At FringeNYC, women artists dominate Family fare, too, as fest winds down

BY MARTIN DENTON  |  From the booming Taiko drumming of the “COBYU” ladies to the punk/grunge rock music of “Courtney and Kathleen: A Riot Act,” the 15th annual New York International Fringe Festival has been filled with the sounds of female voices. Not to slight the many talented men — but for me, women have dominated the festival this year. As you take in the final weekend of FringeNYC, be on the lookout for their stories and sounds.

Gabrielle Maisels takes us to apartheid-era South Africa, in the gripping “Bongani. Photo by Dixie Sheridan

I’ve been particularly dazzled by the presence of so many new, young women playwrights. Sofia Johnson, who is just 17 years old (and the festival’s youngest author), gives us a powerful drama of a teenager coping with the suicide of her twin in “22 Stories.” Canadian playwright and composer Karmia Chan Cao, from Stanford University, has brought us a 2-1/2 hour musical drama about the aftermath of 9/11 called “Pawn.” And be on the lookout for emerging writers like Jessica Hinds (“The Only Child”), Erin Austin (“Fit”), Jessica Fleitman (“The Average-Sized Mermaid”) and Claire Kiechel (“WHALE SONG or: Learning to Live With Mobyphobia”) — all of whom are generating a fair amount of buzz among Fringe-watchers this season.

One-woman shows have been especially impressive this year. Gabrille Maisels takes us to South Africa in her gripping play about apartheid, “Bongani.” From Australia, “Em O’Laughlin Was a BIG FATTY BOOMBAH” tackles the subjects of obesity and body image — and four-time National Monologue Champion Katie Northlich looks at agoraphobia and other fears in “The Panic Diaries.”

Women as diverse as Anne Frank (Carol Lempert’s “After Anne Frank”), Jewish mail-order bride “Rachel Calof,” Australian actress Virgie Vivienne (Renee Newman-Storen’s “Virgie”) and movie icon Bette Davis (“Bette Davis Ain’t For Sissies”) have their say in FringeNYC shows this weekend, along with comedienne Andrea Alton’s alter ego (poet/security guard Molly “Equality” Dykeman) in “The F*cking World According to Molly.”

The all-female dance troupe of “…unwanted” offers an entirely different kind of experience, based in the emotion and sensuality of pure movement rather than storytelling or narrative. Vanessa Shealy tops my personal list of great performances at this year’s FringeNYC. Her performance as a former child TV star who gets caught in a maelstrom of un-looked-for publicity, in her own play “One, Two Whatever you do…” is funny, empathetic and engrossing.

OF course, this is all just a sampling. There are hundreds of performances on view this weekend at FringeNYC’s 18 venues, featuring the committed effort of thousands of women AND men from all over the world.

Plan your final weekend of theatergoing by hanging out at FringeCENTRAL (downstairs at the Bleecker Street Theater) or reading reviews of every show in the festival on nytheatre.com. And don’t forget that FringeNYC is for families, too. Bring the youngsters to the musical “Goldilocks and the Three Polar Bears” on Friday afternoon to learn lessons about being a good citizen of the world in a fun and entertaining way, or “to ISTWA! Storytime for a small world” on Friday or Saturday, for a taste of folktales from a variety of cultures. Happy Fringe-ing.

Martin Denton is the editor of nytheatre.com — which is currently reviewing all FringeNYC performances.