A Hot, Daring Winter’s Tale Discovered on the Fringe

It’s the open-hearted innocence that slips during the more showbizzy interpretation of Shakespeare’s near-impossible second act. They seem to be asking us, “Well what would you do with ‘Exit pursued by a bear’ and Shakespeare’s springtime celebration of sheep-shearing?” For my taste, the wit of The Winter’s Tale Project becomes too knowing in the pastoral scenes, its raw honesty and emotion drifting into irony.

Even so, the bear scene proves charming and very funny (accompanied by a brief scholarly aside on the history of bear scenes). The current production would work well enough at the Public Theater. And was there ever a conclusion to a musical more touching than one in which the damned are forgiven, lovers united and the lost returned to wondrous, resurrected life?

7 p.m. Bucharest Calling, at The Lafayette Street Theatre. Directed by Ana Margineanu and performed in English by five excellent Romanian actors, Peca Stefan’s political/social play is a sometimes furious indictment of national failure and a call for honesty after the fall of Communism. A series of interwoven stories in three acts about a worn-out country that’s “paralyzed and alive,” it wobbles uncomfortably on the brink of domestic drama, with Quentin Tarantino undertones. One terrifying scene had me on the edge of my seat:

A video picture of a urinal appears on a screen. Two strangers face the screen, appearing to take a leak. The older man holds a gun to the younger man’s head, demanding sex and money. The younger man refuses, grabs the gun and coolly demands money from the older man, who’s a self-hating pimp. “Rape me,” he says, handing over the money, “I’d enjoy it.”

But he’s taken somewhere instead, apparently to be shot. The younger man holds the gun to the pimp’s head, and as he whimpers in terror, fires a bullet into the distance.

It was like watching Russian Roulette. The pimp begs pathetically for his life as each new bullet is fired, reverberating into space. The man with the gun orders him to wake up in the morning and begin a new life. He’s the pimp’s savior.

9 p.m. Dash to 440 Studios to catch Ancestral Voices—a blind choice: Ukrainian folk music, poetry, modern dance and puppetry. I’ve never been much of a fan of puppets. But when I arrived breathlessly too late to catch the opening scene, they wouldn’t let me in.

9:15 p.m. Supper.

11 p.m. Return to 440 Studios, where 18 stalwarts had gathered for Third Child: Orestes Revisited, a late-night collaborative piece in words, music and extraordinary physical movement about the son of Agamemnon and Clytemnestra who murders his mom.

Conceived and directed by Maria Porter, with an ensemble of five young, admirable performers, my last show of the day belonged to the quieter, determined heartbeat of the Fringe Festival—a brave new experiment in the possibilities of theater.