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A CurtainUp Report

1999 New York International Fringe Festival

Updated 8/24/99

by Les Gutman and David Lipfert

CLEARCUT, catastrophe! | Their Daughter | The Creditors | Secrets of the Yellow RoomLast Tango in Transylvania | Minha Rosa | Sueño de una noche de veranoTranceZenDanceBubulinos' DreamsVinyl ShopNotes from the UndergroundG is for GilgameshStories in DHommage à Chopin | Can't I Not Like It?Time/Bomb  | Pierrot lunaireNew SunSun York

For the third year, New York diverts its attention from the end of August heat by creating some heat of its own. Downtown (Fringe's northernmost venue is on Saint Mark's Place), nineteen theaters host 175 productions over a period of twelve days. The festival runs from August 18-29, from noon to midnight. Further information, schedules and reservations are available by phoning 420-8877 or 1-888-FRINGENYC, on the web at: or or in person at Fringe Central, 196 Stanton Street (Ridge/Attorney) from Noon until 8 PM. Tickets are also available at the door at each venue, 15 minutes prior to the show. Prices: $11, reduced to $7 for kids 12 and under to FringeJR events, seniors and residents of zip code 10002. There are also passes: 5 shows for $50, 10 shows for $100 and the "Lunatic Pass," which entitles you to attend as many shows as possible for $350.

Each year, we try to make some "sense" of Fringe, identifying trends, fads and relationships. This, of course, is inherently anti-Fringe. Fringe ought, its promoters would suggest, to defy rationalization. We try anyway.

One fascinating reality about Fringe is the extent to which it relies, in one way or another, on "the classics". Shakespeare and the Greeks have been a backbone of Fringe in its two prior seasons. Although not ignored, both seem less represented this year. Last year, there was also a heavy dose of Brecht, easily explained by the fact that it was his centenary.

This year, we celebrate the 150th anniversary of the birth of the great Swedish playwright August Strindberg. Is this why Fringers seem infatuated with his work? Who's to say? We will investigate Strindberg soon enough, but to get ourselves warmed up, we started our 1999 Fringe experience with a paean, of sorts, to Chekhov's Three Sisters. Chekhov would only be 139 this year.

[Ed. Note: The author is indicated at the end of each capsule review by bracketed initials.]

Big Art Group's CLEARCUT, catastrophe! moves the Prozorov family from Russia to America; instead of Moscow, Irini (Laura Ritter, a woman who screams in a way that makes the screech of chalk on a blackboard seem pleasant) pines to go to Pittsburgh. This version also blends Chekov's story with a documentary film about two relatives of Jacqueline Onassis who live in very faded elegance in East Hampton. It's strictly a slap-dash effort, filled with inside East Village jokes. Its "star," cabaret celebrity Justin Bond (who here plays Masha, but who is best known as the first half of the duo Kiki and Herb) describes it best during the play's final scene: "a post-modern Cliff Notes version of Three Sisters". A low water mark notwithstanding a nearly full house of staunch (that's s-t-a-u-n-c-h, Masha informs us) supporters. At the Kraine Theater, 85 E 4th (2nd/Bowery). [LG]

Happily, the quality improves measurably in Their Daughter, an adaptation of Strindberg's The Father by Marc J. Parees and Dana I. Harrel that gives the Swedish misogynist a one-two punch. In the first act, Parees directs Richard Waddington and Jeanne Omlor as the warring parents. In Act 2, Harrel takes the helm, directing Jim Meyer and Pam Wild in the same roles. The final act finds both sets of parents onstage, with both directors staging it. In this era of DNA, a debate over sex and power that centers on the impossibility of proving paternity may seem peculiar, but Their Daughter finds just the right mix of the classic and the contemporary and, aided by sometimes-excellent acting and some nifty directorial touches, is quite rewarding.. At Context, 28 Avenue A (2/3 Sts.) [LG]

Strindberg's infatuation with sexual politics, the notion that love is war, reaches its strident heights in The Creditors, a cruel love triangle played out between Adolf (Giovanni Pucci), his wife Tekla (Megan Welch) and Gustav (Kevin Keaveney). Outlet Theater Company's production is raw and unforgiving. A piercing sound wails modestly but persistently; the concrete walls of the space are bare. A new modern translation by Harry G. Carlson does not allow the actors to hide behind the veneer of 19th Century language. Pucci whines, the ever-smirking Welch is vicious and the barrel-voiced Keaveney, who lets the acting go to his head every once in a while, is sinister. Take two Prozacs and call me in the morning. At the Henry Street Settlement Recital Hall, 466 Grand Street (@ Pitt). Note: the running time in the festival guide (1 hour, 45 minutes) is wrong; the show lasts 1 hour 15 minutes. [LG]

