OnStage Associate New York Critic
Buckle up and sit tight because the ride is going to be crazy. Written, directed and starring Paul Calderon, “Fringe of Humanity” takes us behind the scenes of some b-movie shot by LA filmmakers in a fictional Latin American country. We find the crew gathering at a hotel room in the midst of preproduction. But before the principle photography begins, the drama in the “production office” escalates rapidly as ex-heroin addict and director, Nick (Paul Calderon), a PTSD damaged director of photography, Ken (William Rothlein), and hyped on cocaine producer Ross (David Zayas), jump from work to personal matters and back.
Tree film actors, Steve (Jakob Von Eichel), Ryan (Alex Emanuel) and Pierce (Luke Edward Smith), elbow each other for the lead part in the movie, but all three blend together a bit in my memory. This seems to be in the mood of the play: the producer thinks of his talents as disposable and doesn’t change his views even when the life of one of the actors gets threatened. Add to the picture an aging starlet, Liz (Rebecca Nyahay), and two “bimbos”, Crissy (Feliz Ramirez) and Vicky (Jessica Damouni), to further complicate matters with the sexist nature of the film industry.
“Fringe of Humanity” is very fast-phased and restless. Most of the time the actors are pacing anxiously around the small stage and center aisle of the theater, sloppily decorated by a designer, who took no credit for it. If this story were a movie, there would be many rapid cuts. But since there is no variety in “focal lengths” in live theater, Calderon employed the actors’ movement and speedy dialogue exchange to convey the mounting madness.
The sound design by Sebastian Mitre “Baz”, consisted mostly of constant salsa Muzak, contributes to the tense atmosphere. I was annoyed by the 3rd minute of the show and was glad when the DP, Ken, addressed the issue. But the music never really went away despite the complaints of the increasingly frustrated cinematographer. The music had very little development and hung in the air like a muggy cloud.
If your find yourself leaning back and grabbing your chair with both hands, don’t worry, it will only get more intense. When the DP takes out his knife at only the 5th minute of the show, offended by the director, you can rest assured that this is just child’s play compared to what’s coming. And this is exactly the problem that I had with the “Fringe of Humanity”; it starts out loud and sharp and only picks up more speed. The nearly constant yelling and rapid verbal crossfire soon make you numb to the dangers coming both from the outside world and corrupted human souls.
David Zayas, playing the producer and the mastermind behind the project, sets the bar high. He is an excellent performer who owns the stage and wins your heart immediately despite the rotten personality of his character. William Rothlein, portraying the DP devoted to his art, is a delight to look at, especially during the scene of the rehearsal of two young actresses. The script has a number of the comedic scenes such as this one, and the balance by personal and industry issues makes this story attractive and engaging.
Rebecca Nyahay, perhaps a bit too young to portray a forty-something ex-starlet, is still excellent in both showing off at first and crying hysterically in fear and anger in the end. The machismo of the film industry is shown through the stories of her and two other female characters. Both Feliz Ramirez and Jessica Damouni could tone it down a notch, as their presence on stage was a bit excessive.
Anybody who has an insider experience in filmmaking will recognize these characters. You might call them devoted to the art or delusional, you might laugh at them, or feel sorry or scared for the state of their minds. But they keep you engaged during the entire ride to the “Apocalypse”.
FRINGE OF HUMANITY ran January on 11-28, Wednesday at the Access Theater, located at 380 Broadway on the 4th floor.