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Hy on the Fringe:

2009 New York International Fringe Festival Reviews

Hy Bender


Covering the 13th Annual FringeNYC, Which Ran August 14th-30th;

and the FringeNYC Encore Series, Which Ran September 10th-27th

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This Page Was Most Recently Updated: Monday, September 28th 2009


(76 shows rated & ranked, 29 shows reviewed)


Copyright © 2009 Hy Bender



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

Introduction to FringeNYC

Festival News & Buzz

Show Rankings

Show Reviews

Best Video Promos & Sneak Peeks

Notable FringeNYC Comedy Shows

What's In A Name?

FringeNYC 2009 Award Winners

FringeNYC 2009 Encore Series

Shows That Sold Out Performances

Shows That Received Added Performances

Canceled Performances

Key FringeNYC Info

Fast Food Recommendations


FringeNYC 2008 coverage

FringeNYC 2007 coverage

FringeNYC 2006 coverage

FringeNYC 2005 coverage


Best NYC Live Comedy

Comedy Club Discounts Insider Freebies & Discounts


Hy on Theatre

Hy on Theatre Discounts


Other Sites:


Home Page



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 13th annual FringeNYC offered 201 productions running from August 14th through August 30th. The festival's shows played in 18 Lower Manhattan venues, totaling over 1,100 performances; and they attracted more than 75,000 people.


A scene from Abraham Lincoln's Big Gay Dance Party, one of the 201 productions 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, and the 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.")



FringeNYC 2009 posters for cinematic exploration Jesus Ride and SF romp Far Out!: The Sci-Fi Musical Comedy

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 several 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 14th, the hunt was on...

A scene from the FringeNYC 2009 production The Boxer: A Silent Film on Stage

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, 71 in 2008...and, as things turned out, 76 in 2009. I rated and ranked every show seen—including all 20 shows in the FringeNYC Encore Series—providing you with an at-a-glance guide to what's worth catching and what you might consider avoiding. I also wrote reviews of as many of these shows as my body let me before I had to return my attention to my book and screenplay clients, personal writing projects, and daily comedy coverage.


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


In addition, there's a comprehensive collection of FringeNYC reviews available via (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" league last year, and doing it again 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 employs a squad of 70 people to cover all the shows, and TONY uses a small army of 150 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...)


Scenes from the FringeNYC 2009 musical about a high school election: Vote!

I hope you find this site useful; that you thoroughly enjoyed the festival, and also have great fun at the FringeNYC Encore Series; and to have the pleasure of bumping into you at some point during these shows so you can tell me which ones you liked best.


Warmest regards,


Hy Bender



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Best FringeNYC 2009 Video Promos & Sneak Peeks

Baby Wants Candy: Highlights Reel

Baby Wants Candy: Perfect Wedding Day (starring Jack McBrayer and Eliza Skinner)

Baby Wants Candy: Alone (starring Eliza Skinner)


The Boxer: A Silent Film on Stage

America's Next Top Bottom

Stand-up comic Erin Judge, co-writer & co-star of The Meaning of Wife

Comedogenic (long but brilliant comedic film by Paul Thomas)

Comedogenic (another long but hilarious film by Paul Thomas, co-starring Hannibal Buress)

Dolls (shrewd animated trailer by Michael Phillis)

Bitch! (fundraising video by Charlotte Booker)

Zack Adams: Awkward

Allison Case singing "Paper Airplanes" from musical Vote!

Andrew Keenan-Bolger singing "Ambition" from musical Vote!

Abraham Lincoln's Big Gay Dance Party

Hatching and Art's Heart stars Scarlett Duvall and Anthony Johnston

Stand-up W. Kamau Bell, in 2005, tells Comedy Central's first ever Barack Obama joke

Bob Brader: Spitting in the Face of the Devil

Owen Dara: White Horses—An Irish Childhood


Zipperface!!?!: The Hobo Musical

Anthony Fascious Martinez's Penumbra

Flight (audio only, but superb songs; click Music Player in bottom-left)

Graveyard Shift (for song, click The Show link at the top, then The Prologue in bottom-right)

Far Out: The Sci-Fi Musical Comedy (audio only, Act 1 Finale)

Sperm sing "The Star-Spangled Banner" to prep for... Spermalot: The Musical

Finger Paint


Diamond Dead

Unique bathroom theatre from the Japanese company of Romeo and Toilet


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Notable FringeNYC Comedy Shows

If you visit this site during the rest of the year, you're probably a comedy fan. Therefore, please be aware there were lots of funny shows at the Fringe. They included the following, many of which are by stellar members of the vibrant comedy communities in Chicago and here in NYC:



Amy Heidt in her one-woman show Dominate Yourself!, and world-class musical comedy improv troupe Baby Wants Candy

Dominate Yourself!: Stellar writer/actress Amy Heidt (Comedy Central; acclaimed comedic play Booze Cruise at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre) performs a one-woman show about a dominatrix who decides to cash in on the self-help market...and the six very different women whose lives she's transformed. Heidt is brilliant at both writing and acting; and she's being directed by Amanda Duarte, who's also a wonderful comedic writer/actress. I saw this on the first day of the festival, but can already say with confidence it's one of the very best shows at FringeNYC 2009. Buy your tickets ASAP; the debut played to a packed house, and the remaining performances are likely to sell out too. For my full review, please click here.


Baby Wants Candy: This Chicago-based comedy troupe has wowed audiences around the world with their phenomenal skill at creating a completely improvised hour-long musical. The plot and characters, the musical accompaniment; even the song lyrics and the "choreography" are made up on the spot, with no pre-planned structure. Members of this group have included such comedy giants as Jack McBrayer (page Kenneth in 30 Rock) and Eliza Skinner (I Eat Pandas, Gem!). There will be five performances at the festival; each will be entirely different, and if I didn't have a commitment to catching other shows I'd go see them all. For sample videos, please see the Sneak Peeks section.


Be the Dog: A comedic play based on the stories of Dave Eggers.


The Boxer: A "silent film on stage," this comedic play recreates the spirit of classic Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton movies by getting laughs via physical comedy accompanied by live music...with no talking. For a trailer, please click here.


The Meaning of Wife: Stand-up comic Erin Judge (Comedy Central's Live at Gotham; for a hilarious short routine about being bisexual, please click here) and Ailin Conant (Artistic Director of Theatre Temoin) perform a two-woman show that explores marriage from all angles—straight, gay, and bi—with a playful touch.


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What's in a Name?—FringeNYC 2009 Show Titles

We're told to not judge a book by its cover.


When there are 201 shows to choose from, though, it's hard to resist flipping through the FringeNYC catalog and picking out the productions with the coolest names.


In fact, the most important marketing decision a Fringe show can make is what to call itself.


For example, there are two productions in this year's festival with a dominatrix as the central figure.


