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FringeNYC 2011 Review Roundup #3

Reports on Dreamplay, 2 Burn, and The Legend of Julie Taymor, or The Musical That Killed Everybody! logo
[Editor's Note: This is the third in a series of roundups on the 2011 New York International Fringe Festival.]
A scene from Dreamplay
(© Veseth R. Sieu)
Dreamplay, currently unfolding at the CSV Flamboyan, is a clever new adaptation of August Strindberg's expressionistic work A Dream Play. The basic framework of the original, in which the god Indra's daughter Agnes comes down to earth to understand human life, remains intact, as do many of the major characters. But the piece has otherwise been largely rewritten by director Joseph Jonah Therrien, a student of puppetry who uses his art to create the fantastical and ever-changing landscape of the play.

As she wanders this dream world, hoping to relieve humans of their unhappiness, Agnes (Alison Barton) meets a cavalcade of characters, including a jilted Officer, a despairing Poet, an angry Lawyer, and a jovial Doorman guarding a mysterious doorway. Therrien's use of masks, puppetry, and the Tadashi Suzuki method of acting is inspired, giving Dreamplay the right sense of off-kilter fun and danger. Highlights include a sequence where Agnes enters into a matrimonial nightmare with the lawyer, and the introduction of the Quarantine Master, a sort of demented Mickey Mouse.

The 12-person cast display boundless energy in the creation of the subversive Dreamplay experience. Even beneath his large green "old man" mask, Ben Rosenblatt gives an affecting performance as The Officer who waits and waits and waits for his beloved Victoria. In his steampunk artiste get-up, Jack Fellows manages the same feat as The Poet, carrying both disappointment and hope in his bearing. Those emotions permeate this play, which, in its abstract way, asks how we are able to survive and even thrive in such a sorrow-filled existence. Dreamplay doesn't offer answers, but it encourages us to ponder the big questions that surround our existence.

-- Brooke Pierce

Patrick Martin in 2 Burn
(© Robert A. Terrano)
There's some promising writing in the early part of Alex Defazio's 2 Burn, at the Living Theatre. Unfortunately, the play's relentlessly unlikable characters and increasingly melodramatic plot twists and revelations mar the script's effectiveness.

The work charts the relationship of 19-year-old student Manny (Patrick Martin) and university professor Paul (Jody P. Person). The latter is writing a book that explores the historical and linguistic development of metaphorically couching love within the language of disease, with such phrases as "you give me fever" even working their way into popular song. The theoretical discussions between Paul and Manny on the subject are some of the play's best scenes, but the playwright is less successful in crafting fully believable characters.

It's clear from near the beginning that both men are selfish and manipulative, although the extent of their bad behavior isn't fully revealed until the play's final scene -- which quickly devolves into bathos. Their actions also affect the lives and well-being of two women: Maureen (Deena Jiles), Paul's lesbian colleague who is put in an awkward position after finding out about Paul's affair with a student, and Sarah (Michelle Wood), who is forever altered by her own intimate ties to Manny.

The production, directed by Person and Jennifer Joyce, suffers from sluggish pacing and stilted acting from all of the performers. Even the sex scenes between Paul and Manny fail to generate much heat, although Martin does possess a youthful beauty that makes it easy to see why Paul risks so much by allowing himself to be caught up in Manny's web of deception.

-- Dan Bacalzo

Jennifer Barnhart (right) and company in
The Legend of Julie Taymor
(© Tristan Fuge)
By the time Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark wound up its final preview performance in June, it's fair to say that it had become the most famous and most parodied musical that hadn't yet opened on Broadway. Everything from magazine covers to Sesame Street sketches had joined in on the joke.

So it should surprise no one that, two months later, there's a musical satire of the controversial, accident-prone production and its Tony-winning original director: The Legend of Julie Taymor, or The Musical That Killed Everybody!, which plays at the Bleecker Theatre under the direction of Joe Barros. What's shocking is that the show manages to be even duller than the one that inspired it.

The closest that Travis Ferguson and Dave Ogrin's score comes to a catchy number is a ballad titled "Boy Falls from the Rafters," a cute but wan attempt to ape the Spider Man: Turn Off the Dark song, "Boy Falls from the Sky." It almost seems like the creators came up with that joke and then tried to write a musical around it.

The chief problem with the whole venture is that a good satire needs good character development. But here, characters and actions are dropped in and out, with no build-up or thought for dramatic structure. It's assumed that the audience is made up of Broadway insiders who can fill in the details on their own. A line about journalistic integrity from a character inspired by New York Post gadfly Michael Riedel is this show's idea of a laugh line. But this strategy can only work with a script that is more imaginative and less over-the-top.

Jennifer Barnhart throws herself gamely into the proceedings as the title character -- or rather as a director named Julie Paymore -- but she's unable to make this show anything but a one-joke sketch.

-- Andy Buck


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