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Posted at 12:46 PM ET, 07/11/2008

Fringe Must-Sees

By Stephanie Merry

"Dorks on the Loose: It I Awkward" is just one possible winner at this year's Fringe Festival. (Delusions of Spandex)

The Capital Fringe Festival kicked off yesterday, and I celebrated by hitting up "Dorks on the Loose: It I Awkward." I chose the show based solely upon the silliness of its name, and I think it partially lived up to the awkward part.

This 45-minute play was made up of sketch comedy, in which two women continually changed characters in order to escape the dork police. Some of the sketches were hilarious, especially when the girls became catty newscasters on an Oxygen-like network, or when they transformed into roommates who quarreled because one was messy and the other was a vampire. Others fell flat -- two hipsters at the Met hitting on girls was especially, well, awkward. When I laughed, I laughed hard, but when I stopped laughing, it was usually to groan.

But I guess that's the beauty of Fringe. You never know when you're going to hit upon a gem. So I decided to take a deep dive into the awe-inspiring schedule to increase my odds of finding a winner. Based on past performances or talented participants, here's a brief rundown of my newly revised list of top picks:

• "Chocolate Jesus," a collection of true first-person narratives about religion and identity, is back after a sold-out run during last year's festival.

• Molotov Theatre Group's "For Boston" was well-received in 2007, and this year the group presents "The Sticking Place," which promises "if we don't disgust you, it's not for lack of trying."

• In the dance realm, the Word Dance Theater's "Revolutionary: Isadora Duncan's Word, Music and Dance" brings the icon of iconoclasm back to life.

• Speaking of icons, "Iconicity" sounds promising. Presented by Eleventh Hour Ensemble, including Jennifer Crooks who worked on last year's well-received "Love & War," this experimental mix of ensemble work and improv explores why certain images have such an impact on us.

• There was a lot of buzz surrounding Laura Zam and her one-woman play "Collaterally Damaged" during the 2007 festival, and this year she's performing "How I Got Rich in a Year, Using that Secret."

• A lot of people loved "The Neon Man and Me" last year and the writer-actor, Slash Coleman, returns with the seemingly less serious (if the title is any indication) "Slash Coleman has Big Matzo Balls," about growing up Jewish in small-town Virginia.

• Peter Coy, a Helen Hayes Award winner, brings us "Poe and All the Jazz," which explores the tortured life, visions and poetry of Edgar Allen Poe.

Of course, this is a very abridged list. There are so many more plays that sound promising, so let me know in the comments what you saw and liked or what you're hoping to catch over the next couple of weeks.

--Stephanie

By Stephanie Merry  | July 11, 2008; 12:46 PM ET
Categories:  Theater  
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is anything free? what about spontaneous street theatre?

Posted by: free | July 11, 2008 11:18 PM | Report abuse

I saw "Revenge of the Cat-Headed Baby" last night. It's speakeasy DC's (of "Chocolate Jesus" fame) new offering this year. It was great. Lighter than "Chocolate Jesus" but just as polished.

Posted by: Barbara | July 12, 2008 10:34 AM | Report abuse

Oh, my God, Wiener Sausage The Musical!!!!!!!

Posted by: John | July 13, 2008 1:40 PM | Report abuse

I just Molotov Theatre's "The Sticking Place," which I think is a reference to Macbeth. The subject matter is pretty weird, and it's true that they pull out all the stops to be offensive. Surprisingly, despite all that, it's a solid comedy with some good acting. I saw "For Boston" last year, and this is a strong follow-up effort.

Posted by: Russell | July 14, 2008 1:21 PM | Report abuse

I went to see this piece based on the recommendations from the Fringe aficionados who said "Poe and All that Jazz" promised to be one of the 'must see" Fringe offerings.

And fulfill that promise it does!

Helen Hayes Award winning playwright, Peter Coy, also directs this production from his Hamner Theater in Nellysford, VA-outside of Charlottesville. His craft, blending what must have been intricate research is clear.

Can art be considered without context? Poe asks and answers this question stating that 'it matter's not the condition of the poet', but Mr. Coy's work sensitively proves otherwise.

Two remarkable young actors flesh out the tortured life, art and psyche of Edgar A. Poe. The production features a masterful jazz combo and unconventional direction to weave 90 minutes of clowning theatrics, psychological drama, dry humor, jazz standards, and raw sexuality.

It is a dream? Is it hell? Is it his life passing before his eyes? Who cares! It is fantastic!

Jon Cobb, as Poe, embodies the iconic poet and successfully illuminates the development of Poe's personal life's effect on his artistic work. The mental and physical gymnastics of this role and his execution of this task is top drawer.

