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LMezz Interviews Cameron McKenzie (Road to Odessa)

Cameron McKenzie is one of the several international artists who brought over their work for a New York premiere at this year’s Fringe festival. With a career in Australian television behind him, Cameron began his theater company Good Little Theatre and produced the company’s first play in 2013. Since then, Cameron has been bringing his own play, The Road to Odessa, to theater festivals around the world. The Road to Odessa is a one-man show about the love and loneliness that drives one man to explore Ukraine’s mail-order bride industry. We discussed what it’s like to be an international participant at Fringe and what he’s taken away from his adventures in theater.
LMezz: Welcome to New York City! What has it been like premiering your show for a New York audience?

Cameron McKenzie: It’s been amazing. The audiences have really taken to the story which is a great boost of confidence for me. It’s just such a great opportunity just being here. It has also been terrifying premiering the show here alone but everyone has been really supportive which has been just great.

LM: There are a few other Australian shows in this year’s festival. Are there any Australian entertainment/theater trends that you are excited to spread internationally?

CK: Well we have a very strong arts culture in Melbourne and I’m happy to be doing my bit to export it abroad. In terms of theatre trends, I think Melbourne performers are really getting back to basics in what makes good theatre and I see that in the amount of simple, direct, no-frills storytelling that happens a lot back home.

 

LM: What has it been like being in a festival community made up largely of non-New Yorkers and do you all find opportunities to support each other’s art?

CK: This is actually the first fringe festival I have been involved with, but I have performed extensively back home in Australia and my brothers do a lot of festivals. I have always gone to see their shows and every time I do, I get a distinct feeling of community among the performers, which you do get doing screen work and stand alone plays. But festivals I think are a lot more social both here and back home. It’s been great to experience that for myself and to have such a great sense of camaraderie here because part of a great performance is being able to get up with what you have written with your head held high, regardless of what happens, and having that kind of support is really important.

 

LM: Your play The Road to Odessa is about an outsider experience as well. Can you speak a bit about the piece and what you hope to present with it?

CK: The show is about the lengths that a person can go to in order to find some love in their lives. I had always hoped that the price would reflect the small unwavering elements of hope that one can find in the dark and lonely moments we sometimes have. I wanted to show how strong the hope of finding the right person can be and the paths that we take to find them. Plot-wise, the show is about giving up on finding someone and instead getting a mail order bride. That interested me because the morally questionable nature of it forces the character to ask himself why is he doing this and the answers he finds tell him more about his life and the life of his past than he had previously known.

LM: What motivated you to start your own theater company Good Little Theatre after being in television for a few years and what was the change like?
CK: I was driving home from set one day and I felt that my passion had now become work. Which is a good place to be in as a professional actor because too many people rely on your consistency and work ethic but I wanted more. I wanted to be excited by what I was doing. I wanted to do my own thing for a while and see what that felt like. I also wanted to see if I had what it took to create something from scratch. So I created the company and we are two shows old now and I feel like it has completely reinvigorated the work that I do both on stage and on camera.
LM: What are some of the things you’ve learned from traveling with the play and what is the most important thing you hope to go back home with?

CK: Help. The most important thing I have learned traveling this show is that the help of others is so important and appreciated. I’m basically doing this all alone with no technical guys, no director, just one lighting state and me . That is tough and I have learned to accept help whenever I can.
LM: What’s next for you and for Road to Odessa?
CK: I’m taking the show back home to the Melbourne Fringe Festival and then I’m back to writing a play that I have been working on. So fingers crossed!

Fringe Round-Up! Part 8: Campo Maldito, The Internet!, and The Three Faces of Dr. Crippen

 

Campo Maldito by Bennett Fisher

Summary: A start-up entrepreneur (Walker Hare) believes that his digital venture is cursed by a paranormal spirit. He hires a local santero (Luis Vega) to cast out the spirit, though neither gets what they expect from their encounter with the supernatural.

