FringeNYC 2008: Roundup #4
Reports on III, The Fabulous Kane Sisters in Box Office Poison, Tim Gunn's Podcast (A Reality Chamber Opera), and Becoming Britney.
Speaking about -- and to -- American expatriates in Paris during the 1920's, Gertrude Stein put a phrase into the language by saying, "You are all a lost generation." However, had she been thinking about photographer George Platt Lynes, novelist-poet Glenway Wescott, and eventual MOMA curator Monroe Wheeler, the subject of Joe Salvatore's III, a memory play now steaming up the Cherry Lane Theatre, what she might have said was, "You are all a lust generation."
From 1927 to 1943, the trio -- Salvatore as Wescott, John Del Vecchio as Wheeler, and Daryl Embry as Lynes -- shared one another and a two-bedroom East 89th Street apartment until Lynes' dalliance with an assistant-model ended their family. Here, the three of them spend a certain amount of time kissing but more time reading from the (apparently) hundreds of letters the besotted fellows exchanged and saved.
They also play out scenes that Salvatore says in a program note "may" represent what their triangular relationship was like in its human-frailty way. "May" is always troubling in this sort of docudrama, and Salvatore has painted a portrait that could be more tightly directed and written. Still, III is nevertheless commendably poignant and certainly well acted.
-- David Finkle************
Bad puns and risqué humor mix indiscriminately in The Fabulous Kane Sisters in Box Office Poison, also performing at the Cherry Lane Theatre. Over-the-hill burlesque sister act Lana and Nova Kane (portrayed by co-authors Marc Geller and Bill Roulet in drag) are the latest stars to grace the stage at Pilkington's Promenade. Trouble is, someone's been murdering all of the headliners. If the duo can survive until opening night, they could resurrect a failing career following their flop musical, My Burning Bush.
In this backstage comedy/murder mystery/camp romp, Geller's dry, sarcastic delivery and Roulet's zany mugging are amusing. Also making a favorable impression are hunky backup dancers, Buddy (Christian Pederson) and Buster (David A. Rudd), who get the chance to show off some nifty moves courtesy of choreographer Ron Schwinn, as well as quite a bit of skin.
Unfortunately, under Geller's uneven direction, several of the other supporting players fall flat. The worst offenders are Brent Erdy as Merkin the magician, Patrick McCarthy and Sheila Stasack as a married couple who specialize in (badly performed) Shakespeare, and Elizabeth Bove as a butch stage manager. On the bright side, Jennifer Kirschman deserves kudos for an array of fabulous costumes that run the gamut from the delightful to the ridiculous.
The play itself could use some judicious trimming, and has a clunky structure that culminates in an exposition-laden climax. However, the show also contains some side-splitting lines and saucy double entendres, including my favorite: "I lost my virginity a long time ago, but lucky for you I still have the box it came in."
-- Dan Bacalzo************
Diehard fans of television's Project Runway will certainly enjoy the blast-from-the-past provided by Jeffery Lependorf's Tim Gunn's Podcast (A Reality Chamber Opera), performing at The Jazz Gallery. It's a musicalization of an actual podcast offered by the show's fashion guru mentor following one particularly nasty episode during the series' third season. For the Runway uninitiated, though, Podcast's scant 60 minutes may prove more than a little bewildering.
The topic of the online broadcast from Gunn (John Schenkel) concerns an episode in which the designers were required to create a gown that Miss USA Tara Conner could wear in the Miss Universe Pageant, and the tempers that flared between two designers in particular. While this produces a giggle or two, even those of us who watched Project Runway religiously are likely to be sent scrambling for points of reference.
Beyond the piece's insider nature, Podcast suffers from an overly reverential and curiously noncommittal approach from both Lependorf and Schenkel. Lependorf's score is pleasant, but provides no real surprises; vocal and musical crescendos accompany all of Gunn's big emotions, and when Gunn's being catty, the music takes on an appropriately light-hearted air. Schenkel certainly sings powerfully, but at no time does the performer -- who bears no resemblance to Gunn -- attempt to mimic the tastemaker's mannerisms or signature prissy style.
-- Andy Propst************
Becoming Britney, a musical about troubled pop icon Britney Spears that is currently performing at the Theatres at 45 Bleecker Street, mostly charts the singer's career highs and lows with songs that bear no resemblance to Spears' own genre of music. It soon becomes clear that the show intends to satirize both Spears and the conventions of musical theater, but the result is that it doesn't do either particularly well.
The book -- by Molly Bell, who plays Britney, and Daya Curley, who also teamed with Bell to write the show's music and lyrics -- is organized around the conceit of Spears attending a group therapy session just after her "shaved head" incident. Pop culture junkies may get a kick or two as Spears' key remembrances play out ; the contributions from Keith Pinto are especially valuable, as he's able to get laughs playing both Justin Timberlake and Kevin Federline without looking like either of them. But the show's moments of mildly catty stargazing are done in by the dull sincerity of the group therapy scenes.
More successful are the too-rare occasions when the musical satirizes Spears in performance, as these numbers sound something like the pop icon's own music and because they spoof the performer's recognizable brand of shallow slutty-sexy. They also allow Bell to come to life and register as Spears; otherwise she too often seems a generic, if loopy and uneducated, plucky music theater heroine in an ill-fitting skull cap.
Still, the show's highlight is a pre-taped video send-up of Spears' reality TV show Chaotic (here, called Idiotic) in which the pop superstar shares intimate moments with the cameras. Unfortunately, the strongly scathing point of view in the two-minute segment is only occasionally present in the rest of the show.
-- Patrick Lee************