Woman Around Town’s Editor Charlene Giannetti and writers for the website talk with the women and men making news in New York, Washington, D.C., and other cities around the world. Thanks to Ian Herman for his wonderful piano introduction.

New York International Fringe Festival

HELD Captivated


Sometimes it’s really hard to hold your applause until the end. Such is the case with HELD: A Musical Fantasy, now playing at Drom as part of the New York International Fringe Festival. Kelly Maxwell (book and lyrics) and Meghan Rose (composer) have worked their own kind of magic, crafting a lovely fairy tale filled with sophisticated, beautifully layered songs. HELD is about love of all sorts as much as it’s about selfishness, jealousy, sacrifice and forgiveness.

Three friends — Mera the soldier (Katie Bakalars), Bardo the baker (Alex Van Handel) and Korin the Dreamer (Hannah Ripp-Dieter) — have been trapped by an unknown “Blood Wizard,” who has kept them suspended, without hunger or thirst, for weeks. Their cell is a cold stone room without windows or a door, and the only escape is into memory, where they put together the pieces that eventually solve the mystery of their captor’s identity.


Hannah Ripp-Dieter and Alex Handel

Mera and Korin have been best friends since they were girls, though their families discouraged the relationship. Mera knew she was destined to kill or be killed, and Korin, as a Dreamer — a kind of magician — is supposed to protect and sustain life. As a child, Bardo had followed them to the clearing in the woods where they often met and ever since the three have been inseparable. Now, however, war approaches their village and Mera and Korin are called to take up their family mantles. Their destinies are at odds, but the source of their greatest strain has remained secret until recently. As it happens, Korin loves Mera, who loves Bardo, who loves Korin.

The non-linear structure and parallel narrative may confuse at first, but as the plot builds toward its inevitable conclusion the symmetry becomes the means of ramping up tension and feeling. It’s easy to see what’s coming from the hints dropped like breadcrumbs along the way, but that doesn’t hinder the enjoyment of the story or change the fact that the music and performances are all excellent. The three leads’ voices complement one another with crispness and bell-like clarity.

The production I attended suffered from some sound inconsistency, mainly uneven microphones, which wasn’t as terrible as it could have been thanks to good projection on the singers’ parts and the somewhat intimate performance space. However there were moments when one voice was almost lost among the other two. Thankfully these moments were infrequent and the singers did well compensating vocally to make up for a lack of technology.


Alex Handel, Katie Bakalars, Hannah Ripp-Dieter

The music was played live on stage, with Rose at the piano and accompanists Jake Ripp-Dieter and Kristine Kruta on bass and cello, respectively. The combination of voices and music is both effective and affecting, with lots of emotion infused into every song.

Director S.C. Lucier uses all of Drom’s small stage as well as bringing the actors out into the audience at times. The back-and-forth nature of the story makes it a challenge to divide the scenes without the use of scenery and lots of props, but it was done well enough with small changes to lighting, costume changes, and by moving two small cube ottomans around the stage.

Maxwell’s choice to make the women the more dangerous and powerful characters, leaving the man to fill the role of gentle baker and consoler, was a nice means of shaking up the standard fairy tale tropes. It also makes a nice statement about pursuing your truth, no matter what others think of it.

Even if the plot was somewhat predictable, it was told with care and creativity. All told, HELD was one of the best Fringe shows I’ve seen. Get a seat while you can.

Photos: Shira Friedman Photography 
Top: Katie Bakalars, Hannah Ripp-Dieter, Alex Handel

HELD: A Musical Fantasy
Fringe Venue #5 Drom
85 Avenue A, New York, NY 10009 (between 5th and 6th)
One last performance: 7:30 p.m. Thursday, August 25, 2016
For tickets: Fringe NYC

Naked Brazilian and Others


There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening, that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique…Martha Graham

When boundless energy combines with incredible talent the result is Gustavo Pace and Naked Brazilian. The ability to convincingly portray a wide range of characters is rare, and to do it this well is truly remarkable. The show is fast paced and there is not a moment’s pause or flicker of confusion in the performance. The apparent ease with which this is accomplished is amazing and can only get better with the added confidence of each performance.

2016 08 10 Gustavo_037We first meet Gustavo as himself, as the narrator, and as his ill-tempered and often irrational father (who later is the proud father who insists upon taking endless pictures of Gustavo as he gets his degree from Harvard). During the first few minutes there’s a lot of conversation between father and son in Spanish with brief explanations by Gustavo as the Narrator; for the most part this works well, though perhaps slowing down the initial scenes a bit.

Leaving his home in Brazil and his life as a law student, Gustavo moves to New York to pursue his dream of being an actor, encountering numerous characters along the way; among them a sex therapist, a crazed gunman, and a homicidal producer. Shortly after arriving he begins studying with an acting coach, later shares an apartment with him and finally is taken home to meet his family where an enthusiastic mother tells Gustavo, to his dismay, ”We are happy that you are our son-in-law.” That was the end of that relationship.

2016 08 10 Gustavo_203At last, applying for his Green Card, he is told by the lawyer he doesn’t have sufficient credentials. He has three months to figure something out. He begins to recall all the events of his life since arriving in New York and realizes that they would make a good one man show. He writes it, performs it to excellent reviews and now has the required credentials.

It’s an endless adventure about pursuing a dream and the many individuals and situations incurred in the process, and the audience is carried along with every moment.  Be forewarned that once you see it you may find yourself humming “Girl from Ipanema” for days.

There is only one more performance in this very limited run: Sunday, August 21, 2016, at 8:30pm, but you can be certain Naked Brazilian will move forward with many more venues and performances and ever increasing success.

Written, and performed by Gustavo Pace
Directed by Stephen Brown-Fried
Sound Design by Julian Evans, Lighting Design by Ethan Steimel
Photography by Jim R. Moore
Part of the New York International Fringe Festival
64 East 4 Mainstage (64 East 4th Street)