FringeNYC 2009: Roundup #7
Reports on The Boxer, Candide Americana, and Dancing with Abandon.
Peter Allen was right when he reported that "Everything Old is New Again" as proved by The Boxer, now at the Connelly Theatre. This live presentation of a silent film unfolds on stage before a screen on which dialogue is projected, and the result is refreshing enough to keep viewers amused for just under an hour.
There isn't much of a story from scenarist Matt Lyle, who also directed, but what there is follows tall, ample Velma (Kim Lyle) who is cross-dressing to get work. As she goes about her search, she falls for a paper-clip-thin boxer (Jeff Swearingen), but since she's masquerading as man, she can't declare herself. So she arranges to hang around the object of her affection as his trainer.
Along the way, both she and the bantam-weight fighter have comic encounters with others, and Velma even has a dream in which she sheds her drag in a ring of fairies. But the main event here is the actual main-event bout, wherein a man-mountain (Ben Bryant, shirtless in lederhosen) is introduced as the Boxer's opponent. He quickly floors the nominal boxer, at which point Velma takes on the palooka and proves her prowess.
To help establish silent-screen verisimilitude, there are sound effects and an on-stage soundtrack provided by B. Wolf plunking a stage-right piano alongside banjoist Johnny Sequenzia. Verisimilitude isn't entirely achieved; the miming could be more exact, and Wolf adulterates the underscoring by including snatches of songs written much after the period. But, hey, it's only a movie -- well sorta.
-- David Finkle
Stanton Wood makes some of the most tragic headlines of the past decade absurdly laughable as he gives Voltaire's Candide a 21st-century makeover in the brazen and often hilariously satisfying Candide Americana, at CSV Flabmoyan Theater.
As in Voltaire, Wood's Candide (Josh Sauerman) grows up among nobility, despite his common birth. His childhood friends are his beloved Cinnabunsa (Lauren Murphy) and her sister Adolfina (Amanda Broomell), daughters of a Bosnian baron. Although that country's civil war splits them apart, they're ultimately reunited -- in the U.S. -- where they endure a host of tragedies. All the while Candide manages to retain his belief that we're living in "the best of all possible worlds," an axiom taught by his tutor Dr. Pangloss (Arthur Aulisi).
Wood deftly telescopes some events -- Candide and Pangloss survive the deadly Staten Island ferry crash just moments before they move through the financial district as the attacks on the World Trade Center occur. Later, after surviving Hurricane Katrina, Candide ends up at a clinic seeking treatment for e coli when the doctor's office is bombed by anti-abortion activists, blithely indifferent to the fact he doesn't perform abortions. To all of this Candide applies another of Pangloss' teachings: "Everything happens for the best."
Under the direction of Edward Elefterion, the multiply-cast ensemble -- except for the winning, charismatic Sauerman -- shuttles capably between roles. Standouts include Murphy, who's not only great as the petulant Cinnabunsa, but also side-splittingly funny as a gruff pilot who scams Candide out of his riches from El Dorado, and Lora Chio who sparks laughs as Old Woman, particularly when she leads the cast in a doo-wop number (by Elefterion) with the refrain "We don't have a happier story, our lives have been miserable too." This may be true for them, but Americana manages to make human misery merry.
-- Andy Propst
Karen Hartman and Phil Lebovits' Dancing with Abandon, currently playing at Dixon Place, tells the tale of an opera diva and a punk rock poseur. But while this musical nods to those styles (and a host of others), the ultimate result is a pale pastiche.
We meet opera diva Alice Silverstein (Sandy Binion) on the day she is to receive her Kennedy Center Honor -- as fate would have it, it's also the day her long-since-abandoned son, Dwayne (Zachary Clause), turns up. We then flash back to an awkward upbringing story (Natalie Charle Ellis plays Young Alice) that has something to do with her own estranged father (Jonathan Andrew Kline), a Jewish mother (played neither straight nor with a twist by an African-American actress, Ronnica V. Reddick), a mystic connection with Maria Callas, and a tepid romance with an Italian yokel-cum-ventriloquist (Danny Beiruti).
What's heartbreaking is not just how much you can feel this show tugging for the heartstrings, but also how it wastes the talents of such veteran performers as Binion, whose lush soprano is shoehorned into a series of embarrassing numbers. However, Karla Mosely, an ensemble member with barely any solo time, puts on a clinic for other young actors. Her megawatt smile and seemingly effortless energy keep her afloat amidst the wreckage.
-- Adam R. Perlman