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FringeNYC 2009: Roundup #2

Reports on How Now, Dow Jones, Tales from the Tunnel, Look After You, and The Doctor and the Devils. logo
Shane Bland, Dennis O'Bannion, and Colin Hanlon
in How Now, Dow Jones
(© Taylor Sternberg)
[Ed. Note: This is the second in a series of TM review roundups of shows in the 13th annual New York International Fringe Festival.]


The chance to revisit Carolyn Leigh's cleverly intricate lyrics and Elmer Bernstein's occasionally zestful music for How Now, Dow Jones, now getting a revisal at the Minetta Lane Theatre, is always welcome. The team's tunes (with admirable arrangements for piano from musical director Fran Minarik) and a pair of utterly winning performances from Cristen Paige and Colin Hanlon are the elements that make this production a notable and often enjoyable endeavor.

Paige plays Kate, whose beau Herbert (a sweetly nerdy Elon Rutberg) is stalling their nuptials until the Dow hits 1000, while Hanlon plays Charley, a hapless guy from upstate who's come to New York to make his fortune, but found only failure. Whenever he and Paige -- who both deliver the songs with vocal panache -- are together their chemistry sparkles, and as the couple weathers their on-and-off romance, one cheers for them.

Unfortunately, other significant performances aren't of this caliber. Cori Silberman's turn as Cynthia, Kate's brash best friend, often feels amateurish. Silberman confuses cutesy aggressiveness with tart shrewdness, and as a result, the show's second-tier romance, between Cynthia and William Foster Wingate (capably but unremarkably rendered by Fred Berman), a handsome CEO who keeps her as a mistress, founders.

The performers' unevenness undermines some of director Ben West's fine revisions to the original two-act Broadway musical. West has not only trimmed the show to a breezy 90 minutes, but he has also reintroduced cut songs (notably "Don't Let a Good Thing Get Away") and eliminated others. Dance numbers -- plentiful in the original -- have also been streamlined, now performed by a pair of traders (Shane Bland and Dennis O'Bannion, who execute Rommy Sandhu's choreography with flair). Indeed, one senses that this new version might allow this charmer to enjoy a wider popularity.

-- Andy Propst

The company of Tales from the Tunnel
(© Leanne Surace)
There are eight million stories in the naked city -- and a good deal of them involve the subway. That's certainly the case in Tales from the Tunnel, an entertaining albeit uneven program based on over 150 interviews conducted by writers-directors Troy Diana and James Valletti, now at the Connelly Theatre.

In the show's prologue, the cast describes the subway as "where animosity and compassion live side by side." Throughout the piece, composed of brief vignettes, moments of random violence and escalating tempers are depicted, as are flirtations, hook-ups, and other instances of human connection.

Tony Award winner Wilson Jermaine Heredia is entertaining in his recurring role as a subway musician, even if some of his other parts are not as skillfully drawn. Vayu O'Donnell makes a strong impression in a number of his monologues, demonstrating a facility with accents and an emotional grounding in the material. Geri Brown radiates presence, attitude, and a sense of humor, with a brash transit worker being her most memorable character. Eric Jackson tends towards caricature in many of his roles, but is quite moving as a gay man mourning for his dead mother, who encounters a woman with a large PFLAG sign following the Gay Pride parade. Carla Corvo works hard to make each of her multiple roles distinctive, but doesn't invest enough emotional life into most of her creations. Farah Bala seems to comment upon rather than inhabit several of her roles -- particularly the recurring character of a wealthy woman with a dog in her purse.

The action is staged simply, and at times quite cleverly. For example, a bit about a woman trying to squeeze her way through a set of closing doors (held by two of the other performers) is amusing. Not all of the stories are equally compelling, and some judicious pruning could benefit the piece. But the show is likely to provoke knowing nods from its audience, as well as plenty of laughter of recognition.

-- Dan Bacalzo

Lowell Byers and Louise Flory in Look After You
(© Antonio Minino)
For better and worse, it's next to impossible to watch Louise Flory's drama, Look After You, at the SoHo Playhouse, without instantly re-imagining it and recasting it as a star-vehicle, made-for-television drama. That's because the 75-minute play too often resembles the kind of well-meaning "disease-of-this-week" films that populate the cable airwaves.

Hannah (brought to life in likable if overly spunky fashion by Flory herself) is a youngish art photographer recovering from a brain aneurysm. While she has regained much of her motor skills, she still has issues with coordination and balance -- and suffers from significant short-term memory loss. Still, her relationship with live-in-boyfriend Jake (an underwhelming Jason Altman) -- who is writing a book about the plight of Himalayan sherpas -- seems pretty blissful, even through the less-than-easy visit of Hannah's acerbic older sister (an effective Adi Kurtchik), who isn't always sure of how to act around them or help her sibling.

The plot's major complication, which arrives about two-thirds in, is that Hannah has actually forgotten that Jake had proposed to her -- and he has not brought the subject up, unsure of whether he's prepared for a future where Hannah could die at any second. After Jake's best friend, Paul (a charismatic, believable Lowell Byers) forces the issue, a couple of important confrontations develop, but are too quickly resolved.

Flory is to be commended for incorporating a great deal of humor into a script dealing with such a serious subject, and director David Stallings handles the work's tonal shifts (and periodic set changes) quite well. But the play and its characters ultimately feel a tad underdeveloped. And the ambiguous ending is more apt to engender a "what just happened" dialogue than a serious discussion about the admittedly important issues that Flory has brought to the forefront.

-- Brian Scott Lipton

Nathan Todd and Madeline Blue
in The Doctor and the Devils
(© B. Stults)
The Doctor and the Devils, now playing at CSV-Milagro Theatre, is Dylan Thomas' rarely seen indictment of base human behavior in which evil triumphs -- but not over innocence, since as Thomas posits it, no one is truly innocent. Yet, because of its depiction of society as unremittingly venal, the work calls for the sort of theatricality which is beyond the grasp of director and adaptor Dan Balkin and the modestly talented members of the Rag 'N Bone Theatre Company.

Thomas' plot -- built here of 24 salty vignettes -- is kicked off by Dr. Rock (David Jenkins), an anatomist who announces at the get-go that he believes "the end justifies any means." His insistence that scientific discovery trumps ethical niceties encourages two grungy tinkers, Fallon (Abdel Gonzalez) and Broom (Kristy Powers), to take up body snatching and, to that end, murder.

Soon they're snuffing street people right and left, which doesn't bother Rock, since his hands aren't bloodied. However, it does nag at underling Murray (the somewhat more polished Nathan Todd), who's taken a shine to doomed hooker, Jenny (Madeline Blue). The story could be ghoulish in some hands, but here, it simply registers more as foolish.

-- David Finkle


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