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A CurtainUp Report
2003 New York International Fringe Festival

by Les Gutman, David Lipfert, Brad Bradley, Eunice Marquet,
Jenny Sandman, Amanda Cooper and Kathryn Osenlund

South Side Cafe in the Theater District

Final Update: August 25, 2003

Pinafore Wax & Wayne Cats Talk Back Tuesdays & Sundays
Click on Show Title or Scroll Down Page to Browse

Acts of Contrition | Arsat | Ashira69:Episode 1 Cult to the Chase | Black to My Roots | Booted | Blurring Shine | Brain Freeze | Call It Peace: Meditations from North America | Caravan to Cairo | Carnival of the Animals | Carrot and Stick | Cats Talk Back | The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County | Citizen Walken | Deep Stories: From the Notebooks of Richard Foreman | El Sueño de Sor Juana | The Geldings | Girlie Magic | Henry 5 | How To Act Around Cops | Jokes and Their Relation to the Unconscious | Le Livre Blanc | Loud | Love: A Multiple Choice Question | Manhatitlán | Meaningless Sex | Mo(u)rning | Neo/Retro/Woyzeck | Nharcolepsy | Nosferatu | One Shot | Peas & Carrots | Penny Penniworth | Pinafore! | Poseidon! An Upsidedown Musical | Rock Show | Rumi's Math | Scalpel | Séraphita | Sherlock Holmes and the Secret of Making Whoopee II: The Houdini Incident | Sides: The Fear is Real | Slut | Synesthesia | The Tale of Rancor | Tess' Last Night | Third Floor, Second Door on the Right | Tower of Babble | Tri-Sci-Fi: A Chillogy | Tuesdays and Sundays | Waiter, Waiter | Wax & Wayne | Why They Invented Dancing | Wondering in Aliceland

For list of FringeNYC 2003 Awards, go here.

EDITOR'S NOTE: The Fringe Festival celebrates its 7th year by spreading its wings. For those who remember Fringe as a Lower East Side institution, this will take some getting used to. As the festival has become increasingly popular, it has also expanded its neighborhood. This year, for the first time, Fringe venues will go west, adding numerous theaters as far away as the West Village! This will be the largest festival yet -- well over 200 different shows will be presented at 20 locations.

Many people do their show-picking on the fly, but readers are advised to consider making reservations for popular shows they don't want to miss. What shows are those? We don't like to predict. The festival runs from August 8-24. Further information, schedules and reservations are available by phoning (weekdays 4-8 PM, weekends 2-8 PM) 212-279-4488 or 1-888-FRINGENYC; on the web at: or in person at Fringe Central, located at Manhattan Theatre Source, 177 MacDougal (@8th Street) from noon until 8 PM. Day-of-performance tickets are also available at the door at each venue, 15 minutes prior to the show. Prices: $15, reduced to $8 for kids 12 and under to FringeJR events and seniors. There are also passes: 5 shows for $65, 10 shows for $110 and the "Lunatic Pass," which entitles you to attend as many shows as possible, for $500.

Fringe Guides are available at Border's Books in Manhattan.

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.


Love: A Multiple Choice Question
Jamie Jackson's "one-man Australian musical," Love: A Multiple Choice Question, performed by this particular man from Oz, is an amusing personal tour-de-force for a very appealing performer. Imagine cabaret artiste Steve Ross as merged with Shakespearean/Star Trek Captain Patrick Stewart and vintage antic comic Jonathan Winters, add an ample portion of down-under congeniality and warmth, and perhaps you'll have a good idea of this show. The musical collaborator is SoHee Youn, who has provided nearly a dozen songs for Jackson's book and lyrics, and plays them on an upright piano with gusto and charm. The story is autobiographical, with transplanted East Villager Jamie returning to his outback roots in a search for the true meaning of love through his relatives, all of whom seem rather different than he remembered as a youth. The songs, while infused with considerable contemporary charm, are somewhat inspired by Gilbert and Sullivan and even English music hall traditions. The pacing and variety, as well as countless comic gestures, no doubt owe considerable debt to director Thom Garvey. The show is visually sparse, and while Jackson is adept at playing both sides of dialogues between assorted supporting characters and himself, a few selected costume and prop pieces, as used in the promotional materials, probably would enhance the work. I had a great time, although the venue exasperatingly simulated a sauna. At Ground Floor Theatre. 1 hour, 20 minutes. [Bradley]

Why They Invented Dancing
The libidinous European guy who's hitting on her is having an affair with her mother (and wouldn't mind having one with her brother's girlfriend as well), her friend is kinda sorta in a lesbian relationship with the singer in the local watering hole and her father is dating a younger man. It's no small wonder Tessa (Kate McDermott) is ready to give up not only on men but love. Enter James (John Zinn), who falls madly in love with her on the spot, and seems like the only one who even knows what love is. This is the basic setup for Chicago's Umalleniay Productions' Why They Invented Dancing. Weaving together text borrowed from four Chuck Mee plays about love, it's a charming, witty, thoughtful and highly original stab at defining the elusive term. Ten cast members are uniformly strong fleshing out the criss-crossing relationships while an older couple do a fine job punctuating the goings-on with excerpts from the park bench scenes in First Love (which those who saw the New York Theatre Workshop production will remember with Fred Neumann and Ruth Maleczeck). Elaine Robinson sings a host of popular songs, everyone (naturally) dances and Mikhael Garver (who also adapted it with cast member James Estabrook) stages the whole thing remarkably well. This is what last season's Broadway flop, The Look of Love, should have been. At Bank Street Theater. 1 hour, 30 minutes. [Gutman]

Tess' Last Night
This is a backstage musical about a Canadian girl (Carrie Libling) who moves to New York and quickly becomes a star. Press materials describe it as A Star is Born meets Tess of the d'Urbervilles and though I understand the former reference, the latter escapes me beyond the choice of name. All of the operative jokes about the theater and Canada are in force here; the wrinkle is that our Tess' fame comes by way of children's theater. Unfortunately, Tess's Last Night embraces the genre a bit too wholeheartedly. Bright-eyed enthusiasm and a lot of winking at the audience don't overcome the show's sketch-quality material. That said, there are some nice performances (most notably, Chris Schraufnagel and Breanna Pine) and David L. Williams does efficient work here as director (he also wrote the book), though the changes of scenery get in the way. Overall, there is too much sending up and not enough arriving. At Greenwich House. 2 hours (with intermission). [Gutman]

Wondering in Aliceland
It's not often that an actress steps onstage and announces that in 1995 she discovered she was God. But this is exactly what Alice J. Spritz, writer and star of Wondering in Aliceland, does. This one-woman show directed by Robert Vestal is about Spritz's journey through her mental breakdown and subsequent recovery in mid-'90s L.A. Her God epiphany was merely the culmination of a manic-depressive bipolar episode. It's a brave story, and Spritz is a good writer, but unfortunately she's not the best actress. Her vocal inflection, loud and brash to begin with, never varies, and subsequently it sounds like she's reading a script, rather than telling a story. If she had varied her movements somewhat, and not worn all black in an all-black room, it might have helped. As it is, it ends up being a somewhat boring hour. At The Red Room. 1 hour. [Sandman]

The Geldings
Crazy Ma Gelding has three sons and a sharp pair of scissors. The boys (Flem, Floss and Ross) live up to the family name. That becomes a potential problem for Handsome Flem Gelding (Andy Batt) when he scores a date with the Widow Claire (Lisa Vana). He solves the problem, sort of, when he acquires a prosthetic, sort of, device that also happens to be alive. (Don't ask.) This is the basic clever premise of Wm. Seebring's play with music. It's set in the Mythical American West, so it comes complete with the obligatory saloon and outlaw. Less typical but no less mythical, there's some gratuitous gender bending. When Mr. Seebring directs (which he does here), he's known by his real name, Douglas Michael. Perhaps he should reverse the arrangement, since his play is better than his directing. The latter is unnecessarily broad, and all of his actors seem determined to make sure they are nothing more than caricatures. The music comes by way of a guitar-strumming Singing Cowboy (Jim Graham) who's actually quite good. The acoustics of the venue were presumably kinder to Abraham Lincoln. At The Great Hall. 2 hours (with intermission). [Gutman]

Penny Penniworth
Chris Weikel's new play Penny Penniworth is one of the most professional and enjoyable shows I've seen in seven years of Fringe productions. Chocked full of archetypal characters from classical English novels Penny is described as "Dickens' lost epic." The story follows a bright young woman "known to all the world as Penny Penniworth " as she struggles to make her way in nineteenth century England. The near flawless script is lined with Weikel's wicked and uproarious humor. The cast, each of whom play a variety of characters, is comprised of Christopher Borg, Igor Goldin, Jamie Heinlein and Ellen Reilly. These delightful and masterful actors have perfected their performances and turn from one fully realized and distinct character to another in the blink of an eye. Under the skilled direction of Mark Finley, the play weaves its way effortlessly through the plot's hairpin curves to its climatic and most satisfying ending. In my opinion, Penny Penniworth is a rare find and could very well be the must see show of the 2003 Fringe. Not to mention that it is playing in the air-conditioned Linhart Theatre. 1 hour. [Marquet].

