Hy on the Fringe:

2008 New York International Fringe Festival Reviews

Hy Bender


Covering the 12th Annual FringeNYC, Which Ran August 8-24,

And the FringeNYC Encore Series Running Aug. 28-Sept. 16

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This Page Was Most Recently Updated: Thursday, October 9th 2008


Copyright © 2008 Hy Bender

Email: hy@hyreviews.com


Please click the links below to jump directly to what you're after:

Introduction to FringeNYC

Best Video Promos & Sneak Peeks

Notable FringeNYC Comedy Shows

Festival News & Buzz

Show Rankings

Show Reviews

Shows That Sold Out Performances

FringeNYC 2008 Award Winners

FringeNYC 2008 Encore Series

Useful FringeNYC Links

Fast Food Recommendations

Next Annual FringeNYC


FringeNYC 2007 coverage

FringeNYC 2006 coverage

FringeNYC 2005 coverage

Hy on Theatre

Hy on Theatre Discounts

Great Inexpensive Live Comedy

Comedy Club Discounts


Other Sites:




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Introduction to FringeNYC


From relatively humble beginnings, the New York International Fringe Festival has grown to become a major force in New York theatre...and an absolutely wonderful event for anyone who loves vibrant live shows.


The largest multi-arts festival in North America, this 12th annual FringeNYC offered 201 productions running from August 8th through August 24th. The festival's shows played in 19 Lower Manhattan venues, totaling over 1,300 performances; and they attracted more than 75,000 people.


Hy Bender

A scene from Gratuitous Novelty, one of the 201 shows at this year's FringeNYC

Why get excited about the Fringe? Because unlike so many commercial productions tailored to inoffensively appeal to mass audiences, Fringe shows tend to be quirky, individual, and passionate. Thanks to the efforts of Producing Artistic Director Elena K. Holy, Administrative Director Shelley Burch, and the other wonderful Fringe staffers and volunteers, the festival virtually shimmers with fresh artistic approaches, a wide range of voices and styles, high energy, and delightful surprises.


While Fringe productions are both low-budget and inexpensive to see ($15 per ticket—and even less if you buy in bulk), the best of them are as fine and memorable as the priciest play. And they're likely to take you to places that no show in midtown ever will. (This was epitomized by a teen visiting the Fringe a few years ago who told wealthy parents trying to lure her uptown, "But I don't want to see a show on Broadway. I want to see something cool.")


Hy Bender

A scene from Becoming Britney, a pop star musical

There's also more to the Fringe experience than what's being offered on stage. The festival gives you the opportunity to enjoy the people it attracts—which includes some of the most enthusiastic theatre-goers in New York. Talk to people standing in line, chat with the venue directors and volunteers, engage with the hundreds of artists handing out cards to plug their shows—and try to be open to everyone. You may well make some lifelong friends.


Of course, the untamed nature of Fringe shows means they're not for every taste...and in some cases, not for any taste. One of the most exciting aspects of the Fringe is that it positively encourages productions to take huge risks—which inevitably results in some jaw-dropping failures.


A memorable example is a late-night Fringe play I attended with a composer and an actress a few years ago. Although the show lasted only an hour, it felt like days...and as soon as we left the theatre, the actress muttered her opinion dazedly in one succinct phrase: "I wanted to kill myself." She repeated this assessment—"I wanted to kill myself"—over and over for the next two blocks, until we finally managed to calm her down. And this production wasn't even the worst at that year's festival...I personally witnessed three others even more mind-wrecking.


On some level, there's a perverse thrill in seeing a show so bad that you can't believe your eyes. But more to the point, falling prey to one of these dark beasts makes you more fully appreciate the productions that are truly great—that accept the Fringe's challenge to take huge risks with brilliance and actually succeed beyond all expectations.


It's the latter that make the festival most worthwhile. And there's a real joy to hunting for these treasures, finding them...and thoroughly enjoying them.


Starting August 8th, the hunt was on...


I've developed a habit of catching lots of FringeNYC shows—75 in 2002, 77 in 2003, 66 in 2004, 58 in 2005, 65 in 2006, 66 in 2007—and this year, 71. I've rated and ranked every show seen, providing you with an at-a-glance guide to what's worth catching and what you might consider avoiding. I'll also, slowly but steadily, be writing reviews of all these shows over the coming weeks.


Of course, there are a number of other sources of reviews besides this Web site. For example, you can find smart (albeit limited) coverage of FringeNYC via The New York Times, which can be read online at www.nytimes.com.


In addition, there's a comprehensive collection of FringeNYC reviews available via nytheatre.com. (You can also find an extensive collection of previews by clicking here.) Spearheaded by the site's founder, Martin Denton, this is an invaluable resource for learning about every single Fringe production.


And joining the "we're reviewing every damn show" ranks this year is Time Out New York, NYC's invaluable guide to—well, pretty much everything. To read TONY's coverage, please click here.


