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Flash Fringe Journal, 8-21: Truffle Hunting
"Tarnish" Rocks, "Lone Ant" Ditties

By Susan Yung
Copyright 2001 Susan Yung

The performances I watched last week at the 2001 NYC Fringe Festival demonstrate the polar extremes of this annual festival. They also proved why it's ultimately worthwhile to partake despite the necessity of plowing through nearly 200 show descriptions to sift out a few to watch.

"Lone Ant," a largely solo endeavor by Kiyoko Kashiwagi, was a minimally produced, lighthearted ditty, while "Tarnish" is a full-blown musical that could logically convert into an open-ended run elsewhere. Both were presented at the Harry de Jur Playhouse at Henry Street Settlement.

In "Lone Ant," seen Wednesday, Kashiwagi played the title insect, apparently a sort of super-heroine reachable by cell phone. Ideas were conveyed through pantomime and dance, primarily bits of jazz mixed with martial arts, pageantry, and aerobics, to a pop music soundtrack. The ant was assisted by numerous inflatable animals, insects and the brief appearances of Monica Reyes. The hour-long show traced the ant's inexorable aging process, and her attempts to maintain shreds of her youthful pride and physical prowess. Kashiwagi has a rubbery face that rapidly contorts between emotions to hilarious effect, and a wiry facility to capably shape the physical caricatures. It was a small production with moments of poignancy.

"Tarnish" (seen August 17), was on another scale altogether. Scott Mebus wrote the book, music, and lyrics, and directed. The story followed the downward spiral of a young woman misled into thinking herself mentally ill, and the consequences of such a harsh diagnosis. The hearty rock songs provided the main structure, including several catchy anthems and ballads, plus some all-stops-out thematic ensemble numbers with revivalist and Mardi Gras underpinnings. James Deforte provided the choreography, which at its danciest tended toward the music video aesthetic, in one song dipping into the Fosse well. Deforte dealt ably with the cast, whose leads seemed lightly trained in dance, forming simple tableaux and using basic arm movements. Standouts were Tonya Doran, Pearl Sun, and Scott Gage, who showed great energy and polish in supporting roles.

With nineteen musical numbers, dozens of characters (the cast of twelve performed numerous roles), and references to shows like "Rent," Mebus has clearly set his sights on Broadway. And despite the diamonds-in-the-rough cast, which collectively forged a sense of unstoppable optimism, it would be interesting to see the show done by more polished performers. Also great handicaps were the sound system, which had the performers wearing headset mikes, and the recorded music (directed by Aaron Berk). Who knows, maybe "Tarnish" will be next year's rags-to-riches story, like "Urinetown," a Fringe Festival product from a few years back which recently hit the big time.


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