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Triumph of the Fringe: Winners, encores announced
-Best Play & Overall Production:
“Knuckleball,” End Times Productions, New York, NY
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"Knuckleballin'"
San Francisco Fringe Festival juggles peg heads, clowns, Nazi pals
By Robert Avila


Knuckleball, a drama whose sophisticated, thematic blend of love and baseball begins, naturally enough, with a star-spangled blowjob. This excellent two-hander, produced by New York's EndTimes in association with Mortals Theater, is the best dramatic work I've seen at any Fringe. It's one uninterrupted, dynamic, wildly unpredictable conversation between Ross (Shawn Parsons) — a Midwestern welder whose former glory days of high school baseball are overshadowed by the loss of his teammate and best friend — and his high-class girlfriend Trish (Judy Merrick) — whose polyglot, jet-set life masks a sordid past Ross must unexpectedly confront. Sounding distant echoes of Tennessee Williams and maybe Richard Greenberg, William Whitehurst's hard, unsparing, humorous, and humane play, sharply directed by Jeremy Pape, is lit up by two fine, gutsy, focused performances that grip from the first and don't let go.

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SAN FRANCISCO FRINGE FESTIVAL
Through Sun/14

"Knuckleball"

This sounds like one of those blurbs on the back of a DVD case, but this show is, in two words: raw and honest.

It's not an easy one to watch. Both actors -- Judy Merrick (NYC) and Anthony Nelson (DM native recently returned from LA) -- play characters who are going through what is likely the most pivotal hour of their lives.

It's tense. It's tough. It's emotional. And it's an entirely compelling show.

The basics, without giving away a key surprise: Ross and Trish return to his grimy apartment after a night at the bar. They're both boozy, handsy and in love. When he asks her to marry him, she says no...and the night quickly turns sour. She spends the rest of the night trying to explain her deep, dark secret as he struggles to accept it.

If you're in the mood to laugh, don't see this show (although it has its funny moments). If you're in the mood to see a pair of talented actors dig into a nearly pitch-perfect script, you won't be disappointed.

On a 5-star scale, I give it all five.

(The only other fiver I've seen so far is completely different: "Standing Tall." Totally goofy. Totally opposite. Equally well done.)

- Michael Morain, Theater Critic for the Des Moines Register

To see more reviews, click here to visit the Knuckleball Blog.

 

"Chamber Music"
Written By Arthur Kopit - Directed by Robert F. Cole
Presented by Mortals Theater and Gray Lady Entertainment
Gene Frankel Theater, 24 Bond St. NYC
Reviewed April 12, 2008

Eight woman live in the same ward of a mental institution, each
believing they're the embodiment of other famous women. They interact at their ward's annual organization board meeting. The organization does nothing. Seems harm less enough. Except they're all status crazed, a microcosm of the outside world. They have nowhere to go but back to their beds with their desires. This trapped crew's existential absurdity is Kopit's theatrical strength. He creates models of the ridiculous and pompous in human relations. Who needs plots when people are so deliciously and riotously interesting? When they're so afraid and in such obvious pain. We can't help them because they can't help themselves.

Director Robert Cole knows successful Kopit theater demands major performances. This cast has to be ready for a moment's understated or over the top personality shifts. We must pay attention or we'll miss a word or a beat in the collective madness. Of course they're not who they say they are. However mad woman acts as if their famous alter ego is the woman who possesses their soul.

Kopit/Cole actresses they must serve us at least three layers of convincing character. Actress, character and character's character, all while appearing both mad and sane. Luanne Surace as Mozart's wife memorably calls to an invisible Wolfgang in a plaintive and ecstatic voice, reliving joys, happiness and enlightenment. Judy Merrick rough houses the rest of the ladies as the famed wild society huntress Osa Johnson making her aggressive femininity a pleasure to watch. Kim Vasquez forcefully and poetically reads meeting minutes as Gertrude Stein, equally as boring, yet potently boring. Laura Spaeth's high cheeked beauty, costume, regal silence and quizzicality focus our attention on imagined aristocracy. Victoria Boomswa bellows mocking rebellion as Amelia Earhart. Julianne Nelson knows she's nothing more than a silent screen star with her fluid, vapid sexuality haunting any show or place she's in. Margaret Catov delivers delightful comic skill as a wonderfully silly cross bearing Joan of Arc. Dan Snow as the institution's visiting doctor is the eternally ominous fearsome male presence. Doctor's assistant Omar Abdali adds subtle energy and character to the stage.

The ensemble works and leads us to the murderous conclusion of apocalyptic mayhem. Perhaps Kopit reminding us there's a little bit of chamber music in all our lives.

- Kopit's Status Reports: Two Classic Plays