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Archive for August 25th, 2011

Master List of New York International Fringe Festival 2011 Reviews

Posted by metaphorical on 25 August 2011

NOTE: The Fringe has cancelled all shows for Saturday and Sunday, 27-28 August.

It also announced a first round of shows to make the Fringe Encore series:

The 2011 series will include PigPen Presents the Mountain Song, The Legend of Julie Taymor, Fourteen Flights, The More Loving One, Facebook Me, Araby, Paper Cut, You Only Shoot the Ones You Love, Parker & Dizzy’s Fabulous Journey to the End Of the Rainbow, Pearl’s Gone Blue, Felony Friday, COBU, and several more shows yet to be determined (including the TheaterMania Audience Favorite Award Winner). A complete schedule of performances and showtimes will be announced Sunday, August 28.

Four of those shows are reviewed below.

Useful links:

Fringe Festival search/database

NYTheatre.com Fringe Reviews

Broadway World thread

Here are all my reviews to date:

Yeast Nation (the triumph of life)
2h 30m
VENUE #9: The Ellen Stewart Theatre @ LA MAMA
Rating: 10

Fourteen Flights
2h 30m
VENUE #3: CSV Kabayitos
Rating: 10

PigPen Presents: The Mountain Song
1h 0m
VENUE #12: 4th Street Theatre
Rating: 10

I Might Be Edgar Allan Poe
1h 20m
VENUE #17: Manhattan Theatre Source
Rating: 10

COBU
VENUE #14: Bleecker Theatre
0h 45m
Rating: 9

74 Minutes of Stereo Radio Theater
1h 15m
VENUE #18: The Studio at Cherry Lane Theatre
Rating: 9

Who Loves You, Baby?
0h 50m
VENUE #13: Bowery Poetry Club
Rating: 9

Life Insurance
0h 37m
VENUE #17: Manhattan Theatre Source
Rating: 9

Theater of the Arcade: Five Classic Video Games Adapted for the Stage
2h 0m
VENUE #14: Bleecker Theatre
Rating: 8

Felony Friday
2h 15m
VENUE #7: Connelly Theater
Rating: 8

The Bardy Bunch: The War of the Families Partridge and Brady
1h 40m
VENUE #9: The Ellen Stewart Theatre @ LA MAMA
Rating: 8

The Eternal Husband
1h 15m
VENUE #8: The First Floor Theatre @ LA MAMA
Rating: 8

The Toughest Girl Alive!
1h 50m
VENUE #15: Le Poisson Rouge
Rating: 8

leonard cohen koans
1h 15m
VENUE #15: Le Poisson Rouge
Rating: 8

The Apartment: A Play With Four Sides
1h 15m
VENUE #1: Teatro SEA
Rating: 7

22 Stories
0h 45m
VENUE #10: IATI Theater
Rating: 7

When the Sky Breaks 3D
1h 0m
VENUE #5: Dixon Place
Rating: 7

Noir
2h 0m (really 1h 0m)
VENUE #7: Connelly Theater
Rating: 7

Virgie
1h 0m
VENUE #13: Bowery Poetry Club
Rating: 6

Wilhelmstrasse
1h 55m
VENUE #8: The First Floor Theatre @ LA MAMARating: 6

Bette Davis Ain’t For Sissies
1h 10m
VENUE #3: CSV Kabayitos
Rating: 5

Chagrin
1h 0m
VENUE #8: The First Floor Theatre @ LA MAMA
Rating: 5

WHALE SONG or: Learning to Live With Mobyphobia
1h 15m
VENUE #8: The First Floor Theatre @ LA MAMA
Rating: 5

Rachel Calof
1h 30m
VENUE #2: CSV Flamboyan
Rating: 4

The Day the Sky Turned Black
0h 55m
VENUE #10: IATI Theater
Rating: 3

Em O’Loughlin was a BIG FATTY BOOMBAH!
1h 0m
VENUE #16: Players Theatre
Rating: 3

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Fringe 2011 Review: Leonard Cohen Koans

Posted by metaphorical on 25 August 2011

leonard cohen koans


1h 15m
VENUE #15: Le Poisson Rouge
Performance seen: Tue 23 @ 7:15
Remaining performances: Fri 26 @ 8:30 Sat 27 @ 3
http://www.aliandthethieves.com

Rating: 8
(using the BroadwayWorld rating system of 10=effusive praise; 9=excellent; 7/8=positive with some reservations; 5/6=respectfully unenthused; 3/4=mostly negative; 2=little to recommend; 1=offended, insulted, angered)

If you were going to select an artist to create a show “built from our personal responses to the essences of the stories being told in his work,” in which “the arrangements cross genres and are interwoven with selections of his poetry and prose,” it’s hard to imagine a more likely oeuvre than that of that iconoclastic poet, songwriter, raconteur, singer, and occasional mystic, Leonard Cohen.

