A BSR Philly Fringe Guide: Ill-advised theatergoing

Avi Borouchoff enters Gunnar Montana's 'KINK HAÜS.' (Photo by Neal Santos.)

Of course, part of the charm of the Fringe is never knowing quite what you’re getting into — a heartfelt, memorable, one-of-a-kind experience, or something to confirm the notion that for some artists, a festival platform that's easily and cheaply accessible to the public will always be a terrible idea. The Philly Fringe has a history of making me uncomfortable. But perusing the catalog for the shows that may be truly ill-advised for the audience is one of my favorite annual rituals.

It’s perfectly natural

Hypnotist Frank Perri says hypnotism is “a completely natural mental process we experience each day” when we “space out” or indulge in a daydream. But his website’s demo video suggests otherwise, showing apparently hypnotized people rolling on the floor or publicly convulsed with flagrantly awful dance moves. Perri’s Fringe show, Mesmerized ($19), coming to Warehouse on Watts (923-929 North Watts Street) on select dates September 7 through 17, promises “a profoundly hilarious event where you and your friends could be the stars of the show!”

He calls his “comedy hypnosis show” an “awesome ride together” that is simply a temporary, guided change in perception. If you go, you’ll just have to trust him.

It’s personal

Anything with puppets, especially if it’s meant for grownups, automatically gets flagged as a risky proposition for me (though there have been notable exceptions, like PuppeTyranny’s 2011 Fringe epic Water Bears in Space). Ubu Faust, from Broderick Jones with Leila and Pantea Productions, is coming to the Drake (302 S. Hicks Street) September 20 through 23. This “puppet comedy,” an “exploration of a most grotesque and unlikeable man” out to satisfy his hungers, is drawn from the plays of Alfred Jarry, with echoes of Faust and the Punch and Judy tradition.

Be warned that it contains “boorish villainy, laughable special effects, gratuitous wordplay, and puppet sexuality,” as well as three pieces of audience participation that are “relatively painless.”

Are they, though? Admission is only $8, if you want to find out.

I am willing to admit that trepidation over randy, villainous puppets is entirely my own preference, as is my fear of Booth Triptych: Parts I and II, from Gatto+Hirano. It’s frighteningly easy to participate in the return of the “Four Minute Booth,” which will be free and ongoing on September 11, 15, and 16 from 8 to 11pm and available for walk-ins. “Experience a beautifully simple and personal connection with a stranger,” Booth Triptych promises, with a four-minute-long epoch of “silent mutual gaze.”

Stare into a stranger’s eyes for longer than it takes me to order a pizza over the phone? No thanks.

Part II of the project is “a private space to send a personal message into outer space via high-powered radio waves.” Don’t know what’s more concerning — the casual reference to other sentient life that's interested in us, or what aliens would think of our planet if they got even a glimpse of contemporary American society. But it’s all happening at the FringeArts Hass Biergarten, 140 N. Columbus Boulevard.

It’s there wherever you go

This year’s festival even lets you make potentially bad decisions without having to leave home. The Fren Banklin Experience, courtesy of Fren Banklin, “the NOTORIOUSLY UNRELIABLE cousin of Ben Franklin,” will come to your house or apartment on dates throughout the festival (you can reserve here) and, for 25 minutes, “regale you with the fascinating stories buried beneath your floorboards!” This costs $17. Whether Banklin somehow knows more about your house than you do or he’s just coming over and telling you a pack of lies is unknown.

For Gunnar Montana’s sixth Fringe production, you have to leave home to encounter a bunch of stuff you might prefer to experience in the bedroom, if at all.  KINK HAÜS ($35) is “NOT for the faint of heart” and will capture “the dark, wild and powerful sexual journey inside us all.”

Montana says he’s excited to welcome audiences to this “brutal underground nightclub,” where everyone will be challenged to “honestly examine their own desires,” because sex is all around us, even though most of us probably don’t understand our own erotic behavior. KINK HAÜS will “take a deeper look at the things that make us vulnerable, so that we can celebrate the things that make us powerful sexual beings.” It might be okay for me to “leave [my] inhibitions at home” (with Fren Banklin?), but do I want everyone else in the audience to do it, too?

It’s running September 5 through 24 at the Latvian Society (531 N. 7th Street). I'll be there.

It’s all going to end

Finally, I’m not convinced that Dante Green’s An Incomplete List of All the Things I’m Going to Miss When the World Is No Longer is a good idea, either. It’s billed as “the last sh*t show of the year, to revel in the deaths, divorces, deception, and the miserable isolation of life.” Somebody has to say it — haven’t we all been through enough in 2017 in the United States of America? Is it a good idea to prod our collective fragile psyches any further? “There will be drugs.” Well, okay. An Incomplete List is coming to Gershman Hall at 401 S. Broad Street, September 8 through 10. 

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