Per its usual schedule, this year’s 18th annual New York International Fringe Festival (a.k.a. FringeNYC) opens today and runs for two weeks, showcasing works of art from multiple disciplines in more than 20 Manhattan locations. Tonight’s opening party takes place at the music venue the Cutting Room with DJs and dancing. The festival lineup as a whole promises to continue in the unconventional vein of such past selections as Urinetown and Charlie Victor Romeo. Unlike the typical fringe festival, FringeNYC curates its selections through a jury-based process—a sharp distinction from the open-armed, occasionally lottery-like systems employed elsewhere. The result is a standard of quality that, though stringent in the world of amateur theater, might be necessary for a city as competitive as New York.

Thu., Aug. 7, 10 p.m., 2014

Datebook Events Listings Living NYC ARCHIVES VOICE CHOICES ARCHIVES Where To


The numbers from this year’s FringeNYC are in, and they’re daunting: 185 shows from 13 countries and 17 U.S. states playing at 20 venues over 17 days. As you are just one person, it would be next to impossible to see every single drama, comedy, dance performance, puppet show, clown act, and work of children’s theater (though, you could certainly try, with a $500 unlimited ticket called “the Lunatic Pass”). As past years have proven, the fest can be most thrilling when you find a show or performer that goes on to great acclaim (Urinetown and Mindy Kaling in Matt & Ben are two fine examples). Will it be Rubble by Emmy-winning Simpsons writer Mike Reiss? Brandon Ogborn’s hit from Chicago, The Tomkat Project? The Gloria Steinem–approved show SLUT? There’s only one way to find out.

Fri., Aug. 9, noon, 2013

Datebook Events Listings VOICE CHOICES ARCHIVES Where To


The middle stretches of the summer are typically a theatrical dead zone, but the New York International Fringe Festival sees to it that we don’t have to wait it out till fall for some exciting stagecraft. This year’s lineup, the 15th annual, brings the usual mix of of-the-moment musical parodies (Jersey Shoresical: A Frickin’ Rock Opera and The Legend of Julie-Taymor, or the Musical That Killed Everybody!), solo confessionals (four-time National Monologue Champion Katie Northlich in The Panic Diaries), twisted fairy tales (Mind the Gap’s The Average-Sized Mermaid), and stuff about zombies (Zombie Wedding). And now that the Fringe provides a handy search function by interest and ethnicity on their website, the 200-odd shows are easier than ever to navigate.

Aug. 12-28, 2011


Summer Guide: Lisa D’Amour’s Motor City Bayou

If playwright Lisa D’Amour didn’t seem such a sane and affable woman, you’d be tempted to diagnose her with schizophrenia. What other theater artist manages such a maniacally varied career? Even while D’Amour prepares for the fall opening of her first Broadway show, Detroit, she and her longtime collaborator, director Katie Pearl, are readying an enormous art installation, How to Build a Forest, which will premiere at the Kitchen on June 17. She’s also rehearsing a chamber opera, making a piece for a botanical garden, and honing a commission for Chicago’s Steppenwolf, which premiered Detroit last year.

“It sort of dawned on me recently that there aren’t that many people like me,” D’Amour says over brunch at a Williamsburg taqueria. “It can be a little crazy-making. This year, I have the biggest commercial thing I’ve ever had in my life and maybe the biggest project I’ve ever worked on with Katie.”

Detroit, recently named a finalist for the 2011 Pulitzer Prize, stands as the most conventional play D’Amour has yet produced. A naturalistic drama for five characters, it takes place in the backyards of adjoining suburban houses and concerns two couples in financial free fall. On the surface, it has perilously little in common with her previous plays, deliciously baroque pieces of magical realism such as Red Death and 16 Spells to Charm the Beast. Nor does it resemble her collaborations with Pearl, the last of which, Terrible Things, involved parallel universes and thousands of marshmallows.