The only downside is that nytheatre.com employed a squad of 70 people to cover all the shows, and TONY used a small army of 140 writers. That can make it hard to get a fix on the tastes of any one reviewer and figure out whether they jibe with your own.


If you read what follows, though, you'll quickly get a sense of my tastes, which is likely to help you in judging my comments about any particular show. (For example, if you discover that you love everything I dislike and can't stand everything I recommend, that still means I'll be providing you with helpful guidance—simply believe the opposite of everything I say...)


Hope you find this site useful; that you thoroughly enjoyed the festival; and that you also enjoy the Encore Series.


Warmest regards,


Hy Bender


Email: hy@hyreviews.com

Book Proposal Site: BookProposal.net

Screenplay Analysis Site: HyOnYourScript.com

Comedy/Theatre/TV/Short Film Site: www.HyReviews.com


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Best FringeNYC 2008 Video Promos & Sneak Peeks

Usher: "Twelve Hours"

Carl and Shelly, Best Friends Forever

Nightlife Jesus

Kansas City or Along the Way: "Lullaby" (audio only)

The Complete Performer

Becoming Britney

The Sound of One Hanna Clapping: "Ode to Britney" (audio only)

The Refugee Girls Revue

The Home for Wayward Girls and Fallen Women

Shots: A Love Story

Kansas City or Along the Way: "Hammer" (audio only)


Operation Adelmo

Oatmeal and a Cigarette

The Dershowitz Protocol


Kansas City or Along the Way: "Adelaide Hall" (audio only)

Dreadful Penny's Exquisite Horrors

Usher: "I Might Have Taken You Dancing"


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Notable FringeNYC Comedy Shows

If you visit this site during the rest of the year, you're probably a fan of New York City comedy. Therefore, please be aware there were lots of funny shows at the Fringe. They included the following, most of which are by stellar members of NYC's comedy community:



Robin Gelfenbein in My Salvation Has a First Name, and Allen Warnock & Andrea Alton in Carl & Shelly, BFFs

Love is Dead: A NecRomantic Musical Comedy: From Chicago's famed Annoyance Theatre (which helped train such comedy greats as Jon Favreau and Jeff Garlin) comes this musical about a mortician who loves his work...literally. The show had a successful seven month run in its home town and hopes to impress here as well. The book & lyrics are by James Asmus (who also co-stars) and Andrew Hobgood, and the music is by Julie Nichols. To hear some songs about making out with the dead, please click here. To read my review, please click here. (Please Note: This show's scheduled festival run is over. If performances are added, they'll be reported here.)


The Sound of One Hanna Clapping: Hanna LoPatin has studied at Chicago's Second City and Improv Olympics. That training is evident in this sharp, tight, yet organic one-woman show that mixes hilarious monologues with ever more hilarious songs, generating nonstop laughs. Please stay turned for a full review.


Carl & Shelly, Best Friends Forever: Written & starring Allen Warnock (co-founder of weekly NYC live comedy show The Back Room and member of NYC sketch troupe Freedumb) and Andrea Alton (also a member of NYC sketch troupe Freedumb). For my review, please click here.


Gem!: A Truly Outrageous Parody: This musical parody of the 1980s animated series Jem and the Holograms co-stars Glennis McMurray and Eliza Skinner, the genius duo who ordinarily make up musicals on the spot as I Eat Pandas; and Jeff Hiller (Late Night with Conan O'Brien, MTV's Boiling Points, FUSE's The PA, VH1; comedic horror musicals Silence! and The Children; UCBT-NY Harold team The Scam). For my review, please click here.


My Salvation Has a First Name: A Wienermobile Journey: An autobiographical one-woman show by Robin Gelfenbien, former member of NYC sketch troupe Freedumb, about how she found her way in life as a driver for Oscar Mayer hot dogs. For my review, please click here.


52 Man Pickup: This autobiographical one-woman show by quick-witted and superb NYC stand-up comic Desiree Burch. tells of her raunchy New York adventures in "a high-spirited romp through the city that never sleeps with the same person twice."


The Complete Performer: A quirky and hilarious stand-up comedy parody of NYC small-venue shows from Ted Greenberg, the Emmy Award winning writer for seven seasons of Late Night with David Letterman. For my review, please click here.


PennyBear: Well-reviewed troupe based in Chicago that'll be performing a "best of" show for the festival via "a collection of sketch comedy pieces that more closely resemble very funny short plays."


Untitled Masterpiece: Co-stars Neil Casey (brilliant comedic performer who's a member of world-class NYC improv troupes Death by Roo Roo and Krompf). For my review, please click here.


More Than Pants: Written & performed by Brigid Boyle and Jennifer Subrin, who trained at UCBT-NY and were members of NYC improv troupe Ponyboy. For my review, please click here.


