FringeNYC: likely propects and sure things

The deeper you dig, the more treasure you’ll find

That “other” Elizabeth Taylor stars in “Finding Elizabeth Taylor.” Photo by Gary Weingarten

BY MARTIN DENTON  |  Okay, so the New York International Fringe Festival (August 10-26) is upon us — and if you’re one of the 75,000 or so people who plan to take in the city’s most mammoth theater event, you’re probably starting to get itchy. What shows should I see? Which of the 187 offerings is this year’s sleeper hit? Who’s getting the most interesting buzz?

Fret not: I am here to help. I’ve been covering FringeNYC ever since it started back in 1997. The website I founded and edit (nytheatre.com) has been the only media outlet to review every single show in every festival since 2002. We’re doing it again this year, and we’ve asked the artists participating in FringeNYC to tell us about themselves and their shows — so please check out our extensive FringeNYC Previews section, which will be online throughout the festival.

And if you’re interested in hearing one reasonably well-informed guy’s opinion about what looks exciting this year, read on.

Most of the shows in FringeNYC are brand new, but some have had earlier incarnations. “Quest for the West: Adventures on the Oregon Trail!” was seen at FRIGID New York in 2011 and subsequently at the Capital Fringe and Kentucky Repertory Theatre; this interactive musical comedy from No.11 Productions takes a light-hearted look at the pioneers who ventured west in the early 19th century against amazing odds to settle the American Northwest. Annie Worden’s solo show “Misadventures in the Art of Movie Making,” seen for one night only at United Solo last year, is an extremely funny piece about indie filmmaking at its most off-kilter and eccentric. Another one-woman play, D’yan Forest’s “I Married a Nun,” also played the FRIGID festival; nytheatre.com’s Ed Malin said the autobiographical comedy from the life-embracing 78-year-old (the oldest FringeNYC participant, we hear) was like “a cabaret evening with Betty White.”

“Finding Elizabeth Taylor” has had a few engagements in NYC. I didn’t see it, but I met its star/author, who really is named Elizabeth Taylor and who conjures quite uncannily the more famous woman of the same name; I’m feeling very high on her solo, in which she explores why her parents gave her that name. I’m also expecting good things from “We Crazy, Right?” — Jeff Seabaugh’s autobiographical account of his life as gay dad to three diverse children, which was featured in an earlier show that I loved (“How to Make an American Family”).

Two plays that I’ve read but not yet seen are getting NYC debut productions in the festival: “American Midget” by Jonathan Yukich, which is a timely, powerful satire on contemporary American values, and “Ticket to Eternity” by Matthew Ethan Davis, whose delightful premise is that a successful young actor wants to pursue the job he really loves — as a waiter.

And when I say “old,” I really mean FringeNYC veterans — folks who have done the festival before, know their way around the theater and whose work I always look forward to. Maggie Cino, who has been part of FringeNYC since it began, is presenting her first full-length play as a writer, “Decompression,” with a cast headed by the always expert Michael Criscuolo; Cino is a writer of astonishing versatility and imagination, and I can’t wait to see this. Pamela Sabaugh’s solo play “Immaculate Degeneration” chronicles some of her own experiences as a person whose disability (she’s legally blind) is invisible to most people. She’s a splendid writer and actor (and her show’s director, Fred Backus, is a FringeNYC veteran himself, having acted in several shows over the years). Expect this to be entertaining and insightful.

Depending on your personal taste, you’ll want to sample works by these outstanding playwrights whose work has graced previous FringeNYCs: Alex DeFazio, author of “Alice & The Bunny Hole” and Mariah MacCarthy, who wrote “Magic Trick,” are both young, adventurous authors who tend to explore issues of sexuality and gender in works that are often surreal and non-traditional. Amy E. Witting’s “FALLING” and Nat Cassidy’s “Songs of Love: A Theatrical Mixtape” tackle love and relationships in very distinctive styles. Gary Morgenstein, meanwhile, takes on contemporary American politics in his new satirical play “Right on Target.” And the excellent actor Matthew Trumbull offers an autobiographical story about his father — specifically his final request to have his body donated to science — in “The Zebra Shirt of Lonely Children.”

Finally, let me mention “The Apocalypse of John,” a play from The Serious Theatre Collective that played Uptown briefly earlier this year. It’s about an ordinary guy charged with saving the world from all manner of menaces, and the actor who plays that ordinary guy is Michael Mraz. You may have seen him in indie shows all around NYC lately (he’s pretty prolific), or you may recognize him as one of nytheatre.com’s reviewers; he’s seen dozens of FringeNYC shows for us over the years, and he definitely knows the territory!

Of course, you don’t want to limit your FringeNYC experience to artists and works you know. I mean, the whole point of FringeNYC is venturing out of your comfort zone, taking in theater that you wouldn’t get a chance to sample or may not have ever heard of. Dozens of artists who have done preview Q&A articles on nytheatre.com have really whetted my appetite to see their work.

For example, Terry Joan Baum and Carolyn Myers, who are bringing “A Coupla Crackpot Crones” from San Francisco to NYC this month, come across as a pair of very smart, very insightful and very funny ladies and I’d be more than willing to spend 90 minutes in their company. The author of “Chain Reaction,” Jonathan Alexandratos, seems like a very witty guy from my interactions with him. His play is a comedy/drama about the building of the atomic bomb. I’m getting a good vibe about “WOULD,” by David Marx, about a teenager serving a life sentence in prison who invents an alternate life via correspondence with a pen pal — and Emma Dean and Jake Diefenbach have made me intrigued to see “An End to Dreaming” — the show they’re bringing to FringeNYC from Brisbane, Australia, that they describe “as a modern-day Hansel and Gretel tale.”

Plus: Did you realize that Lee Meriwether (who was Miss America and then co-starred with Buddy Ebsen on “Barnaby Jones” years ago) is starring in a FringeNYC show this year? (“The Women of Spoon River: Their Voices from the Hill”). Or that D’Jamin Bartlett, who introduced “The Miller’s Son” in the original Broadway production of “A Little Night Music,” is doing the festival thing with her new musical “MisSpelled”? Or that scholar/author John Feffer, whose day job is being the co-director of Foreign Policy in Focus at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, D.C., is bringing his show “The Pundit” to FringeNYC?

You know, the deeper you dig into this year’s festival program, the more exciting it gets. I’ve only just scratched the surface in this article. I encourage you to keep your ears, eyes and hearts open as you stroll through the East and West Villages over the next few weeks in search of theater that will enlighten, enlarge and entertain you. If you do, you’re sure to find just what you’re looking for!

Check nytheatre.com for reviews and previews, updated daily throughout the New York International Fringe Festival. Also visit fringenyc.org.