Acts of Contrition
If currency is your measuring stick for Fringe shows, this one, which addresses the Catholic Church's pedophilia scandal, has to be one of the best. If your gauge is tuned by thoughtful and well-written plays that are impeccably directed and finely acted, this one will also be at the top of your heap. Acts of Contrition brings together three priests, friends since their days in the seminary, who must confront and reconcile their faith, their personal bonds and the authority of the Church as one of them (Shiek Mahmud-Bey) unwittingly becomes a pawn in their Cardinal's (Gene Fanning) coverup of the Archdiocese's dirty little secrets. The team of Timothy Nolan (playwright), Vincent Marano (director) and Mahmud-Bey, who impressed us last year with The Way Out (for which Mahmud-Bey won a Best Performance Award), return to this year's festival with a play which is, if anything, even stronger. As the two unwavering priests, James M. Armstrong and Mark Gorman round out the cast of exceptional actors. Nolan writes from a particular point of view, which can't be faulted here. The power of his message is buttressed by humanizing his characters, while drawing a line which demarcates their calling. Under Marano's scrupulous direction, he manages to lace the Cardinal's hovering presence into a spiritual tug-of-war. Theater doesn't get more potent than this, and it's unlikely this year's Fringe will reveal a more significant show. At The Play Room. 1 hour, 30 minutes. [Gutman]

Cats Talk Back
Cats Talk Back, presented by get-out-of-yale-free productions, offers the conceit of a panel of "former cast members" of the late 18-year Broadway phenomenon in a mock, interactive chat with the audience. The five cast members onstage throughout the occasion are supplemented by several other participants planted in the audience, and have an apt, although unexpected, moderator in Jesse McKinley, theater columnist for The New York Times who describes the event as "a bridge of faith between East 4th Street and West 42nd Street." The event is a fully-scripted play, written and directed by Bess Wohl, although it often has the feel of improvisational theater with a heavy dose of glibness. Especially interesting are Jackson Gay as the ultimate veteran, her muscle memory frozen in cat's paw positions after enduring the full 18-year run, and Frank Liotti as a cocky lothario who confesses to having had sex with the entire feline cast. Highlights include an "abandoned darker song" from the show and a sample from Andrew Lloyd Webber's "other T.S. Eliot musical adaptation, The Wasteland. Quite a bit of the offering feels too sophomoric even by Fringe standards, but is nevertheless fun, perhaps more than the very show it mocks was for many genuine theater buffs. At the Kraine Theater. 1 hour, 10 minutes. [Bradley]

Sherlock Holmes and the Secret of Making Whoopee II: The Houdini Incident
With a title that only a Fringe producer could love, Sherlock, a sequel (or some close approximation thereof) to last year's offering by this group, demonstrates an appreciation for the finer things the Fringe aesthetic prompts. Entertain at all costs, and worry not about being silly; make sure you enjoy yourself, just be sure you don't do so at the expense of the audience. Yes, the show has a "lets-get-together-and-put-on-a-play" quality, only this time everyone involved oozes with talent. Holmes (Brandon T. Miller) figures prominently in this crime-solving spoof (which includes enough singing and dancing to qualify as a full-fledged musical, and enough cheeky humor to render a farce), but it's his creator, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (Adrian LaTourelle), at the center of the detective work here. The plot is just about beside the point, and too much fun to spoil. Suffice it to say, Conan Doyle becomes entangled with the victim's mother (Lael Logan, who also appears as every other woman in the piece), and its an eagerly awaited visit from Harry Houdini that's pivotal here. The play reveals many hitherto unknown details about these famous men, like Houdini's overlooked brother Hardeen (Jason Lindner) and that Conan Doyle is half leprechaun. Relax and have a laugh. At Greenwich House. 1 hour, 10 minutes. [Gutman]

Tuesdays and Sundays
Daniel Arnold and Medina Hahn have been performing this remarkable little play, which they wrote and produced, on Fringe stages around over the world (including all over their native Canada) for three years. It arrives in New York with a strong pedigree (including raves at last year's Edinburgh Fringe) and it is easy to see why. The writing is poetically beautiful, the story both charming and heartbreaking and the performances astonishing. It is a flashback, the bittersweet nature of its opening scene not hitting you until it's all done. Tuesdays and Sundays is based on a true story. Mary (Hahn), age 16, meets William (Arnold), age 18, on New Years Eve 1886; they immediately fall in love. That they are too young to know how to deal with the emotion is not surprising; that they don't know how to deal with its consequences becomes tragic. Good things come in small packages; very good ones indeed. At Greenwich Street Theatre. 45 minutes. [Gutman]

Peas & Carrots
If you know anything about life in the theatre, you will undoubtedly enjoy Peas & Carrots. Presented by the Courthouse Theatre Company, this collection of six witty comedies (and one song) toys with theatrical conventions. From the very first moment, the audience is welcomed into this off-kilter world. It's a world where audience members receive cell-phone calls from the characters on stage, an awkward couple's inner monologues get a little out of hand, and wealthy suburban socialites are freed from the tyranny of John Aschcroft by a foreign army. Clever and inventive, playwright Stephen O'Rourke has put together a solid evening of sketch comedy. The strong ensemble including Nick Balaban, William Franke, Kay Gayner, Shay Gines, Stephen O'Rourke, Ellen Reilly and Joel Van Liew brings a sense of mischief to the evening and are a joy to watch. My only criticism is that a couple of the sketches take a bit too long to conclude after the prevailing joke has been reveled. Peas & Carrots is a highly enjoyable evening of sketch comedy that will keep you guessing. At The Linhart Theatre. 1 hour, 15 minutes. [Marquet].

The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County
God bless Mark Twain. The consummate American satirist, his sense of humor is prescient (and still funny!) even now. Jess Lacher's new adaptation of his classic short story, The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County, is both faithful to the original and boldly theatrical. It begins with a ballad and a kazoo, features a Greek chorus of two musicians and a narrator, and even has puppets. Gambler Jim Smiley (Frank Smith) owes a pile of money to local bad guy Virgil Slade (Blake Longacre). Jim's wife Molly (Kristin Slaysman) suggests a frog-jumping contest, winner takes all, but naturally things don't work out as planned, and the ending gets &all twisty,& as the Narrator (Lee Overtree) puts it. Excellent performances by all. Should be a standout this year; Mark Twain would definitely approve. At Our Lady of Pompeii Demo Hall. 1 hour, 15 minutes. [Sandman]

One Shot
There is a lot written about the effect of films on young people. Well, Charlie Murray (Mark Kilmurry) is no child, but rather a lonely adult male obsessed with Robert De Niro. He spends nights in bed watching Raging Bull and Taxi Driver, writes to his hero, talks to him (or at least he imagines so) and, validated by the paranoia and rage of Travis and Jake, seemingly acts on it. (My major gripe with the show is that the reality/imagination line is not clearly drawn.) Kilmurry, who also wrote and directed here, is an impressive actor, whether impersonating both parts of a De Niro scene with Joe Pesci or reënacting his struggle with a barkeep when he gets too physical with a woman (who, oddly enough, refuses to see him thereafter). He began the show in Australia in 1993, and has toured internationally with it. It's a welcome addition to this year's Fringe. At The Independent. 1 hour. [Gutman]

