2006_08_arts_fringe10.gifToday in the Fringe Festival 89 of the 200+ shows for 2006 are on view. There is most assuredly something for everyone – just have a look at the listings. And here are five more reviews (see also seven from last weekend and four from yesterday), of Suicide, the Musical, Fatboy Romeo, The Yellow Wallpaper, Their Wings Were Blue, and Armageddon Dance Party, the last of which is going straight to the top tier of our recommendation list. Search for and buy tickets online, or go to Fringe HQ at 27 Mercer St., or call 212.279.4488. A week in the festival remains, but it will go fast!

2006_08_arts_suicidemusical.jpgSuicide, The Musical
From the title, you might expect this to be a sort of cheeky, ironic take on postmodern, 21st century angst and anomie (see: Armageddon Dance Party). But while Helen Stratford’s show certainly does brim with existential despair, it is refreshingly, if often depressingly, sincere. Stratford, who is, as she puts it, a “legendary East Village performance artist” and in a tiny minority in the NY art community as a straight, white, non-Jewish female, sings an autobiographical (or at least semi-autobiographical) piece in which, after being rejected by her hateful, controlling white supremacist lover, she goes to a theater where a show in which she is starring, along with a host of drag queens impersonating her. Once there she is overcome by that despair in the bathroom, and imagines, in excruciatingly painful terms, her suicide – and then, in surprisingly hopeful and exultant terms, her saving and embrace of this cruel world. Stratford, for those who haven’t heard her on the subway or around the East Village, has a beautiful voice; she accompanies herself a few times here on her accordion, but most of the music is a rich live piano and violin duo; she is also, as in the show she sings about starring in, flanked by a group of skimpily dressed but glam drag queens who dance out the parts of the demons and doubts that dog her. Stratford’s intensely personal lyrics will resonate with most anyone who’s had a bad time in this city – particularly, of course, women who have tried to make it as an artist, but really anyone who’s gone through bad breakups, poverty, ambition unmet by much success or acknowledgment, and basically reams of self-doubt bringing the full weight of an uncaring world down around his/her shoulders. Her songs are so raw and real that it can be painful to listen, but it’s hard to tear oneself away and not become rather invested in her struggle, so when she does pull herself up in the end, she pulls the audience up with her.
Village Theater, 158 Bleecker St., next show Mon. 4:15pm

After the jump: reviews of Fatboy Romeo, The Yellow Wallpaper, Their Wings Were Blue, and The Armageddon Dance Party.

2006_08_arts_fatboyromeo.jpgFatboy Romeo
This is by far the least tragic Romeo and Juliet that I’ve ever seen or thought possible. Director/adaptor Neal Freeman notes in the program that he has never liked the original, so this take isn’t a surprise; and his stated intention is also to skewer America’s widespread gluttony, so clearly there's little room for tearjerking. With inventive puppets worked by three puppeteers and voiced by two talented actors (Danielle Thorpe and Patrick Toon), projections of glossy photos from fashion magazines, and one doll-like human child (Emma Park-Hazel) to tell the tale in a not-so-gluttonous 45 minutes, Fatboy Romeo posits the Montague lover as a silent, obese little guy who eats everything in sight and Juliet as the frighteningly buxom, pitifully narcissistic wench who somehow falls in love with him. Many scenes are glossed over or omitted entirely, which isn’t much of a problem here since the point is not the story but rather the atmosphere created by the ridiculous excess in the characters’ lives. Unfortunately, the promise of the idea takes a long time to bear fruit – people who like the original play and who may not think of America as a gluttonous country aren’t likely to see what’s going on just by having Romeo be fat and flashing magazine ads on a screen – and in a very short play that's a bit of a problem. Fatboy Romeo is undeniably fun to watch, it just isn’t as convincing as one might like in its use of Shakespeare to indict the wrong turns taken recently in American culture, so it leaves you feeling a little cheated. But maybe I'm just a glutton.
Studio at Cherry Lane, 38 Commerce St., next performance Tues. 5:45pm

