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2012 FringeNYC Roundup #1

Reports on Pink Milk, The Zebra Shirt of Lonely Children and Dark Hollow: An Appalachian Woyzeck

[Ed. Note: This is the first in a series of TM review roundups of shows in the sixteenth annual New York International Fringe Festival.]


Joe McManus and John MacGaffey
in Pink Milk (© Justin Barbin)
Playwright Alex Paul Young puts a fanciful and often fascinating spin on the sad story of Alan Turing (Joe McManus), the genius mathematician whose Enigma machine was credited with helping end World War II by deciphering the code that the Germans used for sending messages.

In Pink Milk, playing at the Gene Frankel Theatre, Young envisions Turing's tale -- which ended with his suicide in 1954 after he was prosecuted in the U.K. for his homosexuality -- as a kind of presentational fable. The show concentrates on the scientist's formative years as a teenager, specifically a homoerotic relationship Alan has with his schoolmate Christopher (Matt Moynihan) before quickly moving through Alan's adult life, and, in particular, one post-war relationship that spurs the government's case against him.

It's a lot of material to cover in a one-act play, and while Young handles the biography economically, he overstuffs the play with flights of fancy -- which include appearances by the cartoon version of Snow White (Casey Hartley) and monologues from "The Inanimate Objects" (including a glass of milk tainted by bovine tuberculosis that dooms Christopher).

The piece is further undermined by interludes in which the multiply cast ensemble perform stylized dances meant to illustrate feelings and societal pressures that Alan's experiencing, and by performances that are often curiously wooden and emotionally disconnected. Particularly troubling is Erin Cutler's turn as both Alan and Christopher's mothers. While the text indicates a certain softness and tenderness in each, Cutler's work can often be cuttingly strident.

But, thanks to McManus' generally charming turn as Alan, Moynihan's charismatic work as Christopher, and Ben Barker's disarmingly human performance as "The Experiments" (Alan's various robotic devices), audiences will, most likely, find themselves seeing the promise in Young's work and voice, and may even be moved by this portrait of a bullied and tormented gay man whose tale is, unfortunately, timeless.

-- Andy Propst

Next Page: The Zebra Shirt of Lonely Children
Matthew Trumbull in
The Zebra Shirt of Lonely Children
(© Kyle Ancowitz)
A son pays tribute to his deceased father in Matthew Trumbull's beautifully written and simply performed solo, The Zebra Shirt of Lonely Children, at The Players Theatre's upstairs performance space.

Dressed in a suit and speaking quietly and directly to the audience, Trumbull unfolds his story about his engineer father. He talks of the latter's battle with cancer, the debilitating effects of the chemotherapy treatment, his father's decision to donate his body for medical research, and more.

What makes the tale so poignant is the amount of detail, peppered with unexpected moments of humor, woven into it. Anyone who has lost a loved one is sure to be moved by the performance, particularly during the section that Trumbull agonizes over what to say in his eulogy to his father, and the advice given to him by a friend that puts everything in perspective.

It's in moments such as this that Trumbull varies his vocal rhythms, taking on the voices of other characters. It proves an effective choice, contrasting with the writer/performer's manner of speaking for the majority of the hour-long show -- a deadpan near-monotone that is somehow still emotionally resonant.

-- Dan Bacalzo

Next Page: Dark Hollow: An Appalachian Woyzeck
Kevin Kash and David Dakota Sanchez
in Dark Hollow
(© Louis Chan)
No one can say Elizabeth Chaney didn't follow the ins-and-outs of Georg Buchner's Woyzeck when she adapted it to the Appalachians for Dark Hollow, at Theatre 80 St. Marks, but observers may decide that fidelity to a work so resolutely downbeat may not be the best idea for a piece that runs an intermissionless 105 minutes.

The challenge Buchner presents -- and Chaney has taken up -- is to maintain interest in the hapless protagonist when he richochets through life as an army barber and as the spouse of a loving woman who eventually strays with another enlistee.

Alternately docile and irrationally outraged and in time homicidal, this Woyzeck (Kevin Kash) sometimes barrels, sometimes shuffles through his scenes with stooped shoulders. Indeed, the bent-over, defeated posture seems to be the one concession to characterization that Kash -- as directed by Alkis Papoutsis -- allows.

Chaney does add something to Buchner's 1836 work, which is based on a story taken from the 1821 headlines. By opening her version with Woyzeck sitting center stage while behind him a preacher rants and a choir member raves, she implies some of that old-time religion triggered his initial disorientation.

She enforces that view by making Dark Hollow a play with music, much of it carrying religious overtones. The most pertinent inclusion -- all are played by a gritty quintet at stage right -- is the traditional "Man's Life's a Vapor," which repeats the lyric, "Man's life's a vapor, full of woes -- he cuts a caper, down he goes." And just as the refrain repeats the "down he goes" part, the production keeps up the unrelenting going-down action.

To tell the tale, no less than 17 actors have been recruited, some of whom sing the included songs better than others and all of whom do their best to keep the proceedings involving.

--David Finkle

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