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One Cheer for the Fringe Festival

On hoping for the best, every August.


To know the New York International Fringe Festival is to hate it. And now it’s back again, promising a bewildering array of uneven offerings in scattered and often-claustrophobic venues. We’ve now had fifteen years of “the largest multi-arts festival in North America” (still the NYIFF’s grand-yet-vague tagline), and, with a few brilliant exceptions, we’ve never stopped feeling let down by its overreliance on indulgent solo shows and irony-dependent, reference-driven hack musicals (prepare ye for Jersey Shoresical: A Frickin’ Rock Opera). This, perhaps, is simply the definition of an institution: something everybody loathes but no one can find a way to replace. Ever since 1999’s Urinetown, still its only Broadway transfer, the fest has been burdened with being not purely a democratic convocation of the weird, edgy, and undercooked, but also a black-box Sundance, ripe for raiding by producers. (Lately, the New York Musical Theatre Festival has siphoned off a lot of that action.) Besides, with Off Broadway and Off–Off Broadway more or less stagnated, it’s hard to see a post-Fringe future for even the most deserving shows. Consider Silence! the Musical, which took five years and several false starts to make the leap to even a smallish Off Broadway house. And what the hell ever happened to last season’s elliptically excellent The Twentieth-Century Way?

Maybe Greg Kotis and Mark Hollmann can turn things around. The Urinetown co-creators will return to the Fringe this year with a show called Yeast Nation (the triumph of life), a musical of palace intrigue and Ibsen-ish advocacy set in a primordial Earth populated by single-celled organisms. Their U’town collaborator, director-choreographer John Carrafa, is at the helm of a rock opera called Winner Take All. I’ve heard promising rumbles about Infectious Opportunity, a satire revolving around a man who fakes AIDS for fame and fortune, as well as Theater for the Arcade: Five Classic Video Games Adapted for the Stage, and Vanessa Shealy’s One, Two, Whatever You Do... (which the playwright has described, tantalizingly, as what would happen “if Christopher Guest did a remake of Alice in Wonderland”). Also, there appears to be a show called Flaccid Penis Seeks Vaginal Dryness. Hope springs eternal.

New York International Fringe Festival
August 12–28.
Full schedule at fringenyc .org.


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