Fringe shows with a Future — reviewed by Rob Lester

STAGESome of these pieces should surely have life beyond the Fringe, so look for their own websites and SEE www.fringeNYC.com for full info on the festival ending Sunday, August 28 with the shows getting Encore performances that day.

FLIGHT —- The classic book, The Little Prince, is a gem about the important things in life— non-materialism, responsibility, relationships, seeing with the heart— which many of us relate to and have learned from.  However, it hasn’t always translated well to another medium, as troubled Broadway musical versions and the underappreciated film with a score by a reunited Lerner and Loewe have evidenced.  Instead of retreading where others have trod with literal stage re-tellings or condensing or changing the fragile tone, Ezra LeBank has tried another path with Flight.  He has brilliantly and lovingly created a kind of Part 2 that is not just a sequel, but a retelling of the story’s main events and the prince’s travels in a kind of alternate universe where, instead of telling of tiny planets with one human inhabitant each, the prince and those he meets are instead sole residents of miniature islands.

little princeAnd, while the story and the way it’s told through speech and inventive acrobatic movements with synchronized teamwork by himself and two remarkable women— Taylor Casas and Cynthia Price (Price is our Prince)— can be enjoyed by the uninitiated, devotees of the Antoine de Saint-Exupery fable will especially appreciate the many parallels— instead of a self-important deluded king giving commands that can’t be followed, it’s an army general, etc., and the travels through the air with a flock of birds becomes under-the-ocean travel via a school of fish, and the waves become coveted rather than the stars.  The prince’s beloved rose protecting herself with thorns has its equivalent in a prickly cactus.  And the snake with its plot-turning bite has as its equivalent the ocean’s stingray.  We again meet the pilot who originally befriended the prince, but now his plane is downed again while he’s seeking to remember the lesson the prince taught him and, instead, he meets a tiny female who claims to be a prince (not a princess).  And so on.  As the three performers float, fly, balance, and billow, they twist and turn and turn into the many characters with their bodies and voices, deftly directed with discretion by Olivia Trevino.  The affection for the key parts and details of the story and its sensibilities is remarkable and delightful.  Like the original tale and the original prince, Flight is pure of heart and pure enchantment.  SEE www.FlightThePlay.com

 

liars and loversLIARS AND LOVERS— I won’t lie; I didn’t at all love Liars and Lovers during Act One.  If I weren’t there to review it, my patience might have run out and I might have run out at intermission, still feeling a bit guilty since 64E4 Underground is a tiny venue with not many seats, spread across just two rows along two sides of a playing space so that we are almost in the actors’ laps or voyeurs. Still, I had trouble hearing the rushed, line-swallowing words of one of the three performers.  The first act of this story about two male roommates and a woman who is dating one and a classmate/potential friend of the other was fraught with testiness and tension and telling each other off and I appreciated the decision not to be telling everything upfront.  The point was made that the two guys weren’t always telling the truth and that love is a complicated thing —we know the title — and that there would be quite the backstory.  But the acting, line readings, timing, and action so often seemed so flat, rushed, labored, misguided, and out of synch that I really couldn’t imagine it could get better.  In a change-around the likes I have never experienced, everything improved by leaps and bounds after intermission. It was as if magic happened, like a ten-minute master class in acting was held backstage, but suddenly the acting was sharper, the actors connected, timing was thoughtful, dramatic tension appeared, stakes were raised, and things fell into place.  What made this all the more stunning was that by all counts the material and relationships shown presented a far greater challenge to actors here and yet they rose to the occasion, crackled with new energy and focus, becoming more believable and a sloppy, choppy first half with unrealized potential that seemed like three people sniping at each other, replete with inconsistency, became—wait for it—and we did— a psychological thriller that brought us to the edge of those seats my companion and I would have deserted.  All I can guess is that the first act was woefully under-rehearsed by director Cailin Kless or misunderstood, even though Alexander Larkin playing a man named Alex (coincidence?), who bullied the other guy when they were schoolmates, has been in several previous versions of the play, according to the program.  (Maybe the script changed extensively.  It had been the late playwright Thomas Tafero’s first full-length play.)