Why Go?: The show listing promises a critique of the negligent business practices in Silicon Valley that have gentrified and displaced much of the area. Social justice themes wrapped in a fun, unique premise? I’m in.
Thoughts: With only an hour performance time, Campo Maldito wastes too much time in banal and repetitious dialogue that varies on the following: “Dude! What are you doing?!” “I’m here to help you!” “Why are you doing that?” “Do you want me to help you or not?” We don’t really get into the meat of the story until halfway in, when the spirit reveals itself as an old resident of the building, driven out by the flux of digital entrepreneurs in the city. We’re never given much time to reflect on the nature of this upheaval, and I think that a few added/replaced scenes can truly bring out the nuances of the ghost’s relationship to her surroundings, to the santero, and to the start-up, which sets to make a profit on giving loans to the financially unstable. While the play has a muddled perspective on these key issues, it does reflect powerfully on the nature of addiction and how it manifests itself in the lives of each of the characters. This is truly a riveting premise and I would definitely keep an eye out for further post-Fringe productions at their website.

The Internet!: A Complete History by Kristyn Pomeranz and Katherine Steinberg

Summary: The history of the internet, as told by Al Gore (Benjamin Drew Thompson) and an enthusiastic crew of avatar aficionados and tumblrheads.

Why Go?: Lord knows I didn’t learn anything from that mandatory computer science class…
Thoughts: …and I didn’t. This show felt like an inside joke that left the audience out of everything. It was incredibly unfocused, perhaps mimicking the way today’s internet user operate with 20 tabs open and switch back and forth, but the show lost perspective quickly and became messy and unfunny. I’m not sure why Al Gore was given narrator status here. He provided no unique point of view– it could have just as easily been anyone with a basic textbook knowledge of internet history. Having knowledge of current recent internet history is a prerequisite to understanding most of the show, but even if you already do, the show does very little to augment it or cleverly play off of it. The best bits of the show were a compilation of internet memes set to a re-worded “We Didn’t Start the Fire” and a party scene in which the cast played different social media platforms. These two skits were witty and entertaining, presenting popular internet trends in a unique satire. I think that if this show were to evolve, this satirical skit approach would be a smart way to go.

For more news on The Internet! follow their website.

The Three Faces of Doctor Crippen by Emily Schwartz

Summary: This musical, based on the life of the infamous turn-of-the-century murderer H.H. Crippen, recounts the story of his crimes using three different actors to portray the distinct personas, or ‘faces’, that comprise us all: the public persona, the private persona, and the fantasy or ideal persona.

Why Go?: Um. Did you read that summary?
Thoughts: What a way to end the Fringe festival! This is definitely one of my favorite productions of the festival! Inventive, clever, and wonderfully satisfying, “Doctor Crippen” maintains a consistently high quality of storytelling that sets it apart from other productions. Using Brechtian ensemble techniques to portray and expand its gothic world, the show is simultaneously fun, chilling, and endearing. I really hope Doctor Crippen continues to grow as a production, my only complaint being that I wished it lasted longer!

Fringe Round-Up! Part 6: Hoaxocaust!, The Photo Album, 2014: When Were Idiots, and Depression the Musical

Xavier Toby

2014: When We Were Idiots by Xavier Toby

Summary: It’s the year 2114. The world self-destructed 100 years ago and, having learned from our mistakes, we have rebuilt civilization into a much better place. Take a walking tour of the Lower East Side, reconstructed as it looked in 2014, and see for yourself  all the crazy things people did in 2014 with your trusty penguin tour guide, Xavier Toby.

Why Go?: If that description didn’t fill you with meta-excitement, I don’t know what will. Does it help that Toby confronts strangers on the street and speaks to them as if they were actors in a 2014 historical?

Stand-Out Bits: Um, so there’s every time that Toby confront strangers on the street and speaks to them as if they were actors in a 2014 historical re-enactment. That was brilliant. Also, wouldn’t it be amazing to walk around everyday as if you were a studying 2014 society in all its weirdness and insanity? Simultaneously being a participant and observer of the world? I mean, that’s what artists do, don’t they?

Toby’s walking tour (working a radius of about 2-3 blocks around Fringe Central) is hilarious and often confrontational (New Yorkers seem more playful than usual when confronted by a tall man in a penguin suit). But the tour was also surprisingly uplifting and optimistic. As of 2114, we are a world that have destroyed itself, but we are also one that has rebuilt itself and learned to move on. Amid the comedy, Toby takes the time to reassure us that we’re constantly reconstructing our world, and the best that we can do sometimes is learn how to pick up the pieces.

