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

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The cast of 5 Lesbians Eating a Quiche
(© Christina Stradone)
The cast of 5 Lesbians Eating a Quiche
(© Christina Stradone)
5 Lesbians Eating a Quiche, which will be returning as part of the FringeNYC Encores series at the SoHo Playhouse, has a wacky charm. Set in the 1950s, the satirical comedy details the extraordinary events that occur at an annual quiche breakfast held by the Susan B. Anthony Society for the Sisters of Gertrude Stein.

As you enter the theater, each audience member -- regardless of gender -- is given a nametag identifying him or her as one of the "widows" at the gathering (mine was Joyce). There's a bit of audience interaction involved, but it's fairly non-threatening and helps to foster the illusion that we're all there as a member of the Society.

The breakfast takes place in a nuclear fallout shelter, and the initially lighthearted tone turns darker as a siren goes off and the gathered women are suddenly faced with the threat of nuclear disaster. Questions arise such as, who will save an endangered cat? How will they repopulate the human race? And most importantly, what will they do if they have no more eggs to make quiche?

The script, co-written by Evan Linder and Andrew Hobgood, is not as sharp as it could be. The humor comes across as a bit one-dimensional, certain jokes fall flat, and a cheesy flashback narrated by Vern (Thea Lux) does not have the comic or dramatic payoff that it needs.

However, all five performers do their utmost to make it work with their hysterically outsized performances. Caitlin Chuckta as Ginny is the clear standout, possessing an intensely comic stare and a full commitment to every action -- including the hilarious quiche eating sequence of the play's title.

-- Dan Bacalzo

Next Page: City of Shadows


Rachael Dease and company in
City of Shadows
(© Ashley de Prazer)
Rachael Dease and company in
City of Shadows
(© Ashley de Prazer)
A man lies face down in shallow water. Another is slumped over on the steps of a stairway. Still another is seen in a bathtub fully dressed, but bloodied. These are just a few of the disturbing yet fascinating images projected during the hauntingly beautiful City of Shadows, at the Robert Moss Theater at 440 Studios.

Conceived, composed, and sung by Australian artist Rachael Dease, this 40-minute song cycle is inspired by the book of the same name, which collected Sydney police photographs from the early 20th century depicting criminals, suspects, murder scenes, and seedy neighborhoods.

The photos -- some sepia-toned, others in black & white -- offer a glimpse into a bygone era. Particularly compelling are portraits of individuals that seem to have served as their mug shots, but are nothing like the ones we see today. The images are artfully shot and bristle with personality.

Dease's accompanying songs do not attempt to tell specific stories about the people in the pictures. Rather, they're more poetic meditations that riff on the imagery but are not tied exclusively to it. "And all the sorrow streaked across your face / Horrors all but it's catalogued in place" goes one lyric.

With her dyed red hair and bright red lipstick, Dease is a striking presence. Her vocals can be ethereal one moment, and then shortly afterwards her powerful voice takes on a harsher quality. At times, she hits notes that obscure the clarity of the lyrics, but for those wanting to know the words, they are printed in the program.

There is some pre-recorded instrumentation and other sounds used within the show, but the majority of the music is played live by a terrific four-piece orchestra: Brian J. Kruger (violin), Hayley-Jane Ayres (violin), Aaron Wyatt (viola), and Tristen Parr (cello). The sounds they draw from their instruments go beyond the merely traditional, as they also tap out percussive beats, pluck their strings, and in one prolonged instrumental section create a weird, scratchy sound that verges on the atonal but is filled with dramatic urgency.

-- Dan Bacalzo

Next Page: Rated M for Mature


Ben Hollandsworth in Rated M for Mature
(Courtesy of the company)
Ben Hollandsworth in Rated M for Mature
(Courtesy of the company)
Greg Ayers' Rated M for Mature, at the Cherry Lane Theatre, walks an uneasy line between comedy and drama. It opens with Susan (Jamey Hood) and her new husband Larry (Brian Munn) going through the room of her teenage son Eric (Ben Hollandsworth), looking for evidence to explain his poor performance in school.

Larry wants to be the cool stepfather while Susan plays the role of the over-worried mother to a tee. There's an Odd Couple vibe to the action that culminates when they discover in Eric's journal that his only real vice is playing violent video games online with his friend Pete (Nick Vennekotter).

Susan sees this as alarming though and confiscates Eric's computer. But without it, Eric is cut off from his life. He's bullied at school, longs for girls who aren't interested in him, and therefore, like many more introspective teenagers, creates a world where he is king. In his case, it's quite literal as he has a "clan" that he guides to take over villages and whatnot. But without his computer, there's nowhere to channel his rage.

This is when he and Pete begin plotting an escape to California and the real trouble begins. It's painful to watch Susan be so obstinate and oblivious to her son's needs. Hood delivers a solid performance but Ayers doesn't give her a lot to work with. Susan, like many of the characters in the play, is a one-note drone. After a few minutes, it's excruciatingly numbing to listen to her and the others.

Towards the end, there are some charged moments handled well by Paul Dobie, and in these heated beats, Ayers shows that he has a knack for crisis dialogue. Unfortunately, his words fall flat the rest of the time.

-- Chris Kompanek

Next Page: Dogs: A Biting Comedy


Lavi Zytner and Benjamin David Elder
in Dogs: A Biting Comedy
(© Yosee Gamzo Latova)
Lavi Zytner and Benjamin David Elder
in Dogs: A Biting Comedy
(© Yosee Gamzo Latova)
Passionate performances mix with overwrought symbolism in Israeli troupe TheaterCan's production of Dogs: A Biting Comedy, at the New Ohio Theatre. The result is strangely compelling yet not completely satisfying.

Written by Ido Bornstein, the plot focuses on five men -- three Jewish, two Arab -- who come together to work on a musical adaptation of Romeo & Juliet. Gili (Lavi Zytner), the director, envisions the production as a way of bridging the gap between the two races, but while he casts Abed (Mahmoud Mora) as the Arabic Romeo figure, no Israeli Juliet ever shows up despite months of rehearsal.

The play strives to challenge normative modes of masculinity -- one of the men even becomes pregnant -- while also acknowledging the traumas that have shaped these men's lives. In a pivotal monologue, Shahar (Benjamin David Elder) describes how he once had a dog that he trained to be a killer through a process of starvation and isolation. That dog becomes a metaphor for all five men, each of whom has undergone hardships that threaten to close them off from empathy with one another.

The most intriguing relationship in the play is between security guard Nisim (Hai Maor) and Rabbiah (Rami Kashy), an Arab whom he initially handcuffs and beats for not having his ID. In a symbolic gesture that seems part protest, part masochism, Rabbiah continues to wear the handcuffs, even as the two men start to bond over the play, a shared love of mind-altering substances, and racially charged jokes.

Bornstein's script does not adhere to strict realist principles and can be frustrating insofar as the characters' actions sometimes seem to defy logic. Additionally, certain staging choices from director Shlomo Plessner obscure rather than clarify what is going on.

-- Dan Bacalzo

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