Just in time for trick or treat and the 84th anniversary of Harry Houdini’s death, the Jewish Museum’s new exhibit Houdini: Art and Magic gets to the bottom of who this mystery magician really was and maybe even uncovers how he pulled off his amazing tricks. This traveling exhibition shows artifacts such as Houdini’s handcuffs, shackles, and straitjacket, as well as historic photographs and Art Nouveau–era posters. The show also has 26 recent works by the likes of Matthew Barney, Jane Hammond, Vik Muniz, and Raymond Pettibon that were all inspired by the magic man himself. There will also be a re-creation of the famous Water Torture Cell (much of the original was destroyed in a fire in 1995) and two of Houdini’s private diaries that have never been exhibited before.

Nov. 3-March 27, 2010


Negative Plane Will Not ‘Friend’ You

I’m sitting in a dark tavern, getting directions to Harry Houdini’s grave. “At the entrance, you see Machpelah Cemetery. You walk in, there’s a building you pass, it’s on the left side. Right there, you can see Harry Houdini buried with a couple of his relatives. But that’s not his real name. If you’re a magician doing the incredible, why have a boring name? Erik Weisz, his name was. But Harry Houdini sounds like a magician.” The guy explaining all this—the primary composer, guitarist, and vocalist for Brooklyn metal band Negative Plane—knows something about avoiding boring names. He goes by the alias Nameless Void.

The local proximity of Houdini’s gravesite is of interest, but so is the illusionist’s relation to H.P. Lovecraft, a writer whose palpable sense of dread Negative Plane capably invoke. Lovecraft was the ghostwriter behind Houdini’s short story “Under the Pyramids”—an inspiring location for Nameless Void, it turns out. Portions of the band’s upcoming new album, Stained Glass Revelations (AJNA), are intentionally inclined toward subterranean menace: The lyrics to “Lamentations and Ashes” are “directly inspired by me being in the subways of New York City and seeing the rats running around,” Nameless Void explains, an experience that probably struck him harder given that he just recently moved here from Florida, where the band was originally conceived. “I don’t know, palm trees—I just didn’t have a lot of inspiration,” is how the relocation is explained. “My original idea wasn’t to do metal. I listened to metal, but didn’t think I could come up with anything at that time. So I tried to do organs and bells. I ran into a brick wall with that really quick.”

Instead, the trio’s sound—rounded out by bassist D.G. and drummer Bestial Devotion, capably avoiding boredom themselves—evokes fundamental influences like Mercyful Fate’s At the Sound of the Demon Bell (“Where it’s not such a linear structure,” Void explains). Moss-covered riffs are dug up, stitched, reanimated, and, for this latest release, enhanced with his aforementioned affinity for creeping organs and bells: “The bells in Lower Manhattan are the eeriest I’ve ever heard. I don’t think people pay attention,” he says. Dark strangeness reminiscent of early Italian prog/doom-metal bands Jacula and Black Hole permeates; certain chords resemble the gloomy dissonance of Bauhaus filtered up from some sort of demon well. “We take it from the black-metal viewpoint, but expand it with our own particular set of influences,” Void says. “It’s like putting together a song that’s already written, and we’re just rearranging the pieces.”

Negative Plane rarely perform live. They don’t do “social networking.” These guys have deeper realms to visit. “Everything happens in cycles, and everything is born, gets destroyed, and so on,” Void explains. “The latter part of that, I think, is more interesting to write about. The music is the priority. It goes beyond us. If the music is restricted to our personalities, then I’ve completely failed.”


Ragtime and The Brother/Sister Plays Spin Black American History into Folk Tales

Drawn from E.L. Doctorow’s popular novel, the 1998 musical Ragtime, now getting its first New York revival (Neil Simon Theatre), deals with blacks confronting white America. Tarell Alvin McCraney’s trilogy, The Brother/Sister Plays, being given in repertory at the Public Theater, deals wholly with black Americans. Both works are fables of life in modern industrial America, cast in folk-tale terms.