One is a comedy, and is called Dominate Yourself! I hear advance sales are very healthy.


The other is a drama, and is named The Books. Yes, that's right—it's about S&M, in a festival that loves risque shows, and it's called The Books. The actual story sounds appealing, but time will tell if this was a commercially wise title choice.


An obvious, but risky, way to grab attention is to have a very long title. This can backfire, as audiences are often more annoyed than amused; but it worked this year for 38 Witnessed Her Death, I Witnessed Her Love: The Lonely Secret of Mary Ann Zielonko (Kitty Genovese Story). This show (by, ironically, a writer/performer with one of the shortest names in the festival, LuLu LoLo) is genuinely great, and deservedly selling out performances; and by the time you're finished watching, you'll probably feel it earned every one of the 18 words in its title.


The runner-up this year is also based on famous brutal deaths from the 1960s: Willy Nilly: A Musical Exploitation of the Most Far-Out Cult Murders of the Psychedelic Era. The production describes itself as a "tasteless spoof" in which "Charles Manson meets Mad Magazine."

And the third longest title this year is Bitch! (The Autobiography of Lady Lawford, as told to Buddy Galon). This is arguably a name to please everyone—those who prefer to-the-point titles can simply ask for Bitch! at the ticket counter and be quickly served.


Another popular strategy is including famous names in the title, while adding a twist. The most creative examples this year are:


Abraham Lincoln's Big Gay Dance Party: A musical about Abe's hometown putting a teacher on trial for asking "Was Lincoln gay?"


George and Laura Bush Perform Our Favorite Sitcom Episodes: The former President and First Lady perform NBC classic sitcom routines, such as Seinfeld's "Yadda, Yadda, Yadda."


Jesus Ride: Mike Schlitt's exploration of 33 movies about Jesus Christ "and confessions of the secular humanist non-practicing Jew who watched every one."

Buzz so far on Bush isn't good; but I have high hopes for Abraham Lincoln and Jesus.


A related strategy is offering a twist on a well-known title or saying. Examples this year include:


Spermalot—The Musical: Sperm singing about the travails of getting their job done.


The Meaning of Wife: Two friends, who are both wives, comedically discussing their true experiences of being in straight, gay, and bi relationships.


Jack and the Soy Beanstalk: A green version of the fairy tale.


Clemenza And Tessio Are Dead: An attempt to do with The Godfather what Tom Stoppard did with Hamlet...only with results not remotely as good. For my review, please click here.


America's Next Top Bottom: A very, very gay pseudo reality show.

And then there are productions whose titles are simply fun. This year's include:


Devil Boys From Beyond: "Flying saucers! Backstabbing bitches! Muscle hunks and men in pumps! Wake up and smell the alien invasion."


Porn Rock—The Musical: "The true story of an underaged exotic dancer who moves to LA and explodes into a provocative, sexy underground rock star."


Dances In Funny: "Five dancing ladies known for wit in movement and original text merge their thoughtful wackiness into an evening of serious comedic dance."


I Can Has Cheezburger: The MusicLOL: "A cat journeys through the alternate universe of the Internet in pursuit of his one true love: a "cheezburger." Based on cult Web site"


Love Money: A Recession Rock Musical: Self-explanatory.


Keep in mind that while a creative title can indicate a creative show, sometimes it simply means a writer is good at titles...and little more.


Conversely, some superb writers aren't so hot at self-marketing. Two of my favorite one-woman shows ever are Eileen Kelly's My Pony's in the Garage (FringeNYC 2005) and Elna Baker's If You See Something, Say Something (FringeNYC 2006). These bland, forgettable titles initially kept me away, and it was only the recommendations of others that led me to see the shows. But I'm so grateful I did, as Eileen and Elna are two of the most wonderful women on the planet, and their shows are memories I treasure to this day.


So enjoy this year's show titles. But make your final buying choices based on content descriptions, the talent involved, videos, production photos, buzz, and reviews...including the ones I'll be providing here.


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Festival News & Buzz


This News & Buzz section provides show recommendations I hear from reliable sources, FringeNYC 2009 news, and various tips to make your time at the festival as much fun as possible.


Award Winners, Extensions, and Ratings (9/1/09): On Sunday, August 30th, at a spectacular closing night party at NYC's Gramercy Theater, FringeNYC Producing Artistic Director Elena K. Holy presented the winners of the FringeNYC 2009 Overall Excellence Awards. For a list of all the winners, please click here.


In addition, FringeNYC Festival Administrator Britt Lafield announced 20 shows that will enjoy extended runs September 10-27 at the Actors Playhouse and the Soho Playhouse via the FringeNYC Encore Series. For complete details, please click here.


On a more personal note, during the festival I saw 65 shows from beginning to end (and another dozen or so that I left midstream...). The Encore series includes 10 shows initially missed, so I'm planning to catch those as well.


Some readers have asked why my list of shows contains no production at either extreme—that is, none that received either **** or *.


I'm very stingy about the 4-star rating (which represents Transcendently Great). Over seeing over 550 FringeNYC shows since 1999, I've assigned a **** rating to a grand total of two: Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead in 2004, and Tuesdays & Sundays in 2006. I consider FringeNYC as primarily a showcase for works in progress that are brimming with energy but can still use tweaks before moving forward to commercial runs. This year was no exception; while I'm thrilled to have experienced the many inventive and wonderful shows at the festival, even the very best of them can use some improvements before heading to off-Broadway or Broadway.


As for the other extreme, though: This is actually the very first year since I've been attending FringeNYC that no show I've seen has been mind-blowingly horrible enough to earn a one-star rating (which represents "I Wanted to Kill Myself").


This could mean I've become smarter about picking shows; or that I was simply lucky in 2009.


But the more likely explanation is that the festival has gotten smarter about soliciting, attracting, and picking shows; and that this year represents a new high for FringeNYC.



Shows Picks for Sunday—And an Invitation to a Party (8/30/09): You might think there wouldn't be much left to see this close to the end of FringeNYC. Actually, Saturday was one of my best days at the festival.


It began with Two on the Aisle—Three in a Van...which turned out to be my second favorite show of all 63 seen to date. I'm crossing fingers Aisle receives an extension, because its superb "insider" comedic look at regional theatre will make many people happy.


Also worthwhile was Be the Dog, which isn't perfect but will likely leave you with a warm smile. It's playing today (Sunday) at noon.


Other shows completing their runs on Sunday that I've seen and recommend include Circuits (effectively a dance workshop put on stage), Devil Boys From Beyond (considering the buzz, wildly overrated; but the entertaining drag performances and some clever special effects make it worth catching), Dirty Stuff (so-so material, but one of the best comedic performances of the festival), Egg Farm (smart dark fable about a nasty dystopia), and Zipperface!!?!: The Hobo Musical. (stupendously smart and funny for the 20 minutes, then suffers from major lags; but still my favorite among what's playing today).


