The San Francisco Fringe Festival, second oldest in the United States, is a full-blown teenager this year and intends, by the look of its sneak preview, to act its age. Sixteen candles equal roughly 500 performances from 100 acts reliably ranging all over the place from an ex-Christian throwing down (Jesus Rant) to a two-woman portrait of transgressing poet Anne Sexton (Her Kind) to a new musical ("RM3") set inside a Southern Congressional campaign that incorporates songs by Ben Folds. Whatever else there is to be found along the way, the following should be well worth checking out:
Perennial Fringe favorite Banana Bag and Bodice flows into town with The Sewers, an earlier version of which proved a highlight of FoolsFURY's Fury Factory showcase of new work a couple of seasons back. From the people who, in 2004, brought you the delicious Sandwich comes this fine, funny, and poetically deranged underground morsel of mordancy, love, and more mordancy. It's since had a successful off-off- run in New York and for its SF bow will park just off the usual Fringe track at the Garage. Totally worth the trip.
The latest from San Francisco worthies RIPE Theater (Best of Fringe winners 2002, and Best Ensemble 2006) is And Billions More, which finally posits the ever-popular apocalypse with some down-to-earth realism: after all, it will most likely come to you via execrable 24-hour news coverage (to wit: "Earth in Crisis: Black Hole of Death"), it will probably not much move your stoner roommate, and it will be simply impossible to dress for which is just to say, it will probably be really lame. The hysterical sages at RIPE know, even if Tim LaHay doesn't, everybody's working for the weak end.
Terry Tate's Shopping as a Spiritual Path sounds like it works a rather tired joke in Christian consumerdom and, judging by the excerpt at the Fringe preview show, it amounts to little more than a stand-up routine. But what grace it has on sale! Whatever she may have been before life threw her for a serious loop, Tate's near-fatal brush with cancer has left her very witty as well as wise to life's better bargains.
Surviving Harvard is the life-and-debt theme of low-key wag Kurt Bodden's class act, Class Notes, in which the sweaty, thumbed pages of his alumni magazine provide all the material this underachieving graduate needs to meet with ivy-league success in comedy futures (as an alumni mag might put it). And on the subject of surviving schools, few testimonials outmatch Steven Karwoski's Adventures of a Substitute Teacher, amusingly self-effacing notes from the edge of special ed. One wonders what kind of sub Stevie Lee Saxon's Korean Badass would make. He certainly lives up to his billing on stage, in a spunky stereotype-chopping solo show presented by Asian American Theater Company. (Robert Avila)
SAN FRANCISCO FRINGE FESTIVAL