FACE: NYC improv troupe FACE, headed by Duncan Murdoch, that makes up scenes following not only an audience suggestion but the riffs of an instrumental jazz quartet. Is this the best improv troupe in New York? To be honest, not even close; and if you're truly interested in improv comedy, I recommend visiting the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre (307 West 26th Street, off 8th Avenue). That said, FACE is trying to do something different, and that's to be applauded. You can get a feel for the group's approach by clicking here.


All Hail the Great Serpent: Written & performed by darkly oddball NYC sketch troupe Murderfist. This group is not for every taste—including, frankly, mine. But if you like East Village existential gloom packaged as sketch comedy, this might be up your alley. To get a sense, check out Murderfist's tale of an unlikely gay couple done in the style of a silent film by clicking here.


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Festival News & Buzz


You may not have been familiar with this site before the FringeNYC Festival, but it actually runs all year round. Outside of August, HyReviews.com's main focus is comedy. New York City's comedy community is actually as vibrant as that of the Fringe—and most shows are $10, $5,  or free. To read daily updated comedy info, please click here.



Thanks to the FringeNYC 2008 Encore Series, a dozen of the festival's shows were still alive and dazzling audiences through September 16th. I caught all 12 shows in the Encore Series. You can click the following underlined titles to read my reviews of The Boy in the Basement, The Complete Performer, The Fabulous Kane Sisters in Box Office Poison, JohnPaulGeorgeRingo, Krapp 39, Monsters in the Wood, Perez Hilton Saves the Universe, The Redheaded Man, That Dorothy Parker, and There Will Come Soft Rains. The other two shows, Blanche Survives Katrina In a FEMA Trailer Named Desire and See How Beautiful I Am: The Return of Jackie Susann have been rated and ranked, with reviews coming soon.



Please also note that two FringeNYC 2008 shows were extended outside of the Encore Series: The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner and Kansas City or Along the Way. Both shows have been rated and ranked; for a review of Kansas City, please click here. For complete details, please click here.



Sunday, September 24th played host to the traditional closing  party of the festival and announcement of award winners for 2008. For the complete list—along with my usual grousing—please click here.



This year's FringeNYC has been a wonderful and varied one, offering top musicals on such unusual subjects as China and necrophilia; a vibrant adaptation of Shakespeare's Hamlet; six extraordinary one-woman shows on topics ranging from Dorothy Parker to the Amish to the US health care system; a lyrical science fiction  anthology; two frightening and highly compelling dramas based on novellas by Joyce Carol Oates; and much more.

The richness of this year's festival was evident by my making a number of delightful discoveries during even its final weekend. They included The Corn Maiden, a superb white-knuckle drama that (like Zombie) is based  on a novella by Joyce Carol Oates; Keep Your Eyes Open, a comedy performed by a cast of primarily 11-year-old girls that makes a more compelling statement about female empowerment than virtually any other show in the festival; Chandeleirva, in which Cirque de Soleil clown Suzette Araujo is surprisingly effective at mixing slapstick with drama to tell her life story; and Hot Cripple, a superb and heartfelt one-woman show by Hogan Gorman about her experiences with the US health care system, legal system, and government programs for the down-but-not-out. (The latter was especially memorable because a small fire broke out on the second floor of the venue. Gorman had to stop two-thirds into her monologue so we could evacuate the building; and she did so with a wry smile, telling a comforting audience  member "Oh, I've been though a whole lot worse than this." Three fire trucks and 30 minutes later, the fire was out...and Gorman, God bless her, made a quick joke about the Hot in her show's title and then resumed performing as if nothing had happened...)



Among the things I love most about FringeNYC is its support of quality one-person shows. This year started off slowly; for a while, the only noteworthy production of this kind getting buzz was Zombie. But in the final week I had the pleasure of seeing six remarkable one-woman shows. Three of them are discussed below. The fourth is Robin Gelfenbien's My Salvation Has a First Name: A Wienermobile Journey. On Wednesday (8/20), I had the pleasure of finally seeing That Dorothy Parker, written and performed by Carol Lempert, which is chock full of the lines Parker is famous for, as well as some you've probably never heard; and in addition paints a smart, layered portrait of one of literature's most interesting women. And on the festival's final day, I had the privilege of seeing Hot Cripple (discussed directly above).


There were also some extraordinary performances by child actors this year. For example, Gargoyle Garden, a children's musical by Jeff LaGreca and Charlie LaGreca (the brothers behind previous FringeNYC smash hit Minimum Wage), offered numerous catchy tunes sung by 11-year-old stars Patrick Henney (who can keep up with Broadway veterans) and Emily Bordonaro (who won the 2007 WTCAE Performer of the Year Award). And the comedy Keep Your Eyes Open was performed mostly by 11-year-old girls—with the lead, Winnifred Bonjean-Alpart, delivering one of the finest comedic performances of anyone at  the festival.



