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FRINGE 2011 (NYC)

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Review
2011 Fringe NYC BlogView
First Up:
"The Tutor" (Venue #6) at the Living Theater, 21 Clinton Street (between Houston & Stanton); directed by Ben Gougeon and Doug Spagnola, "The Tutor" by the new, - and perhaps still emerging and learning playwright Kate Mulley has written fairly well in this presentation (some minor production flaws notwithstanding) now underway at the Living Theater.  Although some of the acting was uneven throughout, the story of a daytime female SAT teacher/tutor of a young, growing male teen who doubles her lifestyle at night by plying female adult used underwear online was intriguing!! Go figure. Let it suffice here to say that teacher/online adult salesgal Meredith (ably played by Olivia Galliant) ends up meeting her charge's parents over their son's questionable progress as he seeks to improve his learning skills.  It is a very interesting moment when the tutor and the father of the student encounter each other. All of it had seemed plausible - except the business about the beer - and I'll leave it at that.  Bradford Cover as the father of the tutoree was excellent. The cast also included actors Ian Way, Valence Thomas, and Valerie Lonigro. "The Tutor" itself gets a passing grade.       
- KEVIN MARTIN
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"The 74 Minutes Of Stereo Radio Theater" (Venue #18) at the Cherry Lane Theatre, 38 Commerce Street in the West Village, between 7th Avenue & Hudson Street; the program note mentions no director but it does suggest a committed playing time of 74 minutes, - which may not really matter - since this whole original, freshly acted, impeccably timed set of intelligent, insightful, quite new and funny vignettes are all so neatly performed by Maureen Fitzgerald and Andrew Shulman.  This made the 74 minutes  fly by at lightning speed.  The mission of "74 Minutes" is aptly described in the Fringe catalog:"comedy mates with legitimate theater for the amusement of a jaded audience".  This is a refreshing and non-patronizing piece of theater entertainment, full of adult introspections as each vignette separately explores the daily cultural landscape of relationships and interactions - much of it gone astray. Oh, what fools we mortals be!  "74 Minutes Of Stereo Radio Theater" deserves to be on your Fringe list.              
  - KEVIN MARTIN
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 "The Chamber"  (Venue #11) Kraine Theater, East 4th Street between 2nd and Bowery; written by William Grayson and directed by Gabe Templin; this is an unevenly staged effort presented at the Kraine Theatre, of about 75 minutes, with long-time friends Mike and Sal (Justin Walker and Orlando Segarra, respectively), but it may not be the fault of the actors, for technical elements such as props, light & sound, and story build-up belong in the realm of the director as much as anyone else.  The "chamber" here relates to the chamber of a gun put into use, Russian roulette style, as the two soon-to-be-sick-of-each-other pals sort things out over the same - and newly pregnant - gal (she never appears, but maybe she should have) who, it turns out, has slept with each of the guys.  This is an interesting premise for a play, but the execution of it all is a bit messy, with certain clumsy (at times) fight scenes and physical actions (the imposing burden of that gun can be weighty); still, the actors put in fairly gallant work (acting, real ACTING is one of the most physically demanding crafts ever created) - and deserve some appreciation for almost getting there - at least partly realized. After all, the play's the thing.  (Music is by Orlando Segarra).
 - KEVIN MARTIN
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"Civilian" (Venue #14) at the Bleecker Theater, between Bowery and Lafayette Street; this 90 minute piece is done in a staged "documentary" interview style, replete with a journalist/researcher's quest for better understanding of the extraordinary challenges and accompanying pain and sorrow that have been the sad hallmarks of both the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, still happening right now.  Many Americans seem to almost no longer notice; (so much for media discussion brown-outs).   Victory, of which no one in today's mass media even remotely contemplates, seems far, far away at best. "Civilian" is an appropriately woeful, albeit ambitious undertaking written and directed by Herman Daniel Farrell III. Thankfully, it is devoid of self-pity by the interviewee veterans, a quality that better enables needed reflection.  These vets have a lot to say. The audience will be reminded that, more than ever,  war is hell - and costly, in terms of blood and treasure (already well-past the tril-lion dol-lar mark).  By the time you have just read this, it is very likely that a few more lives in either Iraq or Afghanistan (or both) have been lost to war-time violence. The cast of 7 all do extremely well in expressing their feelings as veterans in transition to civilian life, and that's not always a lot of fun. Honorable mention goes to scenic and light design, as well as costumes and sound; all spot-on.  See this "Civilian" and you might ask yourself: why, after almost 10 years, are we still even having these wars, anyway?