Wax & Wayne
The best way to experience this rather remarkable theatrical event would be to know nothing of what transpires, but since flyers and advertisements which tell quite a bit abound, I'll describe how it begins and ends. As the audience enters, a life-size wax statue is onstage. Once the show commences, a man, Wayne (Larry Underwood), enters his studio. As he putters with his wax-molding paraphernalia and the statue, it starts to come to life. Soon, it is revealed to be a woman, Wax (Meghan Strell). By the rather astounding finalé, she will have encased him in wax, by lowering him into a vat containing what we are told in press materials is 200 pounds of molten candle wax. (This is not a simulation, and exactly why he doesn't end up in the emergency room is not explained.) What's most intriguing about Wax & Wayne, surprisingly, is not this coup de théeâtre, but what happens between the bookends, a thoughtful reflection on the nature of art. Strell and Underwood barely speak, and when they do it is in an unintelligible language. It matters not. As they proceed, Tom Howe provides background music, on an enormous assortment of unconventional instruments. (I gave up counting at ten, but they include a bicycle wheel and a set of tonally precise drinking glasses.) This is one of those rare experiences that won't be coming to a theater near you anytime soon. So, yes, go see it. At Our Lady of Pompeii. 1 hour, 10 minutes. [Gutman]

Believe the hype - the seating in the Washington Square United Methodist church is terrible. If you are lucky enough to be in one of the front rows, and/or an aisle, you just may be able to watch a show. Blessed with an aisle view, I watched Eva Dean Dance present three world premieres and one repertoire dance. The cast of solid female dancers (Jessica Calhoon, Mandy Sau-Yi Chan, Rachel Frank, Cassie Mey, Laura Nash, Meghan McCoy, Lynne Schlesinger, Emily Todras, Brooke Welty and Eva Dean herself) proved their focus and teamwork throughout the under-rehearsed event. "Moon Garden", a premiere, began the evening. Dean used different sized balls as a sort of fifth limb for the performers, spinning and sashaying the orbs around. This proved to be a light and generally pleasing piece, but these are the very same props that Dean recently created an entire show around - entitled, "Balls" and I was here to see her newest ideas. Next on the bill was the teen-aged piece entitled, "Welcome Back" - though evidently this is Dean's Old Faithful equivalent - so naturally I was a bit biased - it provided the content and questions of the night, expressing female repression in a singular and accessible fashion. The title piece ended the performance with color and noise, spewing dancers in Eighties prom dresses along with a mess of high heeled shoes onto the stage. The context was so different from "Welcome Back" it was... the same: female repression, expression, emotion. As Eva Dean's bio in the program stated, she grew up in Salt Lake City as one of 12 children. If she is not still working out personality and emotion repression from her early years I would be surprised, because her dances certainly still are. At Washington Square United Methodist Church, 1 hour, 20 minutes. [Cooper].

Black to My Roots
There aren't any bad hair days for this lively group of five African-American women. In a series of vignettes, mostly autobiographical-type monologues, the women talk and sing about their relationship to their hair. Coloring, relaxing, setting, braiding-it's all about self-image, or rather the image each one wants others to have about her. A radiant Kathya Alexander shames and cajoles her reluctant daughter into conforming to society's expectations for her. To the horror of her friends and acquaintances, Camille Y. Kennedy takes the plunge to get to just this side of the shaved look. While the stories are anchored within the Black experience, the majority of women in the West share these women's concerns about how they look to other people. Perhaps the tales, by a variety of authors, show that there is still work to do on the liberation front. Tyrone has directed the whole in docudrama style, with the silent members acting out aspects of each speaker's story. This is one of a handful of "FringeHIGH" shows, meaning the material is suitable for high schoolers and general audiences. How few events fall into this category is a commentary on how raunchy Fringe has become. At Westbeth Community Center. 1 hour, 15 minutes. [Lipfert]


While the technology might seem old-fashioned, the situation is up to the minute. Returning home from a hard day of work here in New York, Mexican immigrant Antonio has received a cassette tape after a long while from his wife Maria in Mexico. As he excitedly mixes his voice with hers on tape to answer her questions, she hints at something uncomfortable. Being a somewhat naive type, Antonio doesn't pick up on her change in attitude at first. Tequila replaces Mexican beer as he slowly realizes what has happened-and with the friend that took his presents and money to her. The way he copes is both unique and ultimately practical. By now Marco Aponte (Antonio) is a Fringe veteran, having appeared in two productions of Winter Under the Table in French and then in English. Under Lance Lattig's direction, he brings a humanity to the reality of the Mexican workers "on the other side" in the US. This adaptation is based on the play Ton beau capitaine by Simone Schwartz-Bart. At Westbeth Community Center. 50 minutes. [Lipfert]

El Sueño de Sor Juana
To write the kind of sensual poetry that Sister Juana Inés de la Cruz did in the 17th century could get you into a lot of trouble. As a Mexican nun, she invited the wrath of the Church and her order, which conveniently ignored the latent eroticism in establishment mystics like St. Theresa of Avila. By luck many of her writings were preserved, and these form the text portion of this lively production by Mujeres en Ritual Dance-Theatre Company. Mara Maciel and an ensemble of three other women tellingly declaim Sister Juana's words all the while making a highly varied dance/movement commentary. Mexican arts often connect past with present, and so to underline the poetry's not-so-hidden sexuality director Dora Arreola has the women appear first as Tijuana go-go dancers. They cycle through many costumes including floral folkloric dresses and modern dance black leotards to end up nuns, with apt mood and lighting changes to accompany the choice of verse. Just for the movement aspect the show is worth seeing. The modern dance parts have a charged physicality that stops short of the erotic to complement the open-ended quality of the words. This is the US premiere for El Sueño de Sor Juana. At Greenwich Street Theatre. 1 hour. [Lipfert]

Arsat is an adaptation of Joseph Conrad's "The Lagoon." This short drama tells the tale of a young Malayan man who abandons his brother in the midst of their enemies in order to pursue the woman he loves. The overall design of this piece is impressive. The Set Designer (uncredited) employs some simple elements that are very effective in the small space. The costumes give the play the feel of authenticity and the music (though a bit too loud in the beginning) sets just the right mood. The Fluid Motion Theatre has done an outstanding job of establishing character and environment however, they fall short when it comes to storytelling. The play is ambiguous and despite some committed performances, the production never quite captures the audience. I believe that the core of this problem lies in their use of the traditional Malaysian dance. (Which is ironic because that is the one element that really drew me to the piece in the first place.) It is meant to be compelling, but it ends up being effected and ultimately distracts from the relationship between the two brothers. The success of the play rests on understanding and empathizing with this relationship, which unfortunately never gets established on an emotional level in this production. The troupe would do better to allow the brothers more contact and find other ways to weave the dance into the show. At the Play Room. 30 minutes. [Marquet].

