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FringeNYC: Half; Judgment Day; Ndebele Funeral

TheaterMania's coverage of the New York International Fringe Festival concludes with reviews of three more shows.

Promotional image for <i>Half</i>
Promotional image for Half
(© courtesy of the production)
Half

by Bethany Rickwald

In real life, divorces are almost always hard to understand and much too complicated to be funny. From that perspective, FringeNYC's Half: A Divorce Farce hit the end-of-relationship nail squarely on the head. Half, playing the Connelly Theater, follows the king and queen of a fairy tale-esque kingdom as they search for their lost prenup and sort out the details of splitting their domain and going their separate ways.

The king and queen, their two royal subjects/children, and their two chief advisors/gay bff and therapist are all played by the shows' two extremely committed and talented actors: Adam Zivkovic and Becca Foresman (also the playwright). In fact, Half is chock-full of talent. Foresman's script is packed with cute turns of phrase and witty metaphors, and it's nothing if not impressive. Cara M. Tucker's direction is fast-paced, pushing Zivkovic and Foresman into a frenzy of physicalities and word play (it's truly astounding how rarely the pair trip over either their lines or themselves).

The end result of throwing together all this unbridled talent, however, is often frustrating. Despite the incredible acting skill on display, without any clues beyond changes in physicality, it quickly becomes tiring to have to sort out which characters Zivkovic and Foresman are embodying at any given moment. And, aggravatingly, Foresman's script seems more intent on churning out evidence of its own wit than allowing time for the jokes to land or delivering a satisfying narrative arc. In Half, a bombardment of cleverness is not enough to create a great show, but the budding artists at its helm need only learn how to reign in their own talent.

Production image for <i>Judgment Day</i>
Production image for Judgment Day
(© courtesy of the production)
Judgment Day

by Pete Hempstead

It's the end of the world, and I feel...well, pretty good after watching Donald Corren's hilarious portrayals of a handful of characters who reflect on their lives on what looks to be the last day of existence. With crisp, smart writing by Emmy-winning Maria S. Schlatter and a breathtaking performance by Corren, Judgment Day, at The Players Theater, slices into the disillusions and hysterias of modern society and serves them up with deliciously satirical sauce.

The play begins, appropriately enough, in a television news studio where a newsman reports that while the game is going into overtime, the world is not. His is the central tale, around which all the others orbit. Over the course of the play, we meet half a dozen other characters, some of whom appear several times, some only once. A few wax philosophical, such as the cab driver who remarks that Americans don't understand true suffering, but most of them tell side-splittingly funny stories, laced with cutting shards of irony. One of Corren's most memorable portrayals is a wealthy socialite who, at an apocalypse party, tells everyone in great detail about the elective surgery she had done to a very personal body part.

This is not a play of character arcs and tidy resolutions. Rather it's a tapestry of people thinking back on their imperfect lives as the threads of time begin to fray. And it makes for a superb hour and a half of theater. Corren transforms from one character to the next as seamlessly as a tenor changes key, and the intelligent writing keeps the pace brisk. The play might have explored more characters without tiring the audience, but whether Corren could have done so without dropping from exhaustion is another question. In any case, my verdict on Judgment Day is "must see."

A scene from <i>Ndebele Funeral</i>
A scene from Ndebele Funeral
(© courtesy of Smoke & Mirrors Co.)
Ndebele Funeral

by Zachary Stewart

Teatro Circulo has been transformed into a tin shack in Soweto, a suburb of Johannesburg, South Africa. The cardboard floor is strewn with cigarettes, dirty clothes, and beer bottles. This is the setting for Ndebele Funeral, Zoey Martinson's courageous and emotionally raw three-person play about the gaping chasm between hope and despair in modern South Africa.

Martinson plays Daweti, a sensitive and intelligent woman dying of AIDS. When government inspector Jan de Klerk (Jonathan David Martin with a flawless Afrikaner dialect) comes around inquiring about the building materials that the government provided Daweti to build a real house, he discovers that she's used the materials to build a coffin. Daweti's best friend, the upwardly mobile habitual optimist Thabo (a perfectly manic Yusef Miller) has come from the city to try to pull Daweti out of her funk — but is he too late? "I'm not a delusional optimist. Do I look like Mandela?" she asks him.

Martinson has written an astute and pointed critique of post-apartheid South Africa. While Thabo wholeheartedly embraces globalization, reveling in Facebook and the latest news from CNN.com, Daweti has retreated further into her own isolation, drinking stolen beer from the local convenience store.

Scenes seamlessly transition into candid confessional monologues and moments of spoken-word poetry thanks to Awoye Timpo's sure-handed direction. Jan's epic vent about the discrimination whites face in modern South Africa adds dimension to an already-frank exposé of pervasive inequality. Ndebele Funeral is socially relevant theater, told with maximum efficiency.

Tags: Adam ZivkovicBecca ForesmanDonald CorrenZoey MartinsonHalf


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