We are SO excited to be covering the 2013 Fringe Festival in New York this summer! When we got our shiny press passes in the mail, we let out a squee of theatre love. I might have tried to use it as a Metrocard at least once, an ID Card twice, and a FroYo punch card four times. For those of you who are not in the press/theater industry, this is an approximation of what a press pass looks like:

Those are not my real fingers

The Fringe is an immense annual summer festival of Off-Off Broadway productions from independent theater companies. Since Edinburgh first started the Fringe Festival nearly 70 years, many other cities have hosted their own. Good times. New York started theirs in 1997. This year’s festival featured over 120 shows. Here’s what we checked out over the weekend:

Slaughterhouse Five

Anni Weisband and Jamie Effros

True False Theater’s adaptation of the Vonnegut classic has been performing to sold-out audiences these past few weeks. You know dem Vonnnegut nuts go crazy for this stuff. The only Vonnegut adaptation I’ve ever seen was the film “Breakfast of Champions” and I’ve been trying to wash my memory of it ever since.

Slaughterhouse Five is the story of Billy Pilgrim, WWII veteran, who is abducted by aliens from a planet called Tralfamadore. The aliens teach him that they see time not as a linear, progressive time but as a circle, all-encompassing time. They see its entirety, and at all times we are ourselves in a fatalistic sort of way. Even death is just another moment that they can access as much any other life moment.

The play’s structure seems to imitate this random access code. Events are presented out of order in short spurts (some scenes are no longer than a few seconds). They pass somewhat chaotically through Billy’s time in the war, his post-war efforts at marriage and normality, and his stay at a Tralfamadore Zoo mating with a notorious porn star. While the structure is in keeping with the story’s content, it’s at times a bit distracting. There must have been about a hundred scene changes, none of which were fast nor fluid. I’d the show’s running time is about a fourth pure scene changes, and they don’t vary throughout the show. That means it’s the same weird music with the same broken movements, like Billy’s going through warp speed. It gets a bit tired.

Also I would have liked to see the scenes working together more cohesively. Some feel too out-of-context and often confusing. Many scenes, however, were quite subtly intertwined. Billy’s story is about reconciling the human experience with the horrors of war and it’s important that both be present in the same moment. The Trafalmadore time structure is liberating in many ways– there is no such thing as a future, a past, or present. Since we are all that we were or will be, we have nothing to fear, nothing to plan for, nothing to change. But does that means that Tralfamadorians can turn a blind eye to injustice? to war? Is that the relief that Billy is looking for?


Occupy Olympus

This is another literary adaptation (yay!). Magis Theater has taken Aristophanes’s Plutus, God of Wealth, and turned it into a modern day, Brecht-like allegory. The story goes like this: A middle-class citizen helps restore the sight of Plutus, god of wealth, who was blinded by a jealous Zeus so that he could not see whether he was giving wealth to good or bad people. Things get a bit chaotic as wealth is distributed into the hands of the good (some of whom become bad), drawing attention to the way that man-made systems perpetuate greed and selfishness.

Occupy Olympus could deal with a bit more focus (some parts with Donald Trump and stockbrokers seem thrown in there without context or purpose and the citizens’ march on Olympus constitutes a long chant of random issues, celebrities, and public figures that really just feels a bit silly– Why are we beasting on Justin Beiber, again?) However, the play’s combinations of song, dance, comedy, drama, and various other genre forms make for an exciting, engaging ride. There’s a square dance that provides a great analysis of our modern relationship to wealth, a shadow play involving Joan Rivers and Dick Cheney, and a pretty intense scene between a masked CEO and two good citizens, and audience questionnaire responses are included in various scenes.

Much of Occupy is poignant and often haunting. As one audience member stated in the post-show talk-back, instead of catharsis, the end only brings tension, and often shame. Every scene explores a different facet of modern-day wealth, provoking us the audience to take action against injustice in whatever small ways possible.


Kemble’s Riot

In 1808, the Covent Garden Theatre Royal burned down in the middle of a performance of Macbeth, staring the the theater’s owner, John Kemble. Kemble managed to restore the theater with the patronage a wealthy statesman in the following year. However, when the theater reopened, prices were raised  by a shilling to cover the expenses. Audiences rioted for 66 nights, and Kemble stubbornly stuck it through until he returned the old prices.

The production, written by recently deceased playwright Adrian Bunting, tries to simulate the riot with us the audience leading the way. On stage, Kemble (Guy Masterson) and his sister/prominent actress Sarah Siddons (Beth Fitzgerald) fret over the rebuilding and, later, the crowd’s demands. In the audience, comedians Matt Baetz and Marla Schultz dispute the merits of the riot and incite us in chants … and stuff. 

The riot never really takes off and ends up being a tad awkward. First of all, the comedians in the crowds are obviously not from Kemble’s time and their involvement is nowhere near consistent. Sometimes they’re narrating the history, other times they’re analyzing the actors’ performances, sometimes they verge into personal spats. It’s all VERY funny and cute, but it doesn’t lead anywhere. Also a comparison of the Covent Garden fire to 9/11 felt very very stretched. I also think that the Kemble riots were supposed to be parallels to the Occupy movement, but they don’t exactly match up.

If we’re supposed to think that Kemble is the 19th century equivalent of a big banker, it doesn’t come through. We are shown that though the theatre is rebuilt entirely on an aristocrat’s dime, Kemble still needs to price hikes to maintain the theater’s new and improved structure. Another monologue (which, by the way, is delivered amazingly by Masterson, I got chills) illustrates the god-like stature that Kemble has as a theater-giver. He has the power to makes us feel, goddamit!


These shows and more are easily found on the Fringe website for information and tickets.