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Last updated on Wednesday October 17th 2018

 

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FringeNYC 2018 Coverage

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FringeNYC Coverage for October

Last updated Wednesday 10/17

The following are the FringeNYC 2018 shows I've seen from beginning to end. (Shows that I walk out of mid-stream—sometimes just because time is exceptionally short for me this month, but sometimes to avoid tearing my head off—aren't mentioned.)

The shows are listed in rough order of personal preference, with each production assigned 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"

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

Please also note that I very seldom rate a show four stars. (For example, during FringeNYC 2016 I gave only 5 productions **** out of 58.)

All that said, what follows are the 8 FringeNYC 2018 shows I've seen to date from beginning to end, listed in rough order of preference:

Raanan Hershberg: "Off the Grid"

Off the Grid ****
Sometimes I Google a performer before deciding whether to see his show. When I did that for stand-up Raanan Hershberg, I landed on a roast battle in which Hershberg destroyed his opponent Jay Welch with a single line, cleverly taking advantage of the fact one of the judges was beloved comic Big Jay Oakerson. (You can watch it by clicking here; the pertinent round starts at 16:39.). This video proved that, at minimum, Hershberg was a way talented writer of one-liners—which, if you're coming from the literary world, is the comedy equivalent of being a poet laureate.

What I couldn't tell was whether Hershberg also had the discipline and deep understanding of stories to create an effective long-form work—especially one on as small a topic as his having to spend a single day without his iPhone. The fact is very, very few comics have the skills to create both finely honed jokes and movie-like tales that take you a memorable and satisfying journey.

Gentle reader, I'm delighted to report that Hershberg is one of the rare jewels of a writer/performer who can do it all.

His one-man show Off the Grid is virtually non-stop laughs, delivered by a veteran stand-up with great intelligence and impeccable timing. But it's also so carefully and shrewdly constructed as to emotionally sneak up at you at the end and leave you deeply moved. If you're someone who spends too much time online, you might even find it life-altering.

This is easily one of the best-written and best-performed shows in the festival. It's also one of the finest one-man shows you're likely to see anywhere.

Netflix, if you're looking for your next comedy special, here it is.

But gentle reader, don't wait for the TV version. Take advantage of the opportunity FringeNYC is providing to experience this intimate, magnificent show live. As I write this, there are three performances left, and you can nab tickets here.

Lisa Bettencourt & Katie Emerson: "Pretty Sad White Girls"

Pretty Sad White Girls ***
When I'm not reviewing FringeNYC, I cover comedy; and one of my most joyful discoveries on that beat this year was Pretty Sad White Girls. Back in March I wrote "Lisa Bettencourt & Jillian Schiralli are a comedic musical duo who deserve your attention. They combine witty original lyrics with beautiful harmonies, hitting notes that may make you happy for days afterward. If you love Garfunkel and Oates, then you'll probably also adore these superb artists working a similar folk comedy vein." While the songs—both the music & lyrics are written by wondrously talented rising star Lisa Bettencourt—are still top-notch, Jillian recently got married and dropped out of the group. Her brand new replacement, Katie Emerson, is a skilled theatrical actress with a beautiful voice, but—to my eye—is still in the process of figuring out how she "fits" as half of a comedy singing duo. Also, the banter between songs doesn't always quite hit the mark; and at 50 minutes, the show feels too short. (Then again, "it left me wanting more" is as much a compliment as a knock...) So I absolutely recommend this show. I just feel that, with further development, it could rise to a **** rating; and it wouldn't at all surprise me if it becomes increasingly greater as the festival goes on.

Bremner Duthie: "'33 (a kabarett)"

'33 (a kabarett) ***
When the President of the United States regularly attacks the press, and now appears to be trying to cover up the brutal premeditated murder of a Washington Post journalist, this one-man show about 1933 Germany couldn't be more much timely. An impresario of a once-thriving cabaret returns to its ruins after all his stars have presumably been imprisoned or killed by the government to stifle their diverse and unpredictable voices. To honor their memories, and also the audience brave enough to risk their lives by even being there, he embodies those who've been lost—a song-and-dance man, a showgirl, a clown, and more—and performs their greatest hits to keep their spirits alive. Writer/performer Bremner Duthie was inspired by the sad history of the Eldorado Club in Berlin, which was closed by Hermann Goering and then turned into a Nazi headquarters, This production set at the start of Hitler's rise to power is disturbing and haunting, but also quite artful. Please note it's not for every taste; to get a feel for whether it might be a fit for yours, please click here.

