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A CurtainUp Report

2015 New York International Fringe Festival

by Les Gutman, David Lipfert, Kathryn Osenlund, Gregory Wilson, Jacob Horn, Charles Wright, Lindsey Johnson

August 30, 2015 Final Update
For a list of awards, click here

Chandler Waggoner in FAR FROM CANTERBURY John Lenartz (Photo: Dixie Sheridan) in WIN FOR LIFE Sebastian Boswell III in THIS SIDE OF IMPOSSIBLE Daniel Arnold and Marisa Smith (Photo: Kaarina Venalainen) in LITTLE ONE Christopher Domig (Photo: Topher Ayrhart) in THE WASTE LAND Walter DeForest in VAN GOGH FUCK YOURSELF

Click on Show Title Below, the Photo Above or Scroll Down Page to Browse

Behind The Wall | The Boys Are Angry | The Broccoli Murder, Dicaprio Dance and Other Stories from my 20 Years as a NYC Cop | Butyou'reaman or: The Seven Men I Came Out to in India | CLIFF | The Commedia Rapunzel | Coping | Creative License | Dead Lunch, or Who Prays for Bad Weather? | Dex! A Killer Musical: The unauthorized parody of DEXTER | Diaghilesque | Dig Infinity! | dungeon | EverScape | Fail Better | Far From Canterbury | Father Kennedy | Hard Day's Night | Hell is for Real | Ideas, Not Theories | I, Horatio | I Want To Kill Lena Dunham | Julian and Romero | Kill Sister, Kill! A Musical | Lady Macbeth and Her Lover | Laugh Track | Little One | Loose Canon | The Mad Scientist's Guide to Romance, Robots, and Soul-Crushing Loneliness | The Magic Jukebox: New York City World Tour | Maybe Tomorrow | PICKLES | Plath | The Report | Solina | Sousepaw: A Baseball Story | The Stella | Swipe Right | This Side of the Impossible | The Uncertainty Principle | Van Gogh Fuck Yourself | The Waste Land | The Weird Tree | Wilde Tales | Win for Life: A Corny Play

EDITOR'S NOTE: Now in its nineteenth year, FringeNYC runs August 14-30, 2015. This year's festival has scheduled approximately 200 shows at over 16 venues over its 16 day duration. We will report on a healthy dose of this year's offerings in the reviews below. Information and schedules are available at

Tickets are available:

ONLINE up to 30 minutes before the performance at [from a computer] or [from a mobile device](24 hours a day, up to 30 minutes before performance, credit cards only, convenience charge applies). Tickets will be emailed and then scanned from your smartphone (or from a printout).
IN PERSON at Fringe Central at 56 E 1st St (1st/2nd Avs) (Noon-8PM, cash or credit card, no convenience charge but tickets must be purchased by 8PM the day PRIOR to the day of the performance).
AT VENUE 15 minutes prior to the show (credit cards only, convenience charge applies)

All tickets are $18, but are reduced (only at Fringe Central or at the door) to $13 for kids under 12 to FringeJR events and for senior citizens. There are also passes: 5 shows for $85, 10 shows for $150 and the "Lunatic Pass," which entitles you to attend as many shows as possible (so long as they are not sold out), for $500. In addition, groups of tickets for the same performance are entitled to a discount price of $15 for 10 or more tickets and $13 for 20 or more (online only).

A complete list of venues (with addresses) can be found at the end of this page or by clicking here.

The last name of the author of each capsule review is indicated at the end of the review in brackets.


Ideas, Not Theories
For this FringeJR show, advertised as being for kids (6-12) and adults alike, I brought along a companion who is not quite half the recommended age. He appeared to have a blast, and afterwards announced not only that he gave it a thumbs up, but that he wanted to go to more shows. A theater-goer is born! I enjoyed it just as much. The action centers on Writer/Composer/Performer Reynaliz Herrera, here portraying a wide-eyed child who comes upon a trio of magic creatures (Joanna Chen, Robert McCarthy and Austin Bird). Together, they discover the nearly endless possibilities of making music by banging on whatever they find (be it a drum, some buckets of water, a marimba, a bicycle, a table, the ground or just their bodies). There is also a policeman (Nicholas Petrizzo), who seems alternately to thwart and abet the others. Herrara is an engaging performer and an exceptionally talented musician; her magical colleagues are fine percussionists as well. I would have enjoyed a bit more marimba and a bit less bicycle, but I'm not complaining. The show's title is not as opaque as it might seem: when you have ideas clever enough to engage those too young to have formulated a lot of theories about theater and music, it is surprisingly easy to grab the attention of those whose minds have become cluttered. At Venue #7. 35 minutes. [Gutman]

The Report
On March 3, 1943, more than 170 people (more than 60 of them children) died in a panicked stampede of the stairwell leading to an air-raid shelter in the Bethnal Green station of the London Underground. The Report is a compelling drama about the official investigation of that disaster and the attempt by a documentary filmmaker, three decades later, to address questions left unanswered by the British government's account. This new play by Martin Casella, based on a novel with the same title by Jessica Francis Kane, opens in 1972 with the filmmaker (Stuart Williams) seeking an interview with the elderly magistrate (Michael Countryman) who chaired the government's inquiry three decades before and has been unwilling to discuss the matter during the ensuing years. Countryman, a distinguished New York stage actor who plays FBI supervisor Frank Wilson on the television series Boardwalk Empire, transforms himself as though by magic from old age to robust middle age and back again as the playwright shuffles scenes between the eras of Prime Minister Edward Heath and wartime PM Winston Churchill. Countryman is supported by a solid company of youthful actors, many of them from the United Kingdom. Director Alan Muraoka keeps the cast moving at high velocity. That directorial pace, nearly fevered at times, distracts attention from some rough spots in the script's non-linear structure but doesn't completely obscure those flaws. Bethnal Green, where the tragedy took place, was a community adjusting to a massive influx of wartime refugees. The Report concerns, in part, the impact of ethnic tension on the reporting of public events and the interpretation (and, especially, reappraisal) of the historical record. With more refugees arriving in Western Europe during the past year than at any time since the end of World War Two, dramatist Casella's account of the aftermath of the Bethnal Green shelter disaster couldn't be more timely. At Venue #13. 2 hours, with intermission. [Wright]

Maybe Tomorrow
This meta-theatrical dramedy by Max Mondi takes its inspiration from a March 2008 news story of a woman who was found stuck on a toilet that she hadn't left in two years, surviving on food and water brought to her by her boyfriend; whenever he would ask her to come out, she would reply, "Maybe tomorrow." Mondi doesn't try to retell this exact story, but explores how the demands of a typical marriage might drive someone to a similar point, throwing on an additional layer of playing with the artifice of theater and the nature of reality. The latter seems like it might be excessive (and going meta can always be risky), but is actually very well-executed, thanks in no small part to the strong rapport performer Jennifer Bareilles establishes with the audience early on. When she breaks the fourth wall, she does so casually, comfortably, and invitingly. Her portrayal of Gail is simultaneously humorous and sympathetic, and the same can be said of Harrison Unger's performance as Gail's hapless husband Ben. Sensitive direction by Tomer Adorian has ensured a careful balance between acknowledging the strangeness and absurdity of the central situation in the play while not making fun of anyone involved. In fact, much of the humor in the show comes instead from the meta-theatre in Mondi's script, including a clever conceit involving the (non-) use of props throughout the play. Considering that the entire play takes place in a bathroom, potty humor would be low-hanging fruit here. But fortunately, Maybe Tomorrow aims higher than that, so why wait til tomorrow when you can go see it today? At Venue #8. 1 hour, 20 minutes. [Horn]

I Want To Kill Lena Dunham
Even as the merits of Lena Dunham's work have been debated at length, few can deny that she's provoked an impressive amount of conversation on an equally impressive range of topics, like racial inequality, class and privilege, and the goal of artistic expression. All these, and more, are eagerly engaged in Sergio Castillo's play, which contrasts the experiences of an aspiring artist, Nora (Shereen Macklin), with Dunham's rapid ascension. Nora struggles as a young person seeking stable employment, as a woman of color confronting racism in a supposedly "post-racial" America, and as an artist without the connections to get noticed in a nepotistic art world. For Nora, Dunham's alleged anointment of herself as the "voice of a generation" is not just questionable but an outright insult, and she offers diatribes on Dunham to her friends and family. Though the play ultimately has larger social critique in its sights, this hyper-focus on Dunham, and a tendency to pin more on her than seems reasonable (the "voice of a generation" line, for example, was, in fact, recited by Dunham's Girls character Hannah Horvath while high on opium), sometimes threatens to undermine that message. At the end of the play, after convincingly explaining these broader concerns, an unnecessary climactic scene less-than-satisfyingly brings things back around to Dunham. That said, Castillo's aggressively provocative satire uses acerbic and witty writing to articulate a number of valid concerns about the celebrities who drive our national conversations, and the voices that are excluded as a result. And he has a strong cast to help. Macklin has great comedic timing, as does Melanie Rothman, representing the incessant noise of tabloid gossip and teenage fandoms, while Roland Sands brings an emotional charge as Nora's father James. Incidentally, a line in Sands's biography also happens to offer one of the strongest pieces of evidence in favor of Nora's concerns about racial diversity in Dunham's work: the actor was one of the few black performers featured in the first season of Girls. His role? "Homeless Guy #2." At Venue #3. 1 hour, 20 minutes. [Horn]