After you're done catching shows, consider sticking around for the FringeNYC Overall Excellence Awards and Closing Night Party. This is usually reserved for FringeNYC insiders (e.g., performers, staffers, volunteers, industry), but this year is open to the public, providing a fun way to mingle with hundreds of FringeNYC talents.


The gala will be held at the Gramercy Theater, which is located at 127 East 23rd Street (between Lexington Avenue and Park Avenue South; take the #6 subway to the 23rd Street stop). Doors will open at 10:00 pm, and the bash is likely to run past 2:00 am.


According to the official description: "Cheap cocktails, dancing, and lots of drama (the good kind). No cover. Open to the public. 21+ with valid valid government-issued photo ID to attend."


Hope to see you there.



Final Weekend (8/28/09): There are just three more days before the festival is over—but still lots of productions very much worth catching.


Shows I've seen and can happily recommend include Abraham Lincoln's Big Gay Dance Party, Baby Wants Candy, Circuits, Complete, Egg Farm, High Plains, His Greatness, Jesus Ride, Scandalous People: A Sizzling Jazzical, Scattered Lives, 666, Spitting in the Face of the Devil, Tales From the Tunnel, The W. Kamau Bell Curve: Ending Racism in About an Hour, and Zipperface!!?!: The Hobo Musical.


And I've heard good things about Be the Dog, Imagine, Jungle Fun, and Two on the Aisle—Three in a Van.


Some of these shows are sold out, but you might be able to get in if you arrive early and inquire about a waiting list or standby line.


I recommend taking full advantage of this final weekend by seeing as many great productions as possible.


As for shows selected for the FringeNYC Encore Series (i.e., receiving extended runs during September 10-27), they're slated to be announced on August 30th. When they are, they'll be reported here.



Buzz & Guesses, Round #2 (8/26/09): There are only five days left to the festival. This is a bittersweet period; you can be thrilled about the wonderful shows seen and lovely people met, but at the same time a bit sad about all the shows and people missed—and very aware that opportunities to experience what FringeNYC 2009 has to offer are dwindling.


I urge you to see any of the productions in the top 15 of my list of shows ranked by preference (which you can view by clicking here).


Shows I haven't yet caught and am especially interested in attending before the festival ends include The Adventures of Alvin Sputnik: Deep Sea Explorer, Be a Man!, The Boxer, Complete, Dirty Stuff, Scandalous People: A Sizzling Jazzical, and Zipperface!!?!: The Hobo Musical. That's not a comprehensive list; but based on buzz, these productions are likely to be especially satisfying and/or fun.


There will be a "second chance" to see some of the most popular shows via the FringeNYC Encore Series, which will run September 10-27. But no one yet knows which ones will be included. (Even if a production is invited to participate, it might not be able to if the cast is based outside NYC and/or has scheduling conflicts.)


Meanwhile, there are five more days to enjoy some of the finest productions at this year's festival.



A unique promotional offer (8/24/09): The delightful guys at Puppetry of the Penis have just sent me a special offer for anyone involved in a FringeNYC show. In their own words:

Puppetry of the Penis began in the Fringe and will promote other Fringies.


Send us an e-mail with the cast person/or members who want to promote by Tuesday the 25th. Be at the theatre by 7:00 pm, meet the bloke with the Fringe sign held high.. A list will be made for proper introductions from the stage. When called, strip bollocks naked, do a dick trick with the boys, and hand out your postcards and flyers to the entire audience as they exit the theatre.


We are inviting the press, so expect to be written about in the papers and on the Web as one of the courageous blokes willing to do anything to promote your show.


We know that some actors lack...courage, so we will open this to writers, producers, or husbands/boyfriends of any show with an all-female cast. Starting and end times vary, so if you can't make it by 7:00 let us know your schedule and we will try to work with you.


Our team has been watching you Fringies and we fully expect the entire male cast and band of Willy Nilly and The Boys Upstairs, but even the serious and ponderous are welcome to whip it out and promote your show.


Respond with the list of name(s) from your show ASAP to Karl Wilder at

Obviously, this is also a very clever way to promote Puppetry of the Penis to FringeNYC goers. But that's fine, because it's a show genuinely perfect for FringeNYC audiences...and one for which I have enormous affection. (Although my joy came from not just watching what occurred on stage, but the faces of the women in the audience turning stonier and stonier as they visibly projected the thought, "Dick tricks? This entire show really consists of dick tricks? All my suspicions about men have just been confirmed...") If you cherish bravery in performers, support POTP (which is playing at 45 Bleecker through August; to learn more, please click here); and if you're involved with a FringeNYC production this year, consider joining in on this very fun publicity event.



Added Performances (8/23/09): Two days ago, I noted that Abraham Lincoln's Big Gay Dance Party sold out its entire run, but it might receive an added performance. Well, it just did. You can now buy tickets for this red-hot show for Thursday, August 27th at 4:00 pm; to jump directly to the online purchase page, please click here.


Act fast, though, because this performance is sure to sell out as well.


Other added performances will appear here as news about them becomes available.



Selling Out! (8/21/09): Ticket sales are hot this year...and three shows have already sold out their entire runs! They are Abraham Lincoln's Big Gay Dance Party, And Sophie Comes Too, and Terranova.


Also going gangbusters are I Can Has Cheezburger: The MusicLOL, Powerhouse, Tales From the Tunnel, and Zipperface!!?!: The Hobo Musical, which have each sold out three performances to date.


If you're interested in any of these shows, I highly recommend grabbing tickets for one of the remaining performances ASAP.


Please also note that some shows may receive an added performance or two via FringeNYC; and about a dozen shows are likely to get extended runs in September via the FringeNYC Encore Series. Please stay tuned to this site for news as details become available.


For a complete list of shows selling out performances, please click here.



Buzz & Guesses, for whatever they're worth (8/20/09): You can find the shows I've seen to date rated & ranked by clicking here. But in addition, I've been chatting with folks to get a feel for other shows. What follows should definitely be taken with grains of salt; it could be I'll entirely disagree if/when I see the productions myself. But for whatever it's worth, here's the buzz I've been hearing lately:


Shows I haven't yet caught garnering good word of mouth include (in alphabetical order) The Adventures of Alvin Sputnik: Deep Sea Explorer, Dirty Stuff, Mark Storen's A Drunken Cabaret, and Scandalous People.


And shows about which I've heard nothing, but am looking forward to catching based on the subject matter or the talent involved, include Baby Wants Candy, Be the Dog, The Boxer, Harold Pinter Pair, His Greatness, Jesus Ride, The Meaning of Wife, Two on the Aisle—Three in a Van, and A World Elsewhere! Arias in the Key of Clown.


Again, this is all hearsay and guesses. For opinions I'll stand behind, please check in daily at the Show Rankings and Show Reviews sections, which cover productions I've seen from beginning to end.



