Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Williamsburg! The Musical - Fringe Festival Review

August 21, 2007

The phantom of the L train
By Christopher Murray
for The Brooklyn Paper

Picture credit: Jonathan Grey

Each August, the New York International Fringe Festival is overrun with new plays hoping to become the next Broadway mega-hit. This year, the festival’s 11th outing, is no exception, with over 200 shows in 19 venues over two weeks of steamy summer weather.

Adding some additional this week is the delightful concoction “Williamsburg! The Musical,” that satirically skewers Brooklyn’s bastion of hipster cool.

Billyburg is ripe for mocking, of course, with its pretentious young fops, dandies, cool cats and tough chicks running around what some people call “the campus” wearing torn t-shirts and black mascara, daring anyone over 30 to divine their actual gender.

"Williamsburg! The Musical” doesn’t miss a trick in skewering every aspect of the nabe, from the Polish grandmothers pushing pierogies to the Puerto Rican bogeda owner acting as handyman to the ‘hood.

The musical’s plot line follows a Romeo and Juliet story in which a new denizen of “the coolest neighborhood in America “ named Piper (Alison Guinn), in a tantrum over her daddy cutting off her trust fund, is stopped from throwing herself over the Williamsburg Bridge by Schlomo (Evan Shyer), the Orthodox Jew who runs the local dry cleaners. Sparks fly as the subway rushes by and Piper is entranced by Schlomo’s old world chivalry.

Meanwhile, a crazy real-estate broker is buying up the area’s last remaining deals, charging newbies exorbitant rents, oh, and turning unsuspecting youth into hipster zombies to do her evil bidding.

Sound crazy? It is, and also a heck of a lot of fun. Like its more serious and darker older sibling, the musical “Rent,” this show is driven by the exuberant energy of its young cast. Each member of the ensemble of 14 actors is giving it his all, doing broad bits of shtick and sending up stereotypes of his own generation.

The songs, by Kurt Gellersted and Brooke Fox, are wordy, catchy, fast moving parodies with simple, witty lyrics like “All is takes is cash to look like trash” in the opening number “Welcome to Williamsburg” or in “Schlomo’s Lament”: “My father taught me how to steam and now I live this simple dream.”

Both the choreographer and director, Deborah Wolfson, and the designer of the droll and spot-on costumes, Jennifer Rogien, bring color and life to the proceedings.

Stand outs in the cast include the leads, Alison Guinn, whom Brooklyn theatergoers enjoyed playing a dizzy blond in Gallery Players’ recent “Victor/Victoria,” and Evan Shyer, whose beautiful voice and comic manner are perfect tonics to the hipster mayhem that surrounds him.
“Williamsburg! The Musical” may not light up Broadway anytime soon, but it is a clever, sweet-spirited show that will surely be a hit off- Bedford.

“Williamsburg! The Musical” has its last performance on Aug. 24 at the Village Theatre (158 Bleecker St., in Manhattan ). Tickets are $15. For information, call (212) 279-4448 or visit

©2007 The Brooklyn Paper

Thursday, August 16, 2007

"The Merv Griffin Show" featured performances and interviews with a panoply of entertainers from 1969 through 1986. Griffin created the game show Jeopardy and evaded questions about his sexuality once telling a New York Times reporter "I tell everybody that I'm a quartre-sexual. I will do anything with anyone for a quarter."

I Just Lost My Merv


In 1979, I was living in suburban hell, but I was too stupid to realize it. I knew my parents hated each other. I knew I hated sports. I knew everything was boring and stupid. And all that I lived for was to get home in the afternoons and to settle in on the couch with a can of Fresca for my daily 4 p.m. chat with my best friend, Merv Griffin.

Merv was wonderful. He made everything better. He was kind, he was funny, and most of all, he was relaxed. Whereas my life was replete with anxiety at school (where Mark Ong called me spaghetti head and I peed my pants in gym class), and at home (where my parents had just opened up a giant hole in the earth by getting separated), Merv just laughed and laughed or bit his tongue and smiled at the same time when he was being naughty.

Merv was reliable, he was always there during those endless parentally unsupervised afternoons. While my sister was racking up extracurricular activities to put on her college applications and my brother was learning to inhale cigarettes and puke up beer, I was at home, alone, but luckily there were Merv and his cavalcade of celebrity friends.

