I was delighted to find that I would be in New York for its International Fringe Festival this year. This is its 18th Year, and I had never been before. The timing allowed me to expand my week’s viewings by three more plays, albeit untried and untested, to be selected from two hundred productions in eighteen obscure venues scattered over the Lower East Side of Manhattan. That’s a lot, but nowhere near the size or scope of the Edinburgh Fringe currently underway in Scotland, the largest arts festival in the world. By contrast, if you didn’t know, you’d never even realize this one was here.
I was eager to catch Phil Horst’s Well Adjusted, first presented a few years back at Four County Players, in Barboursville, VA. I’d seen and enjoyed it then, and it has been remounted for the Festival with the mostly same cast, and with Marty Moore returning as director. But each production is apparently given five performance dates and times, and unfortunately, our schedules didn’t match. Hopefully, audiences will be both ample and wildly enthusiastic enough to launch Phil on a much-deserved writing career. Check the schedule for two remaining performances: www.welladjustedplay.wix.com/fringe2014
I selected my three plays based on my schedule and the professional appearance of their publicity cards, which is to say pretty much at random. Coyote Katie’s Return, by and with Alison Crane, advertises itself with a colorful publicity card. Other than to say the story involved a missing Southwestern girl turned feral who had been raised by coyotes, and the attempt to make a commercial spectacle of her, I’ll stop right there. But the publicity card was fantastic!
The 8th Fold makes reference to the ritualized folding of the American flag at a military funeral. Unofficially, the eighth fold is “a tribute to the one who entered into the valley of the shadow of death, that we might see the light of day, and to honor mother, for whom it flies on Mother’s Day.” But that’s not exactly what the play is about.
It’s a musical by Gianni Onori and Ava Eldred, about four boys whose fathers have been killed in Iraq or Afghanistan, and how they must deal with their own sadness and anger and move on with their own lives. It’s a British entrant to the Festival, but the producers have found four American extremely well trained vocal talents to bring it to life here. I found the songs to be beautiful, if a bit monotonous after a while. And there’s no denying the play’s sincerity, or the talents of the singers and the small orchestra that accompanied them. The play itself lacks levity, frequently strays from its message and loses focus just as its adolescent characters are prone to doing. One of them in particular, busy fixing everybody else’s problems, is way too cock-sure of himself to be believable. The script has a ways to go, but it does showcase some fine singing talent; at least it’s about something, and it is very, VERY sincere!
My third selection was Bohemian Valentine, by and with Mateo Moreno: A girl who dies; as a result a depressed, disconsolate boy who wants to commit suicide; and then a second girl, who also wants to end her life, but ends up on the edge of the roof, saving the day. There you have it. Pretty good acting.
Audiences for all three show ranged from 15-50 people. I gather that to find something really polished and powerful at the Fringe Festival is a distinct rarity. I was there shortly after the festival opened, so there was little word-of-mouth to go on. I understand after the first few days it gets much clearer what not to miss and what could possibly be by-passed, but by then the best may be sold out. Word travels fast; the venues are small and choices have to be made. Besides, however you look at it, all of these dedicated playwrights, along with their directors, casts and crews, worked very hard to make it all happen. And you can rest assured, at whatever level they are writing and performing this time, they will get better.
The New York International Fringe Festival runs through Aug. 24 at various theaters; .