Monday, August 31, 2009

Best of the NY Fringe Festival

By Lauren Yarger
Mix together more than 200 shows in 18 venues over three weeks and you have the New York International Fringe Festival.

Of the total package, I reviewed 24 shows and awarded fringe “tassels” from 1 to 5 based on overall quality of the production. Following is a wrap-up of the top five I saw. You’ll be seeing these shows or hearing from these playwrights again. They’re that good.

Check here to see which shows have been selected to play encores in September. To read reviews with an added Christian perspective of all 24 shows I saw, go to http://reflectionsinthelight.blogspot.com/, scroll down on the left side of the page and click on “NY Fringe Festival 2009 Reviews.”

Memoirs Wrapped in Love and Forgiveness

Show: White Horses: An Irish Childhood
Presented by: Breaking Tide
Writer: Owen Dara
Director: Elizabeth Duck & Dan Toscano
Fringe Tassels Awarded: 4.5 of 5

Summary:
A sweet, sad and inspiring memoir of growing up in Ireland. Owen Dara uses humor, song and love to paint a picture of his boyhood in Cork, Ireland with a devout Catholic mother and a father who battles depression.
Dara spends content and happy younger years watching his father create pottery which he sells to tourists to support the family. He thrills his mother when he announces plans to enter the priesthood. All these dreams are shattered by a fallible priest and by his father loss of the pottery business and descent into depression which forces the family to live in poverty, first in rented accommodations, then in a run down home given to them by his wealthy maternal grandfather.

As a teen, Dara rebels against the upper-class snobbery of his mother’s family and drops out of school. Years of travelling can’t put distance between him and the anger he feels for his father, and it’s only when, fighting his own depression, he returns to express his feelings to his father, that he finds peace through forgiveness.

Dara is a wonderful storyteller, playing the various roles of his parents, a school mate, the priest and himself. He draws the audience in and touches them deeply with the tales. It’s very encouraging to see an author’s view of family dysfunction filtered by love, rather than by the anger and pain it causes. The show is derived from Dara’s book of memoires “White Horses: An Irish Childhood.” The white horses refer to a story his father told him about herds of white horses forming the white caps on ocean waves.

Highlights:
• Just the right blend of humor to balance the sadder parts
• The song he writes for his dad
• Would love to see an Off-Broadway run with a song added at the beginning and a book signing following

Lowlights:
• None

Christians might also like to know:
• Lord’s name taken in vain

Juggling Love, Careers and Womanhood

Show: And She Said, He Said, I Said Yes
Presented by: DRD Productions
Writer: Harrison David Rivers
Fringe Tassels Awarded: 4.5 of 5

Summary:
A really compelling triplet of monologues by Melissa Joyner, Rory Lipede and Jehan O. Young who discuss trying to balance careers, finding their identities as women and negotiating romantic relationships that often try to interfere with both.

Young grows her hair long in what she discovers is an attempt to keep a guy; Joyner must give up a relationship when he wants her to forgo an acting career in New York to be a good wife in Memphis; and Lipede finds herself the cruel victim of a bet by the popular guy on campus.

Highlights:
• The three women are great. They’re honest, funny and inspiring and make you think they’d be a lot of fun to hang out with.
• Their dialogue, written by Harrison David Rivers and using much of theowmen's own stories, is engrossing and pulls you in and keeps you engaged throughout the 90-minute presentation. It's upbeat and definitely not a "man bash."

Lowlights:
•None. Take it Off-Broadway.

Christians might also like to know:
• Sex outside of marriage and date rape is included in the dialogue
• Language

The Most Fun You'll Have in Church Out of Church

Show: Sunday Best
Presented by: Azddak Performances Writer: Laura Canty-Samuel
Composer: Laura Canty-Samuel and Ethan Forrest Wagner
Fringe Tassels Awarded: 4 out of 5

Summary: Have you ever wanted to laugh in church? Here’s your chance, and you might actually spend time praising God too. It’s the well-done Sunday Best featuring the talents of author Laura Canty-Samuel who plays 10 characters taking part in a Sunday service at the fictional Mount Carmel Church and their corresponding wide range of idiosyncrasies and emotions.

She’s backed up by the church choir (Xavier Rice, Kimberly Crane and Fola Azali Vann) and musical director and co-composer Ethan Wagner and his praise band (Anthony Richardson, Darrell Ward and Mike Tucker).

