Children's Hour

As the New York International Fringe Festival has grown, so have the ambitions of the productions that are a part of it. The "Urinetown effect" (which may be too antiquated a reference for New York newbies) has begat shows with high-profile actors, writers, and directors; strong production values; and serious artistic goals. Whatever happened to the kooky downtown shows of old? Some of that scrappy aesthetic is still kicking about in Princess Sunshine's Bitter Pill of Truth Funhouse. A nouvelle vaudeville for the snark set, this adorable confection features a small, talented cast of performers who sing, mug, and clown their way into audience members' hearts.

The driving creative force behind this piece is Princess Sunshine herself, played by Juliet Jeske. She is responsible for the show's script, songs, costumes, backdrop, and spark. While it's clear that she could put on great shows for kids—and, according to the program, does so as her day job—her wicked sense of humor and world-weary act make her a hit with adults as well. She's also got a knockout belt/legit voice, and can play a mean accordion and ukulele.

Jeske is joined onstage by her husband Joel, a clown by trade who is equally adept at verbal and physical comedy. His creepy Uncle Fun and intense Science Guy provide a little Borscht Belt and Bible Belt humor, respectively. Rounding out the ensemble is Brenda Jean Foley, possessor of a beautiful voice that harmonizes well with Jeske's, and Timothy James O'Brien, who plays a delightfully sulky Upper East Side teenage girl.

Together they make music, make jokes, and do a little puppeteering. (The hand puppets, created by Joel Jeske, are whimsical and backed up by great vocal work, though if they were equipped with rods for arm movement they would be even more appealing.) There are morals aplenty, but certainly not the kinds you get from Mister Rogers. If childish fun (with a devilish spin) is your cup of Fringe tea, why not have a drink with Princess Sunshine?

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