Of Snow and Shakespeare

Photo by Edward Elder Slings, bards and arrows: Danny Ashkenasi and Bob Homeyer play all the parts, in “The Accidental Hamlet.”
Photo by Edward Elder
Slings, bards and arrows: Danny Ashkenasi and Bob Homeyer play all the parts, in “The Accidental Hamlet.”

Common threads, among FringeNYC’s 185 shows

BY SCOTT STIFFLER | If history is any indication (which it almost always is), here’s a blanket review of the 17th Annual New York International Fringe Festival that you can take to the bank, cash and then buy one of those all-the-shows-you-can-see “Lunatic” passes.

Of the 185 dramatic, dance, musical, solo and cross-disciplinary shows that will be performed multiple times from August 9-25, many of them will be fantastic. Some of them will be horrendous. Most will be worthy of everything the “Fringe” name implies, offering charismatic performances and thought-provoking ideas. The presentation may be a little frayed at the edges — but that’s to be expected when you buy fringe, or buy into Fringe. Also true to form, a quick scan of this year’s roster reveals certain themes. Here are two of them, each sponsored by the letter “S.”

FringeNYC THEME #1:
Who cares if he actually wrote everything that’s been attributed to him over the years? For theater companies and hungry actors looking to make their mark, the complete works of Shakespeare are an endless source of inspiration…and a challenge, when it comes to innovative presentation. These five productions benefit from wildly imaginative takes on oft-told tales. Let’s hope the execution matches the level of ambition.

David Hansen’s new romantic comedy verse play is an imagined prequel to “Much Ado About Nothing” that charts the early courtship of Beatrice and Benedick. Sparks (and barbs) fly, as sharp-tongued young ones navigate the teenage rituals of parties, pranks and first love.

At the Connelly Theater (220 E. Fourth St., btw. Aves. A & B). Wed., 8/14 at 8:30pm, Thurs., 8/15 at 7pm & Sat., 8/17 at noon.

The mounting problems of everyone’s favorite skull-cradling, ghost-conversating, uncle-hating melancholy Dane are played for laughs in a “honey-glazed, cheese-drenched” production that “puts the ham” in “Hamlet.” Danny Ashkenasi and Bob Homeyer star as two self-proclaimed thespians who bite off more than they can chew when they set out to play every part. Longtime Downtown director Lissa Moira helms the U.S. premiere of this vaudeville, slideshow, magic and burlesque-infused riff on the much-interpreted tale that makes your own family seem impressively functional by comparison.

At the Connelly Theater (220 E. Fourth St., btw. Aves. A & B). Thurs., 8/15 at 8:45pm, Wed., 8/21 at 7:15pm, Fri., 8/23 at 5pm & Sat., 8/24 at 2:15pm.

Queens-based director and choreographer Michael Hagins took the text from one of Shakespeare’s earliest plays, filled in some missing plot holes and then added swordfights, crazy chase scenes and random violence — while, he says, managing to keep the integrity of the language. “Two Gentlemen” is part of the FringeHIGH program, which means it’s highly recommended for teens. After the August 24 performance, there will be a Talk-Back at which you can discuss the show with members of the cast and/or creative team.

At CSV Flamboyan (107 Suffolk St., btw. Rivington & Delancey Sts.). Thurs., 8/22 at 7pm & Sat., 8/24 at 2:15pm.

First seen at the 2001 FringeNYC with their beautifully titled collection of one-acts (“Burt Reynolds Amazing Napalm Powered Oven”), the film and theater company known as The Porch Room returns with co-founder John Dowgin directing this politically charged adaptation — in which an Egyptian expat’s loyalties are divided between her activist fiancée (an American director working on a commissioned Shakespeare production) and her brother (an Egyptian nationalist recently arrived in America, having fled the violence of Tahrir Square).

At The Lynn Redgrave Theater (45 Bleecker St., btw. Bleecker & Lafayette Sts.). Fri., 8/16 at 9:30pm, Sun., 8/18 at 4:45pm & Sun., 8/25 at noon.

Rest assured, there will be blood. “No ruffled neck is safe,” the producers promise, in this hemoglobin-heavy mashup of “Dracula” and “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” that plays Bram Stoker’s melodrama for laughs and puts a slasher film spin on Shakespeare’s puckish tale of the wrong people falling in love. Despite the assured carnage and “sexy vampires galore,” the Bloody Shakespeare creative team asserts their production will do very little long-term moral or psychological damage to theatergoers 13 and up. As for the 12 and under set…stay home or wear garlic (and earplugs)!

