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FringeNYC 2014: Bedroom Secrets; Dancing Monk Ippen; Sitting Shiva

This is TheaterMania's first roundup of reviews from the 2014 New York International Fringe Festival.

Ashlie Atkinson and Stephen Wallem star in Thomas and Judy Heath's Bedroom Secrets at The Players Theatre as part of the 2014 New York International Fringe Festival.
(© David Gordon)

Bedroom Secrets

by David Gordon

Sex! Now that we have your attention, let's talk about Bedroom Secrets, a world premiere comedy-drama written and directed by Thomas and Judy Heath and starring Stephen Wallem and Ashlie Atkinson. This two-character work explores the goings on inside the office of a psychologist (Atkinson) as she councils her various eccentric patients (all played by Wallem, of TV's Nurse Jackie). It's not as much a play as it is a vehicle for performers, and thankfully, this pair of actors manages to mask the flaws of the text.

Though we don't learn much about the therapist, Robin, we do learn all (and probably too much) about her various patients. One woman (Wallem perfectly affecting the mannerisms of a spoiled twentysomething) doesn't know whether she should let her new bartender beau crash at her place. A frustrated gay Southerner (Wallam playing hilariously butch) wants his longtime boyfriend to commit, and not be attracted to the handsome men they encounter from day to day. And lastly Wallem plays a tough-talking Wall Streeter who doesn't know why his wife is falling out of love with him (hint: she's found a new lover).

Wallem impressively manages to create realistic portraits of each persona, and Atkinson, in a most underdeveloped role, finds some substantial inner conflicts as Robin. If only they had more of a play to utilize.

A scene from Takaaki Shigenobu's Dancing Monk Ippen, directed by Hiroaki Doi, at the Sheen Center as part of the 2014 New York International Fringe Festival.

Dancing Monk Ippen

by Zachary Stewart

No matter one's country of birth, everyone understands the language of dance. At least that is what Japanese theater company Fuuun-Kabocha-No-Basha is counting on with their production of Takaaki Shigenobu's Dancing Monk Ippen. This musical about a medieval Buddhist monk is presented entirely without supertitles. Even if you're not the type who enjoys watching foreign films with the captions off, you'll likely find something to enjoy about this musical, which comes as close to an epic costume drama as you're likely to see in this year's festival.

The story takes place in 13th-century Japan, a feudal society bathed in the blood of civil wars. Michihiro (Mitsuaki Susa) is a member of the Imperial Army, while his brother, Michihisa (Shigemitsu), fights for the rival Shogunate. Michihiro sends his young son, Shojumaru (Sugamoto), away to a Buddhist monastery for protection. There, Shojumaru takes the name Ippen. After causing trouble as a young novice, Ippen finds enlightenment through the power of dance and builds a following of like-minded folks. Naturally, the conservative religious establishment does not like his unorthodox ways. It's kind of like Soul Doctor, but Japanese.

Following an epic, Les Miz-esque opening number, the songs are mostly saccharine pop ballads, the type that you might hear coming out of a karaoke bar on the east side of Manhattan. The actors deliver this material with oodles of heart while performing Chie Nakagawa's excellent choreography. There's even some Western new age music thrown in for good measure.

You probably won't end up dancing in your seat at the end (despite the urging of the cast), but you will get to know this relatively unknown (in the U.S.) story from a group of talented performers. The individually designed origami stuffed into each program is a fringe benefit that is sure to put a smile on your face. Idiosyncratic international fare like this is one of the many reasons to attend the Fringe.

Sitting Shiva

by David Gordon

Funerals are pretty explosive events when placed in the context of theater. Long-simmering grudges, feuds, and secrets all seem to come to a head when a family member kicks the bucket. And what better way to create dramatic fireworks? Sitting Shiva, a play by Joshua Metzger and directed by Christopher Scott, is another entry into the genre of funeral plays. It's an untidy look at three brothers whose resentments come to light upon the death of their octogenarian father.

The siblings are Mark (Neal Mayer), a doctor; David (Jeffrey Plunkett), an investment banker; and Henry (Eddie Boroevich), seemingly a ne'er-do-well. They're staying at Mark's home (presumably in New York) as they participate in the traditional weeklong Jewish mourning period known as shiva, alternating between greeting elderly visitors, eating copious platters of cookies and cured meats, and bickering about how their lives made their parents unhappy. In true theatrical fashion, when Dad's will arrives, the brothers' differences threaten to tear them apart.

In its delivery of exposition Metzger's dialogue is oddly formal and heavy-handed and doesn't feel natural, the way family members typically speak to one another. Moreover, the brothers are so unlikable that it's impossible to care about them. Scott and his actors try to make them human, but it's too little, too late. It's hard to garner any sympathy for Sitting Shiva.