FringeNYC Roundup #4
Tom Crean is a bit peeved. He's a good-natured man but, all the same, he's annoyed that no one seems to know who he is. Well, Tom's here to tell you -- and, after seeing Tom Crean -- Antarctic Explorer, you're not likely to ever forget.
In this one-man show, author-actor Aidan Dooley speaks to us as Crean, the Irishman from Kerry who joined the Navy at 15, served on the "Terra Nova" under Captain Robert Scott, and was on the "Endurance" with Sir Ernest Shackleton. He tells us how he came to join the Navy at such a young age; then he amiably explains the difference between the Arctic and the Antarctic, showing us the clothing and equipment one needs for setting off into the Antarctic's icy depths and telling us how he survived against all odds during the expedition with Scott.
Dooley is a deft, funny, engaging, and thoroughly charming performer. His tale centers on only one harrowing journey that Crean and two fellow explorers made in returning from the Antarctic -- he makes only passing references to the hardships of the Shackleton expedition -- but, after hearing that story, you'll wish you could hear him talk about all of the man's adventures on the ice.
The Mexican-American experience is something rarely explored in NYC theater, despite the city's large population of Mexican immigrants. That fact alone makes Simone Schartz-Bart's Manhatitlan noteworthy. Based on a play by Ton Beau Capitaine, the drama concerns Antonio, a man who has left his wife María in Mexico to come and work in Manhattan and send money back to her. In lieu of letters, he communicates with his wife through audiotapes.
At the beginning of the show, one of María's tapes has arrived and Antonio gleefully slips it into his cassette player. But María's greeting -- a lovely song -- and her assurances that all of their family members are in good health give way to less happy news. What Antonio hears may forever alter the course of their marriage.
The idea of a two-character play in which one live actor interacts with a pre-recorded voice is interesting, and Marco Aponte keeps the proceedings from being dull with constant action as he listens -- changing clothes, arranging and rearranging the small array of objects in his tiny room, reacting to María's dialogue, and eventually creating his own tape. However, while Isabela Méndez's taped performance is fine, an occasional lack of clarity in her voice and in the sound quality of the recording sometimes make her dialogue difficult to understand, lessening the impact of some of her statements.
For their musical Lifetime Movie send-up For the Love of Tiffany, composer Curtis Moore, lyricist Amanda Green, and bookwriters Thomas Mizer and Matthew Brookshire (the latter of whom directs) have assembled an impressive cast that includes Broadway performers Nancy Opel (Urinetown) and Jonathan Dokuchitz (The Boys From Syracuse), and it's nice to see such talented singers on the Fringe stage. If the material itself isn't quite up to their level, it's still a fun show with a few terrific songs.
The central character is Stephanie (Marnie Nicolella), a devotee of "Wifetime" movies-of-the-week about women and their personal tragedies. Stephanie gets in some financial trouble and her new co-worker, Dokuchitz's Stezen (who happens to be suffering from amnesia due to a mysterious boating accident), tries to help her out of it. But the pair soon find themselves mixed up with Wifetime movie star Tiffany Jenkins (Opel), a triple amputee housekeeper (Amanda Green herself), and a man with an eye patch (Dokuchitz again).
The show starts off a bit slow with two less-than-great numbers, "Thank You Wifetime" and "Real Estate Broker," but soon hits its stride with Opel's show-stopping "Let America Come." Stezen and Stephanie's hilarious duet "Half of Me" and the catchy finale, "Be a Little Less Stupid," are also memorable. The humor is hit-or-miss throughout, with some gags falling flat and others inducing screams of laughter. For all of the show's strengths, one can't help feling that such a clever concept might have yielded even better results.
It's hard to describe Nharcolepsy. Early in this slim, hour-long show, audience members are instructed to throw snowballs at the actors. Those actors, who are also the writers of this wonderful piece of comic delirium (which is directed by Patricia Buckley), are Richard Harrington and Chris Kauffman.
For dramatic purposes, Harrington is Gustave Flaubert, a Belgian cabaret performer who, accompanied by Kauffman's soft-spoken Nhar, is traveling to the North Pole in search of the Yeti, a mythical animal known to some as the abominable snowman. As the show begins, Gustave explains to us that he and Nhar are, in fact, at the unfortunate end of their expedition. Their shelter and supplies are gone and they will soon freeze to death, but not before they perform one final cabaret act for their imagined audience. Fearing that he and Nhar may fall asleep and quickly embrace death before the act is complete, Gustave asks the audience to throw snowballs at them if they begin to nod off. (These "snowballs" are supplied by the friendly staff of the Red Room.)