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A CurtainUp Report

2005 New York International Fringe Festival

Updated August 29, 2005

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

For this year's awards, click here.

Amerika | The Banger's Flopera | Byzantium | Dalton Trumbo's Johnny Got His Gun | Dance With Me, Harker | The Day the World Went Queer | The Dirty Talk | Edna St. Vincent Millay Speaks to the Committee on Immortality | Elements Of Style | Feud | Fleet Week | Fluffy Bunnies in a Field of Daisies | Frida and Herself | Fucking Ibsen Takes Time | Gift | God's Waiting Room | The Great God Money | The Importance of Marrying Wells | The Irish Curse | Kegedawan (The Gift) | The Kimono Loosened | The Last Days of Cleopatra | The Last Two Minutes of the Complete Works of Henrik Ibsen | Legend of the Gypsy Bride | Little House On The Parody | Lynndie England / No Space | Marlowe | The Mayor Who Would Be Sondheim | Movie Geek | Pierrot le Quin | Seduction | Silence! The Musical | In Search of Stanley Hammer | Surviving David | Thick | The Three of Clubs | Toby | Uncle Sam's Satiric Spectacular: On Democracy and Other Fictions, Featuring Patriotism Acts and Blue Songs from a Red State | Unholy Secrets of the Theremin | UNSPEAKABLE: Richard Pryor Live & Uncensored, a dramatic fantasia | The Velocity of Things | Weddings Of Mass Destruction | You Again: A Musical About Cloning |

EDITOR'S NOTE: Reaching age 9, the Fringe Festival continues its maturation -- at least as an organization. This year's festival boasts an increasing number of large Off-Broadway venues; the opportunity to experience adventurous theater and the adventure of torture-chamber-like audience conditions has been all but eliminated. Over 17 days, Fringe will unveil nearly 180 shows in 19 downtown venues. We will report on a healthy dose of this year's offerings in the reviews below.

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 12-28. Further information, schedules and reservations are available prior to the show day by phoning 212-279-4488 or 1-888-FRINGENYC (9AM-7PM); on the web at: or in person at Fringe Central, 125 West 3rd Street (between 6th Avenue and MacDougal Street), from noon until 8 PM. Day-of-performance tickets are available (cash only) at the door at each venue, 15 minutes prior to the show. Prices: $15, reduced (only at Fringe Central or at the door) to $10 for kids 12 and under to FringeJR events and for 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.

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.


Feud: Fire on the Mountain
Creighton James's earnest play tells of the woeful blood feud between the Hatfields and the McCoys, addressing the futility of retribution. This fits the mission of NY Theatre Experiment, which intends to stage powerful stories about the complexity of the human condition. At first a homespun tableau, things pick up when the going gets really rough in this compelling tale of violent backwoods Americana in the 1860s. Nancy McCoy declares, "All stories ain't peaches and cream." No kidding. Good performances are turned in by all -- some outstanding -- although the movement of the whole ensemble would benefit from more physical theatre training. Feud becomes melodramatic and overwrought by the end; however, along the way it illuminates intra-family conflicts that complicate the inter-clan warfare. Fine original music by Jon Rowan, well played by actors, complements the Appalachian mayhem. At Village Theatre. 2 hours with intermission. [Osenlund]

Fluffy Bunnies in a Field of Daisies
An upbeat comedy of sexual politics with strong women's roles, Fluffy Bunniesexplores meeting, getting fixed up, and dating, as a group of friends undertakes minute investigations and categorizing of their experiences. During this play's two fruitful years in LA with different casts, rough edges have been smoothed like stones tumbling in a polisher. The result is a happy interaction of stories, sophisticated on-target writing, and impeccable comic acting with perfect timing. It's audience-tested yet fresh as a daisy. Throw in a full-cast dance number and the bonus that there's actually a message --something about consideration and finally getting real-- and Matt Chaffee's Fluffy Bunnies is ready to rock this town. At Soho Playhouse. 2 hours with intermission. [Osenlund}

You Again: A Musical About Cloning
This fantasy musical about a new substitute teacher and a cloning experiment in a high school basement is hindered by long, evidently intricately worded songs that hold up the show's tempo and action. Actors wear mics that don't amplify their voices enough to be understood over the canned original music. Audio equipment problems aside, these actors must project! Dialogue is often hard to catch. Overall,You Again plays like an extended student skit. With development, i.e., decent audio, pruning and tighter direction, the striking moments of humor and the enthusiastic cast would have a chance to shine. At Village Theatre. 2 hours with intermission. [Osenlund]

Pierrot le Quin
It would be hard to top this clever production based on Guy de Maupassant's short story about a dog named Pierrot. As usual the characters are more than vivid and while the tale begins innocently enough, the ending packs a wallop. Well-off widow Madame Lafevre (Michele Tauber) succumbs to advice she needs a dog to protect her fine crop of gigantic sweet onions dotting Michael Wehner's set. After some false starts, Pierrot (pigtailed David Carta) enters her life to the delight of her maid Rose (Dawn McGee). Alas, there's more miserliness than love in Madame's heart, and this provokes the heartbreaking conclusion. Sylvia Manning contrasts Madame speaking in verse with her maid in prose, but the other pair of players are mute. Carta's endearing dog yaps and whines while rolling about for everyone's amusement. A mere switch of a hat and mustachioed Joseph Franchini becomes the entire towns' folk from baker to tax collector. His utterances are entrusted to inventive clarinetist Scott Neagle, who captures the piece's every mood, with accordionist Lars Potteiger and Jeremy Lange on harmonica. Leecia Manning and Joseph Franchini make directorial magic by bringing naturalism with commedia dell'arte flair into masterful balance. Wehner's storybook set looks great under Ethan Kaplan's lighting. Author Manning promises a full evening of de Maupassant stories -- miss it at your peril. At Connelly Theater. 40 minutes. [Lipfert]

The Kimono Loosened
Not for the fainthearted, this tale of physical and psychological violence alternately lulls and shocks. A tranquil bourgeois childhood abruptly ends when Tsukiyo is sent to a geisha house to learn the trade. But nothing prepared her for what followed -- double incest and abject psychic detachment. Now a "butterfly fluttering from man to man," she has only her doll Sakura as confidante. Yuki Kawahisa's generous solo performance encompasses both beauty and perverse fascination. She addresses kimono figures topped by masks standing in for her father and mother, offering an elegant dance to the latter whose career her character abruptly follows. Maureen Robinson's direction maintains theatrical tension through alternating spoken and mime sections via the surprise factor. An eerie score of Japanese Noh music and elegantly subtle fabrics for the costumes add interest. At PS122 Downstairs. 65 minutes. [Lipfert]

The Velocity of Things
Regina Nejman brings her boundless energy back to New York Fringe Festival for this premiere for six dancers in varied black-and-white one-piece bathing suits. A bang-up score of Brazilian songs propels entrances and exits for in-your-face solos and ensembles. Part jazz, part contact release, Nejman's choreography also takes in a bit of Busby Berkeley (the swimsuit factor) and Pina Bausch for lineups but without the latter's emotional baggage. Lone male Val Loukiano provides some nice partnering but the concept is essentially unisex. Kristin Licata, Mary Madsen, Tamsin Nutter and Kathy Waski keep pace with Nejman's athleticism. And they eagerly don Nejman's signature dance fetish-pumps, this time bright red with a small black bow. So how does pouring white sand between a pair of galvanized pails hourglass style come into the picture? Most likely it's a carpe diem alert via a Brazilian beach that time is passing relentlessly. Count on Nejman and her company to use it to the fullest. Hopefully during this run the performers can add touches of humor and irony to polish off Nejman's concept with more specificity. At PS122 Upstairs. 1 hour. [Lipfert]