Deep Stories: From the Notebooks of Richard Foreman
No one can duplicate Richard Foreman; he is an island unto himself. In Deep Stories, director John Issendorf has cobbled together a play from pieces of Foreman's notebooks, published on the web. The text is mostly of a philosophical bent; parts of it resemble a Jim Jarmusch movie. And there's a puppet, perhaps not surprisingly -- puppets seem to be the big thing in the Fringe this year. Some good acting, especially by Piia Mustamaki who plays herself, but the text feels like what it is -- a collection of random discarded writings. It's just as incomprehensible as a Foreman original, but far less visually stimulating. Foreman fans should wait for the real thing. At Under St. Marks. 1 hour. [Sandman]

Adrian Rodriguez's fourth Fringe play is also his most difficult. Set in a 9-11-type incident, the action involves three separate groups: three rescuers, two trapped victims and one man watching it all unfold on TV. If you don't count the swift calamitous ending, they never meet either. But the themes they explore are the same: looking for solace in religion but finding only uncertainty and searching for truth in a world of untruth. They're bitter that they've lived "good" lives but now are looking death in the face. The TV viewer (John C. Cunningham) echoes the others' quest for truth and solace. Then he momentarily switches roles to become a leader (read President) getting expert coaching for a televised address meant to calm the masses. His improvised, sound-good rhetoric is a page out of the Blair/Bush "sexed-up" speeches that led to America's current disaster. Rodriguez has dealt with the bleakness before, in the immigrant/exile's life. (That was in his first two Fringe plays -- Mo(u)rning is number four.) But the despair here has touched all of us, or at least should. The characters are angry and they grab onto life by shouting out their anger to one another and to the audience in Arian Blanco's direction. (Note: the blackout hit midway during the performance under review in light-filled United Methodist Church. Resourceful Blanco made sound effects and did voiceovers from the balcony. In an ironic converse of the plot, neither audience nor cast realized that they were part of a larger debacle until after the show. This may be the "hottest" venue this year, but hand fans saved the day.) At Washington Square United Methodist Church, 1 hour, 30 minutes. [Lipfert]

Rock Show
The press materials for Rock Show say that they are "redefining the bounds of traditional theatre." That is an ambitious goal; one that I do not believe Rock Show accomplishes. Perhaps the innovation they are referring to is that this play is about a band and that original rock music is practically woven throughout the story. This idea however is not so innovative. In fact the story line itself is rather cliché??. This "Rock Theatre" piece is the story of the band "Group Therapy" and their struggle to make it big. There is considerable bickering about women and booze, grappling for control of the band and accusations of selling out. In the end, the band members realize that they love playing together and through solidarity they manage to sign a deal. Sound vaguely familiar? Rock Show does have promise, but the creators start the play with the band bickering and arguing. They have painted themselves into a corner with no place to go. They also bring up several plot points that have no bearing on the story or character development and therefore only manage to bog the play down. There are some good performances, which are all very grounded. It is obvious that the players are speaking from experience. Tyler Evens turns in the standout performance with his outlandish portrayal of record rep Nicky James. Carlos Bermudez is noteworthy in his dual roles of Paul the bartender and as the radio personality Dan Manson, and Chris Blisset wows the audience on lead guitar. Rock Show has the potential and the talent support but I would encourage the writers to go back to the original script and do some serious cutting. At The Great Hall. 2 hours, 15 minutes. [Marquet].

Carnival of the Animals
Part musical education, part entertainment, this condensed romp through Camille Saint-Saens's orchestra piece of the same gives the context for this puppet piece. Todd Robbins directs his narrative to the kids in the audience at Wings Theatre. A sleepy young boy dozes off after a haphazard piano practice to dream of the animals in the musical depiction. And out they come in all shapes and sizes. There are enough clever transformations and witty sequences to hold even the youngest kids' attention. Designer Bob Brown covers the range of puppetry techniques, from bunraku (the outsized boy) and marionette (a turtle ballerina) to hand and rod varieties. There is even a black-light aquarium sequence for good measure. It's a family affair with Judy Barry Brown as writer/director and Peter Brown plus Krista Brown Robbins as the two happily overworked puppeteers. The well-worn puppets and set elements are a bit tatty, but that doesn't spoil the fun. At Wings Theatre. 35 minutes. [Lipfert]

There is another interesting drama at this year's Fringe, Lance Tait's Synesthesia in its world premiere. Detective Yevchenko (Damian Corcoran) interviews musicology professor Perova (Stephanie Campion) to solve a recent double murder there at the Kiev Conservatory. Yevchenko has done his homework. He has gathered rich detail about the two deceased visiting professors, a couple that had formed a liaison, and their relationship to Perova. He also knows a lot about composers like Alexander Scriabin that attempted in their highly emotional works to combine all the senses, or synesthesia. It's an odd topic for guarded and emotionally stunted Perova, like many people that develop intense careers from childhood. Alternatingly probing and reassuring, he succeeds in dislodging her feelings -- jealousy of the dead woman and love for the man. Seconded by Tait's musical score of electronics plus opera, she imagines conversing with the man of her dreams in mini mad scenes. Yevchenko's hunch is right. Playwright Lance Tait has done his musical homework as well. The musical references are not the usual superficial variety, and the psychological dimension is believably explored. Masterful acting by Corcoran and Campion plus Tait's superb direction make a winning combination. At Bottle Factory Theater, 1 hour, 30 minutes. [Lipfert]

Meaningless Sex
More than most theatrical forms, musical theater flourishes when fertilized with abundant collaboration. I mention this in connection with Meaningless Sex, a new musical enjoying its first airing at this year's Fringe Festival, because it underscores the show's weaknesses and points to what areas need to be examined if it is to have a future. Unlike several other musicals I've reviewed previously in this year's Fringe coverage, this one at least has reason to grow. It's a backstage musical with a story to tell. (In brief, the young interior cast explores sex, love and their attitudes towards both, with each other or not.) The book (by Brendan Clifford) is too heavy and confusing right now (in particular, its structure which jumps between a bar scene after the closing night of a musical and episodes in the past is inadequately grounded), but the music and lyrics (by Seth Bisen-Hersh) are generally quite good and there is an talented cast (especially leading man Ari Butler). The situations presented should be familiar ones to these actors, yet Director Andrew Henkes puts them through paces that make them seem artificial. I doubt they were ever consulted. Similarly, though I liked many of the songs, Mr. Bisen-Hersh (who served as his own musical director, most likely a mistake) provides arrangements that are far too formal and serious-sounding for the circumstances, and Mr. Henkes compounds the problem by staging them in a fashion that is calculated to undercut their integration (which is not a problem inherent in the songs themselves). Can this ship be righted? Yes. Maybe someday we will get to see if the creators have what it takes. At The Great Hall. 1 hour, 40 minutes. [Gutman]

Plainly stated, Nosferatu is a fun show. Inspired by the 1922 silent film by the same name, this production employs projections, shadow puppets and rod puppets to tell the classic vampiric tale. The story follows the travels of young Thomas and his encounter with the eerie blood drinking Count. Written, directed and designed by Deborah Hertzberg, Nosferatu is campy and charming. Hertzberg and her puppeteers manage to create some imaginative characters that display the broad melodramatic style of the silent film era while capturing some very subtle performances. I was impressed by the design and the number of inventive storytelling techniques that were used to create the over-all effect. As proven by their audible reactions throughout the play, the audience (which consisted of 49 adults and 1 child) was also delighted. Congratulations to Ms. Hertzberg, Cat's Paw Collective and the Puppeteers: Tony Chiroldes, Ceili Clemens, Michael Latini and Russel Tucker on their professional and entertaining production. At the Cherry Lane Studio. 45 minutes. [Marquet]

After a few minutes into their laugh-filled show, Richard Harrington and Chris Kauffman have the audience in their hands. Gustave (Harrington) has a lifelong dream of seeing the Yeti, a sort of abominable snowman cum Norwegian mountain troll. That's what his grandmother put him up to. With Nhar (Kauffman) as mostly silent sidekick, they're off to the North Pole. It might be a one-way journey, but they are equipped to make the most of it. As he reminds us incessantly, Gustave is a cabaret singer. And so we get lots of songs, all delivered in the same deadpan humor as his dialogue in super French accent. Nhar mimes the lyrics and otherwise makes his presence riotously funny. And he is the center of the show's main gimmick. At the beginning the audience gets a supply of low-impact golf-ball-sized pellets. Whenever Nhar seems to enter into a deep-freeze Arctic sleep, that's the cue to start bombarding him with the pellets to keep him awake. It works. And it's fun. So, does the big encounter take place? You bet, and the Yeti (Kauffman inside a painted mask) even does a cool dance. Scoop National Enquirer and see it for yourself. Superb direction is by Patricia Buckley. At The Red Room. 1 hour. [Lipfert]

