The Fringe A to Z

An opinionated guide to the New York International Fringe Festival

No matter how hard you try, you won't be able to see everything there is to see at the Fringe. The 10th annual New York International Fringe Festival is by far the biggest yet, bringing more than 220 shows to 21 downtown theaters over 17 days, beginning August 11. Even if you shell out $500 for the all-you-can-eat Lunatic Pass (not recommended), you'll still have to pick and choose from the staggering lineup.

Herewith, a highly subjective, somewhat arbitrary roundup of this year's highlights—as well as a few lowlights. Completists can download the whole schedule at fringenyc.org, but don't say we didn't warn you.


'Americana Absurdum'

When the Present Company took this dark satire (by former Voice theater editor Brian Parks) to the Edinburgh Fringe in 1996, their artistic director, Obie winner John Clancy, wondered aloud why New York didn't have a fringe festival of its own. So now you know whom to thank (or blame).

Brecht

Good old Bertolt gets both a revival and a parody. Neither show stars Meryl Streep. An outfit called Giant Squid brings the musical A Man's a Manto Mo Pitkin's, in Eric Bentley's translation. If The Deepest Play Ever: The Catharsis of Pathos sells out, there's always next year: According to its portentous press kit, this "post-post-apocalyptic allegory" is only the first in an 800-play cycle deconstructing violence.

Celebrity

America's premier obsession generates plenty of Fringe material, even if actual celebrities make few appearances. In I Was Tom Cruise, everyone's favorite Scientologist couch jumper strikes a Faustian bargain with a young couple. The middle-aged protagonist of the new musical Olsen Terror finds himself turning into the Olsen twins. A Paris Hilton wannabe gets her 15 minutes in Jessica Lynn Johnson's solo comedy Oblivious to Everyone. On a more rarefied note, Richard Move choreographs The Fartiste, the real-life story of Joseph Pujol ("Le Pétomane"), the greatest farter of the French stage.

Democracy (What's Left of It)

Politics breeds the strange bedfellows of solemn docudrama (Fear Up: Stories From Baghdad and Guantánamo) and satire (the Rude Mechanicals' I Coulda Been a Kennedy). Leave room for Puppet Government, whose kitchen cabinet features a food processor as Dick Cheney, a juicer as Donald Rumsfeld, and an electric can opener as the president himself. A rice cooker is typecast as Condoleezza.

Expressionism

Chicago's Silent Theatre stages Frank Wedekind's Lulu plays in the style of an old German black-and-white silent movie.

Fairy Tales

In addition to the Rapunzel musical, there's the Grimm update Something More Pleasant, in which, according to the press release, "happily ever after soon turns into a bloodbath."

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Band Geeks
phtoto: Michael Miller
Geek Musicals

Several titles this year hint at a microgenre in the making—Muscle-Man vs. Skeletonman: A Love Story . . . the Musicaland Band Geeks: A Halftime Musical, for starters. Then, for those of us who were too geeky even for band, there's Perfect Harmony, about a national-championship high school a cappella group. The folks behind last year's Fleet Weekrock out with Air Guitar, but we're not cool enough for them.

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Corleone (see “Hollywood”)
phtoto: Jim Clifford
Hollywood

As always, there's something of a Fringe sidebar that we like to call "Why Not Stay Home and Watch the DVD Instead," but we grudgingly admit some curiosity about the all-female Tarantino parody Reservoir Bitchesand the all-iambic-pentameter Corleone: The Shakespearean Godfather.

Internet Speed

Is it too early or too late for a comedy about MySpace? Watch YourPlace . . . or Mine? . . . or read about it on the blogs the next day.

Joy

The biblical city of Joy is the setting for Fando y Lis—Arrabal '55, an adaptation by the Italian troupe the Brads.

Kooky Title

Absent even a bare-bones marketing budget, this can be the surest way to draw an audience. Some of this year's notables: The Armageddon Dance Party; Suicide, the Musical; Moral Values: A Grand Farce or Me No Likey the Homo Touch-Touch; the Phaedraupdate La Femme Est Morte, or Why I Should Not F%! My Son; and the current record holder for longest Fringe title ever, The Complete Lost Works of Samuel Beckett as Found in an Envelope (Partially Burned) in a Dustbin in Paris Labeled: "Never to be performed. Never. Ever. EVER! Or I'll Sue! I'LL SUE FROM THE GRAVE!!!"

