Monday, August 16, 2010

FringeNYC 14: Picking Palin, Shine: A Burlesque Musical and The Ghost of Dracula

I tagged along to see Picking Palin as the date of my always charming constant escort as I was pretty sure it was Not My Thing, and thus it wasn't on my list of shows to see. Okay. I was right. It isn't My Thing, but the Thing They Do is very well done. Playwright Stephen Padilla's one act shows the behind the scenes machinations that led to the picking of Sarah Palin as the GOP vice-presidential candidate. Just typing that name makes my skin crawl as I've been participating in my own, personal Sarah Palin media blackout since the election ended. I don't post or comment on clips or articles about her on facebook. I don't mention her (until now) on my blog. It bugs me when people post about her, and then shout "Why won't she just go away?!", because I feel like responding, "Stop posting about her! THAT's why!". That outburst out of the way, back to my review. Picking Palin is well acted and well directed. It's nice to see grown up actors playing grown up characters on a FringeNYC stage. It's smartly written, with the more moderate Republican characters make useful points, which should be of no surprise to anyone who read Peggy Noonan or Kathleen Parker during the past election season, or who witnessed Christopher Buckley's volte face. For me, it did lack some stakes and suspense. I mean, we all know how it's going to end, and the final decision was made by someone off stage (McCain), so it felt a little inert to me. But, again, it is not My Thing (it was a little light on robots and talking animals).

Picking Palin
written and directed by Stephen Pedilla
The Connolly Theater, 220 East 4th Street
remaining performances: Wed 18 @ 1:30, Sat 21 @ 9:45, Wed 25 @ 9:30, Sat 28 @ NOON

Shine, which subtitles itself a "a burlesque musical" is the sort of FringeNYC offering that always gives me pause. It appears to be slick enough and expensive enough that I inevitably wonder, "Why here?". The piece was conceived by and around the talents of singer, Cass King, and her songwriter partner, John Woods, who have dubbed themselves "The Wet Spots". The songs are well-written, but their book is negligible. The burlesque musical has a proud tradition in American musical theater, as two of the greatest of all American theatrical works, Gypsy and Cabaret, are among their number. But I'm awfully confused by what I saw on the stage of the lovely Ellen Stewart Theatre at LaMaMa the other night. The story is that hoariest of old chestnuts: Let's put on a show to raise the funds to save _____! In this case a burlesque house. As I stated above, the book is a mess. It introduces an ingenue couple and then does nearly nothing with them. The female ingenue is introduced as a gender studies major who is writing her thesis on burlesque, a point that is completely dropped after its initial introduction. There is also a subplot about a larger sized singer whom the money bags who is producing the theater-saving show doesn't want in the lead. This is (rightly) painted as narrow and wrong, but the thing is: she's not the lead of Shine either, so the protests felt a little hollow to me. There is also a lot of talk about the downtown versus uptown sensibility which was a little tough for me to swallow as the whole show seemed pure uptown to me from tip to tail. There were some very, very good dancers on that stage, and I would have liked to see them do a little more. It felt weirdly safe and staid and unsexy. The upshot is, they really need a lot of help with the book. Their note in the program is delightful, and their intentions are good: but the show they talk about is not apparent on stage.

SHINE: A Burlesque Musical
The Wet Spots
Writer: Cass King, John Woods (The Wet Spots) and Sam Dulmage
Director: Roger Benington
The Ellen Stewart Theatre @LaMaMa, 66-68 East 4th Street
remaining performances: Mon 23 @ 9:45, Thu 26 @ 2, Sat 28 @ 2

Oh, Ghost of Dracula. Everyone involved in it is so very, very obviously young. I feel like I'm an awful curmudgeon saying anything awful about them. Their show is shouty, underbaked and there is a series of slide projections of questionable taste. They indulge in the kind of racial humor that Dave Chappelle gets away with beautifully, but is much more problematic when being attempted by a bunch of white recent college grads. The cast, and the audience plants who are later revealed to be cast, look like they're having fun. Is it any good? Well, no. It's dreadful. But, as I said, they are so very, very young.

Ghost of Dracula
Colby Day Productions
Writer: Kenneth Molloy, based on characters created by Bram Stoker
Director: Daniel Johnsen
Connelly Theater, 220 East 4th Street
remaining performances: Wed 18 @ 10:45, Tue 24 @ 8:30, Sun 29 @ 2

(photo: pictured: Cass King Photographer: Frank Roberts)

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