The New York International Fringe Festival

Musicals, comedies, puppet shows, dance, nude actors and an old show by the Marx Brothers: Welcome to the 2014 edition of the New York International Fringe Festival

Photography by Mickey Kerr
Awkward Romance: "The Third Evening," part of the Fringe Festival

As Broadway and Off Broadway take breathers before the fall rush, August means just one thing for many lovers of New York theater: The New York International Fringe Festival. More than 75,000 people swarm annually through this sprawling hive of theater and dance, making FringeNYC (as it’s sometimes known) of the city’s largest events. This year’s 18th edition includes work by 205 different theater and dance companies, each of which gets just five or six chances to show its stuff.
 
Of course, quantity doesn’t always equal quality—and that’s where we come in. The wild variety of Fringe offerings includes musicals, experimental pieces, classical revivals and ramshackle new works about Moses, Taylor Swift and pretty much everyone in between. Some may go on to glory (like Fringe Festival alumni Urinetown and Silence! The Musical), while others will fade into well-deserved obscurity. As always, we’ll be sending a battery of reviewers out into the field to report on dozens of shows, so check this page regularly for new reviews.

When is the Fringe Festival?

The New York International Fringe Festival runs from August 8 through August 24 at 18 different venues, most of them in the East Village and Lower East Side.

How do I buy tickets for the Fringe Festival?

Tickets are $18 and some shows sell out fast. A full list of the 205 productions—and where and when they're playing—can be found at the official Fringe Festival website. And if you can’t get tickets to a particular show, don’t give up hope: Some of the most popular Fringe plays return in September as part of the FringeNYC Encore Series.

Fringe Festival reviews

Theater

His Majesty, the Devil—A Play with Music

A Young Man (Colin Pip Dixon) lies barefoot on the floor while a Visitor (MacIntyre Dixon, Colin’s father) sits in a chair, reading a newspaper. The former, it seems, has been plotting an anarchist revolution, out of despair at the state of the world; the latter is the Prince of Darkness himself, who may or may not be a figment of the boy’s feverish imagination. His Majesty, the Devil is one long, familiar conversation: The Young Man spouts adolescent, creakily worded vitriol (“How could my mind beget such a fool as you?”), while the Visitor wallows in various forms of self-pity and shares hoary tropes about human iniquity (“I’m not half as harmful as your human brothers and sisters”). Sympathy for the Devil only extends so far. The elder Dixon, deploying more treacle than brimstone, performs with seasoned skill; the younger, who also composed an original score for the piece, plays the violin beautifully but does not appear to be a trained actor, to damaging effect. The project is sweetly dedicated to its late playwright, Alexandra Devon, who was Colin’s mother, and there is no question as to its good intentions. But we know where roads paved with those can lead.—Adam Feldman Click here for full TONY coverage of the 2014 New York International Fringe Festival.

Time Out says
  • 2 out of 5 stars
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Theater

Clive Barker's History of the Devil

There is a place where wretched souls from many walks of life huddle in darkness as minutes stretch into eternity and malignant spirits apply grotesque methods of torture. No, it’s not Christian Hell, but the 14th Street Y during any performance of Clive Barker’s History of the Devil. A grisly trifecta—bad acting, no apparent direction and a problematic script—damns watchers of this theological courtroom drama to everlasting torment, by which I mean two hours without intermission. Barker’s time-hopping 1980 fantasia predates his breakthrough Books of Blood and Hellraiser and is well suited to radio (there is a 1999 audio version) or perhaps a Syfy flick, but falls flat onstage. The Devil (Victoria Rae Sook) is put on trial for crimes against humanity on the shores of Lake Turkana in Kenya. Witness testimony for the prosecution and the defense conjures up vignettes from past centuries, with Old Scratch corrupting or tempting folks from 13th-century-B.C. Russia to A.D.-18th-century England. Barker’s sprawling four-act pageant evokes Monty Python, George Bernard Shaw and even the metaphysics of Milton, but only a crew of amazing comic performers could pull off its whiplash changes from camp satire to cosmic tragedy. These actors, all 13 of them, are not up to the task. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many varieties of bad acting in one room: mush-mouth diction, inept blocking, hammy hysterics and dead-behind-the-eyes zombie delivery. You’ll wonder if you’ve walked into a cult me

Time Out says
  • 1 out of 5 stars
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Theater

King of Kong: A Musical Parody

Based on the successful 2007 documentary The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters, this musical parody follows two men, Steve Wiebe and Billy Mitchell, on their quest to achieve the high-score record for the video game Donkey Kong. Playwrights Lauren Van Kurin and Amber Ruffin play Wiebe and Mitchell, as well as multiple other roles, layering their costumes on top of each other for attempted comic effect. Even given the Fringe’s low-budget aesthetic, however, the show seems cheap and slapdash. The musical numbers are sloppy, and the quality of the humor is far below that of the already amusing source. Spend your Fringe coin elsewhere.—Sean Bansi Click here for full TONY coverage of the 2014 New York International Fringe Festival.