Both are steeped in music; both employ story-theater-style narration, building a theatrical tension between storytelling and dialogue. Both, too, identify their characters as type figures. McCraney’s are perceived as avatars of the African gods whose names they bear: Ogun, Shango, Elegba. Ragtime‘s people get their names from their familial roles (Mother, Father, Mother’s Younger Brother) or as icons in memory’s historical waxworks (Houdini, Emma Goldman, Booker T. Washington). Even Ragtime‘s two most individualized characters, the (fictional) great ragtime pianist Coalhouse Walker and his unhappy lover, Sarah, turn out to have literary prototypes: They were borrowed by Doctorow from Heinrich von Kleist’s 1808 novella, Michael Kohlhaas, in which the embittered hero turns rebel, and his neglected wife dies, under circumstances paralleling those in Ragtime.

Obviously, the mixture of elements in such works, while never quite coalescing, gives them an exceptional density. In their differing ways, both Ragtime and The Brother/Sister Plays are rich, flavorsome experiences. Even when the story runs thin, as in the long first part of McCraney’s work, or when its meanings seem to turn flat and oversimplified, as happens late in Ragtime, you never feel like you’ve been shortchanged: Something else is always being evoked, supplying the aesthetic equivalent of moral support.

Ragtime, which hurtles its black characters into the wide and dangerously prejudiced world of the larger society, is a chunk of “our” history, a staged chapter of the allegorical narrative that tells how America became what it is. McCraney’s trilogy, which prefers delving into the characters’ psychology, scarcely touching the wider world at all, is a set of chapters in the ongoing lives of a black community on the Louisiana bayou. Ragtime‘s point, if it can be reduced to one, is how contact with other communities alters our sense of our own: “We can never go back to before.” McCraney’s, conversely, seems to be the Jungian notion that community is destiny: The collective unconscious is always at work, making the same types recur in each generation.

Both points are true, partially. The challenge, with both works, is to get us past the dry patches where the truth runs out into the vibrant places where it thrives. Both do this, on the whole, rather well. Ragtime‘s shortcomings have been much debated since its disappointing initial run. What’s less well remembered, which Marcia Milgrom Dodge’s new production successfully arouses, is the sense it gives of being in that musical heaven where the artists do everything right. About half the Ahrens-Flaherty score comes into this category. Dodge’s production—barer, starker, and smaller than Frank Galati’s original—enhances the work’s tautness by linking its criss-crossed stories more sharply, and pushing for heightened tensions in Terrence McNally’s book, which, as a result, seems less mild-mannered than it did, less of a problem-solving task in adaptation and more of a drama.

That approach has dangers attached. Push, and you sometimes get coarser results; tighten, and you put extra pressure on the weak links. The 1998 production’s four leads were unsurpassable. Dodge’s four, Quentin Earl Darrington (Coalhouse), Christiane Noll (Mother), Robert Petkoff (Tateh), and Stephanie Umoh (Sarah), make only a handsome stab at equaling them, with Darrington coming closest. On the plus side, Dodge offers a more convincing Houdini (Jonathan Hammond), and scores a memorable interpretive triumph with Bobby Steggert’s performance as Younger Brother. But pushing badly coarsens some of the secondary performances, while the tautening shows up the authors’ perfunctory treatment of Father, despite Ron Bohmer’s efforts to make more of him. Like the straight lines of Dodge’s lucid but slightly rigid staging, the production’s moral lines of good and bad are sometimes too simplistically drawn.

Nothing is so simple in McCraney’s works, where ancient gods and last night’s dreams keep drifting into and out of the action, and the characters’ dialogue tracks, with hairbreadth precision, into and out of self-narration. The constant repetition of data that results can get maddening, but it can also be used for subtle effects. Both Tina Landau, staging Part 1, and Robert O’Hara, directing the double bill of Parts 2 and 3, use it so: One remarkable aspect of the event is its unity of style. Only Landau’s imagistic use of background figures, and the intentionally harsher sound effects in O’Hara’s double bill, differentiate the two stagings. And, although much in both is shoutingly overplayed, whenever the story turns serious, the acting turns transcendent. Marc Damon Johnson, evolving from the stammering adolescent of Part 1 to the weary, grieving oldster of Part 3, acquires breathtaking stature.