I wasn't expecting much on Monday (8/18), since a lot of FringeNYC venues were dark, limiting show choices. But it turned out to be one of the best days I've ever had at the festival thanks to three glorious one-woman shows that played back to back:


The Sound of One Hanna Clapping: Hanna LoPatin provides nonstop laughs in a show that manages to be both polished and organic (directed with great skill by Saturday Night Live's Ana Gasteyer), mixing hilarious monologues with even more hilarious songs. For my review, please click here.


The Amish Project: In 2006, a man walked into an Amish schoolhouse intending to rape its little girls. When the police arrive sooner than expected, he shoots the girls, and then himself. From this real-life tragedy, Jessica Dickey imagines the characters involved, and plays each of them—brilliantly. For my review, please click here.


Piccola Cosi: The gorgeous Aja Nisenson demonstrates she can do it all in an autobiographical show about discovering herself in Italy, during which she sings jazz (and a bit of opera), impersonates the colorful people she met with wit and charm, and tells hilarious stories. Review to come shortly.


My favorite four shows continue to be high-energy musical comedy China: The Whole Enchilada, gripping Hamlet adaptation Bound in a Nutshell, Love is Dead: A NecRomantic Musical Comedy, and amazing live cartoon Sailor Man.


Following those picks, however, are now all three of Monday's wondrous one-woman shows.



This News & Buzz section provides show recommendations I hear from reliable sources, FringeNYC news, and various tips to make your time at the festival as much fun as possible.


For the best video sneak peeks at festival shows, please see the section directly above, or click here.


For a list of notable funny shows, most of which are from top talent in the NYC comedy community, please click here.


To jump to a list of the FringeNYC 2008 shows I've seen from beginning to end, rated and ranked in rough order of preference, please click here.


To read reviews of shows I've seen, please click here.


For a list of shows that have sold out one or more performances via advance sales, please click here.


And to learn about great places to grab food in the neighborhoods that host the shows, please click here.


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Show Rankings


The following are the 71 FringeNYC 2008 shows I've seen. They're listed in rough order of personal preference, and assigned one to four stars using the following rating system:


**** = Transcendently Great

*** = Solid & Worth Seeing

** = Unless Your Relatives Are in the Cast, Think Twice

* = "I Wanted to Kill Myself"


If a title is underlined—43 are—you can click it to jump to my review.


If a titled isn't underlined—28 aren't—apologies. It was my hope to write up every show seen, but time constraints and some health issues post-Fringe kept me from doing so. However, you can find comments about some of these shows in the Festival News & Buzz section.


China: The Whole Enchilada ***½

Bound in a Nutshell ***½

Love is Dead: A NecRomantic Musical Comedy ***½

Sailor Man ***½

That Dorothy Parker ***½

The Amish Project ***½

Hot Cripple ***½

Blanche Survives Katrina In a FEMA Trailer Named Desire ***½

The Sound of One Hanna Clapping ***½

Piccola Cosi ***½

The Corn Maiden ***½

Carl & Shelly, Best Friends Forever ***

My Salvation Has a First Name: A Wienermobile Journey ***

There Will Come Soft Rains ***

Zombie ***

Woodhull: A Play About the First Woman Who Ran for President ***

Krapp, 39 ***

The Fabulous Kane Sisters in Box Office Poison ***

Shots: A Love Story ***

Schoenberg ***

Walls ***

Gem!: A Truly Outrageous Parody ***

Keep Your Eyes Open ***

The Gargoyle Garden ***

Johnny Law, Courtroom Crusader ***

The Boy in the Basement ***

The Complete Performer ***

52 Man Pickup ***

The Home for Wayward Girls and Fallen Women ***

The Umbrella Plays ***

Chandeleirva ***

Be Brave, Anna! ***

Waiting: A Play in Phases ***

Thoroughly Stupid Things ***

A Sagacious Hunch **½

Perez Hilton Saves the Universe **½

Trees Like Nails **½

The Third From the Left **½

Tim Gunn's Podcast: A Reality Chamber Opera **½

Pennybear **½

Monsters in the Wood **½

JohnPaulGeorgeRingo: An Intimate Experience with the Fab Four **½

Becoming Britney **½

They Call Me Mister Fry **½

Kansas City or Along the Way **½

See How Beautiful I Am: The Return of Jackie Susann **½

The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner **½

The Vajayjay Monologues **½

For Reasons Unknown **½

Good Pictures **½

Nightlight Jesus **½

Self-Portrait as Schiele **½

Mirrors of Chartres Street: Faulkner in New Orleans/New Orleans in Faulkner **½

RadioTheatre Presents The Mole People **½

Cruising to Croatia **½

More Than Pants **

Thumbelina: The Story of a Brave Little Girl ** for adults (*** for kids age 3-8)

The Redheaded Man **

Creena Defoouie **

Pawnshop Accordion **

Gratuitous Novelty **

Untitled Masterpiece *½

Traffic Jam *½

The Naked Dead Elephant in the Middle of the Room *½

Sennentuntschi *½

Fancy Guts & Ghosts *½

Doppelganger Joe *½

The Last Dance Of Marsha Kane *½

Triumph of the Underdog *½

The Dershowitz Protocol *

Panopticon *


Reviews of underlined shows appear directly below.