Time Out says
  • 2 out of 5 stars
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Theater

Joel Creasey: Rock God

Australian comedian Joel Creasey arrives at this year's Fringe having already achieved some level of fame in his own country, and it's easy to see why: The relentlessly hilarious 23-year-old has the chops of a much more seasoned performer, and the charisma of an inevitable star. Despite its inclusion in a theater festival, the show is essentially a stand-up set ("You can call it storytelling," he quips early on), complete with crowd work and an onstage water bottle. It's loosely structured around stories in which Creasey meets his childhood heroes (from a kids' TV show host to a famous Aussie stand-up), but the considerable magic is in the asides and tangents—many of which seem genuinely off-the-cuff. Whether recounting his failed stint as a ball boy in tennis or humblebragging about bedding his mother's Zumba instructor, Creasey is charmingly self-effacing without ever crossing the line into awkward self-loathing, and his ability to contort his face and voice to inhabit various characters recalls performers like Maria Bamford and Margaret Cho. (As with those funny ladies, Creasey's mom is the source of much of his comedy.) Rock God is a rare opportunity to catch a future star in an intimate setting. Don't miss it: You'll have great bragging rights when he sells out Radio City in a few years.—Ethan LaCroix Click here for full TONY coverage of the 2014 New York International Fringe Festival.

Time Out says
  • 5 out of 5 stars
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Theater

Gary Busey's One-Man Hamlet

Is Hamlet, prince of Denmark, truly insane or only feigning madness to plot his revenge? Is Gary Busey, hack of Hollywood, truly batshit or only faking it for reality TV? While one question has been asked by Shakespeare scholars, and the other by writers of episode recaps, only one person has raised both in purposeful conjunction. That would be David Carl, a man who can confidently place “Gary Busey Impersonator” at the top of his CV. (He also plays Busey in Point Break Live!) Carl’s 80-minute solo is as much stupid fun as its title suggests. With his death-mask grimace and penchant for New Agey acronyms, the barking-mad Busey—he literally barks and yips—is here to prove his “chops” by playing all roles in the classic tragedy. Employing paper puppets (bearing the actor’s face, of course) and interactive video, Carl and director Michole Biancosino take us on a psychotic ride through the tragedy’s five acts. First Folio purists beware: Busey/Carl takes liberties with the text, as when Polonius’s advice to Laertes seems to contain every catchphrase uttered in the President’s pep talk from Independence Day. For what is essentially a stunt, the piece is neatly crafted and packed with running gags (“Eggs-oont Ophelia,” he drawls into a handheld mike). The high point might be when Carl stages the fight between Hamlet and Laertes in Ophelia's grave as a bloody hand-to-hand brawl between the live actor and a projected video. It’s crazy hilarious.—David Cote Click here for full TONY c

Time Out says
  • 4 out of 5 stars
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Theater

Vestments of the Gods

With a name like Thebes Street Elementary, it’s no wonder that a school’s Halloween festivities take a dark turn in Vestments of the Gods. Writer Owen Panettieri’s adaptation of Antigone is a clever (if sometimes heavy-handed) examination of the thoughtlessness that can allow problems to fester into tragedy. Casting a wide net on such social issues as censorship, bullying and workplace discrimination, the play often has an After-School Special feel, and its primary antagonist is a conservative straw man: an odious PTA president (Broadway veteran Jennifer Cody, deliciously viperish) who bears the brunt of Panettieri’s social criticism. Yet the production transcends the script’s weaknesses, thanks to Joey Brenneman’s savvy and sensitive direction, and a truly excellent ensemble led by Erica Diaz as the sixth-grade heroine. Jaunty songs by Panettieri and composer David Carl, sung by a convincingly adolescent Greek chorus, provide effective counterpoint for the debate-driven scenes, while Erin Michelle Routh’s costumes offer a range of witty, homespun Halloween getups. Greek tragedy isn’t known for its subtlety, but tricks and treats help the medicine go down.—Austin Ruffer Click here for full TONY coverage of the 2014 New York International Fringe Festival.

