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Far Out: The New Sci-Fi Musical Comedy
Series 6.2: Paint on Canvas
part of
The New York International Fringe Festival (FringeNYC)

Theatre Review by Matthew Murray

Far Out: The New Sci-Fi Musical Comedy

Because Far Out is supposed to be a spoof of low-budget 1950s sci-fi horror flicks, and because the New York International Fringe Festival (at which it’s playing) is, well, a festival, it’s impossible to know how much of what went wrong at the performance of it I attended was intentional. The “screw-ups” - microphones that either didn’t work at all (to the point of making some songs inaudible because the singers wearing them refused to project) or revealed backstage conversations, cardboard set pieces falling over (à la Plan Nine from Outer Space) over and over again, and multiple performers who weren’t focusing on what they were doing - were so common, even by Fringe Festival standards, that one could only assume at least some were accidental.

But neither explanation excuses the witless, inspiration-free writing from Brian Breen (music and book) and Michael Chartier (lyrics and book) that can’t elicit a single laugh from a story of small-town teenagers trying to repel visiting aliens that are marshaling an army of zombies. Toss in over-caffeinated, hyper-generic choreography (by Justin Bocitto) and direction (from Kimothy Cruse) that makes the entire production resemble a critical care ward on an acid trip, and you have a musical that’s not only inept - whether or not that was the goal - but downright unbearable. If not for Tiffan Borelli, giving a performance of such honest and out-of-place sensitivity as the good girl caught between the bad boy (Nick Adams) and the shambling nerd-hero (Spencer Liff), Far Out itself would look as utterly stitched together and undead as its invading aliens want everyone to become.

In one way, and in one way only, is this useful and instructive theatre: It stands as a sturdy reminder of the crucial importance of writing to story and character first and demographics second. Breen and Chartier are so consumed with constructing a show based on the eternally popular musical and dramatic styles of the 1950s (complete with the falsetto wailing and doo-wops that remain its stereotypical trademarks) that they’ve neglected to include anything for audiences who simply want to see a solid story told well. Numbers like “Be a Clean-Cut Eisenhower Guy,” “Nobody Does it Like the U.S. Army” and “You’d Better Keep an Eye on Us” don’t advance plot or character but fill certain stylistic holes that no sensibly integrated musical condescends to concern itself with - and the entire show is built in just this skeptical manner.

Like last year’s Broadway flop Cry-Baby, which it resembles in an unsettling number of ways (including the presence, and rampant misuse, of the gifted dancer Liff), this show is aimed at method rather than meaning, so neither comes through. If Breen and Chartier are truly interested in writing the next Little Shop of Horrors or Bat Boy (as seems to be the case), they’d be infinitely better served examining those shows’ sterling commitments to story structure and interpersonal relationships than merely the surface-level design of their scores. Great musicals from any era, whether dramas or comedies, endure because they connect with emotional and intellectual truths that endure, and insist that audiences become involved on some level below their first layer of skin. Far Out, however, doesn’t think it has to cut at all, so it doesn’t, which ensures it’s bleeding to death long before the constantly collapsing rear wall of the set has spelled mortality for this amateur hour reject of an evening.

Far Out: The New Sci-Fi Musical Comedy
1 hour 50 minutes
Tickets online and current Performance Schedule: TheaterMania


Series 6.2: Paint on Canvas

It’s impossible to describe to another person exactly what you see when you close your eyes or when you direct your gaze at the most secret part of your soul, but Becca Hackett and Katherine Randle have come amazingly close with their combination art installation and confessional play, Series 6.2: Paint on Canvas. They literally take up brushes to reveal the hopes and the fears that have made them who they are, and end up fashioning - in two different ways - a lovely piece of art that seems worth considerably more than a thousand words.

You get a full view of the titular drawing surface that’s spread across the stage thanks to three angled mirrors hanging above the action, and watching these two young women add or remove elements from it becomes in many cases more absorbing than the stories they tell. The duo’s anecdotes, which contain material from poet e.e. cummings and writer-director Linnea Emigh, tend toward the general, and are filled with basic ruminations about life, love, and death, but their counterparts on the canvas are anything but: a series of random red streaks becomes the brick wall behind which one woman has so long hidden her feelings, a black circle becomes a toilet to symbolize a disease that’s affected both women’s lives but soon transforms into a rotating vortex of hope, a Manhattan skyline takes on heartening or crushing characteristics depending on what few extra strokes are placed or erased, a carelessly slopped splotch of color becomes one’s purest expression when she uses her own body as a brush, and so on.

It’s only a matter of time until Hackett and Randle start applying pigment on each other, and that’s when the show becomes its most playful and least effective. Series 6.2: Paint on Canvas, which has been coolly and carefully directed by Ilana Becker, is at its best when it proves how our inner Matisses and Pollocks give us a unique outlook on the universe around us, but create a full picture only when we share it with, rather than use it to attack, others. Because the show is so short (barely 35 minutes), you have enough time afterwards to join Hackett and Randle onstage and inspect their picture. Don’t forgo this opportunity. It’s an unassailable vision of exactly who they are, at their most fabulous and their most flawed, but you’ll undoubtedly see more than a little of yourself in their images, too.

Series 6.2: Paint on Canvas
35 minutes
Tickets online and current Performance Schedule: TheaterMania