City Swelters, as Theater Fests Turn Up the Heat

TNC and FringeNYC offer mixed bag of nuts


About Last Month…

With thermometers breaking all over the city, your correspondent has been cooling his jets in the theatre. Swimming pools? Margaritas? Bah, they’re for children. 

In the Under the Radar festival at PS122, I caught “Forever Art” — a German production starring John Wesley Zielman. Playing Andy Warhol in this solo show (with English supertitles), Zielman was by turns engaging, dynamic, passionate, and sympathetic. Too bad the real Drella was none of those things! By all accounts, the pop artist was nearly paralytic when it came to communicating with others, his most frequent public utterances being “Yeah,” “uh huh” and “wow.” Zielman gave a good performance, but he would have done well to study the body language of his countryman Nico. 

Miracle of modern science, Bianca Leigh, was a miracle of grace and poise the night I saw her perform “A Night at the Tombs” — a one-person show about her experience switching genders (and her brief incarceration for an act of prostitution that never happened). The poise was called for on account of the many gaffes coming from the tech booth — which Ms. Leigh batted back at the fates like a cat playing ping pong. The monologue is a throwback to 80s style autobiographical performance art, which is appropriate given that her eponymous night in the slammer occurred in 1987. Though this lady’s regal mien and precise diction clash sometimes with the streetwise characters she occasionally depicts (e.g., cellmates), she does take us on an interesting journey into what is, for most of us, terra incognita. 

Lastly, I can’t say enough good things about “Hater” — writer/director Samuel Buggeln’s fresh, contemporary adaptation of Moliere’s “The Misanthrope” (at the Ohio Theatre, in Soho Think Tank’s Ice Factory Festival). Granted, “The Misanthrope” is tailor-made to be a critic-pleaser, containing as it does the one dramatic hero with whom we can truly identify. While Buggeln’s version is still set at the court of the French monarch (diplomatically unspecified as Louis Quatorze), the writer’s excellent trope is to transform Moliere’s characters into the modern equivalent of 17th-century poseurs (yes, hipsters). The two leads in the show, while excellent in their performances, were miscast and misconceived — but overall, the production was one of the most vibrant, exciting and hilarious adaptations of a classical comedy I’ve yet encountered. It’s hard to make antique material both funny and relevant to modern audiences. Buggeln has. 

By the way, some good news for Soho Think Tank fans. While we reported earlier here on the company’s imminent exile from its long-standing home at the Ohio Theatre, the company gives word that Downtown’s 3LD has stepped up to the plate to give them a three-year residency. 

Coming Your Way in August…

Well, we’re the farthest thing from “out of the woods” when it comes to downtown summer theatre festivals. Why, we’re not even halfway there. 

Here’s a new development: Not to be outdone by the countless theatre companies that have sprung up within the last decade or two and started festivals, Theater for the New City now weighs in with their own entry into the summertime free-for-all. Their Dream Up Festival launches August 8 and will run through September 5. According to its planners, the motto of the festival is “Dream Up: Invent, Concoct.”

Artists from all over the country will be represented in 25 separate productions. Of the bunch, a couple caught my jaundiced eye. The musical “Dollface” is less newsworthy for its subject matter (“an aspiring television comedienne outsmarts a gang of thieves”) than for its personnel — which includes songwriter Rob Hyman (formerly of the Hooters, of “All You Zombies” fame), and David Forman, whose songs have been recorded by the likes of Cyndi Lauper and was a past collaborator with the late H.M. Koutoukas (one of the founders of Off-Off-Broadway and a Theater for the New City playwright back in the day). Also of interest to downtown residents will be “The New York Monologues” by Irish playwright Ruth McGowan. It explores how the events of 9/11 and its aftermath affect a collection of New Yorkers — including a tour guide, a police officer, a deli owner, and several others. If nothing else, it will be interesting to look at this material through a pair of outside eyes. For more info and tickets to the Dream Up Festival, go to 

Let us not forget the Magilla Gorilla of New York’s summer festivals — the New York International Fringe Festival (now celebrating its 14th year). Running from August 13 through the 29, this year’s Fringe features 197 shows from all over the world. Often known in the past for the high percentage of over-the-top shows (many of the weird for weirdness’ sake variety), this year’s Fringe seems to have an unprecedented number of plays full of serious intent. 

Many of the shows deal with terrorism, the current wars, the Middle East, and/or the perception of Muslims in a post-9/11 world. Among these are: “Headscarf and the Angry Bitch,” “The AK-47 Sing-along,” “For Kingdom and Fatherland,” “Abraham’s Daughters,” “Driving the Saudis,” “Shaheed: The Dream and Death of Benazir Bhutto,” “A Personal War: Stories of the Mumbai Terror Attacks,” “Terror Superhighway,” “Alternative Methods” (which concerns torture in Iraq) and “Over There: Comedy is His Best Weapon.” On top of this, I count about a dozen shows on the death of a parent, and at least two on Hurricane Katrina (though to be fair, one of those is a stand-up comedy show). 

There’s ample comedy/variety in the festival, if you feel you can only handle diversion with all the insanity happening outside your window (and perhaps in your living room, in which case, I don’t blame you). Fun-sounding shows include, “Shine: A Burlesque Musical,” “The Great Galvini” (which claims to be inspired by P.T. Barnum and Michel Foucault), “American Gypsy” (a magic show), “BAGABONES” (a contortionist), “Evan O’Television in Double Negatives” (a self-described “video ventriloquist”), “Playing by Air” (circus arts) and “Stripes: The Mystery Circus” among many others. So far I’ve only described 15% of the festival overall. If you look at the program guide and can’t find a thing you like, that’s your problem — not the festival’s. For the full run-down, go to 

And now, if I may channel Frankie Valli — see you in September.

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