2014:When We Were Idiot starts out at Fringe Central on 8/22 at 2:30pm and 7:30pm, 8/23 at 7:30pm, and 8/24 at 2:30pm

 

Hoaxocaust! by Barry Levy
Summary: In this one-man show, Barry Levy begins to investigate Holocaust conspiracy theories in order to better understand Jewish solidarity through victimization, he plunges into a complex and unsettling world of Holocaust deniers, and travels across the world to speak with the field’s foremost scholars.
Why Go?: One of the hotter Fringe tickets, Hoaxocaust has already built quite an audience and gotten some buzz.
Stand-Out Bits: Levy is such a dynamic performer and he had my attention for every single minute of the show. Hoaxocaust is thoughtful, witty, and accessibly. Its discussion of Jewish culture, of very recent world events, and of how these factors play out in Levy’s family life is incredibly focused, nuanced, and darkly comic. But what’s even more fascinating than Levy’s adventures in Holocaust denial land is his subversive commentary on storytelling, truth, and lies. The structure of Levy’s narrative parallels its conspiracy theory subject matter, leaving us with more questions than answers. The ending of the show pulls the rug out from under the audience’s feet, and left me eagerly exploring its resonances and piecing together its meaning for the whole day. This was definitely a highlight of the weekend and will hopefully receive a life post-Fringe.

Hoaxocaust! plays at the IATI Theater on 8/19 at 6pm and 8/21 at 9:30pm

The Photo Album by The Story Gym
Summary: In an attempt to preserve a historical Victorian house in Brooklyn’s Ditmas Park, the audience must scan a number of photographs and use the clues (with the Layar app for smartphones) to locate, converse with, and learn about the house’s former residents.
Why Go?: This interactive multimedia show is an exciting, experimental new approach to immersive theater. We’re forecasting a trend.
Stand-Out Bits: The framing story of a soon-to-be demolished house is a bit weak, but nearly everything else about The Photo Album was energizing and engaging. The show turns the audience into historical investigators, and I enjoyed my interactions with the actors, who play the house’s residents from the late 19th century through 2014. The show wisely speaks to a new age of self-guided exploration and capitalizes on allowing audiences to choose where to drive their journey to next based on their interests in the given photograph or character, I think that with a clearer aim (a mystery to solve, perhaps), this concept could work extremely well as a larger project, perhaps even on-site in Ditmas Park itself.

The Photo Album plays at Clemente Soto Velez Center’s Abrazo Interno Gallery on 8/23 at 4:45pm.

Depression the Musical by Marianne Pillsbury
Summary: An autobiographical musical about pop-rock singer Marianne Pillsbury’s experiences with depression and her process of writing the show.
Why Go?: Comical, honest, and clever songs are really at the heart of this musical, and who doesn’t love those?
Stand-Out Bits: Pillsbury begins the show with an audio recording of herself singing as a little girl. She wonders how she could have ever been so optimistic and simple, how she could ever have looked forward to anything when now she can barely make it out of bed. Simple, revealing thoughts like these are what make the musical feel so tangible and accessible. I wish I saw a little more of that aspect in the song lyrics, though the musical numbers were all enjoyably catchy and well-directed. The choral arrangements particularly stood out to me as a highlight. Pillsbury is a talented vocalist and actress who sets the right tone for her musical. With the aid of a girls trio, called the Committee, who portray the thoughts in Marianne’s head as well as the minor characters, the show sets a consistently lively pace that makes Marianne’s journey feel more hopeful and optimistic, if not just a little cheeky, than you might expect of a show about mental illness. The performances from the cast are equally entertaining and heartfelt, and the relationship between Marianne and the Committee is fluid and fun. I could see this show benefiting from a longer run time, devoting more time to Marianne’s recovery, as well as other steps of her process.

Depression the Musical plays at the Flamboyan Theater on 8/22 at 2pm and 8/24 at 4:45pm

 

Fringe Round-up! Part 5: Riffs on Race, Love, and War, and Dragon’s Breath

Rasul A-Salaam, Mumia Abu-Jamal (mask), Karen D. Taylor in Riffs on Race, Love, and War

Riffs on Race, Love, and War by Karen D. Taylor
Summary: A reflection on the nature of oppression in America, now and throughout history, with particular focus on racism, slavery, and post-9/11 war zones.
Why Go?: Riffs sounds like it could a strong and important voice in this year’s Fringe festival, mixing spoken word, song, and visual media. Given the recent killings of black men by police authority across the country, it’s important to revive this discussion now more than ever before.
Stand-Out Bits: As its name suggests, Riffs is nonlinear and nontraditional. In under an hour, it bounces across time periods, across themes, across autobiography to history to song. The piece was at its best when Karen Taylor, the writer and narrator of Riffs, related personal stories of her family history, displaying photographs of her ancestors and intimately revealing their hopes and fears. I wish the rest of the piece was as focused and rich as this early portion because once it abandoned her personal story, the narrative felt meandering, uneffective, and familiar. There are several great isolated moments, but Taylor loses us on the way there. I think that Taylor’s narrative, which attempts to tie together the various forms of oppression in the United States, would have benefited from more a more focused perspective.

