Theater Picks for the 2010 Philadelphia Live Arts Festival and Philly Fringe

Live Arts Philly FringeThe Live Arts and Philly Fringe has grown and moved mostly North and West from its Old City nexus, prices have gone up, and the roster of performances seems larger and harder to navigate, but it remains a good reason to be in Philadelphia.

There’s an impressive array of dance shows (Lucinda Childs’sinterdisciplinary Dance and the Joint Concert by Dancefusionand 360º Dance Company are the picks from the Live Arts and Philly Fringe, respectively), an impressive line-up of comedy and improv (try The Real Housewives of South Philly by the Waitstaff for a surefire winner), and more art and music than you could possibly catch in the festival’s two-week run. The Festival Bar is back, this time in the old Egypt nightclub at Delaware and Spring Garden. But even with these great offerings in other media, theater remains at the heart of the festival, and there are still many opportunities to catch off-the-wall productions featuring up-and-coming writers, directors, and actors, in interesting non-traditional spaces.

Pig IronThe star show of this year’s Live Arts fest promises to bePig Iron Theatre Company’s Cankerblossom, a fantastical combination of two- and three-dimensions aimed at “kids aged 9 to 90.” In this Live Arts equivalent of the big screen’s Where the Wild Things Are, a couple journey through a whimsical and sinister flat cartoon world to retrieve their lost (also cartoon) baby. The set is made entirely from cardboard, with actors wearing cardboard glasses and carrying cardboard baby bottles. This alternate-universe will be housed at the newly renovated space at Christ Church, new AC and elevators upgrading a venue from the early days of the Philly Fringe.

The Live Arts and Philly Fringe is not a place for standard productions of Shakespeare, but the bard is still a presence in many shows, with a Top Gun-style mash-up, and a murderous rendition of Titus Adronicusamong the Fringe offerings. An intriguing production by the New York-based Nature Theater of Oklahomapresents one of Shakespeare’s classics in a way not even the playwright could have imagined. The company called regular people and asked them to recount what they remembered of Romeo and Juliet.Using only these remembrances, they have reconstructed a familiar tale in wholly unfamiliar ways, with new characters, scenes, and emotional resonance.

Earlier this summer, an overheated crowd got a sans-AC sneak peak at The Sun Also Rises (The Select), one of a series of Festival pre-shows at the new NoLibs Live Arts headquarters. Staged by Elevator Repair Service, who presented GATZ, a popular interpretation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, at the 2007 Live Arts, the preview still had some audio kinks and other growing pains. Through that, however, it was easy to hear the powerful dialog of legendary bearded writer Ernest Hemingway, who possessed one of American literature’s best ear’s for conversation. I’m still wondering, though, how are they going to do the bullfight?

Tell Tale HeartThe Philly Fringe, Live Art’s ugly sibling, provides a slate of off-beat productions. The best Fringe shows are usually the short-play compilations, and that’s likely to be the case again this year. Playwright and director John Rosenberg of Hella Fresh Theater is inaugurating his newly opened Kensington playhouse, the Papermill Theater, with a six-play performance of Cheap Guy Hall of Fame, Class of 2010. Cheap Guy HOF is a loosely tied together series about “cheap guys” (a derisive southern California term for trashy dooch bags, like the judge who masturbating under his robes who inspired the production). The preview showcase was hilarious.

Fringe guide editor Josh McIlvain seems magically able to churn out funny shorts. His SmokeyScout Productions is following up its successful NYC show with an evening of hilarious short plays, including anthropomorphic cranes, bickering whales, and a lecherous clown. A recent pre-show party for Boat Hole: another evening of outrageous short comedies by Josh McIlvain, featuring a Bad Poetry Slam, was a real appetite whetter.

One of the best things about the Fringe is the chance to see theater in unusual spaces. Restaurants, book stores, museums, and even a gym provide some of the unlikely venues for 2010’s crop of shows. Sometimes the festival pops up perfect venue-material match-ups. This year, talented area actor John Zak stars in Nevermore Theater Project’s adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe’s The Tell-Tale Heart at the Mütter Museum. Show price doesn’t include admission to the museum (tie-in Fail), but it should be easy to conjure the beating-heart creepiness of Poe’s masterpiece in a space with a collection of deformed fetuses. For more macabre classics, check out Traveling Jones Theater’s Edgar Allan Poe Comes Alive!

Assorted additional picks: Plays and Players presents Superheroes Who Are SuperAlexis Clement’s ConversationTribe of Fool’s DraculaCharlotte Ford’s Chicken. See livearts-fringe.org for prices, times, and info for all these shows.

Published by Philly2Philly.

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About the author

Christopher Munden

Your faithful correspondent and publisher Christopher Munden has written and edited for many publications, websites, and cultural institutions. He was an editor/publisher of the Philly Fiction book series, collections of short stories written by local writers and set in Philadelphia. He's also a soccer coach and a pretty good skier.