Lee

Pan Asian Rep stages The Fan Tan King, the new musical by Flower Drum Song author C.Y. Lee, based on his novel.

Miss Universe

Denise Quiñones, who won the pageant in 2001, played a compelling tragic heroine last fall in Repertorio Español's Doña Rosita the Spinster. Here she co-stars with ex–Altar Boy Ryan Duncan in Hermanas, a comedy about Jewish Mexican Americans in Texas. Monica Yudovich's script was a finalist in Repertorio's Nuestras Voces playwriting competition.

Nostalgia

The cliché was right after all: It ain't what it used to be. Taking a left turn at Avenue Q, Free to Be Friends sends up '70s children's shows like The Magic Gardenand Free to Be You and Me(sample lesson: "Even people born without hands learn to use their hooks"). Chris Harcum's impending high school reunion conjures up grody '80s flashbacks and John Hughes–style teen angst formulas in his solo Some Kind of Pink Breakfast. (See also "Oingo Boingo.")

Oingo Boingo

Before Danny Elfman became a soundtrack superstar (Batman, The Simpsons), he fronted this geeky '80s new wave band, whose oeuvre now forms the basis for the jukebox musical Only a Lad.

Police

New York's finest get a coming-out shout-out in the real-life confessional Blue Balls: In & Out of Uniform With the NYPD.

Quickies

To celebrate their 10th anniversary as well as the Fringe's, the 24 Hour Company will revive for the first time 25 of their favorite shows—all of them originally written, rehearsed, and performed in 24 hours. Among the playwrights revisited in 24 Is 10: The Best of the 24 Hour Plays are Warren Leight, David Lindsay-Abaire, Teresa Rebeck, Will Eno, and Jeff Whitty.

Rom-Com

The ironic subtitle of choice (The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict: A Romantic Comedy; Henry Kissinger: A Romantic Comedy).

Solo

One is definitely not the loneliest number at Fringe. Almost three dozen monologues compete for the limelight, including Mike's Incredible Indian Adventure, Mike Schlitt's experiences directing a 40-city tour of They're Playing Our Song in India; Fornicationally Challenged, Judi Lee Brandwein's dating-scene confidential; Will Bligh's self-explanatory A One-Man Hamlet; and Christine Simpson's autobiographical twist on '80s nostalgia Take On Me (adoption, addiction, and a-ha).

Tickets

Available now at FringeCentral (27 Mercer Street, 212-279-4488) or online at fringenyc.org.

'Urinetown'

The high-water mark for Fringe success, this musical satire made a splash at the '99 festival and went on to become an Obie- and Tony-winning hit. (See also "Tough Act to Follow.")

Ventilation

Historically, the Fringe's tragic flaw. A spokesperson assured us all 21 indoor venues this year are air-conditioned (a far cry from 1997, when only three of the 20 were). But it's still a toss-up whether the Freon will hold up to full houses, theatrical lighting, 16-hour days, and record-breaking temperatures.

Wal-Mart

Two shows find bargain-basement inspiration in the world's largest retailer–corporate villain. Walmartopia the Musical! is set in a not-too-distant future, when the big-box giant has taken over the universe. "Yes," the press release warns, "the musical features the singing head of Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton." Walton faces another David-Goliath matchup in The Saints of Festus, whose drunken, Bible-thumping quilting bee is hell-bent on the store's destruction.

X

One of the many controlled substances bound to make a cameo appearance in Rainy Days & Mondays , a comic drama about gay circuit parties. Just one note, though: It's the wrong title for a show set in the '90s.

Yellow

Bad feng shui. According to The Yellow Wallpaper's producers, "This dark and disturbing reinvention of Charlotte Perkins Gilman's haunting story explores a woman's descent into madness and the creepy yellow wallpaper that drove her there." We don't know whether to call a psychiatrist or an interior decorator.

Zoophilia

Remember those stories last year about the gay penguins at a German zoo? We forgot about them the minute the controversy died down, but now they're the protagonists of a comedy called The Penguin Tango. No animals were harmed in this production, only non-Equity actors.

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