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Show Reviews


I've assigned all reviewed shows one to four stars, using the following rating system:


**** = Transcendently Great

*** = Solid & Worth Seeing

** = Unless Your Relatives Are in the Cast, Think Twice

* = "I Wanted to Kill Myself"


Each review includes a show's Web site address and a representative photo. Clicking the address will open a new browser window taking you to the show's official site. Clicking the photo will open a new browser window taking you to the show's listing on the FringeNYC site. You can use the latter to read the official description of the show, and see when and where it was playing during the festival.


Please keep in mind these reviews had to be written in a hurry. If you spot any factual errors, please don't hesitate to let me know by emailing hy@hyreviews.com. I'm always happy to make corrections and updates.


Photo Credits: Bound in a Nutshell and Krapp, 39: Dixie Sheridan. The Fabulous Kane Sisters in Box Office Poison, second image (of the sisters),The Dershowitz Protocol, Fancy Guts & Ghosts, and Perez Hilton Saves the Universe: George Rand.



1. China: The Whole Enchilada




Rating: ***½

This inventive three-man musical covers 4,000 years of Chinese history in two hours—and does so with exceptional wit, energy, and comedy shtick.


I'm told it came about because writer/composer Mark Brown adopted a little girl named Michayla who's Chinese, and he wanted to give her a sense of her heritage in a way that would be entertaining and easy to digest.


That's not an easy task. China has a very long, rich history of culture and invention. And it's also played home to some of the world's worst human rights abuses—especially of women.


Brown's strategy for making it all enticing and compelling is to use lots of word-play; acknowledge the stereotypes of Chinese people in our culture and employ high parody to deflate them; and pack the show with smart lines, colorful costumes, and catchy tunes.


Two brief examples of the clever writing:

China is the largest country by population. 1.3 billion people. That means one out of every five people in the world lives in China. So please take a moment to look at the two people on either side of you. If they're not Chinese, you have a long drive home.


Actor #1: Shanghai's in China. It's the third largest financial city in the world.

Actor #2: And it's the only city in the world whose name means a heinous act.

Actor #3: What about Bangkok?

Actor #2: Heinous. With an "H."

As for the songs, you can hear several samples by clicking here. (Please be sure to listen to the more serious Lotus Shoes, which is a showstopper.)


Also contributing enormously are razor-sharp actor/singers Brad DePlanche, Eric Hissom, and Philip Nolen, who understand funny down to their bones and deliver Broadway-caliber comedic performances.


Of course, the downside of this farcical approach is that it ends up only scratching the surface. For in-depth information, you'll be better off reading a book, or Wikipedia. And I actually did find myself wishing for a few less jokes about dynasty names and a bit more substance.


That said, the main point of the show is to entertain, and to spark interest. I'm guessing a lot of people who weren't thinking about China beyond it hosting the Olympics will be motivated to learn more after seeing this production—which is a pretty impressive feat for a musical comedy.


This show is so much fun that it'll probably be a career turning point for Brown, DePlanche, Hissom, and Nolen.


Enormous kudos also go to Paul Mirkovitch for arrangements and additional music; to director Jim Helsinger; and to costume designer Lisa Zinni for helping craft the finest show at the festival.


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2. Bound in a Nutshell




Rating: ***½

Imprisoned for his senseless murder of Polonius—and for his refusal to accept the new order—Hamlet is observed in his cell via TV monitors as he plots revenge.


This is one of the most vigorous, vibrant, and accessible versions of William Shakespeare's Hamlet I've ever been lucky enough to see. Brilliantly adapted by Gregory Wolfe & Gregory Sherman, and just as brilliantly directed by Gregory Wolfe, the production boasts a pitch-perfect cast who will enthrall and mesmerize you.


As for the show's title, it comes from this exchange with Horatio, who's visiting Hamlet in his cell:

Hamlet: What have you deserved at the hands of Fortune that she would send you to prison?

Horatio: Prison, my lord?

Hamlet: Denmark's a prison.

Horatio: Then is the world one?

Hamlet: A goodly one in which there are many confines, wards, and dungeons. Denmark being one of the worst.

Horatio: We think not so.

Hamlet: Why then, 'tis none to you. For there is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so. To me it is a prison.
Horatio: Why then, your ambition makes it one. 'Tis too narrow for your mind.

Hamlet: O God, I could be bounded in a nut shell and count myself a king of infinite space...were it not that I have bad dreams.

Obviously, this is by far the finest script that's going to appear in the festival.


But what makes Bound so special isn't only Shakespeare's words, but the exceptionally fresh treatment that brings them to full life for a 21st century audience.