Edna St. Vincent Millay Speaks to the Committee on Immortality
This one-woman show, set in an impressionistic rendering of its protagonist's 1945 bedroom, presumes two things: that artists can achieve immortality, and that early Jazz-age poet Edna St. Vincent Millay has not yet done so. Both are arguably good assumptions, and more interesting is playwright and actress Jennifer Gibbs' assumption that they are the occasion for a play -- itself the most mortal of all art forms. In her appeal for eternal life (which she distinguishes from much-dreaded longevity) Gibbs' Millay relates her childhood, coming of age, experiments with love and sex, early success as a poet, injury and subsequent addiction to morphine. Gibbs' portrayal of the poet, which consists of original monologue peppered with Millay's own verse, is nuanced and highly developed: she poses like an Old Hollywood star, snaps to attention like a schoolgirl, slumps like a depressive, churns out cutting remarks, flirts, whines, and muses on subjects ranging from poetic form to her next shot of morphine. It's a skillful (and occasionally hilarious) rendering of her subject that leaves one glad to be better acquainted with Millay. If only it weren't accompanied by the notion that Gibbs is bringing the poet to life only to prove that she deserves resurrection, a weighty theme not necessary to explain the playwright's fascination with Millay. Piling on extra sentimentality are Hallmark-style projections of flowers, trees, and feathers (mercifully absent during the first half of the show due to technical difficulties). It's a frame that ultimately puts too much pressure on an otherwise delightful, if entirely mortal, production. At Collective:Unconscious. 90 minutes. [Felton-Dansky]

Franz Kafka was never one to shy away from enigma and sleight-of-hand, but inserting an author into his own work of fiction has to be the least mysterious trick in the book. In this clumsy new take on the Czech author's unfinished immigrant tale -- which traces the surrealist adventures of young Karl Rossman in an "Amerika" where the Statue of Liberty holds a sword and Boston is just across the Hudson from New York -- Kafka himself is the central character and the writing of Amerika the central action of the play. The aspiring author discovers that his typewriter allows him to write the next chapter of his own life -- which suddenly merges with Rossman's story -- and finds himself vying with Zoltan, his mysterious traveling companion, for control of the all-important machine. Soon young K. (if only they'd been that oblique about his identity) is waking up each day in strange new circumstances into which the triumphant Zoltan has written him. This literalist device quickly grows predictable, reducing Kafka's Amerika of half-truths and dim menace to a limp farce of repetitive plot and character-author analogies. The actors seem as confused as their protagonist is, stumbling awkwardly through the scenes that should be crispest and halting before nearly every line. Shadow-puppet sets and exaggerated sound effects are intriguing, but no amount of shadows in the scenery can make up for the cleverness under whose bright light the rest of the production wilts. At the Mazer Theater. 1 hour, 40 minutes. [Felton-Dansky]

Dance With Me, Harker
Tackling the Dracula story is a daunting task for live performance. An unwieldy subject, it demands that an atmosphere of horror and erotica be created and sustained or all is lost. Luckily, Wallis Knot Theatre Company has figured out how to make it work. Dance With Me, Harker follows the markers of the Stoker story including Transylvania, nuns, Carfax, the asylum, and notably the telling of the story through journal entries, letters, and so forth. It mixes up these ingredients in a fine brew with original music, shifting lighting, and fluid dance to achieve a very stylish play. Quite humorous, it doesn't descend into the easy solution of camp. At one point Harker says to the audience, "He's standing right behind me, isn't he?" Dracula, the brides, and Harker perform alluring free-form, ballroom, frug ballets of cool and menacing dance. Renfield and Lucy are played by the same actor/dancer, which could be very confusing, except that it simply becomes a part of this swirl of the undead. Van Helsing is played by a woman! It's an inspired idea. There is the satisfaction of hearing Dracula purr, "I don't drink... wine," and then there's the Children of the Night bit. Somewhat less successful are the intended 50s setting, the narrated penultimate scene and the epilogue. With its skilled cast, dance, and good music, this sexy, fun and wonderfully artistic Dracula is served up with panache. At Mazer Theater. 90 minutes. [Osenlund]

UNSPEAKABLE: Richard Pryor Live & Uncensored, a dramatic fantasia
When the lights come up on UNSPEAKABLE, we see silhouetted a live wired, loud mouthed and belligerent funnyman. It's not until a few scenes later when the lights come to full that we realize this person who sounded, talked and generally seemed like Richard Pryor, actually looked like him too. This actor (James Murray Jackson, Jr.) seems born (or cursed) to play the legendary comedian. Which is probably why he wrote it for himself with the help of director Rod Gailes. It's a lovingly presented bioplay with relentless energy and well-utilized theatricality. That said, as is often the problem with telling a famous person's life story, it's not much fun when we don't recognize it. And while we might not have know to what extent Pryor's life was filled with pain (father a pimp, mother a prostitute, grandmother a madam), and drugs (coke, coke, other stuff, coke), and anger (famously called "crazy nigger"); didn't we already deduce that he was troubled from his public persona? Isn't that why we go see him? Oh, and he's funny. When Jackson was onstage alone in "performance" scenes, or doing his radio show, we got all of the Richard Pryor's, not just the comedian or the drug user, but all of them. Because when Pryor was in the public eye or ear, he gave us all of them. As with recent studies of such artists as Ray Charles, Jim Morrison and Judy Garland, it seems the product of these life stories (i.e., their art) is always more interesting than the cause. In addition, the creators have left out Richard Pryor's last chapter, multiple sclerosis. He's been suffering from the disease since 1986, and can no longer perform. Instead, they opted to leave a metaphorical rat, played by an actress, that shows up from time to time to gross us out. (WHY? CAN YOU THINK OF A REASON THAT MIGHT EXPLAIN?). Others in the show do a great job, but I think the play would be better served if Jackson was alone onstage and gave us Richard Pryor, good, bad, never indifferent. At Soho Playhouse. 1 hour, 45 minutes. [Urie]

Surviving David
Suzanne Somers and I wish that all one-person shows could be as good as Surviving David. It's very fashionable to get in front of everyone you know, and some more you don't, and tell them about your life and love and tragedy, and hopefully get a few laughs on the way. Sadly, audiences don't always care. (see Suzanne Somers). Not the case with Surviving David. With hardly any furniture, no music, a few lighting cues, and her nimble body, Kathryn Graf, wife of the late actor David Graf, from the Police Academy movies, among others) tells us about her four year journey of recovery. She introduces us to all the people who got her through it, a favorite was an old friend of David who Kathryn begins seeing (and seeing and seeing) at David's prompting ("honey, don'tcha think Rob'd be fun to have sex with?"). And, so we watch Kathryn mess up, get drunk, behave badly, neglect her children, smoke, and then (finally) get it together, never feeling sorry for herself, and so we never feel sorry for her. Which is great, because who likes to feel sorry? What we do, is admire her strength, courage, fearlessness, and spunk. My big criticism. The poster. If you haven't seen it, it's Kathryn Graf looking up at David Graf, who's a little out of focus. I saw this, and assumed David Graf was in it playing a guy named David. I read the synopsis, about a woman dealing with the death of her husband, and assumed David was playing a ghost, lord knows that's done. I decide to go (hey, I like Police Academy, I'm not ashamed), and find out that David Graf was indeed not IN the play, but the subject of the play. If I'd opened the program, or noticed that the actress had the same name as David, I would've figured it out, but instead about ten minutes into the show, I find out the truth. I'm really saddened. I liked this actor, he's not just some face I remember. And now, I'm watching this lovely and charming woman tell me how great he was and how awful it was when he died at 51(just like his father and grandfather), and I'm pretty bummed. But, then Kathryn took me through the stages of grief with such clarity, frankness, and spirit, that I was comforted. Thanks to her show I was able to come to a place it had taken her four years and a one woman show to get to. And isn't that why anybody wants to get up in front of people and tell their story? To help? If you need inspiration, and who doesn't, go see Kathryn Graf. At Flea Theatre. 1 hour, 18 minutes. [Urie.]

