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    Ashira69 (Episode #1: Cult to the Chase)

    Wonder women

    The episodic female superhero extravaganza "Ashira69," enthusiastically performed by a winning cast, still suffers from a script that lacks punch.


    The Tennessee Project's Ashira69 returns in this prequel to the other four Ashira69 episodes. Their marketing is most luring. They promise an all-female superhero show! Wow! What do we love more than females and superheroes? Nothing! The excitement begins to build. The New York Times "loved Ashira69!" Really? The New York Times is never wrong, except when they are, so the expectations begin to grow. This should be an excellent show with superheroes and females and action and best of all comedy. With expectations so very, very high, were we the audience disappointed as is often the case? No. Not disappointed at all. Were we the audience blown away and so entertained that we walked out of the house in a slight daze wishing in our hearts of hearts that the show had never ended? Well, no, not really.

    Company: The Tennessee Project.
    Written by: Paul Sapp (in collaboration with the actors)
    Directed by: Tina Polzin.
    Cast: Damaris Webb, Courtney Cunningham, Chris Caswell, Katie Zeiner, Fiona Jones.
    Music by: Nathan Caswell.
    Sound design by: Nathan Caswell.

    Related links: Official site
    Play Room
    440 Lafayette Street, 3rd Floor
    Aug. 8-24, 2003

    What went wrong? There are four lovely and very talented female performers, as promised. No problem there. The direction is not bad with fairly decent use of space and imagery. Okee dokee. The soundtrack is great. What an awesomely cool and funky theme song Nathan Caswell has written for the show. Still no problem. The costumes are wonderful, the lighting is ample, the scene changes are brief enough, but something keeps nagging at us. Then we figure it out. It is just not hilariously funny. That's it. There's the problem. There are a few big laughs, which come more from skillful performance than written jokes, but aside from that, not too many chuckles. It seemed as though the script contained too much information, filling the play with wordy exposition leaving no room for jokes or dramatic action. We want to love our hero and identify with her plight and see her enemies slip, fall and fail in the most humorous of ways. While it is understood that this is an episodic adventure, this FringeNYC production needs to stand on its own in the eventuality that some of us don't return to the subsequent episodes. This play is simply too complex.

    While there were some problems in the writing department, this in no way means it was a bad show. There were some excellent moments onstage. Damaris Webb's turn as Ashira69 when under the influence of mind control, becomes so incredibly Hulkish that it is just plain funny to see her stomping around in a bikini shouting, "Ashira smash!" Chris Caswell showed herself to be a multi character master, making us believe for a moment or two that there were more than four performers in the cast. Katie Zeiner also turned in a nice multiple-personality performance showing us her range and extremely strong stage presence. The standout performance of the evening came from Courtney Cunningham. She made all of her characters interestingly funny, showing her pure comic genius in the characters of Freezia Sleet, and the all too brief appearance of Purdie "Iron Lung" Class. Ms. Cunningham is a person Lorne Michaels should meet. Finally, a replacement for Gilda. With this talented cast, fun and memorable characters, and its sure-fire premise, this show has the potential to reach amazing comic heights. It only needs to simplify a bit, add more jokes, and cater to the public's dangerously short attention span to assure itself a nice, long episodic run when it finally finds itself a home.

    AUGUST 13, 2003

    Reader comments on Ashira69 (Episode #1: Cult to the Chase):

  • Great Show!   from susan winters, Aug 26, 2003
  • [no subject]   from jason, Dec 7, 2004

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