Don't miss Chris Haas as Hamlet, Christopher Yates as Claudius, Monique Vukovic as Ophelia, Andrew Uhlenhopp as Prison Guard/Prosecutor, Gregory Sherman as Horatio, Kathy Keane as Gertrude, and Zachary Zito as the Doctor in a jaw-droppingly great production that's an absurd bargain for the $15 ticket price—and deserves a long and prosperous commercial run post-Fringe.


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3. Love is Dead: A NecRomantic Musical Comedy




Rating: ***½

From Chicago's famed Annoyance Theatre (which helped train such comedy greats as Jon Favreau and Jeff Garlin) comes this show about a coroner who loves his assignments...literally.


You might think it'd be tough to make a necrophiliac likeable, but this superb musical comedy does it quickly and effortlessly by showing the hero chatting with a red-hot corpse who—both in his mind and on stage—is deliciously animated. By the time that first scene is over, we not only adore the hero but are rooting for him to make the relationship work...


The writing—by Andrew Hobgood and James Asmus (who also plays the lead)—is smart, funny, and sexy throughout. So is every single member of the breathtakingly talented cast: James Asmus as Orin, Mort Burke as TK Nichols, Lyndsay Hailey as Jane Doe, Forest Hynes as Deputy Don, Daniel Jessup as Sheriff June Harvey,
Meg Johns as Forensic Geneticist Dana Strand, and Thea Lux as Julie. They are all charismatic and razor-sharp comedic performers...and, by some small miracle, also fine singers.


Even so, I was especially impressed with Mort Burke, who not only has rock-solid comedic talent but the ease and magnetism of a star. (For a sample stand-up video, please click here.)


Also notable is the music by Julie Nichols. To hear a few songs about making out with the dead, please click here. Some sample lyrics (from the corpse, played by gorgeous Lyndsay Hailey):


I want you to bury me in kisses.

You know only the good in bed die young.

It's a little fact the living world  dismisses.

Come on, let's do it like it's not supposed to be done.


I'll be an opposable wonder.

Vascular constriction guarantees that I'll stay tight.

Lay me six inches under.

Who's better in bed than a woman of the night?


Flirting and dating are for beggars,

Marriage and mating are the worst.

I guarantee that I won't get preggers

So you can leave the condoms in the hearse.


Oh, dead girls make better lovers.

You know that I'm still fully equipped.

Dead girls make better lovers.

Come get a piece of this tail from the crypt.


This is one of the very best shows of the festival. Because the troupe is from Chicago and NYC is an expensive place to visit, the company completed all its performances during the Fringe's first week; but here's hoping they all return to NYC at some point for a commercial run.


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4. Sailor Man




Rating: ***½

This takeoff on Popeye is more than mere parody. It's the best stage version of cartoon violence I've ever seen, designed with enormous inventiveness and comedic style by fight choreographer Jacob Grigolia-Rosenbaum.


Plus it's one of the smartest and most thoughtful theatrical versions ever done of a cartoon—and concludes with an especially wry comment about the animated series.


The stellar players are Ryan Iverson as Popeye and Scott Peterman as Brutus (the duo also wrote the show); and Lauren Blumenfeld, a deliciously talented actress who's pitch-perfect as Olive Oyl. In addition, praise must go to Peter James Cook, who provides spot-on direction.


This production has been getting buzz for its spectacular battle sequences, but there's really a lot more to it. If you have any interest in Popeye, cartoons, or violence, don't miss this.


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5. That Dorothy Parker




Rating: ***½

One of the most fascinating women in literature was Dorothy Parker (1893–1967), a sparkling wit who wrote theatre reviews and poetry for The New Yorker, published a bestselling book of light verse, garnered two Academy Award nominations for screenwriting, and was a founding member of the legendary Algonquin Round Table.


Taking on such a beloved and iconic figure is no small feat. But in her one-woman show, Carol Lempert proves herself up to the challenge with a smart script and stylish performance.


Lempert covers all the obligatory lines for which Parker is most famous—e.g., "Men seldom make passes at girls who wear glasses," "You can lead a whore to culture but you can't make her think"—but in addition creates a full character whose life we follow through one-night stands, marriages, and suicide attempts.


And we also get lesser-known lines such as these:

Wit has truth in it. Wisecracking is simply calisthenics with words.


On being asked if after she taking her vows she kept her own name:

Oh no, I did it the other way around. I took his name. It's the vows I didn't keep.


Tell him I'm too fucking busy. Or vice versa.


It's not the tragedies that kill us. It's the messes.


Samuel Goldwyn: There's no money in wisecracks. People want a happy ending.

Dorothy: I know this will come as a shock to you, Mr. Goldwyn; but in all history, which has held billions and billions of human beings, not a single one ever had a happy ending.

As a writer, I was disappointed that my personal favorite Parker line was left out:

The two most beautiful words in the English language are "'check enclosed."

But overall, Lempert makes disciplined, wise choices that paint Parker in layers...and turn the famous historical figure into a too-smart and too-fragile friend we grow to care about deeply.


This is a consistently entertaining show that will make you laugh—and possibly inspire you to do great things.