His portrayal is so authentically human and clearly links Poe's loss of his parents as fundamental to the development of his character and the art work he produced. Heroically, Mr. Cobb bypasses the obvious trap to merely represent Poe as a Vincent Price-ish ghoul. Any fan of the poet will be thrilled as Mr. Cobb leaves you thinking...and laughing...an even maybe a little misty about the permeable boundary between the man and his art.

Patti Finn seems to effortlessly navigate an endless array of women from his life and work. She is captivating and skillful in a uniquely demanding role-a role to which she is so well suited I have to wonder if it was written for her! Ms. Finn manages eight fully realized characters--sometimes shifting from one to another within a breath, or with as little as a turn of a head or a gesture of the hand.

As if that is not enough, Ms. Finn, as Eliza, Poe's mother who apparently was a well-known actress back in the day, also tears up the stage as a torch singer, knocking out a host of jazz standards that are intricated into the action. A old-school jazz duo, Bob Bennetta, piano and Jim Meyer, double bass, really bring to life this unusual, yet wierdly logical musical connection between Poe and jazz.

No matter how you think you feel about Poe, you will find this work identifies the untold influences on his work, uniquely explores the psychology of attachment/loss and illuminates the enduring work of a tortured genius.

I think it absolutely lives up to the buzz. It is at once delightfully funny, poignant, shocking, and macabre.

It is clearly, a must-see of the Festival.

Posted by: Julie Bonner | July 14, 2008 7:49 PM | Report abuse

Love the comment re:Poe & All That Jazz at the Sidney Harman, just have to point out that it features Jon Cobb & Patti Finn with pianist Bob Bennetta and bassist Jim Ryan (not Meyer).

Thanks!

Posted by: N Mulrine | July 15, 2008 7:40 AM | Report abuse

Poe and All that Jazz!! You must see it.

Posted by: Susan | July 15, 2008 11:24 AM | Report abuse

Yes, most definitely, go see Chocolate Jesus! I saw it last Friday andI absolutely loved it!

Posted by: Dan | July 15, 2008 1:50 PM | Report abuse

Fool for a Client was great! Whitney will make you laugh. Goethe seems to get the best of the fringe each year.

Posted by: Manisha | July 15, 2008 5:16 PM | Report abuse

Diamond Dead blew the roof off the place last Saturday! It was the most fun i've ever had at a fringe show; the crowd was super into it, too.

It's like a metal version of the Donkey Show or Tony and Tina's Wedding.

Plus, the band is so professional, you'd swear they were real, instead of the re-animated zombies they are. Diamond Dead is the fringe show of the decade!

Posted by: Chet | July 17, 2008 12:16 AM | Report abuse

A truly remarkable performance all around. I am by no means a Poe aficionado however this script really entertains. I found myself having to go home and read up on some Poe to clarify the excellently blurred lines of Poe's life, letters and writings but it was well worth it. The highlight of the show was definitely the synthesis of Poe's poetry and jazz classic. The alternating poetic lines with timed musical lines was masterfully handled by Bennetta & Ryan which is by no means an easy feat.

Both performers managed to translate every emotion of Poe's life/stories without the often obvious transitional character gaps found in stage theater. Both performed amazingly the eerie, witty, love-torn, nuances needed to pull off such a unique piece.

Bennetta and Ryan's touch and depth of musical talent added tremendously to the overall experience. Quite obviously the performance hinged on the succesful integration of music into the whole and their sensitively adept performance was sublime - Never overbearing always enhancing.

note* Unfortunately for any performers in the venue of the Harman Center Forum room, your are most likely to be forced to listen to the only slightly muted sounds of the neighboring amateur opera. Its sad that this brand new (and otherwise wonderful facility) was not able to appropriately deal with acoustics between performance rooms.

Posted by: Marvin | July 21, 2008 10:32 AM | Report abuse

In all the fuss about one person shows, it's a shame no one else is talking about "A Report of Gunfire," a play about a newsman in Iraq. It's not a screed, it's not even particularly political, it's just human. And humane. It's even funny at times. The actor, Dan Crane, does a wonderful job with what could have been a difficult script.

It's easily one of the best shows I've seen here this month. They still have two performances left this week. You should check them out.

I also enjoyed "Children of Medea" and what is admittedly a more Fringe-friendly show, "7x1 Samurai," hands down the most enjoyable show so far.

Posted by: John B. | July 21, 2008 2:12 PM | Report abuse

Hey chet glad you dug The Diamond Dead. Im so proud of the landless crew for what they done with Richard and I,s little musical. Wish I could have seen it again at the festival But with Richard in London and me in colorado Its hard. Got to say that every performance of DD Ive seen they just rock it harder and harder. Thanks again . Brian Cooper (creator of the Diamond Dead)

Posted by: Brian Cooper | July 29, 2008 4:07 AM | Report abuse

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