Since 2013, Phindie has had the most and best coverage of the Philadelphia Fringe Festival of any publication IN THE WORLD. This year, we’ll once again do our best to review as many shows as possible, interview a bunch of artists, and get perspectives on the festival from regular theatergoers and leading performers.
But how do we know what’s going to be good? Well, we don’t. But years of previewing and reviewing have given us some insights into the artists and shows which you’ll want to put near the top of your list for the 2017 Fringe. (Know more? Email firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet @phindiemag and tell us!) Here are editor Christopher Munden’s picks for the 2017 Philadelphia Fringe Festival.
A Billion Nights on Earth
Thaddeus Phillips + Steven Dufala (FringeArts curated)
At his magical best (¡El Conquistador! at 2010 Philly Fringe), Thaddeus Phillips builds intricate worlds which venture far beyond the boundaries of the stage. Even shows which fail to realize his ambitions have moments of wonder and impressive stagecraft. A joint project with installation artist Steven Dufula (who’s also working on Geoff Sobelle’s HOME), A Billion Nights on Earth guarantees this wonder and wizardry at a minimum. Taking us to a Where The Wild Things Are dreamworld, Phillips hopes to dive into parent-child relationships and the differing perspectives of father and son.
[FringeArts, 140 N. Columbus Boulevard] September 14-17, 2017; fringearts.com/event/a-billion-nights-on-earth
A Love Supreme
Salva Sanchis & Anne Teresa De Keesmaeker / Rosas (FringeArts curated)
These Fringe picks feature mostly theater shows, because that’s what the writer knows more about, but dance shows are often the highlights of the festival. The 2017 festival is less dance-heavy in its curated work than 2016, and A Love Supreme seems the pick of an intriguing selection. Best known for ripping off Beyoncé (or something like that), Anne Teresa De Keesmaeker has graced the Philadelphia Fringe before and all her shows have been great. It’d probably be worth seeing De Keesmaecker if she choreographed to Yoko Ono on kazoo, but A Love Supreme presents an enticing combination of composition and improvisation in the style of John Coltranes’s 1965 magnus opus, which provides the soundtrack.
[FringeArts, 140 N. Columbus Boulevard] September 22-24, 2017; fringearts.com/event/a-love-supreme
Chris Davis & Mary Tuomanen
Two Fringe masters meet; the chemistry should be transmutatively golden. If you saw Tuomanen’s Saint Joan Betrayed, Peaceable Kingdom, or Hello Sadness!—delightfully varied, utterly inventive plays revealing a deep intelligence, socially conscious empathy, and vibrant humor—you know you need to catch her every offering. If you enjoyed Davis’s Drunk Lion, Anna K, or One-Man Apocalypse Now, you know he’s a playwright completely in control of his wild creative energies. They both proved skilled collaborators in work with Aaron Cromie (Tuomanen) and Bruce Walsh and Doug Williams (Davis). The pair have been friends since they were teenagers, their first play-writing and on-stage collaboration might be the hot ticket of the 2017 Philly Fringe Festival.
[One Shot Coffee, 217 W. George Street] September 13-24, 2017; fringearts.com/event/alchemist/
Andean Mountains (Montañas Andinas)
Carl(os) Roa, José Avilés, Elyas Harris
Asking “How do people of a diaspora access a culture they’ve been displaced from?” Andean Mountains began as a Google Street View tour of Latin communities, and the bilingual piece retains elements of this digital journey. The addition of folk dance, object theater, movement coached by The Theater Offensive’s Elyas Harris, plus a “performance by a juicy Colombian bear” make for a interdisciplinary theatrical exploration of place and community. As an immigrant, I’m keenly aware of ways we retain connections to lands we leave, but anyone can appreciate the way we become a combination of all the places we live, not just the place we’re from. Marks the inaugural theatrical production at the El Corazón Cultural Center at Taller Puertorriqueño’s new headquarters on North Fifth Street.
[Taller Puertorriqueño, 2600 N. 5th Street] September 7-15, 2017; fringearts.com/event/andean-mountains-montanas-andinas/
An Incomplete List of All the Things I’m Going to Miss When the World is No Longer:
P.S. Your Cat Is Dead, Eternal Curse on the Reader of These Pages, Riot on an Empty Street: This is an incomplete list of works I discovered just on the basis of their title, and which I recommend to you. UArts theater student Dante impressed in last year’s Elementary Spacetime Show and has entered this year’s Fringe with the best-titled piece in the Festival. If you’re going to take a chance on a Fringe piece, make it one with a kick ass title and description. Make it one which tells you “There will be drugs”.
