Fringeworthy

Today’s Fringenda: These Go to Eleven Edition

"Blue Moon / Red River" is at Atlas at 7:45 p.m. (Andrew Bossi)

"Blue Moon / Red River" is at Atlas Performing Arts Center tonight at 7:45 p.m. (Andrew Bossi)

The last weekend of the ninth Capital Fringe is upon us. No time for chitchat; let's get to our 11 recommendations. We were just gonna do 10, but there're a lot of good options on tonight and sometimes you just need that extra push over the cliff.

Refresh: Stories of Love, Sex, and the Internet (Caos on F, 6 p.m.) — Solo performer Matthew Schott is "vulnerable and fearless in sharing failures, perversions, and the self-disgust that threatens to consume him," wrote veteran critic (and amateur crimefighter) Joseph Price of this look back at the lawless Thunderdome that was the Clinton-era Internet.

Lucretia Borgia: A Play (Atlas: Sprenger, 6 p.m.) — "Combining dance, shadowplay, a dash of slapstick and just a hint of narrative order, Lucretia Borgia offers an impressionistic meditation on female identity," observed rookie agent Joshua Buursma.

Ben & Lucille (Atlas: Lab II, 8 p.m.) — Even cynical-beyond-her-years rookie agent Eva Harder fell, er, hard for this two-hander about a long distance relationship, written by and featuring Elan Zafir. (He recently appeared in another, edgier two-hander about a troubled relationship, Signature Theatre's production of Tender Napalm.) Agent Harder praised the play's plot, dialogue, and especially Zafir's performance, saying he made her forget he's playing a role. Acting!

Medea's Got Some Issues (Warehouse, 8 p.m.)  "Even if infanticide isn’t your go-to joke well, the play is uproariously funny because the acid-tongued Medea (Lisa Hodsoll) is both painfully self-aware and a ghastly example of cognitive dissonance," senior agent Rachel Kurzius opined.

TAME. (Gearbox, 8:15 p.m.) — It's The Taming of the Shrew as reimagined — by our own beloved rookie agent Jonelle Walker – in Lake Charles, Louisiana circa 1960. Read more Today’s Fringenda: These Go to Eleven Edition

Hip Shot: The Fever

Pat O'Brien performs "Underneath the Lintel" in the 2013 Capital Fringe. (Paul Gillis)

Pat O'Brien performs "Underneath the Lintel" in the 2013 Capital Fringe. His show this year is "The Fever." (Paul Gillis)

Goethe Institut – Main Stage

Remaining Performances:

Thursday, July 24, 10 p.m.

Friday, July 25, 6 p.m.

They Say: An affluent traveler to a poor country is leveled by a nightmarish but enlightening fever that will challenge the consciences of the most liberal of theatre-goers. Was Marx right? Featuring Pat O'Brien from last year's Fringe hit, Underneath the Lintel.

Chris' Take: Pat O'Brien's solo performance of Glen Berger's play Under the Lintel was one of the most satisfying entires in last year's Capital Fringe. For his follow-up, he's chosen a far more daunting and less pleasurable piece of material, a play that's really more of a sermon, even when delivered by an actor with a manner as warm an convivial as O'Brien's.

Or Wallace Shawn's. Shawn, a prolific actor and playwright who will probably go to his grave being remembered as the guy who kept shouting "Inconceivable!" in The Princess Bride, started workshopping this lecture about the intrinsic value of objects and the fundamental economic injustice of our world for private audiences around 1990. By the time of his Acorn Theatre production in 2007, he was inviting the audience to arrive half an hour early and sip champagne with him onstage. But as the noted drama critic Admiral Ackbar once observed, "It's a trap!" Once the show proper began, the audience was subject to a matter-of-fact explanation of how their first-world lifestyles steal bread from other peoples' mouths.

The story, such as it is, is that of an unnamed traveler from a unnamed prosperous country visiting an unnamed poor one that's been wracked by civil war. Afflicted by a debilitating fever in his roach-infested hotel room, he suffers a dark night of the soul that boils away the protective membrane of hypocrisy that allows him to ignore the nagging of his conscience when he passes beggars on the street.

Read more Hip Shot: The Fever

Hip Shot: The 27 Club

Warehouse                                                               sixteen

Remaining performances:

Thursday, July 24 at 5:45 p.m.

Saturday, July 26 at 10:30 p.m.

They Say: Jimi. Janis. Kurt. Jim. Brian. Amy. Infamous musicians who all died at the age of 27. Join us on a rock 'n' roll journey that explores their epic lives and devastating downfalls.