Travel tip to Henry St. Settlement:: take F train to Delancey then M14 bus [DL]

Secrets of the Yellow Room combines two of Strindberg's best two-character plays, The Stronger and Paria.  Louise Martin excels as Mrs. X in the former while Eric Coleman offers a superb characterization of Mr. X in the latter. Ann Warren's new translation serves the excellent cast well.  Director Brian Rogers does a bang-up job in this must-see production.  New York Performance Works at 128 Chambers (W Broadway)  [DL]

Community theater was never so much fun as in Last Tango in Transylvania.  A big town director (a dull Rahnuma Panthaky as Terri) escapes her most recent fiasco in Toronto to put on Rocky Horror Show in northern Ontario.  Lisa Wegner is outstanding as the local producer/artiste-in-residence Lucia, and she also gets the best lines.  Director Gillian Strange makes her and the rest of the cast shine.  Although John Taylor's script dawdles with Terri's narratives and overdoses on Lucia's newfound obsession, it is packed with hilarious portrayals of budding stage talents and fully-developed egos. Access at 380 Broadway (Walker/White Sts.) Update: Three performances have been added: Tuesday 8/24 at 9:30 PM, Friday 8/27 at 9:45 PM and Saturday 8/28 at 4 PM. [DL]

In Minha Rosa a Brazilian Catholic priest researching sex so that he can do better marriage counseling meets up with a New York hooker.  Little by little a relationship grows as they exchange confidences and learn trust in spite of many ups and downs.  Many meetings later, the abrupt but inevitable breakup leaves each changed for the better.  Mary Beth Barber and Hamilton de Oliveira are natural fits for their roles of Rose and Bruno.  Wearing her other hat as playwright, Barber serves up authentic-sounding, flowing conversation that is hard to find in today's theater.  Joseph Furnari's direction is top rate.  St. Mark's Studio at 94 St. Mark's Pl. (1st/A) [DL]

If you like your Shakespeare in drag, you should head for Teatro TEBA's Sueño de una noche de verano.  The plot of Shakespeare's Midsummer Night's Dream is dispatched in just over an hour with men playing the women's parts and women in the trouser roles.  Parodying Latin cinema and TV soaps, Héctor Luis Rivera's adaptation and direction and Trini Ruiz's costumes are solidly over the top.  If you don't understand Spanish, you will still be able to follow the action.  Harry De Jur Playhouse/ Henry Street Settlement at 466 Grand Street (Pitt St.) (Travel tip: F train to Delancey then M14 bus) [DL]

There is not much dancing in TranceZenDance, written and performed by Johnny Kwon.  This is a series of eight monologues, some shorter and some longer, covering the range of pop culture but with an Asian bias.  The script is good but likable, well-trained Kwon and director Eyal Goldberg only intermittently engage the audience's feelings.  Best is pure dance, no dialogue title segment toward the end.  The Place formerly known as Dixon at 258 Bowery (Houston/Stanton) {DL]

Even if you don't plan to be part of the action of Bubulinos' Dreams, Parable XXI, Roi "Bubi" Escudero will pull you out of your seat to waltz with her or your partner at the end of her show.  Although the creative intent is there, Escudero bites a lot of big themes such as the creation of the world but fails to develop them.  One problem may be that she is the sole writer, director, producer and designer.  Another is the limited and often ill-conceived technical side.  A brief appearance by dancer Marco "El Mago" is without magic.  Walkerspace at 46 Walker St. (Broadway/Church) [DL]

The Vinyl Shop is really two plays in alternating scenes.  The first is about the failed relationship of nice guy/loser Bob (Mike Vleau) and yuppie lawyer Laura (Heather Delker) that might get restarted.  Whether or not you find him endearing, you have to endure his sappy monologues to get to the good play. Two of the wackiest guys in Chicago work Bob in his 33-1/3 Vinyl Shop, and skirmishes among them all over used LPs and "all time top 5" lists provide some of the best entertainment in the Fringe.  It is worth going to see Matt O'Neill in action as the obsessed clerk Barry.  Authors Nick Digillo and Mike Vleau have crammed in a truckload of nostalgia for rock groups of the 80s in this production from The Factory Theater.  At the Kraine Theater, 85 E 4th (2nd/Bowery).  [DL]

