KC Fringe fills stages with the new, the funny, the zany

07/16/2014 7:00 AM

07/16/2014 2:58 PM

Ready or not, KC Fringe is back.

The annual polyglot of actors, dancers, strippers, comedians, jugglers, ranters, poets, playwrights, storytellers, musicians, filmmakers, visual artists and performers who defy easy classification will, for the next 11 days, dominate venues in downtown, midtown and the Crossroads district. Many of the artists are from Kansas City, but quite a few are from other places, even other continents. The United Kingdom will be well represented, along with St. Louis, Minneapolis, Oakland and New York.

KC Fringe, founded in 2008, offers examples of virtually all artistic disciplines, but the theater component has grown so much that the festival has virtually become an alternative theater festival. You can see playwrights and performers trying out new material in shows that rarely run more than 60 minutes.

KC Fringe is one of 25 in the country, according to the United States Association of Fringe Festivals. The association also lists 14 festivals in Canada, seven in Britain, three in Australia and one in Ireland. Fringe festivals can also be found in India, Singapore, Hungary and the Czech Republic. Most of them came into being following the establishment in 1947 of the annual festival in Edinburgh, Scotland. That one this year spans 25 days and features more than 26,800 performers from 46 countries.

Collectively, the festivals constitute an annual circuit for some performers. Kansas City theater artists, for example, have appeared at the festivals in Edinburgh; Bedford, England; and Adelaide, Australia.

This year KC Fringe offers almost 130 events and exhibitions. That includes 50 theater performances and 27 visual art exhibits. Some of the performances are decidedly R-rated, but many will be for general audiences, including some specifically for kids and teenagers.

There are simply too many events to attend everything, so people must be pro-active. They need to study the schedule and figure out how much they want to spend and how many shows they want to see. All the necessary information is at www.kcfringe.org.

To see a show requires first buying a $5 festival button, available at any participating venue or at Fringe 411, the festival headquarters on the theater level of Union Station. The button revenue goes directly back to the festival. The next step is buy a show ticket (most are $10). Money from ticket sales is divided between the artists and the venues.

Here’s a selective list of highlights in our own arbitrary categories:

The International House of Theatre

That’s the collective banner for all the performances this year at the Metropolitan Ensemble Theatre, 3614 Main St. We’re accustomed to seeing artists from overseas at the MET, thanks to the efforts of Bob Paisley’s Central Standard Theatre, which has produced an annual winter “British Invasion” for the last few years. He also presented Australian artists at last year’s fringe festival.

This year’s lineup includes:

“The Piano Store Plays,” by actor/playwright John Clancy, founding artistic director of the New York International Fringe. This piece consists of three short plays that reflect fringe aesthetics in the early 1990s. Clancy will perform with Nancy Walsh and Kansas City actor Kevin Fewell. Saturday, Sunday, Monday, Wednesday and July 25-26.

“Woodbine Willie,” performed by Frank Spackman of the Blackout Theatre in Bedford, England. Based on the poetry of the Rev. Geoffrey Studdert Kennedy, the play depicts a World War I British soldier and “brings to life the horror and humor of daily life in the trenches.” This is the show’s U.S. premiere. Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Tuesday, July 24 and 26.

“Bond! An Un-Authorized Parody,” written and performed by British actor/playwright Gavin Robertson. This clever show was a hit at the festival last year, thanks to Robertson’s wit and exceptional mime skills. Friday, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday and July 24-25.

“Spitfire Solo,” written and performed by British actor/playwright Nicholas Collett. This is the Kansas City debut for Collett, a veteran of the international fringe circuit. Collett plays a former fighter pilot in the Battle of Britain, now in his 80s, who recalls his life while seeking the answer to “the biggest yet most personal question so far.” Saturday, Sunday, Monday, Wednesday and July 25-26.

The Submarine Show,” which was among the performances with the highest attendance at the festival last year. Slater Penney and Jaron Hollander, based in Oakland, Calif., are high-level physical comedians and mime artists. July 24-26.

