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Fringe Fest Preview: Drink from the Firehose

About two weeks after I first started covering theater for the Buzz in 2018, I leapt deeply into the Fringe. I wrote my first Fringe preview. Five years later, the shows are different but the advice in that article still stands.

I have been girding myself for the Fringe because a) I’m actually participating this year, with Inappropriate! and b) I feel obligated to see lots of shows and write lots of reviews. Both of those, despite being unquestionably fun, are also time-consuming with a side of stressful.

The Fringe Festival was and remains a firehose of comedy and tragedy—and puppets. Building itself back up in this post-pandemic era, there are fewer shows, but still way too many to see them all (about 300).

Consider this your unofficial Fringe Festival guide. I’ve been attending a series of “office hours” at Fringe venues and meeting the playwrights, producers and stars (often those roles are held by a single person) of dozens of Fringe shows. Some, I have to admit, sound dreadful but could still be worth a look. And some will most definitely be hilarious and/or thought-provoking and go on to bigger and better places.

But which are which? Watch this space for reviews, starting after Fringe’s June 1 opening date. In the meantime, here’s a dousing from the firehose.

Keep in mind, these are low-budget shows. Probably a third are solo shows. All are produced under time constraints, with minimal sets, because the venues have to be turned over to make room for the next show’s start time—often there’s as little as 15 minutes between the audience filing out of one show and the curtain going up on the next.

Here are some I feel safe in recommending:

Getting There!: Cancer survivor Rebecca O’Brien re-enacts her miraculously healing encounters with strangers as she rode the bus with her little service dog Stella to and from her treatments at Cedars-Sinai.

Palmares: A Brazilian musical featuring martial arts (Capoeira), Afro-Brazilian folkloric dance, religion (Candomblé), drumming and singing. The story of a 1675 a power struggle between Brazil’s mightiest freemen colony and Portuguese slavers.

Sister from Another Planet: I was a judge in a competition launched in memory of playwright Cailin Harrison that selected this play for Fringe funding. In it, Nancy Beverly recounts her childhood questions, which became her lifelong journey of self-discovery, with a little help from spirit guides and Shirley MacLaine.

Attack of the 36 Triple G Woman: “Dark Dolly Parton” Natalie Perlin travels back in time to seek revenge on every man who has wronged her, from summer-camp crushes to Hitler. She’s hilarious and puts it all out there.

The Box: A planned proposal takes a dark turn, becoming a deep dive into the realities of a romance, as exposed by the potential bride-to-be’s father. Patrick Hamilton’s relationship story asks what it means to be a man or woman in today’s world.

As for the aforementioned puppets, two shows use them for some childhood time travel:

  • Birds and the Curiosity: Adult Zhigeng talks to 9-year-old Zhigeng
  • Cross My Heart: A comedy by Hannah Aslesen explores “the lies we tell ourselves to cope with the shame and disappointment of living a life disingenuous.”

And there are other shows with puppets at Fringe: Runaway Rue is one of the few targeting kids. There are clowns (Uninvisible and The Month-Long Ham Festival, to name just two). There’s magic (Soirées Fantastique – An Hour of Victorian Enchantment).

Mostly, though, Fringe is about finding oneself:

A surprising number of Fringe shows draw on the classics and other favorites, all subscribing to the dictum “Make it your own.” There’s:

There are (mostly) solo shows of famous people: Sinatra, Dorothy Parker, Jackie O, Edgar Allen Poe, Joni Mitchell and more, like Chris Grace: As Scarlett Johansson.

Popular culture old and new is on display in two Little Orphan Annie-inspired shows (Annie Is Fancy and Grown Up Orphan Annie) and a pair inspired by Ted Lasso (The Movement You Needed and Five Years in Amsterdam).

Here’s a sampling of some of the more intriguing and befuddling Fringe 2023 titles:

It wouldn’t be Fringe without descriptions like these:

  • A kindergarten teacher by day and pole dancer by night who struggles with anorexia and with the burden of having an overly compassionate heart (Cupcake with Blue Frosting)
  • What if Christ returned and we all missed it? (Down to Earth)

…or meet-cutes like these:

You can choose from dozens of original musicals and cabaret shows, including:

Oh, and if you’re a nudist, pack a towel and head to Disrobed, where the audience and the cast strip down for the duration. (Shoes and masks are OK; no cell phones.)

I know, it’s a lot. And I mentioned fewer than a third of the shows! Feel free to explore more. You can browse the options here. Pick one, pick five. Just don’t let the 2023 Fringe Festival pass you by. There’s truly nothing like seeing it for yourself.

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Laura Foti Cohen
Laura Foti Cohen
Laura Foti Cohen has lived in the Brookside neighborhood since 1993. She works as a freelance writer, editor and consultant. She's also a playwright affiliated with Theatre West.

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