In reviewing my first show of the 2013 Fringe, Private School, I levied a complaint I often feel compelled to make about Fringe shows: it just tried to do too much. (Maybe it’s no surprise that many reviewers of my own Fringe show, last year, complained that I tried to do too little.)
Why, then, do I tend to gravitate towards multi-chapter Fringe shows? Maybe it’s because, by steering into the skid, companies staging anthologies of mini-plays are forced to embrace the crucial formula for making a Fringe show work: they establish milieu quickly, then glory in character-driven details. Such is the case with the brisk, satisfying Promiscuous Fiction, an adaptation of five short stories by the cult-favorite writer Jonathan Lethem.
The show starts slowly: The Spray, adapted by Rob Reese and directed by Sean Dillon, makes its point about physical and emotional baggage successfully but without much grace. It’s followed by the lethargic Planet Big Zero, adapted by Amber Preston and directed by Emma Gochberg; though I haven’t read the original, this itchy, open-ended angst seems better suited to the page than the stage.
Things kick into gear, though, with Crab’s Last Stand, adapted by Tom Reed and directed by Brandon Bruce. The piece’s conceit and theme are perhaps the simplest among these stories, but for a ten-minute playlet, that’s just fine. Ryan Robert Nelson runs away with the show in the role of Crab, a washed-up pop culture personality (and, literally, a crab) who thinks he can find redemption on reality TV. Nelson’s detailed, consistently funny performance is reason enough to buy a ticket.
The show concludes with Inadequate Passion, adapted by Zach Coulter and directed by Dillon. (The fifth story, Dillon’s Holidays, parts 1-5, is a light piece that’s interspersed among the others.) It’s an ambitious story to pull off in ten minutes—the fall and rise of a couple’s relationship, played out against the backdrop of the end of the world as we know it—and, a bit miraculously, Coulter and Dillon along with actors Bruce and Gochberg pull it off.
Those in search of some brainy but also chuckle-worthy Fringing are well-advised to find their way to the Rarig basement for this memorable quintet.
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