- KEVIN MARTIN
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"The Unsung Diva" (Venue #13) at the Bowery Poetry Club, on the Bowery - north of Bleecker Street, is an intelligent but all too short and rather choppy story of the highly gifted, internationally renowned soprano Sissieretta Jones (1869-1933), the black American opera singer/diva. (The show seemed shorter than the 1 hour, 15 minutes indicated in the Fringe program). Sissieretta Jones, nee Joyner, was regularly referred to as the "Black Patti" by being compared to the well-known Italian diva at the time, Adelina Patti.   The action here takes place in Jones' mid and later life, respectively, in NYC circa 1900, and her home on Wheaton Street in Providence, RI.   With the diva being personalized by the profoundly moving voice of Angela Dean-Baham and joined onstage by fellow actor Erica Richardson (as Topsy, a culturally class-ranked, black minstrelish alter-ego of higher African-American aspiration; Richardson also does very well in other characterizations, too), the piece itself, nonetheless, felt unfinished as theatre.  Perhaps "The Unsung Diva" is un-complete, writing-wise.  Notwithstanding this impression, there are wonderful glimpses of the character Jones in the closing years of her professional career, amid the social and racial tensions of the USA of this period; Jones' heyday of the late 1800s and also into the 1920's was - unquestionably -  a busy time of white racial hatred and bigotry, exemplified by routine lynchings of blacks, popular KKK parades and gatherings in the South and beyond, as well as both official and unofficial Jim Crow segregation in public places almost everywhere.  A great interesting detail here is the fact that Jones the artist constituted a profoundly different, brilliant, but possibly unfulfilled expectation, - and likely not shared by the (white) American madding crowds of that era.  Jones - with her soaring ability (ably represented and felt here by the sweet, perfect singing of Dean-Baham) - was a stunning contradiction of the lowly impressions foisted upon blacks by the white America of those days, - of the shuckin' 'n jivin', don't kno' nuthin stereotypes who were normally doing black-face minstrel performances only.  Given the moral cheapness of majority anticipation, that most surely pleased many white folks while offending blacks, - at certains times at least, - due to its own harsh self-portraits.  In this sense, "The Unsung Diva" is worth a visit, as it serves up a useful contrast of 2 different artistic depictions; one formed from race division and unreality, the other by sheer choice of expression.  Jones (via Dean-Baham), by showing her true and passionate creative gifts, is the latter.  
("The Unsung Diva" is written by Angela Dean-Baham, directed by Michael Mohammed; musical director is Victoria Theodore; sound, lighting, and stage director is Deanna Niebuhr; costume and wig consultant is Richard Battle; ACR is Nicholas L. Baham).
 - KEVIN MARTIN
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"Call Mr. Robeson" (Venue #13) at the Bowery Poetry Club, on the Bowery - north of Bleecker Street; this is a one-man tour d'wonder, written and performed by Nigerian born actor Tayo Aluko, and directed energetically if not perfectly by Olusola Oyeleye.  If Aluko does not completely fill the great shoes of the Robeson stormy life and legend, he comes mighty close.  This is probably the best Robeson you will get, no matter where you look - past, present or future.  Robeson was an independent-thinking artist more sinned against than sinning.  He lived his life as he properly saw fit, in the form of actor, thinker, speaker, debater, lecturer, singer, linguist, human rights activist, and lover to several women.  Aluko succeeds in the task by playing the man as terribly human, without showing off, without self-pity, without righteous indignation. In spite of America's old brand of constant, frequently blatant racism, Robeson plowed forward in the expression of his convictions - as he faced mounting political and social alienation in his later career.  He put up with a lot of difficulties resulting from his beliefs and "pro-communist" (whatever that means) activities here at home.  In Joe Stalin's old Soviet Union, he was feted grandly almost wherever he went; this was an experience largely unfelt by Robeson back in his U.S.A. That is all true. And it is documented, historically and otherwise.  What's missing in our daily media infested culture nowadays are leaders and figures that possess both passion and convictions; our whole society seems to be a blank sheet.  Robeson - no matter if one agreed with his strongly held views or not - had both traits.  Aye, there's the rub.  Mr. Aluko proves to be up to the task, and does it all remorselessly and effectively.  In sum (paraphrasing Shakespeare), Robeson was a man. Take him for all in all; we shall not look upon his like again. 