The show (amusingly listed as an order of worship in the program) features toe-tapping, hand-clapping gospel music with some thoughts, prayers and sermons from the characters in between. Among the characters are Mother Lucy, a grandmotherly type, Evangelist Reese who shares a word from God, Sister Marisol who isn’t happy about her husband’s call to the ministry, Sister Eunice who is frustrated in her attempts to give testimony by the choir which keeps adding refrains to its song, Minister Roland with a rapping sermon about being a soldier, a 4-year-old Sister Denay and Sister LaShonda who balks at directives about what women should wear in church, like a ban on open-toe shoes.

“What’s a toe going to do?” she questions.

Canty-Samuel makes lightning-fast, full costume changes for each of the characters, including wigs and hats. She adds some humorous prayers for health care and Glenn Beck, some interaction with the audience and lots of great music (there’s a nice selection of sound styles) to offer one of the most-fun filled church services around. In all seriousness, the selection of songs leading into the monologues seemed better thought out than the praise songs leading into sermons I’ve experienced at some church services.

Highlights:
• “Ride on King Jesus” with terrific harmonies by the choir and a stand-out tenor solo by Rice
• “I’m a Soldier” with Minister Roland dividing the audience into two parts to sing “I’m a soldier, I’ma. I’ma soldier” and the responding “What?!” And they did it with unfeigned enthusiasm.
• With lyrics like “Jesus Christ has got your back; ain’t it nice to have a savior like that?” what’s not to like? I love when theater honors God.

Lowlights:
• It goes a bit too long (like some church services, dare I say?) at an hour and 30 minutes with no intermission. Some trimming, particularly of two songs focusing more on relationships between the characters and of the prolonged ending would form a tighter production.

Christians might also like to know:
• Booking information at azddak@gmail.com


Strangers on a Train Find They Have a Lot in Common

Show: Damon and Debra
Presented by: B Train Productions
Writer: Judy Chicurel
Director: Passion Hansome
Fringe Tassels Awarded: 4 out of 5

Summary:
Playwright Judy Chicurel has hit one out of the park at her first New York theater at bat with a fascinating interaction between two commuters stranded together on a subway train.

Damon (Julito McCullum) and Debra (Michelle H. Zanagara) find themselves stranded on a NY Subway B train shortly after the September 11 attacks and enter into a forced conversation as they wait for service to resume. What starts as two people apparently on different ends of the spectrum becomes a fascinating conversation between two people who have more in common than you’d think. He’s a young African American, a distrustful product of the foster care system who works as an orderly at a hospital and who carries a notebook to write down new vocabulary words; she’s a multiple-degreed bureaucrat, who’s feisty and bold – she breaks out a bottle of wine and a joint while waiting for the train to run -- who carries purchases from a high-end-store shopping trip.

Anything you’ve ever heard or thought about racism comes out at some point, often with good humor attached. This script contains some of the most raw, honest, funny and razor-sharp dialogue I have heard in a while. After finding common ground, they end up revealing some of their inner struggles. Debra, it turns out, just found out she has breast cancer, to which she just lost her mother. Damon dreams of living in peace in a house outside of the city where no one can find him (like they always could when he was in foster care). The exchange is natural and not forced as in so many “two-strangers-meet” plots and these two characters are extremely likable, thanks to the actors.

Highlights:
• Crisp realistic dialogue

Lowlights:
• It’s unlikely a B train would have only two people in a car at 3 pm (more plausible at 3 am). It’s also unlikely that so close to the attack on the WTC, these two would be so laid back and unconcerned about why the train was stopped. They do attempt to open the doors that exit onto the platform early on, but it never occurs to them to pass between train cars to find a conductor or other passengers?

Christians might also like to know:
• Lord’s name taken in vain
• Language
• Drug usage

Lessons Learned Following U2

Photo by Deborah Alexander

Show: I Will Follow
Presented by: Pennyfield Productions
Writer: Barri Tsavaris
Director: Steve Wargo
Fringe Tassels Awarded: 3.5 of 5

Summary:
Barri Tsavaris loves Bono and the band U2. No, she uber loves them. No, you don’t get it. She LOVES them, so much so that she camps out on the cold street overnight for a chance of seeing them at a television appearance, plans her wedding around their tour dates, spends rent money on concert tickets and risks losing her job to attend a taping.

She shares her escapades, which start in 1987 as she is preparing for her bat mitzvah, assisted by John Keabler and Melissa Center who play the various acquaintances, friends, family members and U2 fans along the way. She finally meets her idol then has to ask, “what now?”

It’s really a lot of fun, and it’s hard not to immensely like the effervescent Barri, who’s not afraid to laugh at herself and learn a few lessons on her life's road trip. Keabler and Center are very entertaining as well and excel as the groundskeeper at Bono’s Ireland home and an Italian groupie, respectively.

Highlights:
• Nice set by R. Allen Babcock
• Barri’s thoughtful reflections on being in the financial district on September 11, 2001 and her thought about being grateful for a bed after sleeping on the street.