Dead Lunch, or Who Prays for Bad Weather?
Tony Borden's comedy fuses the existential angst of Beckett's work with a farcical structure in the spirit of Michael Frayn's Noises Off. The play takes place in a struggling restaurant during a characteristically lifeless lunch hour, depicting the dining area in Act I and the kitchen and office areas (during the same period of time) for Act II, as the staff try to figure out how to make do doing nothing. Today, they focus their attention on speculating about what the departing busboy Sean (Leah Alfieri), a rumored killer, might do for his last day. Of course, the human imagination, and the imagination of a bored human especially, can be very powerful. The fantasies of the restaurant's employees can be quite funny in their complexity, outlandishness, or banality, yet there's something quite tragic about the situations that bring forth these fantasies. Waitresses Rosie (Isa Frias) and Annie (Haley Ganis), for example, are so desperate for some sort of excitement that they seem almost hopeful that Sean's employment will end violently. Surely, that will be better than when Rosie leaves to put in an order and Annie is left with nothing else to do but examine her hair, pathetically concluding, "I love my ponytail." Instead of Vladimir and Estragon, we have a whole staff waiting for their own Godot to come in for bacon and eggs, and they've given up hope that he'll ever show up. That might be liberating, but they're in the service industry, so they can't even stop waiting. This isn't to say that all of Dead Lunch is so weighty—it actually maintains a levity throughout, and you can always count on the play's front/back structure to provide some laughs. But if the play ever seems a bit mindless, look a bit deeper, and you'll soon realize this absurd show can pack a surprising punch. At Venue #5. 1 hour, 25 minutes, with intermission. [Horn]

The Commedia Rapunzel
As soon as the stage lights come up on The Commedia Rapunzel, six colorfully clad members of the Spaghetti and Meatball Players spill into the auditorium at the 14th Street Y, breaching the fourth wall with a vengeance. At once it's clear that, for the next hour and 20 minutes, the audience is going to be in the most capable of hands. The family-friendly antics of the cast of this FringeJR presentation are corny and campy but always inventive, with occasional hints of bawdiness to titillate grown-ups without corrupting the kids. Directed by Dennis Corsi and Sam LaFrage, this fleet, energetic show features stock characters from the Italian tradition of commedia dell'arte: Pantelone (Andy Dispensa), Columbina (Natasha Nightingale), Pulcinella (Conor McGuigan), Arlecchino (LaFrage), Rosetta (Billie Aken-Tyers), and Zanni (Joe McGurl); but the delicious script, written by LaFrage, owes more to the shameless jocularity of American vaudeville and burlesque than to the classical commedia. In the commedia tradition, the actors riff on a familiar tale (in this case, the Grimm brothers' fairy story of a maid with golden tresses confined to a remote tower by the witch who is her adoptive mother). The Spaghetti and Meatball Players add contemporary political references, songs (some familiar, others not), and a lot of in-jokes about theater. The play ends with a decidedly blue-state moral: Rapunzel, free of her tower and her controlling mother's influence, embraces feminist personhood, rejecting the paternalistic prince who wants to take care of her. The cast leaves the audience with a handful of messages: judge people by their hearts and their ability to love, rather than by the way they look and sound; put your faith in human kindness; don't be afraid to be weird! It's an oddly didactic ending to a performance that seems, for the previous 78 minutes, to exist exclusively for wholesome pleasure. At Venue #7. 1 hour, 20 minutes. [Wright]

Hell is for Real
Riffing on the 2010 bestselling book Heaven is for Real: A Little Boy's Astounding Story of His Trip to Heaven and Back, this musical, with book, music, and lyrics by Gary Apple and directed by Jay Stern, follows a man named Richard (Christopher Sutton) on an odyssey into the afterlife. The problems begin when his six-year-old son Davin (Madeline Kolker), comatose from a rancid Christmas fruitcake, is accidentally sent to the underworld instead of Charles Manson. After Davin is revived, he starts behaving unusually, alarming his father and his teachers, who call Richard in to present an elaborate musical number declaring the child troubled (though the way they put it uses more expletives). How far will Richard go to save his son, and will it make any difference? First, to compare Hell is for Real to today's other contemporary play involving juvenile encounters with Satan, Hand to God: while the two plays do noticeably share some imagery (a toy crucified on an inverted cross, for example), the similarities don't run too deep. The humor in Hell is for Real, which relies heavily on visual gags, one-liners, and character bits, is less philosophical and more unapologetically cheeky. The musical's two acts feel a bit uneven—Act One leisurely advances the plot and indulges tangents that might be less relevant but more satisfying, while Act Two suffers from sprinting to a resolution. Another thing Act One has going for it is that it more heavily features powerhouse performer Lori Hammel, whose strong range, finely-tuned comedic instincts, and total commitment to truly bizarre characters make her a crowd favorite; her lack of involvement in the second act feels like a waste. Still, the play charms for its unabashed silliness, farcical irreverence, and spirited ensemble cast. If that's hell, then maybe hell isn't so bad after all! At Venue #9. 1 hour, 55 minutes, with intermission. [Horn]

Fail Better
The Beckett estate would only give them permission to use two paragraphs of his writing (from the novel The Unnamable), the Fringe venue to which they were assigned apparently couldn't meet their needs (so they moved their show to a parking lot), and the City of New York would not let them use amplified sound out of doors (so they rented headphones for everyone in the audience). Thrice stymied, Seattle's Umo Ensemble took Beckett to heart: "You must go on. I can't go on. I'll go on." What Umo has invented combines a text that can only arise from wallowing in the Beckett zeitgeist for a while and the physical language that innervates it. The former has its interesting moments but it is the latter that is eye-opening here. Five performers (Terry Crane, Maria Glanz, David Godsey, Janet McAlpin and Lyam White) speak, struggle, balance, climb, fall, have some sort of sex, dance -- you get the idea; all in the service of Samuel Beckett's imprint. (James Bigsby Garver is Beckett's surrogate, introducing and closing the show with the precious few of Beckett's words that were permitted, and otherwise overseeing things from behind a laptop computer at stage right.) The performances, which include acrobatics and Cirque-style aerials, are facilitated exceptionally by a teeter totter and an endless loop rope and pully system that seem so essential to Beckett that one wonders how it has ever been performed without them. At Venue #0. 50 minutes. [Gutman]

Sousepaw: A Baseball Story
For those of us who think a baseball game can be as fine a piece of theater as most of Shakespeare, this play about Rube Waddell (James B. Kennedy) allows the luxury of dipping both feet in the water simultaneously. Waddell was one of the great pitchers in baseball history; he was the strikeout king at the turn of the last century. He was also a stereotypical old-school player: not very bright, a trouble-maker and with booze rather than PED's as his drug of choice. We meet him toward the end of his life (he died in his thirties of tuberculosis), down on his luck but still plotting a comeback. This is no baseball bio-play (like the unsatisfying Bronx Bombers of a few years ago). Playwright Jonathan A. Goldberg has envisioned a story about the eternal spring of hope, and its sometimes-heartbreaking consequences. To do so, he briefly introduces into Waddell's life a woman he met at the circus, "The Reptile Girl" (Christina Pumariega). The girl is down on her luck too, and wants a better life, but hers is no comeback: she seems to have been down from the start. The play is at times quite funny (dumb baseball players have a penchant for saying funny things), at other times violent and pretty vile, but by the time Pumariega delivers the girl's final thoughts to Rube, we realize it is beautifully and devastatingly poetic. Both actors are excellent, Kennedy especially so, and Director Courtney Ulrich has staged it very well. At Venue #12. 1 hour, 5 minutes. [Gutman]

