After a one year hiatus, the New York International Fringe Festival (FringeNYC) returns with a new look. It also returns with an additional moniker called FringeBYOV (Bring Your Own Venue) which opens the festival and audience members to theatre beyond the borough of Manhattan. Unfortunately, the Bronx wasn’t included but kudos to Staten Island for being creative in their presentation of The Ferry Play as a podplay.
So I would be lying if I said that there wasn’t some trepidation around the new format. August in NYC for theatre-makers and audience members comes with an acceptance. There will be 200 shows to read in the program guide (in addition to the other festivals and shows); you’ll only be able to get to maybe ten (2 if you are in the Fringe); and you’ll have to run from venue to venue in 100 degree weather. Honestly, as much as I complained about it, I LOVED it. Even if some of the shows were hit or miss.
This leads me to figuring out my Fringe schedule in October. The days are getting shorter, there are some serious plays being produced at our non-profit institutions, and now there’s the Fringe Hub where we all meet to be taken to our venue. How to see it all?! Yes, a luxury problem, but in today’s climate, the theatrical platform, soapbox, medium, choose your noun, is essential. So when Onaje is the play that kicks off my Fringe viewing, I am intrigued. The show is already sold out in the days prior to its opening.
Onaje uses the Cambridge riots of 1967 on the Eastern Shore of Maryland as a backdrop for a group of people who are neighbors turned enemies due to the race relations. An ensemble of nine tell the story of an astrological hobo, an ex-CIA operative, a stripper, a drunk, an angry cop, a family living a simple life, and hitchhiker as they intersect on the highway (literal and metaphorical). We learn soon that this is the first layer of the onion. Wrong place at the wrong time. Running away from the truth. Money solves all problems. The grass is always greener on the other side. Leaving the world better than we found it. All of these are reflected in each actor as in their insightful and careful expression of Robert Bowie, Jr.’s words.
It took me some time to unpack the 145 minutes of intensity. There were many aspects of the show that left me in thought. The cast was talented, Pat Golden’s direction tight in telling the story within the allotted time (though it felt long at spots), and the writing significant.
My next stop was Jamaica Center for the Arts & Learning (JCal) as part of the fringeBYOV/fringeQNS. On the way to see The Public and Private Deaths of Carol O’Grady, I listened to a new feature of the Fringe called the podplay. I listened to Subway Plays which was simply a pretty cool thing to experience as I rode the 7 train. The good thing about the series is that you don’t HAVE to be on that line if you’re already familiar with the subway. I listened to Damper Felts: N on the bus and had the same experience. If you are a tourist, though, it’s a great companion piece for taking the train. All the conversations you have, don’t have, avoid, overhear, and imagine are in one place. Jenny Lyn Bader, Jessie Bear and Colin Waitt capture those moments. As a native New Yorker, I laughed aloud many times and didn’t care about the reactions of others.
As for The Public and Private Deaths of Carol O’Grady, Frank Murdocco’s solo show was a breath of fresh air on a cool night in Jamaica, Queens. The experience began as soon as I arrived and was treated with a tour of the venue which boasts two artists’ gallery. That prepared me for another surprise – a beautiful state-of-the-art 120 seat theatre. It’s Christmas and something terrible has happened to Carol O’Grady! Murdocco’s tells the story through three characters in the style of Sarah Jones, Anna Deveare Smith and Eric Bogosian. He flawlessly and smoothly transforms into these characters. The only indication of a character change is a click of the lamp (which I loved) which added to the layer of the insanity created by Jessica DiPaola and Lindsey Smith.
My trip to the Fringe is coming to a close due to scheduling but definitely support the artists. We need their voices and their stories. And we need yours too. Start creating!
The NEW York International Fringe Festival (FringeNYC + FringeBYOV)