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    This Is a Newspaper

    Top the presses

    "This Is a Newspaper" is an unconventional sketch comedy show full of often-inspired extrapolations from the tabloid headlines.


    Last year I speculated that there's one show a year that the Fringe Festival accepts just because it's so unreviewable that the critics will have fits just trying to say what it's about much less analyze its nuances. This year, the prize goes to "This Is a Newspaper."

    Written by: Jordan Seavey.
    Directed by: Matthew Hopkins.
    Cast: Jesica Avellone, Julia Henderson, Geoffrey O'Donnell, Boo Killebrew, T.J. Witham, Noah Starr, Sean-Michael Hodge-Bowles.
    Cooper Union, Wollman Auditorium / Lounge
    51 Astor Place
    Aug. 8-24, 2003

    How to describe this piece of work? It makes me think of those contests where a magazine prints a cartoon with no caption and challenges readers to submit their own. Suppose you made a videotape of a sketch comedy show, showed it to a bunch of writers who perhaps lived in a cave and had never heard of sketch comedy, and asked them to provide the lines. This is what you'd get.

    Sometimes sharp and funny, sometimes earnest and dramatic, and sometimes curt or inexplicable, the show is a collection of scenes unified only by the idea that they are happening right before or after a major tabloid headline event. One of the most ironically funny scenes is the first, in which a perfectly proper English couple discusses the 2002 Moscow theater massacre over breakfast with dispassion and occasionally measured laughter even though they were among the hostages facing death themselves.

    "And you know who I feel badly for?" asks the wife, Caryl.

    "Who?" asks her husband, Andrew.

    "The ones left brain-damaged, the ones killed," she answers, stating the obvious while spreading her toast with jam.

    "Oh, yes. I feel badly for them too," he says without putting down his newspaper.

    Many scenes are stolen by actress Boo Killebrew, who has a terrific comic presence and a bit of a resemblance to Jane Curtin. The segment called "Betrayal(s)" features Killebrew and the also excellent Noah Starr in a sharp, fast-paced thrust and parry between a simultaneously secretive, suspicious, overanalytical and slightly too honest husband and wife in bed after the husband has "had to stay late at the office."

    "Should I accept that as the clich that it is, as the age-old, universal code-word between husband and wife for, 'I'm having an affair'?" the wife needles him.

    "You're a very technical person, Kathy," says the husband later in the conversation. "That's one of the things I most — notice about you."

    "That's one of the things you most — what about me?" she retorts. "Go ahead, you can say it: 'like' or 'dislike.' You didn't mean 'notice,' did you? No. You meant 'love.' Or 'hate.' Right?"

    "Notice," he emphasizes.

    Their heady joust continues until further revelations put a different cast on the whole relationship. It's a triumph of timing, repartee and attitude.

    These are some of the highlights of a production that features considerable writing and acting talent and a number of terrific surprises. (The absolute funniest and also filthiest exchange comes in the second segment, and I meant to quote that one but then decided that playwright Jordan Seavey might want to show the reviews to his parents. Regardless, it was probably the funniest single bit I heard in the whole Fringe Festival.)

    Yet, the style of the whole show is a bit disconcerting. Some scenes are too short to make much impact — like one about Jesus returning to earth and taking up with a gay priest, which is more puzzling than enlightening. And even the best scenes seem loose and unfinished, leaving questions in the air. Some scenes feel like they're meant to be continued later — but they aren't.

    But there is some very good, original material here, performed slightly off-center by an able cast. Not everyone will run straight from the theater to their friends recommending this show as the must-see experience of the Fringe Festival, but it is unpredictable enough to give me that fringe feeling, which is getting rarer as the festival gets more mainstream attention each year. Seavey and company have produced a show that feels halfway to greatness. The show is worth your attention now and the group's future work should be very interesting to watch.

    AUGUST 20, 2003

    Reader comments on This Is a Newspaper:

  • To Boo   from John Slater, Aug 20, 2003
  • [no subject]   from Jackie, Aug 21, 2003
  • this is a newspaper   from dw, Aug 21, 2003
  • Provocative!!   from LS/ ES, Aug 22, 2003
  • so proud of my boozer!   from brooke, Aug 23, 2003
  • love from your continually amazed sister...   from bette, Aug 27, 2003
  • Newspaper   from KSW, Aug 23, 2003
  • Re: Newspaper   from , Aug 25, 2003
  • Re: Newspaper   from Cissy, Aug 25, 2003
  • Congratulations!   from LHS, Aug 25, 2003
  • Bravo Boo!!!   from Larry Hart, Aug 27, 2003
  • Boo, congratulations!   from Diane Miller, Aug 27, 2003
  • Re: Boo, congratulations!   from Another Gina Mom, Aug 27, 2003
  • noah   from daniela, Jul 31, 2004
  • congrats BoO!   from Heather (Tina's daughter), Nov 24, 2004

  • Post a comment on "This Is a Newspaper"