This show is called "an electronic rock opera". Between that and the title, one might conclude it's an earplug affair. It isn't. Here, "electronic" means that the score is delivered entirely by synthesized music and "rock opera" means it's substantially sung-through. The title doesn't refer to the music but to a bomb blast (which isn't all that loud when it finally happens either). The story centers on Parker (Michael Justen), a 16 year old with lots of chips on his shoulder. Finding himself grounded, he squirrels up in his room and builds a bomb. The explosion has what, for now, I'll just call unforeseen effects. There are also subplots (not particularly tethered to the main plot) involving adult romance and the fact that his father (Luca Grella) is a closet case. The music is not bad; I wish I could say the same for the lyrics. (One of the downsides of being a rock opera, I suppose, is that there's lots of dialogue and narrative delivered either ineffectively or in ham-handed recitative.) Then there's the book which, though relatively straightforward, leaves a lot to be desired dramaturgically. Peter Flint's direction is generally agile, and he is the only director who, confronted with the particular problems of the venue, had the good sense to bring the action onto the orchestra floor when he could. (The raised stage was utilized only as Parker's upstairs bedroom.) There are some good singers in this cast (the women, Debra Pitkin and Clark Mims, and Jeffrey Forte, in particular), though the only notable acting came via Mr. Grella. At The Great Hall. 1 hour, 45 minutes. [Gutman]

Citizen Walken
The tagline for this production is, "A journey through the mind of Christopher Walken," but something along the lines of, "come be an audience member for a faux Christopher Walken talk show" would have been more appropriate. Writer and performer Peter Loureiro most certainly does a hysterical, just-enough-over-the-top impression of this celeb. As the evening progresses, and Christopher Wisner (who plays everyone else in this show) comes out with deliberately hideous costume and makeup, the air in the theater turns oppressive. It dawns on me that this kooky, original idea is like a Saturday Night Live skit...That never ends. Over an hour later, Wisner comes out again as yet another character, this time as a second incarnation of Walken himself. Here is where the show shines. Hearing the duo's staccato speech and seeing doubly edgy eyes and body movements is downright hysterical and captivating, giving the long line of method acting jokes a much needed break (other visitors include Al Pacino, Jamie Farr and The Actors Studio host James Lipton). As a mode to quenching our societal thirst for celebrity dirt (true or false), this show hits the mark. But this was no Being John Malkovich, which gave its audience a truly odd and new perspective on the industry that is celebrity. This production definitely wins the award for most clever cell phone/pre-show announcement - telling us all to please turn our cell phone ringers to the loudest possible volume, and to be sure to unwrap candy at the most dramatic moments. At Ground Floor Theater. 1 hour, 15 minutes. [Cooper]

Jokes and Their Relation to the Unconscious
As stated at the beginning of the performance the goal of Jokes and Their Relation to the Unconscious is to "kill humor for all time". "Why would you want to do such a thing?" you may well be asking yourself. And the answer is that creator Greg Allen thought it would be funny. The premise of this production is that a team of "scientists" (for lack of a better term) is conducting a theatrical experiment. The purpose of this study is to first analyze what is funny and then explain it to the audience until it is no longer funny, thus killing comedy. The audience plays the part of unsuspecting guinea pigs in this experiment. With the skill of surgeons, the three performers, Allen, Andy Bayiates and Heather Riordan slice into this piece, hilariously exhibiting and dissecting various comedy routines. They throw around psychological terms and quote Freud and Milton Berle among others. The cast are all expert performers with impeccable comedic timing. Riordan is so charming in fact that she actually convinces random audience members (both male and female) to remove their shirts. Scientifically speaking, perhaps the best way to review Jokes and Their Relation to the Unconscious is to relate my response to it. I laughed so hard at one point during the performance that my eyes were watering. On our way home, my companion and I recited sections of the dialogue to one another, giggling all the way and I found myself smiling as I recalled the show the next day while walking down the street. Those are all trademarks of a great evening of comedy. I am happy to report that the Neo Futurists unequivocally fail in their attempts to drive the final nail into the coffin of humor. Fortunately for us, they will continue to try. At the Bank Street Theatre. 1 hour, 30 minutes. [Marquet].

Tri-Sci-Fi: A Chillogy
Everyone seems to be looking for the next musical hit to come from Fringe. While Tri-Sci-Fi might not be it, there are a number of pleasures for fans of this genre. Chief is the music, by Edmund Cionek, which nicely bounces along with a heavy dollop of jazz rhythms. Among the lively performers, Patti Wyss, Stewart Gregory and Monte Wheeler make a good impression. (The latter has some gorgeous tones in his speaking range, but don't try to imitate his technique.) Dennis Deal's direction is standard if crisply executed. Would that his lyrics (with Albert Evans and Patti Wyss) were on the same level as the rest of the show. Or even intelligible. The first section of this trilogy of roughly half-hour segments is an odd juxtaposition of Henry David Thoreau with a 60s Village composer and 70s author that contends Thoreau cavorted with space aliens. After that I lost the thread amidst all the trendy themes including the current favorite, gender bending. Still a lot of good elements if musicals are your thing. At Ground Floor Theatre, 1 hour, 35 minutes. [Lipfert]

How To Act Around Cops
This deeply and darkly funny play would rate a "good" under most any circumstance, but is propelled upward by a cast of fine young actors and the able yet simple direction of Jon Schumacher. There's a hefty dose of false advertising in the show's title, not that anyone's likely to go for educational reasons; "How Not To..." is closer to the mark. And although it might best be described as Fargo meets The Twilight Zone, some will be prone to recall Macbeth by the time it's over. Cops plays out in three interconnected scenes, and in each the cop (Chris Kipiniak) doesn't exactly uphold the law he's sworn to uphold. The first scene finds Barnum (Andrew Breving) and Madson (Matthew Benjamin) jittery (and for good reason) as the cop follows their car. In the second, the nervous tension is prompted by the cop's untimely appearance at the door of a motel room in which Madson is in the company of K.C. (Fringe's reigning staple, Susan O'Connor) and Jimmy (Josh Carpenter). Barnum's arrival doesn't help matters. And the the final scene, an African American couple (Marc Webster and Veronica Welch) unwittingly become entangled with Barnum and the cop at a crash scene. There are some leaps of logic on display, but with performances like these, who's complaining. At Cherry Lane Studio. 1 hour, 30 minutes. [Gutman]
The show is transferring to The Kraine, 85 East 4th Street (Bowery & 2nd Avenue -- F train to 2nd Ave. or #6 to Astor Plac.e) from September 5-19, Fridays at 10:30pm and Mondays at at 8:00pm. 212-868-4444.

Poseidon! An Upsidedown Musical
Whether one loves or hates the mother of all disaster movies, it'll be hard to resist this musical celebration thereof. Only those who have somehow avoided the flick altogether might want to steer clear. This Chicago import is filled with camp (a bevy of drag queens (and a king) and new gay subplots galore), but it's of the highest order -- smart, laugh out loud funny and even poignant at times. (Book, music and lyrics by David Cerda, additional music by Scott Lamberty). The cast of 25 (!!) is terrific, and the staging (David Zak) and choreography (Kristen Folzenlogen) are exceptional. The songs are fun, and remind us well of the film's most memorable moments. Highlights include "Just Panties (What Else Do I Need)," sung by Linda Rogo [the Stella Stevens character](the torchy Molly Faith) and Belle Rosen [Shelley Winters] (the uber-padded Steve Kimbrough) singing "(In the Water) I'm A Very Skinny Lady". Other standouts are Joe Waterman as James Martin [Red Buttons], Joshua Campbell as Robin Shelby [Eric Shea] and Ed Jones as Nonnie Parry [Carol Lynley]. Don't miss this boat; trust me, it won't sink. At Our Lady of Pompeii, Demo Hall. 2 hours (with intermission). [Gutman]

