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FringeNYC 2014: Confessions of Old Lady #2; Gary Busey's One-Man Hamlet (as performed by David Carl); A 1940's Comedy of Errors

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

Joan Shepard (left) and Tallulah Bankhead (right) in the 1945 Broadway production of Philip Barry's Foolish Notion at the Martin Beck Theatre. Shepard's experiences in that play (and others) are recounted in her solo show, Confessions of Old Lady #2.

Confessions of Old Lady #2

Joan Shepard isn't a performer who's likely to be recognized every time she sets foot in Costco. You probably didn't even recognize her name just now. But Joan Shepard is an actress who's worked steadily for 74 years, from the moment she first appeared on a Broadway stage as a seven-year-old in the critically panned Laurence Olivier-Vivian Leigh Romeo and Juliet to a recent appearance HBO's hit series "Girls".

Shepard appeared in a total of nine Broadway shows, all before she turned 20. Her credits also include The Member of the Wedding, opposite Ethel Waters and Julie Harris, and Foolish Notion with Tallulah Bankhead. She's got stories for days – and she tells them with relish in her solo show, Confessions of Old Lady #2 (the title comes from a role she played in the Disney movie College Road Trip). Bankhead lit her on fire (accidentally). Lenny Bruce essentially introduced her to her husband of 55 years, Evan Thompson, and Elvis requested sexual favors (not in as many words).

Shepard's show is a testament to one person's determination to have a full career. She hasn't been on Broadway since 1951, but she still works extensively, especially in children's theater, which has become her greatest joy. When you've got a career like that, it's worth celebrating, as notably as she does in this delightful piece.

David Carl playing all the roles in his solo show, Gary Busey's One-Man Hamlet (as performed by David Carl).
(© David Gordon)

Gary Busey's One Man Hamlet (as performed by David Carl)

It takes a truly demented (in the best way) mind to come up with a show like Carl's Gary Busey's One-Man Hamlet (as performed by David Carl), a 75-minute deconstruction of Shakespeare's tragedy reenacted by one of Hollywood's most legendarily insane actors.

Carl, a tall and wild-haired New York-based Texan, is no stranger to the oeuvre of Busey, even playing him on a regular basis in the popular interactive show Point Break Live! But this one, directed by Michole Biancosino, takes regular impersonations to the next level, as Carl works his way through a severely abridged version of Hamlet with Busey playing all the characters in a variety of different dialects and guises. Most of the work is done with cardboard puppets on sticks, with Busey's face in a variety of different costumes (Carl designed those).

Occasionally there's video as well, such as a scene when Carl as Busey (on video) literally beats the spit out of himself (in person). It's insane. And it all fits well in the context of the play. So does, unexpectedly, a moment where he recites, in full, the "This is Independence Day" monologue from the film Independence Day (which Busey was not actually in).

Ultimately, your enjoyment depends on how much you like Gary Busey. If you do, you're in for a real treat.

Melissa Meli, Vanessa Wendt, and Michael Rehse in A 1940's Comedy of Errors.
(© Jon Ciccarelli)

A 1940's Comedy of Errors

Perhaps they should have called A 1940's Comedy of Errors something like A Looney Tunes Comedy of Errors instead. In the hands of adapter/director Michael Hagins, there is nothing (or at least, very little) about the '40s in his version of Shakespeare's comedy of mistaken identity. There is, however, quite a bit of impersonating the characters from the eternally popular cartoon series Looney Tunes.

Hagins' production, which runs just shy of two hours including intermission, opens with the Looney Tunes theme and even closes with the traditional "That's all, folks!" In between is the story of two sets of twins, separated at birth, who are frequently confused for each other and eventually discover their true identities after a series of comic mishaps.

The Comedy of Errors isn't the most difficult story to follow, but you wouldn't know that from this production, which relegates storytelling to second place. Hagins seems more concerned with his cast members running and screaming their way around the stage of Theater 80 as they imitate the likes of Porky Pig, Pepé Le Pew, and others from the Looney Tunes roster of stars. As a result, the laughs, intrinsic within Shakespeare's text, don't actually come. That's all, folks.