The hidden gem of the 2015 New York Fringe Festival just may be the blue sapphire from the Happy Prince that the sparrow gave to the struggling writer in Wilde Tales. Wilde Tales is three fairy tales by Oscar Wilde, carefully crafted together and masterfully executed by six actors. There is great ensemble work and wonderful use of puppets.
These are simple fairy tales, well done. They talk about reluctant sacrificial love, unrequited, scorned love, and forbidden love gone astray. One can easily imagine Oscar Wilde drawing from his own experiences, as well as members of the cast drawing from their own experiences.
A reference early on in the play to the lotus flower made me think this play would pair well with The Broken Record. The angst of The Broken Record seems to go hand in glove with the joy of Wilde Tales.
Do not go to this play expecting intricate plot twists exploring hard to fathom details of the human condition presented through nuanced performances of highly complicated characters. Instead, go expecting simple stories of love tinged with sadness that will uplift your heart.
Fiona is at that age where she loves Fan Fic, Shakespeare, and Monty Python, so “I, Horatio” ended up being her favorite play on our first day at the New York Fringe Festival this year. The characters lacked complexity. The gags and plot twists were predictable. Exactly what good slapstick Fan Fic should be. It was bawdy in a style you would expect if Shakespeare were writing today, and Fiona did not appear to notice or react to those scene which could have been embarrassing to a thirteen year old girl watching a play with her father.
If you go to “I, Horatio” looking for some good laughs, you won’t be disappointed. It is an almost perfect way to take a break from some of the more serious plays. Just don’t expect the long soliloquies of a brooding prince, and despite the many references to pie fights, don’t expect them either. And, to stay in the tradition of Monty Python, “no one expects the Spanish Inquisition”.
After exploring “The Universe of Matt Jennings”, Fiona and I went to see “The Broken Record”. As the play started off, the characters felt flat, like they were from a watered down version of a cross between The Banshee of Bainbridge and Zoo Story. Jiva played by Jonathan Louis Dent, who wrote the play, was a homeless man, with signs of schizophrenia. There was a young black college student that gets shot by a white police officer. In a description of the play, I read that the scene keeps getting replayed and I hoped they would do something interesting with it, otherwise it was going to be a fairly dull twenty-first century morality play.
Fortunately, they did do something very interesting. After the actors froze, the personification of the voice in Jiva’s head appeared. Shadow, played by Rebecca S’manga Frank, provided the context, the through line, needed to bring the play alive.
“Do you know the secret of the lotus flower?” she asked. The complexities of Jiva, as well as of the white police officer, came alive through Jiva’s interaction with Shadow.
I won’t tell you the secret of the lotus flower. That is something you need to find for yourself, by coming to see “The Broken Record”. I won’t tell you the secret of the lotus flower, because I don’t want to give anything away, and because, at least for me, and I suspect for most people either acting in, or watching the play, the answer is incomplete. This is not a failure of the play, it is the power of the play.
As long as we need to remind those around us that #BlackLivesMatter, we all need to spend time trying to learn the secret of the lotus flower.
Going to see “The Universe of Matt Jennings” was close to the epitome of the Fringe experience. My daughter and took the train into New York City, took the subway down to Delancey Street, and wandered around, in the sweltering heat to find Venue 4, Spectrum, on the second floor of 121 Ludlow Street. We left extra time in case there were transit delays, difficulties finding the venue, or other unexpected complications. There were none, so we were close to an hour early.
Unlike larger theatres, this venue did not have an air conditioned lobby and we were told to come back fifteen minutes before curtain time. There aren’t a lot of nice little places to sit down with a thirteen year old and wait for a play, so instead, we found a compromise worthy of waiting for the show. We walked around Orchard Street. Fiona did a little window shopping at the stores selling leather jackets and rock band t-shirts, as I captured and hacked portals in the augmented reality game Ingress.
The venue was small. It had the look and feel of somebody’s loft. The walls were covered with books and CDs, from Django Reinhardt to Ulysses. As they took my ticket, I asked for a press kit. The response was something to the effect of, “Hey, that’s a good idea. We should have those. Give me your card and I’ll email you something.” It appeared that the audience was made up mostly of relatives of the actor. This could be heaven or this could be hell, a one person play about being gay in the context of Star Trek.
The play started predictably enough, “Captain’s Log, Stardate …” A young actor sits on a chair shoddily portraying Captain Kirk’s Seat in the original Star Trek. He is reenacting the Kobayashi Maru test, skillfully hopping from the role of Kirk to the roles of Sulu, Uhura, and others. The Kobayashi Maru test comes to the predictable conclusion and then, the real magic starts to happen.
This isn’t just some fun little Star Trek homage. It isn’t just another play about discovering and revealing one’s sexual orientation. It isn’t one of those dreadful autobiographical one person plays by an aspiring actor who merely has a few funny stories about wanting to be an actor as a kid. This is an important play about self-discovery, masterfully done. It is a play for everyone who doesn’t quite fit in, which I suspect applies to almost all of us, in one way or another.
This is what the Fringe should be. This is what theatre should be. Enjoyable and thought provoking.
In 1983, I left my job as a consultant at Bell Laboratories, gave up my apartment on Mott St in New York City, which I shared with some aspiring actors, and hit the road. Some of those actors were going to be at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival later that summer, so I added Edinburgh to my itinerary.
The Edinburgh Fringe Festival was fantastic, and for the next several years, I went back every summer, watching an average of five plays a day for at least a week. Eventually, I settled down, started a family, and the trips to Edinburgh came to an end. How I wished that there was something like that in the United States.
I settled into the typical corporate suburban life as my children grew, but after a divorce, remarriage, the oldest kids heading off to college, and a career change, I found myself working as a freelance journalist and was invited to cover the New York Fringe Festival. It was different from my youth in Edinburgh. Instead of staying in youth hostels, I took the train into New York City from the suburbs of Connecticut. One day, I took my eight year old daughter in.
That was five years ago. Soon afterwards, I took a new job as a social media manager for a Federally Qualified Health Center, and it’s now been five years since I’ve went to the fringe.
My youngest daughter is all about movies, television series, web series, and acting. My wife watches television with her and takes her to the movies. I pretty much don’t watch television or go to the movies anymore. Ever since theaters like the Thalia or the Metro closed on the Upper West Side of Manhattan many years ago, I’ve found the mass produced media less and less interesting. Yet the fringe, that is where I’ve always found the most creativity.
This summer, my youngest daughter, now thirteen, was complaining about how uninteresting the assigned summer reading for school was. She wanted to read Shakespeare. My wife and I looked at each other. Was it time to return to the fringe, this time, bringing Fiona to several shows?
So, I got in touch with old contacts, arranged to take an extra week of vacation, and set things up to go to the fringe. Shortly, the two of us will return to the fringe. Today, we are planning on seeing three plays, which I hope to write about tomorrow.
As I’ve described my plans to friends, I have been surprised at the number of people who don’t know about the New York Fringe Festival. If there is any way you can make it, arrange a trip to the festival.