Call It Peace: Meditations from North America
This play, one of a pair, presumably is linked to its earlier companion (set in Vietnam) in examining human brutalities in recent and contemporary times. The present work concerns two hostages held in a turbulent third world environment, apparently the Philippines, although the precise location seems of little consequence. Rich (Richard Scudney) is a young American journalist, who, after six months in abusive incarceration, is joined by Cal (Blake Catherwood), an even younger fellow who is on a backpacking excursion from his native Canada. Their developing enforced relationship and Rich's recollections and fantasies of his fiancée Abby propel the dialogue, which reflects the grim, desperate, and tense nature of their present lives. Although writer Pennino achieves remarkable vividness in his characters, his purpose never achieves clarity. Rants about misused power and man's inhumanity to man become tiresome and the play, while dotted with worthy moments and energetic staging by Matthew Freeman, too often plays as an episodic unfinished noisy polemic. Both of the male actors serve the script well, and Scudney is especially effective as Rich. At Under St. Marks. 1 hour, 10 minutes. [Bradley]

This is a joyous and stylishly camp production inspired by the 19th century operetta, retaining the full score. Pinafore! already has experienced a successful run in Los Angeles, has issued a CD of the music as performed in that engagement, and recently has spawned a second company now playing in Chicago. Presumably the efforts to bring this lavish and hilarious production essentially intact from the west coast signals an impending open run here in New York. That would be very welcome, for Mr. Savage's contemporary take on the material is joyously entertaining, combining contemporary political satire and a gay-friendly sensibility with the enduring music and notions of Gilbert and Sullivan. He has been aided amply by all his co-creators and leading players, notably including choreographer Ken Roht, costume designer Mia Gyzander and set designer Robert Pryor. All their energies combine into a frothy escape that even has something to say. Heading the cast are R. Christofer Sands as a cross-dressing son to a U.S. Navy captain (his superb countertenor voice and dead-on comic timing suggest the brilliance of Charles Ludlam with operatic talent added), Christopher Andrew Hall as an appealing sailor with a mysterious past, and Debra Lane as the buxom beauty with the key to the story's mysteries. The setting, indicated as "the U.S.S. Pinafore docked off [landlocked!] Palm Springs, CA" is a clear indication of Mr. Savage's joyously delirious take on a classic. At Wings Theatre. 2 hours, 15 minutes (with intermission). [Bradley]

Sides: The Fear is Real
Sides: The Fear is Real is a delightful show, developed in improvisation by a half-dozen young actors who seem to have done the entire production by themselves. In truth, the scenes seemed improbable at first, but quickly rose to a finesse that made them believable, fascinating, and often funny. The show begins with individual introduction auditions in which inhibitions, insecurities and cocky assurances (one candidate is from Yale, another from Juilliard) are displayed. Then we see the same film scene played six different ways by each of the candidates with alternating companions as the director's representative. One of the four females (I have no way of telling which one) hilariously played an exasperating Hollywood director's assistant called "Cass!" who was a frustrated actress herself. The show concludes with a convulsively funny dance ensemble involving mostly inept dancers and one show-off with an unpredictable back ailment. While all these players probably identify as Asian-American, they amusingly, aptly, and artfully represent young actors in America of any origin. At Kraine Theater. 1 hour, 20 minutes. [Bradley]

Third Floor, Second Door on the Right
I attended this play on the strength of my vivid memories of Allan Arbus's occasional but always sensitive and memorable performances over many years as Major Sidney Freedman, the psychiatrist on the television version of M*A*S*H. In this production involving several members of Arbus's family and aptly noted as produced by "The Family Business," the press release tells us that the unnamed man Arbus plays "is interviewed by a female reporter about his famous, recently deceased friend, and is forced to examine the complex, unresolved feelings of admiration and resentment that haunt him. In doing so, he faces the devastating impact which this relationship has had on his identity." While Arbus, even at 80, is an appealing and handsome presence on stage, the play and direction give him little opportunity to shine, and instead the audience is given a slowly paced, understated and often monotonal if convincingly contemplative monologue. His best moment is when he hears some familiar music, and his face lights up to make stage magic. Why the virtually mute reporter even is brought onstage is a mystery, for she brings nothing to the proceedings, and is given no more to say than "Well, okay." She doesn't even get a chance to say "hello" or "goodbye" or provide polite niceties when the old gent serves her some food. While this play could have been an interesting minor key male perspective companion to Samuel Beckett's near monodrama Happy Days, it instead is best described by the man's final words: "cheated out of [an] ending,... left useless, dangling on the edge, unfinished." At Cherry Lane Studio. 1 hour, 15 minutes. [Bradley]

Ashira69:Episode 1 Cult to the Chase
Complete with a badass theme song, this female adventure/quest, while a lot of fun, is something of a madcap muddle. Billed as a satire, it's actually more silly than satire. The show, an episode in the continuing story of Ashira, superhero, is energetic and cute, if not spicy. The broad acting and rambunctious fighting of the principals were greeted with laughs from the full house at the Aug 19, 3PM performance. The Fringe Festival is a good place for this show. It's on the right track, but it needs a destination. At The Playground. 1 hour, 10 minutes. [Osenlund].

Girlie Magic
Artistic differences resulted in a no-show. No show and no one at the ticket table either! Whatever happened to The show must go on? Moments before the show was scheduled to begin, a prospective audience member found a tiny note amid the clutter on the ticket table. It read: "Thank you so much for showing up at this performance. Unfortunately, there was a dispute between the director and the writer, so we (dancers) decided not to perform." Would have been at the Great Hall at Cooper Union. [Osenlund].

Brain Freeze
John Kawie's Brain Freeze transmutes the suffering of a stroke and the enduring of rehab and therapy into a one-man show. Part stand up, part infotainment, writing it must have provided therapy for Kawie, whose speech is fine, but who suffers residual stroke effects on his left side. He does a mean " mother on the phone," but he really starts cooking with gas in his reenactment/send up of a group therapy session complete with a puppet BS detector. Brain Freeze is a worthy effort, but has been rehearsed and performed so many times that it needs loosening up to connect to the audience of the moment rather than descend into shtick. At The Independent. One hour. [Osenlund].

Finally, a Fringe musical this year that realizes that taking yourself seriously doesn't mean taking yourself seriously. Slut is lots of fun, but the creators of this show haven't settled for the campy mess the show's Fringe-catchy title might suggest. Already in its fifth incarnation, there's plenty of evidence they've been working hard developing and staging this outing. A fine cast has been assembled, and though the production values may still be Fringe quality, the execution is well beyond the norm. It's your typical boy-meets-girl-and-girl-and-girl story, focusing on Adam (Stephen Bienskie), his nerdy best friend Dan (Josh Tyson) and the girl who has caught the attention of both, Delia (Nicole Ruth Snelson). Act One covers the better part of a year, and manages to end with two to the show's best songs, "True Love" (featuring Ms. Snelson, with Jeff Hiller and Natalie Joy Johnson) and the often hyperspeed "The Thing Of It Is" (between Ms. Snelson, Mr. Biekskie and Mr. Tyson). Act Two, set a year later, finds the trio much transformed, adds a good element of poignancy and ends, in fine musical comedy tradition, when boy gets girl. (The second act opener, "The Life," is especially effective.) There's some trimming of the book that's in order (the cast of nine portrays over 40 characters onstage at one time or another, and some of them represent show elements that need to be jettisoned), and the music could use some additional attention, but altogether this is a Fringe treat that looks and feels like it can and should have a future. At Wings Theatre. 2 hours (with intermission). [Gutman]

The Tale of Rancor
This is a funny and surprisingly meaningful fairy tale/parable about a town (called Rancor) in which (for reasons which are obscure but eventually disclosed) smells are deemed evil and are thus banned. What makes it special, and highly entertaining, is the astonishing stage wizardry of UK-based Blue Inc. ensemble that devised and performed it. These are Lecoq-trained performers who put their background to exemplary use, combining movement, some puppets, many wigs and a host of very ordinary props and cut out boards to fashion a story which is both clear and clearly and hysterically enjoyable. This is just the sort of skilled inventiveness that should define the Fringe. Readers in Philadelphia might be interested to know the troupe will decamp for the City of Brotherly Love next week. At Cherry Lane Studio. 1 hour, 30 minutes. [Gutman]

