Every city is a work in progress, Philly no more or less so than most. Watch the city’s movements over a long period of time and you’ll start to see patterns emerge, rhythms in the chaos: Scaffolding comes down tidily from one side of a freshly clean City Hall, and a decrepit industrial site is demolished in a cloud of dust a little ways up North Broad. The newly renovated South Street Bridge lights up like a futuristic technoscape, and a westbound lane gets shut down on the Schuylkill.
That’s one of the reasons I love the Philly Fringe: It echoes the endlessly unfinished urban noodling that surrounds us.
Sure, the Live Arts Festival half of the city’s annual September performance extravaganza features the slick, polished, spectacular productions—the acrobatic circus troupes, the translations of overseas art superstars and whatnot. But the Philly Fringe half, where small local troupes of all flavors throw down their most urgent artistic impulses, is where the adventure happens, for good and ill.
I’ve caught three Fringe shows so far this year. Not one of them would I describe as “finished”—just like the city. Every single one of them, I would describe as a tremendously worthwhile experience.
Take Ivona, Princess of Burgundia, produced by the Idiopathic Ridiculopathy Consortium, which spins the absurdist fable of a circa-18th-century European court whose foppish prince meets a sullen, silent, scowling peasant girl dubbed ugly by all who encounter her. Horrifiedly captivated by the idea of a young woman whose face and soul both seem frozen in a permanent expression of “Fuck you, everybody,” the prince declares on the spot that he must have her as his bride—apparently in a fit of realization that “Fuck you, everybody” is actually a lot more viscerally satisfying than following the accepted rules of society.
Both the play itself (by Polish dramatist Witold Gombrowicz) and the IRC’s production (running through Sept. 23 at the Walnut Street Theatre) are a little stiff and more than a little unsettling; an hour and a half spent watching powerful aristocrats do their damnedest to emotionally savage an ultimately helpless girl is rough, no matter the moral of the story. Yet there’s a strange sort of spiritual affirmation that somehow bubbles up from it all, in part because it’s hard not to see Ivona as a sort of Georgian-period Sweet Dee Reynolds from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, sufficiently smarter than everyone around her to know that they’re a bunch of assholes, yet not so heroically equipped as to be able to do anything about it.
The three weeks of Live Arts Festival & Philly Fringe mark our cultural transition from summer into fall every year. And so this issue of PW wraps up our festival coverage in the regular weekly stage and art columns just as our annual Fall Guide arrives to swallow 20-some pages worth of newspaper, looking ahead at what the arts & entertainment world has to offer us next.
You'll find a collection of fall forecasts by PW contributors both familiar (like film correspondent Matt Prigge and art critic Katherine Rochester) and new (such as Kishwer Vikaas, known to local podcast audiences as the co-host of Talkadelphia). Whether you’re looking for concerts, art, lectures, film or just a night out with good beer, we hope you’ll find stuff worth doing. Because as far as we’re concerned, digging down into the city’s never-finished business is why we’re all here in the first place.
In This Issue:
Books: Philly authors, publishers and stories to savor. (Hint: Solomon Jones is back, baby!)
Movies: PW's film guy has some sure-bet recommendations. (Bond, anyone?)
Concerts: Roots, jazz, rock, soul and more.
Abums: PW's busiest record reviewer shuns Rolling Stone's must-listen list for fall. Here's his.
Beer & Food: The only question we have is: Can you handle this season's lineup of awesome tasting events? Free Yuengling Day, perhaps?
Lectures & Discussions: Pandemics, politics, post-war slavery and more.
Art: A glimpse at five irresistable events, including one very public art installation.
Theater: Broadway hits, political humor and musicals galore.
Question: Is Yuengling really going to give everyone in Philly a free beer? Answer: It sure sounds like it. Sept. 28 has been dubbed National Drink Beer Day.
It’s that time of year again when—theoretically, anyway—we finish up our trashy beach novels and start to look for more substantial fiction and non-fiction autumnal offerings to warm us for the coming winter. Whether you’re stowing your reading material on a bookshelf or an app, these new and upcoming titles promise to add colorful narratives of all kinds to your library.
You could sit around all day grumbling about Pennsylvania’s new voter ID laws, or you could join the group of geeks that have begun discussing how to invent a path toward full electoral enfranchisement.
Any or all of these may not wind up worthy of sarcasm, but the following 11 are, in this writer’s wizened estimation, a surer bet. (Note: The dates are super-tentative, and one or two may never hit Philadelphia— so stay tuned, cinephiles.)
One of the most mind-numbing experiences of all time is reading all 150-plus comments on Rolling Stones’ fall music preview, “The 24 Albums You Need To Hear.” Turns out the most exciting records this fall will be dropped by youngbloods that, it seems, Rolling Stone readers think isn’t even music. We’ve broken it down into a few categories and nominated some winners in each for your convenience.
An unsentimental investigation of the impact mental illness has on one suburban American family, the Arden musical "Next to Normal" covers a wide range of emotions in composer/lyricist Tom Kitt’s evocative and supremely catchy rock score.
Public art is rarely subtle, but "Open Air" takes visibility to a whole new level: You’ll be able to see his roving searchlights from up to 10 miles away in any direction. It’s like laser tag in the sky, and we all get to play.
There are living jazz legends, young pacesetters, killer improvisers and experimentalists of all stripes playing in Philly this fall. Seems that even at a time of downsized budgets, troubled venues and all the rest, you just can’t stop the music.
PW's Holiday Guide 2014