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Eat, Drink, & Be Merry
Camp Super Friend
part of
The New York International Fringe Festival (FringeNYC)

Theatre Review by Matthew Murray

Eat, Drink, & Be Merry

How’s this for theatrical matchmaking? Mate Love Life with The Apple Tree - with a lot of extra emphasis on the “Apple” - and you get Eat, Drink, & Be Merry, Paul Schultz’s cute but underdeveloped entry in the New York International Fringe Festival. Schultz’s show, which is more a lightly themed revue than a traditional musical, is a riff on how the Eternal Man and Woman, Adam and Eve (Sean Jenness and Lisa Desimone), must cope with changing attitudes about food across the millennia of human existence, from the Forbidden Fruit to the preponderance of supermarkets selling TV dinners.

Schultz’s sketches and songs run the gamut from gently amusing to legitimate (if innocent) bad taste. A 1960s girl group number called “We Got Enough for Today” about the changing definition of hunger in the modern world, works unusually well. But a number about the Black Death called “Plague Blues,” and “Christians,” sung by a hungry lion anxious for the Romans to feed him his next meal, have considerably more trouble presenting themselves as hilarious comic pastiche. And the disproportionately large selection of songs sung in diners, restaurants, and grocery stores puts more narrative weight than is probably ideal on the last 50 or 60 years of American life.

This, and the show’s overall bent, should not be that surprising, given that Schultz is an editor and food writer at the New York Daily News. But if he displays a keen ability to come up with new ideas, whether moderately clever (“Serf’s Up,” about the human dangers of Feudalism) or desperate (“New York Strip,” set in, yes, a gentleman’s club), and some innate gifts as a melodist, he could stand to hone his theatrical storytelling prowess. Most of his songs lumber and lull, repeating significant sections of lyrics and music so often that every new number eventually sounds like one you’ve already heard three or four times. With so many potential subjects and musical styles to sample, the song stack need not be this repetitive.

Luckily, the direction (by Lisa Asher), sets (Eli Kaplan-Wildmann), and costumes (Joanne Haas) pick up much of the slack, establishing an appropriately cartoony “variety show” feel that too often seems strained in the writing. The performers are likewise a big help, though Desimone and Jenness are generally the “straight men” of the group, the earnest pivot points for a lot of other silliness. Most of the best roles and jokes go to ensemble members Bob Barth, Tricia Burns, David Gurland, and Gabrielle Lee, an endlessly inventive quick-change quartet who are equally at home in bits about cavemen, Puritans, the mid-1800s Westward Expansion, and even just about living and eating today.

The vocal centerpiece of the show is Rob Morrison who, armed with a mandolin, guitar, and an impressively rangy voice, plays the Narrator charged with guiding us on this culinary tour from the Dawn of Man to the present day. There are a couple of characters like that in The Apple Tree and Love Life, too - and Eat, Drink, & Be Merry isn’t as original or intensely crafted as those shows. But it’s a perfectly passable good time for curing low-level hunger pangs you’d rather sate some other way than by vegging out in front of the Food Network.

Eat, Drink, & Be Merry
1 hour 40 minutes
Tickets online and current Performance Schedule: TheaterMania


Camp Super Friend

A summer camp for superhero children sounds like a rich enough idea to provision a movie, or maybe even a short television series. So it’s hardly surprising that with Taproot Theatre’s Camp Super Friend, playwright Bethany Wallace never hurts for colorful characters and situations to decorate her family-friendly and smile-provoking story about getting to know others and the importance of respecting them while doing so.

In this production from the Seattle-based educational theatre troupe, Marvel the Mental Wizard (Solomon Davis) is so insecure about his unusual ability - he can “read and comprehend at breakneck speed!” - that it’s hard for him to make friends. So he observes the apparently popular Jet (Peter Nolte), who can move at supersonic velocities, and assumes that Jet’s tactic of being a controlling jerk is the way to go. But Counselor Cosma (Laura Bannister), who can rewind time, shows him the error of his ways, and gives him the tools he needs to not just engage and attract others but even defeat the nefarious Professor Nemesis (Bannister) who’s trying to rob all the campers of their super powers (a plot point vaguely reminiscent of the Disney-Pixar movie The Incredibles).

The members of the fun five-person cast, which also includes Adrienne Littleton as Professor Nemesis’s down-on-herself sidekick Zero and Charissa Huff as the most sensible of Marvel’s buddies to be, bring the properly colorful comic book tone to their performances, and Josiah Wallace has directed them and the rest of the show with a winningly light touch. Camp Super Friend doesn’t have a great deal on its mind, but its ability to impart crucial life lessons in a buoyant, creative, enjoyable way is one talent that lots of bigger and stronger children’s shows simply don’t possess.

Camp Super Friend
1 hour
Tickets online and current Performance Schedule: TheaterMania