My Theatre

28 February 2014

FRIGID New York Theatre Festival – Part I

By // Theatre (New York)

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Founded in 2007, FRIGID New York is one of New York’s fringe theatre festivals, and, for three wintery weeks in February and March, thirty different 60-minute productions take up residency in the Kraine Theater and Under St. Marks in the Lower East Side of Manhattan. The FRIGID festival is small-scale spectacle of independent theatre and a showcase for creativity.  It’s hard not to love the FRIGID festival for its intimacy, its authenticity, and its unmitigated dedication to supporting the theatre companies showcased in the festival by returning all box office revenue to those companies. During the opening weekend of the FRIGID festival, I managed to squeeze in three shows between trips to the office – if you are looking for a dizzying adventure in vastly different New York lifestyles, try bouncing between a sizable corporate office in the Financial District and a compact bunker-like performance space on the border of Alphabet City for the weekend.

Brownie and Lolli Go to Hollywood

“We’re one our way to D-list fame and that makes us a force to be reckoned with.” Oh, if only that were true. Sadly, Brownie and Lolli have some polishing to do to their comical show before they can claim to be a force of any sort. Written and directed by Alycya Miller, Brownie and Lolli Go to Hollywood is the story of two disgruntled hat saleswomen with big dreams of becoming the next hot double act on the Hollywood burlesque circuit. Brownie and Lolli set off on a night time adventure to get to Hollywood for auditions, during which they are robbed at a suspicious “Check Into Cash” laundromat, they attempt to get temporary jobs at a strip club, they meet Loll’s high school friend Valentine (and Valentine’s twin . . . or was that triplet?), and they find themselves in a farce of a hospital which could not be a more brazen political and social statement on the state of the United States healthcare system. The plot is goofy and often requires an unquestioning willingness to simply play along, which is not, in and of itself, a bad quality. Unfortunately, the plot is also quite clunky and often lacks direction or focus.

Alycya Miller and Charlie Jhaye are enjoyable stage companions to watch as Brownie and Lolli, respectively, and the pair easily falls into a playful and comedic banter. Miller struggled a bit with her lines, which I choose to believe was a product of opening night jitters since she wrote the play, but she performed solidly as a foil to Jhaye’s brainless behavior and clueless quips. Jhaye’s comedic timing is spot on, and I applaud her choice (and Miller’s as the writer) to not simply transform Lolli into a “dumb girl” stereotype. Not all of the actors were quite as engaging as Miller and Jhaye. Janae Camil’s performance as Valentine was decidedly one-dimensional, and not just because Camil was playing the role of triplets who are apparently interchangeable human beings.

Ultimately, Brownie and Lollie is an amusing show with two ambitious heroines whose antics will leave you chuckling, but the show is neither deep nor meaningful, and, at times, is downright nonsensical.

Tina & Amy: Last Night In Paradise

Ever wonder what it would be like to behold young roommates Tina Fey and Amy Poehler slumming around in their Chicago apartment and making comedy gold together? I do. It keeps me up at night. Despite the fact that it never actually happened. However, this is the precisely the plot of the uproarious and smart new comedy Tina & Amy: Last Night in Paradise created by Nikki DiLoreto, Maria Gilhooley, and Antonia Lassar.

Tina & Amy is the almost entirely fictional biopic of Tina Fey and Amy Poehler’s early improv years when they lived together in a crappy apartment, struggling through the day on nothing but Doritos, chocolate frosting eaten straight out of the container, and a handful of lofty dreams stretching all the way to the Golden Globes. Set shortly before Tina is departing for the airport and her new life as an SNL writer, Amy and Tina embark on a night of improv and general absurdity (everything from a joke throw down to the attempted assassination of Tina’s stuffed Walter Cronkat). Their relationship will resonate with anyone who has had a roommate or best friend with whom they could share their most peculiar habits and craziest ideas. Amy is Tina’s favorite person on earth. Well, Amy and cheese. It is also a play about separation because, in the fictional world of Tina & Amy, the pair are twenty-somethings about to be separated by hundreds of miles. While the audience knows that Tina and Amy are destined to reunite and take over the comedy world, Tina and Amy do not share the audience’s omnipotence on the topic of all things Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, and it is rough to watch as the two finally go their separate ways.