The Mayor Who Would Be Sondheim
When Adam Gwon's music starts in the dark, one would think that The Mayor Who Would Be Sondheim will proceed with an ironic wit, and wacky spirit. Not so. The cheesy evening news fanfare, along with the Fringe friendly title, are in no way a reflection of the play that is to follow. The title character is seeking election (he was appointed after the previous mayor was "kicked out"), and loves to ad lib new lyrics to old showtunes, claiming he could've been a Sondheim, if politics hadn't scooped him up. Stu Richel as Mayor McFadden never quite owns the Bob Goulet-like camp of the character, but it's not his fault. The story of MWWBS, has nothing to do with show tunes and silly lyrics. It's about a nasty little town filled with garbage (trash strike), and racism (dirty cops), where an unfocused mayor with an unprepared staff (a one note Nina Daniels, funny Larry Greenbush and doing-his-best Scott Giguere) have no chance of turning anything around politically, as they wander in and out of the dark under Joshua Benghiat's splotchy light plot (may be a Fringe problem). In fact, it seems that opponent Dr. Blake is better equipped to run the city. We laugh at this wacky public official and his groaning staff, but then don't know what to do when plain clothes cops kill an innocent black bus driver because they think he's a serial mutilator/rapist. That's not funny, it's sad. This is not to say that the two different plays presented under one title should be scrapped, quite the opposite. Playwright John Doble should focus on his cooky singing Mayor, get rid of the dramatic storyline, and camp it up. Who doesn't like hearing "Northeast Orange" to the tune of "Oklahoma"? That's fun! Hell, that's the Fringe! (Or, if he'd rather focus on the city business, scrap the Sondheim and sell it to Steven Bochco.) At Mazer Theatre. 2 hours, 15 minutes. [Urie]

Unholy Secrets of the Theremin
They bend over a mysterious book, one wearing a white fez and caftan, the other an all-black ensemble reminiscent of men's fashion circa 1776. They pull two roses out of two vases, then smash the vases over each other's heads. They head to their instruments: a keyboard and a theremin, the electronic instrument that uses electromagnetic fields to create eerie melodies and which, along with the life story of its inventor, is the subject of the play. Unfortunately, Unholy Secrets of the Theremin never gets more coherent (or more revealing, or less holy) than that. Writers and costars Kip Rosser and Jef Anderson joke, sing, and pontificate their way through the Cliff-Notes biography of physicist and inventor Lev Termen (also known as Leon Theremin), interspersing narrative with poorly-executed slapstick, superficial gestures at ritual, and sometimes-relevant songs. Their source material is intriguing -- Termen led a life of intrigue, shocking the Western World with one of the first electronic instruments, romancing women half his age, and disappearing for decades to spy for the KGB. And it's a rare treat to hear live theremin - particularly eerie renditions of such familiar songs as "Eleanor Rigby". But Rosser and Anderson opt for tired slapstick over sharp humor, clichéd séance motifs over creative rituals, and patchwork over plot. The result is a production too shallow to unearth secrets, too incoherent to entertain, and too smugly self-indulgent to hit the otherworldly notes their theremin does. At Linhart Theater. 1 hour, 40 minutes with intermission. [Felton-Dansky]

Lynndie England / No Space
US Theater has been slow to take up themes regarding the American invasion of Iraq and subsequent horrors. From France David Tretiakoff injects comedy (more like absurdity) into his brief performance piece with him shirtless in a hood and Charlotte Schioler barking orders. He babbles in Arabic then English while glaring at the audience through eye holes in the paper bag hood. She becomes increasingly self-revelatory in her disjointed outpourings. Tretiakoff and Schioler hit on the cheerleader pileup image England cited regarding her fetishist prisoner pics, and we begin to see the true moral tragedy at hand. A few flashlights and an occasional spot are the sole illumination in this brief but unsettling piece. Danish dancer-performer Schioler then continues with an excerpt "No Space" from a longer solo. This chick screams hysterically, "I don't have any space. There's no space in here," while traversing the entire playing area and literally climbing the walls. Once the audience realizes the imposing Schioler was humoring them, she has them in her hand. Catch her in a one-woman show also at this year's NY Fringe: "Yes, We Have No Bananas!" At PS122 Upstairs. 35 minutes. [Lipfert]

Legend of the Gypsy Bride
There's never a dull day at the gypsy camp under I-278 in Queens. Marko (Joey Gay) and the troupe are preparing for ravishing cousin Zazu (Nedra McClyde) to be married to respectable American car dealer Wynn Dwyer (Curtis Bisek). But not if the Albanian (Keith Malley) has anything to say. There's a secret the outsiders don't know and it takes until the end of the show to find out. Even without the wedding, all have a great time. David Jenness's book and lyrics use a huge helping of gypsy clichés and the toe-tapping tunes are more in-the-spirit-of than genuine gypsy, but the upbeat mood carries the day. Songs, dance and humorous banter are a seamless whole. Twelve multi-ethnic gypsies and two Americans make up the large cast; uncredited production design and superb hand-me-down gypsy costumes are memorable. Andrea Kalan's authentic Hungarian gypsy dancing is a delight to watch, especially her balancing-act bottle dance at the top of Act II. And Jesse Kotansky plays a mean gypsy violin. At Mazer Theater. 1 hour 50 minutes with intermission. [Lipfert]

The Great God Money
In The Great God Money we have a riff on The Wizard of Oz, in which our heroine Dorothy, now called merely Dot, and fully an adult, albeit an uncertain one, has a bizarre dream-induced journey through a very peculiar world; there, as in Oz, she searches for the appropriate path to the eponymous deity of the piece. The show both begins and ends solidly, and the composing team of four aptly showcases Deb Heinig's husky, smoky alto. Her solos are worth waiting for. And the opening segment feels musically inspired by Hair, not a bad thing. But the show's middle sags badly in script, score, and pacing, too often becoming tediously repetitive. Micah Freedman's dry reading of an exasperating accountant who reviews Dot's financial status is wonderfully droll, and inventively improvised sets and assorted placards help the action remain fluid. But the writers really need more songs to suit characters if they want to achieve a real musical, rather than an uncertain play punctuated with songs. Also the style vacillates between adult satire and children's theater, leaving neither demographic group really satisfied. While many of the characters are deliberately symbolic, as in a medieval mystery play, they too often lack definitive qualities, or become shrill and meaningless, as in a scene led by an angry computer. The rock combo does very well by the score and might usefully find its way onstage in a future version. At Linhart Theater. 2 hours with intermission. [Bradley]

Dalton Trumbo's Johnny Got His Gun
This solo piece is derived from Trumbo's 1939 novel, itself inspired by an article about a World War I soldier who was horribly disfigured in combat. Effectively adapted to the stage more than 20 years ago by Bradley Rand Smith, this play, while new to me, has seen a number of domestic and international stages before. The WWI references as applied to a young American from the south feel authentic, and Trumbo's vivid depiction of both the remembered joys and post-war agonies, to say nothing of his actual combat at the front, has particular resonance as our society finds itself again losing its citizens daily in a war that is difficult if not impossible to explain. The line, "Whose idea of liberty are we talking about anyway?" seems especially contemporary. The opening moments employ dramatic Whitmanesque imagery, and other scenes bring to mind the early work of Hemingway. This production alternates two actors in the role of twenty-year-old Joe Bonham, a youngster whose disabilities are so extensive that he has nothing left but his mind, imagination and memory. My viewing featured Ricardo Perez-Gonzalez, who has essayed the role previously in both New York and California. While the production's set reasonably gives him no more than a dining chair at center stage, his voice and movements are utterly compelling as he passionately measures Bonham's moments and days in a hospital bed, never forgetting either his military or civilian life, both finished as he wastes away. Yet he fights off insanity to the end, grimly reminding us, "I am the closest thing to a dead man on earth." At Ace of Clubs. 1 hour, 25 minutes. [Bradley]