I’m a bit of a Leonard Cohen fan. I’ve watched the documentary “I’m Your Man,” several times. His two songs on k.d. lang’s “Hymns of the 49th Parallel” are my favorites. I can remember the first time I ever heard “Suzanne.” I have a favorite version of “Hallelujah” (Rufus Wainwright’s).

And most importantly for a prose writer like me, Cohen writes like a writer. Despite everything that Sondheim says about the differences between lyrics and poetry, Cohen’s lyrics read like poetry, and, more than any other kind of poetry, they read like prose poems.

Who else could represent freedom with the image of “a drunk in a midnight choir”? Or a woman’s hair as having been woven on a loom “of smoke and gold and breathing”? Who writes songs infused with Biblical references—Jesus walking on the water, David, Babylon, and a man weakened when a woman cuts his hair—and blowjobs?

For that matter, how many Jewish Canadian songwriter-poets have a Zen master? And I didn’t really know that much about Cohen’s poetry or his philosophy. I looked forward to a show that connected the many chain links of such an artist. It would be like fusing the theatrical existentialism of “The Flies” with the academic existentialism of “Being and Nothingness.” But with music!

Unfortunately, music is just about all there was. Twelve songs in 75 minutes. That doesn’t leave much room for Ali Hughes and her Thieves to “explore the work of Leonard Cohen, infusing his poetry, prose and song with their intricate, and very personal, elixir,” as the Fringe description promised.

The songs themselves were terrific, and Hughes and her musical director, pianist, and all-around collaborator, Daryl Wallis, have reached into the Cohen oeuvre to pull out a bunch of lesser-known works, including only a few favorites and ignoring some others.

Four songs in the show (Avalanche, Winter Lady, Lady Midnight, and Feels So Good)—fully one-third of the twelve-song playlist—are not among the 31 songs in the album “The Essential Leonard Cohen.” And going the other way, of the album’s five most popular songs, as judged by iTunes, two weren’t in the show (“Hallelujah” and “Everybody Knows”), nor is the other k.d. lang cover, “Bird on the Wire.”

(Here’s the complete song list, at least the night I attended, as best I could get them commited to notes: The Guests / Avalanche / Dance Me To The End Of Love / Chelsea Hotel No. 2 / Sisters Of Mercy / Winter Lady / Lady Midnight / Famous Blue Raincoat / I’m Your Man / Suzanne / Feels So Good / If It Be Your Will.)

The show was essentially a cabaret act with a veneer of Cohen as interstitial material. A Zen koan started and ended the show (a single koan, with a 70-minute cliffhanger), another koan was related, a few random Cohen quotes, and a couple of lines of “Hallelujah” made their way into “Feels So Good,” medley-style. Other than that, it was all songs, all the time. Even the song selection itself seemed to favor the love songs of a cabaret act, instead of the more story-oriented songs of a philosopher-poet.

The part of the show that perhaps best followed its description was the very center. Hughes told a koan about a couple that elope and, years later, return to the home of her disapproving parents. It was followed by two of the most story-like songs of the evening, “Winter Lady” (which seems to contradict the koan), and “Lady Midnight” (which reinforces the question of the koan).

Musically, “Suzanne” was by far the most interesting. I could imagine a hundred other singers singing most of the songs in much the same way Hughes did, but on “Suzanne” her voice snaked through the lyrics in unique ways, for example going up instead of down when bridging the two parts of the line, “all men will be sailors then until the sea shall free them.”

“I’m Your Man” was even more successful. Throughout, the musicians were exceptional and the two thieves (Marty Thomas and Chris Dilley) sang flawlessly, but for this number, all five elements of the music matched perfectly: the piano, bass, drums, backup singers, and lead vocal.

Hughes herself has a beautiful voice, and made a striking appearance. A tall 30something honey blonde woman, she wore a black dinner jacket with just a leotard or camisole barely showing itself underneath, black stretch pants, and black high-heeled open-toe bowtie patent leather pumps. I was disappointed in “Leonard Cohen Koans” as a Fringe show, but I would see her cabaret any time.

