for example, of the high degree of suspicion with which hearing people were treated, and of the debates about signing vs. reading lips.


The main downside is that Rosen hasn't yet figured out how to put all the highlights of her life story together in a way that digs deep, provides insights, and is emotionally satisfying. Until she does, this will be more of a story about deafness than a resonant human story with the deaf world as its background.


That said, even the current version of this show is worth catching. Anyone who pulls back the curtain on what, to the mainstream, is a hidden world is worthy of attention; and I found much of what Rosen had to share enormously interesting.


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14. Very Bad Words


Rating: **½

Very Bad Words


Three of the smartest and most ambitious students at a high school do something reprehensible—and then someone responds in a way they don't expect.


This is a solidly acted and reasonably well-written play about where future unscrupulous investment bankers, attorneys, and politicians come from. (I overheard a teen girl tell her friends afterwards, "I know people just like that.") The biggest problem is it stops prematurely instead of truly ending. When the lights went down, I thought we were breaking for intermission until, to my shock, the actors took their bows...


Perhaps the fact this production is listed as running an hour and 40 minutes, but actually ran only an hour and 5 minutes, has something to do with the abruptness of the conclusion.It's a compelling first act, but it needs a second half.


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15. The Office of Dead Letters


Rating: **½

The Office of Dead Letters


What happens to letters that are lost, never sent, or never even written?


According to this production, they wind up at a surreal processing center run by supernatural creatures.


This imaginative idea by writer/director Heloise Wilson is given form by the simple yet effective set and lighting of Niluka Hotaling, coupled with music by Eric Cormier, creating a fantasy world that's both wondrous and disturbing—a sort of Santa's workshop that instead of toys deals in abandoned dreams.


Six performers play dual roles—at times the "office workers," and at other times the people in the letters, creating an eerie contrast between the creatures filing away the stories and the people who lived them.


The clear standout in the six-person international cast is Gwen Albers (above right), who handles the mail with abrupt motions reminiscent of a clockwork automaton, yet also employs graceful motions at odd angles that made me think of an otherworldly fairy. As a dancer, Albers is extraordinary at evoking magic and emotion through her body movement alone. She's also riveting as an actress striving for light amidst darkness when portraying the tales of lost letters. A former member of the world-renowned Dutch National Ballet but now based in New York, Albers is a talent to watch.


Also notable is Gina Marie Nuzzo (above center), whose vibrant energy is hard to resist.


However, the show has two key problems.


First—with the exception of Albers, who consistently hits all the right notes—the performers-as-creatures behave in ways that aren't so much supernatural as just weird. For example, one moves like a Star Trek member of the Borg (incongruous), and another appears to be borderline retarded (offensive). I assume this wasn't the fault of the versatile performers, who appeared quite capable of doing whatever they were told, but a series of choices by a writer/director who wasn't sufficiently focused when creating the kind of office workers who'd process missing hopes and dreams.


Second, and more critically, the letters simply aren't great enough, in terms of both structure and content, to do justice to the framing story.


As a result of these flaws, the production is currently more of a curiosity than a fully effective work. But if these issues are addressed, The Office of Dead Letters could become something quite special.


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16. The Nightmare 'Dream'


Rating: **½

The Nightmare 'Dream'


The architect of this production noticed there were certain overlaps between Shakespeare's dark faeries in A Midsummer Night's Dream and the vampires in Bram Stoker's Dracula. He therefore mashed up both texts to create this hybrid production. Unfortunately, he apparently lacked the chops to include the dynamic story qualities of either of the great writers whose words he appropriated. For example, the head vampire/faerie is so overwhelmingly powerful, and the human characters so weak and oblivious, that he could clearly kill or "turn" everyone single-handedly in seconds. That means the slow & steady caution he exercises makes zero sense—and so does any reason for this virtually conflict-free story to last more than about a minute. That said, this works as a mildly amusing curiosity.


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17. The 3rd Gender


Rating: **

The 3rd Gender


In the future, our standard sexes are banned, and only a 3rd gender consisting of males in female bodies and females in male bodies are allowed for the sake of balance. It’s a really interesting idea; but, unfortunately, it goes nowhere.


