Music and theater and opera and art and the whole damn thing.

Friday, August 22, 2008

New York Fringe Festival

I've been to seven or eight events at this year's New York Fringe Festival, and I have to say I'm disappointed: either this year's 200+ efforts are not up to the last two or three years', or I'm picking them wrong. Monologues about one's life are interesting as, say, bar conversations (with me allowed to insert comments and tell stories too), but they are not inherently theatrical, and people have to get over the idea that just because you have a degree in acting and experiences to share makes them so. A show called "I Hamas" was full of interesting reportage on being Palestinian in California and going to Ramallah to connect with one's roots and being sorry one has achieved this, but it wasn't theater.

Burlesque is back, with a vengeance (what needed to be avenged? the lost honor of Baby June?) but also a difference: in the old days, burlesque meant scantily clad young (or not so young, but buxom) women saying (or depicting) set-ups and sly or vulgar guys hitting out with obvious or ancient punch lines; today burlesque means scantily (or not even) clad young men saying set-ups, while the vulgar punch lines come from the women (or drag queens). I'm the last man to object to eye-rolling, barely clad, well-built young men (in "Box Office Poison," "One Seat in the Shade," "The Boy in the Basement," et al.) - or at least the last man to object to them so far - but except in the last-named play, the situations were so trite, the jokes so antique (was there a line in "Box Office Poison" that wasn't forty years old, utterly filthy, or both?) that I did not need to stifle my laughter - it wasn't there to be stifled.

"The Grecian Formula" had some excellent actors and a lot of in-jokes for those familiar with ancient Greek theater and history ("odes" in badly rhymed doggerel verse recited between segments of plot, e.g.), but did not sustain interest enough to lure me back from intermission. (The title is about the level of the humor - no, it's rather better than most of the humor.)

Yesternight I attended a genuinely good play, but then it was Shakespeare's "Julius Caesar," with a woman in the title role. (No, that part didn't work, but everyone spoke Shakespeare well, which gives me pleasure.) The most fascinating thing about that (aside from the charming idea of having soothsayer's warnings, rumors, chorus lines, etc. muttered in loud whisper from all around the room in the dark - and the one laugh-line, when Cassius says, "It's my birthday") was a previously unsuspected nonprofit performance space in a ruinous gothic public school building on Suffolk Street near the Williamsburg Bridge. (Everyone around me in the audience lived in Boerum Hill or Prospect Heights, which figures. Only old farts like me can afford Manhattan.)

But after Brutus had finally got splooged in his fatigues, I allowed myself to be lured by a friend to "The Boy in the Basement." It was an 11:45pm show, the theater is in back of my house in the South Village, and several of the women involved were members of an improv troupe whose ongoing skits were the pinnacle and glory of last year's Fringe - notably the mordant wisecracking Lynne Rosenberg. The premise was: an excessively melodramatic young fellow (with a female pen name) is writing soft-core gothic porn (what Jane Austen would be writing, anyway texting, if she were, like, alive and horny and 22 and in college today) with a quill no less at one corner of the stage, driving himself to erotic satisfaction, while stage center four college roommates (a vixen, a virgin, a slut and a new age wack) have discovered a slim, hunky burglar in the basement. Of course they don't want to turn him in - since he's only stealing to help his sister get an operation - (what sort of operation is she running? was my question, never answered) - but each of the maidens has her way with him (or vice-versa as he turns every sort of table), as he lies chained at their mercy (showing very little inclination to escape, how unrealistic). The playwright (Katharine Heller, doubling as the vixen) proceeded to toy with our expectations as if arousing us fed some kind of urge on her (or the entire company's) part. Nick Fondulis toyed with our more prosaic expectations as the surrogate author. Tom Macy toyed with ... well he could if he wanted to, I'm sure. Lynne Rosenberg didn't have enough to do; I'd love to hear her talk about Palestinian Rights or tell bad old dirty jokes with her flawless timing. Meghan Powe and Anna Stumpf were also funny; Michael Solis was also cute. Souls were almost the only thing not bared. (Tom did try to suck on Meghan's virginal toe. He can have mine for the stomping. I'll even wash it first.)

There was a happy ending, which is to say, I was tempted to return, and voted it Best in the Fest. There is one further show at 10 on Saturday night.

1 comment:

Lynne said...

I can honestly say I don't think anyone's had Palestinian rights expectations of me.. but I'm honored and flattered!