The Tenth New York International Fringe Festival
August saw the tenth New York International Fringe Festival, with more than 200 productions and 4,500 artists. Its internationalism is suspect, as most shows are domestic, but I chose to see a handful of imported shows:
Stand Up Black Britain featured three Black British comedians. Thinking that there was comic potential in this line up, I attended. These stand-up's think of themselves as being, in the words of one, "tough, edgy, political". Actually, the show was stupid, cheap and unfunny - just like most American stand-up.
Dirt is a solo show from Austria by Robert Schneider, from Dreck productions. The script, we're told, gained quite some popularity in Germany. It presents an Arab immigrant. "My name is Sad", he tells us. "Actually, my name is Saddam." He goes on to explain himself with unflinching self-effacement - "I have no right to be here" - and continues, smiling, with lines like "I'm a piece of shit - I've never contested that." His self-introduction develops into something more complex when he exposes our attitudes by showing - or pretending - that he's internalized them. "An Arab mother can't really mourn", he tells us.
This is a brave, even inspired, concept, and we applaud it. But the actor isn't in command of the subtext beneath these lines. His hatred for us escapes occasionally, but it isn't a structured revelation. What's more, he's directed without clarity. We're not sure where he's from or what the circumstances are. It's a clutter of introspection and, in the end, a sort of kaleidoscopic expressionism.
Another solo performance, Up the Gary, focuses on a wimp of such monumental proportions that he aspires to nothing more than being a Gary Glitter impersonator. He does so quite well until that glam rocker is shamed in a real-life child molestation scandal. Our poor anti-hero has no resources to deal with this - "I can't do George Michael" he tells his manager. We leave him on a bench waiting for his niece (who will never arrive).
It's a haunting story, this short British play about a clueless, desperately lonely fellow. It wavers from time to time, but it leaves us feeling unsatisfied mainly because we want more of it. Insightful work written by its talented actor Andrew Barron and its director Jessica Beck, from Bad Penny Theatre, London.
Bucharest Calling comes from Theatre @ Green Hours, Bucharest. It portrays young Romanians so utterly without values that they don't see their own despair. Peca Stefan's script proceeds in fits and starts as these tawdry characters (prostitute, gangster, et al) throw themselves around life pointlessly. The production is saved by the fluid, expressive talent of its leading man.
Married to the Sea is a terrific show from The Dragonfly Theatre, Ireland. The script, by Shona McCarthy, shows us the break-up of a family through the eyes of a child. Siobhan Donnellan, a grown-up, plays the juvenile wonderfully, never falling into cliché, with the unself-conscious physical life of a child and the insight of an adult actress. She often addresses the audience, and there's a wonderful irony in this story of domestic disaster reported by someone who doesn't understand it. Moreover, this being the language of Synge, we hear some wonderful things. When the girl sees the local slut dancing for the men (including her father), she says "I think it might be from the asylum she's after coming" in that beautiful, soft Irish.
- Steve Capra
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