By Julie Novak and Eva Tenuto; Directed by Eva Tenuto
Part of the 2015 New York International Fringe Festival
Off Off Broadway, Solo Show
Runs through 8.29.15
VENUE #8: Under St. Marks, 94 St. Marks Place
by Scott Illingworth on 8.26.15
Julie Novak in America's Next Top. Photo by Michael Gaylin.
BOTTOM LINE: A tightly written, high-energy autobiographical comedy well-suited for FringeNYC.
The tiny basement club space Under St. Mark’s explodes with energy from the opening moment of Julie Novak’s stand-up style autobiographical solo comedy America’s Next Top: One Top’s Hysterical Take on Life, Love, Tools, and Boxes. She focuses the piece using stories about her exploration of—and other people’s confusion around—her gender and sexual orientation.
Novak smartly plays with expectations from the start, launching the show wearing a wig and dress while singing a reworded Cher tune only to quickly reveal her own spiked hair and far more androgynous clothing preferences. She is playfully self effacing throughout, and many of the biggest laughs come from the strong physical comedy skills Novak displays.
The show is at its best once Novak settles in. Early on she rushes, costing her a few bits that are funnier than they land. By the time she arrives in the story of her first job as a McDonald’s drive-thru cashier, however, she commands the room.
This section gets to the heart of what makes America’s Next Top work. Novak shares the discovery of her own surprisingly feminine teenage figure in her McDonald’s work uniform. It stands in stark contrast to the way she imagined herself from an early age (carrying a stolen Craftsman toolbox up the driveway at three years old).
This moment opens the door to a series of stories about her attempts to try on rigid versions of gender and sexuality. There is a boyfriend. He quickly disappears after she receives a “lesbian starter kit” which includes everything from denim overalls to Ani Difranco albums—pre-1998. In one particularly hilarious section she imagines an open mic night at a queer friendly coffee shop.
Director and co-writer Eva Tenuto (and, as the play reveals, wife to Novak) handles the limitations of festival producing well, managing a variety of lighting looks and well timed simple projections that help shift the evening from pure stand-up to a more polished piece of theater.
Most admirable is that Novak keeps the evening uniquely personal, avoiding the pitfalls that might come with an attempt to turn explicitly towards general themes around gender. In sticking with her own journey and sharing her obvious comfort with and sense of humor about herself, Novak manages to do something far more valuable: remind us that you don’t have name who and what you are just to make some stranger across the room feel at ease.
(America's Next Top: One Top's Hysterical Take on Life, Love, Tools, and Boxes plays at VENUE #8: Under St. Marks, 94 St. Marks Place, through August 29, 2015. Performances are Sat 8/22 at 5:15; Mon 8/24 at 8:45; Thu 8/27 at 3; Fri 8/28 at 5:15; and Sat 8/29 at 7:15. There is no late seating at FringeNYC. Tickets are $18 and can be purchased at fringenyc.org. For more information visit julienovak.com.)