Lowlights:
• None

Christians might also like to know:
• God’s name taken in vain
• Barri doesn’t believe God is real, but does talk to Bono God, who answers her.
• Horoscope

No comments:

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Our reviews are professional reviews written without a religious bias. At the end of them, you can find a listing of language, content or theological issues that Christians might want to know about when deciding which shows to see.

** Mature indicates that the show has posted an advisory because of content. Usually this means I would recommend no one under the age of 16 attend.

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

My Bio

Lauren Yarger has written, directed and produced numerous shows and special events for both secular and Christian audiences. She co-wrote a Christian musical version of “A Christmas Carol” which played to sold-out audiences of over 3,000 in Vermont and was awarded the 2000 Vermont Bessie (theater and film awards) for “People’s Choice for Theatre.” She also has written two other dinner theaters, sketches for church services and devotions for Christian artists.

Yarger trained for three years in the Broadway League’s Producer Development Program, completed the Commercial Theater Institute's Producing Three-Day Training and produced a one-woman musical about Mary Magdalene that toured nationally and closed with an off-Broadway run.

She was a Fellow at the National Critics Institute at the O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford, CT. She writes reviews of Broadway and off-Broadway theater (the only ones you can find in the US with an added Christian perspective) at http://reflectionsinthelight.blogspot.com/.

She is editor of The Connecticut Arts Connection (http://ctarts.blogspot.com), an award-winning website featuring theater and arts news for the state. She is a contributing editor for BroadwayWorld.com and is a theater reviewer for the Manchester Journal-Inquirer. She previously served as Connecticut theater editor for CurtainUp.com and as Connecticut and New York reviewer for American Theater Web.

Yarger is a book reviewer for Publishers Weekly and freelances for other sites. She is a member of the National Book Critics Circle.

She is a freelance writer and playwright and member of The Drama Desk, The Outer Critics Circle, The American Theater Critics Association and The League of Professional Theatre Women. She served as a judge for the SDX Awards presented by the Society of Professional Journalists. She also is a member of the Connecticut Critics Circle and the CT Press Club.

A former newspaper editor and graduate of the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, Yarger also worked in arts management for the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, the Hartford Symphony Orchestra and served for nine years as the Executive Director of Masterwork Productions, Inc. She lives with her husband in West Granby, CT. They have two adult children.

Copyright

All material is copyright 2008- 2017 by Lauren Yarger. Reviews and articles may not be reprinted without permission. Contact reflectionsinthelight@gmail.com

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Key to Content Notes:

God's name taken in vain -- means God or Jesus is used in dialogue without speaking directly to or about them.

Language -- means some curse words are used. "Minor" usually means the words are not too strong or that it only occurs once or twice throughout the show.

Strong Language -- means some of the more heavy duty curse words are used.

Nudity -- means a man or woman's backside, a man's lower front or a woman's front are revealed.

Scantily clad -- means actors' private areas are technically covered, but I can see a lot of them.

Sexual Language -- means the dialogue contains sexually explicit language but there's no action.

Sexual Activity -- means a man and woman are performing sexual acts.

Adultery -- Means a married man or woman is involved sexually with someone besides their spouse. If this is depicted with sexual acts on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Sex Outside of Marriage -- means a man and woman are involved sexually without being married. If this is depicted sexually on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Homosexuality -- means this is in the show, but not physically depicted.

Homosexual activity -- means two persons of the same sex are embracing/kissing. If they do more than that, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Cross Dresser -- Means someone is dressing as the opposite sex. If they do more than that on stage the listing would include the corresponding "sexual activity" and/or "homosexual activity" as well.

Cross Gender -- A man is playing a female part or a woman is playing a man's part.

Suggestive Dancing -- means dancing contains sexually suggestive moves.

Derogatory (category added Fall 2012) Language or circumstances where women are referred to or treated in a negative and demeaning manner.

Other content matters such as torture, suicide or rape will be noted, with details revealed only as necessary in the review itself.

The term "throughout" added to any of the above means it happens many times throughout the show.

Reviewing Policy

I receive free seats to Broadway and Off-Broadway shows made available to all voting members of the Outer Critics Circle and The Drama Desk, the two professional critics organizations with journalists covering NY theater. Journalistically, I provide an unbiased review and am under no obligation to make positive statements. Sometimes shows do not make tickets available to reviewers. If these are shows my readers want to know about (I review all Broadway shows and pertinent Off-Broadway shows), I will purchase a ticket. If a personal friend is involved in a production, I'll let you know, but it won't influence a review. If I feel there is a conflict, I won't review their portion of the production.

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