The 18th annual New York International Fringe Festival is now over. I saw a total of 26 FringeNYC shows, which might be an all-time high for me. People I’ve spoken with have told me they thought this year’s quality wasn’t up to the standards of previous years, but I didn’t really find that to be the case. Perhaps I just chose my shows better than they did.
One of my favorite pieces was Cory Conley’s Magic Kingdom, about a gay New York City-based playwright who goes down to a Florida amusement park to help his sister through an emotional crisis. It featured a standout performance from Asian American actor Daniel K. Isaac in the role of Mickey, the leader of the Disney-like tourist destination. I was also quite taken with Asian American playwright Catherine Yu’s The Sun Experiment, which refracted Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night through love stories in two other time periods. The play had a very Tom Stoppard-like vibe to it that I enjoyed.
Asian American director Jesca Prudencio helmed Campo Maldito, a nuanced work about race and gentrification, written by Bennett Fisher. My other favorite festival play was MMF, by David Kimple. There’s no Asian American connection to this one, but it’s a well-written tale of two men and one woman whose polyamorous relationship goes awry. It featured a terrific ensemble cast—Mike Mizwicki, Courtney Alana Ward, and Andrew Rincón—who were tightly directed by the playwright.
The solo show is a staple of the Fringe. I have a particular affinity for this form, as I actually debuted my own autobiographical one-man show—I’m Sorry, But I Don’t Speak the Language—in the very first New York International Fringe Festival way back in 1997. That’s partly why I was excited to see writer/performer Nicole Maxali explore issues relating to her Filipino family in Forgetting the Details. Other solo highlights of the festival included Australian comic Joel Creasey’s hilarious Rock God, Ralph Harris’s engaging MANish Boy, and the thought-provoking and brilliantly funny Hoaxocaust! by Barry Levey.
Anthony Caporle’s The Imbible: A Spirited History of Drinking had the feel of a solo, as it is primarily a monologue by the writer/performer about the role alcohol has played in the development of culture. But the innovative piece—which served the audience three alcoholic beverages over the course of 90 minutes—also featured a terrific a cappella vocal trio that included Asian American actor Ariel Estrada.
Another Asian American performer whose work I enjoyed seeing is Christine Toy Johnson, part of the cast of Urban Momfare. This production was by far my favorite fringe musical that I saw this year. Other FringeNYC tuners I attended—Behind Closed Doors: The Musical, Depression: The Musical, I’ll Say She Is, Olympus Records, and Riffs on Race, Love, and War: The Musical—usually had a few (and sometimes very few) elements that were worthwhile but on the whole needed more work.
Since my blog is devoted to Asian American performance, I made a particular effort to attend shows that had some kind of Asian or Asian American connection. Princess Pyunggang was an enjoyable family-friendly effort based on a Korean folktale. The moving dance piece Nisei told the story of a Japanese American soldier during the Second World War.
Another WWII-era tale was The Warrior and the Princess, about a Japanese diplomat who helped thousands of Jews escape from the Nazis. The real-life figure who did this was Chiune Sugihara, but the play changed his name as they wanted to present a fable, not a documentary. While I understand their reasoning, I feel that contributes to his historical erasure even if they do name him in the program notes.
A few other memorable moments from this year’s Fringe: a man’s night in with his lover is interrupted because he sees gay dead people in Brown & Out; an adorable child actor emerges to represent the offspring of a same-sex penguin couple in And Then Came Tango; and playwright/performer Brendan Hunt keeps a hula hoop in constant motion to portray the dust cloud hanging over his character in the Peanuts-inspired Absolutely Filthy.
Other shows I saw included Baby GirL, Bedroom Secrets, I Am Not I, The Internet: A Complete History (Abridged), and No One Asked Me. While they were not among my favorites, I found something worthwhile in each.
I’ve served as a judge for the Fringe Excellence Awards over the last decade or so. There are a number of us who all see different combinations of productions, so it’s sometimes a little hard to predict if my personal favorites will get an award. But I was pleased to see that enough judges liked Urban Momfare, which won for Overall Musical, Catherine Yu who won for playwriting, Barry Levey who won for Solo Performance, and Brendan Hunt who won for performance. His show, Absolutely Filthy, also won for Overall Play and Audience Favorite. Congrats to all the winners.
For more of my FringeNYC coverage—including more detailed reports on several shows that I’ve discussed here—also check out my list of shows with Asian or Asian American connections, my interview with Jesca Prudencio about Campo Maldito, and reviews of Nisei, Princess Pyunggang, and Forgetting the Details on this blog; my preview of LGBT-inclusive works that I wrote for GLAAD; and my NiteLife Exchange reviews of MANish BOY, No One Asked Me, Bedroom Secrets, Joel Creasey: Rock God, The Sun Experiment, Riffs on Race, Love and War: The Musical, Urban Momfare, Olympus Records, Behind Closed Doors: The Musical, The Imbible: A Spirited History of Drinking, and Magic Kingdom.