Fringe report: CALM MOM and AT THE CROSSROADS: MUSIC FOR FAUST

Now in its twentieth year, the New York International Fringe Festival has managed to keep its energy high, its ticket prices low, and its offerings diverse and provocative. Here are two that are highly recommended:

 

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CALM MOM

Written and performed by Gaby Gold

Directed by Theresa Gambacorta

Musical Director/Arranger Steven Gross

In Gaby Gold’s charming one-woman musical, the tribulations of a young mother form the basis of an evening of drama, comedy and best of all, original songs. As the story begins, Gaby is anything but calm. For no discernible reason, her infant son has just stopped breathing. She rushes him to an emergency room, where a bewildering array of doctors, nurses and EMT’s fails to give her clear answers. As she waits to hear what the tests reveal about her son’s condition, Gaby thinks back on her own childhood in pre-gentrification Greenwich Village. Many of the memories involve Gaby’s larger-than-life mother, Gretchen, a one-promising singer with a faux-British accent and penchant for age-inappropriate clothing. As Gaby matures, she must of course find her own style of motherhood, and though it isn’t easy, having a sense of humor certainly helps. Co-written with composers Tom Corrado, Mitch Lance, Paul Fujimoto, Michael Hart and Dina Pruzhansky, Gold’s songs feature tight rhymes, and strong melodies and hooks that encapsulates the characters  (“If It Weren’t For You, I’d Die”, “Chaos Plus Hysteria Equals Love”). Gold’s impressive vocal range and warm delivery animates the comedy songs and tender ballads with equal grace and precision, and there’s added fun to be had watching her morph fluidly into a rich array of supporting characters. Plot wise, what’s here is solid, but there’s room for expansion. We only get brief glimpses of Gaby’s recovery from alcohol  dependency, her transition from the streets of Manhattan to a bucolic life in Westchester, and her relationship with her husband Steve. More story beats and more songs could easily be added without overstretching the show’s length. There is life after Fringe for some shows. Let’s keep our fingers crossed that CALM MOM settle into the Triad or the Laurie Beechman for the longer run it deserves.

CALM MOM continues on Tuesday, August 23rd @ 6:15 and Friday, August 26th @ 7:30 at the Huron Club, 15 Vandam St, New York, NY 10013

Tickets: Fringenyc.org

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AT THE CROSSROADS: MUSIC FOR FAUST

Film Directed by F.W. Murnau

Music composed by Ben Singer, performed by Modern Robot

Whether German auteur F. W. Murnau saw the writing on the wall is not known (he died in 1931, before the Nazis took power). But the horror he depicts in FAUST is eerily reminiscent of the Fascism to come. Creepy as he is, it isn’t really the leering Mephisto (Emil Jannings) that threatens to destroy all the good in the world. Human vanity, prejudice and mob psychology are the real monsters here. The trouble starts when aging alchemist Faust (Gösta Ekmant), unable to save his town from a devastating plague, begins throwing his books, including the Bible, into the fire in frustration. One of the tomes falls open, and is revealed to be an occult instruction manual. Faust, ready to make a deal, follows the book’s crude diagrams and meets Mephisto at a shadowy crossroads . Our hero gets his youth back, wallows in earthly splendors, and seduces the Duchess of Parma (Hannah Ralph). After the thrill of debauchery wears off, though, Faust discovers greater meaning in the pure face of the simple country girl Gretchen (Camilla Horn). Her innocence doesn’t last long, however. Faust’s neglectful treatment of Gretchen sets of a chain of a chain of tragic incidents that places her fatally at odds with an intolerant society. Murnau embellishes this cautionary tale with opulent sets, chiaroscuro lighting, Carl Hoffmann’s sweeping cinematography and special effects that, even in the age of CGI, are striking. The Gothic potency of the images is complimented by an original score, performed live on percussion and guitar. Composer Ben Singer gives more of the complex phrasing to the drummer. The guitarist, in some of the slower scenes, remains limited to a two-chord, heavy-reverb universe. Still, what the music lacks in melodic variety it makes up for in proficiency and rapport. In the more kinetic moments, and especially in the film’s brutal climax, both musicians get a chance to shine, with fuzz pedal distortion and other hard rock pyrotechnics put to effective use. A neglected classic, FAUST is ripe for rediscovery, and the added energy of live music makes it all the more compelling.

AT THE CROSSROADS: MUSIC FOR FAUST continues on Wednesday, August 24th @ 8:00 at 85 Avenue A, New York, NY 10009.

 

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