[Ed. Note: This is the fourth in a series of TM review roundups of shows in the sixteenth annual New York International Fringe Festival.]

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Chris Salvatore in Pieces
(© Rick Simone)
Chris Salvatore in Pieces
(© Rick Simone)
A young prostitute is accused of murdering a wealthy Hollywood producer. Headlines explode. Lawyers clash. Scandalous liaisons emerge. It has all the makings of a film noir thriller from the '40s or '50s, but instead of Susan Hayward we get a gay hustler in post-millennial Beverly Hills, the kind who, it is said, wears "a suit and tie on the red carpet and not much at home."

Pieces by Chris Phillips, which is running at the Cherry Lane Theatre, is billed as a new play, but its tale, despite a few topical references, comes across as a bit musty and clichéd. The story revolves, not so much around Shane, the hustler (Chris Salvatore), but around Rory (Jonathan Gibson), the self-loathing, gay public defender who is assigned to his case.

Unfortunately, director Brian Zimmer is not able to smooth the rough edges of the script with consistently subtle performances from his actors. Only Nina Millin, as Shane's prosecutor and Gibson's friend, is able to underscore the harsh notes of her character with a dynamic inner life. Millin's first scene with Gibson is the moment that the play really takes off.

Joe Briggs plays the contrived character of a crusading gay reporter and does what he can with lines like, "Self-righteous anger makes me hot." Both Salvatore and Paolo Andino -- who plays a rich colleague of the murder victim -- strive for naturalistic portrayals, with limited success.

A challenge of this play is that it's stuck in a 1980s, early '90s mindset. Several of its gay characters, onstage and off, seem to have just missed the benefits of the "It Gets Better" generation of LGBT enlightenment. And, of course, that's sadly plausible, as recent suicide statistics attest. But Phillips needs to freshen up his dialogue and allow more complexities into his story to make it effectively believable.

-- Andy Buck

Next Page: The Underdeveloped and Overexposed Life of Deena Domino


Leah Rudick and Katie Hartman
in ...Deena Domino
(Courtesy of the company)
Leah Rudick and Katie Hartman
in ...Deena Domino
(Courtesy of the company)
"God loves sluts," a baby beauty pageant show producer barks at a young impressionable mom in the opening minutes of comedy duo Skinny Bitch Jesus Meeting's very funny The Underdeveloped and Overexposed Life of Deena Domino at the Kraine Theater.

Savagely written by Leah Rudick and Katie Hartman (who also perform all the roles), the performance charts the meteoric rise to fame of the eponymous character (played with over-the-top brilliance by Hartman), a young sweet girl who's transformed into brash reality star (think Snookie on steroids) by her mother's Mama Rose-like drive and an ever increasing market demand for mindless celebrities who will do anything. A particular low is when she's on a show trying to eat a donkey dick while riding said donkey. As Deena remarks, "it's surprisingly difficult."

Rudick (in a fat suit) plays her mother, Gina, a trailer park type who wants the best for her daughter however ill conceived her actions are. She also plays one of Deena's nemeses and a slew of other characters. She and Hartman have great chemistry regardless of whom they happen to be playing. It's clear they're having a ball -- sometimes even laughing when they're not supposed to, but it's okay. Their energy is contagious.

Director Daniel Pettrow keeps the hilarity moving at a nice pace (complete with a series of video clips from Deena's fictional realty shows and inventive video illustrations by Michael Hall) and the many parts of the story cohesive as Rudick and Hartman fly through Deena's life in about 70 minutes.

As I watched Deena Domino, I couldn't help but think of another sharp celebrity satire -- Matt and Ben -- that played the Fringe years back. While they have little in common thematically, both shows embrace the zany yet elusive spirit we search out for two weeks each year.

-- Chris Kompanek

Next Page: REDlight


William Ryan Kipp in REDlight
(© Jennifer E. Koltun)
William Ryan Kipp in REDlight
(© Jennifer E. Koltun)
On the courage meter, William Ryan Kipp wins a few and loses a few with his autobiographical solo show REDlight, running at The White Box at 440 Studios. He admirably tackles an uncomfortable subject -- an actor who identifies as straight (that's Kipp himself), stripping in a gay club, meeting its denizens there, and dancing through a minefield of sexual politics and gender identity issues. It's an exciting premise.

Unfortunately, too much of his 40-minute piece is written and played at the same angry pitch, which gets wearisome quickly, and undermines what seems to be a goal of the work -- to explore the complex connections that bind different people together. Was no one whom he met at this club happy?

Most of REDlight is made up of monologues in which Kipp portrays, à la Anna Deavere Smith, the different clientele. But neither he nor his two directors, Marc Santa Maria and Jennifer Tuttle, succeed in replicating Smith's brilliant facility with distinct vocal characterizations.

Even in Kipp's first strictly autobiographical speech, a reminiscence of a childhood fishing trip with his father, the actor is unpersuasive. It is only at the end of the show when the writer/performer portrays first his mother and then himself as a grown man, that his performance takes on dimension and nuance. The monologue his mother tells is particularly compelling.

What's ironic is that a show in which the star goes to great lengths to expose himself literally -- often with the crowd-pleasing assistance of choreographer Carol Marcia Johnson, video projection artist Raymond Rea, and lighting designer Emma Rivera --we don't really see enough of him. It would, for instance, be fascinating to meet Kipp's girlfriend and watch that relationship interact with the others onstage. As it is, we just get a peek at the man inside the Calvin Kleins. It's the ultimate, but surely unintentional, tease.

--Andy Buck

Click here for a full list of FringeNYC shows.