D’Amour isn’t sure how she chanced on such a seemingly normal script. “It was one of these plays that kind of came out whole,” she says. But even in Detroit, her delicately cracked sensibilities permeate the familiar. Characters describe fantastical dreams, a barbecue turns dangerously antic, streets have names such as Feather Boulevard and Ultraviolet Lane. “And if you look at the language, it’s super quirky,” she says. “It has its own poetics.”

Though most writers would leap at the chance for fame—not to mention solvency—D’Amour initially resisted a Broadway move. “I don’t identify myself as mainstream Broadway,” she says. “I worried it would feel like clothes that didn’t fit right.” But colleagues at Steppenwolf, including the play’s director, Austin Pendleton, stepped in to “calm me down” and convince her.

She took far less convincing to begin work on How to Build a Forest, a piece inspired by Hurricane Katrina’s effect on her family’s property, called L’Esperance, where, in less than an hour, winds shattered, uprooted, and snapped more than 100 trees. How to Build a Forest serves as a kind of installation-art solace, a way to re-create those lost woods—though out of some very unnatural materials.

Every day, for eight hours, D’Amour, Pearl, New Orleans artist Shawn Hall, and a crew will assemble and then disassemble 100 fabric trees. “They’re mostly plastic,” says D’Amour. “There’s a lot of polyester—and they’re toxic because everything in the theater has to be fireproofed.” Audiences can leave and return at any time—observing passively, carrying out assigned tasks, or taking self-guided tours through the forest and outside to its Chelsea environs.

In fact, environment is the thing that D’Amour believes joins together her highly disparate oeuvre, even environments as dissimilar as Detroit suburb and Louisiana bayou. “When I look to the work,” she says, “the connection is place and landscape—that’s a constant.”

‘How to Build a Forest,’ June 17 to June 26, the Kitchen, 512 West 19th Street,

Summer Theater Picks

The Comic Book Theater Festival

Performances begin June 2

This summer, the Brick Theater offers several strip shows—but not the kind that will irk the vice squad. Yes, the Comic Theater Festival features graphic plays, those drawn from comics and zines. Offerings include Action Philosophers on Stage!, which stars Nietzsche as “the original übermensch”; Batz, an indie theater-–inspired reworking of Batman; The Deep, a dance theater piece spurred by ’70s French adventure comics; and Spaceship Alexandria, which concerns a floating library. The Brick, 575 Metropolitan Avenue, Williamsburg,


Performances begin June 5

Constants of summer in the city: sweat, melting asphalt, spurting hydrants, that Mister Softee jingle, and, courtesy of Clubbed Thumb, a slurry of provocative new plays. At this year’s Summerworks, which has moved from the sweltering Ohio to the deliciously air-conditioned Here Arts Center, Tanya Saracho conjures hoodoo and voodoo in Enfrascada; Kristin Newbom and W. David Hancock reveal searing sibling rivalry in Our Lot; and Jason Grote serves a sizzling helping of Civilization (All You Can Eat), which features a giant pig. Here Arts Center, 145 Sixth Avenue,

Shakespeare in the Park

Performances begin June 6

What’s your problem? Well, Shakespeare in the Park has a couple of them: Measure for Measure and All’s Well That Ends Well. Based on the success of last summer’s season, the Public Theater’s plein-air program will run these problem plays in repertory. The first concerns a duke with designs on a nun, the second a commoner who yearns for a count. The cast for these class acts includes Annie Parisse, Danai Gurira, Andre Holland, and John Cullum. Delacorte Theater, Central Park,

‘Second Stage Theatre Uptown’

Performances begin June 7

It’s a family affair at Second Stage Uptown this summer—but don’t bring the kids. In Michael Mitnick’s Sex Lives of Our Parents, about-to-be-married Virginia begins to receive visions of her mother’s erotic past, to say nothing of some very explicit Polaroids. Meanwhile, Anna Kerrigan’s The Talls, set in ’70s Oakland, concerns the exceptionally statuesque Clarke family—even the women are over six feet. Dramatic heights ensue when the eldest daughter develops a yen for her father’s diminutive campaign manager. McGinn-Cazale Theatre, 2162 Broadway,

‘Ice Factory’

