by Heather J. Violanti · August 11, 2014
Like any fringe festival, fringeNYC features both emerging and established artists, showcasing writers, actors, and directors with a lot of talent and heart, if not always polish. Part of the joy—and, to be fair, occasional frustration—of the festival is to see these artists find their own voice, or try something new. It may not always work, but it hints at promise for the future.
The 8th Fold marks the U.S. premiere of a musical with a book by emerging London-based artists Ava Eldred and Gianni Onori, with music and lyrics by Onori, who also directed. Its melodramatic PR blurb hints at a 9/11 version of Stand by Me—“Two planes. Two towers. Four boys forced into manhood and a journey they had no time to prepare for.” But 9/11 is less of a theme and more a footnote in this ambitious, if meandering, coming-of-age tale about four young men who’ve lost fathers and a brother to the post-September 2001 fighting in the Middle East. For reasons not entirely clear, it is narrated in past tense by Elijah. Strong, clear-headed, and compassionate, Elijah is the de facto leader of the group—but having him narrate proves a puzzling structural choice. It drains dramatic tension to have Elijah tell us key events rather than witness them for ourselves.
The songs, while varied musically, tend toward the same emotional tone of reflection, often slowing the action rather than moving it forward. Still, there are some lovely moments, as in the lush “Don’t You Listen to the Stars?,” when the friends revel in the beauty of the night sky, or the soaring “Overboard,” when Elijah discovers long suppressed angst and joy at once. The ensemble—Micah Cowher, Thaddeus Kolwicz, Kyle Schliefer, Matthew Brown, Andy Dubick, and Glen North—deliver committed performances, supported by the skilled music direction of Andy Collopy. In the end, The 8th Fold is well-meaning, but its emotional core is lost amidst a didactic structure. It glimmers with promise, though, and it will be interesting to see what Onori and Eldred do next.
Another ambitious festival debut is Teddy's Doll House by Kathleen Kaan, which profiles an Alphabet City hair salon on the brink of change in 1985. This is Kaan’s first play, and she displays a remarkable ear for dialogue and flair for character. She creates a quirky, tragicomic universe of old neighborhood eccentrics who are saved from cliché by being a jumble of complex contradictions and human frailty—from petulant yet big-hearted Teddy, who tries desperately to make ends meet in his struggling salon, to his tough, wise, yet befuddled older sister Fay, who stomps around in her dead husband’s shoes. Kaan drives her plot with a strong need—Teddy and Fay want to keep the family business, but tough times might make them sell—but gets sidetracked in the second act, when the revelation of a long-buried (yet obvious) secret distracts from the main action.
Director and dramaturge Leonard Peters balances the play’s pathos and comedy. The cast—Ernest Mingione, Annie McGreevey, Caroline Rossi, Michael Mazzeo, Jen Jacob, Jill Melanie Wirth, and Michael Mahany—is a mix of seasoned pros and emerging talent. Rossi steals her scenes as tough-talkin’ granny Mrs. Serrafino, while Annie McGreevey is masterful as the long-suffering but resourceful Fay.
Kaan is a new voice with plenty of promise.