FringeNYC 2006 Roundup 2
Reports on Big Doolie, Oblivious to Everyone, Corleone: The Shakespearean Godfather, and Hermanas.
Some of the best acting ever done under Fringe Festival auspices -- perhaps the best ensemble emoting ever -- is on display in Richard Thompson's Big Doolie, directed by Jenn Thompson with a fire lit under her. Smart theatergoers will make a beeline to this show before smart producers transfer it to a Broadway or Off-Broadway theater, where the price of ducats will be much higher.
As you watch this lacerating send-up of big-time sports, sports agents, sportscasters, and athletes, you start thinking that Edward James Hyland as master dissembler Marty Futch is giving the show's best performance. But no, you decide after a few heated speeches; it's Evan Thompson as the veteran commentator Jack Mungo. Then you're convinced that the real standout is Tim Artz as a football player who's far gone on steroids and other questionable buck-me-ups. But wait! Your allegiance quickly shifts to David Christopher Wells as a clawing apprentice agent -- and you're looking seriously at Todd Gearhart as Les, a hard-nosed television producer who's wedded to the company way. Also getting in their licks in smaller but juicy roles are Adina Verson as secretary Rosie Lynch and Peterson Townsend as the young, uncertain star prospect Reggie Banks.
All of this high-protein energy is in the service of a play about underhanded behavior in the cut-throat world of professional sports. So what if it's a metaphor of the sort you've seen before in works like David Mamet's Glengarry Glen Ross? So what that the script could use some tightening? Thompson's take on back-stabbing businessmen has the bile-heavy dialogue to sustain this gander at a society (too much like ours!) that's based on top-level mendacity. "You lie, you cheat -- I respect that," one character says to another. Thompson doesn't respect it, which is why Big Doolie commands respect.
"The closest I want to get to the real world is watching MTV's version of it," says Carrie, the Paris Hilton wannabe who is the central character in Oblivious to Everyone. Written and performed by Jessica Lynn Johnson, this highly entertaining solo show examines the influence of the media on body image, sexual identity, and gender construction. As she speaks with a psychiatrist, Johnson channel surfs through a range of different characters, demonstrating how various media images have impacted Carrie's life.
All of these characters -- including a drunken, sexist pig, an angry black woman, and a ditsy porn star -- are purposely exaggerated stereotypes but, sadly, are not too far off from what you might see on various talk shows and reality TV programs. Johnson inhabits them fully, demonstrating her versatility as a performer as well as her keen sense of comic timing and delivery. Carrie's own racism, homophobia, and self-hatred are exposed as she discusses everything from plastic surgery to gay marriage. The play sends up the mixed messages that Carrie receives from TV and the tabloids, showing us her confusion as she ponders ever-changing fashions and trends in an attempt to figure out what men want.
Oblivious to Everyone could use a little bit of trimming here and there. Also, its conclusion feels a little too pat, with Carrie's sudden insight into her behavior not fully earned. Still, this show is definitely worth seeing.
Since Francis Ford Coppola's Godfather trilogy was conceived and executed to assume Shakespearean proportions, it's surprising that this much time has passed before an enterprising spoofster reconfigured the films -- the first two representing the pinnacle of American filmmaking in the 1980s -- as a Bard-like tragedy. But here that hybrid is. Tagged Corleone: The Shakespearean Godfather, it was written with commendable éclat by David Mann, whose undertaking must have been aided greatly by his stint as artistic director of the Minnesota Shakespeare Project.
Mann closely follows the multi-layered plot of the first Godfather film as he reorganizes it into iambic pentameter. The result comes complete with a "sirrah" and more than one "hey, nonny." (Although Shakespeare indulged in rhymed couplets, he usually avoided the A-B-A-B rhyme scheme that Mann occasionally employs.) The clever adapter has come up with several different versions of the familiar Godfather comment about making a non-refusable offer, and he has turned any number of the screenplay's other memorable quotes into hilarious, pseudo-Elizabethan phrases. Furthermore, he has tossed in abundant references to the divine Will's classics. For example, Sonny Corleone's death resembles Julius Caesar's assassination in the play named after him, and Michael Corleone's wooing of the Sicilian beauty Appolonia has elements of As You Like It.
The more a patron knows the Shakespeare canon, the funnier Corleone will be. But even Bard-challenged ticket buyers will find this send-up to be a hoot and a half, and not only because of the witty script. The nine-member, Mann-directed cast is wonderfully adept; to a man (seven of them) and woman (two), these proficient, inexhaustible players speak Coppola's Bard-ized speeches trippingly on the curled tongue.
Hermanas is more slicky produced than your average Fringe show. It's got a mostly Equity cast, including original Altar Boyz star Ryan Duncan. The attractive set, designed by Robin Vest, is worthy of an Off-Broadway production. And, judging by the crowd at the performance I attended, the show clearly has a good marketing push behind it. Unfortunately, Monica Yudovich's domestic comedy takes far fewer artistic risks than many Fringe entries. Though it provokes its share of laughs, the characters are two-dimensional, the plot is predictable, and the resolution is extremely sappy.
The play revolves around Jewish-Latina sisters Lisette (Yudovich) and Claudia (Adriana Gaviria). Lisette has recently broken up with Eduardo (Paolo Andino), who hooks up with a drunken Claudia in a bar. She doesn't, at first, realize he's her sister's ex-boyfriend; needless to say, sparks fly when the truth comes out. Added into the mix are the sisters' loving yet overbearing mother Telma (Kathryn Kates) and Lisette's psychology-major best friend Angie (Bridget Moloney), as well as too-perfect-to-be-believed neighbors Danny (Duncan) and Gabriela (Denise Quiñones).
Crisp pacing by director Claudia Zelevansky, combined with terrific performances by Kates, Moloney, and Duncan, help to hide the play's shortcomings. But the central conflict between Lisette and Claudia is the least compelling aspect of Hermanas, and this throws the entire show off-balance.