Butyou'reaman or: The Seven Men I Came Out to in India
There's nothing impish about Matthew Dicken except a conspiratorial smile he turns on the audience at certain points in his engrossing solo presentation Butyou'rea man or: The Seven Men I Came Out to in India. Dicken, a 23 year old writer (described in the FringeNYC playbill as an "emerging queer storyteller") spent a year in Jaipur, India on a U.S. Department of Education fellowship. Officially, he was studying Hindi; by Dicken's own account, he was contemplating "America, India, queerness, and [the ideal of] a queer utopian futurity." Dicken's peripatetic ruminations have yielded an ambitious hour-long play that's funny and touching but, most of all, provocative. "Get the U.S. government to pay for your studies," Dicken advises the audience (flashing that impish smile), "and relish what [the government doesn't] know." At the heart of Butyou'reaman is the playwright's romance with Krishna, an Indian man, about the same age as the playwright, who shares the name of the supreme deity of Hinduism. In his literate, well-crafted script, Dicken reflects upon a number of contrasts: present day India versus the raj (as chronicled by E.M. Forster); myths of "orientalism" versus those of the "occident"; American culture versus Indian culture and, more specifically, assumptions about sexuality with which Americans are imbued versus the assumptions Dicken encountered in South Asia. When the playwright embarked on his travels, the federal courts in the U.S. were scrutinizing the Defense of Marriage statute and, in India, homosexual acts had recently been decriminalized. In light of increasing tolerance of same-sex relationships in many parts of the world, Dicken is perplexed by Krishna's refusal to acknowledge himself or Dicken as "gay" (despite their ongoing physical relationship). On this point, the two men confront an ideological and emotional impasse. Eventually Dicken discerns that Krishna associates the western term "gay" with the "hijras," a transgender community which the Indian Supreme Court has ruled a "third gender." For Krishna, it's possible to recognize, accept, and act on desire "without allowing that desire to define one." In the play's most touching moments, Dicken grapples with the inevitability that this seemingly ideal lover will embrace traditional Indian values and marry an Indian woman acceptable to his family. Under the efficient stage direction of Arthur Strimling, the playwright gives an energetic performance, roaming the modest playing area at Under St. Mark's Theatre, utilizing every aspect of Hannah Cook's eye-appealing scenic design. At one point, Dicken hurdles a chaise longue and lands, legs akimbo, on the floor. After the briefest pause, he favors the audience with his impish smile, acknowledging that, for an artist committed to candor, hilarity and pathos go hand in hand. At Venue #8. 1 hour. [Wright]

Diaghilesque seeks to reimagine the works of the Ballets Russes as "tweetable morsels" for their ostensibly busy but sexually adventurous audience, with transgender performance artist and choreographer Arrie Davidson at the helm. Like Sergei Diaghilev, Davidson attempts to push her audience to question what performance art is by combining spoken word, madcap burlesque, and both modern and classical ballet choreography. The result is at times muddled by the confluence of so many modes of expression. Issues surrounding sexuality, abuse, and gender identity are presented on a physical and emotional platform, leaving the audience to question how these topics have changed since they were presented by the Ballets Russes at the turn of the 20th Century. Davidson herself gives the most insightful performance by speaking about her relationship to her body and how it has changed and shaped who she is. It is during these moments of vulnerability, and occasional humor, that Davidson shows the performance we all give as we put on and take off the various pieces of ourselves. Taken in its many parts, Diaghilesque leaves plenty to be desired. The choreography often feels repetitive and lacking in the passion the show so wants to put on display. Davidson and her clearly highly trained group of dancers are trying to give their audience a visceral experience that makes us question our relationships to our bodies and identities. Where they succeed is in the moments of quiet and honesty that come in between all the noise. At Venue #7. 1 hour. [Johnson]

Hit the Lights, Dad Theater Company (Samantha Blain, Kristopher Dean, Claron Hayden, Casey Scott Leach, Kyle Nunn, and Mikayla Stanley) cites "kabuki, video games, horror movies, and Pixar shorts" as the diverse sources of inspiration for dungeon, a multi-media performance incorporating puppetry, music, and movement. After his sister falls into an underground labyrinth, a boy is forced to journey into the unknown, confronting strange creatures, a foreboding route, and the imposing darkness. The show features limited dialogue, relying mostly on physicality along with a bevy of low-fi props and cleverly-designed visual effects. The theater is kept in near-total darkness for much of the performance while flashlights or other small light sources direct, and rapidly re-direct, the audience's focus, creating a disorienting effect that makes the theater's darkness ominous despite the normalcy of darkness in a theater. But dungeon isn't solely about the creep-out factor; there's humor in the boy's trials, and we're invited to find levity in his ordeal. The DIY props have a whimsical feel that verges on, though never quite crosses into, camp. The balances between drama and comedy and dark and light are well-preserved overall. At times, the staging can feel a bit awkward in the narrow venue—the show seems like it might play better in 64E4's wider, shallower configuration. It's also tempting to wonder what the piece might look like with a larger effects budget, but a more polished look might not necessarily be an improvement. For many of Fringe's multi-media shows, keeping things simple is a necessity of financial constraints. dungeon chooses simplicity as an aesthetic, though, and it's a nice look. At Venue #11. 45 minutes. [Horn]

The Stella
In the world of personal injury law, as depicted by Gregg Greenberg's comedy, there's one name above all others—not of a lawyer, but of a client: Stella Liebeck, plaintiff in the "hot coffee lawsuit" against McDonald's, who was awarded a whopping $2.86 million (later lowered to $640,000 by the judge) after spilling coffee on herself. Rival attorneys Phil Schwarzbaum (Bob Greenberg) and Steven Gersh (Jonathan Melvin Smith) fixate on Stella's precedent, wondering how superfluous a case they can prosecute for how astronomical a sum. The case of Carter Shelton (Marcus Brandon), injured after falling into his mother's grave at her funeral, might be Gersh's chance, unless Schwarzbaum and his new underling Jason Cahill (Cooper Lawrence) can stop him. The Stella, directed by Frank Senger, has a rich premise and builds to an amusing denouement, but missteps on the way there undermine the play. The timing is stilted, thanks to both lagging conversations and frequent lengthy scene changes in the first act. This part of the play, which aggressively alternates between Schwarzbaum's and Gersh's offices, could be successful on TV, but on stage requires the constant exiting and entering of the pairs along with moving a chair to differentiate the offices, done here at an unfortunately leisurely pace. Meanwhile, some graphic sexual humor seemed discordant, and I couldn't help but feel uneasy with the deployment of stereotypes in the play: the two selfish, greedy lawyers with obviously Jewish names wear away at Cahill's youthful idealism, while a black man engages in a morally-questionable lawsuit and threatens violence when it seems things might not go his way. Exploiting these clichés for comedic effect requires care and self-awareness, but The Stella doesn't do enough work up top to earn its audience's trust. In fact, the first scene where I felt that work taking place was during a scene in the last ten minutes of the play between Brandon and Lawrence, who engage each other with a humanity and warmth that has heretofore been missing. But that late in the play, it's just not enough, and the possibilities of the show are never realized. At Venue #3. 1 hour, 20 minutes. [Horn]

Coping by Jacob Marx Rice is a comedy-drama about four millennials facing the unexpected death of a young man who had been expected to have a long, productive future. Conor has shot himself, leaving no explanatory note, just as his medical school class is graduating from the Johns Hopkins University. Conor's girlfriend Sarah (Lauren LaRocca), who suffers from an anxiety disorder, is tortured by unanswerable questions about his suicide and their unresolved relationship. Jessica (Lipica Shah), Conor's older sister, is enraged, releasing her anger in arguments with Sarah. And Lucas (Scott Thomas), Conor's closest male friend and the first to arrive at the scene of his death, is blocking out unwanted recollections by staying stoned around the clock. By the time Jessica's domestic partner Taylor (Lauren Hennessey) arrives from the West Coast to offer support, the atmosphere in the Baltimore apartment that Sarah and Lucas shared with Conor has gone from sour to toxic; and the conflict between Jessica and Sarah is open warfare. Playwright Rice employs a risky meta-theatrical device to explore the dynamics of the grieving circle: fragile and uncertain, Sarah halts the action, seeking a "do-over", whenever she feels she has mismanaged an interaction (most frequently when she feels she has taken a misstep with the prickly, vituperative Jessica). Each pause in the action triggers colloquy between Sarah and a Stage Manager (Heather Olmstead), who's situated at the lighting board in the rear of the theater. The Stage Manager serves, at various times, as therapist, conscience, and voice of God. At first, this dramaturgical conceit is disconcerting, as the playwright no doubt wants it to be; but Rice uses the device sparingly and the result is an interesting payoff in the final scene (though that payoff is more intellectual than emotional). Under Anna Strasser's intelligent direction, Coping moves at an efficient clip; and the actors never capitulate to the temptations of sentimentality. Dinah Berkeley plays a funeral-home executive (the sole character in the play from outside Conor's circle) charged with the thankless task of handling the unruly mourners. As presently written (or underwritten), this is a one-note role; but in Berkeley's hands, the character's unctuousness is as poignant as it is funny. Coping is a noteworthy examination of how people respond to the shock of loss, suggesting that, as one of Rice's mourners puts it, "there's no right way to grieve." Both play and production deserve a post-FringeNYC future. At Venue #1. 1 hour, 20 minutes. [Wright]

