BY DAVID KENNERLEY Every summer, New York City is awash in a sea of performance festivals — mostly tiny, scrappy affairs with just a handful of shows. Some of these upstarts appear one season and vanish a couple of years later without a trace.
By far the largest, most durable, and the most daunting is the New York International Fringe Festival, now in its 16th year. FringeNYC boasts 190 shows in 20 downtown venues in just over two weeks. It’s the Granddaddy of theater fests, offering a mix of subjects, style, and — let’s be real here — quality. But how to choose?
Any FringeNYC aficionado knows that the fest offers something for everyone, especially the gays. As always, nearly a quarter of the plays touch on LGBT themes and this year covers an astonishing gamut of cultural diversity. You’ll find irate Iranian-Canadian taxi drivers, disenfranchised public defenders, straight strippers, an Arab-Jewish take on Romeo & Juliet, suicidal teens, runaway Austrians, and quiche-eating lesbians. There seems to be a preponderance of confessional solo shows this year, striving to find a commonality among the differences.
Check out our picks of the 10 most tantalizing LGBT shows at FringeNYC.
STANDBY - The Musical
The Fringe wouldn’t be the Fringe without at least one show with “The Musical” tacked onto its title. But instead of the typical raucous romp, we have a plaintive story of heartache and hope, putting the human spirit to the test (think “Next to Normal”). The premise is intriguing: Five travelers with all sorts of unresolved baggage find themselves in a kind of purgatory terminal, waiting for a crucial flight. Will they find redemption in the next life? With book and lyrics by Alfred Solis and music by Keith Robinson and Amy Baer. If you can’t wait to see the show, check out the original soundtrack on iTunes. VENUE #10: The Players Theatre (115 MacDougal Street between West 3rd and Bleecker); FRI 10 @ 7; TUE 14 @ 2:30; SAT 18 @ NOON; WED 22 @ 5; THU 23 @ 7
On the heels of winning multiple awards at the 2012 Fringe Theatre Festival in Toronto, Pandemic Theatre presents a solo show by gifted Iranian actress Tara Grammy, who plays a trio of endearing characters. You’ll meet an Iranian-Canadian teen girl, a flashy gay Spaniard, and an Iranian engineer who drives a taxi. Their lives collide in surprising ways, walking the treacherous line of comic and tragic. This heartfelt, irreverent piece promises to teach you about Iranians — and about yourself. VENUE #4: Jimmy's No. 43 (43 East 7th Street between 1st & 2nd Aves); FRI 10 @ 5:15; SAT 11 @ 2; FRI 17 @ 7:15; SUN 19 @ 5:30; FRI 24 @ 5; SAT 25 @ 7
This twisted coming-of-age, bio-play finds Vincent going from the rough-and-tumble streets of Queens, NY to life among the queens in West Hollywood, CA. Follow Vincent on his unlikely odyssey through baseball, soap operas, speech lessons, and more, all with the aim of finding what it means to become butch. Written and performed by cute-as-a-button Vincent James Arcuri, the work enjoyed critically acclaimed runs in Los Angeles and on Atlantis cruises. Don’t miss this “smartly written tour de force.” VENUE #11: The Steve & Marie Sgouros Theatre (115 MacDougal Street between West 3rd and Bleecker); FRI 17 @ 3; TUE 21 @ 2:45; THU 23 @ 6:30; FRI 24 @ 8; SAT 25 @ 5:45; SUN 26 @ NOON
Have I Got a Girl For You
A few years ago, gay musical theatre actor Josh Mesnik (“Jewtopia”) found himself out of work and drowning in bills and alcohol. So he got his life back on track by going through rehab and getting a job, not back on stage, but in a whole new kind of theatre. He ended up running the largest female escort agency on the East Coast — a high-end outfit with big-name clients. And big hassles. Will he be able to keep his horny clients satisfied? VENUE #8: La MaMa (74A East 4th Street between 2nd Avenue & Bowery); SAT 11 @ 5; MON 13 @ 3:45; THU 16 @ 7; SUN 19 @ 9:30; SAT 25 @ NOON
5 Lesbians Eating a Quiche
Evan Linder and Andrew Hobgood have concocted a warped comedy worthy of Charles Busch. The year is 1956. The event is the annual quiche breakfast held by the Susan B. Anthony Society for the Sisters of Gertrude Stein. When communists threaten their idyllic town, hilarity ensues. Presented by the New Colony theater company and fresh from a successful run in Chicago. Come see the show that Time Out calls “Sharp, smart and hysterically funny.” VENUE #1: The Living Theatre (21 Clinton St. between Houston and Stanton); FRI 10 @ 5; SAT 11 @ 8; WED 15 @ 10:30; THU 16 @ 4; FRI 17 @ 7:30
The Hills Are Alive!
