VOL. XXX, NO 35
AUGUST 29, 2001



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  Feature: FRINGE


Other Limits

Alternatives to the biggest Fringe games in town.

BY J. COOPER ROBB
(jrobb@philadelphiaweekly.com)

Now that the X Games is a wrap, it's time for a little Extreme Theater, namely the fifth annual Philadelphia Fringe Festival, which runs Aug. 31 to Sept. 15 in and around the streets of Old City.

According to Producing Director Nick Stuccio, attendance at the Fringe has grown every year (topping 32,000 in 2000). And though there's plenty to choose from (over 200 acts at 59 venues this year), the big-name local acts and commissioned shows tend to make up a disproportionate share of the festival's 55 percent capacity rate, leaving the other acts to battle over the remaining audience.

So here at PW, we thought we'd try to level the playing field in this Darwinian free-for-all by presenting you with four lesser-known productions to consider when planning your Fringe agenda.

>> Pale gives new meaning to suburbia. In Janette Hough's high-flying/low-rolling trip through the 'burbs, strip malls and airstrips meet manicured lawns in an adventure that destroys the image of the quiet suburban home. Hough, known for her work with Trapezius, presents a world in which the idyllic Norman Rockwell tire swing and backyard barbecue is interrupted by barking dogs, wailing sirens, screaming neighbors and all the other white noise associated with suburban sprawl. Supermarket carts dance with bowling balls while seven apron-clad performers roller-skate and climb ropes, often twirling high above the bedlam like Donna Reed on pixie dust. It's both funny and ironic, and the dancers seem to find joy in the middle of this chaos, even with the accompanying apprehension inspired by the roar from giant SUVs and low-flying aircraft. Director Hough describes Pale as "looking at something that's supposed to be perfect--that absolutely isn't perfect--but could also be thought of as perfect." Picture Ozzie and Harriet meets Cirque du Soleil and you'll get the idea. Sept. 5-8, various times, $10. Christ Church, 20 N. American St. (at Second above Market St.)

>> "Theatre should be performed one night, and one night only, in a graveyard." Whether any of the participants in Fly By Night will follow Jean Genet's advice and actually perform in a cemetery is anyone's guess, but then most everything about this unusual production is a mystery. The reason? It hasn't been written yet. Bringing together five playwrights, five directors, 15 actors, one noun and one verb to present a 10-minute mini-play festival in 24 hours, FBN is a surefire recipe for dangerous and unexpected theater. Born from a desire to link the diverse artists that form Philadelphia's small theater community --including those from Blue Box Productions, Theater Double and the Brick Playhouse-- FBN is the brainchild of Thieves Theater co-artistic directors Nick Fracaro and Gabriele Schafer and is based on similar models from New York and Atlanta. The process for Fly By Night (and it's all about the process) has the actors, directors, nouns and verbs all drawn from a hat for assignment to a play. The playwrights must work with the talent provided (for instance two young males; one elderly woman) and are encouraged to use the words chosen prominently, not just in the title of the piece. No one is aware of the combinations beforehand. The goal is to present a full production the following evening, which at the Fringe will be site-specific and lighted by flashlights brought by the audience. According to Fracaro, the productions presented since FBN began in March have varied, to say the least. "Several of them have actually been pretty brilliant," he boasts. Of course, he admits, as this sort of high-wire experiment suggests, "Sometimes the plays aren't very good." The acting echoes the plays' variability; there are no auditions for FBN. Fracaro says, "You have to make do with what you get." But polished productions are not the goal of the communal project, a stance that has left several playwrights grumbling about its severe restrictions. What FBN guarantees is spontaneous theater, devoid of the "Is it live or Memorex" artificiality occasionally seen on area stages. "It's great fun for the audience," Schafer says. "They're excited about the potential train wrecks they're going to see." Sat., Sept. 9, 8pm. Free. Outside Fringe Box Office, 113-131 N. Second St.

>> Contrary to current expectation, Jesse Wilson's Ultimate Blonde has nothing to do with Reese Witherspoon. Rather Wilson's "punk-rock diary" concerns "a lust-filled seventh grade boy" (is there any other kind?) who must deal with his loss of innocence in a dark and violent world. Described as something like a meeting between Spalding Gray and the Ramones, this Rock 'n' Roll High School experience generated considerable buzz when it was workshopped in Los Angeles. Invoking startling images accompanied by fast-paced lighting, purity is the first casualty in a world where high school is no longer the province of homecoming queens and glee club recitals. Sept. 10 and 11, 8:30pm. $10. Upstairs at Plays & Players Theater, 1714 Delancey St.

>> Fittingly for the genre-bending Fringe, Katharine Livingston's Theater of the Body defies categorization. "It really isn't a purely dance show," the co-founder of Scrap and one of the area's most respected dance artists explains. "It's more a cross between medical theater and a carnival sideshow." Structured on the 18th-century medical theaters (which were referred to as Theaters of the Body), the show features an overzealous and somewhat creepy scientist (Paul Struck) lecturing on the human anatomy. Yet his technical dissection doesn't capture the "energy and spirit" of the human form, and when words fail him, two mischievous "specimens" (Livingston and partner Makram Hamdan) struggle to break the confines of both the professor's linguistic box and the physical restrictions of this "very intimate theater." Performed in the tiny National Chinaroom (with a seating capacity of 12), the show aims to be more available and communicative than the typical dance piece. "We were feeling that a lot of the dance performances we went to were not accessible to a general audience because the language was so foreign," says Livingston. "We wanted a more primary language and I wanted it to be intimate enough so the audience could see the body parts up close." Well, perhaps not too close. While sexual organs are discussed, Leverton is quick to add, "We don't want to have issues with the law, but we are able to demonstrate them in a sort of surprise way." Sept. 12-15, various times. $10. National Chinaroom, National Building, 113-131 N. Second St. l

Tickets to all events are available at the Fringe Box Office, National Building, 113-131 N. Second St. 215.413.1318.

PW


















































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