The Waste Land
It's rare that a Fringe offering takes on such a weighty subject as T.S. Eliot's epic poem, The Waste Land. From time to time sockless Christopher Domig in black tux seems to intersperse incidents from his Austrian childhood auf Deutsch into this dramatized reading of the text. As the title suggests, this is a bleak vision, relieved only by intricate description that Domig clearly enunciates. Eliot's poem from 1922 is considered Modernist, but the language is heavy on classical references and could be from a much earlier era were it not for a gramophone mentioned. Not to say that it's irrelevant—a lively section about the man/woman/psychic Tiresias seems peculiarly contemporary. Luckily we are spared the treacly inclusion of the poet's life. Daniel Domig's concept for the monologue uses two interlocking chairs, a long table and an inscrutable head that brother Christopher drapes and undrapes throughout. Unfortunately rearranging the furniture on the sawdust-laden floor needs the added variety of light cues that only come in the second half. Note: this is a small venue that can sell out fast. At Venue #12. 50 minutes. [Lipfert]

Little One
Aaron (Daniel Arnold), an adopted child, greets his new adopted sister, Claire (Marisa Smith), when he is six and she is four. Their parents sound like everything you would want adoptive parents to be. But Claire in short order manifests disturbing and then horrific mental problems. How are the parents to deal with this? How is the brother upon whom this "monster" — his word, not mine — is thrust to deal? Hannah Moscovitch has written a tremendously insightful play that beautifully (if frighteningly) limns her subject, and Amiel Gladstone directs it fastidiously. Unfolding largely in a storytelling mode (and largely from the perspective of a now-grown Aaron), the "acted" scenes flash back to the sibling interactions mostly while they lived quite comfortably albeit very uncomfortably under the family's roof. The play has many surprises, some of which qualify it as a thriller, but not the least of which are how deftly it deals with its difficult subject (although it shares what happens clearly, its maintains as its focus the effects on those involved), and how much humor it manages to share. Both actors (who, with the rest of the company, are visiting us from Canada) are impossibly good. I remember Arnold from his appearance at the Fringe in 2003, in a play he co-wrote called Tuesdays and Sundays. I called his performance then "astonishing." A dozen years later, he is, if anything, even better. With his eyes and delivery alone, he conveys precisely what we need to learn about what his character is going through. Smith is every bit as good: she reveals how deeply troubled and downright creepy Claire is, but without a hint of exaggeration for effect. Please don't either of you wait another twelve years to come back! It doesn't get any better than this. At Venue #11. 1 hour. [Gutman]

The Magic Jukebox: New York City World Tour
Don't miss this one. The Magic Jukebox, a series of comedy sketches that feature pumped up energy and original music, is the result of a collaboration by ensemble members, six or seven more writers, and musicians in the live band. Among the insane bits, actors in pillow and comforter costumes sing inimitable lyrics like, "You know our thread count doesn't match the amount of our devotion." Bullshit Angels answer a bullshit prayer about Syria, and a black R&B girl group composed of white girls offers relationship advice. Someone sold his soul for an amazing magic jukebox, and there's a barbershop quartet in someone's head. These multi-talented performers decode dolphin songs and various aliens invade, one of which resembles an H.P. Lovecraft Cthulu. This very welcome sheer nonsensical musical, performed by a vibrant cast, is well directed by Lizz Leiser and Kacie Laforest. Backed by a rockin' little band, The Magic Jukebox is a crowd pleaser from start to finish. At Venue #5. 1 hour, 15 minutes. [Osenlund]

Laugh Track
When the house opens for Laugh Track, the show's already begun, and you're one of the first on stage. Mercifully, there's not much you have to do, since your role is as an audience member for a taping of the long-running sitcom He's a Dad!. After nine seasons, the show's getting stale, though, and the cast is becoming restless. Between backstage romances, drug use, and extra-contractual auditions, something's bound to blow up. A fun idea with room for refinement, the play, written by Keelin Ryan and Sarah Esocoff with Esocoff directing, benefits from a cohesive ensemble but sometimes becomes trapped in a state of indecision between doubling down on the actors' personae matching their TV characters, or being sharply differentiated from them. Both have humorous potential, but putting both together creates inconsistencies. The play can also be heavy-handed in depicting the sitcom family actors being a family off-camera. But there are plenty of times when Laugh Track doesn't need a pre-recorded track to prompt laughter. One of the most polished characters, with a performance to match, comes from Nebraska (Anna Drezen), recently brought in from the West End when the show's mother had to be recast. Her mannerisms on- and off-camera are independently amusing, but the real satisfaction lies in the contrast between Drezen's takes on the TV mom stock character and that of the dramatic Theatre-with-a-capital-T actress. Brianne (Beanie Feldstein) and Madison (Natalie Margolin), who play the show's twin sisters, also have a fun dynamic, and their worldview as actors who have grown up working on this one show proves a rich source of humor. Meanwhile, on a more pragmatic note: the Culture Project's loud fans sometimes threaten to drown out the play's dialogue. Be sure to sit close so you don't miss out. At Venue #13. [NOTE: show is moving to Venue #17 for the remaining performances.] 1 hour, 15 minutes. [Horn]

Dex! A Killer Musical: The unauthorized parody of DEXTER
The fans of Showtime's original television seriesDexter who managed to make it all the way through the show's eight seasons were largely perplexed and angered by how the series ended. Dexter is a serial killer who does not die, or sacrifice himself, or suffer any real consequences for his crimes apart from self-imposed exile as a lumberjack. The anger and confusion experienced by the television audience seem to have been translated into the production of Dex! A Killer Musical: The unauthorized parody of Dexter. I was left thinking that the producers of the parody either didn't like the television show or were so hurt by its conclusion that they wanted to enact some sort of revenge fantasy. The show is fraught with technical difficulties. The actors' microphones malfunctioned throughout the show, frequently making it hard to understand what they were singing and saying. The set is so poorly designed that actors were tripping on the back scrim and the audience could not read the text being projected during intermission. The transitions between scenes are stilted and confusing. These fixable glitches are small when compared to the most egregious problem which is that it doesn't seem to like its source material. The actors break character to question their motivations and actions, the framing of the parody feels like an afterthought, and the show's promising opening musical numbers are largely missing from the second half. Most frustrating is the misuse of the extremely talented cast, who barrel through the show with misplaced enthusiasm. At Venue #13. [NOTE: show is moving to Venue #17 for the remaining performances.] 2 hours. [Johnson]

The Boys Are Angry
"Woman is no better than an animal. Parasite and predator…Yoko: pirating our strength, perverting our faith, and breaking up the fucking Beatles." An interesting thing about this play is that the verbal assaults and tirades against "Feminazis" were written by a woman, Jillie Mae Eddy, who plays "The Girl" in The Boys Are Angry. Quinn (Nate Houran) rents a space from AJ (Xander Johnson), who inherited a big property. The boys are incongruous roommates. Billed as a Black Comedy about a Red Pill, the red pill concept comes up late in the game when AJ, in one of his amusing and aggressively anti-female diatribes, discloses his red pill/blue pill dichotomy. A self-proclaimed free thinker, he believes that his friend, a blue pill type, has had the wool pulled over his eyes. The men are over the top in opposite directions. AJ is not a red pill guy in The Matrix sense, where Neo learns from Morpheus the truth of existence. He's from the reddit perspective of a male open-eyed tactic to counter the strategies of evil feminism. Mr. Red Pill, however, embodies the inconvenient truth that cynicism is the last refuge of a romantic, thus the pill concept isn't a true fit. Quinn's crush lives onstage in his imagination and looms over the men's discussions, a kind of cartoon dream girl, who is sometimes the real girl. AJ advances his ideas, offering dating advice and interfering. Quinn rushes things against his better judgment, and the play hits a long pressure drop, devolving into a dull little song. Who is the real nut case here? The question migrates and will culminate in a contrived ending. The person who comes off as the biggest problem may not even be the one the writer actually intended. I won't blow the denouement, but what you might think is going to happen probably isn't what's going to happen. At Venue #16. 1 hour, 30 minutes. [Osenlund]