The Yellow Wallpaper

Brian Madden’s adaptation of Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s famous short story of 1891 (about a woman who becomes obsessed to the point of insanity with the yellow wallpaper in the room to which she’s confined by her physician husband in order to keep her from going mad) adds a layer from the present day in which another woman is confined to the same room, though more voluntarily and for a different reason – she is devastated by the death of her young daughter. Shawneen Rowe plays both women, with only a hairclip and a robe belt to distinguish the two (hair up and robe closed for 1891; hair down and robe open to show pajamas for the present), while Jenna Morris plays the woman hidden in the wallpaper who speaks to the room’s prisoner in 1891, and the modern woman’s sister. Morris gets a little bit more of a costume change, but one of the production’s weaknesses is the whirling way it speeds from one time to another and back again, in too-short scenes that come and go without pausing for breath. This is probably intentional, to blur things together, but the blur fosters more confusion than necessary and makes a play that feels like it should be more meditative, pass by in a hurry. Also, neither Rowe nor Morris makes either of their characters very sympathetic; the 1891 prisoner and the contemporary recluse both have tragic stories and should be deserving of the audience’s hearts, but they come off as rather wearisome and silly, so that one is almost tempted to say “fine then, stay in your room and go crazy, it’s probably for the best.” As the woman in the wallpaper, Rowe is rather sinister, and as the sister in present day she shares that frustration (why is her sister being so obtuse?) but doesn’t really make us like her anyway. The 19th century husband’s coercive control of his poor, depressive wife, and the other woman’s sense of abject failure and desire to lock oneself away forever in self-blame and self-loathing after a terrible tragedy, are vitally important issues to address, and Madden’s idea for doing so this way is a good one; it doesn’t quite bear fruit in this version, but the play has the potential to be quite emotionally gripping.
13th Street Repertory Co., 50 W. 13th St., next performance tonight Sun. 5:15pm

Their Wings Were Blue

Carmen Betancourt’s new play has a lot in common with The Yellow Wallpaper, which may be coincidence or it may just be my imagination since I saw them one right after the other. But Betancourt’s magical realist piece also riffs on the creation of a late 19th/early 20th century artist, and also centers around a woman’s inability to let go of a daughter she lost, and a seemingly inanimate decoration comes to life. In this case, though, the artist is Picasso, and the woman is in a painting from his blue period (“The Tragedy”). The woman, Enriquetta (Celia Schaefer), and her husband Alonzo (Sean Deming) and son Lorenzo (Shaun S. Orbin) escape from the painting one night as, apparently, many other figures from paintings do at one point, either to be replaced by copies or to return of their own accord when the outside world becomes too overwhelming. They are met by Suzanne (Elaine Smith) who, with her young daughter Toffie (Emilie Valentina Segretto), has made it her life’s work to take in such “paintees” and care for them as they adjust to life outside the frame, and tracked by a curator at the National Gallery (Tim Smallwood), who has always lusted after Enriquetta. The whimsical story is a bit much at times, bordering on the cute and eyeroll-inducing, especially Orbin’s overly obnoxious take on the adolescent Lorenzo, who keeps trying to be “normal”; Segretto’s bratty preteen act is also overplayed. At least Enriquetta’s despair about having lost Sophie (Picasso took her out of the painting and put her in another, but Enriquetta has always felt guilty) is genuine and well portrayed by Schaefer, and the characters’ tragic combination of boredom at being stuck in the same pose for centuries, and inability to deal with the real world, comes through well. If nothing else, it should make you look at paintings differently the next time you’re at a museum.
Connelly Theater, 220 E. 4th St., next performance Sat. 8/26 10pm

The Armageddon Dance Party

David L. Williams’ delightfully absurd new play brings in some politics and serious thought under the guise of fast-paced comedy and sheer silliness, and the youthful cast pulls it off with high energy and panache. As the show begins, John and Michelle (Tommy Day and Lordan Napoli) are trying to figure out whether Armageddon is here, as they believe they just heard on the news. They’re pretty sure it is but it’s a hard thing to wrap their heads around, so they invite their friends, and their friends’ friends, over for a dance party. As the night wears on and the idea of the end of the world sinks in, everyone’s spirits sink, though they improve them by talking about what they won’t miss in the world, and jamming to good music, and having sex in the stairwell, and doing things they’ve always wanted to do like kill someone. The writing is quite intelligent and often witty, and any snarkiness smoothed over by the likeability of the characters; Napoli is really the stand-out as part bouncy, part grammar-nit-picker Michelle, but Lindsay Joy and Brittany Scott also really shine as the slightly dim but sweet Trixie, and the high-strung, headstrong Erika May, respectively. Until the end, Williams succeeds in prompting serious thought about one’s life and experience of earth without taking away from the giddy forward moment he’s got going; the last scene does involve some exposition and speechifying that were refreshingly absent, but that is probably inevitable, and one leaves the theater both grinning and a little pensive and troubled. Armageddon Dance Party is fun to watch and fully engaging in the best sense; it doesn’t try to convey a precise message, but it invites real reflection amidst the laughter, a winning combination solidified by the talented cast and nearly seamless production.
Linhart Theater@440 Studios, 440 Lafayette, 3rd floor, next performance Mon. 7:30pm