Kegedawan (The Gift)
Set in the Philippine rainforest, this exquisite tapestry of word, ritual, and movement is adapted from the book Wisdom from a Rainforest: The Spiritual Journey of an Anthropologist, Stuart Schlegel's autobiographical account of his life-changing and life-affirming experiences there in the late sixties while living among the Teduray people of an indigenous village. Originally internationalized through his commitment as a Christian priest, Schlegel later broke from the church when its hierarchy resisted his gentle and tolerant brand of missionary work as contrasted to the traditional conversion approach. The dramatization begins with four mimes posing with assorted branches to represent the rainforest. Covered in leotards and masks, this quartet also deftly depicts a variety of Philippine natives and others including Stuart's ailing son, the youth's unexpected restoration to health the first "gift" of the piece's parenthetical title. Denise Montgomery has adapted and directed the material to a compelling polish, and her work is well-served by a magnificent cast. At the center is G. Ivan Smith's delicate and awe-inspiring portrayal of Stuart as he explores and appreciates the wonders of social behavior in the Teduray community, and later empathizes as these genuinely godly innocents suffer brutal terrorism. Kegedawan is that rare example of theater that is potentially both cathartic and eternally memorable. Its exploration of individuality, gender identity, freedom of will, and grace under pressure is breathtakingly remarkable. Do not miss it. At Connelly Theater. 1 hour. [Bradley]

This musical slice of history tells its story of Justinian's rule almost fifteen centuries ago from the city now known to us as Istanbul, and broke social traditions by marrying a common actress known as Theodora, a woman with at least as much allure and cleverness offstage as on. Like both Camelot and Aida, this musical tries to popularize distant history, although here the character most in focus is neither a charismatic monarch nor an alluring princess, but rather a modest emissary monk. As Taran, the monk, Bram Heidinger is affecting as he both narrates the story of an empire and becomes a vital part of it. Taran not only designs the extraordinary temple Hagia Sophia (the Church of Holy Wisdom) but also becomes entangled with the central historical figures. Heidinger's Jeff Daniels-like wholesome strength serves the production well as Taran tries to "make peace with life." Unfortunately, this appealing fictional character is saddled by a clumsy narrative structure which requires him to regularly converse with a minor player to the extreme of the stage when he is not engaged in the action. The rest of the large cast is filled with strong actors, notably including Health Calvert as a military officer, Danielle Huben as Sophie, a princess who finds herself a matrimonial pawn in the local politics, and especially Mark Light-Orr as the complex and bold Justinian. Light-Orr also has a strong and pleasing singing voice, as does Michael J. Ross as the political advisor Valeryk, but the latter gets little opportunity to use his talent. Such vocal capacities are in short supply with much of the cast, yet are essential in this fairly serious and sometimes even somber dip into history. Steven Jamail and Troy Scheid's worthy score deserves continued development, hopefully with a book that incorporates more passion and humor into the interesting historical events. Its rebellions and military mishaps certainly hold a palpable relevance for our own times. At Village Theatre. 2 hours, 15 minutes with an intermission. [Bradley]

God's Waiting Room
As God's Waiting Room begins, a rebellion seems to be going on in the theater, as one actor shouts to any in the audience who will listen while another almost apologizes to us, and the other two seem to be patiently waiting for the play to begin. Well, it has begun, and we theatergoers are in fact treated exactly as if we, like the play's characters, have been brought in to "God's waiting room," better known as purgatory. Here and now each who recently has left the living must examine life as it was lived, surely more carefully than was done while it was in progress. Inspired by Bulgakov's The Master and Margarita, and inevitably recalling Sartre's No Exit, this deft hour-long rattler of both mind and spirit delivers a madcap energy of farce and a sensibility of the theater of the absurd not presented so compellingly since Beckett and Ionesco were in their heyday a half-century ago. The cast is impeccable, from Jeffrey Clarke's "who, me?" reading of the wild and dangerous Drummond to Shelley Gershoni's alluring Saskia and Rebecca Lingafelter's traditional yet frustrated housewife Indira. Totally mesmerizing is Elena Mulroney, whose wry take on outraged immigrant Bordo sardonically delivers us a fiery peasant ready to start an uprising in suburban Florida. Alexis Poledouris has directed the challenging script and its sparkling quartet with aplomb. While God's Waiting Room may not be your preferred stopping place just before the grave or whatever, it surely should be on your Fringe agenda. At PS122 Downstairs. 1 hour. [Bradley]

The Day the World Went Queer
Here is another gay musical, yet one that not only has something to say about tolerance and diversity, but also manages to employ a satirical perspective that endures through the two-hour-and-five-minute performance. The remarkable cast of seven is equally adept at deadpan satire, deliberate mugging when required, and even wide-eyed innocence. The transformation of Sanctityville, USA from a Norman Rockwell postcard to a gay mecca as "a world-side cabal is taking over" gets a bit raw at times, with little about sexual options left to the imagination, but the fun never lets up, and the delightful script and score remain delectable and saucily performed under Matthew Gilbert's razor-sharp direction until the final curtain. At Players Theatre. 2 hours, 5 minutes. [Bradley]

Fucking Ibsen Takes Time
Satire often has a low endurance time, and Fucking Ibsen Takes Time is a good example of what might be a great twelve-minute skit yet does not have the strength or purpose to last for two hours. The attempt is valiant, to put the casts of A Doll's House, Ghosts, and Hedda Gabler on the same stage in a sex farce where their weaknesses and libidos can collide. Collide they do, into not only one another but also into time (the maid wears contemporary headphones to practice French that will go with her costume) and into an outsider that each Ibsenian heroine takes to be a confidante from the play she was born into. (In A Doll's House, this is Doctor Rank; in Ghosts, it is Pastor Manders, and in Hedda Gabler, it is Judge Brack.) The mystery man turns out to be none of these, but instead a deviously playful writer from a more recent era. The fine actors (10) are very much up to their assignments and are cast suitably, but the director has pushed the women to shrill voices and screams and mostly left the men to bumble about the stage and mostly look silly. My companion barely endured the first act, and while I stayed on, I wished I'd also had the good sense to return early to the outdoor sunshine. If you attend, be ready for Christmas in July and ladies' wrestling, among other divergent features. At Soho Playhouse. 2 hours with intermission. [Bradley]

Arthur Schnitzler's dramatic roundelay of assignations, La Ronde, has been adapted countless times. In New York in recent years, it notably has been a Broadway vehicle for Nicole Kidman (David Hare's The Blue Room) and a small but admired musical at Lincoln Center (Hello, Again). Now, Jack Heifner, known mainly for his huge Off-Broadway and national success Vanities, has turned Schnitzler's enduring stage concept into a series of raunchy gay (male) vignettes, with considerable nudity. (The website itself is shamelessly printed in bold letters on the program cover.) There has been no stinting on the production values either, with cleverly efficient modular scenery by James Galloway, deft work on lighting (Robert Stemson) and sound design (Juhani Naukkarinen), and consistently incisive direction by Peter Bull. Its billed as "a new erotic comedy," but one must note that the material does have a darker and more contemplative side as well. The characters include a rent boy (prostitute), a sailor, a student, a professor, and businessman, and within the entertainment community, an actor, a writer, and a producer. With its liberal dose of spontaneous and sometimes even anonymous sex, this play is decidedly politically incorrect, seeming more like a product of the pre-AIDS 1970's. Note that this production is one of the few that validates the Fringe's "international" label, for it comes from London, its extremely talented British cast intact, assorted accents and all. At Players Theatre. 1 hour, 40 minutes. [Bradley]