Loose Canon
Brian Remo and Gabriel Vega Weissman, in their first foray into playwriting, have crafted six short plays in the style of giants. Bravo! The great playwrights being spoofed are instantly recognizable. Sophocles's The Elmae (followers of Elmo the Muppet) features a tragic chorus of friends, jealous that Jason got a birthday cake from COSTCO and anguished that he received a Tickle Me Elmo. Shakespeare's tragicomedie concerns two workers at AMAZON who have been caught in a scheme and now fear that their reviews "will be from the web untimely ripped." Then at the café in IKEA we encounter a barrage of Moliere's vicious little twists of phrase in rhymed couplets: "Unless you quit your rude Shenanigans I'll leave here and buy at Raymour & Flanigans!" And "Ikea's trick is ecumenical. Everything here is identical." At TACO BELL a whining employee who longs to move to a big metropolis is asked, "Why haven't you visited? It's like a half mile away." And everyone knows it's Mexican-ized Chekhov. The clever sketch is also kind of long. That's Chekhov too. The next piece, an assault on an airline's economy steerage seating, opens with a woman sitting in a garbage can. So obvious I won't even name the playwright. Finally, a vicious, slacker Mamet work is set at PETCO. At one point the boss screams, "Can you unfuck my business??" This skit calls to mind the old joke: A bum asks a professor for a buck. The prof replies, "Neither a borrower nor a lender be. That's Shakespeare." The bum says, "Fuck you. David Mamet." The Loose Canon playwrights ably demonstrate that there is a use for English majors! This comically astute pairing of classics with big commerce is absolutely priceless. At Venue #10. 1 hour, 30 minutes. [Osenlund]

Creative License
This musical production falls under the "Hey, kids, let's put on a show" tradition. If only it were that easy. So much work, heart and soul are poured into a musical, and problems can spring up in it and all around the edges. Within this show's story, financial problems loom and they've got to save the family's Irish pub in Waltham, MA. In the real world, the Lynn Redgrave Theater is plagued by busted air conditioning (but they have fans) and the show has seriously distracting miking problems. While this musical has lots of heart, it lacks sustained energy throughout. So many new musicals share a conventional sameness in the melodies. Songs become "meh" because they lack fresh engines to drive them. If only the promising composers of Creative License would break their tunes out of the predictable pattern that seems to be some kind of prerequisite for writing musicals. You hear it at NYMF and everywhere. While a couple of feisty songs shine here, the show needs a fire built under it. When a spark finally does ignite, it's inside the musical send-up within the play, and it's too late. But impressive musicians back up the action, and the crazy, adorably cute musical ending supplies the spice that needed to be sprinkled over the whole work. At Venue #13. [NOTE: show is moving to Venue #17 for the remaining performances.] 2 hours, 30 minutes, with intermission. [Osenlund]

Father Kennedy
Brian Kraker's comedy about a disillusioned priest trying to sabotage his sister's engagement in the midst of a crisis of faith is an unexpected combination of the comedic "bad [occupation]" genre with a thoughtful exploration of religious conviction. We meet Kennedy (Gary Kozak) as he uses the confessional to play Battleship against fellow clergyman Father Kelly (Alex Katz, who also directs). Kelly, enthusiastic and well-liked, has a knack for biblical puns and plans to revolutionize communion with Nutella, while Kennedy has a history of making the youth ministry cry and can't be bothered to visit a comatose congregant despite the urgings of his secretary Nancy (Ellany Kincross). When he discovers that his sister Rose (Amber Bloom) is engaged to dopey church gravedigger Ramsey (Alex Ashrafi), he puts aside his indifference and steps into action, eventually enlisting the help of lingerie saleswoman Eve (Simone Policano). The play's ensemble is universally robust and Katz's direction wonderfully smooth. Kozak brings out an appealing side of the flawed priest and demonstrates impressive range. Eve initially comes dangerously close to the Manic Pixie Dream Girl archetype, but the character grows beyond the label, thanks in part to Policano's assertive presence and strong stage chemistry with Kozak; a scene where the two engage the wonderfully clueless Ramsey, played with bright-eyed earnestness by Ashrafi, is a highlight of the show. The plot isn't air-tight, and the attempt to fuse the play's more farcical elements with the more serious ones can yield melodrama, but it's nice to see the show grappling with its complexities. Father Kennedy (the show and its titular character alike) still has room to grow, but this polished production marks a fine playwriting debut for Kraker and a solid premiere for a show with clear potential for a future after its festival run concludes. At Venue #15. 1 hour, 45 minutes. [Horn]

Wilde Tales
At the height of his brief career Oscar Wilde penned a collection of nine children's stories, three of which Kevin P Joyce has adapted for Fringe this year. Wilde Tales shows off Dry with a Twist company's six animated players using the simplest of means. "The Happy Prince" has a sparrow and a young regent's spirit encased in his memorial statue sacrificing themselves to lighten the loads of three desperate denizens in a northern European city. "The Nightingale and the Rose" follows a touching but ultimately futile self-sacrifice. "The Fisherman and His Soul" combines deep but blind love with pure folly. None of the stories has a remotely happy conclusion, so Joyce rounded out the hour with an appeal to higher values. The best part of the show is the songs, some written by the company. At Venue #15. 1 hour. [Lipfert]

The Broccoli Murder, Dicaprio Dance and Other Stories from my 20 Years as a NYC Cop
Several years ago, before FringeNYC venues were standardized and consolidated to a great extent, it was an adventure just to find the Fringe's hidden, hole-in-the-wall theater spaces and to experience them. Underground at St. Marks (Venue #8) recalls those great old unenlightened days when you felt you knew some of the city's crazy secret places. Venue 8 is a fine setting for Mark DeMayo's 20 & Out, aka The Broccoli Murder. A former NYC police detective and comedy club regular, DeMayo has always watched crime dramas on TV, especially old ones like "Hawaii 5-0" and "Baretta." Their theme songs play in the background of his solo show as he schmoozes the audience with his congenial, soft-voiced comedy. He has great timing and he knows how to set up and tell a story. "Before I start I like to look around. See if I recognize anybody…" He explains that your run of the mill real criminals aren't masterminds like on TV. He tells about the genius who robbed the laundramat right around the corner from the police station. And he knows why people in the projects don't respond when police knock on the door. DeMayo himself perfected a special "ghetto knock." (BTW: He may have a crush on Leonardo Dicaprio. Stay tuned.) I have a soft spot for cop humor, having taught in the Philadelphia Police Academy MPO contract program for 11 years in the late 80s-early 90s. My only suggestion for this show might be to shave it to 75 minutes to keep 'em begging for more. But have no fear. In this arresting show bragging rights are balanced with self-deprecating humor. It's just plain entertaining to learn the highlights and lowlights of Mark's career, from his early newbie days to his wised up but still amusing maturity as a detective. At Venue #8. 90 minutes. [Osenlund]

Behind The Wall
It's a safe bet that you will leave Behind the Wall with a greater understanding of autism than when you came. Filipina Joyce Lao plays sister caretaker to Japanese Andy Miyamotto as her autistic brother in thoroughly convincing dance/movement sequences. A brief video by Hamza Zaman set in a park area follows their staged preparations to go outdoors. It's not an easy task keeping watch, and the brother manages to disappear in an instant. Heartbroken Joyce (the actor's real first names are used throughout) after much anguish breathes a sigh of relief more quickly than she should, because he continues to try to escape. Playtime with what may be a Filipino stick game is no less chaotic when Andy rapidly alternates between aggressive and bored moments. Lao can underline her portrayal with personal experience with an autistic family member. Miyamotto is all the more amazing because he comes to this with no prior personal background, per his bio. As brief at it is, the show lacks continuity. Perhaps the intention was to extend the mood of the prior scene with dark intervals, but they become a series of dead spaces. Given that current research shows that autism is as common in females as with males, it would be great if Lao and Miyamotto can exchange roles so that stereotypes of this condition as male-only aren't perpetuated. At Venue #16. 45 minutes. [Lipfert]

The Mad Scientist's Guide to Romance, Robots, and Soul-Crushing Loneliness
Emily (Megan Sass) is a scientist whose research interests include artificial intelligence, neural enhancement, and occasionally playing God. She doesn't have the best track record with that last one, though—an early attempt at biologically upgrading her friend (and unrequited admirer) Maddy (Piper Goodeve) turned Maddy into a zombie, who now works as her assistant. So it's understandable when her boyfriend Chad (Darren Bluestone) balks at the idea of her implanting a chip in his head to perpetually connect their brains. He's also interested in another woman, Stephanie (Bethany Fay), leaving Emily to do what any credible mad scientist would: build a robot boyfriend modeled exactly after her ex, except with superior intelligence and vibrating genitalia. The Mad Scientist's Guide... is an endearingly over-the-top musical powered by a charming cast and a keen humor encompassing both sophisticated science comedy and dick jokes. Under the sound direction of Jesse Geiger, the performers take advantage of the cabaret-style setting at DROM in order to connect with the audience and create an intimate feel. Sass proves a triple threat, producing the show's book based on a story conceived with Geiger, writing the music and lyrics with Nathan Leigh, and playing Emily with a finely-tuned blend of intensity and self-deprecation. Goodeve artfully contrasts emotional authenticity with Maddy's absurd situation (worrying if someone likes you is hard enough when your skin isn't rotting off), while Bluestone gets big laughs thanks to his careful differentiation, and conflation, of Chad and Chad 2.0. Fay's role is less developed, but she commits to the "simplicity" (as others politely say) of her character and makes the most of the smaller part. The collective result of everyone's efforts is a show that isn't so much about Soul-Crushing Loneliness after all, but rather about finding what makes you happy, which is exactly how The Mad Scientist's Guide... is well-equipped to leave you feeling. At Venue #6. 1 hour, 10 minutes. [Horn]