Okay, this one may not have an overt gay theme, but it sure has a fabulous sensibility. This new dark musical comedy imagines “The Sound of Music” as “Survivor,” following a prominent Austrian family traipsing across the Alps into Switzerland to escape the Nazis. But what’s it really like to climb every mountain and ford every stream with seven brats and no toilet paper? Singing about favorite things can only take you so far. Come for the squabbling siblings in braids and lederhosen, stay for the witty musical numbers, sung by a surprisingly accomplished cast. With music by Eric Thomas Johnson and book and lyrics by Frankie Johnson. VENUE #3: Theatre 80 (80 St. Marks Place, btwn 1st Avenue and 2nd Avenue) Fri 10 @ 7 Sun 12@2:45 Mon 13@3 Sun 19@1 Fri 24 @ 9
Alice & The Bunny Hole
Reboots of Alice in Wonderland are plentiful and, to be honest, often stultifying. But this version is from the infinitely entertaining Jersey City-based Elixir Productions, the theater troupe responsible for several crowd-pleasing dark dramas at the Fringe in recent years. Down this bunny hole the calculating Alice stumbles upon height-altering cocktails, swinging twinks, and clues to online matchmaking. Expect a comic adventure in pansexualism, kink, and subversive desire that grows curiouser and curiouser. VENUE #8: La MaMa (74A East 4th Street between 2nd Avenue & Bowery); MON 13 @ 8; THU 16 @ 4:15: FRI 17 @ 4; SAT 18 @ 9; FRI 24 @ 4:15
Dogs: A Biting Comedy
When a gay Israeli theater director sets out to create an Arab-Jewish Romeo & Juliet musical with a group of hotheaded men, the rehearsal room morphs into a battlefield fraught with mutual alienation and rage, and the production threatens to implode. Written by Ido Bornstein, the goal was to shed light on the Arab-Israeli conflict from a gender-based angle that is at once comic and provocative. Presented by TheaterCan, based in Tel Aviv, Israel. VENUE #14: New Ohio Theatre (154 Christopher Street between Greenwich Street and Washington Street); THU 16 @ 6:30; SUN 19 @ 5; TUE 21 @ 2; THU 23 @ 8:30; FRI 24 @ 10:15
“Pieces” does not refer to the beloved gay dive bar in the West Village. It alludes to body parts — lots of ’em — deposited around Beverly Hills. The victim? An openly gay Hollywood mogul. The accused? A damaged youth with a checkered past. The public defender? A conflicted gay man disconnected from his community. According to press notes, this take-no-prisoners drama “examines a culture fighting against fragmentation even as it moves toward unprecedented and political visibility, and the personal cost of divisiveness.” Sound a bit trenchant for the Fringe? Come see if writer Chris Phillips and director Brian Zimmer can actually pull this off! VENUE #12: Cherry Lane Theatre (38 Commerce Street between 7th Avenue & Hudson Street); SAT 11 @ 12:30; TUE 14 @ 5:45; WED 15 @ 6:30; THU 16 @ 4:30; SUN 19 @ 8
If you saw “Magic Mike” and are hankering to see a live, gay and, shall we say, stripped-down version, this play’s for you. Playwright/actor Ryan Kipp gives us a peek inside the seamy VIP rooms of a notorious gay club in Atlanta, through the eyes of Gavin, a stripper who happens to be straight. But be warned, this is no light parody. Instead, this solo bio-play delivers a probing mash-up of memoir and object lesson, promising an “unabashed experiment in grief, hope, and sexuality.” But does it have full-on nudity? Come see for yourself. VENUE #6: The White Box at 440 Studios (440 Lafayette Street between Astor Place & East 4th Street); FRI 10 @ 7; WED 15 @ 4; THU 16 @ 9:30; SAT 18 @ 4:30; SAT 25 @ 5; SUN 26 @ 4
FringeNYC | Produced by the Present Company | Various Downtown Venues | Aug. 10-26 | $15 to $18 at ticketweb.com or 866-468-7619 | Complete schedule at fringenyc.org or FringeCentral, 1 E. Eighth St. at Fifth Ave.