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Fringe Festival 2016 reviews, Part II

Adam Feldman
Written by
Adam Feldman

As the enormous 2016 New York International Fringe Festival presses inexorably forward, with nearly 200 theater and dance shows playing in rep downtown, we keep you up on what to see and what to miss in our annual Fringe Binge. Here are our reviews of eight current Fringe Festival offerings. More—much more—to come.

RECOMMENDED: Full coverage of Fringe Festival NYC

The Box Show
[four stars]
Dominique Salerno thinks outside the box while performing inside one. In her intensely creative collective of vignettes, The Box Show, she crams herself into a cupboard-like cube for 90 minutes, and like a magician pulling rainbow-colored strings from her mouth, she keeps surprising you with what she can produce in the space. One sequence is set inside the Trojan horse at the gates of Troy; Achilles has cold feet, and Odysseus and his motley crew—all portrayed by Salerno—must give him a pep talk. In another, Salerno puts jeans and shoes on her arms, then plays out a West Side Story–style dance-floor courtship between her arm-legs and her leg-legs. Other highlights find Salerno portraying a fetus and a self-deprecating Frida Kahlo. It’s often hilarious, but what makes the show most memorable are its moments of darkness, expressed in fleeting, poignant side thoughts and comments. This interplay between light and dark helps The Box Show achieve what every vignette show wants: It is even greater than the sum of its parts.—Gabe Cohn


Brandonna Summer Lives Live!
*** [three stars]
If you adore Charles Busch, John Cameron Mitchell and Kiki & Herb, you’re the right audience for Brandon Alter’s alter ego Brandonna Summer, a fabulous, name-dropping pop diva with constant man trouble. But drag fandom cuts both ways. Compared to the greats, this cabaret-within-a-comedy is a slight showcase that doesn’t know when to belt its last anthem or take its final bow. Ostensibly a comeback concert to celebrate Brandonna’s European hit single, “Find a Feather,” the show reveals itself to be a crime caper with flashbacks and backstage intrigue: Between songs, we learn that our stylish heroine has gotten mixed up with a Venezuelan drug lord as well as his hunky gardener, José (Alexander Cruz), and we begin to suspect that exasperated bandleader Marcy (Carol Angeli) has a secret agenda. Brandonna’s fancy gal pal, Sissy (Megan Rose Greene), and doting assistant, Honey (Shorey Walker,) fill out the gamely mugging cast. If the songs were stronger or pacing tighter, you might care about the wafer-thin plot (whose running gags about Gwyneth Paltrow and The Village Voice seem a trifle dated). On the plus side, Alter has a sturdy pop tenor (heavy on vibrato), a talent for camp one-liners (“I’m too tired to run and too pretty to hide”) and legs that go on forever. The latter attribute is enhanced by “fashion stylists” Jade Yee-Gorn and Phoebe Tureen’s parade of glam frocks and sequined accessories. So we get eye candy, peppy tunes and some laughs. But the affair drags; pardon the term. At the Fringe, an hour can seem like 90 minutes, and 90 minutes can feel like forever.—David Cote


Cyrano: a love letter to a friendship
**** [four stars]
Playwright-actor Sean Peter Drohan uses Edmond Rostand’s classic as a jumping-off point to explore the relationships among young gay men in this entertaining and provocative Fringe offering. Cyrano (Drohan), a ghostwriter for homoerotic fiction, lives with his best pal, Christian (a boyishly charming Adam Roberts); the two share a deep intimacy that bubbles over into love on Cyrano’s part. Christian, however, has fallen for Rock (a sexy, cocky Judah Frank), a lothario who waxes rhapsodic about Voltaire’s Candide via text. As Christian turns to Cyrano for intellectual assistance, the play delves into the nature and limits of friendship and unrequited love. Eamon Foley’s direction and choreography are first-rate; Jason Lee Courson’s playful set (mostly made up of large-scale Legos) helps establish a playground for actors to explore a childlike world. And as both actor and playwright, Drohan is a thrilling find. His performance is nakedly brave (sometimes literally), and the truths he exposes are moving and unsettling. Like the Cyrano he’s created, he has a strong voice of his own.—Rob Maitner


15 Villainous Fools
**** [four stars]
For this highly modern and clever take on Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors, the very energetic writers and actors Maggie Seymour and Olivia Atwood (aided by stage manager Axis Fuksman-Kumpa) have condensed the Bard’s farce about two sets of identical twins to an hour, with time for raps, dance breaks, puppets, Nerf guns and a little audience participation. This being Shakespeare, there is considerable confusion and mistaken identity, not least of all because each set of twins has the same name: two men named Antipholus have two servants named Dromio. Along the way are accusations of theft and adultery, an arrest and a visit from a mum turned nun. Seymour and Atwood deftly and hilariously keep the 15 characters straightish, via assorted accents, colored neckties and useful lettered blocks that spell out different locations in the story. Shakespearean scholars and novices can both enjoy this riotous showcase for two performers with standout comedic timing.—Shani R. Friedman


