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The Fringe Festival, like so many Philadelphia traditions (Mummers, anyone?) is difficult to describe. It’s a performing arts festival, sure, but that also really undersells it. Once you go to enough Fringe performances, you begin to understand when something feels “Fringey”—eventually, as with pornography, you’ll at least know it when you see it. And Die-Cast’s 2022 Fringe Festival production of Baal & Dix is definitely it.
You had me at “Brecht”
I’ll admit it, Baal & Dix seemed almost made for me: an immersive, interactive work that explores both modernist playwright Bertolt Brecht and Otto Dix, one of the “degenerate” artists Hitler so reviled, staged in the backroom of a German-style beer hall that happens to be walking distance from my house. Sign me up!
But I’ve been burned before: there have been plenty of Fringe shows in the past that seemed like they’d be my platonic ideal performance and then only disappointed. So it was with cautious optimism that I walked into South Street’s Brauhaus Schmitz this week. To my immense relief, Baal & Dix was everything I wanted a Fringe show to be. It is engaging without being gimmicky, intellectual without being inaccessible, respectful without being reverent. And at a runtime of just under an hour, it’s short enough to prevent overwhelming its audience with its Fringiness.
Choose your players
Immersive theater pieces can be staged in many ways. Sometimes, they bring the audience into the action. Sometimes, they involve weaving through the performance space or interacting with objects or people onstage. Sometimes, as in Baal & Dix, they ask the audience to make a choice: which performer do you want to follow?
Although there are moments in Baal & Dix that see the five cast members (Ross Beschler, Colleen Corcoran, Anthony Crosby, Jarod Hanson, and Rachel O’Hanlon Rodriguez) performing together—sometimes with a sixth cast member (Han Van Sciver), via projection—much of the production involves one, two, or three actors breaking off to perform separate scenes or tell different stories. Audience members are encouraged to follow the action as they wish.
You can choose to sit in one place for the full hour, to follow one specific actor, to walk away from one scene in medias res in favor of another, or even to go back into the main room of Brauhaus Schmitz to order another beer. Each choice is worthwhile, and there’s also no way to see everything that happens. I returned for a second night so that I could take in more scenes and there were still things I missed. (For example, I don’t know what the lone sausage on a table in the corner of the room, later moved to the center of the room with a bite taken out of it, was even there for.)
My best advice is to follow the performers who beckon you to the bathroom at the back of the room—trust me. But there are no wrong answers in this theatrical choose-your-own-adventure.
What, When, Where
Baal & Dix. Created by Die-Cast. Conceived by Brenna Geffers. $20. Through September 12, 2022 at Brauhaus Schmitz, 718 South Street, Philadelphia. (215) 413-1318 or fringearts.com.
Baal & Dix is performed in the back room of Brauhaus Schmitz, which is a fully accessible venue. The audience is asked to move around throughout the performance. Closed captions are not available on the video projections featured throughout the performance.
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