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6. The Amish Project




Rating: ***½

In 2006, a man walked into an Amish schoolhouse intending to rape its little girls. When the police arrive sooner than expected, he shoots the girls, and then himself. From this real-life tragedy, Jessica Dickey imagines the characters involved, and plays each of them—brilliantly.


For example, here's an excerpt from the wife of the pedophile/murderer, who's trying to make sense of it all after the shooting:

I was in the grocery store the other day looking at a bottle of moisturizer—reading about the UBA and the UBB—and wham, just like that, it hits me for the first time that just because it's written on this label doesn't mean it's true.


Something can be written down—FDA approved, FBI protected—that don't make it true.


And I'm standing there suddenly aware of the thousands of promises all around me, in bright colors on every little box and bottle—like "reduces wrinkles," "prevents tartar," "get stronger bones."


It's all bullshit.


I mean, you can put your hand on the Bible and swear to tell the truth—and still lie. The Bible!


And then you think: What is the Bible? How is that any different from the bright yellow words on the label of my Advil that say "eliminates pain..."


And then there's things that are true. That's some sick shit.


Think of the sickest thing that you have ever read. Right now. Do it.


It was true, wasn't it? It was something that really happened.


What happens to a person when you live in a world where you can't believe anything—and then the things you don't want to believe are actually true?

Then again, there's the perspective of someone who's spent years studying the Amish and is explaining to the press about their philosophy:

J stands for Jesus, who comes first. Y stands for You, who comes last. And O stands for others, who connect the two—giving you JOY.


I like that. Giving you joy.

By far the most affecting, however, is Dickey's portrayal of a little Amish girl who will quickly win your heart...and who you'll probably never forget.


For the first 25 minutes, this show is genius.


After that, it starts to lose a bit of its focus and momentum. The script could use tinkering and tightening before the production goes on to a commercial run.


Still, this is an incredible achievement for Dickey, who's a first-time playwright—and who delivers one of the finest performances of the festival.


The Amish Project is a must-see show. It's playing in the intimate Player's Loft, so I highly recommend grabbing tickets in advance before it sells out.


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7. The Sound of One Hanna Clapping




Rating: ***½

Hanna LoPatin provides nonstop laughs in a show that manages to be both polished and organic (directed with great skill by Saturday Night Live's Ana Gasteyer), mixing funny monologues with even funnier songs about her problems with relationships and show biz...not to mention an obsession with Michael Showalter.


LoPatin has studied at Chicago's legendary Second City and Improv Olympics, and that training is evident in this sharp, tight show.


To hear some of LoPatin's songs, Ode to Britney (which isn't in the show) and Not Jewish Enuf 4 U (which is), please click here and here.


This production is a highlight of the festival. Please note it plays in The Jazz Gallery, which is great for its intimacy but has limited seating, so you might consider buying tickets in advance; LoPatin's opening night sold out.


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8. Piccola Cosi




Rating: ***½

Review to come. Meanwhile, in brief: The gorgeous Aja Nisenson demonstrates she can do it all in an autobiographical show about discovering herself in Italy, during which she sings jazz (and a bit of opera), impersonates the colorful people she met with wit and charm, and tells hilarious stories.


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9. Carl & Shelly, Best Friends Forever




Rating: ***

Writer/performers Allen Warnock (co-founder of the weekly NYC live comedy show The Back Room, and member of NYC sketch troupe Freedumb) and Andrea Alton (also a member of Freedumb) have created two of the most hilarious characters to ever grace FringeNYC.


When the lights first come up on stage, before anyone has even said a word, the audience is laughing hard. Warnock has mastered an insanely intense look focused on the trivial; while Alton has a wild-eyed hyper-energy that's thoroughly adorable. And the duo have a wonderful chemistry, playing off each other with the ease of comedic masters. These two could take their characters to Saturday Night Live or Mad TV right now and fit in perfectly.


As for the story: It loosely revolves around Carl's and Shelly's weekly cable access show Poetry Craft Corner in which "we read our latest poems and then do crafts to illustrate them." For example, Carl recites his opus Alf and Punky:


I like Alf and Punky Brewster.

They kept me from being a heroin user.

Alf was an orphan. So was Punky.

Their pain kept me from being a junky.


Then Shelly brings out her artistic creation "A Baked Potato Surprise From the Sky:" a slice of potato glued to construction paper and poised over crackers that represent a teeming metropolis.


But really, no description of mine will do this show justice. To watch a quick clip, please click here (keeping in mind the live show is even funnier).


The initial energy is high, supplying multiple laughs per minute.


The only flaw is the story lags about two-thirds in—especially in a subplot involving Carl's sad attempts to land a girlfriend, which doesn't fit with the light tone of the rest of the production.


With some revisions and tightening, this show may have potential for a commercial run.


But more important, Warnock and Alton demonstrate they're delightful comedic talents who deserve careers in TV and film.


If you like to laugh, come see this.