In another highlight, vocalist Tulani Kinard gives an impressive and moving rendition of “Strange Fruit,” arranged together with a chant to Ochosi, the Yoruba god of justice. It was a fantastic moment that left the audience clearly inspired.

Riffs on Race, Love, and War plays at The Flamboyan Theater. The remaining show is 8/22 at 9:15pm.

Dragon’s Breath by Michael C. O’Day
Summary: Young adult author Justine Drake (Lorinda Lisitza) finds success in her first Twilight-esque series about a teenage girl who finds love with a boy who is a descendant of an ancient dragon clan. Unlike Stephanie Meyer, Justine did not find her inspiration in her dreams; she wrote the stories as a fun, productive way to escape her disappointing marriage and demoralizing career. Drake’s readers, however, take the series far more seriously, and Drake finds that her books elicit some surprisingly extreme responses.
Why Go?: YA Lit is the hottest part of the publishing industry, and Dragon’s Breath gives us a comical glimpse behind its phenomenon.
Stand-Out Bits: This show was such a delight to watch! Witty, well-written, and energetic, it has a quality of production that you hardly find at independent theater festivals. I could see this on an Off-Broadway stage in no time. Lisitza is wonderfully neurotic and authentic as newbie author Justine, and the entertaining ensemble gives the show a positive energy and enjoyable pace. Writer Michael C. O’Day was particularly funny as fantasy elitist and internet troll Rocco McCafferty. Dragon’s Breath admirably explores how a fanbase can overpower an author’s intentions and turn a lighthearted paranormal romance into a tool for extremism.

Dragon’s Breath plays at Teatro Latea on 8/23 at 7pm.

Fringe Round-up! Part 4: Bacchae Redux and Your Radio Adventure

Bacchae Redux by Jack Herholdt

Summary: This re-telling of the Ancient Greek tragedy The Bacchae by Euripides applies the play’s controversial and ambiguous message to a contemporary setting. When demi-god Dionysus (Jack Herholdt) arrives in his hometown, he finds that his divinity is refuted by the townsfolk and the royal family, his relatives. Dionysus drives the woman of the town mad and they practice a wild and worshipping lifestyle as his followers, the Bacchae. The ruling king and Dionysus’s cousin Pentheus (Brad Brokman) has Dionysus arrested. Dionysus plots to prove his divinity once and for all with brutal consequences for all in the town.

Why Go?: The Bacchae is one of my favorite plays of all times. It poses so many insatiable problems about politics, gender, and divine right, and it would be fascinating to see a re-interpretation of its many open-ended questions.

Stand-Out Bits: Bacchae Redux retains much of the plot’s original plot. What has been added is a much closer look at the women Dionysus has trapped into worshipping him. The bacchae are split into two groups. In one, the women are in a mental state of insanity roaming the forests. They are unaware of their actions and it seems Dionysus exerts more control over them. The other group is made up of women who maintained their self-awareness and reason. They remember their old lives and make more of a conscious choice to escape them. Herholdt does the original play a great service in providing these women with a voice. Much of the new play is dedicated the stories of these women. They reflect on how their lives have been transformed by their removal from their patriarchal society. At several points in the play, they must decide whether Dionysus’s tactics have been fair. They must choose to either live blissfully apart from society or to rejoin it along with its hardships. The play’s contemporary references during the bacchae’s scenes (one woman used to work at Macy’s, for example) were inconsistent and a little distracting. I think the play could still have resounding meaning without them.

Another extended role is that of Agave (Mickey Pantano), Pentheus’s mother, one of the mad bacchae in the forest. She is given much more space to lament Dionysus’s wrath and while I feel it could have been much more focused, I appreciated her voice in the story. Oftentimes when approaching a story like this, we tend to focus on the main power players (Dionysus and Pentheus) instead of the damage they inflict on those around them. I’m happy to see the some light shining on these forgotten figures.

