New York International Fringe Festival

JUST SHOOT ME Mimchael Laurence ponders his elusive self in Krapp, 39.

JUST SHOOT ME Mimchael Laurence ponders his elusive self in Krapp, 39. Photograph: Dixie Sheridan

Time Out Ratings :

<strong>Rating: </strong>0/5

It’s easy to bash the Fringe: too many amateurs, microbudgets, schlocky ideas. This year, TONY decided to dig deep for the gold. For our awesomely ambitious Fringe Binge 2008, we sent out 150 staffers to cover more shows than any other print publication in the city. Check out the reviews at timeoutnewyork.com/fringefest08. Here we give you our special distillation of the most positive notices we got. Playing schedules and venue information are at fringenyc.org.

Krapp, 39

Michael Laurence, possessed of princely good looks and a poet’s tenor, seems no stranger to his mirror, but the writer-performer also knows how to mine the comic underside of artistic self-absorption. His deceptively fatuous Krapp, 39 starts with the actor’s genuine desire to record himself delivering a speech that is played back in Samuel Beckett’s Krapp’s Last Tape. In that 1958 absurdist work, Krapp, 69, listens to a recording of himself 30 years earlier and muses bitterly on lost youth, love and artistic integrity. Laurence wants to play Krapp in 2038, listening to his younger self on tape. The actor and his shrewd director, George Demas, deftly navigate the pathos and satire in the navel-gazing setup, with Laurence reading journal entries from birthdays past and using a video camera to film his haunted visage and symbolic props on a table. The result is a moving and wise 70-minute retrospective of a man’s soul, an homage to the self that somehow doesn’t feel selfish.—David Cote, Theater Editor

Tim Gunn’s Podcast (a reality chamber opera)

Jeffrey Lependorf’s droll, musically witty chamber piece is an unlikely crossbreed between the genres of opera, a high art best enjoyed when one is low, and reality television, a low art best enjoyed when one is high. Classical baritone John Schenkel plays Tim Gunn, the plummy fashion adviser on Bravo’s Project Runway; Lependorf has taken one of Gunn’s podcasts—detailing various minor dramas in a season-three competition to outfit Miss USA—and set it to comically overscaled music. Schenkel’s voice is commanding, his diction excellent, and his hand gestures appropriately fussy throughout his hour-long solo recital (accompanied by the composer on piano). Tim Gunn’s Podcast may be little more than a stunt, but it is an elegant one. Neither Lependorf nor Schenkel pushes the joke into overblown mockery: They land the gags without overshooting the Runway.—Adam Feldman, Theater Writer

Blanche Survives Katrina in a FEMA Trailer Named Desire

Despite the play’s sketchy-sounding premise—just look at the title—writer-performer Mark Sam Rosenthal has dreamed up a thoughtful, laugh-out-loud story based on one film icon’s descent into reality: hilarious, a little bit heartbreaking and (at the risk of adding another blurbable adjective) really smart. The idea is that A Streetcar Named Desire’s Blanche DuBois still lives in New Orleans when Hurricane Katrina hits; she’s rescued from her flooded home and deposited in the Superdome. (As she lilts in one of Rosenthal’s gently biting Southernisms: “In a pot full of café, I seem to be one of the few drops of au lait.”) A Baton Rouge native with a personal connection to the storm, Rosenthal dons various blond wigs to match Blanche’s mood swings and indelicately jokes about race, poverty and government ineptitude. He’s a convincing impersonator, extrapolating a familiar character into new but logical territory. (Knowing the original Streetcar isn’t a prerequisite for seeing this show.) Like all great comedy, it’s funny because it’s true—and even better because it’s so absurd.—Billie Cohen, Deputy Editor

Love Is Dead: A NecRomantic Musical Comedy

Six Feet Under has shown us it is easy to sympathize with a lonely mortician who takes thorough care of the dead. What is not so easy is getting an audience to sympathize with a lonely mortician who prefers to work thoroughly at burying himself six-inches deep into the dead. Fortunately, James Asmus, playwright and corpse-boinking star of Love Is Dead, pulls off exactly that. With the help of Julie Nichols’s refreshingly creepy musical score, the show manages to rise above what might have been a kitschy campfest and unravels as a fatally hilarious (yet nonetheless campy) serial-murder mystery.—Gordie Steiner, Marketing Intern

China—The Whole Enchilada

The show’s name may raise some eyebrows, but Mark Brown’s cheeky survey of Chinese history is not unlike the dish in its title: spicy, colorful and sometimes messy. Raps about Genghis Khan and skits about foot binding come with a healthy helping of Confucius jokes, along with some stabs at Star Wars and Dubya thrown in for good measure. Despite a few sagging musical numbers, the three-man cast tackles its task with energy and Spamalot-ic irony, making 4,000 years of history surprisingly easy to stomach.—Stella Tan, Editorial Intern, TONY Kids

The New York International Fringe Festival is at various venues through Sun 24.