Opening Day (8/14/09): My intention on the first day of the festival was to see four great shows. And to my delight, Dominate Yourself! turned out to be highly professional and hilarious, and is probably one of the very best comedies at this year's festival. Another production I caught, Spitting in the Face of the Devil, wasn't in the same league, but is a very solid autobiographical one-man show. Sadly, the other two shows were crashing disappointments; but for opening night Fringe, before reviews or buzz, two out of four ain't bad. For details, please visit the Show Rankings and Show Reviews sections.



A Memorable Sell-Out (8/8/09): A FringeNYC producer emailed me the other day to say selling out in advance creates great buzz, but it's a lot harder to do for those like her who've been assigned a large venue.


It made me remember FringeNYC 2004, when one of the theatres was the Michael Schimmel Center, which has 500 seats. Among its shows was a darkly moody dance/play titled Host and Guest, about a Muslim huntsman who—in the midst of a war—encounters a Christian stranger in the woods and, in the custom of the land, offers the hospitality of his home.


Problem is, this guest turns out to be a hero soldier of the enemy—and when the neighbors find out, they're outraged this famed killer of their kin is among them.


And so the question becomes, which will prevail: The thirst for vengeance, or the solemn promise made by the host: "Guests will be the last to die."


I was at FringeCentral and said to someone who wasn't sure they'd be able to get tickets, "Don't worry about it. That venue will never sell out." Elena came out from her office and said, "That's not true, Hy! They just sold out yesterday!"


And indeed they did. It was the largest number of tickets sold for a single performance in all of FringeNYC history.


So while being in a larger venue makes selling out more of a challenge, it can definitely be done.



Navigating this Site's FringeNYC 2009 Coverage (8/6/09): There are a number of sections in this site to help you get the most enjoyment out of this year's festival.


For key info, including where to find show descriptions, how to catch live sneak peeks of shows, where to see free outdoor shows, how to buy tickets, and much more, please click here.


For a list of notable comedic shows, please click here.


After the festival's begun, to jump to a list of the FringeNYC 2009 shows I've seen from beginning to end, rated and ranked in rough order of preference, please click here.


After the festival's begun, 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


This section lists the FringeNYC 2009 shows I've seen to date, in rough order of personal preference, with each production 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, you can click it to jump to my review.


If a title isn't underlined, I haven't written the show up yet. I might not review every show seen, but will strive to review as many as humanly possible.


Abraham Lincoln's Big Gay Dance Party ***½

Two on the Aisle, Three in a Van ***½

A Contemporary American's Guide to a Successful Marriage © 1959 ***½

Dominate Yourself! ***½

A Time to Dance ***½

Jesus Ride ***½

Notes on the Land of Earthquake & Fire ***½

38 Witnessed Her Death, I Witnessed Her Love...(Kitty Genovese Story) ***½

Harold Pinter Pair ***½

His Greatness ***½

Baby Wants Candy (8/27) ***½

Baby Wants Candy (8/21) ***½

La Ronde ***½

Singin' Wid a Sword In Ma Han' ***½

Tales From the Tunnel ***

Complete ***

The Adventures of Alvin Sputnik: Deep Sea Explorer ***

Be the Dog ***

The W. Kamau Bell Curve: Ending Racism in About an Hour  ***

Eminene ***

Zipperface!!?!: The Hobo Musical ***

Scandalous People: A Sizzling Jazzical ***

A History of Cobbling ***

Egg Farm ***

Diamond Dead ***

Circuits ***

666 ***

The K of D, an Urban Legend ***

The Boys Upstairs ***

The Jungle Fun Room ***

Hungry ***

Dirty Stuff ***

Viral ***

Scattered Lives ***

Spitting in the Face of the Devil ***

High Plains ***

Flight ***

Sex and the Holy Land ***

Dancing with Abandon ***

I Can Has Cheezburger: The MusicLOL ***

Devil Boys From Beyond ***

Imagine ***

Eat, Drink, and Be Merry ***

Be a Man! ***

Bitch! (The Autobiography of Lady Lawford, as told to Buddy Galon) **½

Powerhouse **½

The Meaning of Wife **½

Mark Storen's A Drunken Cabaret **½

American Jataka Tales **½

Terranova **½

And Sophie Comes Too **½

Mom: A Rock Concert Musical **½

Romeo and Toilet **½

The Boxer **½

Mars: Population 1 **½

Muffin Man **½

Jen & Angie **½

The Check is in the Mail **½

Dolls **½

Ukrainian Eggs: Terrible Tales of Tragedy and AlleGorey **½

Dances in Funny **½

Willy Nilly: A Musical Exploitation of the Most Far-Out Cult Murders of the Psychedelic Era **½

Comedogenic **

The Office and the Metal Blob **

Afterlight **

Porn Rock: The Musical **

The Most Mediocre Story Never Told **

Stress Positions **

Borderline **

e-Station **

The Books *½

The 49 Project *½

A Rule of Nines *½

Ones by 2: Fallujah, and The Invention of Zero *½

Clemenza and Tessio Are Dead *½

Groupies *½


Reviews of underlined shows appear directly below.


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Show Reviews


I assign 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 I'm always happy to make corrections and updates.


Photo Credits: Baby Wants Candy, far right, and Tales From the Tunnel: FringeNYC photographer extraordinaire George Rand.


1. A Contemporary American's Guide to a Successful Marriage © 1959


Rating: ***½


In retrospect, the 1950s was a lot like Bizarro World: a period when much of what seemed right turned out to be wrong, and much of what was considered bad turned out to be wonderful.


That's the very solid foundation for this play, which focuses on two Iowa couples who get married "by the book" and then live to regret it. "The book" is actually a star character, voiced by a bodiless narrator who periodically provides accepted wisdom such as this:

As a young boy turns into a young man, the girls will wonder what is wrong with him since no other girl will marry him. This happens at age 25.


Similarly, as a young girl gets older, she will begin to lose her attractiveness and youthful appearance. This happens at age 20.

The latter resulted in gasps and laughs from the audience—the laughter of recognition. What more can any play ask for?


The script by Robert Bastron is funny and smart throughout, and the direction from Adam Fitzgerald is crisp and compelling.


And the acting is a joy. Of particular note is Autumn Hurlbert as Abby, a sweet young thing who buys into 1950s ideals wholeheartedly. For example, within the first few minutes of the production she chirps, "A lot of girls my age have dreams and ambitions, but I've always wanted to be a wife and mother!" As the story progresses, this stereotype of a girl grows into a three-dimensional woman; and the slow transformation, portrayed with great wit and tenderness by Hurlbert, is one of the dearest highlights of the festival. (Hurlbert went on to win a FringeNYC Award for Best Actor...and thoroughly deserves it.)