Blurring Shine
Shine (formerly Stanley) is a budding adult -- a teenage black man negotiating life with his mother in a stereotypical urban community. His estranged advertising executive brother suddenly calls Shine to his office -- and offers him a large sum of money in order to let his company research Shine's personality. Consistent interviews by the company take place throughout the performance, often leaving Shine feeling vulnerable and confused. Zakiyyah Alexander, the writer, has taken two controversial ideas and woven them together into this lengthy one-act. How much control over our desires, and over society, does advertising have? What are the effects of the 21st century black male stereotypes on the individual? The latter is approached and dealt with in an engaging and refreshingly blatant manner, while the former feels forced and ordinary. This all male cast is very solid (Ed Blunt, Mtume Gant, Burl Moseley, muMs and Dorian Missick), revealing surprisingly vulnerable testosterone moments -- perhaps to be credited to director Dominique Dawson. The two brothers provide societal contrast, having opposite lifestyles, body language and speech -- yet similarly working minds. Blurring Shine constitutes all the qualities of a good Fringe show -- an edgy, strong production whose script has much potential along with multiple problems, some big (the over the top use of the advertising world), some little (who would ever face a framed picture away from their desk chair?). Importantly, theater like Blurring Shine that expresses the fallout of minority stereotypes is long overdue. At The Greenwich Street Theatre. 1 hour, 40 minutes [Cooper]

Take German Expressionism and mix with Whose Line Is It Anyway, Chicago's Neo-Futurists and MTV and you will have Neo/Retro/Woyzeck. Let me explain; a cast of six young actors (all of whom look like they just walked out of a Calvin Klein ad) have taken Georg Buchner's unfinished play Woyzeck and assigned numbers and theatrical styles to 20 scenes of said play. The audience is given a list of these scenes along with their corresponding numbers. They are then encouraged to yell out numbers to the players who will act out that scene. This means that the scenes are performed randomly with no discernable order to the play. The actors have one hour to complete all 20 scenes. When the buzzer goes off -- no matter where they are or how many of the scenes they have completed -- they must stop and perform the final scene. Sounds crazy doesn't it? It is crazy. But it works. Based on pop cultural references, the scene styles include everything from "Tony Soprano's Cappuccino" to "The Expressionist Mime." Admittedly, some styles work better than others; however, the high energy cast makes them all entertaining. Director Robert Knopf has put together a charismatic and versatile ensemble consisting of: Robert Franklin Neill, Dara Setzman, Luke Rosen, Daniel Leary, Tristan De Boer and Danielle Quisenberry. Together they have created a fun and novel approach to this theatrical classic. At the Cherry Lane Studio. 1 hour, 20 minutes. [Marquet].

This is a show that can't seem to make up its mind what it wants to be. Is it a full-fledged musical, or just an extended camp-filled cpmedy sketch. There are times when it seems to be aiming for the former, but just as it starts to succeed, it edges back into a half-assed spoof. (Book, music and lyrics are by D'Arcy Drollinger.) The basic plot (three tony New York women go to the same plastic surgeon who implants devices in their heads which, through a process he calls "integration," turns them into unwitting assassins) has some promise, but the show's overlong book is pedestrian and filled with recognitional humor (the show's biggest laughs come in reaction to references like Percoset® and Jocelyne Wildenstein) whereas its music is only occasionally original (or integrated). The staging (musical and otherwise) is good, and the fight choreography (think The Matrix on a stage) exceptional. Newcomer Laura LeBleu, who portrays the heroine, Jacqueline Tilton, is a real find; Brandon Olson, mostly known to us from Dixon Place (where he performed several of his own shows), demonstrates broader chops here as Mr. Tilton's chauffeur (would that he had a more substantial vehicle in which to shine); and Candis Cayne is perfectly cast. Where will Scalpel go from here? Hopefully back to the drawing board. At Wings Theatre. 2 hours (with intermission). [Gutman]

Rumi's Math
Mystical Sufi poet Molana Jalal-e-Din Mohammad Molavi Rumi wrote of discovering Divine love deep inside our own hearts. The universe awaits us inside, and the journey there is the most important one we can undertake. Heady thoughts, maybe too heady for a theatrical presentation. Director and scriptwriter Handan Ozbilgin portrays this quest in two aspects. One is an American woman (Jessica Marie Smith) dreaming of another woman, a kind of soul mate (Gulcin Hatihan), that her soul urges her to meet. She is aided by a group of five goddesses. This quest is amplified in an interesting video that spins the same story amid the subways of New York. Signs and symbols, including a red jacket studded with mirror fragments, abound. She reaches her goal, but unfortunately this all-female cast may not be the best to open the uninitiated to the realm of Rumi (also known as Molavi). It's a more earthbound event here. Also to this observer that associates Rumi with a mature men's world, the girl's prep school atmosphere is jarring. However, any effort to broaden Rumi's appeal is always to be welcomed. At Teatro La Tea. 1 hour. [Lipfert]

Le Livre Blanc
Jean Cocteau's 1928 kiss and tell confessional of his early sex experiences form the basis for this Journeymen production. While the aim of the company is to promote good things like tolerance and diversity, Frank Pullen's adaptation of Cocteau talks more about eroticism than successfully explores it. The result is that we see a parade of encounters, unfortunately all narrated in similar tone by Jean-Paul Menou. Mark Konold and Joseph Krstyen portray the people around the young Cocteau. Pullen's direction doesn't offer much variety in mood, perhaps because he didn't get beyond Cocteau's probable distillation and distancing-tricks of the writer but an enemy of the theater. In any case it's a far cry from Pullen's lively Einstein's Dreams, given at a previous NY Fringe Festival. At Greenwich Street Theatre, 1 hour, 30 minutes. [Lipfert]

Best known for his populist novels, French author Honoré de Balzac also produced novels and short stories with occult, almost sci-fi themes. Such is the tale of the androgynous Séraphita, unattainable love object of a man and a woman. When Séraphita convinces both that they are attempting the impossible, the couple marries. All-female Treaders in the Snow company presents this odd but engrossing story as choreographed by Naeko Shikano. As the stately title character, Mana Hashimoto is slowly enveloped in a long black train of cloth first by the man (Naeko Shikano) then by his future wife (Megumi Onishi). Shikano goes straight for the metaphysical essence of the story, and she distills the underlying passion into expressive movement. As the couple becomes released from their attachment to Séraphita, they begin to twist and twirl. Then Séraphita ascends to a higher realm (to a platform at the rear) while the man and woman find repose. Unfortunately the choreographic material doesn't support the length of this abbreviated piece. Yet the emotional portrayals, especially by Hashimoto, are memorable. As are Courtney Logan Rika's varied yet understated costumes perfectly in keeping with the elevated treatment of the theme. During the bows it comes as a surprise to realize that Hashimoto is blind. At Washington Square United Methodist Church. 45 minutes. [Lipfert]

Caravan to Cairo
Led by Samara, four talented women dancers take us on a delightful tour of Arabic lands from Al-Andalus (Spain) to Arabia. Egypt is the uncontested center of dance, and the complex belly dance the most characteristic example. Colors swirl, finger cymbals cling and coin headdresses and belts clink away during this audience-friendly presentation. Some dances have their stately aspects, like the Algerian Ouled Nail, while most of the others are more frankly sensual. A Saudi duet, Raks Khaleegi, with dancers Reyna and Andrea in elegant modern robes, offers a glimpse onto more ancient traditions of the Near East. A suite of four dances from far-flung locales in the Arabic-speaking world plus Turkey perhaps doesn't reflect gypsy influence as the voiceover would have it, but it is no less enjoyable for the lack. Morgiana narrates a Moroccan folk tale of the Jinn of the Feather Cloak as a showcase for Samara's expressive dancing. Only the haphazard finale disappoints. At Washington Square United Methodist Church. 1 hour. [Lipfert]

