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Fringe Festival 2016 reviews, Part V

Adam Feldman
Written by
Adam Feldman

We're roughly halfway through the 2016 New York International Fringe Festival, and if you haven't been to at least one of its nearly 200 shows, it's time to get moving. To help you find your way through the labyrinth of theatrical offerings, we've now reviewed 35 Fringe shows—with one last batch of reviews to come next week. See if any of the seven plays below catch your fancy, and check out our preview roundups on Time Out's helpful Fringe Festival page.

RECOMMENDED: Full coverage of Fringe Festival NYC

**** [four stars]
There are those who continue to insist we live in a postracial world, and Kirk White’s Colorblind’d pokes fun at this belief as he engages in a deeper conversation about race and art. The plot is a nod to last year’s controversy at Kent State university, where a white actor played Martin Luther King Jr. in Katori Hall’s The Mountaintop; in this case, an African-American college professor, Eden (Malikha Mallette), casts a white actress in a biography of Rosa Parks. The college’s only black theater major, Dorien (the excellent Yanece Cotto), is understandably miffed at getting passed over for the role, but the director insists that Lucy (Jenna Sander), a shining star of the department, deserved it on merit. Although a white male professor, David (James Kloiber), warns Eden about the blowback to come, his advice goes unheeded. Colorblind’d is a bit sprawling, and important elements of the characters’ relationships to each other seem thinly sketched. But the play, directed by Keith Winsted, is entertaining and funny. Conversations about failed attempts to “make it” in show business may touch nerves with many New York dreamers (especially coming from poor, untalented Dorien), and Lucy is a great villain: a college version of the sweet-as-molasses middle-school bully each of us probably suffered through. As the play points out, those who play dirty are often the ones who get ahead—no matter how sullied the contents of their character may be.Jillian Anthony


*** [three stars]

In her one-woman show, Tiffany Barton plays an over-the-hill opera singer name June, a raucous, vodka-swigging landmine of a character. Rambling to her stuffed cat, Eugene, June spins uncensored tales of love and lust, boasting of her vibrato and her vibrator with equal pride. She’s stuck in an apartment where her past drips down the walls, and looking back is all she can do; her younger self is brought to audible life through operatic recording that echo through the room periodically, along with the sounds of a city that has forgotten her. Diva is sometimes as messy as the lipstick-smeared mouth of June’s bottle of Absolut: At the show I attended, technical issues—particularly with sound cues—were numerous enough to be distracting, and June’s sense of herself as trapped bleeds into the show as a lack of forward momentum. Still, this old has-been proves surprisingly relatable as she proudly recounts a life lived on her own terms. It seems a shame that June’s alone. She’s enjoyable company.—Gabe Cohn


From the Deep
**** [four stars]

A study of two minds in captivity, Cassie M. Seinuk’s absorbing From the Deep spends two hours exploring the interplay between Israeli soldier Ilan (Charles Linshaw) and young American Andrew (Jeff Marcus). The men have been taken hostage under different circumstances and in different places, but they somehow come together in a nebulous white room where they find ways to pass the time, argue and support each other. Ilan, who has been confined for five years, is more upbeat than Andrew; he busies himself with physical and mental activities, while the latter retreats into his troubled psyche and suffers panic attacks when speaking in the past tense. There’s more than a touch of looming, Pinteresque menace, but the tension lags as the play goes on; Seinuk should probably leave more to the imagination. But Lindsay Eagle’s production doesn’t let the mood overwhelm the characters or the actors: Linshaw and especially Marcus reach admirable depths.—Diane Snyder