Time Out says
  • 4 out of 5 stars
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Theater

The Imbible: A Spirited History of Drinking

Remember Bill Nye the Science Guy? Great! Now imagine him as a bartender who is deeply interested in the history of ethanol alcohol, really likes wigs and costumes, and just joined a coed barbershop quartet. That description of Anthony Caporale’s The Imbible: A Spirited History of Drinking may sound far-out, but the show is both educational and entertaining. (It's also a fine showcase for a cappella classics arranged by Josh Ehrlich and performed by a gifted ensemble that includes the show's director, soprano Nicole DiMattei.) Mixing whimsy and information, Caporale makes the story of our relationship with alcohol remarkably compelling. And the show's lessons—on subjects like the drinks served at Prohibition-era speakeasies, the origin of the gin and tonic, and the difference between a cocktail and a mixed drink—can be washed down with complimentary, thematically appropriate beverages. As Caporale says, “Trust me, I get funnier with every sip.” That makes the show a must-see for anyone who enjoys free booze, which is probably nearly everyone.—Amelia Bienstock Click here for full TONY coverage of the 2014 New York International Fringe Festival.

Time Out says
  • 4 out of 5 stars
Users say
  • 4 out of 5 stars
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Theater

Bedroom Secrets

The Beatles classic “Do You Want to Know a Secret?” plays as the house lights fade and Thomas and Judy Heath’s touching and charming comedic drama Bedroom Secrets begins. Eager to hear their intimate conversations, we are soon peeking into the world of psychotherapist Robin (well played by Ashlie Atkinson) and five of her patients. All of the latter are masterfully embodied by Nurse Jackie's Stephen Wallem, who transforms himself with bold physical choices and small changes of costume and props (a scarf, a pair of glasses). The issues range from porn addiction to struggles with marriage and sexuality; of particular interest are Hunter, a boisterous gay architect whose partner has a roving eye, and Tiffany, an über-naive but lovable Valley girl who sleeps with “losers” on the first date. Meanwhile, Robin is exploring romance with Paul (Wallem’s sixth character), and although they're both likable, their story doesn't seem fully fleshed out. When Paul, en route to their first weekend getaway, confesses that there are things he hasn't told her about himself, she responds by saying, “We all have our secrets." Well, what are they? The play explores the foibles and vulnerabilities of Robin's patients in satisfying depth, but its central couple leaves you wanting to know more.
—Valerie David Click here for full TONY coverage of the 2014 New York International Fringe Festival.

Time Out says
  • 4 out of 5 stars
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Theater

Sick City Blues

The unintended and nervous giggles from the audience during Jake Shore’s Sick City Blues are understandable: Though not sick, the play does leave you blue. Marty (Stephen Heskett) is hiring Ray (Adam Files) to steal an important briefcase from mob boss Sal (Gavin Starr Kendall), but Ray is on edge; among other problems, his accomplice is 17-year-old smart mouth Vinny (Justin Colón). Meanwhile, Mary (Cara Moretto), whose familial ties to Sal lack clarity, delivers a long, teary tale of being discovered by a policeman late one night while lying naked on a beach with a hookup. (The cop, she claims, got way too stop-and-frisk–y.) This makes Sal vow revenge on the cop, but Marty and Ray’s briefcase plan goes into action first, resulting in a successful theft but unforeseen complications. Throughout the play, Shore offers two modes: dialogue exploding with Mamet-style f-bombs, and long monologues festooned in the playwright-director's favorite color, purple. No doubt the audience's nervous chuckles also stem from basic confusion: Why are there two scenes extolling cunnilingus? Why have a molestation subplot only to kill it during the briefcase caper? When Ray finds out what’s in the briefcase, we also learn that Marty isn’t the mob boss we figured he was at the top of play. It’s a twist, all right, but one that's good only for a laugh.—Leonard Jacobs Click here for full TONY coverage of the 2014 New York International Fringe Festival.

