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Fringe Festival 2016 reviews, Part VI

Fringe Festival 2016 reviews, Part VI
Photograph: Shawn Stoner Patriot Act

New York's biggest Off-Off Broadway theater event, the 20th New York International Fringe Festival, is wrapping up this week, but you still have time to catch many of the nearly 200 shows on offer. To help you find the wheat amid the chaff, here is our sixth and final batch of 2016 Fringe reviews; you can find dozens more at our main Fringe page. Good luck, and may the Fringe be with you.

RECOMMENDED: Full coverage of Fringe Festival NYC

 

 

 

 

#Blessed
*** [three stars]
With increased attention now being paid to stories about women, technology and rape culture, #Blessed should seem timely. Instead, Zoe Kamil’s drama, which follows the downward spiral of a high school student who falls into drugs and booze and a “bad” crowd of kids, plays out almost like a social guidance film from the 1950s. Although the play touches on questions that merit serious conversation—religious hypocrisy, consent, “gray rape”—it is far too heavy-handed to be effective. Miranda Cornell’s direction is equally clunky, and the cast of 12 can sometimes barely be heard. These problems can probably be chalked up to youth: Kamil is a student at Marymount Manhattan College; Cornell, reportedly the youngest person ever to helm a Fringe production, is in her late teens. But while it’s wonderful to see young women exploring serious social issues, #Blessed needs serious tightening, refining and refocusing. The right tags are there, but they haven’t been hashed out.—Jena Tesse Fox

 

 

 

 

 

Bonnie’s Future Sisters
*** [three stars]
Bonnie (Sascha Alexander), a human-resources exec who has written a book about female empowerment, throws a bachelorette party at a local hotel to celebrate her upcoming wedding. She invites her two future sisters-in-law, Kayleigh (Sarah Greyson) and Larissa (Emily Jordan), as well as her actual sister, Corey (Kristen Rozanski), a lesbian wannabe writer who has moved out of state. All too predictably, things go wrong. Hamstrung by its overfamiliar premise, Meghan Gambling’s Bonnie’s Future Sisters is a paint-by-numbers comedy with a scarcity of laughs, and the gifted cast strains gallantly against resistant material. As Bonnie, Alexander can’t quite overcome her one-dimensional role; Jordan seems too wholesome as a messed-up teenager with a DUI conviction. Halfway through, however, Kayleigh and Corey are left alone onstage to talk about their respective breakups, and for a few minutes the two actors shine as women struggling to be honest about their lives. Although the play soon returns to its formulaic ways, that scene inspires hope in Gambling’s future work. It’s a real gem in a secondhand ring.—Tom Moran

 

 

 

 

 

 

Brewed
**** [four stars]
A supposedly magical cauldron remains center stage throughout Brewed, a supernatural horror comedy by Scott T. Barsotti. Six sisters take turns stirring it, in a bid to ward off a deadly curse placed by their parents on the youngest of them. Meanwhile, they stir the pot continuously with each other, too—alternately smothering each other with love, cursing each other out or challenging each other to physical fights. (“You and me, sister,” the sisters’ official dueling challenge, deserves to cross over into popular use.) Set in what seems to be a basement, the play finds a suitable home at the Steve & Marie Sgouros Theatre, a dark and poorly ventilated space straight out of an ’80s thriller. Although the summer heat can be stifling, the venue’s small size does put the audience in close proximity to the stellar all-female cast—a key factor in our enjoyment of the show. As the play mixes Christmas-dinner-gone-awry family dynamics with mystical plot points that keep the audience wondering what’s going on, the actors create a sense of real sisterhood. Within the strange world that Barsotti has created, they keep the play at a lively boil.—Anna Ben Yehuda

 

 

 

 

Everything Is Fine Until It’s Not
****
[four stars]
Doreen Oliver offers a fresh and eye-opening look at what it’s like to raise an autistic child in her aptly titled solo show, Everything Is Fine Until It’s Not. Employing projections, sound recordings and seemingly effortless grace, she tells of raising her son Xavier with the support of her husband, her eccentric family and her faith. A simple trip to the playground can be fraught, because of Xavier’s reservations and the judgments of those around him; Oliver has keen insights into the ever-opinionated world around her, and paints a painful yet beautiful picture of the challenges that she and her son face daily. Although she delivers Everything Is Fine Until It’s Not with hearty a dose of humility, she radiates bravery and compassion, both as a performer and as a mother. I would happily have stayed beyond the one-hour running time just to hear her sing the rest of “The Rainbow Connection”—one of many songs in her maternal repertoire—and learn more about how she and her inexplicably special Xavier experience the world.—Lexie Pregosin