Part 1 suffers from bait-and-switch dramaturgy: Oya (Kianne Muschett) is a youthful track star who rejects an athletic scholarship to “State” in order to stay with her dying mother (Heather Alicia Simms). After the latter’s death, nothing is said about any desire on Oya’s part to make a life for herself; the story narrows to a matter of which of two men she loves, and then to her desperation, climaxing in a desperate act, when she finds herself unable to have a baby. As in Lorca’s Yerma, which McCraney’s play sometimes resembles, the obsession seems to leave the central character behind.

The shorter Parts 2 and 3, building on figures established in Part 1, actually contain greater substance, and McCraney’s writing feels far more assured. A fierce conflict between brothers in one finds unexpected closure through the sexual dilemmas of an unrelated young man in the other. Sensibly, McCraney offers no simple answers; he lays out the complex situation fully and leaves the audience to sort through it.


Free Will Astrology: July 8 through 14

ARIES [March 21–April 19] Miracle of miracles: A pointless pain in the butt will soon stop bugging you. Meanwhile, an annoying itch in your heart is subsiding, and may even disappear. This way, you will be able to concentrate on a much more interesting torment that has been waiting impatiently for your attention. Actually, it’s an ancient torment dressed up in a new package. But it’s one you’ve never had the right name for. That’s about to change. You’re finally ready to find the right name for it, and when you do, you’ll be halfway toward a permanent cure.

TAURUS [April 20–May 20] When he was growing up, the father of basketball superstar Pat Riley forced him to play basketball with kids who were stronger and tougher than he was. He said it forged his son into a winner. I can see the principle at work, but it doesn’t come naturally to me. In my efforts to provide you with the parenting you missed as a kid, I’ve always preferred a gentler, more nurturing approach. Nevertheless, the time has come to override my personal desires for the sake of your character-building needs. I recommend that you force yourself to play with grown-up kids who’re stronger and tougher than you.

GEMINI [May 21–June 20] I wouldn’t get too agitated about the “writing on the wall” if I were you. The handwriting is not God’s. It’s not even that of a wise elder or young genius. So don’t attribute too much authority to it. It’s just the opinion of someone who doesn’t know any more about the ultimate truth than you do. So cover it up with spray paint and inscribe your own version of the writing on the wall. Reality is malleable right now, so the most forcefully expressed prophecy will probably come true.

CANCER [June 21–July 22] I believe that when you chatter carelessly about a change that’s in the works, you’re in danger of draining it of some of its potency. So I don’t want to trumpet about the gift that’s on its way to you. I’ll just mention that it’s coming, and urge you to prepare a clean, well-lit place for it to land. Here’s a hint: It could, among other things, help you convert one of your vulnerabilities into a strength or inspire you to start transforming an area of ignorance into a future source of brilliance.

LEO [July 23–August 22] At the farmers’ market, an escape artist performed in the middle of the street. As the crowd gawked, he had two big, strong men tie him up tight in a straitjacket and 50 feet of chain. For the next 20 minutes, he shimmied and contorted and bent over backwards. His face grew red and sweaty. There were no Houdini-like magic tricks; there were no puffs of smoke or magic boxes or mirrors or distracting assistants. He rarely spoke as the ordeal progressed, but in the end, after the last of the chains slipped off and he wrestled his way out of the straitjacket, he said simply, “Now I invite all of you to go home and use what I just did as a metaphor for your life.” I realized maybe it would help you with your current situation.