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10. My Salvation Has a First Name: A Wienermobile Journey




Rating: ***

Even before this show officially begins, the tone is set via a 15-minute medley of songs about Oscar Mayer meat products. You know the ones:

Oh, I wish I was an Oscar Mayer weiner,
That is what I'd truly like to be.
'Cause if I were an Oscar Mayer weiner,
Everyone would be in love with me.


My Bologna has a first name,
It's O-S-C-A-R.
My bologna has a second name,
It's M-A-Y-E-R.
Oh, I love to eat it every day,
And if you ask me why I say,
'Cause Oscar Mayer has a way

With B-O-L-O-G-N-A.

And just in case that's not enough, every seat in the theatre has placed on it a small red & yellow whistle Wienermobile—that is, an automobile shaped like a hot dog on a bun that was invented by Oscar's nephew, Carl G. Mayer, in 1936 as a promotional vehicle.


Having put us in the appropriate state of mind, the writer/performer of this autobiographical one-woman show comes on stage. She's Robin Gelfenbien, a comedy pro whose credits include Saturday Night Live, VH1, NYC sketch troupe Freedumb, writing jokes for Rosie O'Donnell, and writing & performing songs for Sirius Satellite Radio's Raw Dog Comedy Channel.


Gelfenbien has also studied dance for 20 years—which is evident in the graceful ease with which she uses body language to connect with us and make us laugh.


Gelfenbien does quite a bit of the latter, as she tells of how her self-esteem was battered during childhood through college via cruel classmates and a less-than-perfect family support system. But she managed to redefine herself by spending over a year driving an Oscar Mayer Wienermobile.


As a Hotdogger, Gelfenbien traveled the country engaging in promotional activities to help sell more Oscar Mayer meat. For example, she made national news when she had the innovative idea of swinging the Wienermobile by the courthouse where Lorena Bobbitt was on trial for cutting off her husband's...well, you know.


The carefully selected and well-told anecdotes are consistently entertaining. And Gelfenbien herself is a delight—energetic, heartfelt, charming, and always funny.


My main gripe is that I'm not a fan of highly processed, high fat/sodium meat products—and particularly ones that serenade you to "eat it every day." So I wish Gelfenbien had spent at least a little time addressing the fact she was—and, via this show, still is—promoting food that's not actually good for you. Given America's current obesity and disease crisis, which many experts believe is largely due to our terrible eating habits cultivated by uncaring corporations, the health issues related to Oscar Mayer is an elephant in the room; and Gelfenbien's monologue is damaged for not addressing it.


Otherwise, though, the show is wonderful. And both as a writer and a performer, Gelfenbien demonstrates the makings of a star.


All things considered, I highly recommend My Salvation Has a First Name. You'll hear great stories; enjoy an intimate performance by one of the most talented and likeable comics in New York; and, despite political correctness concerns, will probably cherish your Wienermobile whistle for years to come.


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11. There Will Come Soft Rains




Rating: ***

For most people, the phrase science fiction conjures images of marauding aliens and space battles.


But for those in the know, the heart of SF is lyrical and awe-inspiring, creating a technology-based modern mythology.


The principle beauty of this show is that adapter/director Jon Levin understands this. And he's selected short stories by two of the finest writers in the field, Stanislaw Lem and Ray Bradbury, to illustrate it in cleverly poetic ways using actors, bunraku-style and shadow puppetry, live video sampling, and live music.


The first tale, based on Lem's "How the World Was Saved" from his classic anthology The Cyberiad, is about a robot that can create anything beginning with the letter N. It's marvelous from beginning to end—a futuristic fairy tale that's the stand-out of the production.


And the third piece, by Bradbury, is a haunting story of a mechanical house going about its daily business after a nuclear holocaust has rendered its services meaningless. Its title, There Will Come Soft Rains, comes from a 1920 poem by Sara Teasdale:


There will come soft rains and the smell of the ground,
And swallows circling with their shimmering sound;
And frogs in the pool singing at night,
And wild plum trees in tremulous white;
Robins will wear their feathery fire,
Whistling their whims on a low fence-wire;
And not one will know of the war, not one
Will care at last when it is done.
Not one would mind, neither bird nor tree,
If mankind perished utterly;
And Spring herself when she woke at dawn
Would scarcely know that we were gone.


The production does justice to both the poem and to Bradbury.


The only problem is the middle tale, which involves time travel based on a short story by Bill Pronzini. While the staging is visually interesting, the story told isn't, and goes nowhere.


If you can forgive that long lag during the middle, though, this is a fine show for anyone who loves or is interested in science fiction. (In fact, it's been moved up from its initial ranking because while I haven't grown to like the middle story any better, I continue to be haunted by the poignant beauty of the other two...)


Also, a special call-out to actress Clare McNulty, who is outstanding among a uniformly terrific cast. If you're in the industry, keep an eye on McNulty, who demonstrates charisma, dedication, and considerable talent.


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