[Blackbox Theater, Gershman Hall, 401 S. Broad Street] September 8-10, 2017; fringearts.com/event/incomplete-list-things-im-going-miss-world-no-longer/
Booth Triptych: Parts I and II
Gatto + Hirano
Danielle Gatto and Makoto Hirano return to the FringeArts Haas Biergarten for another year of with their experiential Four-Minute Booth. Inspired by psychological experiments exploring accelerated intimacy and reminiscent of Marina Abramovic’s “minute of silence”, Gatto + Hirano invite visitors to step behind a curtain and stare into the eyes of a stranger for four minutes. It’s a short, but surprisingly affecting experience. This year, their booth includes “a private space to send a personal message into outer space”. So, yeah.
[FringeArts Haas Biergarten, 140 N. Columbus Boulevard] September 11-16, 2017; fringearts.com/event/booth-triptych-parts-ii/
Eugene Ionesco’s The Bald Soprano
Idiopathic Ridiculopathy Consortium
Philadelphia’s favorite absurdist theater company continues its multi–year festival of classics by Eugene Ionesco (he’s in their title!) with the avant-garde playwright’s best-known work. This genre-defining play exposes the banality of everyday conversation and the utter absurdity of human existence. The historic work is in safe hands with IRC artistic director Tina Brock, who’s proven adept at highlighting Ionesco’s humor while building the dramatic tension of his farces. With perhaps more showtimes than any other Fringe show, there’s no excuse for missing this one..
[Bethany Mission Gallery, 1527 Brandywine Street] September 3-24, 2017; fringearts.com/event/eugene-ionescos-bald-soprano/
The Fren Banklin Experience
Hey, did you know Philadelphia had the first whatever-the-blah-blah-blah? It was founded by Ben Franklin in who-gives-a-shit?! If you’re going out to a bunch of Fringe shows, why not have one come to you? Fren Branklin, the “notoriously unreliable cousin” of our favorite still-the-most-famous-Philadelphian-even-after-250-goddamn-years, will visit your home to give a revolutionary history house tour with all the veracity of an Old City carriage driver. The actual performer/house visitor is uncomfortably unclear, but if my Fringe-hosting experience with Slideshow(2014) and Dishwasher(2015) are any guide, I strongly recommend bringing the Fringe home.
[your house, wherever you live] September 8-24, 2017; fringearts.com/event/fren-banklin-experience/
The Groom’s a Fag; The Bride’s a Cunt; The Best Man’s a Whore; and the Maiden of Honor (Just) Hung Herself in the Closet
On The Rocks
Don’t you hate it when the Fringe show you want to see is only playing at the same time as four other shows you want to see. You don’t have that problem with shows by On The Rocks, a take-no-prisoners collaboration between “enfant terrible” playwright Haygen Brice Walker and director Elaina di Monaco. As with the first two installments of their “dead teenager trilogy”, showings of the final episode begin late at night (and finish later: editing down his seriously funny give-no-fucks scripts isn’t a priority for Walker). The drunken (BYO) atmosphere and ridiculous horror plots make for pleasant endings to any Fringe night. But serious skills lay behind the apparently slapdash endeavor: Walker is a smart, insightful writer and his young cast (Campbell O’Hara, Jenna Kuerzi, and Joe Canuso return) commit their talents full-bore.
[The Beard Cave at St. Mary’s Church, 3916 Locust Walk] September 8-22, 2017; fringearts.com/event/grooms-fag-brides-cunt-best-mans-whore-maiden-honor-just-hung-closet/
New Paradise Laboratories (FringeArts curated)
The 2017 festival is packed with perennial favorites returning with intriguing shows. Using a movement-minded group-based creation method to explore thought-provoking concepts, New Paradise Laboratories impressed with Fatebook (2009), 27 (2012), and especially The Adults (2014).Their 2017 Fringe offering, Hello Blackout!, revisits the peculiarly dark world they created in O Monsters, which ran at FringeArts in late 2016. (Filmed showings of that sequel piece will show throughout the Fringe run.) Skilled company members Emilie Krause, Kevin Meehan, and Matteo Scammell return as the Kissemmee triplets. This promises to be a weird funny piece great for after-show conversation, even if one of those conversations is“what did i just see?”
