Brooklyn in the Fringe
Pat Candaras began questioning authority at a very early age. Growing up in the Midwood Section of Brooklyn, she was the only one of seventeen brothers and sisters to be shuttled off to live amongst an extended family that included an uncle the same age as his one-eyed stepdaughter and an aunt's brother who holed up in the basement when he wasn't being periodically checked into the hospital for "rest."
"I tried to explain this household to my first therapist," says Candaras, "and he said, 'quite frankly, I'm confused'."
From this chaotic upbringing, and from her twenty-three years as Chief Operating Officer for a local maritime union, Candaras, aka "Grandmotherfucker", developed a healthy suspicion of who was the boss. Panic Is Not A Disorder, her one-woman show that is one of twenty-eight Brooklyn-based entries in the 7th Annual New York International Fringe Festival running August 8th - 24th at various venues in Lower Manhattan, is Candaras’s funny, biting evisceration of the powers that be.
"Being from Brooklyn means you don't quite trust shit," Candaras says. "You question things. You question authority."
This theme of authority—who has it, who wants it, who uses and abuses it—is woven throughout Panic, from international politics to interpersonal relationships: "the daily rituals of life set against current events," as Candaras puts it. "I have a big problem with authority, with people in charge," she adds. "When you're from Brooklyn, you're an outsider. When you're an outsider, you question things."
It's hard to imagine an area seemingly more outside the theatrical vibe than the dreary section of Williamsburg off the Morgan Avenue L stop. Yet, squeezed in amongst the sagging bodegas, the hovering stench of a nearby waste-management hub and the near-constant howl of LaGuardia-bound jets descending overhead, is a little oasis of creativity called Office Ops. Here, behind Ops's decaying, graffiti-laced façade, Suburban Vampire rehearses Carrot and Stick in a cramped, sweltering rehearsal room.
Written by Producer and Vampire co-founder Chris Alonzo, Carrot takes a through-the-looking-glass plunge into surrealistic neo-vaudevillian comedy as it traces one young man's thwarted attempt to get across town and see his girlfriend. In rehearsal, Carrot director Joel Jeske takes gleeful delight in building a humorous repertoire of exaggerated physicality with cast members Eric Scott, Juliet Schaefer-Jeske, Bina Chauhan, Alexis Toone and producer-writer Alonzo.
"Brooklyn is such a great, vibrant scene that it took us a while to figure out how we fit in," the Texas-bred Alonzo observed during a break. "Political theater can get preachy and boring really quickly, but we feel now we're hitting our stride, making ridiculous theater that says something and that, hopefully, will inspire people to learn more and get up off their asses and fight. We think Brooklyn reflects this sensibility."
Plus, says Dharma Road Productions's Christopher Pelham, there is all that extra sky. "There's just more space" in Brooklyn compared to Manhattan, Pelham notes, "more space between the buildings and more space between the buildings and the sky."
Based in Greenpoint, Dharma Road aims for the space between pure dance and traditional theater with its productions. "We're a producing organization as well as a sort of best friend for emerging international artists getting started in New York," Pelham explains. In the latter role, Dharma's seven core members commissioned the multimedia dance performance piece re specifically for this year's Festival, blending the work of choreographer-dancers Akiko Furukawa, Aiichiro Miyagawa, Aya Shibahara and Sakura Shimada with the images of videographer Ei Arakawa.
"We wanted to create an opportunity for these choreographers to present their work for more than just a couple of weekend performances, which is usually all you get in the modern dance world in New York," said Pelham, adding that re will likely have certain fringe elements of its own: videographer Arakawa has plans to tape dancer Shimada improvising amongst the garbage and the sanitation workers on the streets of Chinatown, to be edited later into short segments screened between the live dance sections of the piece. "We have no idea how it will turn out or how the sanitation workers will react," says Pelham. "Hopefully, they won't compact Sakura. Hopefully, we'll get from this something we can book into larger theaters and tour."
Sitting in her orderly apartment that doubles as her studio on a quiet street in Brooklyn Heights, Cat's Paw Collective puppet designer and director Deborah Hertzberg seems a long way from the garbage and clamor of gritty Chinatown streets. Jazz comes softly from her stereo; puppet craniums in various stages of completion peek over a container on her desk like so many heads on a pole.