VIRGO [August 23–September 22] Your concentration for dicey assignments, like conquering fear and adversity, is sharp. And I bet you’ll summon a lot of stamina and resourcefulness if you’re pressed to solve a crucial riddle during a turning point in your own personal hero’s journey. On the other hand, humdrum details have the potential to flummox you, especially if they involve tasks you’re not even that interested in or committed to. The moral of the story: Banish absent-mindedness by keeping yourself focused on only the most riveting challenges.

LIBRA [September 23–October 22] The sky will not start falling. But something resembling heavenly tokens may cascade down with such frequency that you’ll be wise to keep looking up a lot. You never know when another piece of the blessed puzzle will come raining down. And it would be a shame to suffer the embarrassment of having your favorable fortune knock you over. Who’d have ever guessed that a shower of good news would be such a tricky trial?

SCORPIO [October 23–November 21] How well are you capitalizing on this year’s unique opportunities, Scorpio? Since we’re midway through 2009, let’s take an inventory. I hope that by now you have at least begun building the power spot or energy source that will serve as your foundation for the coming years. So much the better if it’s more than halfway finished and will be ready for full use by the end of summer or early fall. Remember my promises: Life has been and will continue to be conspiring to get you settled in your ideal home base, supercharge your relationships with your closest allies, and connect you with the resources that will fuel your long-term quest.

SAGITTARIUS [November 22–December 21] In the Middle Ages, people became adults when they turned seven years old. These days, the threshold is much later. I’m happy about that. In my view, the longer you can hold on to your playful irreverence and innocent lust for life, the better. Still, there is value in taking on the kinds of responsibilities that help you express yourself with grace and power. So I don’t mean to rush you, but it might be time to take a step toward being on the verge of tiptoeing to the brink of preparing to accept more adulthood into your heart. You could make the process less harrowing by hanging out with those rare wise guys and wise girrrls who have survived the transition to greater maturity and a higher degree of professionalism with their youthful flair more or less intact.

CAPRICORN [December 22–January 19] I don’t care what you feel this week, as long as you don’t feel nothing. Get inflamed with hunger or justice or sadness or beauty or love, but don’t submit to apathy. Don’t let yourself be shunted into numbness. You can’t afford to be cut off from the source of your secret self, even if it means having to feel like hell for a while. And the odd thing is that if you’re willing to go through hell, you won’t have to go through hell. So to hell with your poker face and neutrality and dispassionate stance. Be a wild thing, not a mild thing.

AQUARIUS [January 20–February 18] Most modern critics regard The Iliad as a foundation stone of Western literature. In my opinion, though, it’s just a tale of macho haters who are inflamed with pride and can’t stop killing each other. I share the perspective of poet Diane di Prima, who once had a dream in which the Iliad was cast as gangsta rap. Now please adopt the style of our critique for use in your own life, Aquarius. What supposedly noble or important situation is actually pretty trivial or clichéd? It’s time for you to tell the truth about the hype.

PISCES [February 19–March 20] “May you live in interesting times” is actually a droll curse meant to be heaped upon an enemy. “Interesting” implies rapid change and constant adjustment. What’s preferable is to live during a boring era when stability reigns. But I reject that line of thought. I celebrate the fact that we’re embroiled in interesting times. I proclaim our struggles to navigate the sharp turns to be a jubilee of the first degree. May we be up to the task of bringing heaven down to earth. Now get out there, Pisces, and enjoy the hell out of the epic and entertaining drama we’re stewarding. This is your time to be a leader and a luminary.

Homework: Write a parable or fairy tale about what your life has been like so far in 2009.


The Melvins

With half their lineup tour-dogging behind the new Big Business LP, New York gets a rare glimpse of Melvins Classic, returning to play 1993’s Houdini in its entirety. Not necessarily their most influential or even best album, Houdini is undoubtedly their most iconic—what with the major label backing, Beavis & Butt-Head ribbing, and Cobain producer credit. Opening the show will be the Melvins again, this time with embryo-era drummer Mike Dillard, revisiting their sloppy days in 1983 as a fresh-faced hardcore band.