Also utterly delightful are the charismatic & fearless Meredith Forlenza as the other wife, a rich brunette who makes clear why Archie should always choose to marry Betty, not Veronica; AJ Shively in a finely crafted performance as her beaten-down husband who eventually finds his way; and Monica West in a small but ultimately unforgettable role as Hurlbert's "less attractive sister."


And let's not forget the clothing. There's a slew of beautifully crafted period costumes from Lisa Zinni, who last year won a FringeNYC Award for her stupendous costumes in my pick for that festival's #1 show, China: The Whole Enchilada. Zinni won the Outstanding Costume Design Award this year as well; and again, the recognition was richly deserved.


The only substantial room for improvement is Abby's husband, who we're supposed to think of as a good-hearted but insensitive lug. The problem is his minimal communication gives us no opportunity to understand him or relate to him, and so he's a cardboard cypher instead of a genuine participant in the play. I'd urge Bastron to rethink this character and make him just as strong as the other leads.


Nonetheless, this show is my third favorite of the entire festival; and I'm guessing it's the very best production of all 20 shows in the Encore Series. Don't miss it.


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2. Dominate Yourself!


Rating: ***½


Writer/actress Amy Heidt has proven herself a shining star at this year's FringeNYC.


Heidt is an exceptionally skilled comedic actress who's appeared on Comedy Central, and previously performed the acclaimed one-woman show Booze Cruise at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre.


In her hilarious new one-woman show Dominate Yourself!, Heidt dreams up a dominatrix who tires of dungeons and opts to exploit a void in the self-help industry. In the dom's own words (via a series of uproariously funny videos):

I was a world-class dominatrix, traveling the globe to dole out tough love and carefully controlled physical pain to clients who needed it.


After a decade of dominating this field—wink—I was ready for a new challenge. With the help of some close friends with low self-esteem, I discovered there was a gaping hole in the world of self-help. With the aid of these sad women, I developed the program that will go on to change their lives...and the lives of people around the world.


You are miserable, unsatisfied, and incapable of enjoying life. All of that is about to change. The world will become your slave, and you'll be holding the whip.

The show proceeds to put on the actual self-help seminar, with "inspiring" lectures—titled Find Your Bottom, Face Your Bottom, Fight Your Bottom, and so on—from a variety of giddily intense women. For example, here are some words of wisdom about finding a soulmate from a gal named Danny:

I know I seem tough as nails (said in a quavering, shaky voice...), but I crave love, companionship, and the soft, tender caress of a man.


And yet I'm still alone.


Adding insult to injury is the fact you can't walk a foot in this town without seeing stupid, fat, ugly, disfigured women...with husbands.


Women who are homeless get more marriage proposals than I do. Granted, those men are disgusting. Still, it's fucked up.


I get frustrated because I know you have to put yourself out there. But I also know true love finds you when you least expect it. So here's my question: How am I supposed to put myself out there, and then forget that I put myself out there so that I can not expect it?


I'm not exaggerating when I tell you that every time I meet a man I think, Are you the one?


I can't help it. It's like a constant loop in my head.


"Oh, hello. Are you the one?"


"I'll have a six-inch veggie delight on wheat, no cheese...and are you the one?"


"Yes, I can spare a dollar, but I won't...unless, of course, you are the one."


"Turn down those motherfucking headphones, I don't want to hear Turkish hip-hop at 7:30 in the morning...but are you the one?"


Are you the one? Are you the one? Are you the one? Are you the one? Are you the one?


Where the fuck is the onnnnnnnnneeee?!?!?!?!?!?!?

Heidt is flat-out brilliant as a comedic writer.


But she's actually even better as an actress. For example, if the samples above made you chuckle, expect to scream with laughter when Heidt delivers them.


Dressed throughout in an understated gray dress, gold hoop earrings, and black spider web heels, Heidt works her character magic with no props other than simple wigs; but she creates entirely distinct, believable, and consistently loveable women by her very smart use of voices, wording choices, facial expressions, and body language.


Huge kudos also go to director Amanda Duarte, a long-time friend of Heidt...and an extremely talented comedic writer/actress herself. In the program booklet, Heidt is credited as actor/writer/producer/stressball, while Duarte is listed as director/sexual deviant consultant.


The duo make for a magnificent team; and even though this review is being written on Day 1 of the Fringe, I feel confident declaring Dominate Yourself! one of the very finest shows in this year's festival.


The chances are this show will sell out. Buying your tickets ASAP is highly recommended.


And if you're in the industry: This is no mere actress showcase. The production has genuine commercial potential; and both Heidt and Duarte are worth your attention as stellar comedic talents.


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3. Jesus Ride


Rating: ***½


Review to come.


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4. 38 Witnessed Her Death, I Witnessed Her Love: The Lonely Secret of Mary Ann Zielonko (Kitty Genovese Story)


Rating: ***½


One of the most shocking crimes during the 1960s was the murder of Catherine Susan Genovese (above), who everyone called Kitty. The act was brutal—a serial killer picked her at random, stabbed her, and then raped her as she bled to death.


But what made this national news—and an event that reverberates to this day—is that the murder took place in the plain sight of 38 apartment dwellers in the Kew Gardens section of Queens. The killer attacked in stages, stabbing Genovese in the back, then fleeing the scene, and then returning to finish the job. During that entire time, no one came down to help her. No one even bothered to call the police. They all chose to turn away from their windows and go back to bed rather than get involved.


When a New York Times reporter later investigated, this show tells us:

He talked to every detective. And every detective was as angry as detectives can get.


Marty would drive around the Queens neighborhood with the detectives. And every detective would say the same thing: 'What a nice neighborhood. How quiet. How respectable. Private homes. Tree-lined streets. Fake Tudor-style houses." And every detective would say, "Thirty-eight witnesses silent during a murder. Why???"

What wasn't widely known until recently is that Genovese was a lesbian. For a year before the crime, she and Mary Ann Zielonko lived together in bliss as lovers.


This show is a result of an exclusive interview that its writer/actress, LuLu LoLo, conducted with Zielonko (who's now in her 70s), and is performed with her full support—in fact, Zielonko attended the opening night performance.


Lolo portrays three central figures in the story: Zielonko, using her own words; the New York Times editor who uncovered the story, A. M. Rosenthal (based on Rosenthal's acclaimed book Thirty-Eight Witnesses); and the killer, Winston Moseley, based on police & court transcripts.


The drama of the actual events couldn't be more gripping, and Lolo's choices of what material to include is superb. And while Lolo isn't a perfect actress—she sometimes has trouble remembering a line, or gets a word wrong (e.g., saying a court sentence was "committed" rather than "commuted")—the intensity of feeling she conveys is worth far more than perfect technique.


That said, this show could be unrelentingly grim if Lolo was its sole performer. Realizing this, she made the very wise decision to invite Jody Oberfelder to integrate dance into the show.