Rachel M.'s Take: The 27 Club focuses on six members of the doomed eponymous club of rock stars who all died at 27 from complications of rockstardom. So when six singers with handheld mics come out in front of the three-piece band at the top of the show, I started puzzling out which one was Janis and which one was Amy, and if I would even recognize a Brian Jones impression, and whose hair was most trying to be Jim Morrison's. I never decoded who was who.

It's the smartest thing The 27 Club does, and it's very smart: nobody is doing a Kurt Cobain impression, trying to look or speak or sing or gesture like him. We're never quite asked to buy that one of these performers IS Jimi. Instead, the vocalists sing the famous songs in their own voices, doing their own rockstar things, and Jimi is whoever's wearing the headscarf right now, and whoever wears the flower and the accent is Amy Winehouse. It's much more interesting than six impersonations, and plays to everyone's strengths. After all, no matter how hard they rock, nobody in the house is going to forget who sings "Foxy Lady."

Read more Hip Shot: The 27 Club

Today’s Fringenda: Wings Over America Edition

"Isis & Vesco Investigate the Curious Death of Dr. Freud" (Darian Glover)

"Isis & Vesco Investigate the Curious Death of Dr. Freud" (Darian Glover)

Five Capital Fringe shows happening tonight that the agents of our Action News & Commentary Squad have vetted and certified... Fringeworthy! Go.

I Füçkèd Your Country (Goethe Institut: Mainstage, 6:30 p.m.) — Veteran agent Rachel Manteuffel, rookie agent Jonelle Walker, and I all agreed: Sex writer Twanna A. Hines' "#SexEd for adults" lecture is informative (even if you think you already know how to unwrap, apply, employ, and then safely dispose of a condom) and amusing, though we'd hoped she would tell a few more stories illustrating how sexual mores and attitudes vary around the world. When Twanna joined Jonelle and me on The FringeCasting Couch, she promised to do just that. You'll have lots of opportunities to win condoms, cock rings, paperback erotica, and other prizes, but try not to be the person who wins a vibrator because your phone goes off during the show. Read more Today’s Fringenda: Wings Over America Edition

Hip Shot: Empress of the Moon: The Lives of Aphra Behn

Sprenger – Atlas Performing Arts Center

Remaining Performances:
Wednesday, July 23 at 8:45 p.m.
Friday, July 25 at 9:15 p.m.

They Say: “Aphra Behn the British playwright! History tells us precious little – was she truly a spy? How many men did she kill? What was she doing in Surinam? At last, herein find the answers – as unlikely as they are extraordinary!”

Derek's Take: Awaken, Philistines! Empress of the Moon... wishes to acquaint with the derring-do of Aphra Behn (pronounced BAIN), Restoration England's first professional female author, poet, and playwright, and occasionally, a spy. History salutes her for her pioneering feminist wit as well as her contributions to the narrative style that would become, in the 18th century, the novel.

But what is this, some boring lecture about English lit? Writer Chris Braak and the gang at Forearmed Productions say hell no in their uneven but spirited show, which plumbs Behn's murky backstory and fabulist prose to argue for her inclusion in the literary firmament. It's a tale bubbling with intrigue, ribaldry, and switcheroos – one can imagine Littlefinger pulling the strings in far-off Westeros – but for all its verve in enacting Behn's mysteries, the production feels like a disjointed clip reel devoid of meaningful stakes.

The play opens with its all-female cast striding onstage in satiny gowns, the thump of their bare heels guiding us to Surinam, where Astrea (Colleen Hughes), Behn's clandestine alter ego, is sent to woo the colonial governor. The action unfolds on parallel tracks: there's Astrea, in the past, sparring with her would-be suitor – the boozy, condescending Lord Willoughby – while the narrator (Laura McWater) comments from the wings. As a device, this two-track storytelling mostly works. It shows how Behn (as the narrator) in later years tweaked or invented whole entire segments of her life. But did she really fall for the doomed African prince-turned-slave called Oroonoko? How will this affect her mission? Even Braak's characters can't be sure, as the narrator occasionally intervenes to clarify events, advance the story, or deliver a deft bon mot. Read more Hip Shot: Empress of the Moon: The Lives of Aphra Behn

Today’s Fringenda: A Cowardly and Superstitious Lot of Recommendations Edition

"A Fire in Water" (Zack Kronisch)

"A Fire in Water" (image © 2014 Zack Kronisch photography)

Happy Batman Day! Fringeworthy née Fringe and Purge alumnus Glen Weldon's Bat-book The Caped Crusade: The Rise of Batman and the Triumph of Nerd Culture won't be out until next year, but maybe you can celebrate by going to see The Adventures of Tapman at Atlas tonight at 7:30.

