Live Arts Festival/Philly Fringe highlights

KATHRYN RAINES / Plate 3 Photography
KATHRYN RAINES / Plate 3 Photography
Posted: September 08, 2012

This weekend marks the start of Philadelphia's annual 16-day, multimedia, high-low, inspiring-disconcerting (and sometimes appalling) entertainment mashup known as Live Arts Festival/Philly Fringe.

Five Inquirer critics who have been around the festival block more than a few times were asked to scan their catalogs, comb through their memories, and follow their hearts to choose five productions they are looking forward to.

Here you go.

Toby Zinman

The Creditors A Strindberg play you never see by a company (Philadelphia Artists' Collective) that rarely disappoints. The great modernist lunatic uses his own life as material for this short work: pathological passion, bizarre accusations, hypnotism, and the inevitable disaster marriage brings.

The End of Hope, the End of Desire Tiny Dynamite (whose recent production The Country was a knockout) presents a play from a Belfast author, David Ireland, I've never heard of - reason enough to see it, especially in such capable hands.

    Red-Eye to Havre de Grace I saw Lucidity Suitcase's first version of this show years ago. It's about Edgar Allan Poe's mysterious death, and to-ing and fro-ing on trains, and it remains vivid in my mind's eye. There was this piano. . . .  


Dostoyevsky Man Larry Loebell and Seth Reichgott - whose theater work I admire - create an iPhone movie about a desperate teacher whose lecture may or may not save his job and his life.

EvictionProof PeepShow Home, above. Vashti Dubois' performance-art project at a Germantown home promises to be about "a house fighting to stay with its family," a story about foreclosure and eviction, perhaps from the standpoint of the house itself.

Merilyn Jackson

  Mining the Mine of the Mind for Minderals Antic choreographer/dancer Megan Mazarick creates, with actor/director Mason Rosenthal, a dance/theater duet about the science of consciousness. Think fairy tale, zoomorphic movement, spirituality, science.

Colony Kelly Bond and Melissa Adrienne Krodman premiered this duet in D.C. in July to positive reviews. Krodman's last dance with Bond in Philadelphia confronted the audience with nudity and a fake gun.

 Hoist Leah Stein's eye for architecture informs her movement impulses; she knows where the body goes on any building or site. Here, she and her company will hoist themselves all over the organically beautiful Maas Building's exposed beams and factory infrastructure.

Rub Gunnar Montana (Gunnar Clark of Brian Sanders' JUNK team) and Jasmine Zieroff hastily relocated this show to the Latvian Club when the skuzzy Dolphin Tavern closed. Their go-go girls do a mechanical tango with a 6-foot-high dildo.

Ivona, Princess of Burgundia In this third Philadelphia incarnation of Witold Gombrowicz's play in a decade, Idiopathic Ridiculopathy fleshes out its woolly characters with farthingales and periwigs. There's hand-kissing, jilting, curtsying, spying, seduction, idiocy, and murder, all accomplished with good manners.

Howard Shapiro

Zero Cost House Pig Iron Theatre Company's work is a frequent festival highlight, but this year collaborative possibilities are rife with its commission of Toshiki Okada to put a spin on Thoreau's Walden vision, setting it in Japan after 2011's earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear failings.

Ballroom Dancing Ain't for Sissies A pick because it fulfills a Fringe predilection for site-specificity, unfolding inside a Center City dance academy; it has a funny premise, a former drill instructor as the dance instructor; it's by ex-Inquirer medical writer Donald Drake, who has honed his playwriting skills and knows what he's doing.

Raw Stitch Prolific young Philadelphia playwright Jacqueline Goldfinger, who is adept at short pieces, presents nine of them - all new monologues - that sound sexy, offbeat, and properly fringy.

Sequence 8 Another Montreal-based circus! 7 Fingers brought a sweet production last year called Traces, a lovely mix of acts and bits. This is their new number.

Untitled Feminist Show So much praise has been heaped on New Yorker Young Jean Lee's extravaganza for six naked dancers, about gender, anger, and resolution, that the appearance of her work here is a certifiable big deal.

Ellen Dunkel

Le Grand Continental More than 150 non-dancers have rehearsed all summer for their debut at the base of the Art Museum steps, a sort of festival-opening ceremony.

This Town Is a Mystery It's a potluck dinner and performance in someone's living room. The preselected homeowners are the performers. Who knows if they'll be good? Who really cares?

The Gate Reopened Brian Sanders is a little bit Pilobolus, a little bit Cirque du Soleil, with crazy sets and props made from found objects, and inventive dance. Sanders and his company, JUNK, rarely disappoint.

Tourettes: A Dancing Disorder, above. Band of Artists founder Sutie Madison choreographed this piece with her own tics and twitches in mind; the composer has Tourette's syndrome. Gotta admire people who embrace their differences rather than hide from them.

 Open Air A super-cool-looking light show on the Parkway you can control with your voice via a special cellphone app. Rafael Lozano-Hemmer created similar shows for the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver and the 50th anniversary of the Guggenheim Museum in New York.

Wendy Rosenfield

Some Other Mettle Applied Mechanics, with its immersive, interactive, choose-your-own-adventure performances, earns a spot alongside Philly's longtime devised/physical theater standard-bearers Pig Iron and New Paradise Laboratories. This year's Fringe entry promises to be as compelling as last year's Overseers, and just as dystopian.

Jeff Coon and Ben Dibble Must Die It's one big Philly theater in-joke: Three real-life, oft-cast young musical theater actors and BFFs plot the demise of two real-life, always-cast, slightly older musical theater actors and BFFs. But there's no reason to feel left out. Los Jarochos' production offers an opportunity to see some serious area talent at their silliest.

Iminami, above. PuppeTyranny's 2011 Fringe offering, Water Bears in Space, was one of the weirdest, wonderfullest, sci-fi, musical, based-on-a-true-story Fringe shows I've ever seen. This year's Iminami, in which a tidal wave forces Earth's scientists to flee to a distant moon, brings back much of Water Bears' crew and themes, plus more puppets, an aerial acrobat.

27 New Paradise Laboratories appears to be returning to its roots. Gone is the techie gimmickry of Fatebook and Extremely Public Displays of Privacy. NPL is at its best connecting elegantly/inelegantly wasted young things with great music and movement, and 27, about the propensity of talented artists to die at a certain age, does just that.

Bang, above. There's lots of naked feminist comedy to choose from, but no one serves up a sexy/ugly/crazy sandwich quite like Charlotte Ford (her 2010 Chicken is Exhibit A). Bang brings together Ford (center), fellow Pig Iron member Sarah Sanford (left), and former NPL member Lee Etzold to make the sandwich three times sexier, uglier, crazier, and tastier.


All the Fest Facts

For everything about Live Arts Festival/Philly Fringe - show descriptions, venues, dates, times, ticket information, and more - go to the event website,

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