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Hercules in High Suburbia
The Information She Carried

Theatre Reviews by Matthew Murray

Hercules in High Suburbia

Call me crazy, but I'm not sure that if Hercules were alive today and living in the suburbs, he and his friends would be singing country music. Oh well, at least that's the biggest leap of logic you have to make while watching Hercules in High Suburbia. Mary Fulham's surpassingly lightweight play with songs (by Paul Foglino) imagines the able-bodied demigod returning from Hades to his housing development home to live an orderly life for which he's not ideally suited.

The play draws heavily from Euripides's Heracles, but doesn't allow itself to get bogged down in lengthy monologues, religious proselytizing, or especially intriguing character development. But while the show (which Fulham also directed) is a fascinating example of how to water down a classic story into virtual unrecognizability, it's also highly watchable; it's just that its tongue is planted so firmly in its cheek that it's only possible to enjoy the show as a whimsical riff on a traditional tale, rather than a full-bodied story in its own right.

Most of the show's 65-minute running time is consumed with Brecht-vacations-in-Alabama rockabilly tunes that aren't interesting enough in lyric or composition to justify the time spent on them. This prevents Fulham from having enough time to fully develop the relationship between Hercules (Postell Pringle) and his wife Megara (Ellen Foley); when Hercules's frustration with mortal domesticity rises and brings the body count up with it, you can't care about what he loses as you've never been convinced of what he had. Should Fulham and Foglino continue to develop the show, they should tackle this problem first.

Otherwise, there are a number of inspired moments: Zeus (Dan Matisa), the king of the gods, playing golf; Theseus (Neal Young) as a Bill Clinton-styled political schmoozer; and, most arrestingly, the spirit of Madness (Dana Vance) - clad in red leather, fishnet stockings, and bunny ears - wielding a leather whip with tantalizing, erotic force. It's only during Vance's lone solo, in which she plots to bring down Hercules with her considerable wiles, that you're truly drawn into the potential of Fulham's idea. It helps, of course, that Vance's devilish sexiness is indeed enough to drive most men mad. But little else in Hercules in High Suburbia would get them more than mildly perturbed, or amused.

Hercules in High Suburbia
Through August 25
Running Time: 65 minutes
Mazer Theatre, 197 East Broadway - between Clinton and Jefferson Streets - entrance on Jefferson Street
TICKETS: www.FringeNYC.org or by calling (212) 279-4488. Outside New York: 1-888-FringeNYC.

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The Information She Carried

If you're incapable of believing in a possible connection between the death of American League shortstop Ray Chapman (1891-1920) and the destruction of the Space Shuttle Challenger (January 28, 1986), you're not the target audience for David L. Williams's The Information She Carried.

A low, bland version of The X Files crossed with Ken Burns's Baseball, the play examines the attempts of one determined woman, Sharon North (Daina Michelle Griffith), to find the truth buried beneath a mountain of lies and bureaucracy. Her teacher - and a formative influence on her life - was Christa McAuliffe, who died in the Challenger tragedy, and Sharon will stop at nothing (including threatening people with a cursed baseball) to learn the true cause of the accident. Yes, the Freemasons and the Illuminati are involved. So, for that matter, is a George Washington impostor.

Williams deserves real credit for daring to cram all this into one play, and his efforts to tie together so many apparently disparate conspiracy theories are indeed impressive. But the direction (from Ann Carroll) is sloppy and unfocused, and of the actors, only Griffith delivers, turning in a surprisingly sophisticated and level-headed performance given the extraordinary beliefs her character must espouse over the course of the show. Except for Kley Gilbuena's Area 51-loading dock set, everything else has a lackadaisical, wait-and-see attitude more appropriate for a first reading than any kind of full production.

The biggest shame here is that Carroll and Williams couldn't find a way to make all this work. When Williams drops all the conspiracy-baiting and chooses to address the human aspects of great tragedies, a whiff of relevance and - dare I say it? - profundity does waft through; thematically linking Chapman's death, the Challenger accident, and the September 11 attacks under the umbrella of innocence-shattering moments is a wonderfully theatrical idea that, properly realized, could make a heck of a play. But The Information She Carried isn't it.

The Information She Carried
Through August 27
Running Time: 1 hour 45 minutes
Linhart Theatre @ 440 Studios, 440 Lafayette Street, 3rd Floor, between Astor Place and 4th Street
TICKETS: www.FringeNYC.org or by calling (212) 279-4488. Outside New York: 1-888-FringeNYC.