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FringeNYC 2011 Review Roundup #8

Reports on You Only Shoot the Ones You Love, Bongani, and Jersey Shoresical: A Frickin' Rock Opera. logo
[Editor's Note: This is the eighth in a series of roundups on the 2011 New York International Fringe Festival.]
Jeffrey Sweet in You Only Shoot the Ones You Love
(© Cynthia Granville)
Jeffrey Sweet is a prolific playwright who, as a young, ambitious man, tried to shake off his hometown of Chicago, but now has come to almost define it. Although his works such as Flyovers and The Action Against Sol Schumann have become a staple of regional theater fare, Sweet is perhaps best known as the author of Something Wonderful Right Away, a 1978 history of the Second City troupe. And it is on that subject that he holds forth in a charming, if slightly rambling one-man show called You Only Shoot the Ones You Love, at the Studio at the Cherry Lane Theatre.

The piece is a combination thumbnail history of Second City and Sweet's own rise to success. Unsurprisingly, many of his early inspirations were Second City stalwarts like Alan Arkin and Nichols and May. And he dutifully notes how the lessons he learned while documenting that troupe helped inform his playwriting. Along the way, he shares some rich anecdotes, ranging from unexpected tales of Cossacks and pogroms to an amusing but gentle ribbing of the Russian comic Yakov Smirnoff.

This isn't the bristling edginess of Spalding Gray nor the epic narratives of Anna Deveare Smith. Instead, it's a nice night of storytelling by an aptly named guy who would probably be more comfortable spinning his narratives over a couple of beers rather than under a harsh spotlight. You can see this most at play when, after the show, Sweet emerges from backstage and -- standing in the lobby surrounded by friends and fellow luminaries -- proceeds to tell more stories.

On a recent night, David Henry Hwang, Sheldon Harnick, and the Emmy-winning director/choreographer Patricia Birch, who helms this production, were among those clustering around him. For future runs of this show, Sweet might even want to consider using that lobby klatch as the format of the evening.

-- Andy Buck

Gabrielle Maisels in Bongani
(© Dixie Sheridan)

South Africa's difficult transition from apartheid to a racially integrated society is explored in Gabrielle Maisels' moving solo performance, Bongani, at Manhattan Theatre Source. The writer/performer does not present any easy solutions to the lingering racism within the country, but instead chooses to create layered characters in a complex situation.

Spanning the years 1989 to 2002, the work tracks the relationship between Corinne Levitt, a white Jewish woman from a privileged background, and Bongani Dhlamini, a black man whose mother is the housekeeper in the Levitt household. As children, Corinne tutored and befriended Bongani, but as adults they find that no amount of good will can gloss over their differences.

Maisels takes on a dozen characters of various ages and races within her show. At times, it's not immediately clear which one she's playing, but the context usually comes into focus soon enough. She is particularly adept at portraying her two central characters, and the show's bittersweet conclusion packs a powerful punch.

-- Dan Bacalzo

Daniel Franzese, Mark Shunock, Mike Ciriaco, Max Crumm
in Jersey Shoresical
(© Dixie Sheridan)
It isn't easy to parody a parody, which the much publicized MTV reality series, Jersey Shore already is. Nevertheless, parody and satire are what Daniel Franzee and Hanna LoPatin have attempted to no avail in their witless hour-long opus Jersey Shoresical: A Frickin' Rock Opera, at the Bleecker Street Theatre.

Franzee and LoPatin may think they're sending up the reality program, but all they've really done is take the highlights of the first three Jersey Shore seasons and set them to music. For this exercise, the audience is offered a string of songs that are merely a succession of plodding notes and words meant as reminders of the various scraps and smooshes (for those unfamiliar with Jersey patois, "smooshes" are sexual encounters) that the JS participants experience with often combative consequences.

Those represented include Snooki (Karen Diconcetto), Mike Sorrentino aka The Situation (Max Crumm), J-Woww (Derrick Barry at the performance I saw; Willam Belli at two of the remaining four), Sammi (LoPatin), Ronnie (Franzee), Vinnie (Mike Ciriaco), Pauly D. (Mark Shunock) and Angelina (Rebekka Johnson, who also plays Deena after changing a wig). A trio called The Random Sluts (Kimmy Gatewood, Aynsley Bubbico, Meghan Parks) is called on for low-rent Greek-chorus duty.

Jersey Shoresical, primitively directed by Drew Droege, may actually be of interest to people who buy the series lock, stock and beer-keg. For others, simply knowing it exists is already too much information.

-- David Finkle


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