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On the Fringe

On the Fringe


This year's Fringe Festival in New York delivered the goods, from dying divas to unsexy, naked men.

Above:David LeBarron in The Chronicles of Steve: The Bossy Bottom

The New York International Fringe Festival descended onto the Big Apple with an impressive lineup of compelling productions from up-and-comers and established theater talents alike. Since 1996 the two-week festival has thrown the spotlight on alternative theater from around the globe. As North America's largest multi-art festival (run mostly by volunteers), Fringe NYC also serves as an incubator for future hits -- previous years have included Urinetown and Debbie Does Dallas -- garnering critical acclaim and packed audiences. With more than 200 shows strewn about lower Manhattan, this year's fest featured many LGBT productions, ranging from the sexy to the silly to the sublime.

Among the highlights were David LeBarron's provocative The Chronicles of Steve: The Bossy Bottom. The hourlong one-man show is a frenetic, funny, and raw exploration of loneliness, sex addiction, and contemporary gay life.

LeBarron, a performer with strong stage presence and comic timing, delves into sex clubs, Internet hookups, and cruising at Starbucks. His portrayal of a queen tweaking on crystal meth was unnervingly dead-on; he nailed the disjointed jumpiness and cock-hungry desperation of every tina queen you've ever had the misfortune to encounter. But it's more than just tricks and giggles -- throughout the show, there are intermittent flashback sequences of a young boy struggling to rationalize the cruel behavior of his violent daddy.

Was this abuse and molestation the seed for the later quest for rough sex and debasing encounters? The journey is nonlinear -- as one character says to a disappointing date, "It's not you, it's me. I deserve someone better."

Camp queens flocked to "See How Beautiful I Am: The Return of Jackie Susann", a one-woman show about the scandalous author of the legendary trashy novel Valley of the Dolls. In this production West End stage star Debra Weston (right) portrays the deliciously irreverent author (she of the black French poodle and false eyelashes) as she reminisces about her life from a hospital room in New York City (Susann died of breast cancer in 1974).

All the major elements of Susann's dishy story are touched upon, and Weston plays them to the hilt: Jackie's upbringing as a plain girl with a daddy complex; her early career as a stage actress; her swinging '60s roller coaster of parties, pills, and sex. This literary diva lived the lifestyle she wrote about and immersed herself in that glittery glam world, reveling in her bisexuality and A-list celebrity status. Weston, a cat-eyed beauty, was riveting onstage, tackling the ribald humor and aching pathos with steeliness as well as a charming grace and confidence.

Larson Rose's The Naked Dead Elephant in the Middle of the Room was among the more unusual offerings and was an audience favorite as well. Billed as "a satirical comedy with adult themes and nudity about creating a satirical comedy with adult themes and nudity," this 45-minute production was exactly as loopy as advertised.

Taking dead aim at stage shows that employ "pointless" nudity to sell tickets (and, by extension, the skin-seeking audience), Larson has written a charming, clever play within a play within a play, and yes, there was indeed nudity. As in all gay plays with naked in the title, the bare skin was decidedly unerotic, but in this case that unsexiness is intentional. All of the cast members (Zach Held, Roy James Brown, the adorable Jim deProphetis, who knows how to work a jockstrap, and the hilarious Jesse Stewart) brought just the right blend of dry wit and goofy charm to Rose's sly gem of a show. Naked was an enjoyable romp, the tres gay cherry on top of Fringe NYC's tasty confection of cruisy, campy theater works.

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Mike Diamond