Top Ten Best Bets for the Philadelphia Fringe


Mary Tuomanen and Genevieve Perrier in A PAPER GARDEN. (Photo credit: Cherie B. Tay)

Aaron Cromie, Mary Tuomanen, and Genevieve Perrier, A PAPER GARDEN
Staged en plein air in the Jefferson Garden of the American Philosophical Society, this original 35-minute tale of love and botany at the turn of the 19th century spotlights André Michaux—world-famous explorer, raconteur, and Royal Botanist to Louis XVI. Inspired in part by an important document in the American Philosophical Society’s archives, and Michaux’s friendships with Thomas Jefferson and APS co-founder John Bartram (America’s first botanist, whose historic homestead survives as Philadelphia’s Bartram’s Garden), the multi-talented trio of creators/performers transports the audience to a unique French garden filled with love songs, tall tales, and an exotic plant sprouting from an unusual box sent from North America to Empress Josephine’s estate. The performance is free, but tickets are required. 

This group of recent graduates from NYU’s Tisch School is intelligent, well-trained, and professional, their cutting-edge productions are well written and well acted, and they make the most of their small budget with clever makeshift sets and costumes. AGGROCRAG had a hit in last year’s Fringe with HELLO FROM THE CHILDREN OF PLANET EARTH, and returned to Underground Arts at the Wolf Building this June with THE MOST INSPIRING AND MAGNIFICENT TALE OF ALFRIDGE VON WADDLEGRAVE, a hilarious time-traveling send-up of Elizabethan histrionics. A SERIES OF TESTS is their latest original work–a dark comedy/sci-fi adventure about life and death, in which a critically ill patient and a bankrupt hospital realize the end is near, so try a dangerous new treatment. The audience will be taken on a wild ride through the hospital hallways, the human body, and beyond. Expect it to be both funny and moving–absurdity with a message.  

The newest world premiere by choreographer Brian Sanders contains all the signature elements that make him a perennial Live Arts/Fringe favorite, invariably playing to sold-out houses and rave reviews. Combining his love of gymnastics and classical dance, alternative venues and site-specific performances, and the detritus of our culture with exhilarating beauty and wit, Sanders takes JUNK underground this year, both physically and metaphorically. DANCING DEAD’s troupe of well-toned ‘corpses’ is set in the sub-basement of Northern Liberties’ 444 Lofts–a grungy long-abandoned chamber below the city’s natural water table, in a former warehouse turned trendy apartment building. Transforming the murky subterranean space into “some kind of bizarre factory ballroom,” JUNK remains true to its name by incorporating a tractor, dirt, stone, grit, and ash into the inventive performance. Get your tickets early, before they’re gone.  

Ian Bulack, David Bulack and Danny Gallagher are members of the cast of Curio Theatre Company's THE LORD OF THE FLIES. (Photo credit: Tessa Kuhn)

Curio Theatre Company, LORD OF THE FLIES (FREE)
Clark Park provides the perfect outdoor setting for Nigel Williams’ stage adaptation of the paradigmatic dystopian novel by Nobel Prize-winning author William Golding. The admonitory indictment of human nature chronicles the devolution into savagery of a group of well-educated school boys marooned on a deserted island, far from civilization. Directed by Curio’s artistic director Paul Kuhn, the cast is a mix of young adult actors (including Eric Scotolati, Ryan Walter, and Griffin Stanton-Ameisen) in the main roles and a small tribe of Curio’s theater school students as the younger boys. The production, which begins at 7:00 each evening, will utilize the park’s natural landscape and lighting, with the setting sun symbolizing the boys’ descent into darkness. All performances are free and open to the public, so there is no excuse to miss this powerful work.  

Liam Castellan as Gottlieb Biedermann with members of the Fire Brigade in Idiopathic Ridiculopathy Consortium’s production of MAX FRISCH'S THE ARSONISTS (Photo credit: Earl Wilcox)

Idiopathic Ridiculopathy Consortium, MAX FRISCH’S THE ARSONISTS Upholding its mission of preserving rarely seen Theater of the Absurd classics, Idiopathic Ridiculopathy Consortium presents the 2007 English translation of Frisch’s THE FIREBUGS of 1953. The allegorical dark comedy, set in a town experiencing a series of arson attacks, examines personal responsibility, ethical weakness, middle-class apathy, and society’s willingness to accommodate its own destruction when confronted with a great evil. Conceived as an extended parable, the Swiss playwright ambiguously subtitled his original work “a morality play without a moral.” If you can make any sense of this incendiary lack of linear logic, you’ll find it funny, disquieting, and still very relevant. The artistic team for the IRC’s regional premier, performed at the Walnut Street Theater’s Studio 5, includes some of Philadelphia’s most respected designers: Brian Strachan (costumes); Meghan Jones (set); Josh Schulman (lights); and Aaron Oster (sound).  

