The Fringe is back!   Imagine San Diego as a mecca for the performing arts and you’ve imagined the Fringe Festival.  Fringe Festivals have been established throughout the world to give artists the opportunity to showcase their works and performances without being “screened” by those who deign to know what the public wants.   It’s democracy in the arts and it visits San Diego for two weeks each year.  The 2017 version of San Diego’s Fringe Festival is one of the larger ones in the world; more than a 100 registered artists performing over 11 days and even across the international border — making it the first binational Fringe Festival in the world. This year also brings artists from New Zealand, Australia, Canada, Mexico, Ireland, Wales, England, Italy and Japan, as well as from around the United States. Most importantly, it is extremely low cost;  from $10 to free. It’s a can’t- miss opportunity for anyone who enjoys the performing arts and its going on from June 22nd to July 2nd in San Diego.   We’ve attended many of the plays (and scooped up the word of mouth from other attendees) so that you can catch the great “gotta see” pieces and some of the also-rans.

Gotta See

To Fall in Love With Anyone, Do This –  A married couple struggles to overcome a personal tragedy.  The clever and expertly written script authored by California-based playwright, novelist, and teaching artist Jennifer Lane is supported by two heartfelt performances. Winner of the Tennessee Williams prize in New Orleans, it makes its second debut here in San Diego.  One of the highlights of this year’s Fringe.

Allergic to Love –  One hour of original songs that could have been written 30-40 years ago, but with a sense of humor and goofiness that the Beatles displayed almost 50 years ago.  If you needed proof that Kiwis can rock, this show is it. It is an engaging group, headed by Tom Knowles,  that clearly connected with its audience. No drama, no worries. However, this show is not for people with sensitive ears.

Eleanor’s Story: An American Girl in Hitler’s Germany –  Another powerful one-woman play about a decidedly un-iconic, unknown woman who, when she was nine, moved from the U.S. to Germany….just days before the outbreak of World War II.   Eleanor’s story is a real one, portrayed by her granddaughter Ingrid Garner  who wrote and performs this adaptation of her grandmother’s award-winning autobiography.  This isn’t another Holocaust play, but is an insightful, beautifully acted piece that will move you and enlighten you. Theater rarely gets this good.

Incandescent – a dance/acrobatics/circus performance by the Lighthouse Circus Theater.  They describe themselves as a group of San Diego-based artists who strive to create those inspiring moments and they thoroughly succeed in this show.  After their acclaimed show at last year’s Fringe, they return to the Fringe this year with the intent to highlight the adversity and difficulties of living with mental illness.  While the troupe members perform body-contorting anti-gravity stunts and steps, the audience struggled mightily to keep their jaws from repeatedly dropping on the floor.  A standing ovation at the conclusion was an indicator of how this group of artists succeeded in their mission.  We aren’t alone in our enthusiasm for this piece; check out Janice Steinberg’s review.   And if you like this show, you may want to check out Specific Gravity, by the Circus Collective of San Diego.   Echoes of Gallows Hill is similar to the other two shows, but not quite as impressive.  Six women performers perform a solo scene where they perform on aerial ropes, hoops, trapeze and silks. Symbolically, their pieces represent persecution, prejudice, jealousy, grief, sexism, religious intolerance, loss, boredom and mental illness.  But it doesn’t quite pack the emotional impact of the other two cirque shows.

Red Flags – A highly interactive experience in which you find yourself on a first date with Emma, who has clearly has a bad day and, possibly, an equally bad streak of love.  In this case, you actually experience the date.  It meets at Fifth Ave & G St. and costs $20.  Emma is a fully fleshed-out character who reveals herself during your conversation.   This is a genre of drama that may become increasing popular in the emerging virtual reality world.  Get a quick taste of it today.  Note:  This show will likely sell out so get tickets ASAP.

Please Take a Seat – An absolutely delightful play about a hard charging, uber-confident attorney (the exact kind that we all loathe)  who we come to like and even care for as she is thrown off her game face by life’s unhittable curveballs. The play is deftly written to provide uncommon sense, lots of laughs but enough dramatic tension to make you feel for each of the characters and the very strong message underlying the play. Beautifully done and well-acted. An unexpected Fringe treat.

6 Quick Dick Tricks – Magicial Tim Motley takes his magic show on the road to San Diego.  The setup:  he’s a time-traveling 1930’s tough-talking detective who finds himself in the 2000-teens, doing tricks that were probably the rage in the 1940s.  Perhaps no so much in the present day.  But the derivative nature of his illusions is buffed with a good sense of comic timing, some fun improvisation and more-than-needed bad puns.  There was lots of applause, a healthy dose of laughter and hefty amount of intended groans during the 1-hour performance.   There’s no doubt that you’ll have a good time, even though you may have seen many (if not most) of the same tricks in other magic shows.

Leash Your Potential – a very entertaining and nicely written monologue that would have been delivered by Dilbert, if Dilbert existed. Fortunately Ryan Gunther is a capable Dilbert substitute, sharing his insights into the inane and often head-scratching world of corporate politics. If you work in an office, have any interest in working in an office, or once upon a time had the misfortune to work in a corporate office, then you probably need to see the show. Or, if you’ve never worked in corporate America but  just want some belly laughs, the show is worth its admission.

Big Kitchen –  Wow!  What joy!  What energy! What a lovely message!  What surprisingly good music!  What heartfelt and funny performances!   What a gorgeous piece of work is San Diego’s own Judy “the Beauty on Duty” Forman!   The show ended with a well-earned standing ovation.   This is a crowd-pleaser that should not be missed by anyone who likes musicals and wants to be reminded about how San Diego’s special niche on this planet.