Oberfelder's choreography adds the perfect emotional texture needed to balance out Lolo's monologues by bringing a wry sense of humor to the piece. For example, during the early part of the show the dancers play the neighbors as attractive, likeable people who look out to see what's happening...and then close their windows. And later on the dancers represent Kitty Genovese and Mary Ann Zielonko as lovers—and by extension, play all lesbian lovers—expressing their deep joy and love for each other during a period when deviance from a straight mainstream was brutally suppressed.


The moments of light from the dance pieces keep us from becoming desensitized by the darkness of Lolo's narratives. At the same time, they provide stark reminders of what was lost—the happiness, hopes, and eternal possibilities of young lovers. And without saying a word, they tell us how vitally important it is for each of us to behave with kindness, to understand we're all connected, and to care for one another.


The four performers in the troupe are Oberfelder herself, Shila Tirabassi, Jake Szczypek, and Brynne Billingsley; and they're all excellent, both as dancers, and as actors who convey volumes of information and emotion by their bodies and facial expressions.


However, I have to make special mention of Billingsley, whose every movement choice is compelling, and who tends to steal whatever scene she's in. I asked her afterwards if she's an actress in addition to being a dancer, and she said no. I recommend she start taking classes; Billingsley has a star quality that deserves every opportunity to make itself seen.


There are many productions at the festival that are slicker and fancier than this show. But I suspect there are few that match its heart, artful blend of emotions, and simple humanity.


Because of the unusual title—the longest in the festival— I feared something gimmicky; but by the end, every one of those 18 words has been earned.


I highly recommend this show; and very much hope it enjoys a vibrant life well beyond August.


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5. His Greatness


Rating: ***½


Greatness in an artist is a mysterious thing. What causes it to appear; and what makes it vanish?


The always wonderful Daniel MacIvor doesn't answer these questions; but he encourages us to think about them within the context of "a potentially true story" about two days in the last years of brilliant playwright Tennessee Williams.


The first act sparkles with intelligence and wit. Here's a brief sample, from a conversation Williams has with a radio interviewer:

Interviewer: What do you say to critics who contend that the females in your plays are broad strokes, or caricatures, not real women?


Williams: Well, it's not real, my dear. It's poetry.


Interviewer: You said this play is an attempt for you to enter the modern world; but in essence, it's an old-fashioned play. How do you respond to that?


Williams: I do not need to enter the modern world. I am already in the modern world.


I helped create the modern world!


What is modern? Tell me that! Is the human heart no longer modern? Loss? Love? Longing? No? What is a modern play!?


Interviewer: I'm sorry, I didn't—


Williams: And that will be all. (to his assistant) Hang up this goddamn telephone!

All three performers—Peter Goldfarb as Williams, Dan Domingues as his assistant, and Michael Busillo as his temptation—are superb.


So is the direction by Tom Gualtieri, and the set by Tania Bijlani.


But during the intermission, a friend leaned over and said to me, "The first act is just about perfect. But given what we know about Williams' life, where can the story go from here?"


And his observation was on the money. The play loses a lot of energy in the second act; and the ending is unsatisfying.


I appreciate MacIvor wanting to stick to the facts. But more than reporting is required here. In MacIvor's own words, "It's not real, my dear. It's poetry."


I hope more work is done to make the second half of the play as excellent as Act 1. Meanwhile, though, there are so many elements to enjoy that I recommend you see this in its current form...which is a bargain at $15. If His Greatness achieves the consistency I'm hoping for, the next version may require you to pay Broadway prices.


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6. & 7. Baby Wants Candy


Rating: ***½



Baby Wants Candy is the gold standard for musical improvisation troupes.


Quite simply, it takes an audience suggestion for the title of a musical, and then creates the musical on the spot, complete with story, music, songs, and choreography.


If that sounds is.


But the group has been working this magic since 1997, and for thousands of delighted audience members—first in its home base of Chicago; more recently via an NYC branch that performs regularly at the Barrow Street Theatre (27 Barrow Street, off 7th Avenue South, near the #1 subway's Christopher Street stop); and sometimes at other venues such as the world-renowned Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre...which is where I've enjoyed it for years.


Baby Wants Candy will be performing five times at the festival. Ideally, I'd see and rate every performance, because each one will be entirely different. But that would mean missing theatrical companies I've never encountered before.


Therefore, I've attended one performance out of duty, and a second for pure selfish pleasure (with some guilt over missing the Fringe drama I could've seen instead), and am offering a very informed guess that all five will be spectacular.


Many of the members of Baby Wants Candy, such as Thomas Middleditch and Eliza Skinner (getting pointed at in the photo above), are improv geniuses. I highly recommend catching at least one performance of this show.


And if you can come in with a smart, witty title to toss out at the start, all the better. For a mere $15, you'll get a personal musical, created instantly...and that will be both tuneful and hysterically funny.


Post-Festival Note: Baby Wants Candy ended up winning a FringeNYC Award for Outstanding Unique Theatrical Event. It was all that, and more.


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8. Tales From the Tunnel


Rating: ***


I'm a sucker for NYC subway stories. Above ground we live in the greatest city in the world; but when we descend below, it can be like entering the woods of a fairy tale. The rules are blurry, there's no telling who you'll run into, and anything can happen.


Fortunately, writer/directors Troy Diana & James Valletti "get" this. And they use that perspective to deliver around 150 mini-tales of New Yorker interactions that would be crazy in the light of day but have an odd logic when taking place within giant metallic worms.


The anecdotes were gathered from relatives, friends, and visitors to the production's blog. Some of them are wondrous and haunting—e.g., an absurd yet violent fight is about to erupt between two men over a vacant seat when a female passenger defuses the situation by abruptly singing Amazing Grace.


There are a number of such lovely moments in the show; and also many scenes that garner huge laughs and applause.


The only real problem is there are an equal number of scenes that aren't as fine. These at best feel like filler...and at worst fall flat.


When a production consists of scores of separate stories, it must adopt the practice of a top comic: Try out each bit repeatedly before audiences, ruthlessly drop the weakest ones, and create killer ones to take their place, until the show consists of nothing but winner after winner after winner.


For example, The Marx Brothers used to test new routines by performing a stage show around the country for a full year. It wasn't until they felt confident about what did and didn't work that they'd commit the bits to eternity by shooting a new movie.


I recommend Diana & Valletti adopt the same high standards for this show. If they do, there's potential for not only a commercial run, but a book and TV series.


Aside from the inconsistent script, it's a terrific production. The young, energetic cast is uniformly delightful, working together like a well-oiled machine (and probably deserved a FringeNYC Best Ensemble Award); and Diana & Valletti's direction is solid throughout.


As one character says, "Mimsy and I ride the train every day. Sometimes we hate it. Too noisy. Too crowded. But sometimes we love it. We need to know we're not alone."


Any show that reminds us how we're all connected is worth supporting.


