BY SCOTT STIFFLER | What do therapists and theater companies share, besides reliance upon people compelled to work through their issues? The common denominator used to be August — that thin window of opportunity to close shop and skip town without causing too much of an outcry from patrons in search of a cathartic experience. Not so much these days, at least where the Lower East Side theater community is concerned.
A total of 18 stages, most of which would sit unoccupied as companies prep for their 2014-2015 seasons, are currently playing host to the 200-show-strong New York International Fringe Festival. The performance spaces housed inside Theater for the New City won’t be participating, although TNC’s August programming certainly shares FringeNYC’s commitment to international flavor, thematic sprawl and bold experimentation.
Annual summer fest, borne of surplus, keeps growing
Through September 7, Dream Up is presenting 24 plays and one workshop production. It’s the half-decade mark for this annual festival, which its organizers maintain is not in competition with FringeNYC.
“The first two or three years, it hurt us, because Fringe is massive,” recalls Dream Up curator and festival director Michael Scott-Price. “It’s well-established, and I have a lot of respect for how it’s run. But in the last couple of years, we’ve noticed that it’s not a negative at all. We’ve carved out our own identity. For us, Dream Up is where people, whether they’re new or established, can try work that’s not going to break the bank. It’s also the one time of the year when TNC broadens its outreach. Our mission is to find new playwrights and work for the American stage. Dream Up’s mission is to find original work from any source.”
THEATER THE DREAM UP FESTIVAL
Through Sept. 7
At Theater for the New City
155 First Ave. (btw. 9th & 10th Sts.)
Tickets: $12–$20 (varies by show)
Also visit theaterforthenewcity.net
Having studied at the School of Physical Theatre (London, England) and the Odin Teatret (Hostelbro, Denmark), and with the International School Theatre Anthropology (Wroclaw, Poland), Scott-Price brought his “great appreciation for European artists” to Dream Up’s invite-only debut in 2010. Back then, it was pitched to TNC co-founder Crystal Field as a way to draw upon a surplus of local talent that the regular season couldn’t accommodate, while welcoming international artists into the fold. From a field of roughly 200 applicants, four overseas productions made it into this year’s festival.
Written by a native New Yorker who has lived in Edinburgh, Scotland since 1988, Lee Gershuny’s “Messages from a Mental Institution” chronicles a woman’s quest to discover her husband’s true identity, while attempting to rescue him from a psychiatric hospital. The American premiere of this work happens at TNC’s Community Theater on Aug. 27, 28, 30, 31 & Sept. 1.
A complex meditation on friendship, feminism and the differences between American and Israeli cultures, “Simple as Life and Death” has Efrat coming from Israel to New York, by way of an open ticket. Fleeing pressures at home, she seeks refuge in the apartment of fellow artist Anne, who’s recently returned (pregnant) from a year abroad. It’s directed by Keren Tzur, a two-time Best Actress winner of Israel’s equivalent of the Academy Award. At the Community Theater, on Aug. 21, 23 & 24.
Completing Dream Up’s trilogy of two-person plays from foreign shores, “In the Ring” is the English language premiere of a work that earned Léonore Confino a Best Playwright nomination for the 2014 Molière Awards (the French equivalent of Broadway’s Tony). This exploration of the often combative dynamics between men and women places one of each in a boxing ring, with a fresh scenario explored during each successive three-minute round. At TNC’s Johnson Theater on Aug. 26, 28, 29, 30 & Sept. 3 & 6.
“Tomorrow’s Dawn” is your chance to see a musical about teenagers that hasn’t been cast with actors who look like they’re about to age out of grad school. This exceedingly rare achievement is brought to you by La Petite Famille (“The Little Family”). Founded in Souillac, in the South of France, the company (whose members range in age from 16-25) has presented “Tomorrow’s Dawn” in 10 different countries throughout Europe, performing both French and English language versions. “They started out as middle school kids seven years ago,” says Scott-Price, “and they’ve stuck together as an ensemble ever since. Now, we’re giving them their New York premiere.”
Age-appropriate casting isn’t the play’s only strong show of authenticity. The script, by Jeff Gallon and Fred Larrieu, effectively conveys the urgency of youth as well as the exclusivity claimed by those just beginning to confront the nuances of love and friendship. “Here I speak of an age,” they sing, “which over of twenty are unable to know, an age where the present, renewed at any time, vibrates on some maybe.” Although it’s primarily a story of young love between Tom and Alice, these teens and their peers are equally audacious in their exploration of how teachers, parents and grandparents see the world. At the Johnson Theater, Aug. 21, 22, 24 & 25.
Most of the works on this year’s roster are world premieres, some from playwrights who’ve been nurtured by TNC. Chima Chikazunga is one such example, having developed his voice (and his latest play) at the New City, New Blood reading series. “We first started working with him three years ago,” says Scott-Price of the Nigerian-American who cut his TNC teeth as a stage actor with behind-the-scenes aspirations. “We’ve helped him develop his plays over the past few years, and he’s gotten better and better. That’s what TNC has always been about: opportunity.”
Written, directed, designed by and co-starring Chikazunga, “For Chance” takes place in a Lower East Side living room apartment, as 25th birthday boy Chance awakens, alone and defeated, from a drug- and alcohol-fueled binge, during which he unsuccessfully attempted to construct the perfect play. Two childhood friends — one just out of prison, the other a successful actress — arrive unexpectedly, bringing with them unfinished business that Chance has spent years hiding from.
Less of a walk down memory lane than a full throttle trip to the end of the road, the casual but ominous dialogue crackles with in-jokes and references originating from the once-intense bond these friends shared. Like a whodunit without an Act I murder, hidden agendas are revealed as the audience begins to piece together the backstory of each particular character. It’s not pretty, but it’s very compelling. “For Chance” plays in TNC’s Cabaret Theater on Aug. 28, 29, 30 and Sept. 2 & 3.
“Angela’s Justice” is from frequent TNC actor and playwright Michael A. Jones. Set in 1970, it’s an adaptation of “Antigone” that melds the rebellious and determined title character of Sophocles’ 2000-year-old play with 1960s black activist Angela Davis. The justice implied in the title is the proper burial, by any means necessary, of her brother. This world premiere has performances at the Johnson Theater on Aug. 23 & 24.
Scott-Price hopes you’ll see these, and other, festival productions. But if you’re one of those vacationing travelers referenced in the first paragraph of this article, TNC invites you to check out the New City, New Blood reading series and the Scratch Night works-in-progress event, for a taste of Dream Up things to come.