Granted, you may not witness anything as bizarre as the performance piece Clint Eastwood unveiled at the Republican National Convention last week, but there is still a wealth of creative genius to keep audiences rapt at this year’s Philadelphia Live Arts Festival and Philly Fringe, set for kickoff this Friday, Sept. 7. Most of the big-name national and international artists, as well as prominent Philly companies Pig Iron Theatre Company, New Paradise Laboratories and JUNK, are sure to attract larger crowds. Yet among the 650 performances taking place at the Philly Fringe are a number of less prominent shows worthy of your attention. Here are descriptions of five of the most promising.
1. Theatre Drapeau Rose is mounting controversial playwright Sarah Kane’s Crave (Sept 10-20) in a venue that perfectly represents the dark emotions that course through her play. Staged by director Sarah Robinson beneath the city, in the basement of a former power plant, Crave is not as graphically violent as Kane’s best-known works, like the shocking Blasted. This isn’t to suggest that Crave is an easy, breezy romantic comedy; in it, Kane’s ferocious spirit lives more in the dialogue than in the characters’ actions. Weaving parts of T.S. Elliot’s The Waste Land into her original story, Kane explores our most primal needs while searching for brilliance in the darkest realms of depression.
2. Philadelphia’s most daring sketch comedy troupe The Waitstaff returns to the Fringe with their new interactive comedy, The Real Housewives of South Philly Play Match Game (Sept. 7-23). Conceived by troupe member Sara Carano, the Housewives characters have been a mainstay at Waitstaff shows since 2009. The four housewives—now reduced to three after one was sent to prison—were instantly popular with Waitstaff fans, and the production marks the troupe’s third Fringe show to feature them. Combining the structure of sketch comedy with the spontaneity of improv, Waitstaff will go to any length to get a laugh. The Match Game should inspire the company’s signature brand of clever silliness. Given Waitstaff’s impressive track record, Housewives Play Match Game could be the 2012 Fringe’s funniest show.
3. Even at the Fringe, lesbian love stories are a rarity, but all audiences should find something to admire in Diana Son’s magnificent Stop Kiss (Sept 7-14), which debuted in 1998. It focuses on two female friends whose relationship becomes more than friendly, culminating in a tender kiss. The sweet moment of affection immediately turns horrific, when a passer-by witnesses the gesture and beats one woman within inches of her life, leaving her comatose. A remarkably authentic play filled with memorable characters, Stop Kiss is directed by 24-year-old Kristen Heckler, who is self-producing the show because, she explains, “this play embodies the kind of work I want to do.” Passionate artists are what the Fringe is all about, and the young Heckler’s determination makes her a director worth watching.
4. Despite his past successes as a dramatist, local playwright Bruce Walsh, author of Live Arts hits The Guided Tour (which took place onboard a moving bus) and Northern Liberty, knows that the chances of getting a play staged by a major company are slim. Instead of being deterred by a lack of finances, Walsh—like countless other local theater artists—used his lack of resources as inspiration to self-produce his new work Chomsky v. Buckley (Sept 7-8), which, as its title suggests, is his imagining of the 1969 debate between William F. Buckley and Noam Chomsky, a vehicle to explore language and morality. “I looked around and said, ‘I have a house. I can afford to buy a few hors d’oeurves, and maybe some beer. And I have a few talented friends,’” Walsh says. Indeed, to keep costs down, the venue is his home. The roles are performed by his actor roommates, who are also in charge of preparing the hors d’oeuvres. No word yet on who’s handling the brew.
5. Finally, there’s Philadelphia Artists Collective presenting August Strindberg’s Creditors (Sept. 12-23), which company member Krista Apple, who also performs in the production, describes as “a dangerous, nasty little play.” The story captures a failing marriage between two artists (Apple and her real-life fiancé Dan Hodge). Also starring Damon Bonetti as a mysterious stranger who intrudes between the couple, Creditors is directed by Charlotte Northeast, who happens to be in a real-life relationship with Bonetti. One of the area’s most underappreciated performer/directors, Northeast believes the play’s emotional impact is amplified due to the intimacy of the space: It’s performed in a small upstairs library at the Franklin Inn, and the actors are often within a foot of the audience. And the unusual convergence of make-believe and reality led Apple to remark: “It’s a real treat to be planning my real-life marriage to Dan during the day while destroying our on-stage marriage with him at night.”
For show times, dates, ticket prices and venues, go to livearts-fringe.org or call 215.413.1318.