Let the games begin: Opening Weekend, FringeNYC


BY MARTIN DENTON (of nytheatre.com)

Things to see, by way of word on the street and those in the seats

The first weekend of the 15th annual New York International Fringe Festival went pretty much according to plan. The weather cooperated…and then it didn’t. Some theatres were packed…and some were sparsely attended (torrential rain throughout Sunday didn’t help). The show I most expected to like turned out to be a disappointment — and the show I ended up seeing at the last minute is almost certainly going to be one of my absolute favorites in this year’s festival. As ever, FringeNYC is full of surprises and variety.

I hung out at Dixon Place for a little while on Saturday and heard people buzzing about “Wallstories” — the dance theatre piece by Nejla Y. Yatkin about life in East/West Germany before and after the Berlin Wall came down. That night, on East 4th Street (one of the festival hubs, with five venues all contained in a single block), I heard more people buzzing about it. Saviana Stanescu, in her nytheatre.com review, agrees, calling the piece “a powerful performance that challenges the audience members to reflect on the relationship/clash between collective history and people’s individual lives.”

I wasn’t at all surprised to hear good things about Matt Saldorelli’s new play “Welcome to Eternity” (showing at CSV Flamboyan) — which is a series of vignettes about a young couple facing marriage (Matt was one of last year’s FringeNYC award winners for “Getting Even with Shakespeare”). Another play generating some positive vibes is James Comtois’s “Infectious Opportunity” (The Living Theatre) — which is not a big surprise given that it was a hit at the Brick in Williamsburg a couple of summers back. It’s great to have it at FringeNYC, where it can be embraced by a new and more diverse audience.

Among the shows I’ve seen myself, I can say very happily that diversity has reigned supreme. I love when shows take me places I’ve never been before (or even thought to go) — and that’s exactly what’s happened in at least two cases. Kirk Wood Bromley’s “Smoke the New Cigarette” (at Bowery Poetry Club) is an extraordinarily rich and challenging play — posing as a performance art piece — about a “chamber punk” duo who make art for themselves. And Laura Brienza’s “Scared of Sarah” (at La MaMa) — as different from the Bromley play as it’s possible to be — is an involving, heartfelt drama about a young married couple facing the prospect of a first child…and that he or she may be autistic.

There are several gay-themed shows in FringeNYC, as usual, and the one I enjoyed so far is Kevin Cochran’s “Bobby and Matt” (at Players Theatre) — an epistolary play charting the nearly 50-year relationship between two men. One grows up to be a famous gay author while the other becomes a general in the Army. Credulity gets strained at times, but the earnestness and importance of the issues presented here makes it worth our attention.

Each time I ventured out to the Festival, I saw friends and colleagues I haven’t seen for months, all caught up in the spirit of the thing. Waiting to go into “Scared of Sarah,” I met up with Frank Kuzler — who is filming a documentary about the history of Off-Off-Broadway/indie theater — and Dustin Olson, who was handing out postcards for the play he’s co-producing at FringeNYC, “Greenland” (at Players Theatre). Also, smart man that he is, he was waiting for the line to start forming for the opening performance of “Yeast Nation” — the new musical from the creators of “Urinetown.”

That’s the way to do FringeNYC: see some shows, love some shows, hang out with old and new friends, see some more. As I write this there are still 14 days to go. I’m excited.

FringeNYC shows run through Aug. 28, 2pm-midnight weekdays and noon-midnight on weekends. Tickets: $15 in advance at FringeNYC.org or 866-468-7619; $18 at the door. Discount passes for multiple shows. For show dates, times and venue info, visit FringeNYC.org.

Dancing, before and after the Berlin Wall came down. See “Wallstories.”