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9. Complete


Rating: ***


Among the brilliant winners of this year's FringeNYC Award for Best Actor were Alyson Weaver in La Ronde and Autumn Hurlbert in A Contemporary American's Guide to a Successful Marriage © 1959. To which I say, absolutely.


But also on that list should've been Lucy Owen, who delivers a movie star caliber performance as a deliciously quirky linguist struggling between her passionate devotion to words and her yearning to connect to her heart.


Complete is worth seeing for Owen alone; but it has a great deal more going for it.


Playwright Andrea Kuchlewska has written a smart, witty story about people who care deeply about fine distinctions in meaning. At a time in our political system when zealots twist both words and facts beyond any semblance of reason, it's a breath of fresh air to watch a character become incensed at such phrases as "the reason is because" (should be "the reason is") or "different than" (should be "different from"), or at the interchangeable use of "finish" and "complete" ("Alice was not hungry anymore, so Edward finished her sandwich" is not at all the same as "Alice was not hungry anymore, so Edward completed her sandwich"). Owen's character Eve proclaims that after hearing such sloppy language, "I feel rage behind my eyes. Right behind my eyes."


Part of the reason is that Eve at age 9—played by superb child actress Sophia Rodyakin, who is a delight whenever she appears—was forced to go through an est-like Program that twisted language in order to break people down and then reshape their thinking. Eve found the the Program's logic corrupt and its manipulation unforgivable, and defended herself by developing a sensitivity to words.


On the down side, Eve's preference for exactness threatens to blind her to the subtlety and nuance of language...and of personal relationships. Both the Program and Eve's rebellion commit the same sin: extremism.


And it's this "hard" quality to the tale that ends up undermining it. The instructor of the Program (played memorably by Dylan Price) never changes; and Eve displays little evidence of changing either. We're shown scenes, jumbled together back and forth in time, that help us understand where the characters began and where they are now, but that's not the same as a journey of transformation...which is what typically makes for a satisfying story. And while there are a lot of smart conversations about words, Eve's colleague (played by Zac Jaffee) ultimately makes choices that are inexplicably stupid and self-defeating right before he plans to open his heart to her. As a result, the conclusion of the play feels—forgive me—incomplete.


Until the play stops, however, it's continually fascinating and surprising. If Kuchlewska focused a bit less on plot twists, and more on giving the wonderful characters she's created a wider range of feeling and behavior—and a path for meaningful transformation—the play would likely achieve greatness.


But even in its current form, this is easily one of the most interesting scripts of the festival; and Lucy Owen's performance is breathtaking. If you haven't seen Complete, take advantage of the wonderful opportunity to catch it during the Encore Series.


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10. Eminene


Rating: ***


There are several shows at this year's festival pretending to be science fiction by people who barely have a clue what the term means.


This play, by writer Barton Bishop, is the real thing.


Set in a grim, war-torn future, two people roam the barren land in search of food and safety, while continually dodging death.


But when the goal is achieved, it doesn't prove as sweet as expected.


Like most great SF, this is a tale of a world very different from ours...but with a message that speaks directly to us here and now.


If you've read Ursula K. Le Guin's classic short story The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas, you'll have some idea of what to expect. (And if not, find and read it; but not until after you've seen this play...)


Act 1 is beautifully performed by Britney Burgess and Michael Sharon, smartly directed by Matthew J. Nichols, and riveting throughout. Here's some sample dialogue, in which playwright Bishop uses short, simple sentences to encapsulate a relationship:

Her: My mama used to tell me when I was mite-sized and silly, yah? She used to say, "There's one kind of guy you want to stay away from. The kind who, when you say 'I'm sick,' he says 'Man, I hope I don't catch it.'"


Him: Can you keep moving?


Her: We don't know where we're going.


Him: We'll figure it out.


Her: We keep doubling back.


Him: We'll figure it out!


Her: I don't know if I can walk.


Him: I'll carry you.


Her: You can't!


Him: Come on.


Her: Your lips are bleeding


Him: You ready?


Her: And your eyes are red.


Him: Let's go.


Her: I'm scared!


Him: Close your eyes.


Her: Don't drop me...

Act 2 deals with a more subtle kind of action, requiring a different directorial touch; and unfortunately, the transition isn't a smooth one. Much of the energy from the first part is lost, and even the performances aren't as interesting.


Towards the end, though, the story comes together; and it packs a wallop that's worth experiencing.


I hope this play lives well beyond the Fringe.


And if you're seeking talent, please take a close look at both Britney Burgess and Michael Sharon.


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11. Zipperface!!?!: The Hobo Musical


Rating: ***


The first 10 minutes of this show are among the most clever and hilarious of any production in the festival.


It involves a "drunken hobo" named Franklin (played perfectly by co-writer Dave Rothstadt) who has a microchip in his brain that lets him generate all the components needed for a play—because "if there's one thing us homeless folks do best, it's theatre."


As for the subject, Franklin chooses Zipperface, a 1992 low-budget movie disaster that has an IMDB rating of 2 out of 10 (i.e., the equivalent of this site's "I Wanted to Kill Myself") That leads to this exchange:

Franklin: I found the screenplay in a dumpster when I lived in Hollywood in the early 90s.


Jeremiah (a fellow hobo): Wait a second. You didn't write it?


Franklin: Write it? Who wastes time or energy nowadays to write a whole script?! No. You take a favorite screenplay, throw in a few catchy ditties, and wa-lah! You got yourself your very own muse-ee-cal.


Jeremiah: Doesn't that seem a little backwards to you? Besides, it looks like half the pages are missing. This part's covered in chocolate! (Note: That's not chocolate...)


Franklin: Hey, who needs a script when I can imagine the whole thing using the technology in my skull?


Jeremiah: It's gonna be horrendous. You know that, right?


Franklin: It's gonna be downright terrible.

Having described most of the musicals in any theatre festival with uncanny accuracy, the production sets about to follow the same formula.


And guess what? As it goes on, it gets bogged down by the boring source material. Being self-aware doesn't free you from falling into the precise traps you've identified...


At the points where the musical ignores the movie, however, it's often great fun; and some of the songs are very catchy, such as Scalia Hates Lisa Rider.


There are also scattered delightful moments within the parody, such as this exchange:

Female-cop-turned-detective Lisa Rider: I am raring and ready to do this!


Veteran Detective: Gee Rider, you're pretty happy for someone investigating a dead hooker murder.


Lisa Rider: Are you kidding me? I have been dreaming about this day for years.


Veteran Detective: Some fucked up dream.



Also superb is the band: Zachary Wiseley on piano, Thomas VonHalle on washtub bass, Alan Sytnik on accordion, Michael Pechter on drums, and James Brehm on a singing saw that practically becomes a star character.


There is so much to enjoy in this show that I recommend catching it.