Time Out says
  • 2 out of 5 stars
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Theater

Depression: The Musical

No one can accuse Marianne Pillsbury of not being self-aware. At the beginning of Depression: The Musical, which she wrote and stars in, she admits, “Writing about depression is, well, depressing.” Watching this musical about it, however, is not; Pillsbury brightens her psychological chronicle with a healthy dose of peppy, retro-flavored pop-rock tunes. Pillsbury carries the show, and most of its high notes, without losing her breath. Such personal material—including mother issues and bad breakups—can be self-indulgent, and at times it feels like Pillsbury is using the audience as her therapist. But she mostly sidesteps that risk by adding a girl-group–style Greek chorus, played with verve by Vanessa Theus, Hayley Bridgewater and Hillary Maloney. They skip and dance their way through Pillsbury’s troubled psyche, helpfully pointing out that “this will not end well but it’ll make a great song.” That’s not oversell: The tunes are clever and introspective without falling into self-pity. (A high-energy number called “Medicated” is a standout; one doesn’t often hear lyrics about nausea, dry mouth and diarrhea.) Depression: The Musical may not be a substitute for actual treatment—for one thing, it rushes through Pillsbury’s emergence from her crisis—but its medicine goes down easy.—Diep Tran Click here for full TONY coverage of the 2014 New York International Fringe Festival.

Time Out says
  • 4 out of 5 stars
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Latest Fringe coverage

Blog

Five kinds of Fringe Festival show

The 18th edition of the New York International Fringe Festival is now in full, vertiginous swing. We’re reviewing dozens of shows on our Fringe Festival page (where the first batch of reviews is now up); you can also visit the festival’s website for a full list of all 205 shows, from A to Y. (There are none that start with Z this year. Get on that, Fringe 2015!) Meanwhile, to help you navigate the maze, here’s a guide to some of this summer’s productions, sorted into five classic types of Fringe offering.   The Scrappy MusicalEvery Fringe musical dreams of being Urinetown, the festival’s most successful alum. This year’s contenders include: Coming, in which Jesus returns as a contestant on a TV singing show; Depression: The Musical, about an alcoholic lesbian in therapy; and Olympus Records, which imagines five heroes of Greek tragedy as veterans of a ’90s rock band. The Very, Very Serious PieceAmid the festival’s ramshackle frivolity, one can always find productions that take theater very seriously indeed. This year’s sincerity wing includes No One Asked Me (about undocumented immigrant teens), Dust Can’t Kill Me (a folk musical about Dust Bowl migrants, by rising Yale seniors) and Soga Shohaku (a Japanese company’s tale of a widely hated 18th-century painter who “had reason to live in a clumsy way like that”). The Acclaimed Foreign ProductionNot surprisingly, Fringe shows that originated abroad tend to be more tested and polished. If you’re willing to shlep here fro

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Blog

Five life hacks to mentally survive the unbelievably shitty Fringe shows you will see

If you check out our Fringe Festival page, you will see some quite positive reviews: four stars…wow, even five! But guess what? There are 200 damn shows in the Fringe, and you know that many of them—if they get reviewed—would draw three or two stars. And a two-star Fringe show isn’t like a two-star show in the real world. A two-star Fringe show is a special kind of awful, where the acting school dropout and the first-time writer-director-designer team up to murder two hours of your life. Don’t get me wrong: The Fringe is a wonderful thing, a playground, incubator, circus…pick your marketing metaphor. I even directed a show there in 1998 (which was fucking brilliant). But it’s also a place where much bad, bad art happens. So unless you want to leave halfway through that dance-rap-puppet adaptation of Ulysses and break a dream, here are tricks to pass the time:1. View it as performance art. The actors are not actors. The play is not a play. They learned their lines phonetically and there is a postmodern method to the madness. You think that trained, talented actors and writers are more worthy of your time? How bourgeois of you. Nothing is more intellectually bracing than the boredom of watching inept amateurs bump into each other on stage, uttering words that died inside their hearts. That is true art—a sucking vacuum of art.2. Imagine everyone naked. Chances are the cast is young and reasonably attractive (being paid in cheap beer and summer showmance). Would the dramaturgy be

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2013 Fringe Festival coverage

Theater

Postcards from the Fringe

Choosing a worthy Fringe show can be a real paper chase.

