FringeNYC: Barcode; Stranded on Motor Parkway; What's an Anjan?
TheaterMania's coverage of the 2013 New York International Fringe Festival continues with reviews of three shows.
by David Gordon
Barcode, a futuristic new musical with a book and folk-rock score by Debbie Andrews and Mike Blaxill of the band Gladshot, is the kind of show that you can't help but admire, even if it doesn't entirely succeed. Set in a far-off dystopian future where society is dominated by an evil corporation, the show does an admirable job of developing this crazy universe, in true balls-to-the-wall fashion, and manages to almost carry it all the way through.
This is an inherently difficult feat to pull off, especially with the world that Andrews and Blaxill have crafted. Society is dominated by consumerism and the evil Earth Corp; barcodes are tattooed on citizens' wrists to track their personal and financial data. In hiding, a group of activists known as the Data Jammers is forming the opposition, hacking into the computer system, and trying to start a revolution. Parallels to Occupy Wall Street are very apparent in the text and Joe Barros' hyperactive production, which, with scenic design by Luke Jones, makes very good use of La MaMa's Ellen Stewart Theatre.
The largest problem is that certain lyrics have a tendency to betray the plot. Characters remark that they don't remember the country Russia, but later sing about what they think the year 1961 looked like. Still, Andrews and Blaxill's extremely appealing score is the centerpiece here, and it's certainly worth a listen.
by Hayley Levitt
Stranded on Motor Parkway, a new play written by Dan Fingerman and now offering performances at the Lower East Side's Teatro SEA, is a case of a solid foundation buckling under the weight of a number of heavy hands.
The story places us in the heart of Long Island in 1986 where a deadbeat dad (Tim Intravia) has been left to care for his two children after his ex-wife passes away from AIDS at the height of its cultural taboo. As tensions mount between him and his teenage daughter, Angie (a perfectly angst-ridden Briana Pozner), his younger son Johnny (the cherubic Joseph Paul Kennedy) bets the remainder of his childhood optimism on the unlikely prospect that his beloved New York Mets will beat the Red Sox in the World Series. Luckily, audiences can sit back worry-free with the comforting knowledge that his gamble is going to pay off, presumably suggesting that there's hope, after all, for this downtrodden family.
Though arguably an over-milked vehicle, there's nothing like a baseball metaphor to hit all the right emotional buttons — especially when you throw in an endearing grandpa (aka "Pops," played by Robert Sean Miller) who loves to spend the games recounting stories from the good ol' days. Unfortunately, rather than gently weaving baseball into the drama that unfolds within the family, Fingerman roughly bolts them together, preventing the audience from curling up into that cozy sentimental niche that we all love to love. Director Christina Roussos cobbles together a series of choppy scenes that attempt to make sense of these loosely connected storylines, all the while trying to communicate nuances of the collective American psyche during the 1980s AIDS crisis. This would be an ambitious task for any production, let alone a Fringe presentation that has clearly stretched its limited resources to their breaking point.
by Zachary Stewart
What is it like to be raised by Indian fundamentalist Christians? Anjan Biswas will tell you about that (and so much more…more than you would ever ask) in his stand-up comedy show What's an Anjan? Speaking in accented Indian English from the cozy stage at Jimmy's No. 43, the boyish 23-year-old recounts his arrival in the United States four years ago. Suddenly and without warning, he switches into a baseline American accent: "This is how I really talk." It's quite disarming and an appropriate prelude to the following hour of hilarious, occasionally uncomfortable, and endlessly fascinating storytelling.
Biswas credits his yank accent to his desire to assimilate in the United States, although it might have more to do with his uniquely nomadic childhood, having grown up in India, cosmopolitan Singapore, and Boston. This is an experience likely shared by few people in the audience, and I found myself wanting to hear more about it. But while that aspect of Biswas' life remains largely untouched in this show, the audience is treated to intimate details of his family life, ranging from descriptions of sex with his wife to his strict upbringing.
"White people, you're about to get a little uncomfortable," Biswas warns before launching into a story about a close encounter between his arm and his mother's frying pan. Uncomfortable indeed! Biswas has a natural sense of timing, so when a joke lands, it really lands. Still, when you traffic in edgy material about domestic violence, sex, and racism, you run the risk of eliciting a sea of blank stares rather than a hearty laugh.
What's an Anjan? is not a show for the easily offended, but if you like your comedy with a healthy dose of the taboo, you'll have a good time.