My favorite guest, hands down, was Orson Welles, who was as big as a four-door sedan and usually dressed all in black with a big silk bow around his neck. He would perform these obtuse psychic magic tricks narrating his cleverness in that deeply sonorous voice. It thrilled me. And Merv knew just how I felt - he was thrilled, too!

Merv knew the coolest people, women like Charo, Hermione Gingold, Phyllis Diller, and Zsa Zsa Gabor. They defined glamour and sophistication to me. And he knew wonderful men, too. Not men like my father who was too loud and red-faced and always about to boil over, but smooth, classy men like Wayland Flowers (and his Madame), Dom DeLuise, Tony Randall, and that dreamy Anthony Perkins.

To me, Merv was an emissary to a world of endless chatter and friendship. It was exactly where I wanted to live - it was not my house. Not my house was filmed live in front of an audience of lucky ducks in a mystical place called Burbank. Not my house was brightly lit and funny, full of innuendo and wit with a couch that was big and long enough for everyone.
You never knew who might pop by not my house, like Endora popping by to visit Samantha Stevens. At my house, you knew exactly what was going to happen, the daily tensions, the fights over dinner, the long lonely days and nights.
Of course, back then, I didn't realize I was gay, but then - hey! - apparently, neither did Merv!

But like knew like. I knew Merv was in fact, my real father, the father I deserved. He was my first chosen gay father, pudgy, honey-voiced, soothing, and sassy, the anti-my dad who was mayor and master of ceremonies of not my house.

God, how I dreamt of leaving my house and somehow making my way to that wonderful air-conditioned Burbank studio. There I would laugh with Merv on the couch and live with Bill Bixby and he and Orson would do magic tricks, and my pals would be Mickey, Michael, Davy, and my favorite, the quiet Monkee, Peter. My Burbank bedroom would be like the inside of "I Dream of Jeannie"'s pillow-strewn bedroom in a bottle.
To tell God's honest truth, to this day, my sense of what is fun and funny and that gayest of gay commodities, entertaining, is predicated on what Merv taught me during those hazy '70s afternoons - become a master of the art of friendship, surround yourself with bright, funny people, and you'll never suffer from loneliness. Be gracious and expansive and kind and laugh your head off. Glitter. And be gay.

Merv Griffin died in Los Angeles this week at the age of 82.

©GayCityNews 2007

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Reviews for Backstage from the 11th Annual New York International Fringe Festival

Kelly Kinsella Live! Under Broadway

August 17, 2007 By Christopher Murray

Kelly Kinsella may earn her living as a dresser for persnickety actors on Broadway, but her one-woman show in the Fringe Festival proves she's got her own comic chops to spare -- and how.

On a set comprising just an ironing board, a costume rack, and a laundry basket, Kinsella embodies the characters she meets in the course of one hectic day. There's her mom's dipsomaniacal morning phone call and a chat with her dirty-minded neighbor, as well as encounters at work with a fussy wardrobe mistress and various self-absorbed performers, including Crazy With a Z, a dead-on imitation of Liza Minnelli as the star of a fictional megamusical called Suddenly Sudan. The barrage of character-revealing language in the monologues is interspersed with video clips of Kinsella as herself wildly biking through Midtown or careering through backstage corridors. She thrums with the aggressive, ruthless humor of many male comics, but underneath is the touching neurotic charm of a still-unmarried New York woman: "Once I hit the trifecta: a married, alcoholic homosexual. I still think he was my soul mate." She's dynamite.

Presented by On Que Entertainment as part of the New York International Fringe Festival at the New School for Drama, 151 Bank St. , NYC.Aug. 10–24. Remaining performances: Sun., Aug. 19, 7:15 p.m.; Thu., Aug. 23, 11 p.m.; Fri., Aug. 24, 7 p.m.(212) 279-4888 or (888) 374-6436 or

Farmer Song The Musical

August 16, 2007
By Christopher Murray

Set during the farm crisis of the 1980s, when rising interest rates lowered property values and squeezed America's breadbasket to the breaking point, Farmer Song the Musical celebrates the stubborn pluckiness of rural farmers struggling to survive.