The Weird Tree
Following a Slovenian folk tale, The Weird Tree recounts one man's journey to understanding via climbing an impossibly tall tree to seek his treasures. Unfortunately in this production directed by Peter Petkovsek it became difficult to follow the story's ins and outs because at major junctures he had the ensemble speaking different lines at once. There was also a touch of European concept production, where at the mention of a plot detail immediately a miniature version showed up onstage as a stand-in. A magic carriage became a toy truck with a flashlight strapped on top. Things became more dicey when a pair of neutered female sex dolls made their appearance. However the piece worked fine as a showcase for the five talented players. They all have strong voices and great presence. At Venue #15. 1 hour. [Lipfert]

As sunny as her name, Anya Gibian plays empowered Solina in a bright yellow dress. Her idyllic existence on her family's farm is promptly shattered by evil forces that hide her precious sun. Her quest to make things right again takes her on an eventful journey full of encounters with friend and foe from the animal world, all in puppet form. Director Jessica Lorence has brought together almost all facets of puppetry: hand, rod, and inventive shadow types to tell the story. She has four well-trained and nuanced puppeteers to take us on the road trip. Too bad then that fully half of the performers were mostly inaudible while speaking or singing. As a consolation, some of the puppeteers doubled as proficient instrumentalists, aided by a wagonload of electronic equipment. Alas Solina never overcomes the trials and tribulations that her quest brings. A still sun-less conclusion has her bravery rewarded with a special place in the night sky. At Venue #7. 1 hour. [Lipfert]

This Side of the Impossible
Back at the Under St. Marks. This time it feels like we're at a traveling show of "mental mysteries and physical wonders" -- in 1885. Dominated by Sebastian Boswell III's commanding presence and gloriously retro persona, the shade of Robertson Davies seems to waft in the air. It's hard to spot the subtle mechanics behind the artist's practiced diversionary tactics with his card tricks, mental transference (that works one-way), and his hyperbolic nail driving. Audience members assist the maestro, who will "push the limits of human possibility." Impressive mentalist patter in the program supports the entertaining, pseudo-scientific mood, and the performance also features a unique conversation between Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dali sock puppets. At Venue #8. 1 hour. [Osenlund]

It's hard to say what is most surprising about CLIFF. Perhaps it is that its setting -- in the aftermath of the Second Silesian War in the mid-18th Century. Or maybe that it (notwithstanding) sounds like it was written in 2015 (as it was). I think I'll settle on the result: Ryan Feyk has written a sharp, often-funny and engaging first play, ably directed by Kai-Hsiang Tu and performed exceptionally well by Jim Anderson, Greg Carere, Tracy Lynn Farber, Samantha Leeds and Feyk himself. Anderson is Dunkel, what's left after the fighting of the long-time man-servant at the ancestral manor on the eponymous cliff owned by the just-returning-from-the-war Guy (Carere), whose father is now dead. Guy returns with a new wife (Farber) and they are soon followed by a young vixen (Leeds) with whom they had a fling in Berlin. Before too long, the girl's new husband (Feyk), a war commander, follows her trail to the cliff house. A good time is not had by anyone on stage although it certainly is by the audience. At Venue #11. 1 hour, 25 minutes. [Gutman]

Lady Macbeth and Her Lover
The premise of this play is quite intriguing: two Pulitzer Prize winning poets, Hope (Jenny Ashman) and Corrine (Maja Wampuszyc), have a close professional relationship and a personal one that is even closer. When Hope has a baby, Corrine can't live with the resulting loss of attention. Hope ends up dead. Fast forward fifteen years and enter that baby (now Emily, a budding poet, also played by Ashman), seeking to learn about her mother and to have Corrine become her mentor. They develop a similar and rocky relationship. Until Emily gets pregnant. Richard Vetere's script is unrelenting in its seriousness, and unable to reach the rigorous standards the women set for their poetry. The performances are capable but weighed down by unfortunate slow and clunky transitions between the piece's eleven scenes. At Venue #11. 1 hour, 40 minutes. [Gutman]

The Uncertainty Principle
Although the title might suggest that this Adam Strauss solo performance concerns Martin Heidegger, his commentary is a wide-ranging inquiry into uncertainty by way of OCD, penises and vaginas in general, his 30 lb. penis in particular, and the primal dramas of Moses, Abraham and Isaac, and Jesus. He longs for certainty, although that's the big problem with religions, isn't it? Uncertainty is the only thing that can save anyone from religions and the astonishing number of deaths in their wake. Strauss's performance secret seems to lie in his demeanor and approach, which I'd describe as deceptively laid back, like a grassed-over dormant volcano that everyone says is nothing to worry about. It looks like the old written essay format has morphed into standup. Not that old social commentators like Mark Twain, for instance, didn't do speaking tours, they did. And essayists still publish, but we're living in a TED Talk or TED wannabe world. Directed by Jonathan Libman, Strauss provides social commentary and makes observations: "We are literally becoming our Iphones. I phone, I phone, I phone." He's increasingly concerned about the misuse of words and how specificity is being eroded. (I hear you.) Dismayed by "The Wheelchair Guy," Stephen Hawking, Strauss appears to be holding out for Isacc Newton and the certainty of gravity. What all this has to do with his penis isn't exactly clear, although religion and sex loom large in his philosophies and his "redemptive narrative arc." It's entertaining to watch him make his leaps and sideways slides of faith and faithlessness. At Venue #8. 1 hour. [Osenlund]

Win for Life: A Corny Play
Quincy Confoy, a rising senior at New York's Fieldston School, must be a strong contender for the youngest playwright in this year's Fringe, but it's hard to tell from Win for Life, which evinces a voice that more than holds its own in the festival. The play centers on the cantankerous Millie (John Lenartz), whose love of Elvis Presley is rivaled only by that for extreme couponing, with her adult children Geoff (Connor Carew) and Margot (Morgan Rosse) probably a distant third. After Millie wins a million dollars in the Jolly Green Giant Creamed Corn Sweepstakes and announces her intentions to spend it on the "Live Like the King" rental package at Graceland, Geoff and Margot conspire to kill her before the money's all gone—if Millie's new beau Hank (director Kevin Confoy, the playwright's father) doesn't get to it first. Fast-paced and witty, Win for Life is an amusing farce staged with precision by the elder Confoy. Lenartz avoids over-reliance on drag humor in realizing the audacious Millie, choosing instead to revel in how distasteful a person she is. Carew and Rosse, meanwhile, play off each other well and manage to maintain their characters' sympathetic qualities even while trying to commit matricide. The characters, Millie in particular, sometimes come off as overly cartoonish, and the result is that the dialogue can be funnier than the play as a whole, which ends too tidily and sunnily after everything that has preceded it. But if this is how far Quincy Confoy has come in high school, it certainly leaves you eager to see where she's headed. At Venue #5. 1 hour, 45 minutes, with intermission. [Horn]

Swipe Right
Swipe Right, written and directed by Allison Young, takes its name from the gesture to approve potential matches in the dating app Tinder, though interestingly, nobody actually uses Tinder during the play. Instead, we see one night in a bar when the staff's least favorite customer, Brad (Franck Juste), goes on four back-to-back dates with women he met online. (Sara Kohler plays one, while Christine Penski takes on the three others in a fun casting device.) The show is focalized through the perspective of waitress Joey (Aly Pentangelo) and an imaginary friend/narrator (Saer Karim); the fact that Joey appears, to the other characters, to be constantly talking to herself is briefly noted before her co-worker John (Andre Pizarro) dismisses it as something one simply gets used to. The use of a narrator feels unnecessary at best—there's no clear reason why a window into Joey's thoughts is more edifying than one for the other characters—and can even become disruptive. His sarcastic remarks sometimes tip too far towards bitterness, throwing off the play's comedic tone. Elsewhere, though, Young shows a strong knack for ironic humor. Some of the many successful jokes poke fun at the limitations of a low-budget Fringe production, including a recurring bit about a corporate sponsorship and knowing gestures to the few performers filling out the supposedly crowded bar. Unfortunately, the timing and delivery of those jokes is uneven, as the actors seem to have varying levels of comfort on stage (Pentangelo, Juste, and Kohler's portrayals felt the most convincing) and occasionally trip over one another's lines, with a few apparent flubs and interruptions. There's definitely potential here, but it's unrefined in its current state. Smoothing out the rougher parts a bit could be the difference between a show that's truly edifying and one that too literally embodies the unease of a Tinder date. At Venue #3. 1 hour. [Horn]