“Poor Lear,” performed by veteran Kansas City actor Alan Tilson, is a one-hour version of “King Lear,” re-imagined as the tale of a homeless veteran with post-traumatic stress disorder. He divides the odds and ends in his grocery cart into elements of the play before falling into sorrow and madness. Saturday, Tuesday, Wednesday and July 26.

Sex and sexual identity

“Unlucky: A Stripper Stripped,” written and performed by comedian Lucky DeLuxe (aka Susanna Lee). DeLuxe invites the audience on an autobiographical journey as she shares her life “as a joke-telling, sex-working, relationship-failing member of an aimless society.” Friday, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday at the Buffalo Room at the Westport Flea Market, 817 Westport Road. (DeLuxe, formerly based in Kansas City and now in Los Angeles, will once again be the emcee at Thursday’s Opening Night Party at the Spencer Theatre at UMKC.)

“How I Lost My Virginity at 29 & Other Embarrassing Tales,” written and performed by stand-up comic Brian Schiller. Friday, Saturday and Sunday at the Fishtank, 1715 Wyandotte.

“(Virgin.)” is a new play Jesse Ray Metcalf. Described as a dark comedy, the show depicts a Catholic high school girl with a secret. Directed by Kansas City actor J. Will Fritz, the show stars Kenna Hall backed up by a big cast. Friday, Saturday, Wednesday and July 25-26 at Just Off Broadway, 3051 Central.

“More 4Play-MMM” offers four Kansas City playwrights considering the subject that never gets old: sex. Plays by Frank Higgins, Forrest Attaway, Teresa Leggard and Schaefer Nelson will be directed by Scott Cordes. Saturday, Sunday, Monday, Wednesday, July 24 and 26 at the Off Center Theatre.

Shakespeare

“Shakespeare’s Histories: Ten Epic Plays at a Breakneck Pace!” Performed by Tim Mooney, this show was a hit at Orlando International Fringe festival in Florida this year. Mooney takes the audience on a comic tour of “King John,” Richard II,” “Henry IV” (Parts 1 and 2), “Henry V” and “Henry VI” (Parts 1, 2 and 3).” Friday, Saturday, Monday, Wednesday and July 25 at the Westport CoffeeHouse, 4010 Pennsylvania.

“Cry Havoc: A Vision of Julius Caesar,” by Rachel Franklin and Alexx Graham. The title refers to a famous line in Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar,” but the show appears to draw on various sources for a unique depiction (with “bayou aesthetics”) of the death of the Roman republic. Saturday, Tuesday, Wednesday, July 25 at Phosphor Studio, 1730 Broadway.

Plays about the thea-tah

“Dangerous to Dance With” by Bill Rogers. A paranoid playwright, a porn actress, a former acrobat, a neurotic farmer and a New Jersey plumber share space in a secluded Missouri farmhouse. The cast includes Victor Raider-Wexler, Vince Monachino, Coleman Crenshaw and Kelsea McLean. Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday and July 26 at the Off Center Theatre in Crown Center.

“Bad Auditions” from Whim Productions. One by one, actors try out for a fictional production in a comical tribute to the grueling process of auditioning. Some of the content and cast members will change from performance to performance. Among those expected to perform are Tara Varney, Meredith Wolfe, Ben Auxier, Brian Huther and Kenzie West. Friday, Saturday, Tuesday, July 24 and 26 at the Fishtank.

“Intermission” from Negative Space, a theater company formed and run by teenagers. The show depicts two lost souls — a man who attends only the first act of shows and a woman who attends only the second act. They meet and fall in love. Saturday, Sunday and July 24-26 at Westport CoffeeHouse.

“St. Nicholas,” by esteemed Irish playwright Conor McPherson. A cynical theater critic falls for a young actress, leaves his wife and children, and follows the object of his obsession to London, where he stumbles into a coven of vampires. The show from Jughead Theatricals features Paul Orwick. Monday, Tuesday and July 24-25 at the Irish Center in Union Station.