 

 

 

 

Kerrmoor
** [two stars]
The title town of Susan McCully’s play is a fictional Appalachian village with a dark past foreshadowed by effective mood lighting. Kerrmoor teems with eerie omens: water exploding into fire, a legless soldier returning from war, a child born with a hair lip. Must a human sacrifice occur to purify the place? Formerly shunned by the town, Agatha (Meg Kelly) is urged to return for the sake of her daughter, Lorna (Katie Hileman), who was taken away from her as a baby; the bonds between Lorna and her half-sister, Kylie (Erin Hanratty), are strained by Kylie’s ominous “visions.” The play treats its characters as caricatures of frenzied backwoods folk, never eliciting the empathy one should feel in this Greek-like tragedy; twanging up a storm, the actors do their best with repetitive dialogue, a confusing story line and intermittent breaks into song. At the play’s contrived climax, Agatha warns young Kylie, “Don’t look back. Leave now.” One feels the same way exiting the theater.—Valerie David

 

 

 

 

Murmurs and Incantations
**** [four stars]
Ben (Peter Levine) is a gay, Jewish New York artist in a rut. It is 2001, and his creativity has run dry since his heyday in the 1980s, when he earned renown for performance pieces about HIV/AIDS. At the behest of a curator friend, Eva (Isabella Knight)—whose family hid the newborn Ben and his mother from the Nazis during the Holocaust—he travels to Poland. There he confronts buried truths, as well as the risen ghosts of his lovable and long-dead grandfather, David (Peter B. Schmitz), and his erstwhile lover, Michael (Joey Gambetta). Making a tight knit of multiple stories, Dahn Hiuni’s Murmurs and Incantations also includes moments of levity, courtesy of Ben’s sassy gay best friend, the boundary-pushing Lane (played with pep by the versatile Schmitz). The play takes Ben and the audience on a two-hour journey through distance and time, as Ben delves into the two great tragedies of his life, and offers a gentle testament to the power of art as an act of honesty, witness and survival.—Jaime Brockway 

 

 

 

 

Patriot Act
**** [four stars]
Thanks to Hamilton and a highly dramatic election cycle, American history and American politics are hot right now. So it’s the perfect time for Fringe regular Mike Schlitt to return to the festival with Patriot Act, a cheerfully intelligent new solo piece that looks back the history of American democracy. A natural storyteller with an abundance of wit and energy, the writer-performer has a knack for making the past feel up-to-date. In Schlitt’s hands—sometimes literally, thanks to ragtag puppets of John Adams and Thomas Jefferson—arguments about civil rights and liberties become engagingly noisy debates. Emphasizing that politics should not be a “spectator sport,” Schlitt makes his show a dialogue with the audience, encouraging discussions about the play's themes as they come up. (Tip: Brush up on Adams and Jefferson’s platforms and be prepared to explain which you prefer.) He clearly loves his subject, and is eager to share that love. If politics is an endless dance of give and take, Patriot Act reflects those compromises beautifully, clearing the floor to make space for disagreement.—Jena Tesse Fox

 

 

 

 

Take One
*** [three stars]
The promising Jeff Ward is an alum of BMI’s Musical Theatre Workshop, whose graduates have have written numerous offbeat musicals the years, including Little Shop of Horrors and Avenue Q. Although his new certainly doesn’t lack quirkiness, it is unlikely to join those shows in the musical-comedy pantheon. Take One delves into the messy creative processes of Michelangelo (Keith Varney) and Richard Rodgers (Carl Howell), great artists separated by 400 years; it also deals with God (Tom Alan Robbins) and his relationship with Adam and Eve. That’s a lot to manage, and—despite the efforts of a uniformly strong cast—the struggle shows. The skillful score is full of appealing melodies, interesting harmonies and neatly written lyrics. But Ward is more adept as a songwriter than as a book writer; despite some good jokes, his ambitious musical is unwieldy. Good musicals are all about solid construction. Had the book of this show been Michelangelo’s scaffold, he would have fallen to the Sistine Chapel floor.—John Verderber

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