[Proscenium Theater at the Drake, 302 S. Hicks Street] September 5-17, 2017; fringearts.com/event/hello-blackout/
Geoff Sobelle (FringeArts curated)
A ramble through a room of memories and junk, Geoff Sobelle’s The Object Lesson was perhaps the standout show of the 2013 Philadelphia Fringe and has since had widely acclaimed sojourns around the world. The show won a bunch of awards at the 2014 Edinburgh Fringe and received rave reviews from the Guardian, the New York Times, and, um, Phindie. An early member of Pig Iron Theatre Company, Sobelle’s brings an inventive physical intelligence to his solo and group projects (he also impressed in shows by Thaddeus Phillips, Pig Iron, Lantern Theater, and others). In HOME, Sobelle and his cast will build and transform an entire house onstage, exploring “the transitory nature of dwelling” and the “absurd impossibility of making a home”. Yeah!
[Prince Music Theater, 1412 Chestnut Street] September 13-16, 2017; fringearts.com/event/home/
Iphigenia At Aulis
The Philadelphia Artists’ Collective
Headed by some of Philadelphia’s finest actors and directors, PAC presents vibrant, accessible productions of lesser-known works of classic theater. Prior Fringes have seen great productions of O’Neill (The Sea Plays), Strinberg (The Creditors), and Shakespeare (The Rape of Lucrece). This year, they’re mining the back catalog of Ancient Greece, with Euripides’ rarely seen tragedy of war and family. The production returns to the Delaware waterfront setting which enhanced 2013’s Sea Plays; this time they’re just downstream at the USS Olympia.
[USS Olympia, 211 S. Columbus Boulevard] September 7-22, 2017; fringearts.com/event/iphigenia-at-aulis/
A Fringe staple, Gunnar Montana’s annual extravaganza’s feature reliably elaborate sets and passionately sexualized choreography to infectious contemporary music. A expectant party hum greets each show. Promising to transport us to “a brutal underground nightclub where no fucks are given”, KINK HAUS is classic Gunnar, as if a strip club met a traditional dance company for a weekend of carnal debauchery. If that sounds like something you’d like, this is something you’d like.
[The Latvian Society, 531 N. 7th Street] September 5-24, 2017; fringearts.com/event/kink-haus/
Labor of Love
Waitstaff Sketch Comedy
They’ve been Fringing for as long as we remember, yet they still manage to be timely. Some of the references may be dated for a millennial audience, some may be too pop culture for the older crowd. That’s just to say the veteran sketch comedy troupe has jokes for everyone in remarkably consistent hourlong laugh fests.
[L’etage Cabaret, 624 S. 6th Street] September 8-23, 2017; fringearts.com/event/labor-of-love/
Leaps of Faith and Other Mistakes
Almanac Dance Circus Theatre
Phindie has been a fan of Almanac since its very beginning as a fledgling effort by two Pig Iron APT students. Early efforts by the fast-growing company were short vignettes with molded gasp-worthy acrobatics into neat dramatic episodes. Their first full-length pieces consisted of themed presentations of several vignettes. Premiered in 2015, Leaps of Faith and Other Mistakes marked a milestone in the career of the increasingly professionalized troupe. Playwright Josh McIlvain provided narrative structure and captivating phraseology in the form of a maritime adventure which proved the ideal showcase for the impressive physical acts. Emboldened by this success, Almanac’s subsequent works perhaps focused too heavily on tenuous overlaying concepts at the expense of the startling acrobatics. This must-see relaunch sees a mature company revisit the combination of theatricality and circus arts which established their success.
[Painted Bride Arts Center, 230 Vine Street] September 6-23, 2017; fringearts.com/event/leaps-faith-mistakes/
Tangle Movement Arts
Ringling Brothers may have closed, but the circus arts are alive and now you don’t need to support the torture of large mammals to enjoy them! An all-woman circus-theater troupe, Tangle Movement Arts uses trapeze, ropes, and silks to perform breathtaking choreography highlighting female strength and story.
[Neighborhood House, 20 N. American Street] September 6-9, 2017; fringearts.com/event/life-lines/
It can feel a waste of time to see a conventional play by a much-produced playwright at a festival of independent, non-conventional theater. But you don’t get many chances to see William Shakespeare’s late epic Pericles, and we can expect surprises and success from this new company, made up of a director known for her powerful visions (Brenna Geffers) and an award-winning creative designer (Thom Weaver).
[The Rotunda, 4014 Walnut Street] September 7-9, 2017; fringearts.com/event/pericles-2/
Leila and Pantea Productions
This one-night, adults-only puppet revue was a highlight of the 2015 Fringe and you should probably check it out this year. The line-up will be different, but it will once again a wide-range of puppet acts from Philly, NYC, and elsewhere, plus some music and silliness. I think the sole late-night show it is BYO, but you might want to check that fact or keep it on the down low. Leila and Pantea Productions also have two other shows at the Fringe: The Turn of the Screw, a ghost story written by Henry James and adapted by Jeffrey Hatcher and a raucous puppet farce called Ubu Faust.