Performances begin June 22

While the state of Ohio remains securely poised between Indiana and Pennsylvania, the Ohio Theatre has recently relocated from the center of Soho to the far frontier of the West Village. But while Ohio West is being readied, artistic director Robert Lyons will host his annual Ice Factory fest at the downtown multimedia space 3LD. Signing up for this interim season are director Emma Griffin, writer Ruth Margraff, Aztec Economy, Untitled Theater Company #61, and others. 3LD, 80 Greenwich Street,

Lincoln Center Festival

Performances begin July 5

Though Lincoln Center stands all the way across town from the United Nations, it aspires to a similarly worldwide feel during its annual summer festival. This year’s participants include Ireland (Druid Theater Company’s production of Sean O’Casey’s The Silver Tassie); France (Peter Brook’s version of The Magic Flute); Japan (Yukio Mishima’s The Temple of the Golden Pavilion); and England, whose Royal Shakespeare Company brings five from the bard to the Park Avenue Armory. Various locations,


Performances begin July 5

If summer’s sun and fun just don’t thrill you, consider descending deep into the bowels of Atlantic Stage 2 for some gloomier fare. Rape, suicide, murder, insanity—the Potomac Theatre Project has yet to meet a sinister subject it doesn’t adore. This summer’s lineup is no exception—it includes Neal Bell’s homicidal Spatter Pattern (Or, How I Got Away With It); Steve Dykes’s grim Territories; and Howard Barker’s Victory, which stars Jan Maxwell as a widow searching for her husband’s body. Atlantic Stage 2, 330 West 16th Street,

The Fringe Festival

Performances begin August 12

New York is no stranger to fringe groups—anarchists, extremists, sects, cults, freegans, the Rent Is Too Damn High Party. But the New York International Fringe Festival, in its 15th year, now seems a very regular endeavor, consistently providing space and support for some 200 dance and theater shows. This year, local artists perform alongside productions from Sydney, Bucharest, and Tel Aviv. So join 75,000 other audience members as they dip into this regular celebration of the theatrical periphery. Various locations,



Though our city’s annual FringeNYC will soon turn 14, it shows relatively few signs of adolescent angst: no slammed doors, no talkback at the dinner table, only a smidgen of inappropriate eye makeup. But expect plenty of raging hormones when this celebration of low budgets and high ambitions begins August 13. Eighteen theaters will host more than 200 dramas, comedies, solo shows, puppet plays, and unclassifiable oddities, hailing from as near as next door and as far-flung as Singapore and the Netherlands. This year’s selections run the gamut from “A” (AK-47 Sing-Along) to “Z” (well, “W,” anyway, Wanton Displays of Affection). Get your teenage kicks through August 29.

Aug. 13-29, 2010



Modern-dance choreographer and former punk-rock singer Jody Oberfelder has spent the past 20 years perfecting her creative, witty dances, for which she was named Outstanding Choreographer at last year’s FringeNYC Festival. In honor of her 20th anniversary, the Jody Oberfelder Dance Projects premieres Heads or Tales, a wild retrospective comprised of excerpts from her many highly praised, colorful works. Joining her company of eight dancers will be more than 35 guest performers, dancing, singing, or appearing in one of her films. The entertaining evening includes everything from Head First, her 1986 crash-helmet piece, to the fantastical 2002 The Story Thus Far, based on fairy tales by the Brothers Grimm.

March 11-13, 2010


A Venture Through The 12th Annual New York Fringe Fest

On the first day, in the first hour of the 12th-annual New York International Fringe Festival, an actress lay splayed on a hospital bed, murmuring: “Happy? What do I have to be happy about?”

In the past several years, I’ve often asked myself that same question at the Fringe. The August heat, the cramped venues, the uninspired offerings didn’t encourage joy. Even as house managers lauded the FringeNYC as “the largest multi-arts festival in North America,” I would wish myself away to the Fringes of Edinburgh, Dublin, and various Canadian locales—festivals that attract a better quality of show. I would also find myself missing the earlier years of the Fringe, when the venues all clustered on the Lower East Side, which lent the Fringe a feeling of community and camaraderie now lacking.