Fri., May 15, 6:30 p.m., 2009


Goldfrapp’s Seventh Tree

Sooner or later the ’90s had to return, and not fast enough for Alison Goldfrapp and Will Gregory. Their fourth album, Seventh Tree, perfects the boutique electronica in which they’ve specialized since 2000; if silvery female mumbles atop beds of keyboards is your thing, then you can put away that Sneaker Pimps record. The rest of us can mumble about the dubious pleasure of Goldfrapp’s taxidermy, especially when the likes of Roisin Murphy have shaken off embalmment and realized that “pretty” oxidizes into “fusty” when you’re listening with your ears instead of your feet.

This whole thing sounds great, though: rue, clenched fists, and closed eyes mixed at an arena pitch. “Cologne Cerrone and Houdini” isn’t a Green Gartside number, but the best example of what Goldfrapp almost gets away with, thanks to rain-cloud synth strings and the almost creepy way in which Alison seems to coo with nary a wrinkle showing around the cheeks. “Eat Yourself” digests the pinched melancholy of Portishead circa 1995, complete with pseudo vinyl-scratch sound effects. But any one of these tracks could stand the more arresting sonic finery of 2006’s “Ride on a White Horse,” whose insistent hook compensated for an anonymity the duo was too cool to challenge.

It’s tempting to think that this regressive product might be transgressive—while Kylie, Britney, and Roisin twist themselves into ever more beguiling aural contortions, here’s Alison and Will making like Everything But the Girl in 1996. But the tunes aren’t there, and neither is Alison: She’s committed to a kind of performative absentee balloting, wherein we note her name on the credits but wonder what—who—she is. The next Gallup poll must find out what constituency she represents.


Love, the Magician

The conjurer Harry Houdini once wrote that “what the eyes see and the ears hear, the mind believes.” Houdini’s pronouncement on sleight of hand applies equally to affairs of the heart—an irony not lost on playwright Rinne Groff, whose play Orange Lemon Egg Canary concerns illusions theatrical and romantic. The play begins with a typical magic act. Great (Steve Cuiffo, an actor and magician sometimes billed as the Amazing Russello) strolls among the audience, offering card tricks. With hair as rumpled as his blue tuxedo shirt, Great eventually assumes center stage and launches a well-rehearsed line of patter. “Thanks for coming tonight,” he tells us. “I don’t know what I would have done without you. . . . You do most of the work, you see. That’s my trick; that’s the trick.”

Great may trick us—or, rather, he makes us trick ourselves—but he’s also susceptible to deception. Lulled by flattery, great sex, and self-importance, he takes a shine to gamine waitress Trilby (Aubrey Dollar) and promises to teach her magic. He never credits her own desires and motives, never imagines this Trilby may not need a Svengali. Great also underestimates his former partner China (Laura Kai Chen), now devising a show of her own. Nor can he sense Henrietta, once his grandfather’s assistant, a feather-clad presence who haunts the stage’s margins. Henrietta offers a particularly acerbic take on the magician’s appeal: “Everybody loves to be fooled. Everybody loves to be cheated and misled.”

Of course, if Groff and director Michael Sexton are doing the fooling, there’s much to love. In past works, Groff has thrust herself into other worlds and languages—mathematics, mechanics, air traffic controlling—and she seizes upon the rituals and jargon of magicianship with equal zeal. Yet she never lets her passion for the technical run away with her. She and Sexton ground the heady ideas and elaborate metaphor in the messy world of human emotion, offering a play that makes one think and feel—a hell of a trick.


Houdini and Holmes Creator Debate Fairies, Ghosts, Miracles

Harry Houdini, the best in the world at escaping from coffins, declared in 1926 that there was no such thing as an
afterlife. His disinterest in the spiritual realm enraged many of his fans—particularly his close friend Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of Sherlock Holmes and a firm believer in ghosts. In one of the most publicized intellectual debates of the time, the two argued over the skills of a medium named Margery by staging séances and bickering over “real-life” photos of fairies.

