new york fringe festival

“The Pawnbroker” Delves into Untold Stories of Bertolt Brecht

As much as I love the New York Fringe Festival, I was only able to see one production in this year’s fest. I was spending the rest of August engaging with theatre in a very different–albeit sweeter–way, as I reprised the role of Jenna in Vital Theatre’s production of Peace, Love, and Cupcakes The Musical. The one FringeNYC show I was able to see was directed by my PLC director, Jennifer Curfman, and it made my short foray into this year’s Fringe Festival totally worth it.


The Pawnbroker: Lies, Lovers, and Bertolt Brecht’s tagline is “the controversial story of Brecht’s legend–and what five women lost to create it.” Actress and playwright Katelin Wilcox portrays all five women, who not only had romantic affiliations with Brecht, but also shaped the plays he wrote–and were forever shaped by him in return.

I’m not going to lie: one-person shows fill me with a sense of trepidation, unless your first name is John and your last name is Leguizamo. I would rather see the drama of a theatrical performance take place because of a conflict created by more than one character on stage. (This is almost a conundrum regarding fringe festivals, as a good portion of their programming includes solo acts.)

Despite my fears, The Pawnbroker exceeds all expectations. Katelin Wilcox transitions seamlessly from woman to woman throughout the piece, using distinctive red accents for each character she inhabits: a flower pin, a knit hat, a pencil, a handkerchief, and silk scarf. Wilcox’s performance is nuanced and fully-lived. With every woman she portrays, she is not just becoming another character: she is taking on their circumstances, experiencing their triumphs and tragedies, and giving voices to their untold stories. While I’ve read and enjoyed many of Brecht’s plays–especially for their complex and intriguing female characters–I had no idea how many women collaborated on his works. While I was grinning at the sly comedy in The Threepenny Opera, I didn’t know that Elisabeth Hauptmann, a German writer, was Brecht’s key collaborator on the book and lyrics. When I empathizing with the plight of Shen Te in The Good Person of Szechwan, I wasn’t aware her story wouldn’t have been the same without the collaboration of Margarete Steffin, a German writer, and Ruth Berlau, a Danish writer, director, and actress. What makes their absence in Brecht’s legacy even more striking in The Pawnbroker is a series of Brecht-style projections that feature quotes from theatre greats (such as Peter Brook and Tony Kushner) praising Brecht for his achievements in the theatre. While Brecht’s achievements should continue to be known, understood and celebrated, The Pawnbroker makes the excellent case that the women who created with him should spend as much time in the spotlight.

Even though FringeNYC has closed its doors for another year, The Pawnbroker returns as part of FringeNYC’s Encore Series. Learn more about its extended run here.

Fringe Round-Up Part 5

I’m closing up our coverage of this year’s FringeNYC with a fairy-tale opera, a South African dramedy, and some experimental feminist dance theatre. Let’s get to it!


The Magic Mirror is an opera retelling of Snow White’s familiar tale, while also showing the rise and fall of the evil queen.

Like many Fringe shows, the set is minimal, save for an impressive mirror effect that displays different characters in a given scene. The costumes, too, are a predictable mix of button-down shirts, trousers, and evening gowns.

But the stars of an opera are its music and voices. There The Magic Mirror soars, with a haunting, complex score by young composer Polina Nazaykinskaya, and a cast filled with strong, rich voices. While Snow White is not the most captivating of princesses, in The Magic Mirror, she at least has one kick-ass soprano.

Ndebele Funeral.
Ndebele Funeral.


Ndebele Funeral begins as a standard living room drama… if the living room is a one-room shack in South Africa, that is. Daweti (Zoey Martinson) is the shack’s sole inhabitant. She is more invested in her final home, however, building her own coffin out of materials the government provided to renovate her house. Her friend Thabo (Yusef Miller) visits Daweti, hoping to convince her to leave the shack. Daweti, suffering from HIV, depression, and alcoholism, refuses. The pair are interrupted by Jan (Jonathan David Martin), an inspector from the government checking in on Daweti’s unorthodox use of the supplies. Things don’t turn out so well.

Ndebele Funeral deals with some heavy material (HIV, complicated race relations in South Africa, etc.) but the execution of it is far from dreary. Martinson’s script is a sophisticated combination of pain, humor, and a touch of melodrama. An exciting element to the production is the use of traditional South African singing and dancing, which adds a visceral quality to the play while effectively detailing its cultural world.

Even though I could see its ending early on (with Chekov’s gun in full effect), I still mourned at the close of Ndebele Funeral.

Kinematik's "Perfect Prototype." Photo by Jim R Moore.
Kinematik’s “Perfect Prototype.” Photo by Jim R Moore.


Dance theatre only succeeds when it can tell a story within the physical movement. Kinematik Dance Theater more than achieves this aim in Perfect Prototype, as Kinematik’s dancers challenge “perfect body aesthetics within media culture.” Dressed in uniform black full-body leotards and black bobbed wigs, the dancers begin the piece as mannequins that come in and out of consciousness. Some of the most impressive choreography involves the performers holding their plastic poses as other dancers manipulate their bodies throughout the space. As the piece progresses, the dancers become more and more distorted, mimic-ing troubled pop stars and showcasing their bodies, now altered with gigantic prosthetic limbs. When the performers remove their plastic trappings and smear their heavy makeup, they challenge us to examine our own standards of beauty.

It ain’t pretty.

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