Movie Geek
Movie Geek is what the Fringe is all about. An homage to movies as told by an anti hero in the style of, well, every movie, while parodying the wave of E! True Hollywood Story/Behind the Music type shows, with hilarious host Josh Halloway. It's so inclusive that Prince's Purple Rain, When Harry Met Sally, and Indiana Jones all share company. We follow Movie Geek (yes that's his name, played true to form by Dylan Dawson) from his humble beginnings on a farm all the way to his superstardom as the illustrious and eccentric "geek" who lives in a castle (Castle Blanket) and shows bizarre movies at posh parties. The cast is hysterical, the story is fun, if completely unbelievable and nonsensical, and the multimedia is pitch perfect. Every show in the Fringe is given two hours to tech their show. That's as long as most shows run, and when you figure it takes anywhere from 2 to 20 minutes a cue, and Movie Geek has hundreds of light, sound, and video cues, it's remarkable. And pretty much flawlessly executed. The timing of the actors and crew is impeccable, there's a laugh every other line, and it'll take three movie geeks to catch all the references. The rest of the cast is great: Maggie Marion as Paulette (Geek's love), and Eric Clem, Adam Lustick and Shannon Walker filling in the "catch all" roles are all fantastic. Plus, the creators have somehow managed to cajole some great big stars to do cameos in video testimonials. I don't want to give away too much, but be prepared for The Fonz, The Cos, and Jessica Rabbit. It's the multimedia that steals the show, constantly one-upping itself, showing clips from movies, dream-like hallucinations, and scenes of Geek in classic movies (the Charlie Chaplin bit will rip your heart out) that put Billy Crystal and the Oscars to shame. Here's hoping the show will have life after Fringe; it should. Who knows, maybe Movie Geek will be in a Movie Theater near you soon. At Collective: Unconscious. 1 hour, 40 minutes. [Urie]

The Three of Clubs
Say what you will about children's theatre, and say what you will about child performers: juggling is fun. And kids who can juggle (not to mention the stilts, unicylces, tumbling, magic, silliness, and dozens of colorful jackets) is fun and impressive. There's something about watching people do what most cannot that always turns us back into children. When a performer does a great bit, we clap; when there's audience participation, we get chatty (oohs and aahs, one man behind me even said jokingly "those kids have balls" when one of them started juggling four balls at once), and we never hesitate to laugh. Is there any story? No, none. The only through line seems to be waking up, then going to bed, and a rivalry over a hat, but who cares? They juggle! Luckily there were lots of children in the audience with me; otherwise the three boys would've been less impressive. Ironically, adults alone seem to need things like giant tigers and disappearing cars to get them going without children helping them along, but let's face it, clowning is hard. And the three clubs do it well. Gila Sand has directed the three shaggy boys with breakneck fury, and they each represent different types of clowns. Joe Willens, the loud mouthed eager pain in the neck; Dan McMahon, the moody silent sad clown; and Julien Rossant, the middle man who has a perpetual smirk that says "Yeah, I'm in on the joke;" and Miasarah Lai is fun as the stage manager assigned to keep them in line, and clean up after them when they make unplanned messes. These kids know that they're good, and are having blast. In ten years or so, they'll be in pain due to the horrible things they do to their bodies, but while they're young, why not? At Connelly Theater. 59 minutes. [Urie]

Uncle Sam's Satiric Spectacular: On Democracy and Other Fictions, Featuring Patriotism Acts and Blue Songs from a Red State
Ever since the Bush era got underway, artists have been struggling for a theatrical response. This year, the Actors' Theater of Louisville commissioned seven playwrights to present theirs: a response to twenty-first century America in that classical American form, the variety show. Now at the Fringe, Uncle Sam's is a tightly choreographed sketch series that quickly establishes its object of ridicule -- patriotism and the GOP -- by bringing us into a world of kitschy Americana where flags adorn every object onstage and all the girls wear red and blue beauty-pageant gowns. The MC -- Sam himself, who soon receives a pink slip and is sent off stage by management -- introduces a series of lightheartedly political acts, from a psychic who surmises that the audience wants "a new president" to "X, A Cute Knife-Throwing Sensation" who spends too much time in Texas. The scenes are cute and clever -- particularly "While You Still Can," in which a couple decides to get abortions, pot-smoking, and protesting out of the way while they're still legal. Though the songs suffer from singers not up to the task, the dancing is fast-paced and the performers are obviously having fun. But though Uncle Sam's leaves no doubt about the target of its satire, its bulls'-eyes are few and far between. The writers raise all the obligatory Bush-agenda issues -- gay marriage, reproductive rights, civil liberties, the war on terror -- and they even play with their own form in a sketch about the prominence of minstrelsy in the development of American show biz. But there are no insights about these issues, no analysis, and no suggested fixes; the production is more a catalog of progressive complaints than a satire of post-9/11 patriotism. It's still a good time for a disgruntled Democrat, but to be a successful riposte to George W., it needs sharper arrows and better aim. At the Players' Theater. 90 minutes. [Felton-Dansky]

At once grim and eerily beautiful, Mark Schultz's Gift weaves a strong web of human vanity and despair on strands of desire, self-hatred and cruelty. Sylvie (Spencer Aste), repulsed by his own appearance, hides from the world, only allowing himself a Spartan relationship with Larry (Chris Kipiniak), a reluctant but loving companion. In a perhaps not entirely altruistic move, Larry surprises Sylvie with a birthday gift (Chris, played by Denis Butkus) almost naïve and handsome enough to sway Sylvie into dropping his guard. A study of the contrasts between beauty and depravity, the play benefits from director Daniel Talbott's juxtaposition of sensuous red lighting with an unembellished set design. Ultimately, the happiness in Gift is fleeting as both Larry and Sylvie realize that instant gratification is easier obtained by inflicting cruelty on others than by accepting the beauty in themselves. At PS122 Downstairs. 1 hour. [Norvet]

Toby is an engaging two-hander that appears to be merely a realistic comedy concerning two actors from New York who become peculiarly affected by their involvement in a Vermont summer production of Waiting for Godot. Anthony P. Pennino's fascinating script, conceived in the absurdist tradition, turns out to be an existential exploration of life. His two characters are both called Toby, although they look nothing alike: Phillip Bettencourt is tall, rail thin, and clean-shaven, while Timothy J. Cox is stockier and somewhat shorter, sporting a trimmed beard. The two Tobys at first seem to be harmlessly on the make for local sexual outlets while they polish their acting skills onstage in the Beckett classic before dwindling audiences. But they soon find that their offstage lives eerily parallel their onstage personas, Vladimir and Estragon, and that the reality and clarity of their personal existence seems to be escaping their control. As in Beckett's play, the Tobys find themselves spinning in repetitive actions that threaten their core beliefs. Deftly directed by Don Jordan to achieve considerable humor as well as food for thought, Bettencourt and Cox achieve a seamless rapport that easily brings to mind the more high profile stage matching of Matthew Broderick and Nathan Lane. If the tedious and artificial show-opening phone call is reconsidered, the production will be a perfect delight. At 13th Street Theatre. 1 hour, 30 minutes. [Bradley]

Silence! The Musical
This wild, fiery, and often zany musical, boldly parodying the creepy mega-hit film The Silence of the Lambs, surely received more advance hype than any other of this year's nearly 200 Fringe productions. Yet it miraculously lives up to expectations, offering an often hilarious script by Hunter Bell, at least several wonderful tunes by Jon and Al Kaplan, and solid performances across the board, with a number of performers standing out even in very small roles. Red hot director/choreographer Christopher Gattelli has attracted a Broadway-level cast featuring an acidly articulate Paul Kandel as the gruesome Dr. Hannibal Lecter and Jenn Harris as Clarice Starling, the green FBI agent assigned to pump him for information about crimes related to or inspired by his own. Gattelli uses understatement, timing, and brilliant stage business to achieve a fluid and eye-popping production filled with surprises, and gets a magnificently subtle yet driving performance from Ms. Harris, who also is put through such athletic paces as to warrant a place on our Olympics gymnastic team. The extraordinary leads are supported by a terrific ensemble and top-flight witty designs as well, headed by the sets of Scott Pask, this year's Tony Award winner for The Pillowman. While fans familiar with the film will get maximum pleasure from this romp, even folks who are put-off by the horrific aspects of the book and film can have a great time here with a minimum of distress. If, as assumed, the producers wish to expand upon the niche audience, they might consider inserting a mock review of the film at the show's start, and perhaps softening the smutty, even pornographic aspect of the show which will put off far more potential ticket buyers than it will genuinely amuse. Yet already Silence! the Musical is lots of fun. Unlike its film inspiration, nightmares do not follow attendance. At Lortel Theatre. 1 hour, 30 minutes. [Bradley]