Bacchae Redux plays at 440 Lafayette St. The remaining show is 8/19 at 4:15pm.

 

Your Radio Adventure by Jonah Eisenstock
Summary: Two paranormal mystery stories are presented by four actors in the style of a live radio play. The audience participates in deciding the plot’s next turn of events.

Why Go?: If you nostalgically listen to Prairie Home Companion on the regular, or if you’re just looking to diversify your Fringe portfolio, this is for you.

Stand-Out Bits: If you’re like me, when you ‘choose your own adventure,’ you’re never satisfied with just the path you’ve taken. You MUST explore every single other possible turn of events before you can put that book. Your Radio adventure does a similar thing. It takes two simple stories– a noir piece about a private eye investing an otherworldly case, the other about a group of friends lost on a road trip– and in half an hour, we watch as many possible chains of events as determined by the audience’s votes. The stories themselves aren’t very engaging. They’re campy and enjoyable, the latter pretty clearly inspired by Scooby-Doo, but I didn’t feel invested in learning every twist and turn about them. What is worth watching, though, is the ensemble doing double duty as actors and as sound effect creators. They’re a playful and charismatic group, and the show is at its best when their talents are put to the test. Watching them perform and interact with each other, even as minimally as they do in a radio play, was far more interesting than either the stories or the sound effects.

 Your Radio Adventure plays are the Flamboyan Theater at the Clemente. Remaining shows are 8/17 at 2pm, 8/21 at 5pm, 8/23 at 7:15pm

 

 

LMezz Interviews: David Carl (Gary Busey’s One-Man Hamlet)

David Carl is the writer and star of Gary Busey’s One-Man Hamlet, one of Fringe’s hottest tickets this year! After reviewing/fangirling about the show last week, I was excited to ask for an interview. We talked about how the show got on its feet, what it’s like to get in a Busey mindframe, and geeked out a bunch about Hamlet!

LMezz: How did the Gary Busey obsession start up and how did it get tied into Hamlet?

David Carl: I do different impressions and one of the impressions I do is Nick Nolte. Four years ago, my friend Boris Khaykin heard that his friend Whitney Meers was making a Gary Busey commercial parody called 1-800 GET BUSEY and he recommended me. I think he confused Nick Nolte with Gary Busey, but I like to think he was believing in me. I had three days to learn the Busey impression before shooting for a live show at the UCB. So I just geeked out in front of Youtube like I usually do when learning a new character. My roommate at the time was from Arkansas and he was very critical and a playwright and way too young to be a misanthrope but he is. He hates everything. And he was like, “you got it. You got it. That’s it.” Continue reading “LMezz Interviews: David Carl (Gary Busey’s One-Man Hamlet)”

Fringe! Round-up Part 3: All My Children, Bedroom Secrets, Joel Creasey: Rock God, Gary Busey’s One-Man Hamlet

Courtenay Raia in All My Children

All My Children by Courtenay Raia

Synopsis: Dr. Courtenay Grean (Courtenay Raia) gives an impromptu presentation on the latest development in reproduction: cryo-babies! Just cryogenically freeze your fertilized eggs and become a mother without all the hassles of motherhood (like y’know, actually having a live baby). It’s self-described as a TED Talk colliding with the Hindenburg.

Why Go?: I fricking hate TED Talks, and to see one self-destruct makes me very happy.

Stand-Out Bits: While the premise is wonderfully eccentric, this one-woman show fell a bit flat for me. Most of the laughs were cheesy and predictable. The slideshow accompanying Raia’s performance was effective in supplementing her character’s show, but in all, everything felt a little forced, especially towards the end when a blackout causes some technical difficulties for the cryo-babies. I could see the show developing a more nuanced approach to Dr. Grean’s biological tickings, her unorthodox approach to motherhood, and how this reflects on contemporary parenting styles.

All My Children plays at 440 Lafayette St. 8/19 at 7pm, 8/20 at 2pm, 8/22 at 9:15pm, 8/24 at 12pm.

Ashlie Atkinson and Stephen Wallem in Bedroom Secrets

 

Bedroom Secrets by Thomas and Judy Heath

Synopsis: Robin, a therapist (Ashlie Atkinson) meets with several patients (Stephen Wallem) to discuss issues of sexuality while navigating through her own newly budding relationship.

