Monday, January 23, 2017

Applause! Applause! Review of Paul Calderon's Fringe Of Humanity at Access Theater by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of Paul Calderon's Fringe Of Humanity at Access Theater was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 7 (2017) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

Fringe Of Humanity
Written & Directed by Paul Calderon
Access Theater
380 Broadway, 4th Floor
New York, New York 10013
Reviewed 1/19/17

It is suggested Fringe Of Humanity is set in Guatemala City, Guatemala where a motley crew of filmmakers has gathered to put the finishing touches on a script scheduled to start principal photography in a few days. The plot of the fictitious film involves an American Latino Ex-Navy Seal who travels to Central America to rescue his daughter, who has been sold into prostitution. There is a risk that one of the actors or crew members might get abducted and held for ransom. It is also possible gunfire might break out in the lobby or courtyard of their hotel at any moment but "the bowels of a lawless Third World country" is not what stands out to me as being the "fringe of humanity" the title of this play references. The underbelly and rejects of humanity in this play are, in my opinion, the loathsome characters portrayed who are willing to go to great lengths to get what they want. Their use, abuse, and betrayal of partners, friends, and co-workers also reflect their lack of morality or of any ethical standards suggestive of civilization. If you are in the business ("that sucks you in like a Black Hole") or have experienced "Tinseltown Terrorism," you may recognize and/or identify with a number of the people portrayed in this play. However, you may find it hard to pay attention to what's going because incessant, non-stop, background music is constantly being played to the annoyance of all. Even William Rothlein, who plays Ken "Patch" Kelly, the Location Scout, at one point says "This fucking music - it never ends!!! The result was laughter and thunderous applause from the audience.

Paul Calderon, the writer and director of this play, also acts in the role of Nick Valdez, the washed-up director recovering from heroin addiction ("I'm not a Latino Director. I am a Director. Period!"). David Zayas is Ross Gausmann, the cocaine-snorting, abusive, violence prone, Executive Producer of the one-million dollar budgeted film who recently married Liz, a 43-year-old actress who has decided to retire from show business to have a child or two ("The minute our tits start sagging, our careers do too."). Liz, who once slept with the lead actor, Pierce (Luke Edward Smith), on the set of the Davy Crockett movie, has accepted her husband's infidelity but his extreme jealousy, ego, and possessiveness do not allow her the same courtesy. When Pierce is later abducted and held for a half-million dollar ransom, Ross not only refuses to pay it but intends "to use the publicity of the abduction to make the movie an international hit." ("News of it is already out on Twitter.") Without any concern that the abductors have promised to chop off Pierce's fingers, hands, toes, and feet, Ross has already contacted a replacement actor, who he has offered 10% of gross. When Nick Valdez quits as Director in protest, Ross simply promotes Steve O'Hara (Jakob Von Eichel), an actor playing a pimp's henchman ("I'll be waiting for sloppy seconds.") to the role of Director. After all, Nick often told Steve to take over for him as the Director of prior films and has a better rapport with the actors.

Ken "Patch" Kelly (William Rothlein), the PTSD-addled, homophobic, cinematographer is obsessed with leaving The Pink Flamingo Hotel as soon as possible to scout out locations for shooting. When Pierce demands to learn some Spanish words to sound more authentic, Patch tells him, "Hacks like you try to stop their careers from going to 'almost was' to 'never was'." When Nick, the Director, asks him to read so the two female "prostitutes" can practice their lines, Patch says, "I don't want to sound like some sissy ass actor." He eventually does read but soon discovers that the two actresses, Crissy (Feliz Ramirez) and Vicky (Jessica Damouni) have serious issues of their own. They start arguing about whether the door should be locked or unlocked when Patch says "come in, the door is open" and they claim they are hungry and were promised lunch. The final actor in this production is Alex Emanuel, who plays Ryan. His character is prone to having panic attacks and has moved into another hotel because he felt the water in the pool at The Pink Flamingo has bacteria in it. Ryan had originally been scheduled to play the lead. Needing the money, he stayed with the production when he was downgraded to play the part of lead Pimp. After the abduction and shake-up, Ryan was further demoted to a henchman. He decided to stay on the project even though Ross wanted him to appear on film with "the tattoo of a dick or a vagina on his forehead."

There is a point where the string of failures they have had are being discussed with the fear that the current project will also be a flop that will never get into movie theaters or art houses. Instead of viewing this as a negative, they discussed the fact that they didn't want the film to risk a bad review - that there was more money to be made "with people screening it, downloading it, and posting it online in many 'new media' outlets." Fringe Of Humanity does not have that option. Its world premiere at Access Theater is currently being reviewed and I am sorry to have to report that, in my opinion, it is an epic fail on many levels. All of the talented actors do a fine job in their respective roles although some of them overact and over emote. William Rothlein as Ken "Patch" Kelly is the clear audience favorite as is Rebecca Nyahay as Liz Gausmann prior to her having her post-abduction breakdown. While it is obvious that Luke Edward Smith (Pierce), Jakob Von Eichel (Steve), and Alex Emanuel (Ryan) are all fine actors, their respective parts in this play did not enable them to exhibit the broad range of their talents. The truth is that the writing itself often lacks substance and the directing is very uneven. The violence and intensity definitely need to be toned down and the background music has to stop at some point so the audience can pay attention to the performances of the actors. 

The bottom line question is whether I would recommend this play to a friend. Unfortunately, the answer is a definitive "no." There is not enough here for you to waste an evening seeing it and there are so many unanswered questions, such as "who exactly is shooting people in the courtyard" at the end of the play. If you choose to venture out to experience this play anyway, perhaps because you know someone in it, Fringe Of Humanity runs through January 28, 2017 at Access Theater located at 380 Broadway (@ White Street) in TriBeCa. Tickets are $15.00 to $18.00 and can be purchased at The play runs for 100 minutes without intermission and an elevator is available to take you to the 4th floor but you must follow the instructions on the sign on the front door. Michael Aguirre, the Producing Director for Access Theater, will probably be there to greet and welcome you. He is a very friendly fellow who strives to make your experience there as pleasant as possible. If you don't come out for this show, I recommend you check out future productions at this theater.

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