Margo's Fringe Festival Reviews

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MargoChanning
Broadway Legend
joined:4/5/04
Broadway Legend
joined:
4/5/04
Margo's Fringe Festival Reviews#0
Posted: 8/15/05 at 9:29am
I'm seeing about 14-15 shows in the Fringe Festival this year and I've decided that rather than creating a separate thread for each show, that I would simply create one thread that I can update as I see new shows in the next two weeks.

THE MAYOR WHO WOULD BE SONDHEIM by John Doble (8/13/05)

I must admit what initially attracted me to this piece was its title. Trying to decide which of 180 Fringe Festival offerings to see can be a rather daunting task. You look at shows somehow associated with performers, writers or companies that have a track record for good work in the past. If a show doesn't have that, then sometimes what sticks out are the titles, which is problematic. Sometimes all certain shows have is a good title and nothing else. Thankfully, THE MAYOR WHO WOULD BE SONDHEIM has much more going for it than that.

It is a politcally-themed comedy/drama (NOT a musical, lest anyone be fooled by the title) about the mayor of the fictional midsized (100,000 people) New Jersey town of Northeast Orange, who has a love for musical theatre (he has a photo of Sondheim on his desk) and a propensity to break out into show tunes, crafting his own lyrics to suit the situation. At one point he urges his small staff to join along with him as defacto backup singers, for a Music Man take off involving a garbage strike.

It's a quirky and whimsical concept (sort of reminiscent of "Spin City" or some other politically themed tv show) that wears a bit thin during the slightly overlong first Act. Playwright John Doble does craft an interesting metaphor about the difference between poets and lyricists, stating that poets have a blank page to deal with, while lyricists have to work within the structure and framework they are given -- something true of politicians as well. It's a valid observation, but it doesn't save the first act from being a bit too exposition heavy.

Things improve vastly in Act II (which seems almost like a different play). The show tunes disappear (for the most part) and whimsy gives way to serious social drama when an inicident of police brutality occurs reminiscent of Amadou Diallo, Patrick Dourismand, Albert Louima, and Rodney King. It's an election year and the mayor's viability for re-election will hinge entirely on how he handles this racially charged episode. At this point he and his diverse staff (a black woman who is a trusted assistant, an old school white, possibly racist campaign manager, and his new, bright, liberal, George Stephanopolous-esque advisor) hash over the many ethical and moral and practical political issues at play in the situation. What's right and wrong? What's the bigger picture? What are the compromises that a politician must sometimes make in the real world in order to do the best for everyone in the long run?

It's a sparkling debate and very dramtaically compelling to witness. The cast and direction are solid throughout. In its latter half, SONDHEIM made for quite a worthwhile, well-considered, intelligent offering from the Fringe and I was glad to have seen it.

SILENT CONCERTO (8/13/05)

What a surprise. I went only because a friend of a friend was in the cast, and I have to say that this was one of the better plays and productions that I've seen so far this year.

The plot revolves around a triangle of friends/lovers -- two male, one female -- over the course of ten years. Naldo (Ivan Quintanilla) is a dreamy, romantic aspiring writer, trying to finish -- start actually -- a play about his relationship with the other two. Mallory (Susan Louise O'Connor) is a high strung, high maintenance, acting student with dreams of playing her list of the ten great roles (Nina, Hedda, Miss Julie, Cleopatra, Ophelia etc ..) by age 30, but her self-absorption (and possible lack of talent) may undermine that dream. Benny (Greg Marcel) is the epitome of superficial beauty -- perfect face, perfect hair, perfect shoes -- that draws people to him, but he pushes them away, fearing they'll discover the emptiness inside, the pain of which he masks with alcohol.

The playwright Alejandro Morales has crafted a deftly poetic, daringly structured (his use of repetition and motif-like themes is expert), emotionally evocative work that that nakedly displays and dissects the underlying desires of these characters who all have walls up on one level or another against everyone -- including those they most care about; inluding themselves. He quite perceptively explores the ever-shifting and changing nature of friendships and interpersonal relationships, what it means to fall in and out of love, and what happens to people when their dreams don't come true. I don't doubt that many in the audience will find a certain resonance in the with themselves (at 20 or so) with these characters.

