FringeNYC Roundup #2
One - (the other) is a performance piece by the UK's Perpetual Motion Theatre that offers a slow, stylized look at a foreigner's journey from sunny desert life to the hubbub of the city. The show opens with this young man standing in front of a projection of a brilliant sun shining over sand. He speaks several foreign phrases, translating some of them into English; many were a little hard to hear given his soft, accented voice, but unmistakable was: "I need to feel thirsty again". So he sets off into a new world (I'm guessing London, by the still photo projections that were used), which turns out to be an uncomfortable and unforgiving place where everyone wears gray and nobody talks to each other.
It takes awhile to make sense of some of the goings-on, but time is spent riding on the subway (the four actor/dancers rapidly pound their feet on the ground to simulate the movement and sound of the train), and wandering around streets in which everyone bumps into each other. The foreigner takes English lessons from a Miss Havisham-type, tries to get work from a mean (and nearly deranged) man who makes him put on a dress, and he has a one night stand with a free spirit who he meets at a club.
For a piece about city life, One - (the other) is surprisingly slow and short on dance. The focus is more on showing how the city has diminished the humanity of its inhabitants; the foreigner, desperately trying to connect, finds mostly cold shoulders. Occasionally, there are breaks from the deliberate movements of the actors as they float through the collection of scenes, and those moments are the best. Most notable is the pas de deux between the foreigner and the club girl, where we really get a glimpse of what Perpetual Motion is capable of doing - the pair's dance is utterly entrancing.
There are some intriguing ideas at work in One - (the other), and it offers Americans the opportunity to see the immigrant's struggle in another context. But while there are moments of interest, the piece is too frequently puzzling and listless.
Writer/performer John Kuntz plays all of the Starfuckers in his one-man show that explores life on the fringes of fame. In seven vignettes, Kuntz plays six characters - a hyper actress auditioning for "Xanadu: The Musical", a man who spent a brief period as Julia Roberts' best friend, an over-the-hill actress, an aspiring young performer who has an affair with Alex Trebek, a pig man, and an ad model. It's a motley crew, and with them, Kuntz creates an ugly (but hilarious) collage of stardom's icky underbelly.
Kuntz is an appealing and nimble performer, at ease in roles as diverse as roller-skating actress, former film star, and stupid hunk. He's a creative and extremely funny writer. And though on the same general theme, the pieces that make up Starfuckers show a tremendous variety. Some are better than others. Kuntz doesn't get nearly as much comic mileage as one would expect out of "Julia's Best Friend", and while "Starfucker" (the one about the actor and Alex Trebek) has an amusing premise, it runs out of steam. "Adonis" is a whirlwind of a monologue, presenting those models you see on TV and in the magazines as a kind of neo-Hitler youth, bent on conquering and devouring the world -- but content to sell you useless products in the meantime.
Kuntz's most memorable creations are the auditioning actress (who bookends the show, which starts with her audition and ends with her callback), and the Pig Man. In "Pigman," an actor tells how he got a nose job (a snout job, more like it) to land a gig as the spokesman for a pig-based product. He wallows in the attention as the commercials and ads take his pig face to national fame, but it all comes crashing down on him when he gets involved in a scandal. After relating this tale, the Pig Man -- desperate because he has discovered his surgery is irreversible -- decides to drown his sorrow in food. In a sequence that is at once hilarious, unnerving, and revolting, Kuntz pigs out, smearing chocolate frosting on himself as he downs Captain Crunch and other goodies. He does regain his fame, but in a most disgusting way.
Without a doubt, the centerpiece of Starfuckers is "Golden Girl," in which an aging starlet named Ginger Grant tells her long and strange back story to a man she's on a date with. The tale begins with an abusive relationship that ends riotously, followed by 30 years stranded on Gilligan's island (yes, she's THAT Ginger). Kuntz is at his most excellent here, both as performer and writer. He even keeps the Gilligan cracks to a minimum, focusing on the human relationships and managing to work in plenty of laughs as well as some poignant moments.
Steven Maler provides Kuntz with fine direction, keeping the 75-minute show at a good pace, and helping to make Starfuckers an enjoyable evening, full of several oddball characters and one great performer.
Upon entering the Kraine, you hear the screams and moans of the actors, already onstage, most of them clad in leather, whipping and spanking each other into a frenzy. This goes on for about ten minutes as people make their way into the theater; it's telling of a New York audience that most people barely registered the scene before searching for their seats and settling into their pre-show conversations. But that juxtaposition, of an S&M dungeon and an unimpressed audience, serves the play well. For as the lights go down, one woman, who had been thoroughly enjoying a good whipping in the opening tableaux, admits that this S&M stuff has become pretty ho-hum these days. Whips, chains, studs, and leather ... we've heard it all before. And it's nothing compared to the kind of deviant fetishes that this play, written by Sophie Rand, is going to explore.
Among them, bug crushing. A man named Marshall (Randy Harrison, of Queer as Folk fame) enters the club in hopes of finding someone who, for a couple hundred dollars, will don high heels and use them to crush insects for the sake of his sexual gratification. He doesn't want to be physically stimulated, he doesn't want to be touched at all; he's just a boy who wants to watch a girl smash worms with her heel. Turns out she has a weird thing of her own: She likes carrots. Not penises, not vibrators, not even cucumbers -- only carrots for this lady. It's not much of a story, but the two bare their souls - after a little prodding, she tells about how she came to be intimate with carrots. He can't explain the origination of his fetish, but he is able to explain his need for it and how it affects him. Before, during, and after the fateful meeting of these two deviant souls, others share their fetishes (most notably, aliens and stuffed animals), through dialogues and monologues delivered over phone sex lines.
Deviant is being presented by The Kiva Company, whose mission it is to produce theater that is "brutal, visceral, and short." That's Deviant in a nutshell. But it is also entertaining and often funny. There are a handful of inspired bits of comedy, particularly the "flashbacks" that occur on stage when either of the main characters is describing important bits of their youth (kudos to Alexander Mackenzie for his pencil drawings which are projected on a screen to enhance the woman's story of how she came to know the carrot). And for those of us -- most of us, I dare hope - who are new to the world of deviant fetishes, Deviant is pretty enlightening. Most people would just dismiss someone who gets off on crushed bugs or stuffed animals as insane, but Rand shows that there is a pretty easily understandable psychological basis for these perversions. These people aren't crazy, but they do need help, and they need it quick -- or else, as we learn, the consequences can be dire.
Where Deviant does fail is in doing justice to its central story. It goes along fine for awhile, but directors Melissa Boswell and Jane Steinberg don't handle the penultimate scene with much finesse; it simply isn't staged with the tension and terror needed to make it effective. What's more, that most important scene is followed by two rather long monologues, the second of which is neither that interesting or informative, causing the play to end, oddly enough, anticlimactically.