The Gorges Motel
**** [four stars]
In a small town in upstate New York, the shabby motor inn owned by Virginia (Cynthia Mace) is doing a brisk business. Most of its guests have come for the wedding of Jennifer (an amusingly shell-shocked Jody Flader); that her mama’s-boy groom-to-be has been cheating on her is just one of many secrets waiting to come to light in The Gorges Motel. A collection of seven loosely connected playlets, the show is primarily concerned with questions of romantic and familial betrayal. (Jennifer’s family is a veritable flock of black sheep.) Set in multiple rooms, smartly differentiated in Chris Goutman’s nifty staging, the pieces last about 10 minutes each, with most of the fine cast playing more than one role. In Gretchen Cryer’s Breckenridge, an aging writer (Ilene Kristen, richly flavorful) commiserates with a handyman (Brian Sheridan) over their tangled sexual histories; Arlene Hutton’s Here Comes the Drone ties the anthology’s strands together and tops them with a great sight-gag bow. Not every segment is equally successful—there are several rooms for improvement—but most of the people checking in are worth checking out.—Adam Feldman


Remember Me
** [two stars]

A real estate agent can learn a lot about a person through the process of selling her home. In Finnish playwright Minna Nurmelin’s Remember Me, translated by Eva Buchwald, the neurotic Anna (Jackie Sanders) visits the free-spirited Helena (Heli Sirviö) to evaluate her house. Both women feel aimless; unfortunately, so does much of the play. While the set-up is thought-provoking, the execution is often stilted; in one tiresome scene, Anna plays a shaker as she and Helena speak in rhythm, recreating an argument between Helena and her husband. And although the difference in personalities between the two women inspires some funny moments—particularly in Anna’s many conversational blunders—the play’s cerebral soliloquies are hit or miss. Both characters are keeping secrets from each other, and the climactic revelation of Anna’s is moving. Yet the play as a whole remains a fixer-upper.—Madeline Raynor

*** [three stars]

“Scratchers” are poorly trained tattoo artists who scratch up the skin, causing pain to the people they ink. In Britton Buttrill's intermittently engaging but overwritten Scratching, a deeper kind of damage has settled in long before needle gets put to skin. Druggie and failed tattooist Christian (Karsten Otto) has returned to his dead-end hometown in the Deep South, hoping to take another stab at his craft and create a future with his stripper girlfriend, Brianna (Andi Morrow), who is also trying to turn her life around. Enter Tracy (Alexandra Collins), his ex-fiancé from New York, on the verge of a safe marriage and making a last-ditch effort to win Christian back. While they hash things out, Brianna returns to her drug supplier and ex-boyfriend, Adrian (Tyler Gardella)—Christian’s estranged brother—to score a bag of molly to sell. Miles Mandwelle’s fluid staging balances the intersecting storylines effectively, and the actors have authentic chemistry, but their scenes sometimes get stuck on single notes of anger. Everyone in the play is desperately trying to exorcise demons, yet too often their pain seems only skin deep.—Robin Rothstein

The Unusual Tale of Mary and Joseph’s Baby
*** [three stars]

If you’re going to reboot the Biblical tale of the virgin birth of Jesus, it helps to have an original take on the story, not to mention a consistent tone. Book writer Chris Cragin-Day, for the most part, has neither, which leads The Unusual Tale of Mary and Joseph’s Baby to veer between extremes like a bowling ball on the deck of the Titanic. Is this a cutesy, lighthearted musical that whimsically tells of an ordinary woman impregnated by (spoiler alert!) the Holy Spirit? Or is it a more serious work with modern overtones, about minorities struggling against colonialist oppression until they are forced to become refugees? Cragin-Day tries to do both at once. Ava McCoy makes an affectingly winsome Mary, and Michael Castillejos is a fine blue-collar Joseph, pulling off even composer-lyricist Don Chaffer’s less felicitous rhymes (“comparison / bear a son”). The supporting cast shines even brighter: Andrew Nielson, who recalls a young Jim Carrey, gives the show real laughs, and Katherine George shows off her exuberant versatility in multiple roles. Chaffer’s score has some lovely moments, particularly when the entire cast sings together (which is far too seldom). But it can’t transcend a book that doesn’t seem to know what it wants to be or why.—Tom Moran    


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