Fleet Week
Matching its advance promotion, Fleet Week is for gay-friendly audiences enamored of old-fashioned musical comedy, using a madcap style of humor popular before most of the Fringe audience was born. Set in New York with several sailors on a brief leave, there is an understandable bow to the Bernstein-Comden-Green-Robbins 1944 hit On the Town. However, most of the traditional style being restored in Fleet Week predates even that historic show, which is considerably more sophisticated than many realize. While Fleet Week is fun and much of its score is delightful escapism, poor diction unfortunately swallows up many of the best lines and lyrics. Standing out in a very silly show is Micah Bucey as Seaman Stayn, a lovesick sailor who is a dead ringer in both looks and style for Buddy Ebsen, a great musical performer of the very period being aped (although more widely known for his more mature work on television decades later). Also giving a captivating performance is Laura Perloe as Seaman [sic] Swallows, a woman masquerading as a sailor and absurdly getting away with an implausible gender-bending impersonation. But, as absurd silliness is the ticket in hand, we gamely accept the premise. At Lortel Theatre. 2 hours including an intermission. [Bradley]

The Importance of Marrying Wells
At the start of this contemporary collegiate comedy unashamedly stealing from The Importance of Being Earnest, I was put off by the high-pitched and rushed delivery. Happily the performance soon settled into a more appropriate pace, this gay variation on Wilde's delicious tale of devious deception and mistaken identity having its own extraordinary complement of crisp witty lines as devised by author Dana Stamp. One of the funniest remarks involves a character's baffled inquiry as to how he can compete with a fantasy, thereby exemplifying the play's philosophical core, a surprise bonus lying under its brittle banter. As is often the case at the Fringe, the fourth wall is broken regularly, with performers stepping out of character. Also, an actor portraying a stage manager appears, often in vain, in hopes of restoring normalcy to the performance. While asides to the audience are in keeping with the sardonic style at hand, sometimes the performers are allowed to go too far, and wind up winking at the audience as well, thereby undermining the aside device. Such cavils can be remedied easily, leaving a delightful offspring to Wilde to join the theater's comic canon. Leading the stylish cast of The Importance of Marrying Wells in a very engaging performance as "Gavin Montcrieff" is Michael Malone. At Lortel Theatre. 1 hour, 35 minutes. [Bradley]

The Banger's Flopera
This raunchy production by Fringe stalwarts known as Inverse Theater Company is called "a musical perversion" right up front, insuring that audiences are fully warned that potentially offensive material is included. That's for certain; the level of what fairly would be called vulgarity, pornography, blasphemy, scatology or anarchy is abundant and in fact central to this thoroughly irreverent contemporary variation on two now classic sources, John Gay's early 18th century The Beggar's Opera and its more frequently seen and heard 20th century incarnation, The Threepenny Opera by theatrical princes Brecht and Weill. The key character of Macky is very recognizable; in fact, his new "theme song" is unabashedly derived from "Mac the Knife" that first hit the pop charts nearly a half-century ago, then already a vintage song from the late 1920s. Macky's chief adversary in the criminal world here is Jonathan Peacock (derived from the earlier Peachum). His grisly wife again is his criminal cohort and their winsome yet rebellious daughter Polly again is Macky's latest conquest. Also intact are the corrupt law enforcement stooge, Tiger Brown, and his own independent daughter, Lucy, here identified as "Loosy," one of a gaggle of "porn starz, ganstaz and killaz" who fill out the richly colorful cast. A character new to The Banger's Flopera is the homeless Shag, a "have not" counterpoint to the perversely prosperous Macky, who in Hank Wagner's effective hands becomes a sympathetic everyman. All in all, here we have the quintessential counter-culture acid rock and rap musical that is filled with brilliant word play, flaunts metaphors about the stage, and shocks its audience to the point of numbness with an assertive style in performance across the board that would render Max Bialystock of Broadway's The Producers or even Brecht and Weill's own version of MacHeath as wimps by comparison. The most memorable performance is by April Vidal, brilliantly drawing on both Grease gals and valley girl archetypes to create Polly, an attractive bad girl with a strong social conscience. Ms. Vidal has an extraordinary stage presence and is central to this show's effectiveness. As her dad Peacock, Dan Renkin provides appealing swagger and gusto. And, as the latter-day Robin Hood with warts, Joe Pindelski presents the inverse hero with a dark sexual appeal and a fine singing voice. At Village Theatre. 2 hours, 40 minutes including an intermission. [Bradley]

Elements Of Style
Cleverly written and performed by Wendy Weiner with the helpful collaborative development and direction of Julie Kramer, Elements of Style centers on a copy editor's wry observations on life as viewed with her hand perpetually holding an editor's proverbial red pencil. As a frequent writer and sometime copy editor myself with my own compulsive views concerning correctness in writing, I was rather astonished at the higher levels of obsession to perfection demanded by our chief character, copy editor and valiant single mom Winifred White, persistently proud of her 24 years at Condé Nast. The stage also makes room for Ms. White's apparently unsatisfactory and vulgar fact checker Shelley. There's even an appearance by Winifred's dysfunctional adult daughter Celia whose current crisis involves transporting her pet monkey to her evening speaking event. The frequently funny material naturally focuses on gaffes made in writing the English language, with additional significant attention to the foibles of these three characters, all gamely played by Ms. Weiner. Two favorite writing traps you might look for involve a transforming hyphen in the word resign and the distinction between elicit and illicit as revealed in a telephone connection between Winifred and ex-President Clinton. Slide projections deftly visualize Winifred's assorted complaints and the lighting design of Amber Estes artfully helps the actress transform from one character to another. Anyone familiar with My Sister Eileen or its musical adaptation Wonderful Town will see personality parallels between that material's Ruth Sherwood and the present offering's Winifred, both examples of educated folk whose lives would benefit if they occasionally held their tongues and ceased to furrow their brows. At 13th Street Theatre. 1 hour, 10 minutes. [Bradley]

Weddings Of Mass Destruction
This spiffy musical revue offers a superb sextet of performers in a variety of roles, mostly gay, in which they satirize the world from a gay/lesbian perspective. The minimalist staging by Jim Zulevic is perfection: buoyant, sharp, and constantly hilarious. We begin with a trip via airplane, ferry boat and taxicab, in which two same-sex couples (one male and one female), accompanied by two unwitting witnesses, travel to the gay Cape Cod conclave of Provincetown, Massachusetts to be married. Later scenes, involving assorted other characters, take us to a sex toy store, an amateur ball field, and a bizarre social evening in which the children's card game Old Maid is the central activity. Two of the segments are particularly amazing for making risky and politically bold statements. The first of these involves terrorists devising the best ways to torture gay soldiers; in the other, gays perform a self-parodying vaudeville in the tradition of African-American minstrels, complete with altered face color, top hats, and white gloves. The brisk and entertaining skits and songs are credited to GayCo Productions rather than to individuals, reflecting the improvisational heritage of this group which was born through an outreach program sponsored by Chicago's legendary Second City company. At Lortel Theatre. 1 hour, 30 minutes. [Bradley]