[Proscenium Theater at the Drake, 302 S. Hicks Street] September 23, 2017; fringearts.com/event/puppet-delphia-fringe-slam-2/
Theatre in the X
The Philadelphia Fringe Festival has pushed well beyond the Old City streets which confined shows in its early years. But even as it reaches new neighborhoods the Fringe rarely feels representative of them. Theatre in the X is a longtime West Philadelphia company: they’ve been producing plays in Malcolm X Park at 52nd and Pine for several years now. For the Fringe, they head indoors into the Union Park Building with a drama about a teenager facing the hazards of an urban upbringing. It’s inspired by the smart, funny spoken word poem “Financial Aid” by Carvens Lissaint.
[Urban Park Building, 3780 Lancaster Avenue] September 15-16, 2017; fringearts.com/event/running-numbers
Poison Apple Initiative
The brainchild of Bastion Carboni, Poison Apple Initiative relocated from Texas to Philadelphia a couple years ago. In 2015, their overheated, give-no-fucks Sometimes Callie and Jonas Die proved one of the best Fringe debuts of recent years. Even in supernatural situations, the characters were real people and said uncomfortable truths in a real way. An Obvious Foggot, their ambitious 2016 show about gay nightlife performed in an underlit gay club, entertained without living up to its predecessor’s heights. Set in a world of violence and returning to the themes of “hierarchy, inevitability, and animal instinct”, Scattershot seems like Carboni at his darkly comic best.
[Franky Bradley, 1320 Chancellor Street] September 8-10, 2017; fringearts.com/event/scattershot/
Asya Zlatina and Dancers
It’s hard to evocatively describe dance in a Festival blurb or precis; there will be many great dance shows this year, but it’s difficult to know which based on description alone. But Phindie can vouch for Asya Zlatina’s STORM because we were lucky enough to sit in on a rehearsal for the emotion-capturing piece based upon and performed to Gustav Holtz’s Planet Suite. We saw a warlike, varied Mars, or “Cruelty”; there will also be “sadness” and “joy”, among seven dances. Zlatina performed for many years with Koresh Dance, and her work shows some of the energetic grace of Roni’s best work with a natural feminine playfulness he lacks. She continues to showcase her 2016 choreographic debut, Barry, and STORM should prove a worthy follow-up.
[Performance Garage, 1515 Brandywine Street] September 14-17, 2017; fringearts.com/event/storm
Whether a part of the curated or independent Fringe, shows by Brian Sanders’ JUNK are a mainstay of the Philadelphia Fringe Festival. Their intensely physical, athletic, and sexual performances keep audiences returning year after year. This year, the company changes things up with an “immersive, site-specific production”. The audience joins them on a walk along the Grays Ferry Crescent Trail, encountering dance and surprises. It’s a welcome change of pace from the company, and it’ll be interesting to see how their dominating choreography adapts to the urban wilds.
[Grays Ferry Crescent Trail] September 7-17, 2017; fringearts.com/event/strand
Sam Tower & Ensemble
Sam Tower retains the creative advantages of ensemble-based play writing—unexpected inventiveness, physical awareness, engaged performers, and the horizontal development of dialog, movement, sound, set, and costume—but ensures that her projects enjoy a narrative coherence and editorial oversight sometimes lacking in such work. With Strange Tenants, she returns to the Hitchcockian milieu of 2015’s captivating 901 Nowhere Street for a sinister “dance theater psycho thriller” adventure.
[Power Plant Productions Basement, 233 Bread Street] September 7-17, 2017; fringearts.com/event/strange-tenants/
These Terrible Things
University of Arts/The Berserker Residents
The Fringeyest of Fringe stalwarts, Berserker Residents mentors UArts students in a production of Lord Ham Hillerston’s classic thriller Cracker and Shiv, a landmark piece of Victorian crime theater. No, wait… that’s bullshit: they are making the whole thing up, and it promises to embroil helpless college students in an enterprise as zany and unmissable as the Berserkers’ previous Fringe offerings. Part screwball, part farce, part improvised insults, their I Fucking Dare You (2016), It’s So Learning (2015), The Talkback (2013), and The Giant Squid (2008) were high-points of previous Philadelphia Fringe Festivals. If anyone knows how to make the most of student over-acting it’s the Berserkers. It’s a pretty safe bet These Terrible Things will continue the run.
[Caplan Studio Theater, 221 S. Broad Street] September 14-23, 2017; fringearts.com/event/these-terrible-things