Each July, 59E59 Theaters plays host to companies from all over the United States on their way to perform at the international Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Productions are given an opportunity to get their footing and to try out in a professional and welcoming environment. For New Yorkers, this is an opportunity to attend adventurous, provocative, often quirky new theater at the extremely reasonable price of $10 – $20 a ticket. Through Sunday August 1. Full list of productions online.
Ticket Central 212-279-4200 or www.59E59.org
I saw a double bill:
Written and performed by Penny Pollack
The stage is bare but for lots of mostly empty liquor bottles, two white nightgowns and a T-shirt laid flat on the floor, lace curtains at a traditional sash window, and a rather large aluminum wash tub. What sounds like French gypsy music blares.
Our heroine is clearly drunk out of her mind on alcohol and despair. She dances, drinks, lip syncs, tells us of her abused and unloved state, sits in the wash tub and slits her wrist. Black out! Waking on the roof, she sees a young woman about to jump…and cynically does nothing to discourage her. Black out! Now she’s in the nightgown and IS the woman talking to “the other” in the tub. Black out! Now she’s in Purgatory. What!? She discovers this by vomiting up a note that says “you killed yourself,” followed by another stating “you’re dead.” Told she must stop others in order to save herself, she ricochets between playing herself and the potential suicides. This repeats and repeats. Her anger and bitterness do nothing to prevent death until she actually saves someone with a reason we never learn. A cop out. Given a second chance, she can now pocket the razor and walk away. If she so chooses.
Oddly, despite potentially rich subject matter, the piece is more abrasive than it is engaging. Characters are indistinguishable from one another but for indefinite accents and their methods of suicide. The situations feel one note. If this were a tight half hour with more specific personalities depicted, it might’ve worked better
Penny Pollack was definitely out there. She’s a good physical actor with some real comedic moments but suffered from the script.
Hi, How Can I Help You?
Written and performed by Scout Durwood
Darcy is the phone girl at The Enchanted Paddle, a low-end S&M Dungeon. She’s friendly, upbeat and…helpful. Her descriptions adjust a girl’s ethnic origins, hair color “Jane is kind of blonde,” she says into the phone, and then to Jane, “Shut up, you have highlights,” even shoe size according to the john’s desires. It’s as if she were working in a grocery for all the attention paid anything but basic rules: “Please ride the elevator alone. We say busty, never chubby. Always have a pedicure.” The establishment’s owner, Lisa, is a middle class mom. The girls are…well, working girls…a variety of women in “the sorority” for their own reasons, each with her own kind of clientele.
Durwood plays them all and (unfortunately) a series of male clients we see on video. (The video is the most amateurish, unsuccessful and unnecessary part of this production.)
We meet and watch the women interact. It all seems very…usual. Just another service business where eventually, someone breaks a rule.
Running through the situation is the fact of Obama’s imminent election which will ostensibly solve all their personal problems: no fighting over money, the acquisition of a green card, gay marriage, health insurance, real estate issues… Were this the subject of the piece with carefully wrought parallels, it might have been effective. As it was, a mention or two would’ve served better than bludgeoning us.
Durwood is a wonder. First of all, she sings really well. A clever laying on of tracks (in front of us) allows her to add back-up to her various solo numbers. At several points, it occurred to me the play might make more sense as an entirely musical performance.
And here’s the rub: this is a piece of theater that doesn’t know what it wants to be. It’s a play (without an arc), a musical, a multi-media show; it’s a humorous and sweet portrait of an unlikely sisterhood and a political piece. I’m afraid it needs to make up its mind and edit.
Now back to Durwood. She’s a talented actress. There are too many parts going by too fast, but her skill is undeniable and a couple of the characters quite convincing. She roller skates, handles a hula hoop, and admirably fakes both ukulele and piano. And she’s attractive—not a man in the audience didn’t lean forward when she stripped down to lingerie.
As to the writing, her venue is intriguing, her approach appealing. It simply lacks cohesion. And is too long.
I look forward to seeing Durwood flex elsewhere.
Photo at top: Penny Pollack, on right, Scout Durwood, left
No Traveler/ Hi, How Can I Help You? Through July 16
Other Productions in the Edinburgh Fringe Festival:
Suspicious Package, July 17 through 31
A Perhaps-Too-Intimate Evening of Music and Hilarity July 22-24
Retreat, July 23-25
For tickets, go to www.50e50.org