Annalise Abar brought a sunny manner to the role of Cindy, with her suspicions and unease increasing as the plot thickened—and thicken it does—and she became more forceful and her acting more varied.  The third character, the epitome of a loose cannon, is played by Brian Rossi.  A sometimes coiled cobra ready to strike, whose motives (as actor and character) often appear to be not worth betting money on, but when the actor was on the money, he was intense and intensely watchable.  As the manipulative Greg, possibly living for revenge or suffering from a personality disorder, PTSD, a touch of sadism, or a combination thereof, this is the most interesting person in the story, thus the actor with the most complex assignment.  The little amber bottles fished from the wastebasket indicated that the character is, understandably, on medication.  If he and his cast-mates swallowed some kind of magic pills midway to turn into the powerful team they became in the show’s best moments, please renew their prescription, Dr. Drama.  Follow the future of this show with potential and power on their Facebook page @LiarsandLoversPlay

 

a fringe showPUCKER UP AND BLOW  Imagine that you’re an actor who has not been able to get any roles outside children’s theatre, but long for something dramatic and meaty and high profile. The good news is you get a Broadway audition. The bad news is you get the part.  Let me explain.  Self-conscious, insecure David has more than mixed feelings about accepting the role because it requires him, a shy heterosexual, to be fully nude and to play not-at-all subtle male-on-male sex scenes in the character of a barely verbal, unwilling retarded teen.  Daniel Reitz’s often on-target satire, a world premiere for the Fringe, skewers the egos in show business from the director-writer of the play within the play who prizes and flaunts his reputation as “inflammatory” like a war hero’s medal, loving those sparks he ignites and the controversy he incites.  Asa James slips into the role like the most at-ease soldier rejecting his uniform for a comfortable favorite old sweater or bathrobe while devilishly ordering David to doff his duds.  Will Dagger is an understated dynamo as David, shuffling and schlumping along appropriately, but also expert at comic timing and standing in for the audience, reacting with puzzlement and peevishness to the theatrical nuthouse he has stumbled into as well as what passes for his “real” world.  He gets big, big laughs with his sighed readings of lines, such as when he tells a co-star that his parents and little sister and grandmother are excited that he got a part on Broadway and are flying in for the opening.  He tried to warn them not to, or at least to be warily aware that he’ll be naked and simulating non-consensual homosex on stage, but somehow he couldn’t get the message across on the phone before they interrupted him with their pride and bubbling enthusiasm about his casting coup breakthrough, not even letting him give a hint of the kind of theatrical piece/characters involved.  He says, meekly, “They said they wanted to be surprised.” And when he talks about a past girlfriend, a Korean woman, while discussing post-coital reactions with current lady, he says of his ex’s behavior in their once-shared bed, “She used to cry a lot.” (PAUSE) “I guess she missed Korea.”  Chandra Thomas hits bull’s eyes playing two women of distinctly different energies.  She’s a hoot as a stage manager in a first readthrough of the play’s sex scenes, delivering the explicit descriptions of sex in the flattest, most bored voice possible, while Dagger as David is freaking out hearing what he’ll have to do.  Then she is a firecracker of a reporter standing up to and calling out playwright for his self-serving self-importance.  The actual playwright of Pucker has muchos funny ideas for characters—a former rap star slumming as actor in the show and funding it and a specialty acting coach who will guide the sex scenes verbosely and more than roll up his sleeves—he will get nude with the two men.  Dagger’s popping eyes say it all with a “How did I get into this?” look.  But, in case the disclaimer of “nude scenes” (note plural) in publicity and playbill make you happily or nervously expect more, this production’s drop-your-briefs brief male full frontal was the only instance and only involved one actor.  “Demonstrations” and rehearsals of thrusts are played for laughs and fully clothed.  The show as seen in the Fringe was 100 minutes with no intermission, but did not feel too long, as there was tonal variety and strong performances, with director Paul Schnee remarkably finding a balance between absurdity and believability so it did not become a cartoon, did not get preachy much in its ultimate point, and was not predictable.  A major subplot with the friend who becomes the girlfriend threatens to turn into soap opera in a show that is otherwise smarter than that.  And it is generally more adventurous and creative than that, rising above the attention-grabbing sex/nudity titillation.  It’s not all about THAT.  Pardon the allusion, but it’s not a case of the emperor has no clothes.  You may face their future with Facebook at @PUCKERUPANDBLOW  

 

and see www.fringeNYC.org