For an intense 90 minutes check out the reprise of Notes from the Underground.  Appropriately set in the basement playing area of St. Mark's Studio, this version of the Dostoevsky tale features a superbly intense Robert Honeywell as the Underground Man.  Michael Gardner has added a four-member chorus to add narrative and to voice thoughts from the character's real and imaginary accusers.  Gardner's top-rate writing is matched by his outstanding direction.  Timing and blocking are impeccable. Get there early for a seat near the action.  St. Mark's Studio at 94 St. Mark's Pl. (1st/A) [DL]

The ancient Near-Eastern legend that is the basis for G is for Gilgamesh is certainly graphically suggestive, but author Eli Rarey repeatedly assaults the audience with sex and more sex to make sure we get the point.  Director Avi Glickstein animates the cast in exemplary fashion-almost enough to forget Rarey's rather silly writing.  You should also appreciate the contribution by musicians Travis Just and Matt Richelson.  Note: a version of the Gilgamesh tale by D.A.G. Burgos presented two years ago at Trilogy Theater was far more satisfying.  Context at 28 Ave.  A (2/3)

If you can imagine downtown dance without the dance, experimental theater without the theater and conceptual performance art without the concept, then you can picture Stories in D.  The piece is based on repeated sequences. Dance artist Sophia Lycouris does a few poses straight from intermediate ballet class and then tosses off her shoes.  (She has brought lots of shoes.)  Musician Viv Dogon Corringham emits low tones as she appears from behind a curtain and walks across the playing area at Soundance.  At least Michael Kosmides's lighting is more or less up to speed.  Contrary to their self-description, this work has nothing at all to do with the atmospheric poetry of Konstantinos Cavafis.  Soundance at 385 Broadway (Walker/White) [DL]

A true gem of the Fringe Festival is Bettina Owczarek's Hommage à Chopin. She hauntingly captures the composer's life in this dramatic dance set to Chopin's appealing works played onstage by pianist Zsuzsa Balint.  Alexander Sieber conveys the composer's youthful Romantic spirit, while Korina Zecirovic as his paramour George Sand demonstrates mastery of communication. Marco Heidenreich's superior lighting design admirably seconds Owczarek's concept.  Both the venue and times have changed.  Hommage is now playing at the Harry De Jur Playhouse/Henry Street Settlement at 466 Grand St. (Pitt). [DL]

Perhaps it's the perfect coda to all of these reviews: Can't I Not Like It? It's a play by and about theater critics. Robert Simonson has conceived this clever piece around a list of twelve rules for critics, and employs the words of Robert Benchley, Eric Bentley, Dorothy Parker, Kenneth Tynan, Bernard Shaw and others. A fine cast of five delivers a cavalcade of pithy comments, which are best when kept short and sweet (or sour, as the case may be): a tirade against the confusing way the names keeps changing in the Russian plays, a review of Orson Welles's Othello that would make John Simon blush, a complaint about the "turkeys" of the 1930-31 theater season -- so bad, they've brought in revivals with all-star casts and it's not even summer yet. Ah, for the old days.  The Place formerly known as Dixon at 258 Bowery (Houston/Stanton) [LG].
Cancer might seem an odd topic for performance art, but Time/Bomb makes its points with a combination of irony and humor.  This physical theater piece by Stephanie Gilman and Kristin Tanzer boasts a snappy cast done up in a 40s look by Eden Miller.  The well-drawn images make seeing this revival of last fall's Collision Theory production worthwhile, even if the text and musical comedy numbers are uninspired.  Harry De Jur Playhouse/Henry Street Settlement at 466 Grand St. (Pitt) [DL]

Straight from Vienna, Pons Artis brings a staged version of Schönberg's Pierrot lunaire, but with a twist.  In a first, actor Uwe Achilles recites the portions of Albert Giraud's surreal text that did not make their way into the musical setting.  Soprano Ulrike Sych gives a refreshingly direct interpretation of the languid half-sung, half-spoken songs (quite unlike the caricatures often heard here.)  Directors Andrija Pavlic and Monika Wunderer emphasize the sensuality in this polished production.  University Settlement at 184 Eldridge St. (corner of Rivington) [DL]

New SunSun York or The Good Sleep Well is a take-off on Japanese cartoons and comics.  Choreographer Kiyoko Kashiwagi devised a suitably exaggerated style for this fast-moving action adventure.  Two female super heroes help hapless widows subdue brawny thugs with the aid of a magic wand and a few strategic Bruce Lee kicks.  But is the difference between the good guys and the bad guys merely an emblem and a piece of velcro?  University Settlement at 184 Eldridge St. (corner of Rivington) [DL]

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