Our redoubtable Camila Domonoske reports it's a good time, never more than when tap-dancing superhero Tristan Burns "gives up on the feeble pretense of narrative altogether, and just dances." Because that's exactly what I thought after I finished reading Detective Comics No. 587, my first Batman comic, in the summer of 1988. "Pretty exciting; I love the noir atmosphere and suspense, but I wish it had more tap dancing."

Mercifully, my tastes have evolved by (tiny) leaps and (modest) bounds since then. We're celebrating Batman Day, or maybe just the high incidence of quality in this year's Capital Fringe — the ninth — by recommending nine shows you can take in this very evening.

Tapman is one. Here're the others.

The Old Man Never Let It Go (Atlas: Lab II, 6 p.m.) — A wordless 30-minute adaptation of Ernest Hemingway's Pulitzer-winning novella The Old Man and the Sea sounds like a tall order. But tireless Fringeworthy review-scheduler Caroline Jones says that hearing-impaired performer Hector J. Reynoso, a veteran of the speech-abjuring Synetic Theatre Company, is up to the job. As she puts it, "the spirit of the story, of one man triumphing against seemingly insurmountable odds remains, thanks to Reynoso and his impressive array of expressions."

W3 (Warehouse, 6 p.m.) — Macbeth reimagined as an ecological cautionary tale? Joshua Buursma decrees that it works. "Eloquent but maddeningly elliptical one moment, grounded in outright slapstick the next, W3 is never boring," he writes, "even when it’s testing our patience." Read more Today’s Fringenda: A Cowardly and Superstitious Lot of Recommendations Edition

Hip Shot: The Adventures of Tapman

tapmanLab II — Atlas Performing Arts Center

Remaining Performances:
Wednesday, July 23, at 7:30 p.m.
Friday, July 25, at 6:15 p.m.
Saturday, July 26, at 4:00 p.m.
Sunday, July 27, at 4:30 p.m.

They say: A lovelorn scientist consumes a secret formula to transform into his crime-fighting alter ego, Tapman, the world's most daring tap dance superhero!

Camila's take: He's a scientist, the kind who does… uh, science! He gets super-powered dance skills from… a giant syringe! He uses his fancy footwork to fight crime, which makes sense, because, um… whoa, look at him go!

Hey, it's exactly the kind of plausibility you'll find in your average super-powered crimefighter's origin story. Besides, in this kid-friendly tap-dancing extravaganza, the story is emphatically not the point.

The supervillains just present a theme to riff on, and the dialogue's only there to throw in a few laughs. The show is episodic, with blackouts separating vast leaps through time, space and storyline;  when audio issues drowned out some of the voiceover, nobody on opening night seemed to mind. Towards the end, even Tapman gives up on the feeble pretense of narrative altogether, and he just dances.

Read more Hip Shot: The Adventures of Tapman

Today’s Fringenda: That’s Are You Not Entertained!!?-ment Edition

Tournament-Robb

Robb Hunter in "The Tournament" (© 2014 Paul Gillis Photography)

As of today, Day Whatever This is Is of Capital Fringe, Part the Ninth, the somewhat-trained, highly motivated agents of the Fringeworthy Action News and Commentary Squad have reviewed 70 of this year's Fringe shows, or roughly 55 percent. Add to that the shows we've previewed or discussed on the FringeCasting Couch, and that number climbs to around sixty. Which leaves a lot of known unknowns! Too many, if you're the actuarial sort.

We can't shield you from all risk, but we can offer some assurances. Here're a half-dozen shows playing today that our operatives have thoroughly vetted and can certify as... Fringeworthy. Or we can for five of them, anyway.

Call Steve Guttenberg (Fort Fringe: The Shop, 6 p.m.) — Okay, this is not an endorsement so much as it is a reminder there's a show in the festival this year with Steve Guttenberg in its name, one I'd intended to review but couldn't because the simultaneous D.J. set in the Gypsy Tent made the Saturday night performance I attended effectively inaudible, as Alex Dahms noted in his unenthusiastic DC Theatre Scene review. (The D.J. set, featuring FORMA, Nitemoves, and Protect-U was excellent.) What I was able to discern seemed pretty thin, though, something about three young filmmakers/housemates who are hired to shoot a car commercial at their own expense (?) and steal some kind of precious stone from a girl who may actually be a supernatural being to help them do it. The scattered references to the writings of  H.P. Lovecraft feel like an afterthought, but again, it was impossible to hear most of the dialogue. Hey, remember when we were all obsessed with True Detective for a few weeks last winter? DC Metro Theater Arts only gave Steve Guttenberg four stars, so you have to wonder what went wrong. Anyway. Here it is!

