Dan Fogler, who won a Tony for his brilliant portrayal of William Barfee in The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, is a first-time Fringe participant as the writer and director of Elephant in the Room!, a contemporary adaptation of Eugene Ionesco's Rhinoceros featuring his Spelling Bee co-star Sarah Saltzberg and Avenue Q alum Jordan Gelber.
"When Ionesco wrote Rhinoceros, it was World War II and the Nazis were taking over. There was a sense of change that was scary and weird," says Fogler. "My play mirrors a lot of things going on with us right now, such as 9/11, the greenhouse effect, and a government that is in complete control, however out of control they are. I would like to get it Off-Broadway around the election next year."
An Off-Broadway production is also one of the goals that Philip Gerson has in mind for his new play, Night, which revolves around three different couples whose lives intersect over the course of one night in New York City. "If you ever walk down a big boulevard in the city, and look up at all these lights in the apartment buildings at night, you know somehow that all these lives are connected," says Gerson. He's particularly excited about his cast, which includes daytime drama favorites Grant Aleksander and Laurence Lau. "We were just overwhelmed by the quality of people who came in to audition for this show," he says. "It says a lot about the Fringe, obviously, that people are willing to do five or six performances in it."
Not everyone is looking for a commercial transfer. Canadians Chris Craddock and Nathan Cuckow are happy just to be performing their show, BASH'd A Gay Rap Opera, in New York. The piece concerns a pair of lovers, one of whom is gay-bashed, prompting the other to take his revenge by bashing innocent heterosexuals. "It's about violence begetting violence and the need to respect and appreciate each others' differences," says Cuckow.
Rap music, which is often associated with homophobia, may seem an odd vehicle for this story; however, as Cuckow states: "It's a logical progression of the music. Hip-Hop started as a voice for the people, for the minorities and the outsiders to express themselves. But along the way it got hijacked by the music industry and promoted the glamorization of homophobia and misogyny. For us to tell a gay love story through it flips it on its head."
One of the hallmarks of fringe festivals is the one person show. For the past 10 years, Byron Yee has been performing his autobiographical solo piece, Paper Son, which deals with his investigation into his family's past, and particularly the way his father immigrated to America as a "paper son," so called because he used faked documents and a fictionalized back story to overcome the discriminatory Asian Exclusion Acts that severely limited Asian immigration into the U.S. "It's the American immigration story that happens to be told from a Chinese American perspective," says Yee. "In telling it, I've become incredibly thankful for what my father did, and have more respect for him now than when he was alive. The show has helped me find a lost relationship."
A very different kind of solo show is being performed by Debbie Troché in She's Not Well, written and directed by Ted Baus. "I play a woman who traps a TV crew in her house and acts out every part of her life for them," says the performer of this classic Hollywood tale about rising to the top and crashing down into squalor. "The show is an homage to backstage melodramas like Valley of the Dolls, All About Eve, and Stage Door," says Troché.
FringeNYC has also become known for the proliferation of musical spoofs, thanks in large part to the success of Urinetown which premiered at the 1999 Fringe and transferred to Broadway in 2001. "We make Urinetown look like Mary Poppins," says Gary Stockdale, the composer and co-author of Bukowsical!, a tuner about the life of drunken poet Charles Bukowski.
"The idea started out on an Internet chatroom, where I met my co-writer Spencer Green," he states. "He came up with an idea for musicals that should not be written, and Bukowsical! was on it." The score samples from a range of musical styles and contains plenty of vulgar lyrics. Says Stockdale: "There's so much stealing going on that it might sound original."
Another show that's generating some buzz is Williamsburg! The Musical, written by Nicola Barber, Will Brumley, Brooke Fox, and Kurt Gellersted. "Kurt and I live in Williamsburg," says Fox. "We'd begun to see subtle changes in the neighborhood due to gentrification, and there seemed to be a wealth of material there."
With song titles such as "One Stop (To Excitement)," "Peter Luger Lullaby," and "Million Dollar Crackhouse," the show attempts to capture the feel for this Brooklyn neighborhood full of contradictions. "Peter Luger is three blocks from our house," says Fox. "We always go by it, and see all the crazy rich businessmen. But then right next door to it is a totally abandoned building. It's a really strange dichotomy."
Much like the Fringe, itself, really.
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