Weird always has a place in theater, and the Fringe is one of the only opportunities in New York for strangeness to truly run wild. Creena DeFoouie, a show that claims to be “Ab Fab meets Addams Family by way of Rocky Horror,” is both stranger than the Broadway conversion of the last and as surreally funny as Ab Fab.
As the titular character, revenging her sister Mary Annabel’s murder by killing mental patients (basically, a less morose Sweeney Todd), Charlotte Barton-Hoare is the weirdest female British performer we've seen this side of Helena Bonham-Carter. In terms of her performance as Creena, Barton-Hoare has as much skill as she lacks shame. That only means good things for the production.
What hurts it is the lack of a coherent story. True, Rocky Horror didn't have much of a plot either. But although Creena at least tries to build a somewhat coherent narrative, the result feels rushed and tangential when it should just feel fun. Empathy is clearly not the emphasis in such a bizarre play, but if you’re going to introduce a lost-love subplot and actually solve the murder you introduce, common courtesy is to make the events clearer. As it stands, the show wavers between a weird variety show and a classic revenge plot.
That doesn’t mean the action is all that hard to follow, and at moments the play can take hilarious, manic turns. With a dildo fight between Creena and clueless copper Superintendent Hardon (James Hoare), a creatively choreographed murder of a patient (also played by Hoare), and a pitch-perfect closing image, there’s more than enough creativity throughout Creena DeFoouie to keep the show thoroughly entertaining.
The show took the Edinburgh Fringe by storm last summer, and now with a successful run in New York, it should be seeing a larger production in England sometime soon. Maybe around Halloween.
The final Fringe show I saw took me through the largest range of emotions and opinions of any show I saw at this year's Festival. At first I was somewhat angered by The Redheaded Man’s unassertively staged hallucinations, by mentally unstable architect Brian (David Jenkins), of the title character (Bruce Bluett). I am generally offended by caricature portrayals of mental illness in any medium, and in addition to playwright Halley Bondy frequently playing Brian’s borderline schizophrenia for laughs, we also get a Cheri Oteri-like pill-pushing quack shrink (Dr. Jones, played by Michelle Sims). In sum, after the first half hour, I was more disgusted than moved.
Against my expectations, the play sneaked up on me. I had figured The Redheaded Man to be a Harvey-like play where a mentally unstable man hallucinates a friend (in this case a visible imaginary friend). What followed, however, was more the unraveling of a psychological history, in the vein of Equus. The result was a somewhat more nuanced, if rather preposterous, depiction of mental illness. Ultimately, The Redheaded Man looks at how people – both the sane and the far from sane – deal with the traumatic but crucial moments in their lives, and how those moments can even make us better people.
Brian and Dr. Jones are not the only people who need to spend some significant time on a couch (though they’re the only two who would be better off in a straitjacket). Brian’s best friend, roommate, and adopted brother Jonathan (James Edward Shippy) constantly wavers between the two poles of romance and familial ties. The lack of a normal young adult life – Brian has taken it from him – has clearly taken its toll. Jonathan is the most well-adjusted individual in the play, which for someone in his situation constitutes nothing short of a miraculous feat of strength of character. Not surprisingly, every time we see Jonathan, we want to see more of him.
Less can be said for Lydia (Bondy), however, a seemingly innocent girl smitten with Brian who frequently borders the line of stalking. While we ultimately realize that Lydia’s attraction to Brian is rooted in guilt about their linked childhoods, her plan to meet Brian is too carefully crafted to be considered anything other than pathological. There is a lot of discussion about how Lydia might be as deranged as Brian. Less talked about is whether Lydia’s presence is legitimate even though it could emotionally crush an already vulnerable individual.
Still, the play’s conclusion about what not to tell Brian, and why, is the emotional crux. It's what ultimately redeems an otherwise inconsistent play, one backed by a rather smart and solid production. Yet, if the play is really going to go places, that ending sentiment needs a stronger, more fleshed-out emphasis. The Fringe is exactly the place to realize this.
Creena DeFoouie by Charlotte Barton-Hoare. Directed by James Hoare; choreography by Haruka Kuroda. Starring Barton-Hoare and Hoare.
The Redheaded Man by Halley Bondy. Directed by Jessica Fisch; set design by Lara Fabian; costume design by Nicole V. Moody; lighting design by Paul Toben; sound design by Mira Stroika; video design by Jesse Garrison. Photo by Garrison. Starring David Jenkins (Brian), Bruce Bluett (The Redheaded Man), James Edward Shippy (Jonathan), Michelle Sims (Dr. Jones), and Bondy (Lydia).
Creena DeFoouie photo by Reg Beaudry.