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    New York Fringe Festival 2000

    Fest cheap and out of control

    The fourth annual Fringe Festival brings together the brilliant and bizarre in independent theater, including some of the best plays you'll see in New York all year for a bargain price — you just have to figure out which ones those are.


    One of the best plays of the year is playing this week and it'll only cost you 12 bucks to see it.

    More than 150 plays in 25 locations.

    Related links: Official site
    Fringe Festival 2000

    • Fringe overview
    • Angry Little People
    • Charlie Victor Romeo
    • Compensation
    • Finally
    • The Monument
    • Thankless Jobs of the Apocalypse
    • Verbatim
    • Woman in the Animal Kingdom

    • Fringe 2001
    • Fringe 2001 listings
    I can't tell you which one it is.

    Actually, if past history is any guide, quite a few shows at the fourth annual Fringe Festival, the late-August downtown showcase of the brilliant and bizarre, will rank among the city's best theater. But I don't know which ones, and neither does anyone else — yet. Your mission is to check out the schedule, take your best guess, pay a few bucks at the door, and, for better or worse, have a little New York adventure.

    Fortunately, I have a few tips to offer you on how to find the best stuff in downtown theater. But first, here's how not to pick a show.

    Last year, a reviewer for one well-known paper figured, hey, Fringe equals outrageous and outrageous equals sex and sex equals genitalia — ergo, the best shows are the ones with genitalia in the title. He went, and he was miserable. Why? Because this logic holds up only if you're about eight years old. Do the words "trying too hard" mean anything to you?

    For the post-pubescent, we're going to need a little more nuance.

    There's just one little three-letter word you need to remember to pick a good show, and that word is: coy. When a play's title and description assault you with outrageous wackiness, run. But if the title flirts a little, or if the plot seems to hold a little secret that it will yield up to you when you get to know it better, then let yourself be seduced.

    Compared to the last two years, this year's entries are fairly hard to read, however. The two titles that have me intrigued are "Why Mudflaps?" and "Thankless Jobs of the Apocalypse."

    Besides these, there are a number of shows that may turn out to be original and inspired. Three that that catch my eye are: "I Am Star Trek," the (no doubt) fanciful life of Gene Roddenberry; "Dave Mowers: Mother of the Bride," about a man's struggle to become the model stepmother; and "Woman in the Animal Kingdom" about a visually impaired sculptor looking for love.

    Besides these, an interesting trend in this year's festival seems to be the based-on-reality play, some likely inspired by the documentary theater concept of Anna Deavere Smith. Among the half-dozen shows in this category:

    "Asleep at the Wheel": Want to sleep with a different person every night? Want to live for 10,000 years? For one, shining moment you possess the Power of a God: what would you do? Find out what America said. Interviews and slides from"out there."

    "Verbatim": Every word in "Verbatim" comes directly from interviews with convicted murderers, their families and the victims families. From the transcripts emerged an hour long solo show presenting six people contemplating the how and why in the aftermath of this homicide.

    "Compensation: A Liturgy of Fact": Explores the aftermath of the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster as witnessed by the survivors. This emotional documentary drama has never been performed outside of Russia. Part elegy and part avante-garde theatre, it is a riveting story told in a fascinating way.

    And, oh yes, a slight correction. Actually I can tell you one of the shows that's guaranteed to be among the most unusual and brilliant plays of the year, because it's already had several phenomenally successful runs over the past year. Click the link below for our review:

    "Charlie Victor Romeo": CVR is a dramatic work for the stage derived entirely from the "black box" cockpit voice recorder transcripts of six major airline emergencies. A live theatrical documentary where the audience becomes observers to the tension filled cockpit of real in-flight emergencies.

    Check back for more reviews as the festival continues, and take a chance on the unknown yourself.

    AUGUST 15, 2000

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