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Philly On the Fringe: All the city's a stage for this huge annual performance festival.

By Toby Zinman
For The Inquirer

"Life is short, art long, opportunity fleeting, experience treacherous, judgment difficult."

Hippocrates, though he probably never had to write a Live Arts Festival/Philly Fringe preview piece back in the fifth century B.C., sure knew what was what.

So, since life is indeed short and the Fringe is fleeting - and knowing full well that some of last year's shows turned out to be rubbish ("experience treacherous") but taking a chance on instinct, buzz and information ("judgment difficult") - I offer the following festival recommendations. May some of them prove that art is long.

The high-flyers

Live Arts - the part of the festival whose two dozen or so shows are invited or commissioned - is very international this year: In a number of productions, major names in the avant-garde from all over the world have teamed with local artists.

Some of these shows are already booked for world tours. Some are premieres. Some are, like Jersey peaches, tasty local produce. Some sound intriguing, or nasty, or just plain weird. My wouldn't-miss-it list:

Disco Descending Karen Getz's sequel to her raved-about Suburban Love Songs (2006) assembles a local cast of faves for a comic dance/drama about suburban fortysomethings who try to resurrect a dead friend through the power of a disco ball. Or something like that.

The European Lesson Norwegian director/choreographer Jo Stromgren casts local favorites (among them Aaron Cromie, Jeb Kreager) in what promises to be a hilarious and pointed comment on international culture, with fake languages, funny accents, and all kinds of travel tips.

Flesh and Blood and Fish and Fowl Geoff Sobelle and Charlotte Ford create a collection of grim fairy tales about taxidermied rats in an illusion- and rhyme-filled spectacle.

The Melting Bridge Thaddeus Phillips of Lucidity Suitcase Intercontinental concludes his Americas Trilogy (previously: E!Conquistador!, Flamingo/Winnebago). Weighty questions (what is the future of life on Earth?) combined with Mexican wrestling. Likely to be Phillips' signature combo of the jokey and the intellectual, with nifty theatrics.

Oedipus at FDR Going the old joke of Chekhov-on-ice one better, Emmanuelle Delpech-Ramey's version of Sophocles' ancient Greek tragedy, Oedipus at Colonus, will be performed on skateboards in that most urban of amphitheatres, FDR Park.

Sea of Birds Sebastienne Mundheim's elegant puppets enact - with dancers - childhood memories and fantastical characters.

Store The Japanese/Austrian team of Matsune & Subal takes over a storefront where you can buy a dramatic scene, a joke, whatever, selecting from "over 60 performance products." Once you pay, they perform. The issue here is, obviously, the relationship between art and commerce.

Sweet By-and-By Pig Iron Theatre Company and Sweden's Teater Slava team up on this biohootenanny about Joe Hill, a Swedish immigrant, union organizer and songwriter. Dito van Reigersberg stars.

Under the radar

If you don't think you can get to all of the Philly Fringe free-for-all's 170-plus offerings, here are a handful that look promising:

A Priest Walks Into a Bar Vagabond Acting Troupe's process play with an irresistible premise: The bartender says, "What is this, some kind of joke?"

Ballad Boys A new play with music by Alex Bechtel about two brothers and the songs they write.

In Conflict Temple Theaters' play - already reviewed and admired - is based on interviews with veterans of the Iraq war. It will move to New York with its student cast, having just won a top honor at the Edinburgh Fringe.

Kid Simple: A Radio Play in the Flesh A child prodigy invents a machine that can hear the unhearable. Azuka Theatre's production features an original live Foley sound design.

Pushkin at Boldino The 19th-century Russian writer is quarantined in Boldino, cranking out stories despite aggro with the czar, his dangerously flirty wife, and all the people his creative mind invents.

The Hoppers Hit the Road Although the group is called Philly Improv Theater, this show by the Hopper Brothers (self-described as "Glenside's most lovable home-schooled sibling folk duo") is scripted and the promise is comedy and music.

The Maguffin New York's Stone Soup presents a political satire about gay marriage.

Vampire Lesbians of Sodom Charles Busch's camped-up love story bites again.

Waiting for the Ship From Delos: The Last Days of Socrates A new play that wonders whether Socrates set himself up for a death sentence. CSI: Athens.

Woyzeck EgoPo presents Buchner's famous premodern/postmodern play about a soldier crushed between every rock and every hard place: the cruel military, ridiculous medical experiments, an unfaithful wife and his own wrecked psyche.

 

-Taken from The Philadelphia Inquirer (August 29, 2008)

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