Without adding much plot, Gabriel Brownstein’s The Man From Beyond chronicles this celebrity feud through the eyes of a young, breathless reporter named Molly. She follows the two men wherever they go with the hope that she’ll eventually escape her usual beat: writing about lipstick. She does, and soon exudes the confidence of a sultry movie star—she’s glamorous, pissed off, and usually smoking. Both Conan Doyle and Houdini confide in her, revealing details about Margery, the famous psychic, who oozes goo from her naked body while screaming in the voices of dead people.

As he observes the channeling process, Conan Doyle, unlike his most famous character, has no interest in getting to the bottom of the mystery. He’s developed, in his late age, the “credulousness of a five-year-old boy.” These scenes of spiritual contact are slow and poetic, with many floating tables and blobs of slime. In careful prose, Brownstein evenly portrays both the beauty of these bizarre “miracles,” as Conan Doyle calls them, and the intellectual desperation it takes to believe that they’re real.



In the hour and a half I spent at S.L.A.M., I don’t think I saw a single curved line. The cavernous rehearsal/ performance “lab” is like a three-dimensional Mondrian painting: Floor-to-ceiling scaffolds, which serve as souped-up jungle gyms, are juxtaposed with blue squares and yellow rectangles, and flank red and black mats strategically placed to break the falls of dancers who face-plant from perilous heights like timbering trees.

Elizabeth Streb operates on principles of mathematics and physics. In superhero suits (also primary-colored), her dancers call—or, more accurately, shout like drill sergeants—upon laws of Newton and Houdini, walking up walls, flying through space, spin-ning, diving, and pitching themselves and each other into angular shapes: capital Xs, Ys,and Ts. In Gauntlet, Streb’s latest tour de force, dancers move gin- gerly among pendulum-swinging cinder blocks, eliciting cries of terror and delight from the audience. Fearless, industrious, and strong, these dancers embody all we wish we could be.


Fringe NYC Gets All Het Up

Before the Fringe went temporarily dark in the blackout, it began with its typical bang of swelter and disarray. Here, a heated account of its first five days.

Friday—3:00 p.m.: Shirtwaist. Air conditioning: absent. The sprightly venue director welcomes us to “the seventh annual New York Fringe Festival, the largest multi-arts festival in North America.”

As most Fringe shows now seek to ride on the pee-stained coattails of Urinetown, many of the entries are musicals. Over the next five days, I will see 12. The first, Ellen K. Anderson’s Shirtwaist, tells of ghosts who continue to haunt the Triangle Shirtwaist Building. The site of a devastating 1911 fire, the building is now owned (and what isn’t?) by NYU. The ghosts speak in ethnic accents and perform popular songs as they harass the living. (Being among the living, I, too, am harassed.) If the heat in the theater is meant to echo the heat of the fire, it is a piece of directorial brilliance. Otherwise, it is unbearable.

9:00 p.m.: One Hit Wonder. Air conditioning: moderate. Midwesterner Jack wins a radio contest and meets British duo Sex Machine. Attired in mesh shirts and buttless pants, they prey on sexually confused Jack. When not simulating intercourse, they also sing (sample lyric: “Put your hands on second base/You know you want to suck my face”). Though they trill, “There’s a party in my pants and you’re invited,” you may wish to tell them you are otherwise engaged.

Saturday—Noon: Lost. Air conditioning: temperate. Lost is my first find of this year’s Fringe. Written by Kirk Wood Bromley and composed by the late Jessica Grace Wing, this children’s musical infuses the tale of the grim Grimms’ Hansel and Gretel with macabre Americana and hipster vernacular. Siblings Hanlon and Gabby lose themselves in the Virginia woods and fall into the velvet-coated clutches of an organ-harvesting mad scientist and his witchy wife Mamba. The songs resolve with terrible prettiness, and the lyrics have Bromley’s signature loquaciousness, as when young Gabby describes Mamba’s style as “hippie baroque Motown.”