Hertzberg is in the final stages of creating the cast of Nosferatu, Cat's Paw's string-and shadow-puppet adaptation of F.W. Murnau's 1922 Expressionistic German film. Eight table-top puppets controlled by four puppeteers will mix with numerous shadow puppets across a six-by-three foot, three-part stage to re-tell the tale of the ageless Transylvanian bloodsucker in ways Hertzberg hopes will be fresh and exciting. In any event, Nosferatu is Brooklyn's sole puppet entry this year and, Hertzberg believes, the only full-length all-puppet show in the entire Festival.
"It's not your kids' puppet show," she laughs when asked what type of Fringe audience she is aiming for. "We're hoping to capture the full Expressionistic feel of Murnau's film."
Bolstered by grants from the Jim Hensen Foundation and Puppeteers of America, Hertzberg workshopped a ten-minute portion of Nosferatu at the O'Neill Puppet Conference in the summer of 2002. Inspired by its reception, the five-member Collective has been busy the past year expanding its production to the full-hour Fringe premiere, scheduled for Cherry Lane Studio Theater.
"What draws me to puppetry is that it is so magical," Hertzberg says, surrounded at her drafting table by her ghoulish offspring. "As a puppeteer, I can be anything. I can be a man. I can be a rat. I can be an insect. An apple. The sun."
Joining Cat's Paw at Cherry Lane will be Park Slope's Singularity, returning to the Fringe for the fourth time this year with playwright Logan Brown's How To Act Around Cops. A "noirishly" dark comedy in three scenes, Cops echoes some of the themes of Panic as it explores the slippery slope of authority and trust as personified by the men in blue.
"Cops are human extensions of the law," explains director Jon Schumacher. "Logan's play examines how we instinctively profile people due to the roles they play, be it cops, friends, or kidnapers." Cops, he says, explores the ambiguity in relationships beyond our ingrained expectations and assumptions.
Schumacher feels Singularity has been repeatedly drawn to the Fringe because "it's low cost, it's down and dirty, it's low-tech" and Schumacher hopes to continue to use the venue not to produce yet another cookie-cutter "kitschy musical," but rather to help "reinvigorate" New York theater with edgy, fresh, challenging, original work.
"Grandmotherfucker" Pat Candaras agrees that the very fringe vibe of the Festival is what attracted her to it. "Straight comedy clubs in New York are only interested in finding the next young sitcom star, the next Seinfeld," she laments, then adds with a laugh, "besides, being from Brooklyn, they're all amazed I could even have an elevated thought."
Listings (all are in Manhattan):
Carrot and Stick, The Kraine Theater, 85 East 4th Street, (between 2nd and 3rd Ave.), SUN 8/10 10:30 PM, WED 8/13 3PM, SAT 8/16 8:30 PM, SUN 8/17 6:30 PM, THUR 8/21 6:15 PM, FRI 8/22 9:45 PM. Running time: 60 minutes.
Nosferatu, Cherry Lane Theatre (Studio), 38 Commerce St. (3 blocks s. of Christopher St., w. of 7th Ave), SAT 8/9 10:30 PM, SUN 8/10 2:45 & 11PM, SAT 8/16 1 PM, TUE 8/19 3 PM. Running time: 60 minutes.
re, The Play Room, 440 Lafayette St. (@ Astor Place), 3rd floor, FRI 8/8 7 PM, MON 8/11 3 PM, THURS 8/14 9 PM, FRI 8/15 10:30 PM, SAT 8/16 3:45 PM, WED 8/20 5 PM, SAT 8/23 NOON. Running time: 45 minutes.
Panic Is Not A Disorder, The Ground Floor Theater, 312 W. 11th St (bet. Hudson & Greenwich), SAT 8/9 10:45PM, TUE 8/12 7PM, WED 8/13 3PM, THU 8/14 5:30PM, SUN 8/17 12:15PM, THU 8/21 5:30PM, SAT 8/23 10PM (note: listed on Fringe site under Pat Candaras) Running time: 55 minutes.
How To Act Around Cops, Cherry Lane Theatre (Studio), 38 Commerce St., FRI 8/15 10:30PM, SUN 8/17 1:45PM, WED 8/20 3PM, THU 8/21 5:15PM, SAT 8/23 5:45PM, SUN 8/24 NOON. Running time: 90 minutes.
For a complete listing of the additional 23 Brooklyn-based participants in the Fringe, please see The List. For info on all NY International Fringe Festival events, or to buy tickets ($15), go to www.fringenyc.org or call 212.279.4488.
Brook Stowe is a Manhattan-based playwright and theater writer who may some day live in Brooklyn. He runs the theater website, www.theater2k.com.
Brook Stowe is a playwright and the editor of the annual New York Theater Review.