The show is very much a family affair: Amy and Joe Hynek are the mother-son writing team responsible; he is also musical director and lead actor, and his strong twangy tenor is joined in performance by his actor-father, Bill, and his bass-playing sister, Amanda.

The bluegrass songs are often dulcet and homespun, if simple, with monosyllabic rhymes like "Blue jeans and a worn-out shirt/Back of my neck all covered with dirt."

The earnest cast of nine nonprofessionals, most of whom either grew up on a farm in Iowa or work in the agri-industry there now, demonstrate in their mostly wooden performances much of the stoicism and decent hardscrabble effort of the characters they portray.

My favorite song, "I Like Baling," is an ode to bundling hay into square bales: "Don't you just love the smell of fresh cut hay?" Eh-yup.

Presented by Pumptown Productions as part of the New York International Fringe Festival at the New School for Drama, 151 Bank St., NYC.Aug. 13-18. Remaining performances: Thu., Aug. 16, 7 p.m.; Fri., Aug. 17, 5 p.m.; Sat., Aug. 18, 2:15 p.m.(212) 279-4888 or (888) 374-6436 or


August 15, 2007
By Christopher Murray

Brian Wilson, the famously bipolar boy genius of the Beach Boys, acts as a literally straitjacketed narrator for this biographical play exploring the career of Leon Theremin, the 20th-century Russian inventor of the eerie-sounding theremin, one of the first electric instruments.

Blue Cake Theatre Company co-founders Duke Doyle and Ben Lewis wrote the somewhat messy script and pull double duty as Theremin and Wilson, respectively. This meditation on the dislocations of genius and the emotionally transporting qualities of music is undercut by a sketchy love triangle and confusing alternate versions of Theremin's biography.

"Musical prophets are never heard in their own time, man," insists Wilson somewhat disingenuously, but what this production is unable in its current form to communicate is the animating passion of two musical innovators who suffered for our aural pleasure.

Presented by the Blue Cake Theatre Company as part of the New York International Fringe Festival at the Village Theatre, 158 Bleecker St., NYC.Aug. 11-25. Remaining performances: Thu., Aug. 16, 2:30 p.m.; Thu., Aug. 23, 9:30 p.m.; Sat., Aug. 25, 6:45 p.m.(212) 279-4888 or (888) 374-6436 or

Shadow People

August 15, 2007
By Christopher Murray

"Part of my story is about drugs," says Jay, Shadow People's 40-something narrator, "which is like saying part of Moby Dick is about whaling."

Jay is played by two actors in this parable of a gay man's descent into grief, self-hatred, and drug addiction in the mid-1990s. The casting is confounding at first, but the theatrical device quickly makes a resonant sort of sense as the character rationalizes, bargains, and squabbles with himself while simultaneously picking up tricks, negotiating with tweaking meth dealers, and calling up bittersweet memories of his lover, who died of AIDS.

The talented Los Angeles-based cast of six men and one woman embodies a seedy retinue of West Hollywood types undone by both inner and outer demons. Suzy Cote does a memorable turn as Nadia, a dealer's slatternly Russian wife, who dreams of being either a conservative judge or a decorator.

Though the script could use some tightening up, author Jay Bernzweig exercises assiduous bravery in not sparing his audience from all the painful details of the path to redemption, healing, and self-acceptance.

Presented by FDMA Theatreworks as part of the New York International Fringe Festival at the Clemente Soto Vélez Cultural and Educational Center's Flamboyán Theatre, 107 Suffolk St., NYC. Aug. 12-25. Remaining performances: Thu., Aug. 16, 9:30 p.m.; Tue., Aug. 21, 5 p.m. ; Thu., Aug. 23, 7 p.m.; Sat., Aug. 25, 9:45 p.m.(212) 279-4888 or (888) 374-6436 or

August 14, 2007
By Christopher Murray

"If you want to leave, I'd understand. I'd be devastated, but I'd understand," says one gay guy just after he's disclosed during a first date that he's HIV-positive in Howard Walter's earnest but often plodding new play, Chaser. Val and Dom, two sensitive slacker guys, sniff around each other, demonstrating wit and insecurities in this companion piece to Walters' Extra Virgin (seen during the Fringe in 2005 and about same-sex Internet hookups).

