Reviews: Fringe Festival

This year, we decided to sample the Fringe randomly. Ouch.

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Bette Davis Ain't for Sissies

Bette Davis Ain't for Sissies Photograph: Scott Singer

Time Out Ratings

<strong>Rating: </strong>2/5

This summer the New York International Fringe Festival turns 15 years old, so let's take a moment to study the event in its adolescent phase. The kid is obese, spastic and plagued by pimples. It does poorly at school, hobbled by alarming inconsistency: One minute it acts clever and resourceful, the next it babbles nonsensically and makes a mess. You see this confused, struggling teen and sincerely hope that it matures into an intelligent, talented, healthy adult. But let's be honest: No one expects that to happen.

Normally, we try to review Fringe shows with good word of mouth (such as Yeast Nation). This year I took a different tack, selecting random entries that fit my schedule. These included a celebrity-impersonation solo, a puppet version of a classic drama and a tasteless musical spoof—three genres that account for roughly 85 percent of usual Fringe fare. I didn't set out to find the festival's worst, but that might be what happened.

Time Out Ratings

<strong>Rating: </strong>2/5
Bette Davis Ain't for Sissies
The title of Jessica Sherr's vehicle for herself—in which she portrays Tinseltown Kewpie Bette Davis for 60 bland and boring minutes—doesn't indicate who exactly she was for. This acting-class monodrama certainly isn't for anyone seeking insight into the iconic star of All About Eve or Now, Voyager (the studio heads were pigs, Howard Hughes was a weirdo—thanks!). And although Sherr has pretty porcelain features and the requisite flashing eyes, her script is anemic and disjointed, her pacing is dozy, and she gets no help from clueless director Theresa Gambacorta. To top it all off, Sherr unwisely frames the monologue as Davis's inner thoughts as she takes a fictional break from the 1939 Academy Awards ceremony, thus cutting off potential interaction with the audience. Anyone attending the show wants Bette Davis tossing zingers at the front row, not petulantly stroking her Oscars.

Time Out Ratings

<strong>Rating: </strong>2/5
Dreamplay
August Strindberg in his mystical misanthrope phase; pseudo--Julie Taymor puppets designed by a recent college grad; a bunch of Suzuki-trained performers—what could possibly go wrong? An actor stumbled out of the bleachers at the top of the show with wild hair and wilder eyes, introducing himself as Strindberg, in the flesh. In retrospect, I wish he'd come to shut down this mess of hysterical overacting and chintzy, crazy-quilt styles, knockoffs ranging from Bread & Puppet to Punch & Judy. Of the likeable but misguided cast, Alison Barton is sweetly angelic as Indra's Daughter and Tom Foran is vibrantly agonized as a frustrated Lawyer, but eventually the ensemble work devolves into shouty chaos. The original A Dream Play is haunting and lovely, but this hectic collegiate graffito was simply nightmarish.

Time Out Ratings

<strong>Rating: </strong>1/5
Zombie Wedding
Heed the PG rating on postcards for this depressingly unfunny send-up of the undead genre and '80s flicks: You will not be getting the steady stream of profanity, obscenity, sex jokes and graphic violence that might make this creaky, idiotic spoof bearable. There are lively jugular spurts from zombie bites, and director Randal Myler seems to have woken up long enough to stage the faintly amusing final number. Otherwise, this 90-minute snooze, with innocuous pop noodlings from composer Daniel Sturman and book writer/lyricist R.C. Staab, should never have risen from the grave. While not much expense has been spared on the shoestring production, you get the sense that the creative team ludicrously believes it can attract money people. But Zombie Wedding is the sort of cynical venture that gives the Fringe an even worse name. Offer dumb, cheap, dirty fun; don't sit us down at Backer's Audition for the Damned.

The New York International Fringe Festival plays at various venues through Sun 28.

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