BY LINDSAY HARRIS-FRIEL FRINGE CORRESPONDENT It’s the most wonderful time of the year again, when every night of the first half of September is your opportunity to break up with monotony. The 2010 Philadelphia Live Arts/Philly Fringe festival is back, and as usual, the selection is overwhelming. This year the Festival puts more emphasis on film and visual art than usual, widening the focus of entertainment choices, and has brought the Festival Bar further south again, tightening the geographic intensity. So, please, go out every single day and night and make sure that you view every single show. Make sure you wear comfortable shoes, carry cash, arrive for your chosen performances on time, and utilize public transportation and/or a bicycle whenever possible. You’ll be improving the lives of people who have toiled for months to create entertainment just for you, turning the wheel of artistic creation and enjoyment to further the cultural life of this city. Thank you.
Or, maybe you’re one of these mere mortals whose body requires things like rest and adequate nutrition. Perhaps you have a job that precludes you from spending 50 hours a week at the theatre. I suppose you’ll have to make some awfully difficult choices, then. In that case, here are a few recommendations to get you started.
Plays & Players, the nearly hundred-year-old grande dame of Philadelphia’s theater community, has no fear of death. Rather, she’s embraced it, and holds up dripping hearts with a beat you can dance to. Their past productions of William Shakespeare’s Land of the Dead and Zombie! The Musical are being followed by the enfant terrible of Shakespeare’s canon, Titus Andronicus. Before you worry that this classic might be too stuffy for your tastes, think again. Director Liam Castellan takes this tale of ancient war (which Billy apparently wrote while in his 20s) and family indecency and places it in an apocalyptic landscape, starkly defining the old ultraviolence. After seeing this, your family holiday dinners will seem tame this winter, unless you really like pie.
Why didn’t Tiger Woods delete all of his old text messages from his femme fatales? Maybe each one was a unique, delicate, snowflake. Tongue & Groove’s artistic director, Bobbi Block, hedges a bet that if there are a million smartphones in this city, there are a million secret gems of poetry hiding in pockets and purses. Bring your cell phone or PDA to Tongue and Groove’s Unspoken. They’ll be making this more real than any reality show and streaming faster than any IM with live harmonica music created in the performance. These veterans of serio-comic spontaneously created performance will benefit from the little messages we can’t bring ourselves to say out loud. No two performances will be alike, so if it’s too emotionally arresting for you, take a deep breath: it’s just live art.
Continuing the theme of secrets and slaughter, Tribe of Fools follows up last year’s peerless Armageddon At The Mushroom Village with their interpretation of Dracula. You will be asked to sign a waiver upon entering the theatre, as this production is scientifically designed to elicit the most fear possible in a live performance. The Tribe’s production concentrates on Stoker’s emphasis on brain fever, madness and illness from his original novel. If you want to see the version of this classic tale that is the least traditionally batty, this could be your new blood.
When all this intrigue and murder has tired you out, the Fringe has plenty of comedy to get your blood pressure back down. Josh McIlvain’s 15 funniest short comedies are all together in one sleazy, edgy and outrageous package when you go to see Boat Hole. The Waitstaff is serving what you crave with The Real Housewives of South Philly, and Secret Room Theatre will clean you out with five seam-splitting short comedies in Dirty Laundry. In serious emergencies, you may want Saves The Day Productions’ Super Heroes Who Are Super, insanely delicious dramatic readings of classic comic books.
Finally, when you need to explain to your next of kin what exactly it is you’ve been doing for the last two weeks, there are some shows appropriate for audiences of all ages for them. The Idiopathic Ridiculopathy Consortium (there’s no shame in calling them The IRC) sets up a battle between bohemians and oil barons in “a luscious tea party in the Twilight Zone” with the French 1920’s classic, The Madwoman of Chaillot. 15 actors play 25 characters, so be careful not to blink too much with this high-speed chase. The Hear Again Radio Project takes everything you remember about vintage radio and removes the static. Between the dramas, the commercials, the costumes, and the live Foley sound effects, there’s something for everyone to enjoy. Their performances vary between “Fat Man,” “Superman,” “Flash Gordon” and “The Adventures of Philip Marlowe,” so you may want to see this more than once. Finally, no Philadelphia Live Arts Festival could exist without Pig Iron Theatre Company. They add puppetry to their entertainment arsenal with Cankerblossom, “a dark fairy tale for kids aged 9 to 90,” about identity, loss and family.
Still looking for the best fit? Go to http://www.livearts-fringe.org and click on “Shows,” then narrow your search by date, neighborhood, or arts discipline. Narrow the field even further by taking The Live Arts Matchmaker Survey, which will pick three shows according to your tastes. Most importantly, remember, if you see a show and you don’t like it, the best remedy for that is to go see a different live show. Maybe two.