“Stagehands: The Musical,” a new piece by Derek Trautwein (book and lyrics) and Nathan Bowman (lyrics and music), examines a day in the life of a young stagehand “as he battles personal ennui.” The cast includes Bowman, Adam Henry, Erin Picardy, Nicole Santorella and Ben Whitcomb. Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Tuesday, July 24 and 26 at the Heartland Forum (formerly the American Heartland Theatre) in Crown Center.

Clowns and jugglers

“The ‘Dinner and a Show’ Show,” in which an audience volunteer agrees to play a restaurant patron being served by two waiters with a full repertoire of physical comedy skills which, of course, includes playing with food. Featuring Benjamin Domask and Thom Wall. Saturday, Tuesday, Wednesday and July 25 at the H&R Block City Stage at Union Station.

As seen in movies

“A-Cop-Alypse” by Jeff Smith is a mash-up of (a) cop buddy movies and (b) the zombie apocalypse. Featuring Smith, Tim Ahlenius and lots of zombies. Directed by Mackenzie Goodwin. Friday, Saturday, Monday, Wednesday and July 25-26 at Just Off Broadway.

“The Princess Bride” from Home Grown Theatre Co. is loosely based on William Goldman’s novel and “pays tribute” to the 1987 film. The play was created by Hersh Ellis and the nine cast members of a workshop production last summer. Sunday, Monday, Wednesday, July 24 and 26 at City Stage at Union Station.

“Drunks” by Pete Bakely shows what happens when a movie producer orders a screenwriter and two stars to work out mutually agreeable changes to a script overnight in a hotel room. The show from Play On Production features Laura Jacobs, Kelsey M. Kallenberger, Matt Leonard and Curtis Smith. Bryan Moses directs. Sunday (three performances), Wednesday and July 26 at Phosphor Studio.

Macabre

“Red Death” is a new opera by Bryan Colley and composer Daniel Doss, and features tenor Nathan Granner. It is based on Edgar Allan Poe’s “Masque of the Red Death.” Tara Varney directs, Amy Hurrelbrink choreographs. Friday, Saturday, Monday, Wednesday, July 24 and 26 at the Off Center Theatre at Crown Center.

“Madhouse” by Cirque du Risque invites viewers to “dive into the mind of the insane, the criminal, the perverse, the broken.” Saturday, Sunday, Wednesday, July 26 at City Stage at Union Station.

“… Fear Itself” by Mike Speller is an anthology of four classic ghost stories. Friday, Saturday, Monday, Wednesday, July 24 and 26 at Westport CoffeeHouse.

Brand new plays

“Girl on Girl” offers something unique: Three world premieres by three female playwrights. The writers are Cynthia Hardeman, Michelle T. Johnson and Teresa Leggard. Johnson, fringers may recall, had one of the best-attended shows at last year’s festival with “Wiccans in the Hood.” Directed by Andre Du Broc. Saturday, Sunday, Tuesday, July 24 and 26 at Just Off Broadway.

“Green Fish,” “Blue Fish” and “Red Fish” are individual programs of new short plays developed in the Fishtank’s Spring Playwrighting Seminar. The “Red Fish” scripts are set in the women’s restroom of an elegant restaurant. “Green Fish” depicts events in a hospital near Disneyland and explores themes about pregnancy. “Blue Fish” spans six decades on a front porch in Irving, Texas. All performances are in the Heartland Forum in Crown Center. Check the website for the performance schedule.

“A Hard Day’s Night” by Vicki Vodrey depicts a comically dysfunctional family. Some of Vodrey’s plays that began at the fringe festival have enjoyed considerable success. Featuring Jennifer Mays, Bryan Moses, Melissa Fennewald, Chris Roady, Shelley Wyche and Mariah Thompson. Directed by Taylor St. John. Friday, Sunday, Tuesday, July 24 and 26 at Just Off Broadway.

To reach Robert Trussell, call 816-234-4765 or send email to rtrussell@kcstar.com.

KC Fringe Festival

Thursday-July 27

Festival buttons: $5 (perks include discounts at participating eateries); individual show admission varies.

For full schedule and tickets, visit www.kcfringe.org.

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