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2010 FringeNYC Roundup #5

Reports on Veritas, Dear Harvey, Bunked! A New Musical, and Have a Nice Life. logo
[Editor's Note: This is the fifth in a series of roundups on the 2010 New York International Fringe Festival.]
Eric Nelsen, Joseph Yeargain, and Sam Underwood
in a scene from Veritas
(© Tristan Fuge)
There's no denying that Stan Richardson's Veritas, at HERE Arts Center, has impact. The premise alone makes an audience sit up and take notice. The dramatist bases his charged but flawed work on the very real (though only brought-to-light in 2002) story of a hunt for homosexuals carried out in 1920 at Harvard, where the university motto is "Veritas" -- "truth."

After undergraduate Cyril Wilcox takes his own life, his brother Lester (Doug Kreeger) discovers two letters from classmates with clear references to the homosexual activities in which Cyril's circle of friends engaged. Complaining to school officials, the vengeful Wilcox causes an impromptu panel to form for interrogating nine gay men played with varying degrees of superciliousness by Justin Blanchard, Paul Downs Colaizzo, Mitch Dean, Morgan Karr, Eric Nelsen, Matt Steiner, Jesse Swenson, Sam Underwood, and Joseph Yeargain.

The playwright makes a joke of the meta-theatrics he employs late in the proceedings, but that does not defuse criticism of the stale device, nor does it lessen the arrogance that can be sniffed behind the over-used conceit that's just one of the somewhat pretentious drawbacks to Richardson's 90-minute piece.

Since Richardson obviously couldn't resort to transcripts of the young men's private lives, he's imagined how they interacted during interludes like the dance parties held in one apparently busy dorm room. Directed by Ryan J. Davis on a stage bare of anything but nine easily-rearranged ladder-back chairs, the production takes on a self-congratulatory grandiosity hardly needed to convey the shock of the case's bare facts. Nevertheless, such details aren't obscured in the depiction of this episode in which our bastion of highest learning sank shamefully low, indeed.

-- David Finkle

The cast of Dear Harvey
(Courtesy of Diversionary Theatre)
Dear Harvey is not a history lesson about Harvey Milk, who in 1977 became the first openly-gay man to be elected to San Francisco's Board of Supervisors, and, just eleven months later, was assassinated (along with Mayor George Moscone) by former city supervisor Dan White. It is not a traditional drama either, a genre successfully filled by the celebrated 2008 film Milk. Instead, this theatrical event, playing at the SoHo Playhouse, is something entirely new: a riveting, emotional exploration of the life and lasting impact of Milk through music, photographs, Milk's own words, and reflections from those who knew him.

Based on over 30 interviews conducted by playwright Patricia Loughrey, Dear Harvey features an ensemble of seven portraying various people whose lives Milk touched. Stuart Milk (Mark Peters), Milk's openly gay nephew, explains how his uncle taught him to be proud of being different; LGBT activist Cleve Jones (Scott Striegel), who had interned for Milk, explains how the inspiration he took from Milk later led him to create the AIDS Memorial Quilt. Music written and performed by Thomas Hodges serves as a critical component of the play by highlighting the emotions of each story as photographs and newspaper clippings are illuminated on a screen behind the actors.

Directed by Dan Kirsch, the play offers many perspectives on Milk's lasting influences to enable audiences both familiar and unfamiliar with his life to connect with and learn something new about his story. The play also demonstrates that Milk inspired countless individuals to make great strides in the fight for LGBT civil rights, and shows that his words, passion, and achievements can inspire those fighting prejudice today.

-- Meredith Lee

Amanda Jane Cooper, Ben Moss, and Tim Ehrlich
in Bunked! A New Musical
(© Tristan Fuge)
The secret lives of summer camp counselors are depicted within Bunked! A New Musical, at the Lucille Lortel Theatre. However, the tuner is more earnest than spoofy, resulting in an enjoyable, but not particularly groundbreaking work.

There are, of course, romantic entanglements aplenty. The hooking up of the terminally ill Max (Jake Loewenthal) and the sullen and seemingly uncaring Carmen (Lizzie Klemperer) is never in much doubt. A little more tension exists in the triangle involving the reportedly pansexual Stewart (Ben Moss), who has both Oliver (Tim Ehrlich) and Anabel (Amanda Jane Cooper) -- who are siblings -- after him.

Bradford Proctor's music has a pleasant pop musical sound, but his and Alaina Kunin's lyrics are often riddled with clichés. The musical, directed by Seth Sikes, follows a fairly predictable romantic comedy trajectory, and ends on a to-be-expected upbeat note.

The game cast members have good voices, although some of them reach for their high notes and don't always succeed in hitting them. Cooper is quite funny, albeit a little too obviously influenced by Kristin Chenoweth in her vocal mannerisms and delivery. Ehrlich's queeny demeanor may be overtly stereotypical, but he pulls it off well. Loewenthal has a goofy charm, while both Moss and Klemperer do well enough with what they're given. As an added bonus, Ugly Betty star Michael Urie provides the pre-recorded voice of the Loudspeaker. It's not a part with much depth, but he does get a few funny lines in.

-- Dan Bacalzo

The cast of Have a Nice Life
Conon Mitchell and Matthew Hurt's Have a Nice Life, at the Lucille Lortel Theatre, begins promisingly enough with an energetic, full-cast number that introduces us to half-a-dozen neurotics and their less than sane but well-meaning counselor. The frantically paced music is reminiscent of William Finn, and the tight lyrical structure quickly brings us into the musical's world as each character counts down the time left in their group therapy session.

As the production unfolds in real time over 90 minutes, we learn about Jackie (Amy Acchione), a new mother who tends to alienate those around her, and her new friend, Amy (Miriam White), a sperm clinic nurse she met a few hours ago and brings to the meeting under the false pretenses that it's a social gathering. It's a little unclear why Amy stays, but soon she starts sharing about her perfect husband, and the group becomes jealous. There's more to Amy than we first see, though, and White plays her with a subversive sweetness.

Unfortunately, the other characters aren't that interesting, and Mitchell's music wanders across genres with little purpose or emotional impact, failing to compensate for his often clumsy and unfocused lyrics. There isn't much in the way of a story, just people sitting around and talking. There's a guy who's old-fashioned and shy around girls, a guy who pretends to be tough but is a softie at heart, a bitter woman who wants to love again, etc. It's often trite and boring, but occasional inspired moments pop up throughout such as when the tough guy says, "I'm not pretending to be a vagina again" in response to the counselor's suggestion for the group to play a game. There's a foundation for something real here, but the conflict isn't personal or funny enough at this point to make us care.

-- Chris Kompanek


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