Body Cavities, Toby Zinman and FringeArts French Fries

What people are saying about the 2014 Philly Fringe.

The 2014 Philadelphia Fringe Festival kicked off this past weekend, and, wow, what a weekend it was. Here’s what everybody is talking about.

Christeene: The Best Kind of Fringe

At times, people like to complain that the Fringe isn’t “fringe” enough, but Saturday night’s 11:30pm performance of The Christeene Machine at the FringeArts venue on the waterfront should squelch any such rumblings.

Twenty-four hours after Philadelphia drag performer Martha Graham Cracker took the FringeArts stage on Friday night in a Marie Antoinette getup and with a string quartet from the Philadelphia Orchestra (full disclosure: I am a member of Martha Graham Cracker’s band), any hint of decorum and good-taste was scrubbed out when Austin-based drag demon Christeene emerged from backstage with a quartet of white helium balloons trailing behind her, attached to her body via a device inserted into her anus.

Yes, you read that right.


Christeene | Photo by Clayton A. Sweeney Jr., Media Fine Imaging, LTD

You can probably guess what happened next. But in case not, I’ll tell you: She removed the device from inside of her body and pushed the balloons (and the device) out to an audience member. The effect would have only been better (and by better, I mean absolutely terrifying ) if there were enough balloons to actually float the whole thing over the audience for the show, with the balloons slowly — and horrifically — losing their lift throughout the performance.

Christeene, who just returned from the world-renown Edinburgh Fringe, has been described as “Beyonce on bath salts” and a mix of Hedwig and Alice Cooper, but really, the show is much smarter than that.

There’s plenty of shock value, yes, including non-simulated fellatio performed within feet of the audience and the spewing of bodily fluids, but there’s also a message here about preconceptions, human connectedness, and of finding your inner freak and letting it free, and Christeene preaches it masterfully, whipping the crowd into a frenzy as if she were a Baptist minister at a revival, but one who could also easily be the serial killer in Silence of the Lambs.

The performance was unsettling and twisted but oddly beautiful. The best kind of fringe. Unfortunately, it was one-night only.

Toby Hates the Pig Iron Show

Two years ago, Inquirer theater critic Toby Zinman labeled Pig Iron Theatre Company’s Fringe Festival offering Zero Cost House as a “trifecta” of “boring, pretentious and arrogant.” Oh, and it was also “rubbish.”

This year, she wasn’t much happier with the company, calling their 99 Breakups at PAFA a “waste.” She also pulled out another trifecta: “disappointing, self-indulgent and thoroughly fatuous.” Not just fatuous, but thoroughly fatuous.

Of course, Zinman also called Geoff Sobelle‘s 2013 Fringe Festival hit The Object Lesson “merely a tedious exercise in narcissism.” That show just took the top prize in Edinburgh, as reported by the New York Times. I tried to get a word with her on Friday night at a VIP reception at FringeArts, but she was too busy complaining about the lack of food.

Meanwhile, the Pig Iron run is completely sold out.

One show Zinman didn’t hate: The Rape of Lucrece at Broad Street Ministry. She writes that it is “not to be missed.”

The FringeArts Venue Is Fantastic

It’s hard for me to imagine a space in Philadelphia having more young and smart people in it on Friday and Saturday night than did FringeArts, festival founder Nick Stuccio’s inspiring dream at Columbus Boulevard and Race Street.

La Peg at FringeArts | Photo by Kevin Monko

La Peg at FringeArts | Photo by Kevin Monko

Several hundred festivalgoers were spread throughout the 240-seat theater, the outdoor plaza/beer garden, and La Peg, the bar and restaurant inside from Bistrot La Minette’s Peter Woolsey. Folks were eating La Peg’s French fries like they were some new form of crack.

The crowd included a who’s who of the Philadelphia theater scene as well as folks like restaurateur and Feastival co-host Audrey Claire Taichman and philanthropist and investment guru Richard Vague.

I’ve heard more than a few people complain that FringeArts is too “nice.” But that’s hogwash. It is exactly what was needed.

And if there’s nothing happening over at FringeArts that interests you on a given night, don’t forget about the unofficial festival Late Nite Cabaret at Underground Arts, which has been tearing it up as well.

On Tap for This Week

Unlike most years, there is not one particular FringeArts show that everyone is talking about. Not sure why that is. But people do seem to be excited about Two Street99 BreakupsSafe Space, the Castellucci piece, Body LautrecThe Adults, Found Theater Company’s Deep Blue Sleep, and the one-actor White Rabbit Red Rabbit, which Philadelphia native David Morse debuted this weekend. The actor changes with each performance, and I’m excited to see actress Jennifer Kidwell take it on this Thursday.
We’ll see you out there.