Get us in your inbox

The Radicalization of Rolfe
Photograph: Dixie SheridanThe Radicalization of Rolfe

Fringe Festival 2016 reviews, Part III

Adam Feldman

Our annual Fringe Binge continues with seven reviews of plays at this year's New York International Fringe Festival—including five-star raves for two offerings.

RECOMMENDED: Full coverage of Fringe Festival NYC

From Foster Care to Fabulous
** [two stars]
Patrick Burns has had a rough life, and in From Foster Care to Fabulous he tries to exorcise some of his demons through showbiz. His personal stories about foster parents abusing the system, with too little or too much affection for their ward, are harrowing. But his presentation of this history is deliberately glib: His one-man “therapy theater” musical is shaped as a flip and hyperactive TV talk show, in which Burns plays the host and guests (and sings snippets of original tunes). Unfortunately, this dissonance between form and content doesn’t pay off. The talk-show clichés that Burns employs—reading mail, talking to the bandleader—help break up the evening, but they also break up the stories themselves, which lean on antic style instead of painful substance. Not as fabulous as it means to be, the show might be stronger with less showbiz and more sincerity.—Laura Heller

Homo Sapiens Interruptus
**** [four stars]
Rehabilitated rock star Carlos Dengler, formerly of the indie band Interpol, has a lot on his mind: evolution, heavy metal, philosophy, hair. The nonlinear structure of his freewheeling and immensely engaging autobiographical solo show, Homo Sapiens Interruptus, hangs on what philosopher Søren Kierkegaard called "choice points," or life-changing moments. Some are obviously major (communing with an early hominid, meeting David Bowie); some seem small but have just as big an impact (chopping off his dreads, watching the MTV premiere of Metallica's "One"). Endearingly dorky and highly articulate, the bearded Dengler, who recently earned an M.F.A. in acting from NYU, spends all 70 minutes seated behind a desk, employing a smattering of visual aids and often reading from his notes. But while it's low on theatrics, Homo Sapiens Interruptus is high on evocative ideas. Dengler connects personal progress to the evolution of our species—it's less pretentious than it sounds—as he shares anecdotes both humorous (his obsession with Mötley Crüe’s Nikki Sixx) and harrowing (his alcoholic dad) and makes insightful points about the perpetual search for satisfaction. Even if you can't name one Interpol song (guilty!), you’ll leave a Dengler fan.—Raven Snook 

Joey Variations: A Play With Dance
**** [four stars]

In Joey Variations: A Play With Dance, playwright-director Jon Spano shows us the effects of hate crime in a world where hardness is everyone’s game, and no one is winning. Joey (Matthew Hardy) is struggling—with addiction, with his dance career, with apathy, with isolation—and it may kill him. What it takes to recover are the exact things he intuitively avoids: connection and intimacy. (“Does emptiness last forever?”) But Joey slowly allows others to bring him back to living, not just surviving, his life. The show moves from soliloquy to dance solo to one-on-one scenes, through which we come to know two women committed to Joey’s success: his dance mentor, Svetlana (Julie Hays), and his transgender therapist, Rita (the mesmerizing Bianca Leigh). Joey Variations leans too heavily on monologue, and the transitions can be clunky and self-conscious. But the play aims right to your heart, and does its work.—Roberta Lipp

Mother Emanuel
***** [five stars]

This powerful piece by Rajendra Ramoon Maharaj, Adam Mace and Christian Lee Branch pays tribute to the nine members of the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, ages 26 to 87, who were killed in a gun massacre last year in Charleston, South Carolina. Cynthia Marie Graham Hurd, Susie Jackson, Ethel Lee Lance, Depayne Middleton, Clementa C. Pinckney, Tywanza Sanders, Daniel Simmons, Sharonda Coleman-Singleton and Myra Thompson: Mother Emanuel honors their memories by bringing them to life. In flashbacks that reveal their personal histories, the play helps us get to know and love these people as more than names briskly scanned in a news story. The sterling ensemble includes the comical Branch and the charismatic Marquis D. Gibson; Lauren Shaye provides dynamic character acting, and Nicole Stacie has vocal cords of steel. (Jaws drop when she belts a note.) Though appropriately weighty, the play doesn’t forget to entertain, and the audience is even encouraged to join the cast in song. Such moments of joy make the tragedy even harder to accept.—Amelia Bienstock

