TONY reviews some of the Fringe festival's race-themed offerings.
Wed Aug 22 2007
Photo: Dixie Sheridan
Three actors, three chairs, a few dozen light cues and a tight, 70-minute script are all Lights Rise on Grace needs to rivet your attention. (Fringe newbies, take note!) Chad Beckim (’Nami) has a flair for gritty urban tragedies in which race plays an inevitable role, shattering families and fostering abandonment and surrogacy. A tragic romance between African-American teen Large (Smith) and Chinese Grace (Ahn) leads Large to beat an intolerant sibling to death, landing him in jail, where he is seduced by a white cellmate (Alioto). When both men are released and Large marries Grace, sexual confusion, marital discord and ethnic tensions arise. Beckim doesn’t lean too heavily on the race issues; using a mix of direct address and terse prose, he establishes three credible characters with clashing desires and expectations. Robert O’Hara’s sensitive, minimal direction deflects the soap-opera implications of the plot, and the powerful actors form a love triangle whose angles cut deep.—David Cote
Time Out Ratings :<strong>Rating: </strong>3/5
Cherry Lane Studio Theatre. Written and performed by Evan Joiner and Kobi Libii. 1hr 10mins. No intermission.
There’s no doubting the sincerity of Evan Joiner and Kobi Libii, the young men behind Boiling Pot. Last year, the two (then-undergraduate) Yale students interviewed 125 Midwesterners about race and the role it plays in their lives; transcriptions of those encounters now form the basis of an earnest multicharacter docutheater piece, which splits roughly into three parts. (Each features long monologues in counterpoint.) In the strong middle section, a black college student examines his history of “white” social positioning, while a white teenager talks about being a minority in a mostly black high school. But although they are manifestly well-intentioned, neither the first third (about race in the 1950s and 1960s) nor the last (about radicalization in reaction to injustice) offers much that feels new. The show as a whole comes off as a good senior project—Libii’s acting, in particular, is impressively natural throughout—but as theater it falls a bit short: The pot boils over, but the ingredients, however carefully chopped, don’t quite amount to a proper soup.—Adam Feldman
Time Out Ratings :<strong>Rating: </strong>2/5
45 Bleecker. By Steffi Kammer and Bob Sloan. Dir. Sloan. With Kammer. 1hr. No intermission.
Given her past, it’s rather amazing that Steffi Kammer didn’t become a bigot. The girlish solo performer grew up poor in Brooklyn’s infamous Farragut housing projects, eating mayonnaise sandwiches with a feckless Swiss-Korean immigrant mother. If I followed Kammer correctly, in second grade she was raped by a drug dealer and had to rescue her brother from daily torture by ghetto kids. She grew to hate the box of poverty and hopelessness that imprisoned her. Sadly, Kammer’s showcase—which could use a better cowriter and director than the amateurish Bob Sloan—is a facile autobiographical sketch that never unleashes the emotional or sociological power of the author’s traumatizing experiences.—David Cote
Time Out Ratings :<strong>Rating: </strong>4/5
Players Loft. By Robert Schneider. Trans. Paul Dvorak. Dir. David Robinson. With Christopher John Domig. 1hr 10mins. No intermission.
The dingy, poorly ventilated Players Loft would be an inhospitable venue for most plays, but it is perfectly suited to the dank inner landscape of Robert Schneider’s Dirt, a disturbing journey into self-loathing otherness. The riveting Christopher John Domig plays Dirt’s febrile, highly unreliable narrator, Sad (short for Saddam), an Iraqi illegal immigrant rose-seller who presents himself to the audience with an unsettling combination of abjection and menace. He is brutally critical of Middle Easterners and their supposedly pernicious effects on society, to the point of absurdity—“A study shows that our urine is more pungent and smells more acrid than the urine elsewhere. That’s been proven. Medically.”—but his humility is so extreme that it becomes a form of confrontation. Although Schneider’s darkly lyrical, Notes from Underground–esque monologue was written in German in 1992, its currency has risen with the recent tide of history. You leave feeling sweaty, shaken and soiled.—Adam Feldman
The New York International Fringe Festival continues through Sun 26. See Off-Off Broadway, and visit timeoutnewyork.com/fringe for reviews of more than 100 other offerings.