At The Theater at the 14th Street Y (344 E. 14th St., at First Ave.). Thurs., 8/15 at 9:30pm, Fri., 8/16 at 3:45pm & Sun., 8/18 at 4:15pm.

FringeNYC THEME #2:
Bring a sweater or dress in layers — because in addition to each Fringe venue’s promise of air conditioning, these three plays will chill you to the bone. Each offers a different spin on how cabin fever forces us to confront our true selves.

Photo by Ben Johnson Mad men in survivor mode: Andrew David Rabensteine, Graham Halstead, John Pieza and William Franke navigate Chicago’s “Blizzard '67.”
Photo by Ben Johnson
Mad men in survivor mode: Andrew David Rabensteine, Graham Halstead, John Pieza and William Franke navigate Chicago’s “Blizzard ’67.”

Four carpooling businessmen lost in the horrific 1967 Chicago blizzard happen upon a stranded car, and then must choose between assisting a stranger or saving themselves. That plot reads like an ill-advised, high-concept Hollywood pitch (“You’re gonna love it, Cecil. It’s “Mad Men” meets “Glengarry Glen Ross” meets “Survivor!”). Not to worry. Rave reviews from the windy city production of “Blizzard ’67” indicate that playwright Jon Steinhagen has brought exceptional depth to this study of morality and alpha male dynamics. As it starts to really come down out there, ruthlessly competitive rivals Lanfield, Henkin, Emery and Bell head to the burbs instead of riding out the storm in a company-sponsored hotel room. They should have stayed put. Soon stranded by whiteout conditions, the close quarters — plus simmering tension from a revelation that shakes up the pecking order — sets in motion a series of character-defining actions whose effects will linger long after the spring thaw.

At Robert Moss Theater at 440 Studios (440 Lafayette St., third floor, btw. Astor Place & E. Fourth St.). Thurs., 8/15 at 8:30pm, Sat., 8/17 at 2:30pm, Tues., 8/20 at 8:45pm & Sat., 8/24 at 4:15pm.

Brooklyn’s own Emily Comisar, who edits the New York Burger Club blog and co-created the alternately droll and outrageous therapy parody web series “Group,” came up with the idea for her latest play while waiting out the 2009 blizzard inside Washington D.C.’s Union Station. It was either stare at the walls or brainstorm — and by the time she returned to New York, the basics of “Track Twelve” were in the percolator. Stranded in Penn Station during a storm that has shut down the railways, the holding pattern both stresses and liberates four travelers. Old relationships fold, new ones blossom and “emotional chaos ensues.” Above all, Comisar says, the play “is about not being able to connect when connection is what we need the most.”

At Teatro Circulo (64 E. Fourth St., btw. Bowery & Second Ave.). Thurs., 8/15 at 8:45pm, Sun., 8/18 at 8:45pm, Wed., 8/21 at 5pm & Fri., 8/23 at 2pm.

Since 1996, author and actor Thom Vernon has made his home in Toronto, Canada. He won’t come in from the cold until his country of origin (the good old USA) allows him to sponsor his same-sex partner for immigration. Although federal policy continues to freeze him out, the Chicago-trained actor and “queer refugee” does make occasional forays across the border. This stage adaptation of his 2010 debut novel comes to NYC after a run in the 2012 Hollywood Fringe. The one-hour solo show takes place in a small town and, says Vernon, “tackles the consequences of gender and the meanings applied to bodies.” Outside, the snow falls hard — and inside, 46-year-old Julie finds herself with child and without the support of husband Charlie, whose affair with best friend Wilson is on the wane (because Wilson has fallen for trans dad, Dol). All these characters, and a calf, “fight their sex in a mean Arkansas blizzard.” It’s the pulp you want from Southern Gothic, without the constant page turning.

At The White Box at 440 Studios (440 Lafayette St., 3rd Floor, btw. Astor Place & E. Fourth St.). Thurs., 8/15 at 8:30pm, Sat., 8/17 at 7:15pm, Wed., 8/21 at 7pm & Thurs., 8/22 at 5pm.

Through August 25
185 shows at 20 Downtown venues
FringeCENTRAL: 27 Second Ave.
(btw. First & Second Sts.),
Open 12-8pm daily
Tickets: $15 in advance,
$18 at the door
Call 866-468-7619
Visit fringenyc.org