In an upscale neighborhood in Oneida, N.Y., an imposing brick mansion sits at the top of a slight hill. The 93,000 square-foot house is open to the public for tours, and concerts and other special events are frequently held on the spacious grounds. This house, the Oneida Community Mansion House, is also site of the most successful utopian socialist community in the world.
This year marks the 19th annual New York International Fringe Festival. The festival features 185 plays, musicals, and live installations–all labors of love created by artists who don’t work with big budgets, but who deliver experimental, unique, affordable theater to venues scattered across Lower Manhattan. Read my reviews of several FringeNYC performances at StageBuddy.com:
Plath.: A musical drama based on one pivotal summer in poet Sylvia Plath’s life.
To Each Their Own: A couple struggles to have a baby, even as family secrets hover among them.
The Waste Land: A performance/installation of T.S. Eliot’s epic poem.
Feelings: because why pretend it’s about anything else?: A young man tells a story about how he copes with the relationships and the feelings he is full of.
Little One: A brother and sister are adopted into nice family. One is good, while one struggles with a traumatic past.
Your Love, Our Musical: A couple is selected from the audience to tell their love story, which is then retold in a hilarious, improvised musical.
Night of the Living: A couple repairs their marriage in the wake of a zombie apocalypse.
William Faulkner’s 1929 novel about the tragic Compson family takes some devotion to work through, which may be why the staged version at the Public Theater opens with a hypnotic dance routine. While the book takes the reader on a complicated ride through the narrator’s fragmented memories, the play’s opening number suggests we won’t have to work as hard to follow along.
The play stays rooted in the novel’s first chapter. It’s set in Mississippi and is told from the point of view of Benjy, the Compson’s mute, mentally challenged son. The set is simple. It opens in the family’s living room and remains the same throughout the play. It’s left to the audience’s imagination when the scenes take place elsewhere, a task the skilled actors make easy. We may see the backdrop of the living room, but in a scene where Benjy (played beautifully by Susie Sokol) is outside scaring the passing schoolgirls, it feels like we’re outside with him. The characters draw us in so deeply we’ll believe what they believe.
The sundae glasses wobbled back and forth as I walked the vast length of the dining room, attempting to balance the tray on my shoulder. We’d be pulling into port soon, but for now we were drifting past tiny river towns I’d never heard of. The sensation of walking in a moving room made me slightly dizzy. My legs buzzed, unaccustomed to the constant movement beneath my feet, like walking on a very slow treadmill.
I served my passengers their cherries jubilee, which was so steaming hot that it had melted the ice cream underneath into milky puddles. As I set the desserts down one by one, dark red liquid dribbled over the side of the sundae glasses and soaked into the cream colored table cloth. My passengers didn’t care. They were giddy from their past week of vacation, flushed from an evening of flowing champagne, and stuffed full of steak and lobster, food fancier than they ever probably ate at home, which was, for most of them, somewhere in the great middle swath of America.
When Girard, the maître d, took hold of my elbow, I thought he was angry about the messy way I’d served dessert. Instead he spun me toward the double doors leading out of the dining room.
“Go get ready for Second Line, babe, quick,” he said, and pointed to the passageway outside of the dining room. I could tell by the flashes of black and white, our wait staff uniforms, that several other waiters were out there, but I couldn’t see what they were doing.
I usually find that three days is plenty of time to see the sights in a new city, but the beauty and richness of New Orleans demands so much more. Four days in, I had devoured plenty of world-class food and voodoo daiquiris, but I was only just beginning to explore the neighborhoods beyond the French Quarter. The mid-December weather was perfect for touring the city, and I could have easily spent another week there. Here are some of my New Orleans highlights.