The Duchess of York
Susannah York is Shakespeare's girlfriend. Plus: the Siegels on the Fringe shows Granola!, Andru's Head, and Patriot Acts.
The principal feature that animates that mesmerizing face are her eyes; by God, they dance! It's a good thing that York is so inherently talented because she's set herself the task of presenting a series of Shakespearean scenes featuring the Bard's female characters in the throes of love. It might be romantic love, filial love, devotional love, etc.; there's quite a variety in The Loves of Shakespeare's Women, which is having a limited run through August 29 at the Blue Heron Arts Center.
It's not easy to engage an audience in a one-person show that consists of a series of Shakespearean monologues connected only by the general theme and the characters' gender. Keeping the program short (under 80 minutes), interjecting tidbits of her own personal history, and simply acting the hell out of most of these pieces, York makes the evening both a charming showcase for her gifts and a revelatory exploration of Shakespeare's feminine side.
Inspired by John Gielgud's one man show The Ages of Man, York's entry has the actress moving elegantly, gracefully, and naturally from one scene to the next. In the course of the proceedings, she plays such famous characters as Gertrude and Cleopatra as well as some delicious character parts -- e.g., Hermia from A Midsummer Night's Dream. Some of the scenes are so transcendent that they elicit applause, others are more quietly persuasive. This brief but wonderful show gives New York theatergoers a chance to see Susannah York bring a rich and varied array of characters to life and to light.
On the Fringe
In this and the next couple of columns, we'll give you a brief rundown of our recent experiences at the New York International Fringe Festival. We'll start by noting that many of the shows in the festival get far more coverage in the theatrical press than similarly scaled shows with commercial runs; it isn't that the Fringe should get less coverage, but there is something wrong with a system that gives so little attention to oftentimes worthy shows in small venues. That being said for the record, here we go:
Eric March wrote the book, music, and lyrics for Granola! and directed the show, as well. It was written when March was 15; he's now a sophomore at Yale. Well, he managed to write a sophomoric musical comedy long before he had any right (or write) to. Yes, this is a pretty impressive piece of work for a fifteen-year-old -- March's parents should be proud -- but the show should go no further than the Fringe. It certainly doesn't deserve the buzz that it's received, except as piece that's a curiosity because of the composer's age.
A parody that's derivative to the point of, well, parody, Granola! is crapola. Here is yet another Urinetown rip-off that makes constant references to itself as a piece of theater. At least it has one perceptive number; "What Are You Still Doing Here?" opens the second act and asks in wonderment why the audience hasn't walked out! The best thing about Granola! is Jennifer Wren, who plays the show's goofy female romantic lead, Betty. She has a flair for comedy and a great big belter's voice. Her romantic lead sidekick, Michael Rader, is a fine comic actor who brings to mind a young Douglas Sills, though his vocal talent isn't as strong as Wren's.
Staged by March in the most pedestrian fashion, the show is static and stolid in the first act, its efforts at humor much like an old car's engine struggling to turn over on a cold winter morning. The second act has a little bit more life but the ending goes on and on. Granola! gets no help from its choreographer Jessica DiMauro; the dance routines are flaccid, and the dancers likewise. March has had the good fortune of getting this musical put up on stage. Let's hope that his childish first effort will be followed by more mature work.
Among the best plays are "Girl Scouts Are Everywhere," an inspired children's tale about our CIA, FBI, etc. There's a perfect epiphany called "The Third Amendment," which smartly ends almost as quickly as it begins. Then there's what is perhaps the best written and acted piece of all: "The Stars," penned in fire and performed with searing heat by Lori Fischer. It's the story of a film fanatic jailed for attacking Leonardo Di Caprio.
Even in the lesser pieces, the acting is often noteworthy. Among a number of fine performers, we were particularly impressed by Paul Deboy; he's sensational in a wide variety of roles, from a quick-tongued judge to a redneck in the airport to a Brownie in drag! Urban Rock is a company to watch in the future, whether its productions are presented as part of the Fringe or not.
Rather sophomoric (but more successfully so than Granola!) is Andru's Head, with music and lyrics by Stephen Wilson and a book by Mark Dendy and Stephen Donovan. The silly story of a burgeoning TV star who is literally just a talking (and singing) head, this show has the advantage of some flashy and creative choreography by Dendy, as well as a number of genuinely strong performances.
The book is not one of the musical's strong suits. Simply put, an evil media mogul takes over a hit cable access TV show even as the mogul's innocent daughter falls in love with the starring head. The rock music and lyrics tend toward the obvious, but two Taboo alumni -- Denise Summerford as the female romantic lead, Calliope, and Brooke Elliott as "Mama" Higgenbottom -- are excellent here. Summerford has a sexy and funny Sarah Jessica Parker quality, while Elliott steals every scene she's in with a deliciously demented glee. Brad Bradley is charmingly nerdish as Andru's best friend, Mr. Stuart, and Paul Jason Green is winningly innocent as Andru's head.
The show is irritatingly uneven; some scenes are sharp and funny while others are heavy-handed. Some winsome directorial choices by co-directors Mark Dendy and Jonathan Warman help matters. As Fringe musicals go, this one is a worthy effort worth catching.