But as the bed-bound actress Debora Weston, playing the title character in See How Beautiful I Am: The Return of Jackie Susann, lolled and kvetched, I actually felt rather cheerful. I’d just returned from traveling in India—dodging food-borne illnesses and some very angry monkeys. Suddenly, spending five days sitting quietly in the air-conditioned dark, with Western-style toilets nearby, seemed an undreamed-of luxury. Yet despite my newfound equanimity, five days of furious Fringing resulted in a typically so-so experience: several terrible pieces, lots of middling ones, and a few delights.

See How Beautiful I Am retreads, in high heels, the Jacqueline Susann story. While suffering from terminal cancer, Susann graciously takes time to recount her career and perform the occasional song and dance. Paul Minx’s script has its share of bon mots—”I used to worry about my mascara dripping; now, it’s the whole face”—but doesn’t offer any new reading of the famed author. In Jessica Dickey’s terribly sincere The Amish Project, mascara isn’t a concern since Dickey performs without makeup, bonnet-clad. She’s based the piece on the 2006 Amish-schoolhouse shooting, but combines the case facts with invented characters and monologues, out of a desire “to remain sensitive to the real people who were affected by the shooting while giving myself license to write an unflinching play.”

The pleasantly insensitive China—The Whole Enchilada doesn’t worry about ethical niceties. This musical opens with a white guy decked out in Tang Dynasty regalia, trading his r‘s for l‘s. He’s soon joined by a castmate sporting buckteeth and a coolie hat. Scripted by Mark Brown, who recently scored a modest hit with his adaptation of Around the World in 80 Days at the Irish Rep, China offers a breakneck take on 4,000 years of Chinese history, very much in the manner of the Reduced Shakespeare Company. Deliciously silly, it’s a pupu platter of what the Fringe often does well: amusing, topical, low-budget musical comedy.

Of course, that formula doesn’t always guarantee success, as evinced by Perez Hilton Saves the Universe (or at least the greater Los Angeles area). Alas, the show doesn’t have nearly enough of the cruelty and lunacy of the website on which it’s based. A more genial work, The Johnny, also falls flat. It centers on the attractive, blond villain of teen movies like The Karate Kid. It might have played better had the lyrics risen above such declarations as “You can’t fall in love and play sports.”

Falling in love—nice, Christian, boy-girl love—is the subject of The Gay No More Telethon, a musical with a limp book, but some bang-up songs and performances, including Corey Glover as a preacher and David Abeles and Gerti Lee James as a formerly gay country-and-western duo who sing a very unconvincing chorus of “There’s Nothing Better Than Heterosexual Love.” Heterosexual love is but one thing mercilessly parodied in Gem!, based on the cartoon I once adored. Amanda Allan’s script proves more brainless than necessary, but Angela Harner’s costumes and David Lee’s direction enliven the proceedings.

The deluxe environs of the Deluxe Spiegeltent at the South Street Seaport improved several lackluster cabaret performances. The Home for Wayward Girls and Fallen Women features some fine burlesque, like Little Brooklyn’s Pierrot act and Tigger’s sacrilegious priest number. But 6 p.m. is far too early to watch a corpulent man stuff dollars into a dancer’s gyrating brassiere. Even so, some confident gyrations might have improved Marco Frezza’s magic show, Strange Attractor. Frezza characterizes himself as an alien desperate to save Earth from destruction, but even his status as an ET can’t entirely excuse his appalling stage presence—call it stage absence. His nifty tricks are eclipsed by his painful unease.

Sailor Man concentrates on a different type of pain. A collaboration among several Yale graduates, the piece distills the Popeye cartoons into an excuse for uproarious and bloody stage combat. Before the show, a participant’s mother described it to a friend, aptly, as a “violent Sesame Street.” Another pleasantly odd, though less gory, turn: johnpaulgeorgeringo, in which Dave Jay stars as all four members of the Beatles, responding to audience questions with a combination of cleverness and thorough research. Jay somewhat undercuts the event by promoting his own music—a pop varietal known as J’Blammo—and playing it.

