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2010 Fringe NYC Roundup #2

Reports on The Twentieth-Century Way, Amsterdam Abortion Survivor, and Headscarf and the Angry Bitch. logo
[Editor's Note: This is the second in a series of roundups on the 2010 New York International Fringe Festival.]
Will Bradley and Robert Mammana
in The Twentieth Century Way
(© Ed Krieger)
Tom Jacobson's two-hander, The Twentieth-Century Way, at the Players Theatre, brings an obscure, sad slice of gay history -- aboutt how the Long Beach police department engaged two out-of-work actors to entrap homosexuals in 1914 -- to life with surprising theatricality. The show's success, such as it is, is due largely to Will Bradley and Robert Mammana's keenly observed performances and director Michael Michetti's crisp staging.

Rather than telling the story in a traditional fashion, Jacobson's play imagines that two actors meet at an audition in the early part of the 20th century, and as they wait, they discuss the differences in their training - eventually engaging in an improv competition to demonstrate the differences in their acting processes. Before long, they are portraying, in rapid-fire succession, the gay men who are caught in compromising positions in public places, law enforcement officials, and the journalists following the proceedings.

Bradley and Mammana jet between characters of different ages and ethnic backgrounds (both men are particularly felicitous with accents) with precision. Even more impressively, they glide between the characters' fictions and reality with ease, as the sexual tensions build between the two men personally and in their imagined liaisons. And Michetti ensures that Jacobson's potentially confusing Pirandellian landscape never becomes overly murky.

Unfortunately, neither the director's work nor the two fine performances overcome the increasingly indistinct lines of reality and fantasy which keep theatergoers at an emotional remove from the historical stories and the fictional one that frames them. By the time the performers reveal themselves fully at the play's end, the effect is strained rather than cathartic.

-- Andy Propst

Micha Wertheim
(© Merlijn Doomernik)
Comedians can be a generous lot. Take Dutch standup comic Micha Wertheim. During his playfully sardonic Amsterdam Abortion Survivor, at Soho Playhouse, he brandishes a rubber charity wristband that he claims represents his foundation. Its purpose? "We help victims that have been victimized by other victims."

Leave it to a performer from a country with the liberalest of political leanings to pull laughs from Leftist political and social mores, as Wertheim does for much -- but not enough -- of his nearly hour-long act. Beyond claiming to be an abortion survivor, he touches on his country's permissive laws ("in Holland, you can have an abortion even if you're not pregnant") and why it's problematic to base decisions on popular consensus ("if the majority decides, then there's no such thing as gang rape").

It's edgy humor, indeed, but he delivers it with such casual and impish glee -- landing closer to Jon Stewart than Dennis Miller -- that only touchiest theatergoers are likely to object. And when his act follows the traditional standup route, Wertheim's timing and delivery are razor-sharp.

But, perhaps to make his performance seem more theatrical, he frames the show as if we were peeking in on one of his dreams -- the better to justify walking onstage in his underwear and a blazer and doing a bouncy, clapping routine to "Ring My Bell." The payoff for these bits, which include a childhood tale about avoiding a fine for forgotten library books, simply isn't justified by the lengthy setup.

-- Diane Snyder

Zehra Fazal in Headscarf and the Angry Bitch
(© Graeme Shaw)
One of the more welcome trends in this year's New York International Fringe Festival is its many shows about strong-willed Muslim women, including Zehra Fazal's amusing and award-winning solo piece, Headscarf and the Angry Bitch, now at the Cherry Lane.

The show, which was seen earlier at Washington D.C.'s Capital Fringe, is a politically incorrect survey of American Muslim life and a search for self-identity within that community, as seen through the eyes of a sassy, Skittles-loving folksinger from North Carolina who calls herself Zed Headscarf. There are the expected jokes about burqas, 72 virgins, and Ramadan fasts. Unfortunately, there are also few fresh insights that could overturn a myth or two.

Luckily Fazal is funny, with both an infectious spirit and an endearing way with song parodies. "I've been through the desert on a horse with no name" becomes "I've been to the airport as a Muslim detained," while the Christmastime classic "The Little Drummer Boy" morphs, rather sacrilegiously, into "Come, They Told Me, It's Ra(ha)madan."

What's missing, however. is a clearer picture of why she remains tied to the religion of her upbringing, even as she breaks free of its strictest traditions. Fazal asks herself whether she can embrace lust and desire and still call herself a Muslim. She courageously acknowledges certain ways in which the often unfair scrutiny given to American Muslims can be positive. But we never hear what she still loves about Islam.

-- Andy Buck


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