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Reviews of 2012 Fringe Festival shows

Alice & The Bunny Hole

In Alex DeFazio's take on the Lewis Carroll classic, Alice enters a new world that is not only curious but also bi-curious—or pan-curious, as Twinkydee and Twinkydum would have it. As Twinkydee also says, “Monogamy is the interpersonal version of terrorism,” but what else would you expect from a couple that Alice and her boyfriend find on swingcity.com and agree to meet at a club called the Bunny Hole? Regulars include a DJ who can barely stay awake long enough to drop a beat, a tiny-hatted man who speaks in Carrollesque riddles, a Prince of Hearts whom few would find charming, and Bunny himself—the omnipresent, pocket-watch-wearing club owner. DeFazio artfully creates a kinky wonderland that is addicting for both Alice and the audience; in the second act, however, the play veers into predictability, and its thematic hinting turns into hammering, By the time Alice tells Bunny that she needs to leave and return to real life, you may already be wishing that you could do the same. (Visit fringenyc.org for more information.)—Bryna Turner

Time Out says
  • 3 out of 5 stars
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All My Children

Which is the scarier three-word phrase—"I'm your father" or "one-man show"? In the case of writer-performer Matt Smith's diverting 90-minute offering, be not afraid of either. The seed of the tale, told in a genial storytelling style, is an outlandish conceit: Max Poth, a childless bachelor with a breezy self-deprecating streak, discovers that all six of his ex-significant others married their next partner within three months of breaking up with him, and all gave birth to their only children within a year. Poth tracks down the progeny and declares that he's their father, knowing he isn't. This isn't an exercise in malevolence; the first lie just springs from Poth's lips, the second chases the illicit thrill of the first, and as relationships develop, the serial fibbing becomes something of a quest. It's a credit to Smith's quality as a writer and performer that he doesn't flog this absurd notion for laughs. He lays off the histrionics—all but one of his former partners’ kids (a 13-year-old) react to the life-changing bombshell with varying degrees of incredulity—and injects the proceedings with gentle laughs and believable characters. Smith still throws in a few curveballs, such as makes his pad available as a sex nest to a pair of Christian fundamentalists. Only when Poth offers his junkie "daughter" $100 to Eskimo-kiss does the joke fall… Well, it falls plain creepy. That's but one knot in an otherwise enjoyable yarn. (Visit fringenyc.org for more information.)—Jonathan Shannon

Time Out says
  • 4 out of 5 stars
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Animals

Three friends attend what turns out to be a savage high-school-reunion house party in Sam Byron’s twisted coming-of-age story. As the boozy night wears on, lower instincts supplant social graces and lust and status games run rampant. Robby falls prey to host Lisa, whose endearing curiosity is mixed with ironic disinterest in his honesty. Meanwhile, Drew goes feral, imposing himself on Megan, Lisa’s “hetero-lifemate,” while Royce smugly manipulates everyone from the sidelines. Although Animals contains surprisingly charged sexual moments, it doesn’t actually plumb many layers in its crude portrait of post-teen atavism, loss and longing. Does Byron think that, although life is unfair and guilt serves a purpose, our actions are justifiable because…we're all just animals? The play doesn’t have enough teeth to support such a beastly proposition. (Visit fringenyc.org for more information.)—Daylin Hull

Time Out says
  • 3 out of 5 stars
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The Apocalypse of John

In The Apocalypse of John, the Devil (a hirsute Chris D’Amato) looks an awful lot like Kevin Smith, which is sort of fitting; the cult film director would not be out of place in Serious Theatre Collective’s catastrophic-banal, fantastical-mundane universe, where you’re as like to stumble into work with a hangover or disappoint your girlfriend as you are to get mauled by the undead or slapped by an angel. This collaboratively penned piece follows the travails of John Darrian (Michael Mraz), a would-be-heroic manchild who wakes one morning to find that Armageddon has descended. His girlfriend (Erin Salm) is prodding him about their future together, and his corporate-asshole boss (Michael Drummey) is giving him one last chance to save his job. Meanwhile, John has to come to grips with multifarious end-times calamities: Aliens, zombies, nuclear explosions and meteorological disasters are all buffeting the Earth—and he’s the only one who seems to notice that it’s happening. Directed with economy and savvy by Lizz Leiser and featuring a talented ensemble cast, the show is a riot of zippy one-liners and laugh-out-loud set pieces; it’s like watching a bunch of overgrown kids playing make-believe. (One sublime moment of silliness features a shotgun-toting John blowing away a host of hostile forces—including the weather.) The premise is a bit of a muddle, and the script could use some cutting, but plausibility is beside the point. All told, this is a damned fun party. (Visit fringenyc.org for more information.)—Jenna Scherer

Time Out says
  • 4 out of 5 stars
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Select Fringe Festival 2012 shows

The Abduction of Becky Morris

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Antigone Unearthed

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Fortunate Daughter

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Quest for the West

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