Julian and Romero
Right from the start problems surface in Alex Perez's interesting and seminal work that takes place in post-revolution Cuba. Important relationships in the play are withheld, and information is meted out gradually as surprises for the audience. Events inextricably tied to the plot happen before facts come up that allow the audience to understand what's going on. So it is misleading at first, and later the plotline has gaps. But this is a valuable insider story on after-effects of the Castro-revolution; it's about Julian, a young man who is arrested and forced to sign that he is "the scum of society." He is interred in a UMAP hard labor camp with other counter-revolutionaries, in his case, because he is gay. There's an attraction between Julian and his guard, Romero. The whole story gradually spills out in conversations and narration, much of which is hard to hear and difficult to understand, due to a noisy electric fan and to the speed and accents of the speech. This is especially true when the mother speaks. Luckily, information is also conveyed in atmospheric projections and through movement and dance. The actors are skilled and intense, especially the leads, Sebastian Stimman (Julian) and Gonzalo Trigueros (Romero). Perez's story is an important one that sheds light on a situation in Cuba that lasted for many years, a story that should be told. At Venue #2. 1 hour, 40 minutes, with intermission. [Osenlund]

Dig Infinity!
Oliver Trager wrote, directed, and stars in Dig Infinity! He lives his Lord Buckley, whose groove goes beyond imitation. A bebop humanist who lived a crazy life, Buckley was at one time mixed up with and financed by Al Capone. He toured for the troops in WWII and appeared on Ed Sullivan, but mostly in this work we learn how he enjoyed hanging out with fellow founding hipsters and inspiring a new generation of cool cats. You can hear the flipped out angel who provided Kerouac with inspiration with his self-described "jazz semantic": "Hipsters, flipsters and finger poppin' daddies, knock me your lobes." A cool drummer (Boris Kinberg) and hip, multi-instrument musician (John Kruth) provide important musical accompaniment. Lord Buckley, who recently checked out of the breathing community, awaits the adjudication of his case. He's stoned when he meets with Orpheus, his advocate with the Big Kahuna. Orpheus (Russell Jordan), a DJ with a radio show, must meet his quota with this, his last customer before he, himself, crosses the river to the other side. (Orpheus also seems to be Charon.) Eventually "The Hip Messiah" pays the ferryman to cross the river. Having lived in his own spaced-out dimension, he has carried "The Nazz's" message, which is to stay cool. And he has spread the news that the universe is a house of love. At Venue #11. 90 minutes. [Osenlund]

Kill Sister, Kill! A Musical
The way Fringe shows appear online—with an economical description and two generic categorizations—occasionally leads to situations where you go in expecting something so different from what you end up seeing, it's hard to tell if your impression of the show is based on what you saw or what you thought you'd see. Kill Sister, Kill!, the brainchild of Drac and Jamieson Child with Jamieson directing, ends up there owing to its misleading pitch as a musical comedy (albeit a dark one that carries a trigger warning in the program). And it is dark indeed: the protagonist, Lily (Samantha Walkes), is a nun who loses her biological sister Kitty (Astrid Atherly) when the two are attacked on a gritty 1970s New York street, in the first of several uncomfortable, perhaps excessive, episodes of violence (sexual and other) in the play. As Lily seeks vengeance, the result is reminiscent of a plot line in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, but with the campy graphic sensibility of Serial Mom, a film that finds humor in the imbalance between minor offenses and fatal punishments. In this play, though, nothing that happens to anyone is funny, and that makes it hard to laugh when the show goes for situational humor. A killer nun may sound outlandish in isolation, but a killer nun who watched her sister get raped to death is a whole different story, and therein lies an existential tension that undermines the musical. Meanwhile, the score, by Michael Zahorak and lyrics by David Backshell, which tend towards exposition over lyricism, have an operatic quality to them, and in that tradition, all the tragedies and tragic figures in the show feel more at home. Perhaps if Kill Sister, Kill! were to embrace its dramatic side more fully and ditch the comedic label, it might have a different impact, but as is, the show is weighed down by trying to be something it isn't. At Venue #8. 1 hour, 30 minutes. [Horn]

I, Horatio
When Fortinbras tells his men to clean up the dead bodies and prepare a soldier's funeral, Horatio takes umbrage, for Hamlet was a prince. With broad comic acting set against Horatio's angst, Anthony P. Pennino's erratic, inventive plot takes off. Banished from Elsinore with three days to live if he doesn't vacate Denmark, Horatio is obsessed with the idea of building a stage so he can honor Hamlet's memory by mounting a play at a village pig festival. Blake Merriman's acting task is truly daunting, for this is not the mild Horatio we know. Insanely inconsistent except in the constancy of his love for his sweet prince, it's No more Mr. Nice Guy. Erratic and violent, he kicks, knifes, and enslaves poor stuffed-shirt outlandish Osric (Alexander Stine). And when he pops a wig on pretty-boy player (Barry Sheppard) the play's only sensible character, he creates a pseudo Ophelia/Juliet that he can fall in love with. As the bizarre village innkeeper with an S&M operation in the cellar, Courtney Moors keeps the laughs coming with dead right, wacky comic acting. Evil murdering King Fortinbras (Peter Collier), who comes to see the pig festival show, aims to cheer up mopey, melancholy Denmark. He can't tolerate soliloquies. When he hears the opening words of Horatio's show: "To be," he slumps dramatically in his chair, bored to death. With a play full of internal irreconcilable differences, witty ideas, noble aims, and absolute nonsense, the task of directing something caught between a frolic and a nightmare is a darn near impossible task for Matt Bayer, who acquits himself remarkably well. At the end, strains of Trent Reznor provide a perfect topper. At Venue #3. 70 minutes. [Osenlund]

Far From Canterbury
We weren't able to get to this until near the end of its run at the Fringe, and so it's a good thing that I'm able to agree with the decision to name Far From Canterbury one of the best shows of the 2015 Fringe: it is indeed an excellent production. A (very loose) adaptation of "The Wife of Bath's Tale" from Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, the plot follows the life of the young knight John of Bath, a gifted poet and all-around good guy with one significant flaw: he is completely incapable of speaking to women whom he intends to court. Accused of a terrible crime, he and his friends Marcus and Agnes must discover the one thing women most desire in a year-or pay the ultimate penalty. It's not the most compelling story ever told, perhaps, and the young cast is so earnest (especially Luke Hoback as John) that it can occasionally be a bit wearing. But this earnestness is also Far From Canterbury's greatest strength: the cast, almost exclusively from Ithaca where the show first began, is enthusiastic and fully committed, and that goes a long way towards selling the production. It's also a polished and disciplined show, with professional performances from everyone involved, and boasts an excellent and surprisingly complex score from writer Danny Bernstein. Combine those elements together and you have a very solid show, and I understand why it's gotten as much buzz as it has; happily, you'll get the chance to see it at the SoHo Playhouse later this year, where the best Fringe productions will be brought back for an encore run. When they are, don't miss the chance to see Far From Canterbury yourself. At Venue #9. 2 hours, with intermission. [Wilson]

I've reviewed a number of video game related shows at the Fringe in recent years, and I'll admit to having been a bit nervous about this one-director Ashley Gunsteens' note referring to the "sinister implications" of the "dangerous" escapism of video games seemed to me to be veering awfully close to a number of media-driven, nonsensical proclamations about a form of entertainment which (as Gunsteens herself points out) is simply an extension of the human need for entertainment and play which has existed for millennia. Fortunately, EverScape itself isn't nearly as heavy handed, telling the story of four people trying to escape the unfortunate realities of their lives in a fantastical MMO; if the crew is able to defeat the game's most difficult area, they will be hired as real life game designers at the company which makes the game. But the cost of getting their characters to a point where they can really challenge the "Tower of Sumeril" in real life may be too great for any of them to overcome. On paper this isn't the most original story ever, but in practice Allan Maule's script has some surprisingly moving moments, brought off well by the ensemble cast-particularly Phil Gillen as the compassionate Devo and Tim Heller as the group leader Foster, the "transformation" of whom is startling and powerful. There are some loose ends not particularly well tied together, and I'm still not wild about the Reefer Madness-esque conclusions about online gaming which are too broad-brushed and didactic; less would have been more here. But on the whole, this is a well-conceived and surprisingly complex production, and if you've ever swung a sword in virtual space-or wished you could-EverScape'sfor you. At Venue #5. 1 hour, 20 minutes. [Wilson]