Flight –  Garnered an excellent review by Pam Kragen.  The story, a simple family-friendly one, is about a miniature prince (actually a princess, but she prefers the former title over the latter) who travels in a bubble across seven islands in search of a true friend. Kragen found it to be full of gee-whiz athletic surprises but also a funny, sweet tale about love, loss, friendship and embracing the wonders of childhood imagination.

Lifegate – Beautifully acted and heartfelt monologue about the history of an American immigrant from Italy.  Writer, director and actress Giorgia Mazzucato’s acting is close to flawless.  She weaves together the adventures of three different characters who seem to have nothing in common yet contains an unexpected twist that will lead us to get all life’s feelings.  This is drama at its best.
Sparrow – Like Lifegate,  Sparrow is Kylie Maree’s one-woman show, which reflects on loneliness, disability, and gender. She portrays an Australian outback woman named Mollie who, unpredictably, was a nurse and writer, famously collaborating with the great author, D.H. Lawrence on a novel.  It asks the all-important question of “what would you want to be remembered for”.  The answer is sobering but rings true. Adapted from the autobiography of Mollie Skinner,  it reveals a colonial woman grappling with her place, her role, her gender, her sexuality, and her mind that resonates with the present as much as the past.  It can be grim and depressing, yet at its core, it is inspiring.

Also Ran

Nice Is Not What We Do – So what do you do with someone who shows one public face and an entirely different private face.  Kathleen Denny challenges the audience to work through this dilemma as she takes you behind the public facade and presents her father’s private face.  She had a close but difficult relationship with this very challenging man who advocated for everyone except his family.  It’s a dark, but humorous, story that will resonate with anyone who has had to reconcile the light and dark aspects of any family.   Denny has taken this story on a tour of many Fringe Festivals and the result is a nicely honed and beautifully acted monologue.   It may not be easy, but family never is.

The Banza –  If you have a burning yen for a horror, comedic musical, then The Banza may be for you.   But the show teeters on a bad Twilight Zone episode, as some college types confront a monster haunting their college dorm.  It’s a musical — which is never an easy task — and the plot is campish.   It’s still a work in progress.

Adolescence 2.0 – Anyone who says stand-up comedy isn’t hard certainly knows nothing about stand-up comedy.  Dixie Mills is an engaging woman with an easy manner and an infectious laugh. Her show is less of a monologue than a stand-up set.   As the latter, it’s good, not great. Stand-up routines take a long time to hone and this routine needs some kinks worked out.  Her topics are promising: body image, dating, good and bad relationships, heavy emphasis upon sex and motivations for change.   The women in the audience definitely seemed to be receptive to Dixie’s observations.   Overtime, her routine can get sharper but, for now, its edgy without the required number of comic edges.

Scientist Turned Comedian – A local comedian waxes elegant about how science and life interact. For the audience that seeks out intelligent humor.

Night and Day – Joe Jackson’s acclaimed album serves as the backing to a story about a rockstar who “steps out”.  The production is still working out the challenges of mixing vocals to a rock band, but the dancing is fun and the actors work hard.  Not ready for prime time but should be there soon.
The Rejected Witness –  An excerpt of Charles Dickens’ Bleak House is recited by Edwin Eigner.  He’s clearly an experienced actor with some Shakespearean training, so he can competently handle the complex monologue.  If you love Dickens and want a live book reading experience, you may enjoy this.  If you aren’t a true Dickens fan, this monologue might be akin to watching paint dry.   Be forewarned.
Will – A 50 minute depthless re-enactment of the twisted personal life of playwright William Shakespeare. The writing is in The Bard’s tongue but, alas, has none of its depth, wit or drama. The play is produced by what appears to be a high school acting group.. They all try gamely, but there age and inexperienced is insurmountable. For great lovers of Shakespeare’s history, but not his artistry.
Sleep*over: the musical.  Full disclosure: I’m not a fan of musicals. Fuller disclosure: good musicals are really hard to pull off.  This 30-minute production is about a battle of wills between two female twentysomethings. If you fall into this demographic and love musicals, then you might find something here that suits you. If you don’t fall into both categories, then you might want to take a pass.  The music is fine, if forgettable. The performance of the two female leads is fine, if not memorable.  As best we can tell, the production is the product of high school students who are honing their skills.  Great for them……not quite as great for the audience.
Magic to the Future – A bumpy multimedia show involving Tim, a hapless time-travelling magician.  Tim has taken a set of tricks that you’ll likely see at any children’s magic show and gussied it up with a Back to the Future subplot.  It makes for an entertaining, and occasionally cringe-inducing 50 minutes. You are relieved that the show finally ends, yet can’t help but appreciate Tim’s fantastical yarn.
Fulcrum –   Some reviewers have enjoyed this piece written and directed by 18-year-old Phillip Magin.

Take a Pass

I’ve Seen Enough –  10 minutes into this rambling, incoherent monologue, the title of this piece rang frightening true.   Rob Elk is an experienced actor and songwriter who has the requisite skills but he’s missing the story or script to hold an audience’s attention.   This piece needs serious honing in order to properly display this actor’s talent.   San Diego Story had a slightly different take on this show.

Monsters from the Id-  A successful monologue requires two things: a competent presenter and a compelling story. Jacob Hatch is a capable monologuer. Alas, his material is a 55- minute rant that rarely ever hit the mark…..or the supportive audience’s funnybone.  The tour through Jacob’s monstrous id was scary in all of the wrong ways and just not very interesting. It takes courage to expose your inner demons to the public; it takes work to make these demons interesting, rather than pathetic. Consider this piece a work-in-progress.