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18. The Famous Play


Rating: *½

The Famous Play


This is what's known in the biz as "meta." It's not a play, but a play about plays.


And, as is often the case with meta, the script (by writer/director Anthony Natoli) starts out hilariously. An excerpt:


Hi. I'm that playwright. I'm fucking mysterious. I wrote this monologue really quickly, without really trying hard, because genius shit just flows out of me like wine.

I curse in my plays and talk about wine.

I didn't tell anyone I was writing this play. I wrote it one night after my shift as a taxi driver/stripper/prostitute/McDonald's employee. Mine is an underdog story.

I don't stop to critique the things I write, because it's not about being perfect, and it's not about what other people think. It's about feeling it. Pikachu. I make modern references that the younger people giggle at.

This opening monologue winks at things. This opening monologue actually has a neurological disorder where one of its eyes is perpetually closing and opening, but it'll never let that stop it.

(Moves a few feet.) I moved to here. Very relaxed.

I know you're already deciding that you get this. But I already got that you would get this—which is why I just wrote that last sentence. Now what are you going to do? You're fucked. These last series of sentences fuck you in the thoughts. Your thoughts are sore from the dicks of these sentences.


Actor Brian Cross delivers the lines with straight-faced perfection; and these first few minutes are among my favorites in the entire festival.


Unfortunately, as is also usually the case with meta, it can't sustain itself for more than 5-10 minutes. We really do "get it;" and a one-joke idea can go only so far.


There is a way to do this sort of show successfully; but it requires not adhering rigidly to the concept, and instead mixing meta with other forms to give it emotional resonance and depth.


Alternatively, this could've been a fun sketch show, with the meta-play as its opening bit that then exits for other material.


Instead, the energy and humor evaporate after the opening, and we get essentially watered-down versions of the meta idea over and over for 50 minutes...which is 40 minutes too long.


If the excerpt above makes you want to experience this production regardless, go ahead. But sit near the back; and when you feel you've had enough, don't hesitate to flee. For a show like this, that's actually the appropriate response.


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19. Occupy Olympus


Rating: *½

Occupy Olympus


All the people involved in this self-described comedy (with sporadic songs) appear to be extremely nice.


However, you'll probably get more economic and political insights from a high school production of The Prince and the Pauper. And have more fun while you're at it.


Two bright spots were actresses Margi Sharp and Becca Ballenger, who exuded energy and joy. I wish these young talents eventual great way better shows.


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20. Horsehead


Rating: *½



“In The Godfather, the head of a horse is cut off and placed in the bed of a Hollywood film mogul for the refusal of a favor. Ever thought about the two guys that had to put it there?” It’s a great premise…making the execution a huge disappointment. It was simply dumb to cast two Italians who can’t speak English well for these roles. They seem like extremely nice guys with real heart, and I wish them every success; but what’s the point of doing a dialogue-driven play where it’s hard to understand the words? Plus the comedic direction is cartoonish, with way too much posing and mugging, which isn't the way to go for sophisticated NYC audiences. And the script is simply juvenile. See something else. (Also, not a review; but as buzz will mention that I've heard quite bad things from a trusted source about Horse Play: The Musical. So beware of horse shows at this year’s fest…)


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21. Whammy! The Seven Secrets to a Sane Self


Rating: *

Whammy! The Seven Secrets to a Sane Self


When this production begins, we're informed that it has something to do with failure.

What follows are people running around the room, throwing chairs, riding a children's bicycle, and engaging in a mock sex orgy involving a plastic banana.


And at the end we're told a story about a parent commiting suicide.


The performers are quite fine. The choreography is skilled. And other reviewers love this show; Time Out New York gave it four stars (out of five), and Collin McConnell of wrote "this play left my head and heart spinning, unsure of how to continue viewing the world."

But I found it relentessly depressing...and in a way that didn't connect with reality.


So I can't recommend it. But to paraphrase Abraham Lincoln, if you like this sort of thing, you'll find it the sort of thing you like.


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FringeNYC 2012

FringeNYC 2011

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