Night of the Living N-Word!!
***** [five stars]
Kevin R. Free masterfully takes on America’s original sin of racism in this genre-bending, highly entertaining tragicomedy. Channing (Aaron Parker Fouhey) plans to celebrate his 17th birthday with his family: his African-American father (Free), a former TV-cop-show star; his white mother (an admirably multidimensional Eevin Hartsough), neurotically fixated on eliminating the n-word from their lives; and his dad’s father (Broadway veteran Stanley Wayne Mathis), whose feelings about the word are bound up with his sense of history and his loyalty to both son and daughter-in-law. What better location for Channing’s birthday party—and a surprise “n-word intervention”—than the plantation his mother has inherited? (The taboo term is uttered in both full and censored form countless times throughout the play.) In approaching his subject, Free incorporates a wide range of signifiers—Jim Crow, hoodies, shortnin’ bread, Gone with the Wind—and casts a satirical eye on our tendency to focus on language and microaggressions in the face of enduring racism, police brutality and violence. But while he reaps big laughs from the mother’s insistence that “terrible things happen” when the n-word is used, he also demonstrates that the language of racism and its physical toll are inseparable. Although the play’s antic twists and reversals can leave one a little dizzy, Free knows exactly what he’s doing. The eloquence of his writing, the complexity of his plotting and his engagement with serious issues resonate into the night.—Remy Holzer

The Radicalization of Rolfe
**** [four stars]
Andrew Bergh’s darkly comic riff on The Sound of Music conjures up a backstory for Rolfe, the Austrian lad who courts Liesl von Trapp in “Sixteen Going on Seventeen.” Broad puns, corny references to Rodgers & Hammerstein and an obscure yet relevant allusion to Marvel's Red Skull are all in the mix. But Bergh doesn’t just crank out meta jokes: After all, it’s the story of a teenager who becomes a Nazi. The plot depicts the relationship between Rolfe (Logan Sutherland) and Lieutenant Zeller (Dominic Comperatore), as well as his relationship with a “deviant” lover (Alex J. Gould). Eventually, we learn that Rolfe’s friendship with Liesl is a ploy for Zeller to uncover Captain von Trapp’s secrets. Such dramatic stakes help move The Radicalization of Rolfe beyond mere spoof, and offer characters of some depth (feelingly acted by a strong cast). Audrey Nauman’s period costumes are also impressive. To be sure, Bergh’s humor caters to a distinct niche—camp-loving History Channel and Broadway buffs—but the Players Theatre was alive with the sound of laughter.—Amelia Bienstock

To Protect the Poets
*** [three stars]

To Protect the Poets is halfway there. When John Doble focuses on the romantic longings of a lonely police detective (John Isgro) and his equally shy and awkward poetry-teacher girlfriend (Elizabeth Alice Murray), his play is touching and entertaining. Sweet and affecting as the idealistic teacher, Murray brings genuine feeling to her character. But scenes involving a rapist-killer’s heartless crime, and the cop’s impassioned but lawless reaction to it, play like a first draft of a middling Law and Order episode; the zingers are often vulgar and seldom very funny, and the dialogue rings false. (Jerry Orbach’s Lennie Briscoe is dearly missed.) Alberto Bonilla’s direction is swift and simple, and Doble’s ambitions are admirable; the central relationship feels touchingly honest, and it’s refreshing to see the sensitive side of a macho policeman. But the play is far better at love than at murder.—John Verderber 

Popular on Time Out

    Latest news

      Read next