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2012 FringeNYC Roundup #2

Reports on Tail! Spin!, Gay Camp, and The Importance of Doing Art.

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


Mo Rocca, Rachel Dratch, and Sean Dugan
star in Tail! Spin!
(© Thom Kaine)
Rachel Dratch, late of Saturday Night Live fame, has the best pair of eyes in show business since Bette Davis, and she puts them to hilarious use in Tail! Spin!, a comic hit at this year's festival, playing at the Kraine Theater.

Broadway director and choreographer Dan Knechtges has brought Dratch together with fellow comics Mo Rocca, Dan Hodapp, and Nate Smith, as well as Broadway veteran Sean Dugan, to infuse what is, in effect, a live, hour-long version of those video montages on Jon Stewart's The Daily Show, which have brilliantly laid bare the ironies and blatant hypocrisies of public figures for more than a decade.

Tail! Spin!'s primary targets are four national politicians whose recent sex scandals -- gay and straight -- sent them all into premature retirement. Playwright, comedy writer, and former congressional aide Mario Correa's dialogue consists entirely of direct quotes from the people who helped introduce such phrases as "wide stance" and "hiking the Appalachian trail" into the national lexicon. If you want to see just how many innuendos can be mined from the congressional oath of office alone, this is the show for you.

The joke eventually wears a little thin, but there's always the cast to pull you through, particularly Dratch, who gives voice to the unfortunate girlfriends and wives involved. (Her complete program credit reads, "Wives, Tails, Beards & Barbara Walters.") She and Rocca are both adept at infusing banal lines with just the right airy tone or lisp to turn them into genuine comedy. And the gifted Dugan brings his acting chops into an impressive array of portrayals, ranging from Senator Larry Craig to Wolf Blitzer.

Occasionally, Tail! Spin! jolts us with fascinating post-scandal revelations, and more of that would have added some welcome depth to what is otherwise an entertaining but shallow hour of laughs.

-- Andy Buck

Next Page: Gay Camp
Christian Mansfield in Gay Camp
(© Nick Coleman)
Three tireless performers and a detail-rich staging from director Phillip Fazio combine to turn Philip Mutz and Susan-Kate Heaney's Gay Camp, playing at HERE, into 75-minutes of decidedly uproarious comedy.

Subtlety is hardly what this low-budget romp aims for as it tells the story of Joshua (Mutz), Anton (Christian Mansfield) and Little Suzy (Ken Urso), who are shipped off to Camp Acceptance -- a place where gay kids are sent to have their homosexuality cured. Following the characters' opening number (a clever red herring for this non-musical from Bradford Proctor), audiences meet the hypocrites in charge of the place: June (Urso), the daughter of the place's founder (Mansfield), an eye-patch sporting military he-man, and Martha (Mutz), the flannel-wearing handywoman who has been carrying a torch for June since they were kids.

And then, while the kids are at Camp Acceptance, they have to contend with straight versus pop-quizzes (Gay or straight: Rue McLanahan or Bea Arthur?) and some pretty severe constraints on their online life (No "Grindr" allowed). Nevertheless, love blossoms between Anton and Joshua, and eventually there's out-and-out revolution after Anton's been sent for electro-shock therapy.

It's all utter silliness that's punctuated by voice-overs from commercials for the camp, like "Camp Acceptance - where rainbows go to die," which not only spark belly-laughs but also give the performers the chance to change their gloriously -- and appropriately -- tacky costumes and wigs.

And thanks to Mansfield's sparkling turn as Anton (where every flounce, pout, and squeal of delight is perfectly timed), Mutz's oh-so-earnest that it's strangely sexy portrayal of Joshua (whom Anton nicknames "Schwa"), and Urso's performance as the pint-sized Little Suzy, who's not nearly as innocent as one might think, the show buoyantly bounces from moment to moment.

The production does hit a few snags (a plaintive lipsynching solo for Martha for instance) as it wends its merry way, and yet, each time the piece hits a clunker, audiences are whisked along to something brighter and merrier (bless the creators for the up-to-the-minute Newsies jokes). And ultimately, Gay Camp proves to be a hilarious summertime stopover.

-- Andy Propst

Next Page: The Importance of Doing Art
A scene from The Importance of Doing Art
(Courtesy of the company)
The title of Susannah Dalton's The Importance of Doing Art at the Connelly Theatre, is, as the title indicates, a spin on Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest. Sadly, as near to perfection as is Wilde's classic comedy, that's exactly how far from it is the new entry.

In the first act, Jack (Tom Morf) tells pal Sam (Nick O'Neil) that he recently watched an artist get the most beautiful girl at a gathering. (A flashback ensues featuring Paul de Vries and Emily Ellis.) So Jack convinces Sam they must pass themselves off as artists when blind dates Rita (Sara Hendricks) and Vanisha (Dalton herself) arrive at Jack's flat.

In the second act -- when neither of the apparently gulled women has pressed Jack or Sam (whom Jack has renamed Art) to see actual works -- the foursome are visiting a gallery. There, The Artist (de Vries) is discoursing on empty frames histrionically, while a cater-waitress (Ellis) circulates with a tray of hors d'oeuvres. Only foolishness develops.

Assessing the acting and Jose Ignacio Vivero-Montevideo's direction with accuracy is difficult when the material is so ludicrous. It should be sufficient to report that if Dalton thinks she's employing a romcom to make a statement on art and relationships, she reveals only that she knows little about either.

--David Finkle

Click here for a full list of FringeNYC shows.