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FringeNYC 2008: Roundup #2

Reports on Perez Hilton Saves The Universe (Or At Least The Greater Los Angeles Area), The Alice Complex, and Woodhull: A Play About the First Woman to Run for President. logo
Randy Blair and Andrew Keenan-Bolger
(© Curtis Brown)
[Ed. Note: This is the second in a series of TM review roundups of shows in the 12th annual New York International Fringe Festival.]


Perez Hilton Saves The Universe (Or At Least The Greater Los Angeles Area), performing at The Theatres at 45 Bleecker Street, may be a silly, madcap romp that plays like an extended, musicalized [adult swim] cartoon, but it's also a whole lot of infectious fun.

Featuring a book by Randy Blair and Timothy Michael Drucker, music by Zachary Redler, and lyrics and lead performance by Blair, the celebrity blogger is depicted as a love-starved but loveable schlub tethered to his pink laptop until an email in his Manhunt inbox halts his habitual blogging. His dream date turns out to be a secretly gay Middle-Eastern terrorist who means to blow up Los Angeles while the city descends on Britney Spears' funeral. Although anything as serious as a cohesive statement is cheerfully avoided, the show arguably makes an overarching joke about the inflated importance of junk culture (what's celebrity blogging next to thwarting a nuclear bomb?) while it unabashedly spoofs some of our most recognizable current-day pop icons.

There's boundless appeal in Blair's highly likable performance as Perez, but the show is also greatly energized by the ensemble's smirk-worthy celebrity send-ups. Ana Nogueria is a hoot as shallow Paris Hilton, Andrew Keenan-Bolger delightfully plays Zac Efron as a dumb boy-babe, Jason Veasey is a dead-on R. Kelly and Lindsay Nicole Chambers has Amy Winehouse nailed down to the burning cigarette dangling from her snarling mouth. Most delicious of all is Laura Jordan's larger than life turn as comedienne Kathy Griffin, who figures prominently in the show's plot as a fame-crazed schemer; her big number "I'm Kathy Griffin!" is the most memorable in the show's zippy score.

Connor Gallagher, who both directed and choreographed, does a generally commendable job of keeping the show dynamic and in motion, although it's a tad overlong and could stand to lose 15 minutes. His choreography is consistently terrific and witty, as are David Withrow's costumes.

-- Patrick Lee


Lisa Banes and Xanthe Elbrick
(© Nelson Hancock)
Much like the feminist literature course Sally (Lisa Banes) teaches in The Alice Complex, this two-hander from Peter Barr Nickowitz attempts to deliver an overly expansive portrait of relationships between women of different ages struggling for power in a patriarchal society. Running under 90 minutes at The Cherry Lane Theatre, Complex is certainly fleet, but it strives to accomplish too much in too short a time.

At the center of the play is the relationship between Sally and her student Rebecca (Xanthe Elbrick), who arrives on Sally's doorstep one night with a shocking confession: she has castrated a young man who attempted to rape her the previous night. When Sally tries to call the authorities, Rebecca retaliates and holds her professor hostage, hoping to make some sense of a betrayal she believes the older woman has committed. The tale of Rebecca and Sally is loosely suggested by real-life events: feminist Germaine Greer was once held against her will in her home for several hours by a former student.

Nickowitz frames his primary story with scenes in which two actresses, who are lovers, discuss the play they are rehearsing about the professor and student. The action also includes flashbacks to touchstone moments in Sally and Rebecca's lives. The playwright's intents -- demonstrating how philosophies change with age and how women's relationships are impacted by men -- are evident throughout Complex. But despite some wonderfully intense moments, which are often balanced with deliciously wry humor, the play is ultimately too cursory to satisfy.

Under Bill Oliver's sure-handed direction, Banes and Elbrick deliver intense and committed performances in multiple roles. Complex certainly demonstrates promise, and with expansion, it might prove to be an extremely pungent look at the evolution of feminist viewpoints.

-- Andy Propst

Katherine Barron and Patricia Angelin in Woodhull
(© Jason Specland)
As if to remind forgetful voters that Hilary Clinton was not the pioneer she's cracked herself up to be in pursuit of the highest office in the land, Liza Lentini has brought Woodhull: A Play About the First Woman to Run for President to the Fringe Festival. The subject of myriad previous plays and at least one failed musical (Onward Victoria), Victoria Woodhull declared herself ready for 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue residency not once but twice, in 1872 and 1882.

Lentini has chosen to look at what happened to the lady (Katherine Barron) during the tumultuous decade when she went from being supported by suffragists Susan B. Anthony (Carla Briscoe) and Elizabeth Cady Stanton (Patricia Angelin) to ostracization by those leading lights and many others who'd championed her cause. They gingerly turned away in part because Woodhull tub-thumped a free-love stance and backed it up during her stomping with an open affair with married journalist Theodore Tilton (Shayne Mims). Meanwhile long-time live-in partner James Blood (Christopher Berger) drummed his fingers. As a kind of counterpoint to Vicky's impolitic behavior, Lentini gaily inserts Woodhull's sister, Tennessee Claflin (Rachel McPhee), who was an even more libertine figure. Eventually, the lusty siblings are jailed but unbowed.

Unfortunately, Lentini has little notion how to structure the episodes so they add up fluidly. She lurches from pageant-like scene to thudding expository vignette and also throws in -- for taunting psychological spice -- a carnival barker (Bern Cohen) meant to represent Woodhull's possibly incestuous father. Barron and Briscoe are okay, but most of the others look as if they've been neglecting their technique classes.

-- David Finkle

For TheaterMania's FringeNYC 2008: Roundup #1, click here.
For TheaterMania's Fringe preview, click here.

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