Little House On The Parody
Also pre-tested in the second city is a musical that is that rare G-rated entity that is entertaining for all ages. The satiric style is apparent from its title, Little House on the Parody ("a loving musical parody in two olde tyme acts"). Obviously having a grand time ribbing the enormously successful family television drama Little House on the Prairie and its own inspiration, a series of autobiographical books by Laura Ingalls Wilder, a versatile cast of 14 romps through an assortment of adventures and trials in their small 1870s Minnesota town known as Walnut Grove. Even folks who have neither watched the television show nor read the books, myself included, can enjoy the ample humor in this depiction of a humble, God-fearing family that collectively deserve at least a Pollyanna award for their constant pluck and positivism. Such pure values may be unrealistic in the darker urban world of our time, but certainly the friendliness and good spirits of this show transcend any demographic barriers. Beginning with a vibrant ensemble opening number, the Ingalls family and the various other characters are cheerily introduced. Of the Ingalls brood of five children, the future writer Laura herself is at the center of much of the action. Events as ordinary as Christmas shopping or the slaughter of a family pig here become gleeful moments of joy. Potentially traumatic events including a winter blizzard and an outbreak of scarlet fever are equal fodder for the folksy fun. Fantasies are indulged, as well, involving a school talent show, horses, and grasshoppers. The performing and pacing are impeccable, and the flexible minimalist scenery well serves director Andy Eninger's efficient and inventive approach in depicting assorted locations. At Lortel Theatre. 1 hour, 30 minutes. [Bradley]

One of the most elegant, thoughtful, and fascinating productions of this or any other festival, Marlowe dovetails the short but rich life of Shakespeare's contemporary (both were born in 1564, in fact) with a few deftly chosen and well-staged excerpts from his plays, notably Dr. Faustus and Edward II. Christopher Marlowe's work is produced infrequently in our time, perhaps because of his low profile compared to Shakespeare's, coupled with his equally complex scripts and large casts that make any production such a major commitment. But author Harlan Didrickson has crafted a remarkable script. In the hands of director David Zak and his impeccable cast from Chicago's Balliwick Repertory, it deservedly finds space on a New York stage to present Marlowe's radical life and thinking as well as his stirring poetic and dramatic voice. In the title role, Timothy Hull is not only natural and likeable, but also imbues the complex and passionate Renaissance man with detail, nuance and edge. The entire yeoman cast of 11 is wonderful, and features razor-sharp performances by Julie Partyka as Queen Elizabeth and Kevin Mayes as Marlowe's patron and confidante. The production support also is inventive and even thrilling, bouncing among myriad settings and circumstances including bar brawls, the plague, international intrigue, and extraordinary duels with a minimum of scenery and a maximum of effective lighting, movement, and richly textured performances. At Soho Playhouse. 2 hours including intermission. [Bradley]

The Irish Curse
No, this one is not about the Irishman's weakness for alcohol, although Martin Casella's engaging script does mention that problem incidentally as "one more Irish curse." In focus here is the allegedly poor genital endowment of many Irish males, as discussed from every conceivable perspective by a self-defined support group that meets weekly in a Brooklyn Catholic church basement. Improbably facilitated by Father Kevin (the avuncular William McCauley), one of the church's own veteran priests, the meeting inspired by twelve-step programs also is attended by several others: Rick (the lithe Brian Leahy) is a self-described "hottie" who compensates for his shortcomings by stuffing socks in his shorts and telling endless embellished tales of his conquests with women. Joseph (appealing Broadway veteran Eddie Korbich) is a middle aged attorney who, even after fathering two children, was deserted by his wife. Stephen (a commanding Howard Kaye) is a tall, well-built gay man who compensates by narrowing his sex life to activity in which he never exposes his private area. Finally, the newest member, Kieran (Juilliard trained Roderick Hill), who shyly arrives late to his first meeting, is a recent young immigrant who is terrified that his fiancée will leave him when she learns about his situation. The script creates a credible picture of this diverse assortment of men sharing Irish heritage, although it would benefit from some dramaturgical cutting, as the talk does become repetitive after a while. But there is definite potential for pleasing post-Fringe audiences, and Matt Lenz's direction provides a potent sense of genuineness and energy in good balance. The quintet gives a cohesive ensemble performance, with each player rising to shine in his moments of deepest revelation. At Linhart Theater. 1 hour, 40 minutes. [Bradley]

The Last Days of Cleopatra
For those folks who can't get enough of the backstage drama involving the romance of Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton as played out during the shooting of the elaborate epic 1964 film Cleopatra, this harmless musical satire may be a treat. But the writing is very superficial, and a subordinate romance, portrayed by the very effective Brett Rigby as a production assistant and the fulsome Valerie Issembert as an Italian dancer, creates much more interest than does that of the celebrated film couple. The general concept is fine, but the development of most principal characters including the jilted spouses Sybil Burton and Eddie Fisher, is markedly one-dimensional, and the actors chosen for Burton and Taylor simply don't project the heft necessary for the enormous personas at hand. Rex Harrison is reduced to a non-entity and nonsensically awarded a vaudeville soft shoe dance as his main musical moment. Several of the songs effectively convey a comic operetta tone, and fun comes from Tom Beckett's nuanced portrayal of a usually exasperated Joseph Mankiewicz. Also, the oily chorus of paparazzi is a delight, and flesh-followers will enjoy the nearly naked poses and movements by the nearly silent production hunk Brewster McCall. At Players Theatre. 2 hours including an intermission. [Bradley]

Frida and Herself
This miniature piece effectively creates an appealing amalgam of narrative, life-size puppetry, dance, recorded song, and moving silhouettes to briefly describe the torturous and fascinating life of Mexican symbolist painter Frida Kahlo, worshiper of and wife to the until quite recently much more famous muralist Diego Rivera. Director/choreographer Brandy Leary also dances the fantasy movements assigned to the fragile yet extraordinarily strong woman whose body was virtually destroyed in a horrific streetcar accident. She is effectively accompanied by Nathalie Toriel as the speaking Frieda, Rachel Griffith as an alluring model, and several fine puppeteers. Both Leary and Toriel have created an intriguing if sketchy text including excerpts from Kahlo's own diary. At Linhart Theater. 50 minutes. [Bradley]

In Search of Stanley Hammer
"The fall of 1952 is a good time to be starting over," reads the supertitle that opens In Search of Stanley Hammer: crisp white courier type on a pumpkin-colored slide. And everyone is: Stanley, who's just discovered that due to a miscalculation on a couple of birthday cakes, he's failed to fulfill his dream of becoming a famous baseball player by the age of 25; Sophie, a wanna-be prom queen seeking a boyfriend and a Hollywood career; and a mysterious woman who's arrived at the Hammer residence in a wicker basket. Even Jackie Robinson, not contented to remain a national hero, runs off the baseball field one day and decides to find his true character with the help of an acting manual. From there, the story careens through absurdity (Stanley's best friend is a baseball bat with braids), cliches (stuck-up Sophie makes her best friend Betty carry her books and court her boyfriends), and loneliness (the mysterious woman makes a home under Stanley's bed). This bathetic combination of hopelessness and whimsy is a winning one, allowing the script to muse on personal roles and emotional growth while also tackling wombats, major-league baseball, and the importance of pinky fingers. The staging, using a high bed and a tight color pallette, is as elegantly silly as the script, and the actors play along, achieving 1950's satire with tight choreography and exaggerated intonation. Occasionally style replaces action - Clayton Dean Smith's Stanley and Kristin Schaal's Sophie prioritize mugging over authenticity - and the script does veer from whimsical into precious, particularly in its jarringly tidy ending. But this is only evident because the rest of the show is so admirably manic and, for all its focus on the family, charmingly lonely and unresolved. At Center for Architecture. 90 minutes. [Felton-Dansky]