Waiter, Waiter Actor/waiter, actress/waitress -- there's plenty of comic material to be mined, but David Simpatico goes for the tired rather than the simpatico. A middle-aged couple (Lee Blair, Dana Vance) celebrate their anniversary dinner bickering over a last-ditch attempt at conceiving a child before it's hormonally and chronologically too late. Insults are on the menu, but their waitress (Jane Young) is on the receiving end as well. In fact it's a downright nasty scene onto which Simpatico liberally sprinkles cheap laugh signals, to which the audience dutifully responds. (Even fellow waiter Michael Govia flashing his abs can't save the evening.) After the couple finally exit, there's a scene shift to the waiters' hangout room, where Simpatico's writing and Christopher Graboswki's hackneyed direction descend into the raunchy. The action is supposed to be contemporaneous with the one of the restaurant floor just seen. Young curses her patrons continuously and her seven cohorts respond in a chorus of cheap ethnic and minority-oriented "jokes". By the way, there's even a murder to further muddy the murky waters. Vance seems capable of more, but there is one clear standout. That's Zandy Hartig who offers a fresh, unclichéd portrayal of Betty from Wisconsin. But what's a wholesome Midwest girl like her doing in that mess? At Greenwich House Theatre. 1 hour, 30 minutes. [Lipfert]

Tower of Babble
Ever wonder what goes on while you're on hold with Customer Service? Jennifer Ostrega shows us in her clever spoof on the insides of corporate life, Tower of Babble. Maybe your Care Consultant is having lunch (here half an ear of corn) or practicing her tango technique. The lilting, seemingly friendly voice of Mrs. Thomas at the other end won't give up her secret so easily. This and many other corporate characters populate the world of media conglomerate Babble, Inc., where everything under the sun can be marketed. Marketing and "Corporate Branding" is Lindsey Collins Collingkop's fiefdom, where the corporate chant "YAY!" reigns supreme. She nonchalantly presents a star employee award to tongue-tied Polly Morrison right along with a pink slip. Welcome to the modern corporation. And where does the newly-independent worker go? To the Transitional Center for 10 free minutes of New Age babble on the seven rhythms of life. Of course Marcy in Human Resources could have offered one of her life-saver tips: Casual Fridays doesn't mean you should dress casually. Between filing her nails and fielding personal calls, that is. It all sounds wacky but rings true for anyone that has been a Perm-A-Lancer, or worker-drone in Babble-speak. Wide-eyed Ostrega revels in her sharply-drawn characters. Michael Schiralli is the able director of this madcap world. The show won't be pink-slipped for a while: there's an extended run here in the city. At The Independent, 45 minutes. [Lipfert]

Henry 5
"The best thing about Henry V is its idea to attack France," says Henry, the simple-minded street vendor whose character is at the heart of Henry 5. Having been inspired by a discarded copy of the play, he reenacts scenes from Henry using Army toys, flashlights, bottles of water, and the occasional sound effect. He even employs a couple of scenes from Patton. All the references to the English have been changed into references to America; in this world, America attacks France for refusing to aid the U.S. in the Middle East. This adaptation highlights the militaristic aspects of the play, turning it into something resembling a war movie. Thaddeus Phillips, the designer and performer, is versatile and original, but the play feels thrown together. The most original part of Henry 5 was pitting the Americans, represented by regular water bottles, against the French, represented by Perrier bottles. A good idea that lost something in the translation. At Teatro La Tea. 1 hour, 15 minutes. [Sandman]

Carrot and Stick
Set in a sort of subconscious carnival world, Carrot and Stick is an odd little piece that follows Conrad (played by Chris Alonzo) on his quest to win back the girl of his dreams. In order to accomplish his task, he must procure a bottle of wine, a bottle of whiskey and a rose. As fate would have it, Conrad is torn away from his goal when he is robbed at his local ATM and thus his adventure begins. In clownish vignettes, Conrad encounters and befriends, the afore mentioned burglar, a washed up pop-singer, an impassioned motorist and a dead guy. Wizard of Oz-like, all of these random characters help our hero to obtain the objects he needs to fulfill his quest. The clown work and designs for Carrot and Stick are outstanding. The cast is well prepared and embrace the style with precise timing and colorful characters. Jeremiah! is especially good as Eddie the deceased stand-up comic and Eric Alan Scott turns in a fine performance as both the Carnival Barker and the Burglar. The cast is rounded out by Alexis Toone, Juliet Schaefer-Jeske and Bina Chauhan. The surprise ending goes a long way to helping this piece. There are some interesting and intriguing ideas and some clever uses of the style, but in the end, I do not believe it won over its audience. Carrot and Stick never quite lives up to its potential. At The Kraine Theatre. 1 hour. [Marquet]


Overall Production:
Tuesdays & Sundays
Cats Talk Back

Solo Show:
Freedom of Speech
Brain Freeze
A Life In Her Day
Tom Crean - Antarctic Explorer

Jon Schumacher - How To Act Around Cops

Alexander Gemiganai - TheTrapped Family Singers
Kathryn Foster - Final Countdown
Boo Killebrew - This Is A Newspaper
Rick Batalla - Blake... da Musical

John Ficarra - Scalpel
Ksenia Vidyaykina - Trapped

Timothy Nolan - Acts of Contrition
Logan Brown - How To Act Around Cops
Brendan Bates - The Savior of Fenway
Michael Jackson - A Taste of Heaven
Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa - Say You Love Satan

Ensemble Performance:
Sides... The Fear Is Real
The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County

Scenic Design:
House of Merry

Costume Design:
Markas Henry - Escape From Pterodactyl Island
Wade Laboissonniere - Suspect

Music & Lyrics:
Lost- The Musical

Bob Brown' Puppets Carnival of the Animals

Unique Theatrical Experience:
Charles Phoenix's God Bless Americana: the Retro Vacation Slide Show Tour of the USA
Wax & Wayne

Theatermania Audience Favorite:
Meaninngless Sex
Runner-up: Poop - A True Story

Venue Addresses

Bank Street Theater - 155 Bank St (Washington St/West Side Hwy)

Bottle Factory Theater - 195 East 3rd St (Avs A/B)

Cherry Lane Studio - 38 Commerce St (Bedford/Hudson Sts)

Fat Chance Productions' Ground Floor Theatre - 312 West 11th St (Hudson/Greenwich Sts)

Greenwich House - 27 Barrow St (Bleecker/West 4th Sts)

Greenwich Street Theatre - 547 Greenwich St (Vandam/Charlton Sts)

La Tea - 107 Suffolk St (Delancey/Rivington)

Linhart Theatre - 440 Lafayette St, 3rd Floor (Astor Place/4th St)

Our Lady of Pompeii, 25 Carmine St (@Bleecker St)

Red Room - 85 East 4th St (Bowery/2nd Av)

The Great Hall, 7 East 7th St (@3rd Avenue)

The Independent - 52-A W 8th St (MacDougal St/6th Av)

The Kraine - 85 East 4th St (Bowery/2nd Av)

The Play Room - 440 Lafayette St, 3rd Floor (Astor Place/4th St)

Under St Marks - 94 St Marks Place (1st Av/Av A

Washington Square UMC - 135 W 4th St (MacDougal St/6th Av)

Westbeth Community Center - 155 Bank St (Washington St/West Side Hwy)

Wings Theatre Company - 154 Christopher St (@Washington St)

Wollman Auditorium, 51 Astor Place (Lafayette/3rd Av)

Wollman Lounge, 51 Astor Place (Lafayette/3rd Av)

1998 Fringe Report
1999 Fringe Report
2000 Fringe Report
2001 Fringe Report
2002 Fringe Report

Mendes at the Donmar
Our Review

At This Theater Cover
At This Theater

Leonard Maltin's 2003 Movie and Video Guide
Leonard Maltin's 2003 Movie and Video Guide

Ridiculous! The Theatrical Life and Times of Charles Ludlam
Ridiculous!The Theatrical Life & Times of Charles Ludlam

Somewhere For Me, a Biography of Richard Rodgers
Somewhere For Me, a Biography of Richard Rodgers

The New York Times Book of Broadway: On the Aisle for the Unforgettable Plays of the Last Century
The New York Times Book of Broadway: On the Aisle for the Unforgettable Plays of the Last Century

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