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FringeNYC 2008: Roundup #3

Reports on Big Thick Rod, From the Inside, Out, That Dorothy Parker, and Behold, the Bowery!

Matt W. Cody and Tatiana Gomberg
in Big Thick Rod
(© Edward Elefterion)
Matt W. Cody and Tatiana Gomberg
in Big Thick Rod
(© Edward Elefterion)
[Ed. Note: This is the third in a series of TM review roundups of shows in the 12th annual New York International Fringe Festival.]

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You don't have to be a nymphomaniac woodland sprite wed to an uptight lawyer to figure out that the marriage contract can constitute a raw deal. But it's a hilarious premise, which writer Stanton Wood, director Edward Elefterion, and the highly talented minimalists of the Rabbit Hole Ensemble make the most of in Big Thick Rod, at the New School for Drama Theatre. New bride -- and former wood nymph -- Cricket (Tatiana Gomberg) has a perfectly reasonable expectation of sex at least nine times daily, but her stuffy husband Elmer (Arthur Aulisi) presents his counter-offer of once a month ("You could choose the day!").

Cricket uses the giant household checkbook that Elmer ceremonially bestows on her to hire a soft-hearted gardener (Dan Ajl Kitrosser) to "tend her bush," and when he can't meet the quota, try as he might, she finds backup in the well-built form of the title character (Matt W. Cody). Though new to the world of human interaction, Cricket -- having boned up on the ground rules of capitalism while confined to Elmer's study -- quickly learns to drive a hard bargain. Why hire a prostitute when you could pimp him instead? Before long, a dinner party which Elmer has arranged to impress the B&D-inclined banker Burgermeister (cross-dressing Emily Hartford) is disrupted by the sound effects of Rod in the root cellar, pleasuring -- for a pittance -- a very vocal gospel choir. And that's just for starters.

Is marriage itself a socially sanctioned form of prostitution? Is our whole economic system based on the premise that to the exploiter go the spoils? And is unbridled female sexuality scary or what? While contemplating such meaty questions, you get to laugh yourself silly at the absurdist lengths a newly mortal wood nymph will go to outhuman the humans.

-- Sandy MacDonald

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Diona Reasonover and Maggie Keenan-Bolger
in From the Inside, Out
(© Jamilla Clarke)
Diona Reasonover and Maggie Keenan-Bolger
in From the Inside, Out
(© Jamilla Clarke)
A one-act that lasts an economical 50 minutes at Pace University's Schaeberle Studio Theatre, From the Inside, Out is written by and stars Maggie Keenan-Bolger, who plays herself. It begins as a personal story about the issue of self-injury and then fluidly expands into a sad and sensitive investigation into the ways -- and the unfathomable reasons why -- young people cut themselves and do other painful, brutalizing damage to their bodies.

The work gets a modest sense of structure out of Keenan-Bolger's attempt to get up the courage to tell her father (Alfred Kemp) that she has secretly been cutting herself for several years. The play wants us to understand that this kind of self-injury is neither suicidal nor a call for help. Most surprisingly, it isn't -- as it is often depicted in popular fiction -- a method by which people who are unable to feel emotion can experience something, even if it's just pain. In fact, the play tells us that the act of cutting actually calms down a storm of emotions and acts almost like a sedative.

It is most apt that the author's performance has the quality of an open wound; she is vulnerable and tender. In addition to Kemp, her half-dozen young co-stars present a variety of types from a young girl who keeps a computer diary full of self-loathing to another girl who mistakenly cuts herself so deeply that she has to go to a hospital emergency room for stitches. Since the fine supporting actors play characters while Keenan-Bolger plays herself, there's a schism in the tone of the piece, but director Erika Christensen wisely embraces the tonal differences to accentuate the play's ultimate purpose as a teaching tool.

-- Barbara and Scott Siegel

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Carol Lempert in That Dorothy Parker
(© Joe Teplitz)
Carol Lempert in That Dorothy Parker
(© Joe Teplitz)
Carol Lempert conveys a febrile intelligence in That Dorothy Parker, her tribute to the poet/critic/wit-at-large famed as a founding member of the Algonquin Round Table, which performs at The SoHo Playhouse. Although Lembert's physical resemblance to her subject poses a challenge (Parker's New York Times 1967 obit described her as "a little woman with a dollish face and basset-hound eyes," whereas Lempert is rangy and sharp-featured), she usually gets the rushed, language-obsessed rhythms of the words just right. Sometimes, especially when spotlit to launch into a poem, she rushes too much; Parker's terse, incisive verses take time to sink in.

Taking off from a day in 1943 when Parker is devastated by news of the death of former crony Alexander Woollcott (a mentor she called "Mother"), the script flashes both back and forward -- all the way up to an encounter with Spanish freedom fighters that's overlong and uncharacteristically bathetic.

Under Janice L. Goldberg's lively direction, very little pecking at the typewriter is involved. Lempert (who plays all the characters) is a whirlwind, showing us Parker chasing her puppy through the Algonquin lobby, stalking handsome young men at cocktail parties, or absorbing yet another fresh heartbreak with a suicide attempt. However, the author has tried to shoehorn in too much material. Parker fans are apt to lap up every last bon mot, but tighter, less encyclopedic scripting would make for a stronger theatre piece. The work started out as a 20-minute sketch at the Toronto Fringe in 1998; a decade later, it has evolved into a full 90 minutes yet is still bursting at the seams.

-- Sandy MacDonald

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Daniel Abeles and David Morris
(© Suzi Sadler)
Daniel Abeles and David Morris
(© Suzi Sadler)
Before there was the John Varvatos haberdashery, before there was CBGB, before there was an uninterrupted row of flophouses, there was in New York City a wild Lower East Side strip populated by penurious immigrants whose accents clashed almost as violently and often as their tempers. Or so Daniel Pfau wants to remind audiences with Behold, the Bowery! at the Connelly Theatre.

In a series of vignettes interspersed with scenes set at a turn-of-the-century bar called the Broken Nose, he covers grisly incidents involving hapless actor Julian Fisk (Daniel Abeles) and some of the unfortunates with whom he squanders his measly and indebted income. A cross between Deadwood and Cabaret, Pfau's play includes several deaths and near-deaths as inveterate liar and con man Julian angers racketeer Dead Horse (Einar Gunn) and sets up a string of crimes that also involve well-meaning killer-for-hire Leon (Tomasso Matelli) and his long-suffering wife (Jo Jo Hristova). Interrupting Julian's travails is Sy (David Morris), the effeminate Broken Nose ringmaster, who's forever bringing on the blowzy house dancing girls and assorted bottom-feeding acts.

Pfau has written a lumpy, melodramatic play that really should have the villains twirling their mustachios so patrons can hiss. Indeed, one character does apply handle-bar facial hair with shiny glue, but he's only a Broken Nose entertainer, singing one of the pastiche barroom ditties that the playwright-director has written for an on-stage three-man band (Joe Hartmann, Alexander M Vollrath-Smith, Jeremy Pfau) to deliver. Behold, the Bowery! is also asking for trouble by requiring a 16-strong cast, the members of which -- other than Abeles, Gunn, and Matelli -- don't bring much to the bawdiness they're asked to present.

-- David Finkle

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For TheaterMania's FringeNYC 2008: Roundup #1, click here.
For TheaterMania's FringeNYC 2008: Roundup #2, click here.
For TheaterMania's Fringe preview, click here.


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