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August 9, 2013

FRINGENYC 2013: 11 Shows not to miss

I know: when you think of The New York International Fringe Festival, the first thing you think of is cramped black box theaters with no air conditioning in sketchy parts of town. Well, those were the old days. There ain’t nothing sketchy or uncomfortably hot about FringeNYC now, as theatergoers will discover when the festival opens its 16th annual edition this weekend. From its humble beginnings as a scrappy start-up with a $74,000 budget, FringeNYC has now grown into the largest multi-arts festival in all of North America, featuring 200 shows performed in 20 different venues over the festival’s 16-day schedule, and drawing approximately 75,000 audience members a year. Summer used to be a theater wasteland between Broadway seasons, but FringeNYC changed all that. Since the festival’s inception in 1997, dozens of smaller copycat festivals, based on a similar producing model, have sprung up and turned the summer months into festival season in New York every year.
 
But FringeNYC, which is currently up and running until August 25th, still retains the most street cred of them all. Its sheer size, breadth, and scope guarantees artistic diversity. You can see pretty much any genre of show at FringeNYC. Plus, the festival has provided countless opportunities for artists in the Indie Theater sector to present their work to a potentially larger audience. These are the kinds of artists that you can say you saw way back when after they become famous, and FringeNYC boasts a whole heap of them: the festival helped launch the careers of Mindy Kaling, Michael Urie, Alexander Gemignani, Melissa Rauch, Mike Daisey, and Susan Louise O’Connor, to name a few. The Tony Award-winning musical Urinetown! originated at FringeNYC, as did the Off-Broadway hits Debbie Does Dallas and Silence! The Musical. In recent years, high profile figures such as Rachel Dratch and Mo Rocca have been drawn to FringeNYC to perform shows of their own.
 
In other words: whatever you end up seeing at FringeNYC is going to be something special, and potentially the best of the best.
 
But, with 200 shows to choose from, figuring out what to see can seem daunting. There are, however, a number of reliable Indie Theater veterans – as well as some more well-known talents – doing shows at this year’s festival. Allow me to submit the following eleven productions as suggestions for your FringeNYC dance card:
 
Bang, Bang You’re Dead: The Playground Theatre Project, an arts education group that presents touring productions with adolescent student actors, presents a revival of William Mastrosimone’s drama about a school shooting and its aftermath. The unlikely pairing of Mastrosimone, the veteran author of Off-Broadway classics like Extremities and The Woolgatherer, and a company of budding young thespians is exactly the kind of thing that FringeNYC is all about. Expect lots of intensity, and bring your Kleenex.
 
Breaking Kayfabe: Writer-director Temar Underwood (who cut his teeth with NYC’s reigning geek theater company, Vampire Cowboys) gives us a new multimedia docudrama about a retired professional wrestler setting the record straight about his career. Starring Indie heavyweights Adam Swiderski and Brian Silliman (both of whom appeared in Mac Rogers’ epic Honeycomb trilogy last year) and featuring a real live wrestling ring on stage, Breaking Kayfabe promises strong performances and bone-crushing action galore.  Click here for a video preview.

A Fallopian Fairy Tale: Actor-writer Marisa Marquez knocked one out of the park at last year’s FringeNYC with the hilarious satire Yellow Brick Wall (co-written and co-performed with her creative partner Siho Ellsmore). This year, she returns to the festival with a new solo comedy about a woman trying to pitch an unorthodox children’s book. Think Walt Disney meets Girls, and leave the kids at home.
 
Lights Narrow: Playwright and longtime FringeNYC mainstay Vincent Marano (he has written and/or directed nearly a half dozen previous Fringe shows) debuts his newest play, which focuses on two strangers meeting in a place that sounds suspiciously like Purgatory. Marano’s work embodies the free spirit of FringeNYC, so put this one on your must-see list.
 
The Nightmare Dream: Dracula meets A Midsummer Night’s Dream in writer-director Neal Freeman’s mashup homage to both iconic works. Freeman’s background as a seasoned Shakespearean director – as well as the presence of two-time New York Innovative Theatre Award winning actor Greg Horton – guarantees that this production won’t suck (pun intended).
 
Occupy Olympus: Tony Award nominated composer Elizabeth Swados contributes original music to Magis Theatre Company’s new adaptation of Aristophanes’ comedy Plutus, God of Wealth, which has been re-imagined for the age of Bernie Madoff, ponzi schemes, and the 1%.
 
Old Familiar Faces: Nat Cassidy, the writer/director of last year’s Fringe NYC hit Songs of Love: A Theatrical Mixtape (as well as a two-time New York Innovative Theatre Award winner himself) returns to FringeNYC again with this epic romantic drama that juxtaposes the lives of Charles and Mary Lamb, the brother/sister duo who were stars of the 19th century British literary scene, with the stormy romance of Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh. Stage veterans Tandy Cronyn (daughter of acting legends Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy) and Sam Tsoutsouvas star as the Lamb siblings, so expect to see some thespian fireworks.
 
The Rufus Equation: Film and television actor Geoffrey Arend (perhaps best known as real life husband to Mad Men’s Christina Hendricks) stars in Ted Cubbin’s comedy about a nebbish professor who invents a device that may help his luck with women (and, you know, change the world as well). Directed by Drama Desk Award nominee Tom Ridgely, whose work as co-director on last year’s Goodbar was stellar.
 
Sheeple: Recovering former child actor Mara Wilson (of Matilda and Mrs. Doubtfire fame) makes her FringeNYC playwriting debut with this dramedy about a pothead and his Satanist brother confronting the possibility that everything they know might be wrong during the dog days of the Bush presidency. If Wilson’s blog is any indication of what awaits audiences, expect droll, surprising poignancy.
 
The Skype Show: Actor-musicians Jody Christopherson and Michael de Roos (a.k.a. the folk-rock indie beatbox duo Greencard Wedding) star in the true story of how Skype saved their band (and perhaps more than just that) when visa regulations confined them to separate continents. Performed via live Skype call between New York and Amsterdam, (and featuring a supporting turn from LAByrinth Theater Company member David Anzuelo), The Skype Show sounds like a great example of the ambitious, no holds barred attitude that FringeNYC is known for.
 
WREX: Veteran character actor Gavin Starr Kendall, a stalwart of the Indie Theater scene for the better part of the past decade, plays the starring role in Christopher Lord Compton’s re-imaging of the Oedipus Rex story, updated as a caustic tale about a bombastic radio talk show host caught in a scandal. Think Talk Radio meets the ancient Greeks. From the sounds of it, this ought to be a superb showcase for Kendall, whose talents have yet to know any bounds.
 
Tickets for these, and many other shows, can be purchased by phone at 1-866.468.7619; in person at Fringe Central, the festival’s headquarters, located at 27 2nd Avenue (between East 1st and 2nd Streets); or online at fringenyc.org.
 

Pictured:

TOP, "Old Familiar Faces" - From left to right: Tandy Cronyn, Sam Tsoutsouvas. Photo credit: Nat Cassidy.
BOTTOM, "The Skype Show" - From left to right: Jody Christopherson, Michael de Roos. Photo credit: Anna Flores
 
 
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Michael Criscuolo is a New York-based writer. He writes periodically for American Theatre magazine and has written extensively for nytheatre.com, where he was a staff reviewer for nearly a decade.  He holds a BFA in Drama from New York University's Tisch School of the Arts.   

 



Posted at 10:39 PM

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