New York City Theater
New York International Fringe Festival -- 2012
As we caught two shows of the 16th annual New York International Fringe Festival, in the last two weeks of August, we found the results to be predictable. It was the best of times, the worst of times. We can hardly judge by this unfortunately small savoring of the 184 shows offered in 19 Downtown venues. Yet—and based on past experiences--the Fringe ran true to form. One show was absolutely wonderful, the other deeply disappointing.
First, the good news. “2 Households, 2 Assholes” was, not surprisingly a spoof of Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet.” Playing games with Shakespeare’s plays has become a popular current pastime, with varying results. But this time, with Aaron Munoz and Sam Munoz playing 20 characters, the results are remarkable. Both are seasoned, highly-professional actors, thoroughly familiar with the original text and tuned in to the rhythm of its language. And, as adaptors, both have remained true to that text, but tailoring it to their purposes. With the story coming across in its own style, the results are hilarious, hard-hitting and poignant. Though it takes nothing away from the original work, it is memorable in its own right.
As to the actors/co-creators, physical differences alone are highly effective. Aaron (who portrays Juliet, Mercutio, Friar, Apothecary, Benvolio, Balthazar, Lady Montague, Peter) is short and round—a body type emphasized by a tight-fitting skirt and top. Sam, on the other hand, is tall and skinny, playing Romeo, Nurse, Lady Capulet, Tybalt, Escalas, Lord Capulet, Paris, Montague, Friar, John, Sampson. How they manage their lightning changes, playing off each other or alternating roles in a dialogue, is remarkable. The pair (Are they brothers? We do not know.) are always in sync.
The multi-talented Munozes are as handy with swords as with every other theatrical skill. In fact, the show opens with a street brawl between Montagues, Capulets, and their followers. Sitting in the front row, we were nearly stabbed several times, but fortunately survived to have the theater experience of a lifetime.
And now, alas, to “Art for Sale.” As usual, it was difficult to tell by the Fringe advance write-up how interesting the show would prove to be. This time “Art for Sale” sounded promising, billed as a Commedia dell’Arte, with masks and shadow puppets. Indeed, the latter were more or less on hand, but nothing else. Each of the cast members appeared on stage, were introduced as the familiar Columbina, Pantelone, and so on. There the action—and interaction—ceased. The recurrent theme, it seemed, was that theater people should be paid. Whenever an actor came on stage, he demanded money, received play money. No one showed the least sign of skill in movement, language, characterization. Even the so-called “shadow puppets” (tiny silhouetted creatures) brought no compensation. The sad part of this production is that the five cast members were all young people who had met at an Italian school for Commedia dell’Arte and decided to bring the experience back to the States. Out of charity we will not name names here. Who needs negative reviews in his portfolio?
To summarize our brief Fringe experience: it was the best of times, it was the worst of times.
August 21, 2012