Why Go?: Thomas and Judy Heath has a proven track record– this is their third Fringe show in three years. Stephen Wallem is probably the most well-known actor of the festival. And bedroom kinks get an audience no matter what.

Stand-Out Bits: This play is much more nuanced than its title suggests. Each of the patients has an intriguing backstory and tackle quite genuine, tangible problems in their sessions. This is truly Stephen Wallem’s show. His characters transitions are effortless and completely believable, which is saying something when you’ve got a 6ft 3in 46 year old actor playing a 26yr old Valley Girl or a elderly prima donna. Robin’s backstory, while less interesting than the sessions, is important to understanding her character and add some depth to the play. I would like to see it evolve into a more integral part of the show.

Bedroom Secrets plays at The Players Theater 8/14 at 2:30pm, 8/16 at 5:15pm.

Joel Creasey: Rock God

Synopsis: Stand-up routine by up-and-coming Australian comedian Joel Creasey.

Why Go?: As Creasey says at the start, if stand-up makes you uncomfortable, just call it ‘storytelling.’

Stand-Out Bits: The youngest crowd I’ve seen at a Fringe show (like, literally tweens), which shouldn’t be too surprising since Creasey himself is only 23 years old. 23 YEARS OLD! Joel is charming and energetic. He’s thrilling to watch, especially when his stories veer off on seemingly natural and hilarious tangents. I can see why his fanbase is growing so healthily. Creasey puts on a front of a self-effacing, giddy millenial, but no doubt his powerhouse talent and incredible ambition is the cause of his success.   Whether or not stand-up belongs in a theater festival is a discussion for another day, but while he’s here in the US, catch him before he breaks big.

Joel Creasey: Rock God plays at the Players Theater on 8/12 at 3pm, 8/13 at 5pm, 8/14 at 7pm, 8/15 at 3pm

David Carl as Gary Busey

Gary Busey’s One-Man Hamlet by David Carl

Synopsis: Comedian David Carl plays Gary Busey, in all his eccentric glory, as he plays all the roles in a condensed and totally liberal production of Shakespeare’s Hamlet.

Why Go?: This show has garnered the most buzz from the festival and is likely to please attract folks who don’t usually go to the theater out of sheer curiosity.

Stand-Out Bits: If you caught a glimpse of me at Sunday night’s show, chances are I had my mouth gaping open in wonder at what was going on in front of me. Or I was doing this. But of course I can’t just be over-joyed, I also have to analyze every little bit of what I see. And here’s my fantabulous interpretation of David Carl’s wonderful piece:

You know how Hamlet pretends to be crazy so that he can get away with being a) a total asshole to everyone around him and b) testing his uncle’s patience and wits while accusing him of murder? Sort of? I mean, Hamlet can just act out any way he wants under the guise of madness. It gives him the freedom to bend the rules, to act without regard to manners or structure, and puts him in a position of control.

Same goes for Gary Busey. In adopting the Gary Busey persona, David Carl can do WHATEVER THE HELL HE WANTS to Shakespeare’s canonical masterpiece. This includes substituting entire soliloquys with famous movie quotations, battling himself on camera, going on tangents about his career and famous friends, using makeshift puppets propped up by plastic forks to enact scenes with multiple characters, and SO MUCH MORE. This shtick never grows tired. Essentially, in making this Gary Busey’s Hamlet, Carl expels any expectations or theatrical standards and is in complete artistic control of the play and his audience for an hour and a half of brilliant comedy. “Madness in great ones should not unwatched go”

Gary Busey’s One-Man Hamlet is at Celebration of Whimsy 8/14 at 7pm, 8/15 at 2pm, 8/17 at 2:15pm, and 8/23 at 4:45pm

 

 

 

Fringe Round-up Part 2: King of Kong, Vestments of the Gods, Held Momentarily, and 20/400: Sketchy as F*ck

Amber Ruffin and Lauren Van Kurin in King of Kong

King of Kong by Amber Ruffin and Lauren Van Kurin

Synopsis: Adapted from the cult documentary, King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters, this musical tells the real-life story of Billy Mitchell, a pompous hot sauce business owner, and Steve Wiebe, an unexceptional family man, in their battle to achieve the top score in the arcade game, Donkey Kong.

Why Go?: King of Kong seems like just the sort of thing to succeed in a Fringe environment, and it does. It so does.