Off Track
**** [four stars]
Fans of murder mysteries, rejoice! James Comtois pays clever homage to the genre in Off Track, a crime drama about a disillusioned Chicago journalist who has settled for a comfortable yet soul-killing career in transportation reporting. Apologetic and hilariously self-aware, Ian (Matthew Trumbull) impulsively indulges in a one-night stand with a stranger, only to learn the next day that his lover has been murdered. A winding hunt for the killer ensues as Ian journeys to the rougher side of town. Although this plot may seem painfully familiar, there is much to admire in this fast-paced 90-minute production. Trumbull delivers a nuanced performance full of humor and charm. Moody projections of the Chicago landscape fill the backdrop as recognizable film noir archetypes push the story along: brooding detectives, raspy-voiced villains, a gum-popping waitress and, of course, a vulnerable love interest with a troubled past. Perhaps the most sincere and absorbing relationship is the one Ian has with his own writing career, as he admits his failures and emerges from his fortress of irony. One quibble: The production’s over-shadowy lighting makes it hard to connect with the characters on stage. Even a show that embraces the noir does not need to keep everyone so literally in the dark.—Di Zhu


Pucker Up and Blow
**** [four stars]
If you’ve ever seen a play by Thomas Bradshaw, the auteur-provocateur behind such calculated dramatic outrages as Burning and Intimacy, you’ll have an especially good time at Daniel Reitz’s Pucker Up and Blow. Will Dagger plays David, a gawky young actor whose experience in children’s theater does little to prepare him for his big break in a Broadway play by shock playwright Robert Forsythe (Asa James): playing a mentally disabled teenager whose white-supremacist brother whores him out to raise money for a race war. (He is full-frontally nude in the key scene, bent over as a pedophile rapes him and moans, “Oh, yeah, that’s my tasty little tard.”) Reitz spends much of his dark showbiz comedy slicing into the Bradshaw mystique, including in a Magnolia­-esque gotcha-interview scene, and his spoof of Bradshaw’s work is razor-sharp (as is his version of an admiring Times review). The rest of Pucker Up and Blow doesn’t rise to the same level. Most of the characters are ciphers or devices, especially David’s ambitious and treacherous African-American girlfriend, Melora (Sydni Beaudoin)—like David, Reitz may be working out some issues about race and sex—and the play’s final quarter is noticeably rushed. (It doesn’t help that Paul Schnee’s mise-en-scène is slack, even by Fringe standards.) But Dagger is exceptional: funny, sweet, frustrated and frustrating. He breathes enough life into every scene to keep the whole play afloat.—Adam Feldman


Steve Got Raped
** [two stars]
As Sam Gooley’s play begins, the newly engaged Steve (James E. Smith) and Katie (an exhausting Sarah Moore) are waxing shrill about The Walking Dead and small-talk topics. After wacky best friend (Dan Morrison) whisks Steve off to a wild bachelor party, a murkily blocked sequence leaves Steve wondering whether he’s been sexually assaulted. Frenetically directed by Melissa Firlit, the cast dials everything up past 11; as a character who enters toward the end of the play, Mara Gannon does offer a hint of nuance, but it’s too little, too late. Having set up a chance to explore male rape and masculine fragility, Gooley opts instead for would-be zingers: “Forced? Is this some Star Wars reference?” If you’re going to call your comedy Steve Got Raped, you’d better be prepared to go dark and deep. This is just soiled fluff.—Charles Quittner


** [two stars]
As a showcase for entrancing Aussie actress Mischa Ipp's skills, this solo piece about the pitfalls of personal and political identity in the social media age makes total sense. But as a theatrical experience, Thread is practically impossible to track. Ipp commissioned frequent collaborator Elena Zucker to write and direct this convoluted fever dream about Mimi, a secular Australian Jew living in NYC whose accidental "like" of an incendiary Facebook post by her Palestinian ex incites a war, both on her page and in her heart. From an intellectual perspective, Thread is a clever conceit, with Mimi's internal conflict mirroring the clash in the Middle East. But though it's admirable that Zucker doesn't offer up any easy answers, couldn't she give us a coherent story? A chanting class at the JCC sparks a soul-searching journey though Mimi's actual memories (a life-changing one-night-stand in London, her childhood Down Under) and history-fueled hallucinations (Anne Frank makes an appearance). Whether playing Mimi or the myriad other characters who flit in and out of the nonlinear narrative, Ipp is consistently captivating. But the barrage of words and conflicting ideas stymies any emotional connection to the material. Like a virtual friend who can't shut up about the upcoming election, this is one Thread you'll want to unfollow.—Raven Snook 

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