Music also featured rather inexplicably in Tiny Feats of Cowardice, a cabaret-cum- confessional by New Georges founder Susan Bernfield, in which she details her fears: airplanes, malaria, toasters, violin teachers, cows, and (more problematically) performing in front of an audience. It’s unclear why Bernfield half sings the script—the sung bits don’t differ much from the spoken—or why she required a three-man backing band, but it’s an affecting piece. As is Too Much Memory, though it seems misplaced at the Fringe: Written by Keith Reddin and Meg Gibson and nicely performed by an estimable cast (Laura Heisler, Louis Cancelmi, Martin Moran, etc.), this smart, colloquial “adaptation of an adaptation of a retranslation” of Antigone would seem a likely Off-Broadway candidate.

As I’m still attempting some post-vacation equanimity, the less said about Heaven Forbid(s)!, Choose Your Own Play, and the unspeakably twee Velvet Scratch—Voyage of No Return, the better. Apparently the Fringe has some fine shows I haven’t seen—other Voice reviewers have enjoyed The Alice Complex, Julius Caesar, and The Grecian Formula. But I’d just as soon rest up and steel myself for next year’s fest. After five Fringe-filled days, I’m tempted to echo Jacqueline Susann’s dying words: “Let’s get the hell out of here, doll.”



An argument: Those who scoff at opera as a boring or stale genre need to see two things on completely opposite ends
of the operatic spectrum: a YouTube video of Juan Diego Flórez performing a thrilling string of high C’s in his
history-making encore at the Met this spring; and Bash’d: A Gay Rap Opera, the story of a couple whose relationship takes a beating when one of them is gay-bashed. A little musical that got its start at last year’s New York International Fringe Festival, Bash’d features recitative delivered in rhymed and metered hip-hop flow, taking on homophobia in the rap industry and simultaneously extending the limits of opera’s capabilities. Still care to argue?

Fridays, 7:30 & 10 p.m.; Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Mondays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 8 p.m., 2008



By the looks of it, Naomi Campbell approved of her Rick Gradone ’do—at least we didn’t hear of any scissor-throwing spat between the high-maintenance supermodel and her hairdresser. But tantrum or not, we’re sure that Gradone will have something to say about her and the slew of other celebs whose tresses he’s chopped up in his solo show, Semi-Permanent. Gradone’s behind-the-salon-scene tell-all won the prize for Outstanding Solo Show at the 2007 New York International Fringe Festival. The hair-master’s tale isn’t all bitchy story-telling, either: Gradone also explains how he had wished to be a star and ended up serving them. He’ll even treat one member of his audience like one: The lucky spectator chosen by Gradone will receive a free post-show haircut.

Sun., March 9, 8 p.m., 2008


Sparrow, Size Small

Theaters love musicals with small casts: They save by paying fewer actors and make money in the ticket sales that musicals usually draw. I therefore have little doubt that Piaf: Love Conquers All will go on to bigger, brighter venues—after starting in the New York Fringe Festival, it’s already been invited to this FringeNYC Encore Series run. Nevertheless, the production lacks a certain je ne sais quoi.

Naomi Emmerson, who plays Piaf, possesses a remarkable voice that manages to tremble quite closely to Paris’s “Little Sparrow.” Despite this, and even with Emmerson’s flawless French, the songs and scenes that emerge between her and Stephanie Layton—who provides accompaniment and plays supporting roles—feel flat. Piaf’s tragic life (born destitute, pregnant at 19, only true love killed in a plane crash, herself dead at 47 due to drug addiction) create the rich dramatic ingredients for a fine French meal. Whipping up such tragedy, though not easy, can be done. And has been—Marion Cotillard in the 2007 film La Vie en Rose is riveting. Piaf: Love Conquers All remains faithful to the facts of the singer’s life, but ultimately doesn’t delve deeper; the facts feel Wikipedia-esque and the comic timing rather staccato. Though the “Little Sparrow” in Piaf flies, she does not soar to nouveau heights.