Kristina Grosspietsch & Devin O'Neill: "Opening Night"

Opening Night ***
Sharp sketch comics Kristina Grosspietsch & Devin O'Neill (who perform regularly at NYC's Magnet Theatre) play various duos experiencing the opening night of a Broadway show, including the director & stage manager, stagehands, audience members, and most notably the production's stars: Hollywood divas who are twins trying to make their comeback...while continually feuding. For example, a memorable show-stopper consists of the sisters performing "Let's Call the Whole Thing Off" while both refusing to take the male role... It's a bit of fluff, but it's also fearless female comedy fun.

Hillary Clinton's Song Cycle: Witness **½
Random songs about the heartbreak of Hillary's 2016 election loss can't help but come across as dated, especially a month before the 2018 midterms. That said, this is well-intentioned, and a few of the songs are especially memorable, such as the lovely Walk in the Woods (click to listen) and the musical plea to President Trump "Please, Won't You Come to an Unfortunate End?" Also, keyboardist and co-singer Deidre Rodman Struck is superb—frankly, outshining the writer & lead singer who plays Hillary—and is reason enough to come experience this folk cabaret. Here's hoping Struck goes on from this to create her own show.

OPIE **½
Chicago-based sketch duo Olivia Nielsen & Patriac Coakley are skilled performers who understand both comedy and darkness. I wanted to 100% love this, but the writing was simply too hit-or-miss. That said, the sketches that hit the bullseye—such as the "deer in the headlights" bit, or the encounter between the mom and the teen boy who likes conversation—are as fine as anything in the fest. Also, Olivia Nielsen's expressive face and disciplined character portraits are well worth catching, particularly if you're a casting director seeking fresh talent.

Grand Rounds **½
The term grand rounds refers to a formal meeting at which physicians share information about patient care and hone clinical reasoning skills. In this show, terrifically organic actress Caroline Luft gives just such a medical lecture...except it takes increasingly uncomfortable turns as it veers from the professional to the personal. The script by Chris Adrian has an impressively Aaron Sorkin-like density & pacing—you can actually read it by clicking here. For me, the material starts out strong but doesn't quite come together. However, you may well feel differently, so please feel encouraged to skim the script and then decide if you'd enjoy having it expertly performed by Luft.

Turing Test **
This science fiction drama started out well, with a really interesting analysis of a sonnet. But then, inexplicably, the writing seemed to lose direction and imagination, with action slowing to a crawl and story logic falling apart. Also, the "surprise twist" is not only evident in minutes, it's explicit in the show's title (if you don't already know, Google it). The only reason I'm not rating this lower is my fondness for the first 25 minutes (out of 100), and the solid performances of all four actors. Still, there are better ways to spend your time.

FringeNYC 2018

Friday 10/12-Sunday 10/28 (plus outer borough shows 10/1-10/31): My favorite annual NYC event is the New York International Fringe Festival, which has grown to become a major force in New York theatre...and an absolutely wonderful experience for anyone who loves vibrant live shows. The largest multi-arts festival in North America, this 21st annual FringeNYC offers around 80 productions running from October 12th through October 28th at its primary hub in the West Village. In addition, venues in Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island will be hosting FringeNYC-affiliated shows during the entire month of October. FringeNYC productions run the gamut, including theatrical comedy, theatrical drama, musical, opera, sketch, improv, dance, solo, puppetry, clowning, performance art, and children's. I won't be doing my usual comprehensive coverage this go-round (am juggling a lot of professional balls right now), but will provide some guidance as the fest goes on: FringeNYC 2018

You can find the vast majority of notable NYC live comedy shows by using the links below to explore the schedules of the following top NYC comedy venues:

Best Inexpensive Stand-Up, Improv, Sketch, and Storytelling

Union Hall (702 Union Street in Brooklyn; R to Union Street): 50-seat theatre; shows $5-$20

Littlefield (635 Sackett Street in Brooklyn; R to Union Street): 100-seat theatre; shows $5-$20

Bell House (149 7th Street in Brooklyn; R to 9th Street or F/G to Fourth Ave.): 200-seat theatre; shows $10-$25

Caveat (21-A Clinton Street; take F/J/M/Z subway to Delancey Street/Essex Street); 100-seat theatre; shows $10-$25