Hard Day's Night
Many kids say their families are crazy, but when Kelly (Lizzie Stewart) says it, she might have a point. Most kids don't live in homes decorated with boxes of pet ashes and a selection of Disney merchandise to rival one of the company's own stores, or have names like Kelly K. Kelly because their parents (Erin Amanda Anderson and Milton Elliott) already used up most of the K-names on the pets. That's not to mention Kelly herself, who commemorates her parents' anniversary by speaking only in Beatles lyrics (a tribute to her grandfather, who loved the band). A perpetual outsider, Kelly feels alienated from her classmates and her sister Kirby (Melissa Diana Martin), who dates three guys from the varsity football team in one day. But when her mom's friend Jenn (Jessica Ryan) arrives for the anniversary festivities with her new husband Jason (Jeff Ronan), it begins one Hard Day's Night that will change how Kelly sees herself and her family. Vicki Vodrey's comedy is filled with cartoonish characters, but the real emotions that come through in the talented cast's performances, adeptly directed by Samantha Tella, are striking. Every character's eccentricity has some sort of relatable logic behind it, like the need to be loved, fear of being rejected, or discomfort with one's identity. Stewart has a magnetism that anchors the show nicely, but the play also nicely balances focus between the performers. The chemistry between Stewart and Ronan is palpable (though it's hard to get past Jason being nearly twice Kelly's age), and while the interaction between their characters can feel trite, they're both so appealing that you root for them. The ditzy sister stock character might come off as overplayed, too, but flourishes in Martin's committed and strategically exaggerated performance. A high-functioning production about a wonderfully dysfunctional family, Hard Day's Night makes for easy watching. At Venue #1. 1 hour, 35 minutes. [Horn]

Van Gogh Fuck Yourself
With a name like Van Gogh Fuck Yourself, you might expect this solo show about the life and death of one the most famous artists in history to be more irreverent than it actually is. In fact, Walter DeForest's play, which is adapted from the letters between Vincent and his brother Theo as well as the writings of Adeline Ravoux (an acquaintance of the artist while he was in Auvers-sur-Oise), ends up demonstrating what seems to be a great sympathy for and connection to his subject. The high point of the production, besides DeForest's striking physical resemblance to Van Gogh, is his knack for engaging storytelling and his tremendous range: under the direction of Laurence Lowry, he plays up the artist's comical cockiness just as naturally as he depicts his tortured nature. He also builds up a nice rapport with the audience, encouraging just a slight amount of participation and making off-the-cuff jokes about the loud noises emanating from the Mainstage theater upstairs. But the play becomes muddied with the inclusion of a number of other characters, all portrayed by DeForest with only subtle cues indicating the transitions between them, and an asynchronous timeline that can be difficult to follow. In some ways, one's experience of watching the show might be better if one were to already be fairly well-read on Van Gogh's life. Still, VGFY does a nice job exploring lesser-known parts of his biography, especially his time as a missionary, and is likely to give audiences a new perspective on an artist so often reduced to a few iconic paintings and a scandalous story about his ear. Venue #12. 55 minutes. [Horn]

I've taught several of Sylvia Plath's poems for a number of years, and always found her background both fascinating and deeply sad. Plath's suicide at the age of thirty, along with her deeply troubled relationship with Ted Hughes, gets a good deal of critical attention, but of course her time at Smith College is equally important, establishing many trends which would influence both her writing and her life-including her first suicide attempt. Plath focuses on this particular period, and has some considerable strengths-good acting performances from the entire ensemble and a particularly convincing turn from Jenny Vallancourt as Plath, along with an interesting, complex score and an excellent orchestra to play it. Most of the show is presented in the form of flashbacks during what appears to be psychological treatment after Plath's suicide attempt, and this conceit works reasonably well both in holding the production together and in helping create a rather shocking revelation towards the end. But it also contributes to a larger problem with Plath; the show is originally a workshop product, and some of the rough edges are still apparent, giving it an oddly academic flavor. And although the cast is game, I'm not sure the performers are vocally up to the challenge of an often difficult score (and, although I hate to say this in an era where companies needlessly mic everyone, this is a case where amplification is badly needed; it's sometimes hard to hear the performers at all). Staging is also curious; in a venue as relatively large as The Theater at the 14th Street Y, it's odd that a number of important moments should take place right at the very front of the stage, out of the view of at least a third of the audience. Some of these problems are endemic to Fringe shows where extremely rapid load-ins and load-outs limit production values-but that's begun to change in recent years, and other shows have been able to come up with viable solutions. Plath isn't a bad show, and there are some strong moments. But a little more time and polish would have gone a long way towards turning a decent production into a memorable one. At Venue #7. 1 hour, 10 minutes. [Wilson]

Riffing on the conventions and clichés of the superhero genre, PICKLES tells a comical action story from the perspective of the love interest, Annie (Laura Minadeo), as she and her boyfriend, the hero/vigilante Everyman (Alexander Rotella), try to save the city from the evil Decafinator (Erin Archer). The play arose from a conversation between Minadeo and Rotella, a real life couple who co-wrote and directed the play, in which the latter asked the former what she would do if he were a superhero. The resulting script is cute, but also deceptively forceful as it comments on gender roles. It rejects the idea of the hero's girlfriend as the damsel in distress, instead depicting a woman who eagerly discovers her own heroic abilities, while the male hero has to learn to accept her as an equal partner. This isn't to say that the play is blatantly political, however—it's not. Foremost, it's a zany tale of a battle (featuring some nicely executed fight choreography by Rotella) against a crew of bad guys chiefly concerned with purging society of caffeinated beverages. With the stakes kept fairly low, the play indulges in calculated silliness and melodramatics, which can still use some fine-tuning. Many jokes land fairly well; others miss the mark. The show features a notably large ensemble —twelve performers in addition to the two leads—but many of the other cast members don't do much; it would have been interesting to see some of the supporting performers given more time in the spotlight, especially Archer and Zach Searle (as Everyman's elderly neighbor Yeta), who show themselves to be capable performers but whose characters lack depth. PICKLES has a fun concept, and Minadeo and Rotella are off to a solid start with the piece, but the show still feels like a work in progress, with room for adjustments that will lead to further development. At Venue #2. 1 hour, 5 minutes. [Horn]

Venue Addresses

VENUE #0: The Parking Lot at The Clemente
114 Norfolk Street (between Rivington and Delancey)

VENUE #1:Teatro SEA at the Clemente
107 Suffolk Street (between Rivington and Delancey)

VENUE #2: Flamboyan Theatre at the Clemente
107 Suffolk Street (between Rivington and Delancey)

VENUE #3:Teatro LATEA at the Clemente
107 Suffolk Street (between Rivington and Delancey)

VENUE #4: Spectrum
121 Ludlow Street, 2nd Floor (between Rivington and Delancey)

VENUE #5: The Celebration Of Whimsy a.k.a. The C.O.W.
21 Clinton St. (between Houston and Stanton)

85 Avenue A (between 5th and 6th Streets)

VENUE #7: The Theater at the 14th Street Y
344 East 14th Street (between 1st and 2nd Avenues)

VENUE #8: Under St. Marks
94 St. Marks Pl (between 1st Avenue and Avenue A)

VENUE #9: Theatre 80
80 St. Marks Place (between 1st and 2nd Avenues)

VENUE #10: The Kraine Theater
85 East 4th Street (between 2nd Avenue and Bowery)

64 East 4th Street (between 2nd Avenue and Bowery)

64 East 4th Street (between 2nd Avenue and Bowery)

VENUE #13: Lynn Redgrave Theater at Culture Project
45 Bleecker Street (between Lafayette and Bowery)

VENUE #14: The White Box at 440 Studios
440 Lafayette St, 3rd Floor (between Astor Place and East 4th Street)

VENUE #15: Robert Moss Theater at 440 Studios
440 Lafayette St, 3rd Floor (between Astor Place and East 4th Street)

VENUE #16: The Steve and Marie Sgouros Theatre
115 MacDougal Street, 3rd floor (between West 3rd and Bleecker)

VENUE #17: SoHo Playhouse
15 Vandam Street (between 6th Avenue and Varick Street)

Overall Play
The Broken Record
Divine Intervention
Little One
Maybe Tomorrow
Night of the Living

Overall Musical
The Crack in the Ceiling
Far From Canterbury

Solo Performance
butyou'reaman or: The Seven Men I Came Out to in India
An Inconvenient Poop
Tiananmen Annie

The Curious Case of Phineas Gage
Running Interference
Stockholm Savings
Verano Place

Martin Casella - The Report
Ashley J. Jacobson - The American Play
Lisa Lewis - Schooled
Jim Shankman - The Screenwriter Dies Of His Own Free Will

Stephen Broteback - St. Francis
William Oldroyd - Fuente Ovejuna
Courtney Ulrich - Sousepaw: 'A Baseball Story'

Jennifer Brawn-Gittings - She-Rantulas From Outer Space in 3-D!

Video Design
Lianne Arnold - The Mad Scientist's Guide to Romance, Robots and Soul-Crushing Loneliness

Lauren LaRocca - Coping
Lori Hammel - Hell Is For Real
Jesse Carrey - To Dance - The Musical
Rebecca Vigil and Evan Kaufman - Your Love, Our Musical
Xander Johnson - The Boys Are Angry
David Logan Rankin - Night with Guests

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