Mark Cofta’s Philly Fringe picks: Theater classics, reimagined

The resistible rise of who? DBAD Productions has a new take on Brecht for 2017.

While we usually associate the Philadelphia Fringe Festival with adventurous new works, each Fringe stages theatrical and literary classics in new adaptations and interpretations that fit the festival's pedigree of challenging typical approaches, styles, and expectations.

Sometimes, it's a matter of producing a classic in a fresh setting. The Philadelphia Artists' Collective returns to the sea — where it produced Fringe 2013's hit The Sea Plays on the tall ship Gazela — with Dan Hodge directing the enduring Euripides tragedy Iphigenia at Aulis, set on the USS Olympia, docked at Penn's Landing.


William Shakespeare's plays have always been Fringe favorites, though often not in typical or traditional productions. New company Die-Cast, created by director Brenna Geffers and designer Thom Weaver, premieres an interpretation of the seldom-produced epic Pericles, featuring Keith Conallen in the title role. Revolution Shakespeare presents another rarity, Cymbeline, with just seven actors outdoors in Hawthorne Park.

Shows based on Shakespeare's works include Curio Theatre Company's I, Peaseblossom, a solo play reconsidering A Midsummer Night's Dream through the eyes of a neglected fairy played by Brian McCann, which is appropriately presented outdoors. Lone Brick Theatre Company's Every Day APOCALYPSE! imagines a theater company cursed with a new end-of-the-world scenario each day while producing Hamlet.

More masters, reimagined

The Idiopathic Ridiculopathy Consortium's annual Fringe production, always a treat, is the absurdist Eugene Ionesco comedy classic The Bald Soprano, at the Bethany Mission Gallery. The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui, from DBAD Productions, sets Bertolt Brecht's drama about fascism's rise not in 1933 Germany but present-day America and outdoors, at the Historic Shambles at Headhouse Square. Shows reviving other venerable playwrights include Athol Fugard's Statements After an Arrest Under the Immorality Act, by Blue Mercury Theatre, and Svaha Theatre Collective's (Miss) Julie, a physical, ensemble-driven adaptation of August Strindberg's seminal 1888 work, outdoors at Bainbridge Green.

Literary adaptations include Harrison Stengle's remix of F. Scott Fitzgerald's revered The Great Gatsby, set in 2025 Philadelphia in a modernist parody titled GATZ. Leila and Pantea Productions stages Jeffrey Hatcher's adaptation of Henry James's spooky 1898 ghost story The Turn of the Screw. Joshua D. Simpson and Ethan Abrams's It Takes One is a solo show reimagining Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine's musical Into the Woods, itself a collection of reenvisioned classic fairy tales.

Great literature and drama can even be explored through improvisation. PHIT Comedy creates an original dramatic one-act play at each performance of Elysian Fields, based on the works of Tennessee Williams (The Glass Menagerie, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, A Streetcar Named Desire). Williams's soulful, tortured characters provide rich inspiration for each night's all-new work. 

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