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FringeNYC: The Dead Hooker Play; Human Fruit Bowl; Marshall's Law

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

By New York City

A scene from <i>The Dead Hooker Play</i>
A scene from The Dead Hooker Play
(© courtesy of the production)
The Dead Hooker Play

by Pete Hempstead

When you go to a show with a title like The Dead Hooker Play, you enter the theater with two expectations: to laugh and to be appalled that you are laughing. You'll do both when you see Scott Decker's new play, now staged at the Players Theatre and directed by Decker and Lindsay M. Stringfellow. Solid performances keep the witty yet longwinded script aloft for two hours, but it might have risen higher with a lighter first act.

The play opens with bare-torsoed Miles (Decker) in a hotel room on his wedding day. On the couch lies the body of a prostitute; Miles is strangely unfazed by the murder that he admits to committing. His drug-addled, hallucinating best man Marcos (Jim Conroy), however, goes to pieces, as you'd expect, but that's mostly the drugs talking. Marcos and Miles are joined by their sexually mixed-up friend Lee (Sean Modica) and by Miles' Nazified fiancée, Kelly (Madeleine James), all of whom insult and berate one another for most of the show's first act. The second act is where the meat of the play is served up, as we go back hours before the opening scene. There we meet the prostitute Hope (Maria Pastel) and watch as she bonds with Miles and reveals to him her dark desire.

This menagerie of lost souls earns well-deserved laughs. A special nod must go to Conroy, who is as funny offstage (witness the toilet scene) as he is on. The Dead Hooker Play has much to recommend it, not the least of which is its energetic cast. The first hour, however, delivers little but hit-and-miss insult humor, drug-induced non sequiturs, and gross necrophilia jokes. You'll enjoy yourself for sure, but you may wish you hadn't paid for the extra half hour.

A scene from <i>Human Fruit Bowl</i>
A scene from Human Fruit Bowl
(© courtesy of the production)
Human Fruit Bowl

by Bethany Rickwald

Human Fruit Bowl, playing The Cow Theater, is an excellent collaboration by writer Andrea Kuchlewska, actor Harmony Stempel, and director Jessi D. Hill. Together, these three women create a thought-provoking examination of the partnership between artist and model as well as the role of the muse/model in the creation of art and the life of the artist.

Harmony Stemple plays the show's sole character, Beth, a young woman who develops an interest in the visual arts when she begins nude modeling for an art class for extra cash. Stemple's impressive ability to act while naked and alone onstage (she spends her hour-long monologue exampling the nude art poses she talks about), combined with Kuchlewska's script — which bounces deftly from the stories of models and their artists to Beth's experiences modeling — make for a surprisingly engrossing production.

Hill's direction is almost undetectable due mostly to the fact that for the majority of the show Beth is standing, sitting, or lying stock-still in various poses. But the very fact that Human Fruit Bowl rivets its audience despite the lack of motion is a testament to her skill. Of course, one might imagine that the naked actress on stage has something to do with audience's rapt attention, and certainly it must. But even in a muumuu, Stemple's performance would be captivating.

What the element of nudity brings to the production is an added layer of emotional complexity: Human Fruit Bowl forces its audience to examine what they know about artists (famous and otherwise) and their muses. Putting a naked model front and center visually reinforces the emotional complications of separating the story of an artist and the story of her or his art.

Production artwork for <i>Marshall's Law</i>
Production artwork for Marshall's Law
(© courtesy of the production)
Marshall's Law

by Pete Hempstead

A parent and a child need each other for the same reason: to help each other grow up. In Marshall's Law, a satisfying short play written by Shadley Grei and staged at Teatro SEA, a parent and a parental figure do the maturing thanks to a determined young son. Clocking in at a little under one hour, this sometimes tough, sometimes tender two-hander examines how even the bitterest resentment between friends can be assuaged by honesty and forgiveness.

The play begins with a door closing. Zach (Grei) and Abby (Danielle Taddei), who had been fast friends for 25 years, are trapped in a cellar after Abby's son, Marshall, locks the door. Marshall (who remains invisible for the duration of the play) wants these two to work out their differences, so the door will stay locked until they hash things out. And there's quite a bit of hashing to do. Zach, it turns out, had an affair with Abby's husband, Roger, a liaison that eventually became a full-fledged relationship. Then, in a car accident that nearly took Marshall's life, Roger was killed, and now Zach faces jail time for Roger's death. Betrayed and furious, Abby blames Zach, rightly or wrongly, for everything that has happened, and the two former friends unleash their anger, shared memories, and deep sense of loss until their secrets finally surface.

Grei advances the plot with a clever device: an occasional note slipped under the locked door by the unseen and unheard Marshall. The mysterious boy, who is the crux of Zach's and Abby's lives, knows what to write to prod them into confronting each other and tackling the truth. The play's script is just long enough to tease out the conflicts and offer the hope of resolution, while Grei and Taddei provide convincing portrayals of two embittered friends. Though a work of modest size and ambition, Marshall's Law lingers in the mind long after the theater doors have opened.

Tags: FringeNYC2013Shadley GreiDavid AvcollieThe Dead Hooker PlayScott DeckerLindsay M. StringfellowJim ConroySean ModicaMadeleine JamesMaria PastelAndrea KuchlewskaHarmony StempelJessi D. HillDanielle Taddei


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