[more fringe 2011 reviews here]

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Fringe 2011 Review: The Toughest Girl Alive! (Candye Kane)

Posted by metaphorical on 25 August 2011

The Toughest Girl Alive!

1h 50m
VENUE #15: Le Poisson Rouge
Performance seen: Tue 23 @ 9:15
Remaining performances: Fri 26 @ 5:45 Sat 27 @ 7:45
http://www.candyekane.com/

Rating: 8
(using the BroadwayWorld rating system of 10=effusive praise; 9=excellent; 7/8=positive with some reservations; 5/6=respectfully unenthused; 3/4=mostly negative; 2=little to recommend; 1=offended, insulted, angered)

For most of her life, singer and sex star Candye Kane was told if she would just slim down she’d be perfect. As a longtime aficionado of the female form, I beg to differ. As a longtime aficionado of theatre, however, it’s pretty much dead on when it comes to her autobiographical show, “The Toughest Girl Alive!”: if the last half hour could go on a diet and exercise regimen, the show would be just about perfect.

Photo of Candye Kane by Marco HermanHere are some of the elements of her perfect show: Great singing (both country and western, and blues), great honesty, and a great story of genuine aspirations and enormous obstacles in the way of achieving them. Candye’s desires aren’t so unusual; she wants a singing career, and she wants love. Nor are the two unrelated. She explains (twice, for some reason) that when she was 6, she learned she could get people to like her by singing.

What’s unusual is two things. First, she’s almost completely uninhibited. She starts working at a young age on a sex phone line and soon is posing for girlie magazines. (I may have the order wrong—Candye unfortunately jumps around chronologically without much in the way of signposts along the way. I asked the three people I sat with, and they all had the same problem I did.) Second, she’s overweight, normally a problem in building a career in show business. She perseveres, however, and helps create a niche within the porn industry for large women.

The obstacles in Candye’s twin paths to music and love are epic. An abandoning father, an alternatingly loving and cruel step-father, exploitive photographers and producers, gang violence, teenage pregnancy, a suicide attempt, the premature birth of her son, drug dependencies, prostitution, abusive boyfriends, a music manager with a conflicting and unrealistic vision of her career, more pregnancies, and throughout, a psychologically abusive mother and physically abusive men.

There are also high moments as well—her first magazine cover (Juggs Magazine), high-paying stripping gigs, the health of her low-birth-weight son, relationships that work out, at least for a while, great friendships, and the way Candye gets closer and closer to a record deal with a major label, which provides a much-needed narrative thread through the ups and the downs. Also helpful were the many photographs of Candye throughout her varied career. Her extremely public life is documented in way that is common only now that we have cellphone cameras, blogs, and Facebook.

Toward the end of the show, unfortunately, Candye begins to preach to the audience, against the censorship of large breasts, the anti-choice movement, and the criminalization of sex work (“We should outlaw poverty, not prostitution”), to name just three occasions when Candye breaks faith with the particulars of her story. It’s not only untheatrical and counterproductive, it also serves no purpose. The audience has no trouble drawing these lessons from Candye’s wayward life.

This represents the only major flaw in an otherwise stellar show. The minor flaws include the hard-to-follow chronology, and a similar difficulty in sometimes understanding who is who. Scenes from Candye’s life are enacted by her with the aid of two excellent singer-actors, Robert Kirk and Bethany Slomka. They necessarily represent many people over the course of Candye’s life story, but the two women in particular jump from person to person like body-snatchers being chased through a crowd. In one scene, for example, Candye plays herself until Slomka says, “Your mother and I,” at which point we’re supposed to understand that Slomka is Candye’s grandmother and Candye is now her own mother. (At least, that’s what I think happened.)

Kirk and Slomka have beautiful voices and do an excellent job of distinguishing by gesture, volume, and accent the many people they’re portraying. The live band (bass and lead guitar, drums, and keyboards) was excellent as well. Much praise is also due Javier Velasco, who wrote the story. It’s common in publishing that an autobiographical story is written by someone else, but rare in theatre. Here, as there, it seems to be a good idea. The story is well shaped and has a powerful arc.

Candye is a terrific singer in both her genres, and something like this show would easily work well as cabaret with the story reduced to patter—especially easy to imagine in the lounge atmosphere of Le Poisson Rouge. As a full-blown narrative, though, it’s perfect for the Fringe.

[more fringe 2011 reviews here]

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