Fringe Benefits

Annually since 1997, the New York International Fringe Festival has brought thousands of artists from all over the world to small venues in downtown Manhattan. Not only has the Fest celebrated the breadth and scope of playmaking beyond Broadway, but it transformed summers from a dormant time of waiting for producers to return from the Hamptons to an opportunity to catch more theater in a weekend than some folks see in a lifetime.

Although the Fringe Fest provides a haven for the low-budget, experimental and downright weird, the event has also served as a launch pad for shows that went on to various levels of commercial success, such as Debbie Does Dallas (the musical, that is), the brilliantly conceived Charlie Victor Romeo and, of course, that unlikely but well-deserved Broadway hit, Urinetown.

As ever, this year’s offerings (Aug. 12-28) run the gamut from solo performances, conceived mainly to show off the actors’ facility at playing many characters, to comedies that one can only hope are as bizarre as their descriptions, such as this blurb for Karen Smith Vastola’s Buried Words: “A flying girdle. A knife. A crucifixion. The evening before their mother’s funeral, two sisters pack up her house and unpack the past…”

Still, for sheer fun, nothing beats skimming the index of shows at, and finding title after title conceived (usually intentionally) to drop the jaw and punch the funnybone. For example, Fringe 2011 is scheduled to feature such shows as:

All Atheists are Muslim
Anna & the Annadroids: Memoirs of a Robot Girl
Bette Davis ain’t for Sissies
Casanova was a Woman
Cow Play (“an award-winning play about love, loss and cows”)
Em O’Loughlin was a BIG FATTY BOOMBAH!
The Fucking World According to Molly
Flaccid Penis Seeks Vaginal Dryness
Goldilocks and the Three Polar Bears
How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Lost My Virginity
I Light Up My Life: The Mark Sam Celebrity Autobiography
I Might Be Edgar Allan Poe
Jeffrey Dahmer Live
Jersey Shoresical: A Frickin’ Rock Opera
Love in a Tub
Mama Juggs
Moshe Feldstein, Icon of Self-Realization
You Only Shoot the Ones You Love
Zombie Wedding

Perhaps these aren’t for everybody, but if you’ve ever fretted that local summer theater has little more to offer than revivals of Annie and The Odd Couple, it may be time to make a friend of the Fringe.