by Claire Moodey · August 26, 2015
Julie Novak | Anne Coleman
Julie Novak delivers a high energy performance at full speed in this season of the NY International Fringe Festival for America's Next Top, Novak's solo show co-written and directed by Eva Tenuto. Framing her story with pop-star impersonations and the perpetual confusion from passers-by about Novak's gender, Novak's tale is sometimes heartfelt, often fantastic, and replete with one liners. Each joke rushes into the next at a frenetic pace and audiences are encouraged to “Tweet your favorite line.”
The show opens with Cher-ing feelings, a spoof which is quickly cut and replaced shortly with a Sinatra cover “What's My Gender” to the tune of “Love and Marriage”. The musical numbers and choreographed gags run throughout America's Next Top, aided by Jason Fok's lighting design and costumes by Novak, Alice Tenuto and Becca Clinger. These musical numbers give way to the story of Novak's birth and her mother's “mad-scientist” determination to have a daughter and Novak's own determination to be a mechanic. The audience follows through her childhood, first job, adolescence and coming out, college days and ends up in the present with Novak's married life.
While Novak doesn't get particularly deep unpacking the realities of depression and homophobia faced by so many folk who don't conform to normative heterosexuality, she celebrates the glory of being a lesbian and comforts those straight folks in the audience who might be feeling left out from time to time. America's Next Top feels like a stand-up set with some added technical pizazz. Clearly a veteran performer, Novak prods the audience when shy and acknowledges who seems to be getting particular jokes. Novak and Tenuto pack in the inside jokes for those in the know and cultural crash course material for a wide audience, as the references to shared experience of queers pile up in costume changes, props, one-liners and alternative fantasies.
A comedian by training, Novak's jokes are on point, but I found myself craving some more of her thoughts about gender identity, pronoun use and how life in America is changing for queer folk. I came genuinely interested in the story she had to tell about being constantly “Sir,—uh—ma'am, uh—sir?”ed, as Novak puts it and wanted more meat hanging from this framework to chew on.