Eight years into the Capital Fringe Festival’s DIY incursion into D.C. theater, we’ve more or less got a handle on what “Fringe” means. (Not “featuring nudity,” although that notion is oddly persistent.) The word signals to theatergoers that more will be required of them than in a year-round, professional playhouse—not just a greater tolerance for heat, hard chairs, lousy acoustics, and long bathroom lines, though these remain signifiers of the commitment of the audience that the festival has cultivated, and steadily grown, since 2006.
But a more relaxed set of aesthetic standards? Not so much these days. The 126 productions on offer this year—well, the 19 I saw—seemed to possess an even greater breadth of imagination and higher level of professionalism in presentation than the slate at past Capital Fringes.
But at Fringe, those two attributes—inspiration and craft—seem to coexist in a state of perpetual tension. Genius and polish are often mutually exclusive. This year, a rising tide of both seemed to lift all, but inspiration had the advantage. It was heartening to witness, and it left me feeling sunny about the health of the performing community in D.C. and beyond.
The shows I responded to most this year were the ones that seemed to me to reach highest, and occasionally beyond their grasp. But so what? Biting off only what you can chew is for, well, professionals.
Once again, the lineup seemed somewhat resistant to categorization beyond the official festival guide’s basic demarcators: Comedy! Dance! Drama! Like animals boarding an ark, the shows came in pairs: two monologues by veterans dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder, two solo shows about performers’ troubled sexual histories, two funny compilations of scenes of violence and death from various Shakespeare plays. (And that’s in addition to two discrete productions of Romeo and Juliet.)