This time the subject is bug chasing: negative guys who seek out and fetishize HIV infection as the ultimate intimacy. Jake Alexander as the isolated and angry Dominick can't fathom Val's (Wil Petre) desire to bareback his way into love on the obligatory beige futon. Both actors capture the emotional intensity of gay men on the verge of a nervous breakdown, but Chaser often feels more after-school special than dangerous liaison.

Presented by Extra Virgin Productions as part of the New York International Fringe Festival at the Studio @ Cherry Lane, 38 Commerce St., NYC.Aug. 10-25. Remaining performances: Tue., Aug. 14, 9 p.m.; Sat., Aug. 18, 2:15 p.m.; Sat., Aug. 25, 4:45 p.m.(212) 279-4888 or (888) 374-6436 or

Top and Bottom

August 14, 2007
By Christopher Murray

This light, kinky comedy takes place in a hotel room on a Saturday night when James, the putative "top," or dominant sexual partner, pulls on his shiny new leather pants and invites Tommy, the submissive "bottom," over for a little knot-tying and handcuffing action. Sparks don't exactly fly when the guys drop trou, though. Playwright-director Kevin Michael West's gentle satire of masculinity and macho role-playing is often delightful as the two young men bond through their failed attempt at bondage.

David Clark Smith, who originated the role of Tommy in the L.A premiere of this extended one-act last year, is perfectly in pitch with his more than slightly insolent dirty boy grin. He would be delicious as one of Joe Orton's hommes fatale. Unfortunately, the script veers into sentiment toward the end, with each fella delivering a supposedly climatic monologue about the inner pain behind the urge toward sadomasochistic sex play. Better to have stuck to the spanking.

Presented by Dust Bunny Inc. as part of the New York International Fringe Festival at the New School for Drama, 151 Bank St., NYC.Aug. 11-25. Remaining performances: Wed., Aug. 15, 7:30 p.m.; Mon., Aug. 20, 5:30 p.m.; Sat., Aug. 25, 10:45 p.m.(212) 279-4888 or (888) 374-6436 or

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Preview of Fringe Play

Dramatic Heights: Craig Bently, Frank Anthony Polito, Pamela Sabaugh and Fred Backus play two couples who find one another on the Promenade in “Another Day on Willow Street.”

August 11, 2007 / GO Brooklyn / Theater
Where there’s a Willow
By Christopher Murray
for The Brooklyn Paper

It’s another case of life imitating art, or is it the other way around? In Brooklyn Heights-based playwright Frank Anthony Polito’s new show, “Another Day on Willow Street,” the actors playing the two couples the show focuses on are, in fact, in relationships with one another.

“It’s pretty complicated,” admitted Polito. The show, which was scheduled to premiere on Aug. 10 in the 11th annual New York International Fringe Festival, focuses on two Heights couples, one straight and one gay, whose lives become intensely intertwined. And the entire show is set on the Promenade.

“The play really uses Brooklyn Heights and the feel of living there,” said Craig Bentley, Polito’s partner both on and off stage. “It explores why people choose to live there rather than in Manhattan, because of a real love of the Heights and Brooklyn generally.”

Additionally, it explores the relationships of the two couples: an investment banker and his pregnant wife (played by real life couple Fred Backus and Pamela Sabaugh) and their new acquaintances, a gay couple who want to get married — but not before one of them comes out to his family.

“A lot of people who know us might think the characters are us,” said Bentley. “But in reality, it’s more that some of the elements of real life are taken and then mixed up.” Polito said that living in the Heights inspired him to invent the characters and to put them in the kinds of situations that the neighborhood creates.

“When the woman is sitting on the Promenade sipping Starbucks one day,” explained Polito, “she meets one of the gay men and they discover that they’re next door neighbors and become good friends.”

The topicality of the play, with its issues of gay marriage and the impact of gentrification on a neighborhood in Brooklyn, is intensified by its being set just before Sept.11, 2001.
As for the complexities of two real life couples portraying two couples, Polito said he’s just a bit nervous about acting opposite his real life love.

“The conflict of the gay couple is so close to a conflict that we had in real life,” he said. “I hope Craig remembers that I’m just acting!”

“Another Day on Willow Street” runs through Aug. 26 at the Fringe Festival. Tickets are $15. For information and exact showtimes, visit