Upright Citizens Brigade Hell's Kitchen (555 West 42nd Street): 152-seater; one of the most respected comedy showcases in the world; especially strong on improv, sketch, solo shows, and one-act comedic plays; shows free-$12

Upright Citizens Brigade East (153 East 3rd Street): 99-seater; a top comedy venue that focuses more than sister theatre UCB Hell's Kitchen on stand-up and screenings, and on experimental shows taking big risks; shows free-$12

The PIT Striker (Upstairs) Theatre (123 East 24th Street): 88-seater; a top venue that's a powerful rival of UCB, and often surpasses UCB when blending comedy with music and/or theatricality; shows free-$20

The PIT Underground (Downstairs) Theatre (123 East 24th Street): 40-seater; often more quirky & experimental than upstairs Striker; shows free-$10

The PIT Loft (154 West 29th Street): 50-seater; the third of The PIT theatres, located separately on the West side, hosts a wide range of comedy, but is especially effective as a home for intimate solo and/or theatrical shows; free-$20

The Magnet (254 West 29th Street): 60-seat theatre; strong on improv, musical improv, sketch, and energy; shows $5-$10

QED: A Place to Show & Tell (27-16 23rd Avenue in Astoria Queens; N/W to Ditmars Boulevard): 40-seat theatre; shows free-$10

The Creek and the Cave (Queens' Long Island City): 40-seat theatre upstairs, 25 downstairs; virtually all weeknight shows free; weekend shows free-$10

Best NYC Stand-Up Comedy Clubs

Comedy Cellar (117 MacDougal Street): Among the finest daily stand-up lineups in the world; 2-item min.

Village Underground (130 West 3rd Street): Comedy Cellar's larger sister venue, just around the corner with the same top comics; 2-item min.

The Stand (239 Third Avenue; moving to Union Square this summer): Competitor to Comedy Cellar; no drink min.—support this policy!

Carolines Comedy Club (1626 Broadway): Focuses on the world's top headliners, who perform hour-long sets; 2-drink min.

Gotham Comedy Club (208 West 23rd Street): Headliners on weekends, specialty & lineup shows weekdays; 2-drink min.

Eastville Comedy Club (moving to Brooklyn in June 2018, please stay tuned): Strong weekend lineups; no cover using code HyReviews; 2-drink min.

Greenwich Village Comedy Club (99 MacDougal Street): Convenient if Comedy Cellar's sold out; no cover using code HyReviews; 2-drink min.

Comic Strip Live (1568 Second Avenue, off 81st): Upper East Side club with typically solid lineups; 2-drink min.

Stand Up NY (236 West 78th Street, off Broadway): Upper West Side club with typically solid lineups; 2-drink min.

The Standing Room (4738 Vernon Blvd., by #7 train; Queens LIC club): No drink min.—support this policy!

NYC Stand-Up Open Mics & Improv Jams

If you want stage time, you can find one or more stand-up open mics virtually any night at Manhattan's The PIT, Eastville Comedy Club, and Stand Up NY Comedy Club, and at Queens LIC's The Creek and Astoria Queens' QED.

In addition, at the East Village's UCB East you can typically find a stand-up open mic Thursdays at 6:00 pm, an improv jam Wednesdays at 11:15 pm, and a rare bring-your-own-group improv/sketch open stage Sundays at 11:00 pm. And in Chelsea, The Magnet offers an improv jam on Wednesdays at 6:00 pm, and a rare musical improv jam on Tuesdays at 6:00 pm.

All of the venues above typically provide you the stage time either for free or for $5.

There are also numerous other open mics throughout the city. For a more comprehensive list, please visit FreeMicsNYC.

Other Cool Stuff

NYC Comedy Picks from previous weeks

Mike Lawrence Career Interview (TMCPB.com Podcast)

Myq Kaplan Career Interview (TMCPB.com Podcast)

Other NYC Live Shows, Heavily Discounted via Goldstar; Click Images to See Deals

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Top NYC Comedy Venues

The following are the primary theatres hosting notable NYC comedy shows:

Upright Citizens Brigade Hell's Kitchen

Upright Citizens Brigade East

The Peoples Improv Theater

The Magnet

The Creek and the Cave (Queens LIC)

Littlefield (Brooklyn)

Union Hall (Brooklyn)

 

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