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2010 FringeNYC Festival Roundup #1

Reports on Just In Time: The Judy Holliday Story, Picking Palin, and A Matter of Choice.

[Editor's Note: This is the first in a series of roundups on the 2010 New York International Fringe Festival.]
Marina Squericiati in Just in Time
(© Ellen Nickles)
In Just in Time: The Judy Holliday Story, at the Soho Playhouse, playwright/director Bob Sloan finds clever ways to spark the bio-drama form. Not all of the devices in Sloan's play, which features several tunes penned by Holliday herself, are completely successful, but the piece's lapses rarely matter thanks to Marina Squerciati's winning and often quite convincing performance in the title role.

Sloan's play frames Holliday's story from the afterlife, where she and her mother Helen (Mary Gutzi) look back on key moments in the actress' life. Theatergoers see Holliday's first forays into the theater, serving as a receptionist for Orson Welles' Mercury Theatre, her initial success with Adolph Green and Betty Comden (Catherine Lefrere and Adam Harrington effectively play all the famous and not-so-famous women and men in Holliday's life) and both her disappointments and triumphs on stage and screen, notably her portrayal of Billie Dawn in Born Yesterday.

At times, the performers announce a fictitious movie title and then, relay key facts about Holliday's life and career; it's a clever variation on "The Movie Game," an improvisation exercise that Green teaches Holliday, in which after a movie title has been devised, the performers have to improvise what the movie might be about.

Less successful is Sloan's repetition of imagined appearances by Holliday on the TV show "What's My Line?" When he first employs the device and it turns from a seemingly biographical moment into the day when Holliday goes before the House Un-American Activities Committee, the effect chills, but when he repeats it later as she battles cancer, the effect is merely cloying.

-- Andy Propst

Bill Timoney, Stephen Gleason, Georgette Reilly Timoney,
and Keith Herron in Picking Palin
(© Ramsey Fendall)
Sarah Palin is such a fixture on the political and cultural landscape today that you have to remind yourself it was just two years ago that the former Alaska governor was introduced to the greater American public. In Picking Palin, an engaging one-act at the Connelly Theatre, author Stephen Padilla imagines the scenario in which Palin emerged as the Republican Vice Presidential candidate over the likes of Mitt Romney, Tom Ridge, Tim Pawlenty, and Joe Lieberman.

In a series of vignettes full of often bitter, often amusingly cynical cracks, we watch as Neil (Stephen Gleason) -- the aide to presidential candidate John McCain -- attempts to reach unanimity with racially biased Bob (Bill Timoney), no-nonsense Jan (Georgette Reilly Timoney), and analytically incisive Paul (Keith Herron).

The outcome is never in doubt, of course, and Padilla drops no bombshells during the give-and-take that has passionate Palin-detractors Paul and Jan holding out against Neil and Bob until they realize they must capitulate.

Nevertheless, Padilla -- who also directed his able cast with an abler hand than many playwrights apply to their handiwork -- achieves a convincing you-are-there quality. He also fires several effective zingers as well as many declarative remarks that get onlookers laughing knowingly. Perhaps the most memorable is die-hard GOP-er Neil commenting -- as did McCain -- that the economy is not a worry. Oops!

-- David Finkle

Jake Lemmenes, Ashley Marie Ortiz, and Tom Wolfson
(© Max Ruby)
A word of warning: When a play credits two directors, it often seems to have none. A case in point is T. C. Burtt Jr. and Alicia Dempster's revival of Chad Beckim's A Matter of Choice, at the Soho Playhouse. Despite four hands to guide them, the actors in this unintentionally melodramatic production seldom seem to know what to do with themselves.

Beckim's play is about a trio of roommates (portrayed here by Jake Lemmenes, Ashley Marie Ortiz, and Tom Wolfson) who are about to be uprooted by a new subway line under construction. The script has a random, meandering quality that can only work with strong ensemble performances, which are missing here.

For one thing, there are a number of soapbox speeches -- including a curtain-raising rant about New York's Puerto Rican Day Parade -- that comes as across as simply problematic, rather than complex, challenging, and, most important, reflective of deeper issues going on in the characters' psyches. And the relationships demand a strong chemistry between the actors, which is also largely absent, particularly between Lemmenes' character and Nicholas Wilder, who plays his abusive lover.

Furthermore, the fragile script would seem more balanced if there was more than the one African American character on stage; all we have now is a streetwise drug-dealer (played by Damiyr Shuford, who has strong moments). In the end, though, nothing can prevent this play about stereotypes from becoming one.

-- Andy Buck


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