The Last Two Minutes of the Complete Works of Henrik Ibsen
Performing only the the climaxes and denouements of Ibsen's 26 plays, one after another, in chronological order, is a brilliant idea, and in The Last Two Minutes, that is what Chicago's Neo-Futurists -- best known for creating the long-running Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind -- have done. If only the play were as enticing as the concept behind it. The Last Two Minutes opens with a series of flippant takes on Ibsen's early works, and though some of them are entertaining - particularly a version of The Feast at Solhaug's final moments in which the characters are portrayed by condiments, culminating in a memorably explicit sex scene between a ketchup and a mustard bottle - they are too clever to be interesting, too eager for collusion with the audience to truly earn it. As the scenes move from silly skits to hammy grade-school drama to "straight" interpretations, the costumes go from street clothes to an elegant patchwork of black and white, and the acting from eye-rolling to earnest. It's a relief to see Nora and Torvald's goodbye played straight, Solness' suicide is truly pathetic (though aptly accompanied by a small action figure falling from a two-foot tower), and the finality of When We Dead Awaken's last scene is satisfyingly deadpan. But even the straight scenes are no sharper than they would be in any production of Ibsen's most produced plays; they neither open new windows onto the individual dramas nor add up to an intriguing new drama themselves. The hilariously innovative concept becomes a crutch, an excuse to rely on the inherent strangeness of dismembering scenes from their through-lines. The absence of exposition is interesting on its own, but even more interesting would be creating something else to take its place. At Ace of Clubs. 2 hours with intermission. [Felton-Dansky]

The Dirty Talk
It's no revelation that talking "dirty" with a stranger on internet sex chat rooms has filled a void, become an entertaining pastime, and served as a therapeutic experience for some members of society. It also has its inherent disappointments as well as an element of danger. The disappointment could come from an eventual meeting with that certain someone, especially if that someone is not the he/she has been pretending to be. The danger, however, can come when the vulnerable are victimized. Then there is the other possibility that deception can lead to deliverance, as dramatized by LAByrinth Theater member Michael Puzzo in his riveting one-act play The Dirty Talk. In it, Mitch (Sidney Williams), a lonely recently divorced man has invited the person with whom he has been having a hot and heavy chat room affair to his father's remote hunting cabin in the mountains of New Jersey. A deception is revealed as Lino (Kevin Cristaldi), a personable and decidedly unthreatening man turns out not to be the voluptuous woman who Mitch thought was sharing his fantasies. The mortified Mitch can barely contain his rage. An attempt to drive Lino back is thwarted by a torrential rain, a flooded car engine and no windshield wipers. Mitch makes Lino crouch behind a dresser so he won't have to look at him. "Your not a woman, you lied to me," Mitch shouts at Nino whose excuse is simply "I invented another person... I created something beautiful... and you settled on a fantasy girl." The play pivots on Mitch gradually stabilizing his anger and sharing with Lino his despair over the failure of his 5 year marriage: His version, "I was always the nice guy." Burly Williams is excellent as the initially infuriated and vigilantly heterosexual Mitch. Cristaldi finds a disarming and winning side to Lino's apparently perpetual sexual adventuring. Under Padraic Lillis's tension-filled direction, Puzzo's play enfolds as a keen exploration of the pitfalls and also the potentials of an unexpected sexual encounter. The Dirty Talk workshopped at LAB's Summer Intensive and annual Barn Series Reading Festival in 2001. At Flea Theater. 1 hour. [Saltzman]

In Thick, playwright Rick Bland also takes the principal role of Rudy, who tells anyone who will listen: "I see everything nice." Rudy, or as he says he was called in school "Rudolph the red-nosed moron," was dropped on his head by his alcoholic mother when he was an infant. And now nobody will listen to him because he is "thick." We listen because it is Rudy's naively comical narrative that drives the play. No matter how badly he is treated by his distracted mother, dismissive father ("Life is a deck of cards, you play the hand you are dealt"), humiliating teachers, cranky wheelchair-bound grandmother, a cheating shoe sales person, and a tactless priest, Rudy, nevertheless, sees the utter joy in everything and everyone. Ross Mullan and Tamara Bick play these caricatured supporting characters, none of whom seems to be able to make a dent in Rudy's eternal optimism. While Mullan, who plays Rudy's epithet-loving/lawn-obsessed father, he gets his best laughs as Momma, whose diet of "non-alcoholic martinis" eventually leads to her demise. Bick gets the most comic mileage playing an empathetic cabbie ("I like the way you think"). She also plays Rudy's sister, who is the catalyst for the play's sudden and unconvincing descent into family tragedy. Momma, who has become a hypocritical born-again Christian, drops the unmarried sister's baby on its head. A relatively happy conclusion doesn't quite wipe out the uneasy mixture of farcical testimony and family tragedy. Unlike Rudy, and because of the poor sightlines at the theater, I could not see much of anything "nice" or actually much of anything at all. I suspect that director Mark Bruce relied heavily on an audience's collective unconscious to "see" the action. At Collective: Unconscious. 1 hour, 15 minutes. [Saltzman]


Outstanding Play:
The Lightning Field
God's Waiting Room
Go-Go Kitty, GO!

Outstanding Musical:
Silence! The Musical
Fleet Week: The Musical

Outstanding Playwrighting:
Katherine Knowles - Magician
Robin Maguire - Aquarium
Martin Casella - The Irish Curse
Robert Moulthrop - Half Life

Outstanding Multimedia:
Movie Geek

Outstanding Music & Lyrics:
Paul Foglino - Hercules in High Suburbia
Dante Russo (Lyrics)/David F.M. Vaughn (Music) - Extraordinary

Outstanding Solo Show:
The Miss Education of Jenna Bush
Bridezilla Strikes Back
Jesus in Montana
Surviving David

Outstanding Direction:
Scott Ebersold - The Silent Concerto

Outstanding Costume Design:
Kerith Wolf - Marlowe

Outstanding Sound Design:
Mark Huang - Go-Go Kitty, GO!

Outstanding Set Design:
Nicholas Vaughan - The Silent Concerto

Outstanding Actor:
Jennifer Gibbs - Edna St. Vincent Millay Speaks to the Committee on Immorality
James Murray Jackson, Jr. - Unspeakable: Richard Pryor Live & Uncensored
Rick Bland - Thick
Doug Kreeger - Swimming Upstream

Outstanding Ensemble:
Fluffy Bunnies in a Field of Daisies
Weddings of Mass Destruction

Outstanding Fight Direction:
Michael G. Chin - The Lizards

Outstanding Choreography:
Regina Nejman - The Velocity of Things
Nina Hein - Icarus

Venue Addresses

Access Theater - 380 Broadway, 4th Floor (@White Street)

Access Loft Theater - 380 Broadway, 4th Floor (@White Street)

Ace of Clubs - 9 Great Jones Street (@Lafayette)

Center for Architecture - 536 LaGuardia Place (Bleecker/West 3rd)

Collective: Cabaret - 279 Church Street (@White)

Collective: Unconscious - 279 Church Street (@White)

Connelly Theater, 220 East 4th Street (Avs. A/B)

Dixon Place - 258 Bowery. 2nd Floor (Houston/Stanton Sts)

Flea Theater - 41 White Street (Broadway/Church)

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

Lucille Lortel Theatre - 121 Christopher Street (Bleecker/Hudson)

Mazer Theater (Educational Alliance) - 197 East Broadway (@Jefferson)

Players Theatre - 115 MacDougal (near W 3rd)

Players Loft - 115 MacDougal (near W 3rd)

PS122 (Downstairs) - 150 First Avenue (@9th Street)

PS122 (Upstairs) - 150 First Avenue (@9th Street)

Soho Playhouse - 15 Vandam Street (6th Av/Varick)

13th Street Repertory Company - 50 West 13th Street (5/6 Avs)

Village Theatre - 158 Bleecker Street (@Thompson)

1998 Fringe Report
1999 Fringe Report
2000 Fringe Report
2001 Fringe Report
2002 Fringe Report
2003 Fringe Report
2004 Fringe Report

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Our Review

At This Theater Cover

Leonard Maltin's 2005 Movie Guide

Ridiculous! The Theatrical Life and Times of Charles Ludlam

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6, 500 Comparative Phrases including 800 Shakespearean Metaphors by our editor.
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