Tattoos, periods, Ouija boards, and more: Philly Fringe 2019 editor’s picks

5 minute read

“So what are you seeing this year?” Whether it’s genuine interest, Fringe FOMO, or mere polite conversation when dealing with a local arts devotee, it’s the sound of August and September for Philly theater lovers. Here are a few of my picks.

Friends in the Fringe

I’m going to catch the N Crowd’s Noir AF: An Improvised Film Noir ($15), running September 6 through 21 at the Adrienne. These improvisations will break the 1950s crime drama mold with noir in “surprising settings,” promising “music, drama, danger, sci-fi, romance, and uncontrollable laughter.”

And full disclosure, I’m not heading to the N Crowd (performing since 2005, or practically a century in Philly improv crew terms) just because of the agile minds who can do more than work up entertaining scenes on the spot. The games the troupe layers into its performances will keep your brain buzzing while you laugh. And take note, readers: our own executive director Neil Bardhan, an inveterate performer, will appear in shows on September 6, 13, and 14.

Also in the Fringe improv orbit at the Adrienne is ¡Que Ridículo! ($15), from ¿Qué?, a sharp improv troupe of Spanish-speakers…“except for one white dude” (BSR contributor Christina Anthony is a member of the crew). I first saw ¿Qué? perform at the monthly variety show it hosts at Good Good Comedy Theatre, ¿Cómo Se Dice…?. As a non-Spanish speaker, I enjoyed the show a lot, and it helped inspire me to start learning Spanish in earnest. ¡Que Ridículo!, running September 18 through 21, is “constructed through the lens of the immigrant experience.”

Tattooed—or not

I’m realizing my list is improv-heavy this year as we head to INK ($18), from Tongue & Groove Spontaneous Theater. Philly knows T&G for improv that spans comedy and pathos, and its new show, running at CSz (ComedySportz) at the Adrienne September 6 through 21, is inspired by tattoos.

The artists are quick to add that the show isn’t only for folks with tattoos—it’s for anyone carrying around something so important to you that it’s “etched in your heart.” So when you get to the show, you’ll be invited to fill out an anonymous card telling the artists something about your literal or figurative tattoo, and these prompts will inspire the performers’ hour-long improv montage. If you want, you can also have your tattoo photographed, and a portion of the show will be inspired by projected images of the ink.

“The content of the show will not focus on tattoos, but rather on what the tattoos represent,” says T&G founder Bobbi Block, be it a person, place, concept, or feeling. Come 30 minutes before showtime and get a temporary tattoo, and chat with local tattoo artists on hand with info and discounts for show-goers. T&G hopes folks without tattoos will be intrigued, Block says, and that folks with tattoos who may not have attended theater or improv before might find their way in the door for the first time.

'our ouija board'' is another bold, queer, terrifying, hilarious show from ON THE ROCKS. (Photo courtesy of ON THE ROCKS)
'our ouija board'' is another bold, queer, terrifying, hilarious show from ON THE ROCKS. (Photo courtesy of ON THE ROCKS)

Finding your experiences—or not

A new adaptation of Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper (pay what you wish, $10-$20 suggested), from Valerie Flower and Katherine Reid, is also on my list. Stripping the Yellow Wallpaper runs September 12 through 14 at the First Unitarian Church of Philadelphia. The 1892 story, a harrowing semi-autobiographical narrative of a woman whose doctor husband confines her in an attic for the “rest cure,” has terrorized me since college. Battling the American healthcare system as a woman with a mental illness over the ensuing 15 years has done nothing to mute the story’s hold on me.

Fringe is also a great time to find accessible narratives about identities beyond your own, and I’m interested in Harrison Scantling’s Harrison ($15), which, wow, is also happening at the Adrienne. It runs September 11 through 14, and it’s an autobiographical one-man show in which the playwright/performer “shares the story of his transition from female to male, chronicling his journey from childhood to adulthood.”

More in line with my own experience, I’m curious about Period House ($13). It’s from a new group of diverse theater-makers dubbed the Ragtime Players, who “coagulated” this summer to produce Period House for the Fringe. The show, one of the recipients of an inaugural FestiFund microgrant, is co-written by a pair of Philly High School for the Creative and Performing Arts creative writing grads. It runs September 7 through 22 at Ridge Avenue’s Inspire Art Space. It’s billed as a “luxury hotel and spa exclusively for ladies at that time of the month.”

What the Fringe?

Finally, in the spirit of Kyle V. Hiller’s boundary-stretching What the Fringe round-up (don’t miss it), we come to this year’s offering from ON THE ROCKS: our ouija board, the games we played, the shit we conjured, & the dead dude we hate-fucked ($20). ON THE ROCKS creators Elaina Di Monaco and Haygen-Brice Walker were on the BSR radar earlier this year as coauthors of an open letter to Philadelphia Theatre Company regarding gender and racial inclusion in its season programming. (Walker and Di Monaco said this letter cost them some funding for their theater company.)

our ouija board promises yearbooks, Satan, YA fiction, sexual perversions, high-school reunions, dog attacks, Christianity, celebrity ghost hunters, and a lot more I can’t pretend to understand, but I’m going to check it out. It runs September 15 through 22 at Asian Arts Initiative.

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