- KEVIN MARTIN
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"Felony Friday" (Venue #7) at the Connelly Theater on East 4th Street, between Ave. A and Ave. B; if it's hell it must be "Felony Friday" as we watch a mixed lot of misfitters wrangling over their questionable deeds - some of them rather bloody-deadly, in a kind of prison/twilight zone-ish waiting room - SOMEWHERE in the arms of dear old Manhattan!  Is it Hell, ala No-Exit style? (Sartre said that Hell "is other people").  Or is it a subtle hint of Alighieri's industry at work?  But no matter; this is really a very busy 120 minutes (thank God) with intermission included, of soul searching for the baddies of contemporary society, with nasty naughties caught up in feverish threats and guilt ridden pasts as a sort of reminder-of-revenge angel, mystically  known as "Jack" (fine actor and playwright Scott Decker) comes along well after the action between various score checkers and settlers has taken off. The story largely centers on a gruesome interaction between crime boss "Paul" (expertly done by Joe Wissler) and Jack.  It turns out that the 2 know each other for very violent reasons, and the colorful exchange that ensues demonstrates that there is much unfolding to be done. "Felony Friday" is chock full of humorous moments - as you will see, if you get to see this play.  Playwright Decker has a lot to say, and that's worth something.  I just think that some parts of the story could have been perhaps a little more clear.  The overall experience, however, is rather sobering.  The entire cast, handily and neatly directed by Rebecca Yarsin, deserve mention for making us pay attention: veteran and wonderful actor John Amos as the philosophical "BB1", Libby Winters as a unique "Nurse", along with Marc Sinoway as the hyper-active, unfulfilled "Tommy".  Deserving equal appreciation, also, are the actors Marc Goldberg, Claudia Godi, Christopher Dickerson, Mateo Prendergast, and Jamie Lincoln Smith. Together, this ensemble made the entire ensemble work. The effective lighting design and set design credits go to Jay Woods and Chris Dickerson, respectively.
- KEVIN MARTIN
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"Araby" (Venue #9) in the Ellen Stewart@LaMama, East 4th Street between 2nd and 3rd Avenues; a masterful 15-song, 90 minute journey to the the heart and soul with the cocomitant passions of James Joyce's 1914 writings of "The Dubliners", et al, - all done with perfect incandescence by the hand of The Church of Betty wunderkind composer, musician, writer, vocalist Chris Rael.  "The Dubliners" deal with the real life goings-on amongst the Irish middle class during Ireland's great patriotic surge nearly a century ago, and in this current creation Rael gets it right. (The show's title of "Araby" derives from one of short stories of "The Dubliners").  This is an absorbing event, allowing for several experiential highs - in the spheres of sensory appreciation; swoonful and tuneful at the same time!  Being at least modestly familiar with Joyce's writings is helpful to that appreciation, of course, - but even if one isn't, "Araby" sinks lovingly into the senses, nevertheless.  "Araby" is a kind of musical narrative tribute to Joyce (the English language's greatest writer since Shakespeare and Poe; a number of the characters from "The Dubliners" show up later in Joyce's "Ulysses"). Rael immediately reaches straight into the dig-deep exploration of humankind's hopes and fears, using his own richly written, original music and songs as the main vehicles for expression. "Araby", therefore, gets you hooked from its first moment. The work is also rightly accented with a nice Irish humor at times; it is a Joycean ingredient that makes "Araby" nicely realized.  The result is that "Araby" should be progressively satisfying to almost any serious listener/watcher audience; it does precisely that.  The Ellen Stewart Theater was a helpful space for this event, though I could not help wondering how beautiful "Araby" might sound at a well deserved venue like Alice Tully Hall. (Hello)!  All the musicians excelled with their respective songs (several musicians sing individual numbers); a particular favorite song is "Grace" and 'ya gotta see it and hear it in order to love it, obviously.  That sequence dealing with Joyce's "The Dead" was both magical and haunting.  In addition to Rael, other standouts in this entirely exquisite gathering of about 12 skilled artists include the talents of Nancy Magarill and Marlon Cherry.  Put "Araby" high, way high up, on your must-see list.
