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Larry Littany Litt

Six Short Reviews in One

Phoenicia Fringe Festival 2019
Organized by Michael Koegel
Phoenicia Playhouse, Phoenicia NY
Reviewed by Larry Littany Litt on July 5, 6, 7

Phoenicia Playhouse in the charming upstate village of Phoenicia NY is producing the Phoenicia Fringe Festival two weekends in July. I know that’s a lot of Phoenicias to think about but this festival is worth your attention. The Playhouse was built in 1887 for the Odd Fellows, a fraternal organization of theatrically inclined bizarre residents. This Playhouse, off of Main Street, has always served as a multi-disciplinary cultural center for the town of Shandaken and surrounding towns, villages and hamlets in Ulster County, New York. With newly installed state of the art sound and light systems this venerable venue has seen Broadway revivals with local casts and directors. Often shows there play to full houses with seats occupied by visitors from the City and local residents. Now intimate theater descends upon the usually quiet town with the first Phoenicia Fringe Festival. For two weekends July 5-7 and July 12-14, solo performers will take risks in keeping with artistic director and festival organizer Michael Koegel’s vision of a modern important theater in the Catskills. This is what I heard and saw on that first weekend.

"Voice of Authority,"
Written and performed by Dean Temple
Directed by Carol Lee Sirugo
Production Manager Alex Tuller
Reviewed July 5, 2019

Singer-songwriter, actor, storyteller Dan Temple appeared to be showcasing his numerous well developed stage skills in case there were a talent agent in the house. His narrative about his con man uncle and the cruelty of the law and lawyers when they get their hooks onto you was a mild legal adventure compared to what we see in almost every other medium. Neither a victimized nebbish nor a tough guy, Dan tells us he merely walked away shrugging his shoulders, playing his guitar. Perhaps he really wants to be fronting a rebel yell Southern rockabilly band.

"Om Shaadi Om,"
Written and performed by Nina Chhibber Williams
Reviewed July 5, 2019

Because I live in gloriously multi cultural Jackson Heights, half Indian actress Nina Chhibber Williams appealed to my desire to know more about my neighbors. Her description of the frustrations encountered by mixed American Indian parents as they attempt to set up a marriage for her are hilarious. She walks through her life as a 30 year old single woman, intent on avoiding parent laid online matchmaking traps. She performs in full drag Indian costume brimming with the exotic sexuality of the 'Other.' She’s beautiful and funny and tells her unique story in a charming and high energy style. A television special awaits her after she develops her act further. A winner.

"I’m Just Kidneying,"
Written and performed by Amanda Nicastro
Directed by Geoff Grimwood
Developed by Frankie Johnson

“Heroes are made not born, you too can be a hero,” is the essential message of comic actress Amanda Nicastro. In her case heroism came when she volunteered to donate her kidney to her ailing sister who might have died without a transplant. What Amanda wants us to know and tells us in her perky non intimidating way is that we should sign organ donor cards so sick people can receive our organs after our demise. Sounds crazy that a solo performance with that message would be engaging but Nicastro pulls it off with humor and admirable self-reflection. Another winner.

"I Favor My Daddy,"
Written, Directed and Performed by Jamie Brickhouse

The mixture of a coming out story with a family saga is not uncommon in solo performance theater these days. However Jamie Brickhouse’s Texas charm and highly developed narrative style make this combination magnetic. He talked about his gay life with wit and sincerity. I listened enraptured even though I’ve heard it all before. His vernacular language and energetic style awakened his audience. Jamie may not be telling us something we don’t know, but he is showing us that it’s good to tell life stories to strangers. Maybe his act will help others settle and resolve their own family crises. Obviously a winner with wild audience applause.

Written and performed by Bob Brader
Directed and developed by Suzanne Bachner

Bob Brader’s /Smoker/ is the standout performance of the first weekend of the Phoenicia Fringe Festival. His autobiographical storytelling style and stage presence has more honesty and dramedy than I’ve seen in a long while. Yes there’s something negative about smoking. Yet Brader reveals there’s a lot of positives for him as a smoker. It’s a metaphor for all the self-destructive but irresistible habits we acquire in our intense lives. The love and understanding with which he talks about his wife Suzanne offers a good model for couples who need to look into each other’s eyes and admit they’re in love with both the good and the not so good. In Brader’s tale love conquers all. A winner.

"American Horror Story,"
Written and performed by Harmon Leon

Comedian and Brooklyn Hasid look-alike Harmon Leon came to Phoenicia to tell us that President Trump’s followers are MORONIC and we, tonight’s enlightened Fringe audience are NOT MORONIC. With some glib jokes and groaner puns he convinced me that being a hipster isn’t an easy job. Clothing and attitude mean so much more than content and purpose. Harmon’s is posing himself as a new breed of comedian who mixes with serious monologist storytellers even though storytellers rarely appear in comedy clubs. He’s good for a laugh but there ain’t no real story there.


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