Stand-Out Bits: It was absolutely refreshing to see two women tackle a satirical rendition of these utterly mediocre men. Ruffin and Van Kurin’s writing is hilarious and there wasn’t a moment in the hour-long show that I wasn’t smiling with awe. Their brand of humor almost never goes for easy punchlines, rather they find unpredictable laughs in the middling absurdity of the characters’s lives, also with a warm and friendly approach.  Together, Ruffin and Van Kurin take on several characters (sometimes even in one song) and while the task of switching up is clearly not effortless, they bring a unique self-aware charm that trumps the show’s challenges. This was really a winner for my weekend!

King of Kong plays at The Players’ Theater  8/15 at 9:15pm, 8/16 at 1:30pm, 8/17 at 6pm, 8/19 at 9:15pm

Cast of Vestments of the Gods
Cast of Vestments of the Gods

Vestments of the Gods by David Carl and Owen Panettieri

Synopsis: It’s Halloween and the students of Thebes Street Elementary School come to school in their best costumes. When one class taunts Annie (Erica Diaz) and Terry (Perri Yaniv) for their unusual Halloween choices, Annie defies the status quo and challenges the authority of the school administration, with dire consequences.  Loosely based on Euripides’s Antigone, this musical presents the harsh consequences of bullying and political stubbornness.

Why Go?: Antigone is one divisive and crazily complex tale of protest, and setting it in a school seems ripe for exposing its ambiguous moralities. Also, Lin-Manuel Miranda is producing, and that man is the second coming of Christ strikes gold every time with his luscious locks of boricua hair.

Stand-Out Bits: This is definitely one of the more well-developed of the Fringe shows this year. The set, costumes, choreography, acting, and music are all in advanced stages of production (more bang for your buck!). Unfortunately, I think the musical struck the wrong chord in its storytelling. First of all, I had trouble figuring out who its intended audience was. It felt largely like a children’s show, something a teacher might take her class to see in order to show them the consequences of bullying. But then, there would be long moralistic, and often redundant, scenes mapping out the difficulties lying ahead for the characters. Plus, without giving too much away, the ending is way too mature for a children’s audience, and way too unbelievable or outlandish for an adult audience.  Annie’s decisions point out the flaws in her school’s system of governing, but I’m not entirely sure what she personally had at stake, or what she hoped to achieve. Perhaps because of the elementary school setting, the stakes don’t feel very high, and I found it implausible that the various adult school staff members couldn’t control the situation in a more authoritative way.

Vestments of the Gods plays at Theatre 80 on 8/14 at 4:30pm, 8/17 at 10:15pm, 8/22 at 7:45pm, 8/24 at 1pm

Cast of Held Momentarily

Held Momentarily by Oliver Houser

Synopsis: Seven strangers on an indefinitely stalled C train reveal their backgrounds and experiences to each other and bond in a rare New York City moment.

Why Go?: We city residents crave to interrupt our lonely, busy lives with some personal interaction every now and then (bleak, no?). Consider this a how-to guide.

Stand-Out Bits: This show was an emotional ride through what it’s like to be an up-and-coming adult in the city, full of insider jokes and unique relationships. The characters are deceptively simple tropes at first but demonstrate their individuality well. Some of the plot points are a bit unbelievable, and a birth in a subway seems like a forced way to create a climax; this musical could have worked better with an untraditional narrative. Writer Oliver Houser and his cast are just college students (!!!) but already show wonderful promise.

Held Momentarily plays at The Sheen Center 8/14 at 2pm, 8/16 at 7:15pm, 8/20 at 7pm, 8/23 at 3pm

 

20/400: Sketchy As F*ck by Lauren Olson, Christian Paluck, and Jana Schmieding

Synopsis: A scripted sketch show from Brooklyn comedy troupe 20/400, featuring everything from a Nipple Tour of Italy, featuring different cured meats, to a parody of Sia’s Chandelier.

Why Go?: Comedy is a relatively new addition to Fringe and generally doesn’t fall under the more narrative-based theater umbrella. But, given that this is scripted, and that 20/400 is funny as f*ck, and that Fringe might be trying to draw a younger crowd, we’ll shuffle it in unnoticed.

Stand-Out Bits: Not every one of the sketches were gold, but they were damn well close. The showcase featured an eccentric mix of smart, outlandish, shocking, and satirical sketches. I was fascinated by the physical comedy each of the actors perfected– Olson was particularly fascinating, seamlessly transitioning between her over-the-top characters and contorting her features in horrifying but hysterical ways. I would totally recommend this to a regular UCB crowd or just anyone wanting to cap off a Fringe-filled day of drama and musical theater with a light-hearted laugh.