- KEVIN MARTIN
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 "Bette Davis Ain't For Sissies" (Venue #3) at CSV Kabayitos, corner of Suffolk and Rivington Streets; performed by writer and actor Jessica Sherr as a one-woman presentation of the acting legend herself, Ms. Sherr does a very good job through and through. The piece may not be dramatically strong enough for some folks' liking, but it did not cause any concern on my part.  "Bette Davis Ain't For Sissies" works well because it lacks pretension, a quality that Ms. Davis possessed in spades - as far as the American public was concerned. (Americans can put up with phoniness, insincerity, compulsive dishonesty, for only so long, which is why they admired and respected Ms. Davis; she personified opposite traits).  The public always enjoyed the Davis persona.  Ms. Sherr reminds us of this by creating 70 minutes of the private Davis - who, in this outing, had exited the 1940 Hollywood Oscar ceremony ahead of schedule, realizing that Vivien Leigh, not she, was to receive the Best Actress Award.  Sherr brings us into the Davis world of her own dressing room where she ruminates on what has just transpired, taking phone calls from her fellow attendee mother who pleads with her, - as well as reliving a few of her career memory-moments, including her jousts with Jack Warner over movie scripts.  Sherr's Davis shows us very well that it takes true grit to keep an artist's career moving forward. Scherr does this with both affection and objectivity.  "Bette Davis Ain't For Sissies" is  nicely directed by Theresa  Gambacorta.
- KEVIN MARTIN
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 "HAMLET" (Venue #7) The Connelly Theatre, East 4th Street, between Avenue A and Avenue B; actors, the brief chronicles of our times, all fare fairly well in this presentation at the Connelly, and you most certainly should not be disappointed.  I saw a production of the same melancholy Dane in London some years back, with a big, new "star", starring in the title role in a great, wonderful, even cavernous venue, with what they (who are "they", anyway?) refer to as the cream of show business all in grandly affected attendance for the event; as it happened to be opening night, I (at first) felt lucky to have gotten a ticket for the occasion. THAT show was an unmitigated b-o-r-e.  Wadda'ya get when foolish producers overreach, and a new star thinks he has suddenly acquired the facility to fill an oversold, gargantuan house with his newly re-discovered thespian magic? You get a weary, stale, flat, and unprofitable experience, - that's what you get.  With that in mind, I am guessing that most readers know what "Hamlet" is about; in the 1948 celluloid version of "Hamlet", the star of that film - Laurence Olivier,  said that "Hamlet" was the "story of a man who could not make up his mind".  That must have been part of it.
 
But that was then and this is now.  This group - the BAMA Theater Company, pulls "Hamlet" off without pulling any punches. Firstly, I enjoyed the excellence of cue on cue preparation, an ensemble element that keeps the oxygen flowing in the text.  Every actor was character-ready for his or her scene partners.  This is refreshing.  Although there were some cuts hither and yon, there remained a sharp understanding of the story, which is what matters most.  Happily, it is very possible that most if not all the cast have taken Hamlet's advice to the players to heart, and it shows.  The main roles of Hamlet, Claudius, Laertes, Gertrude, Ophelia, Polonius, and Horatio are all smoothly, persuasively acquitted by their respective inhabiters.  They are: Chris Roe, David Matthew Douglas, Nick Lawson, Lauren Anne Martin, Alison Frederick, Nathan T. Lange, and Matt Renskers.  The action moves well and persuasively during the allotted 2.5 hours, a deserving complement to its director, Greg Foro.  The culminating poison-tipped sword, poison wine scene at the play's end was one of the best, dramatically.  All of it was done with physical and emotional simplicity: it is appropriate to note that it was this specific simplicity that characterized the entire evening's sensibility of seeing the play through, leaving the experience marked with a clear and memorable unity of effect.  Considering the fact that this "Hamlet" was executed on an apparently Spartan budget (intelligent, simple costume dress and minimal props) makes this production all the more worthy of the praise it has so richly earned.  The whole ensemble of actors deserve warm credit for suiting the action to the word and the word to the action. Appreciation is in order, too, for the music by The Motley Coats, lighting by Joe Skowronski, Nick Lawson's fight choreography, Matt Renskers's graphics, and the Lauren Anne Martin's costume design.
- KEVIN MARTIN
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  "What The Sparrow Said"
 
 
- KEVIN MARTIN
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