Based on Doug Richmond’s odd self-help manual on how to erase the records of who we are to assume a new identity, Fin Kennedy’s Neo-Existentialist pseudocide play raises haunting and humorous questions about the repetitive dullness and forced conformity of our lives, the need to escape, and the nightmarish feeling of being simultaneously dead and alive. The Philadelphia premiere, which kicks off Luna’s tenth anniversary season on the theme of Identity Crisis, is directed by company founder and artistic director Gregory Scott Campbell, and features the impressive cast of David Stanger, Steven Wright, Mark Cairns, Bethany Ditnes, and Jennifer MacMillan. Running in the Playground at the Adrienne, it will leave you pondering what makes us who we are, and what would become of us should we choose to walk out of one life and into another?  

New City Stage Company, SAVAGE/LOVE and TONGUES
Now entering its sixth year, 2011 marks New City Stage Company’s first appearance in the Fringe, with a pair of one-act stream-of-consciousness poetry plays performed in repertory at Symmetry Dance Wellness Studio. The 1978 avant-garde monologues by Sam Shepard and Joseph Chaiken will be updated for the new millennium with videos, and with original electronic music by New York’s DJ Butterface. Under the direction of Ryder Thornton (a former Fulbright scholar, who leaves for a theater project on the West Bank following the Festival), award-winning actor Russ Widdall takes audiences on the emotional journey of a lonely protagonist searching for love, and facing death, in keeping with NCSC’s season theme, The Terror Within. A Saturday-night dance party with DJ Butterface follows the late performance on September 3, 10, and 17. This post-modern homage to the beat and rave generations promises to be very smart, and very cool!  

John Bellomo in Ombelico Mask Ensemble’s RUN GRUNT SING. (Photo credit: Ed Pokropski)

In the 16th-century Italian tradition of Commedia dell’Arte, Ombelico’s free outdoor performance in Liberty Lands Park features fantastic masks, physical comedy, live music, three languages, daring feats at breakneck speed, and general chicanery and buffoonery! Historically, Commedia scenarios contained themes of love, innocence, and greed, with intrigues to keep young couples apart, and to reunite them; schemes to get money; and clever tricks to outwit a braggart. RUN GRUNT SING has it all, in this updated version for a contemporary audience. Be prepared for the ensemble to pass the hat, observing conventional Commedia practice; this evening of fun and laughter will be well worth the price of a donation.  

The Philadelphia Artists’ Collective, THE ORESTEIA PROJECT
The group who brought us last season’s brilliant production of THE DUCHESS OF MALFI is back with a book-in-hand workshop presentation of Aeschylus’ epic ORESTEIA, the sole Greek trilogy to have survived intact from Antiquity. The stellar cast features Kate Brennan and Griffin Stanton-Ameisen as Electra and Orestes, Brian McCann as Agamemnon, and Philly Fringe co-founder Deborah Block as Clytemnestra. They are accompanied by the equally noteworthy Robert DaPonte and David Blatt, and simple percussion and woodwind instruments played by the entire ensemble. Adapted and directed by Brenna Geffers, the emphasis will be on the simple clarity of straightforward storytelling, often by one character at a time, to ignite the imagination with language, ritual, and tradition, rather than spectacle. AGAMEMNON, THE LIBATION BEARERS, and THE FURIES can be viewed as a full trilogy or in single installments. All performances take place at Broad Street Ministry, and include free food and beverages.  

Aubie Merrylees, Jeb Kreager, and Sam Henderson in Theatre Exile’s THE ALIENS. (Photo credit: Robert Hakalski)

Theatre Exile, THE ALIENS
Alienation, rebellion, and unexpected camaraderie are the focus of this Obie award-winning play of 2010, in its Philadelphia premiere at Studio X. Ascending playwright Annie Baker (born 1981) compassionately captures the post-hippie spirit of three male misfits, seen by society as slackers, losers, and outsiders. Set in the back alley of a small-town coffeehouse, two ex-band members in their thirties introduce a lonely teenage employee to their world of calculus, psychedelic mushrooms, and Charles Bukowski (who, in 1986, was called the “laureate of American lowlife” by Time magazine). With Matt Pfeiffer directing, Fringe veteran Jeb Kreager starring, and live music by Sam Henderson, this one can’t miss with slackers, lowlifes, and theater-lovers alike!  

For more information about the shows, dates, venues, and ticket prices, log on to the Fringe website at, call the box office at 215-413-1318, or visit the Festival Box Office in person at the Prince Music Theater, 1412 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia.

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1 comment

Deb Miller August 26, 2011 - 2:28 pm


PAC had a casting change in the past 48 hours: Robert DaPonte and Aime Kelly, two of PAC’s regulars, will now play the lead roles of Orestes and Electra. Kate Brennan and Griffin Stanton-Ameisen, who had scheduling issues due to other Fringe obligations, are still in the project, but now will appear in the supporting roles of Cassandra and Menelaus.


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