I hasten to mention that SILENT CONCERTO isn't some mournful, humorless exercise in longing and regret. It's hystericaly funny at times and Scott Ebersold's direction keeps the piece moving with a vibrancy and crackling energy that never flags throughout. He's ably abetted by his gifted cast.

Ivan Quintanilla effectively and touchingly embodies the spirit of the sensitive, pensive writer struggling to find his voice and be able to fully connect with these two dysfunctional people he cares about. Gregory Marcel adroitly presents the portrait of the stunningly beautiful object of desire of both who completely loses himself when he's forced to stop gazing upon his own reflection in the mirror and look within. Most impressive is Susan Louise O'Connor who has the kind of dynamism, fearlessness, specificity and effortless comedic timing that is the mark of a great actress.

SILENT CONCERTO is a extremely clever, well-crafted, well-performed rather haunting work that stays with you long after the final fade. Playwright Alejandro Morales is clearly an accomplished talent. I look forward to his next work.
"What a story........ everything but the bloodhounds snappin' at her rear end." -- Birdie [http://margochanning.broadwayworld.com/] "The Devil Be Hittin' Me" -- Whitney
Updated On: 8/15/05 at 09:29 AM
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paradox_error
Broadway Legend
joined:8/25/04
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re: Margo's Fringe Festival Reviews#1
Posted: 8/15/05 at 12:13pm
Thanks for posting them Margo. It's nice to be able to get an idea of what musical theatre is up to when you aren't in New Yorl.

Keep the reviews coming...
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MargoChanning
Broadway Legend
joined:4/5/04
Broadway Legend
joined:
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re: Margo's Fringe Festival Reviews#2
Posted: 8/18/05 at 4:19pm
FLUFFY BUNNIES IN A FIELD OF DAISIES (8/16/05)

Once upon a time -- a few decades ago when the top price to see a straight play on the New York stage hadn't ccrossed the $10 mark -- one of the more popular genres of light entertainment was the sex comedy. These shows had a loyal following of middled aged adults and tired businessmen who who sustained them for many years. But as ticket prices began to rise well into the double digits around a quarter century ago, the audience for these sorts of plays began to dry up and folks began to stay home and sate their appetite for slightly risque, but harmless humor with a steady diet of sitcoms on a nightly basis.

Fast forward to the off-Broadway of 2005 and a quick gander around the theatrical landscape that the light "relationship" comedy is certainly back with a vengeance. I LOVE YOU, YOU'RE PERFECT, NOW CHANGE is currently in its 10th year, and other current titles include JOY, JEWTOPIA, and ORGASMS, with DR. SEX -- THE MUSICAL soon to open. So, it's no surprise that the Fringe is teeming with more titles to add to this ever-popular subgenre. One of the more notable entries is FLUFFY BUNNIES IN A FIELD OF DAISIES by Matt Chaffee.

BUNNIES is basically little more than a urban friendship sitcom a la "Friends" or the BBC's "Coupling" only stretched to two hours with the raunchiness factor increased. There's the predictable group of four Caucasian 30-somethings who hang around daily at their favorite bar talking incessantly about their sex lives. There's the funny romantic, the cynical smartass, the clueless one and cool chick and over the course of the play we get to see their interplay amongst themselves, as well as their adventures in the weird, wild world of dating (the title refers to a wish by the earnest, romantic one that dating could be as simple and free of games and artifice is as it would appear to be for the creatures in the title).

As sitcoms go, this is a very funny one and Matt Chaffee the writer must be credited with keeping the one-liners at a fairly consistently high level. And Matt Chaffee the director must be praised for keeping the pace of the dialogue so blisteringly fast that the audience doesn't have time to realize when sometimes those one liners by Matt Chaffee the writer aren't quite up to par. And greatest praise must go to the outstanding cast (led, not surprisingly, by Matt Chaffee the actor). While they're all terrific, I must single out Sangini Majmudar as the quintessential psychotic, bi-polar date from hell -- an absolute tour de force of abnormal psychology and laugh out loud funny every second she was on the stage (she also did a nice job choreographing the big dance number that opens Act Two).

