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BOOK REVIEW Off the Rocks, Vol. 20
by Liz Baudler

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Allison Fradkin, director; $15; NewTown Writers Press; 279 pages

There's a certain tone of absurdity that NewTown Writers Press often hits in its anthology: often droll, occasionally glib.

Volume 20 focuses on that queerest of spectacles—the theater. As such, a large percentage of the volume is plays; poetry, fiction and the others take a backseat here. This is unfortunate because the others are the most compelling pieces in this anthology.

Often it feels like the plays are trying a little too hard, relying on goofy stereotypes and dialogue or else redoing Shakespeare while simultaneously trying to make a larger point about marriage or LGBTQ teen suicide. These efforts belong somewhere, but almost should stand alone: otherwise, they're taking up too much room on the stage.

An exception to all of the above—probably because it's so mile-a-minute zany and punny that one can't help but marvel at the mind that put it together—is Allison Fradkin's play Girl, You Know Its True Colors. Five women who "vary in presentation," as Fradkin's stage directions say, and who go by names like Chick Van Dyke and Portia De Bossy, are getting together to have a beauty demonstration party for Very Gay Cosmetics.

Said party evolves into a very witty discussion of today's lesbian issues, like representation, being lesbian enough and the dreaded bisexual menace. It's ridiculous—on par with Holly Hughes' "The Well of Horniness"—but it's so ridiculous you just want to see it done. Fradkin's always welcome to put her own work in any NewTown anthology, although this reviewer would read a whole book of hers with relish.

So what about the less theatrical pieces, then? Quieter works, like "Mermaids" ( a short story by Jan Bowman about a girl discovering her sexuality while her parents' marriage dissolves ) and Lancelot's Secret ( where an intern for a traveling theater company in the South gets to observe both gay life and the incestouness of acting ) are the ones that permeate. And William Broderick's "Man in a Dress" ( one actor's honest account of his terror at becoming frock-wearing Roger De Bris for a run of The Producers ) is a nice insight into the craft ... and dress-wearing. How do women do it so well?

Overall, Volume 20 from NewTown is more light than impactful, and if it's prose you're after, you might be disappointed. But tastes differ, and it's always worth checking out what NewTown has to offer.

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