But I hope writers Dave Rothstadt, Jon Bershad, and Andy Wolf start making cuts no less ruthless than those of Zipperface. If the two hours were chopped down to around 90 minutes, and all the lags replaced with consistently witty material—even if that means ignoring almost all of 1992's Zipperface, as is done in a showstopping scene near the end about "robot wars"—this tale of losers could be a winner.


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12. Diamond Dead


Rating: ***


A while ago, I saw Vampire Weekend perform at a small venue. I went up to them afterwards and said, "Hey, you guys are great." They effectively responded, "Yeah, we know." And about a year later, they became huge stars.


I don't know if the same fate awaits Diamond Dead. But it very well might.


Aside from drummer Lucky Marino—who is terrific—everyone in the band performs vocals; and they all have superb voices. Lead singers Andrew Lloyd Baughman (Dr. Diabolicus) and Karissa Swanigan (Aria De Winter) are a joy; but so are Josh Speerstra (Glitter) and Jason Wilson (Spyder Syn). For a sample, please click here.


They also have a memorable look, with both set (by Jared Davis) and costumes based on darkness and death, but in a very playful way. The story is they all died and were then brought back, so are a zombie band; and their hold on life is tentative. Meanwhile, they crave brains...and rock the house.


I also love Gillian Shelly, a delightful actress based in Washington, DC who plays an unforgettable newscaster; and the very sweet Jen Speerstra, who does a Sarah Palin parody via bikini and shotgun.


My only quibble about the cast is a guy who plays the band's #1 fan. It's bad enough that he starts out cheering madly, as if the band can't earn the audience's adulation on its own (insecurity is definitely not cool); but when I didn't feel like following every instruction in an "audience participation" portion of the show, he actually manhandled me to make me conform. Since when is rock about making everybody follow orders?


He also shouted at me, "You're part of the show!" In fact, everyone with a ticket is part of the an audience member. Our job is to pay attention and offer appreciation. The show's job is to engage and entertain us—not bully us. And someone who plays a jerk should poke fun at himself, not actually be obnoxious to the audience.


So, Diamond Dead, I recommend losing the "fan." You're way better than that.


At the same time, this show featured one of the most lovely moments of the entire festival. Directly following the performance, Karissa Swanigan's boyfriend went up on stage...and proposed marriage! With tears in her eyes, Karissa provided the most heartfelt "yes" I've ever been lucky enough to witness.


I wish the two of them every happiness.


And having gone up to the band afterwards and saying, "Hey, you guys are great," am crossing fingers Diamond Dead also has a bright future ahead.


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13. Dirty Stuff


Rating: ***


If you're not watching Logo TV's The Big Gay Sketch Show, you're missing out on some of the finest comics in the country.


The show's cast members include Kate McKinnon, a genius character performer who's beloved by the NYC comedy community; Julie Goldman, a human dynamo who's currently producing her first feature film; and Jonny McGovern, who's famed for his free weekly podcast Gay Pimpin' with Jonny McGovern.


McGovern is gracing FringeNYC this year with a one-man show; and within seconds of appearing, his explosive talent is evident. An onstage DJ starts the music, and McGovern sings, "Pump that shit out! Pump that shit out! Don't you want a pussy ride? Don't you want a pussy ride? Don't, don't, don't. don't, don't you want a pussy riiiiiiiiiiiiiiide?!"


The answer to that musical question depends on who are you. It would receive a strong yes from Zarzoufa, a guy who must convince his rich Arab parents he's spending his time productively in order to continue his deliriously happy life of non-stop sex and drugs.


But the answer is a reluctant no from a character who's presumably the young McGovern, and who wishes he was straight but can't get his mind off the boy's soccer team. Fortunately, a visit from The Gay Pimp sets the young man on the right path.


The other memorable characters are Chocolate Puddin’, a woman who was big in 1970s blaxploitation films, but whose current activities pretty much consist of badmouthing Pam Grier, and threatening "I'm gonna cut you" although the only sharp weapon she possesses is her tongue; and Lurlene, a poor Southerner who resides in a trailer park, but dreams of one day gliding down the catwalk and extending her middle finger to conclude her fashion walk with a "Fuck you" to the audience.


McGovern displays breathtaking energy as he executes split-second transitions from character to character, and makes each character transformation utterly believable using only his voice, body language, and plastic face.


I'm not rating this show higher simply because once I got to know the characters, it started feeling a bit repetitive; and I wasn't sufficiently grabbed by the story, which at times came across as a collection of padded  sketches rather than a deep and satisfying journey.


But is the show worth seeing? Of course. McGovern's talent is inarguable; and if you skip Dirty Stuff, you'll be missing one of the most skillful performances at the festival.


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14. Viral


Rating: ***


The word problematic was created for plays like this.


Mac Rogers has written a witty, engaging script with interesting characters and compelling dialogue. Further, the cast—Rebecca Comtois, Kent Meister, Matthew Trumball, and Amy Lynn Stewart—is one of the best of the festival, and is directed by Jordana Williams with intelligence and a fine ear for comedy.


The problem? The play is about suicide—a subject that must be handled with a high degree of attention to the truth, because the stakes are literally life and death. (For example, suicide is one of the leading causes of death among teenagers and adults under 35.)


And I didn't believe what the script, the actors, or any other element of the production had to tell us about the subject for an instant.


On the contrary, I was appalled by the portrayal of suicide as a rational, and even sexy, choice that might be made by anyone who's unsatisfied or bored with life.


The suicidal character in the play has no fatal disease or other inescapable issue plaguing her. She doesn't even appear to be clinically depressed. She's alert, witty, wise, grounded, and resourceful. And hot.


From what I know of suicidal people—which, unfortunately, is quite a bit—that doesn't add up.


And so, to my eye, the core of this play is ashes.


(And don't even get me started on how infuriated I was by the ending...)


With some major adjustments to the script, this story might become something special.


At the moment, it's one of the festival's best-executed productions...but terribly misleading about a societal problem that's dead serious.


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15. Scattered Lives


Rating: ***


The reasons I like this show are simple.


There are lots of sword battles; and they're well-executed by performers who really know what they're doing.


The Japanese music—played live—is a pleasure throughout. It was composed by Agatsuma, Aun, Eric Serra, and Keiichi Suzuki, and is performed by Seiichiro Koizuma, Monk De La Vega, and Kae Hashimoto Reed.


And the actors are very appealing—particularly Yoshi Amao, who's the straight-arrow hero; and Yoshihisa Kuwayama, who's thoroughly charismatic as the drunken warrior...and is also the writer, choreographer, and director.


The overall story is so-so, ending with a moral so simplistic that it sounds like nonsense even as it's being delivered.


But the moment-by-moment action is sharp and compelling...including a delightful twist at the finale involving saké that will have special meaning to fans of Jackie Chan movies.


If you crave probing drama, look elsewhere.


But otherwise, this is a good time; and a family-friendly show to boot.


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