FLUFFY BUNNIES IN A FIELD OF DAISIES has apparently been running in LA for two years (and has spawned a soon-to-come-sequel) and it's not difficult to see why. It's clearly a crowd-pleaser and could probably do well here if Matt Chaffee the producer wanted to open a production here. It's a funny, well-performed sitcom and makes for quite a diverting evening of light entertainment.

"What a story........ everything but the bloodhounds snappin' at her rear end." -- Birdie [http://margochanning.broadwayworld.com/] "The Devil Be Hittin' Me" -- Whitney
Updated On: 8/18/05 at 04:19 PM
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MargoChanning
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re: Margo's Fringe Festival Reviews#3
Posted: 8/18/05 at 5:16pm
THE DAY THE WORLD WENT QUEER (08/17/05)

Soon after the fallout of the Michael John LaChiusa-Marc Shaiman feud, along comes this funny new satirical musical from Jonathan Matthew Gilbert (book), Lavell V. Blackwell (music)and Joshua Cohen (lyrics). Something tells me, Mr. LaCHiusa would not approve of the show's many self-referential moments (down to a Les Miz "One Day More" reference in the Act I finale -- now, since that quotes URINETOWN's quote in the same spot, does that make this show "faux-faux-faux" in LaChiusa's eyes? Someone should make a call).

A sort of cross between ZANNA DON'T, URINETOWN and INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS, the show tells the tale of what happens to the simple citizens of Sanctityville USA when gays move into the town and in response the local government decides to legalize gay marriage. Overnight a June Cleaver mom turns into a leather-wearing, raging dyke named Spike and her button-down husband, takes to going out nightly to the bars and backrooms in his favorite ass-less chaps. Eventually, everyone turns gay and it's up to young, uncorrupted Bill (Douglas Ullman, Jr.) -- who was away at college when the transformation occurred -- and his pure and chaste girlfriend Susie (Marisa Michelson) to save the town.

The show works like an absolute delight throughout Act I, with one terrific number after another -- Joshua's Cohen's lyrics have genuine wit and do an outstanding job of establishing each character, and Blackwell's music is unfailingly tuneful. The book's satire is potent and dead-on, expressing ever conservative fear of what will happen if the gays take over.

Act II, however is somewhat problematic. It's as if the author's forgot what they were trying to say with the overall message of the show. Satire must come from a clear perspective and have an immistakeable intent in order for it to work -- and that got lost here in Act II (the military stuff is muddled, overwritten and not sharp enough and the actress playing the General is miscast).

SPOILER -- as the homophobic invective from certain characters becomes more pointed and later in the Act the lesbian mother rejects her children, preferring the hedonistic stereotypical lifestyle, a decidedly uncomfortable silence fell over my part of the audience. The satire in the writing vanished, all humor was lost (you can't play these moments small and realistically and expect the satire to carry) and the scene became downright painful to watch. The air seemed to go out of the room. And as it hastened to the conclusion that all was forgotten and the gayness of the characters somehow wore off and the world was saved for heterosexuality again -- the tone of the writing bordered on the socially regressive and almost offensive.

Did the creators COMPLETELY forget what show they were writing? Did they write themselves into a corner they didn't know how to get out of and couldn't come up with a logical and satisfactory ending? The latter half of Act II is a cop-out and a somewhat disturbing one at that. I don't doubt that there intentions were pure and that their hearts are in the right places, but as written, they come off as, in some ways, supporting the anti-gay, conservative agenda that they're trying to satirize (and I overheard several comments to that effect on the way out afterwards). Major rewrites are in order.

That aside, there's a great deal of potential in this material and they've proven themselves to be quite promising talents. The cast is a mostly terrific collection of gifted actors and singers and it would be unfair to single any of them out (though I will note that BWW's own Eric Moore has a gorgeous voice). They all do so much doubling, though that it would be nice if a few cast members could be added in future productions for the sake of clarity.

THE DAY THE WORLD WENT QUEER has many entertaining moments and even at this stage in its development is worth seeing. In time, with work, the show has the potential to become something quite special.



"What a story........ everything but the bloodhounds snappin' at her rear end." -- Birdie [http://margochanning.broadwayworld.com/] "The Devil Be Hittin' Me" -- Whitney
Updated On: 8/18/05 at 05:16 PM