2:30 p.m.: Sherlock Holmes and the Secret of Making Whoopee II: The Houdini Incident. Air conditioning: minimal. Sean Cunningham’s shambling farce finds the great detective off cocaine, exercising, and romancing the ladies. But his creator, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, fares worse—suffering a tubercular wife and a murderous widow. Meningitis, leprechauns, and sodomy also feature. Though the cast is willing, the script is mind-numbingly silly. You wish that you, like Houdini, could also escape.

6:45 p.m.: Slut. Air conditioning: none. Since musicals with smutty titles (The Joys of Sex, Debbie Does Dallas) have proved Fringe successes in years past, that Slut sold out its run should occasion little surprise, though some sorrow. A lavishly uninspired roundelay of het coupling, the show features lines such as “Well slap my ass with an egg salad sandwich” and a ship christened the H.M.S. Donkeyballs.

Sunday—Noon: Scalpel. Air conditioning: Where are you? D’Arcy Drollinger’s oddly humorless musical concerns ladies who lunch (sample lyric: “I feel so upset/Hand me another Percocet”) transmuted into zombie assassins by their plastic surgeon. Star Candis Cayne’s breasts give a buoyant performance.

2:30 p.m.: Escape From Pterodactyl Island. Air conditioning: Come back, all is forgiven! If the Bush-Blair alliance was not indication, Pterodactyl provides more proof that the British are prone to bad judgments. Lauded in England, this unfunny pastiche does contain some clever rhymes, but it suffers a peculiar stolidity and a troubling antifeminist subtext. I found myself thinking a thought never before formed at Wings Theater: “This show should really be more gay.”

6:00 p.m.: Pinafore! Air conditioning: Should have brought extra panties. Happily, director Mark Savage’s powder-pink take on the operetta has gayness to spare. Whether Savage’s writing or the cast’s abs are tighter is an utter toss-up. Shipshape work by female impersonator R. Christofer Sands and Debra Lane as fag hag Bitter Butterball. Dare we hope for The Pansies of Penzance?

Monday—3:00 p.m.: Buddy Cianci: The Musical. Air conditioning: lackluster. A cabal of Brown alums craft this true-crime tale of notorious Providence mayor Buddy Cianci, six times elected, twice felony convicted. Though the dialogue tends toward second-rate Damon Runyon, the songs are droll (sample lyric: “Every politician’s a crook, I’m betting/At least with Buddy, I know what I’m getting”). As Buddy, David Stern gives a performance as cheerfully unctuous as his toupee, and director Dean Strober keeps the action running as smoothly as the Democratic machine.

Tuesday—3:00 p.m.: The Trapped Family Singers. Air conditioning: AWOL. Despite an anarchic beginning, in which an irate audience plant points a gun at the stage manager and forces him to croon a few numbers, this show proves hopelessly square. Trapped features numerous scenarios in which singing is compulsory; the humor feels similarly forced. How a song with the lyrics “Hear the music/Revere the music/We’re the music” made it past the Insufferable Police is anyone’s guess. (Fun, not irrelevant fact: The lyricist co-wrote all the Care Bears books.)

7:30 p.m.: The Irreplaceable Commodity. Air conditioning: none. The irreplaceable commodity is not, as the script suggests, happiness, but the two hours of my life which have been consumed in suffering this tale of singing MBAs.

11:00 p.m.: Tri-Sci-Fi: A Chillogy. Air conditioning: Pleasant. Edmund Cionek’s authentically bizarre musical features pieces about Thoreau’s alien abduction, Ed Wood’s angora fetish, and space travel. Shrewdly arranged and well sung, the show ends with a rousing ode to alien life forms. “We’ll walk hand in hand,” sang the cast, “If they have hands!” The crowd, who did have hands—two each, at least—used them to applaud.

More Fringe Festival Coverage:

Meanwhile, on the Fringe Festival’s Nonmusical Stages . . .

Fringe Solo Shows