Given that Fey and Poehler are brilliant comediennes, it would hardly do them justice to have merely a humorous play about their hypothetical companionship. I have to hand it to Lassar, Gilhooley, and DiLoreto – these ladies are sharp writers with a wicked* amount of comedic talent, and that talent translates to their acting as well. Gilhooley portrays Fey and Lassar tackles Poehler, with DiLoreto also pulling double duty as the director of the production. Gilhooley and Lassar are independently hysterical, but much better when they play off one another, and they work (or is it play?) together well on stage. Their relationship is believable, and that is the driving force of the show. The only real failing in the production is the inclusion of a brief “art imitating life” interruption sequence during which time Gilhooley and Lassar appear to be actresses portraying Tina and Amy in a play. While the moment explains, perhaps, the motivation behind writing this particular script, it is unnecessary and interrupts the flow of an otherwise extremely delightful show.

If you are interested in checking out some of the FRIGID festival productions, Tina & Amy is a hysterical exploration of friendship and a perfect example of the fantastic comic artistry that is possible when three funny women get together to write a play.

*All three writers are Boston University graduates. Apparently students in Boston develop “wicked” amounts of talent.

East in Red

The Ripper is back, but rather than slaying prostitutes in Victorian London, he is slaying them in the modern day East Village of New York in Ryan Sprague’s dark play East in Red. East in Red is a difficult play to watch because it is violent and horrifying, yet also uncomfortably humorous at (more on that later).

East in Red is the story of social outcast Aaron, a hair stylist in an ongoing lifestyle battle with his bigoted landlord, and the evening that he spends with a prostitute named Marie. As the evening progresses, it becomes clear that Aaron hired Marie to keep him company and not for sex, and the two discuss everything from insecurities and relationships to the recent murders in the East Village neighborhood where Aaron lives. Aaron reveals his idiosyncrasies to Marie (e.g. only carrying $10 bills, only carrying a gun when it is 78 degrees or warmer outside), and Marie reveals the details of her unhealthy relationship with a man who does not know anything about her profession.  However, these oddities and personal problems pale in comparison to the climactic revelations by both parties at the end of the play.

Perhaps I have read too many mystery novels, but many of the “surprise” revelations and plot twists in East in Red were predictable early in the show. The ability to foresee the ending of the show did not prevent me from enjoying the motions of the story – after all, my suppositions could very well have been wrong. Sprague’s story is generally well-crafted, but there is something uniquely uncomfortable about it. In a world that has become so desensitized to violence, I continue to find even simulated murder, torture, and mutilation difficult to watch. But, in a play about a serial killer, such horrific acts of violence are expected. No, it was not just the violence that I found uncomfortable. It was the audience’s reaction to some of the lines in the play that had me squirming – specifically the reaction to lines making light of violence towards women. My unease was caused by scattered laughter. It was shocking and left me wondering – is there really anything funny about a man who has brutally murdered four women without remorse and who sees himself as a god with the power to condemn others? I suspect that if a real serial killer made similar statements, the general populace would not laugh so freely. Perhaps the biggest revelation in East in Red has less to do with the content of the play, and more to do with how audiences react to that content.

Emily Tuckman and Patrick Andrew Jones both gave strong performances as Marie and Aaron, respectively, whose characters evolved considerably during the play. Jonah Nathan embraced his role as Eddie the landlord with gusto, and, despite the fact that many of his more offensive comments came across as forced, he was an entertaining addition to the cast. In addition to the casting, East in Red is the most technically composed production that I have yet to see at the FRIGID festival, with particularly good lighting design given the limits of the performance space at the Kraine Theater.

In conclusion, East in Red is an intriguing and horrifying, if somewhat predictable, mystery that may make you squirm in your seat – just not for the reasons that you might think.

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