The Tournament (Atlas: Sprenger, 7 p.m.) — This is an endorsement. Live Action Theatre's hilarious follow-up to The Continuing Adventures of John Blade, Super Spy sends up headband-wearing 80s fight flicks like Bloodsport and, uh, Kickboxer, but the jokes — so many jokes — in Kyle Encinas' whip-smart script don't require any prior immersion in this sort of thing. And the stage fights are truly impressive; athletic and bracing but also communicating discovery, pathos, and humor as the story requires. Here, listen to this crew talk about it on The FringeCasting Couch. Read more Today’s Fringenda: That’s Are You Not Entertained!!?-ment Edition

Hip Shot: Bethesda

BethesdaGallery – Goethe Institut

Remaining Performances:

Tuesday, July 22 at 8:00 p.m.

Wednesday, July 23 at 6:00 p.m.

Saturday, July 26 at 2:30 p.m.

They say: Disgraced American diplomat Barry returns to DC, but soon discovers his past haunts his wife and kids. When his son runs away and his daughter is caught cheating, wife Joy changes the course of the family forever.

Greg’s Take: For whatever reason I’ve always had a soft spot for plays where affluent people stay at home and yell at each other for several hours. There’s a special type of voyeuristic glee that comes from taking a wall out of someone’s dining room and watching them tear each other to bits that’s just hard to find anywhere else. The root cause of this fascination is unclear, but I’m pretty sure that living in Arlington until I was eighteen played a large part. Hence my delight when I thumbed through the Fringe catalog earlier this month and found Bethesda, a beltway drama centered on a sublimely miserable family of four, in which the title city gamely plays the role of suburban purgatory.

Bethesda is a member of that increasingly rare species at Fringe: a straightforward drama with no movement pieces or multi-media intrusions or odd surrealist elements where one of the characters turns out to be a puppet or an alien or something by the end. It’s a good thing then, without any of those bells and whistles to prop it up, that the writing and the acting are very, very good. The blurb will tell you that Bethesda is about a disgraced diplomat who tries, with varying degrees of effort, to get his life back together. It isn’t wrong, but the dour dramatic wording of the promo material doesn’t do  justice to the cast or to director and playwright Jennie Berman Eng, who manages to squeeze humor, poignancy and tenderness out of the horrible circumstances she's ginned up for her characters. Read more Hip Shot: Bethesda

Hip Shot: Lucretia Borgia: A Play

Lucretia-BorgiaSpenger – Atlas Performing Arts Center

Remaining Performances:

Tuesday, July 22 at 9:00 p.m.

Friday, July 25 at 6:00 p.m.

Sunday, July 27 at 4:15 p.m.

They say: Woman moves through expectation and disappointment. Created with Gertrude Stein's text, this play is filled with shadow and intrigue. Can romance exist when a girl is oppressed? Watch her hope, play and fight for her heart in a patriarchal society.

Joshua’s Take: Don’t let the specter of Gertrude Stein’s obtuse, avant-garde compositions deter you from seeing Small Batch Theatre Company’s Lucretia Borgia: A Play. While this production does rather loosely adapt an unclassifiable “play” from the godmother of American expat artists, it’s Stein the feminist icon, not Stein the formal experimentalist, whose spirit animates this performance. Combining dance, shadowplay, a dash of slapstick and just a hint of narrative order, Lucretia Borgia offers an impressionistic meditation on female identity. And if even that sounds too academic or metatheatrical for your tastes, be assured that whatever self-conscious gestures there are here are either playful or quickly fade into the background.

Lucretia Borgia is clearly preoccupied with names and labels, beginning with how the play manipulates the most basic titling conventions of theater. We are sometimes told that Lucretia Borgia is “A Play,” other times “An Opera,” the start of “Act I” and “Part II” are signaled and re-signaled nonsensically, and the abstract, poetic dialogue consistently ruminates on what Lucretia’s other names might be or might have been. Such neat categories, of course, are leaden with potentially stifling expectations, and it’s these expectations that the production’s three Lucretias (Katharine Ariyan, Elizabeth Scollan, and Sadie Angel Lockhart) are wrestling with. The semi-historical Lucrezia Borgia Stein drew on (and Victor Hugo before her, as well as many other artists) is the product of legend and gossip, a sexually predatory black widow assisting her notorious family in its pursuit of power. But here, the drama is purely physical and psychological. There’s talk of a “twin” that may or may not be killed, which hints at self-destruction, and the only male presence is a booming offstage voice that interrupts and reprimands the women. Read more Hip Shot: Lucretia Borgia: A Play

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