 20/400 plays at Celebration of Whimsy 8/12 at 5pm, 8/13 at 9:45pm, 8/14 at 5pm, 8/16 at 2:30pm

Fringe Roundup! Part 1: ‘Coming’ and ‘No One Asked Me’

It’s the New York City Fringe Festival, which is always a great time for the theater world. Fringe first started out in Edinburgh, Scotland and moved to international theater hubs to reproduce its success. New York Fringe is the largest theater festival in North America and features 200 theater companies at 19 different venues across Lower Manhattan. We at LMezz are seeing something like 25 shows over the next three weeks, and while it seems like a lot to us (bring it!), it’s only about an eighth of the shows out there to see! If you wish to ponder over the Fringe show listing for several hours on a slow work day while your boss is on vacation in Cozumel like we did, go forth and see what peaks your interest!

Glen North and Erik Ransom in Coming

 

Coming by Erik Ransom

Synopsis: Coming is a musical that puts a devilish, glam-rock edge on the second coming of Jesus Christ. Set in contemporary Manhattan, a “new Sodom,” we met Damien Salt (Erik Ransom), a Dr. Frank-N-Furter-esque rock star who also just happens to be the Anti-Christ. He sets out to corrupt Josh Crenshaw (Glen North) aka Jesus Christ’s second coming, an innocent, God-loving square from Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. Josh and his golden voice (cough and ripped abs cough) audition for a reality t.v. talent competition, and Salt snatches the opportunity to tarnish Josh’s Christian image and revise the story of Earth’s final days.

Why Go?: This is truly Erik Ransom’s musical and he does double (quadruple?) duty as the show’s composer, lyricist, book writer, and star. His other campy, satirical musical, Anthem, premiered Off-Broadway this year, and it’s easy to see Coming produced on a similarly successful, perhaps even better scale.

Stand-Out Bits: Coming is a glamorous satire packed with funny pop culture quips and clever lyrics. Coming also features excellent performances from Glen North, whose blue-eyed contemplative innocence never feels artificial (despite those abs!) and Courter Simmons, whose multiple roles as Cain and the angel Israfil are fabulously gripping.

There were tonal shifts that I felt needed to be smoothed out a bit more, such as when Damien’s lover Cain is killed in a hate crime. I could feel the audience indecisively cringe with confusion as to whether this scene was supposed to be taken seriously or not, because we were uproariously laughing not five seconds ago. Coming is at its best when loud, sarcastic, and blasphemous, which thankfully is most of the time.

Coming plays at Theatre 80 St. Marks Place on 8/10 at 4pm, 8/15 at 8:45pm, 8/20 at 8:45, and 8/22 at 2pm

Octavia Chavez-Richmond (Sophie) and Gary De Mattei (lawyer Isaac) in No One Asked Me
Octavia Chavez-Richmond (Sophie) and Gary De Mattei (lawyer Isaac) in No One Asked Me

 

No One Asked Me by Kate Ballen

Synopsis: Based on her experiences as a college counselor in NYC public schools, Kate Ballen’s No One Asked Me centers around the lives of three undocumented students preparing to graduate high school. Alyssa (Alaina Fragoso) is a straight-A student from Peru who hopes that hard work and dedication will get her through the immigration system and prepared for college. Daniel (Corneilus Franklin) is a bright and sensitive student from Uganda. His mother re-located her family to the U.S. on false promises made by her husband.  Sophie (Octavia Chavez-Richmond) came to New York from the Dominican Republic at the age of 5 and already expresses disillusionment with the system.

Why Go?: Anyone can tell you that immigration is a hot button issue in American politics, and No One Asked Me puts a very human face on the issues  that a lot of American citizens take for granted. Over 64,000 New York City graduates are illegal immigrants every year.

Stand-Out Bits:  No One Asked Me presents multiple facets of life under illegal status, and every scene of the show is uniquely intimate and deeply perceptive. Each of the main characters, as well as key figures like their school counselor, family members, and an emotionally-detached immigration lawyer, display rich and complex emotional lives that grip the audience with poetic energy. No One Asked Me is an eye-opening and culturally important work to witness, if only to learn to understand the struggle of millions of people in our country.

 

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