Baum%20for%20Peace.jpgBack before the turn of the century, and concurrent with the spread of air conditioning in Off-Off Broadway theaters, theater buffs John Clancy and Elena K. Holy seized a golden opportunity to exploit the only brief lull in New York’s raging theater scene – when conventional wisdom held that no slob stuck in town during mid-August would want to get stickier in a stuffy theater up two flights of stairs. And so The New York International Fringe Festival slouched toward downtown to be born. Now in its 11th year, and with smash hits like Urinetown under its belt, FringeNYC has swelled to Category 4 proportions – featuring 188 productions in some 20 theaters, it’s expected to make landfall as early as tomorrow! [Disclosure: We participated in the festival in ‘02 and ’04.]

And with the hits came the cash, the groupies, the increased competition, and the imitators eager to crack the code to commercial success with their formulaic twists (think Fecaltown! or Campy Send-Up of Celebrity de Jour: The Musical!). This year will be no different; a handful of shows with clever titles, easily digestible concepts or a D-List celeb dominate the press-coverage, because, as we can attest, trying to sort through 188 productions – most of them world premieres – to suggest something worthwhile is, as George Burns once said of senior-citizen sex, like shooting pool with rope. Some offerings will be lackluster at best, and if you find yourself trapped at one of them it’s probably because you’re nobly suffering for your friend’s art.

And the shows that do break from the pack will sell out by the time you hear about them. But it all comes out in the wash; our approach to The Fringe is akin to our benign neglect of CMJ: kill ‘em all and let blogs sort ‘em out. ( is committed to the masochistic, monomaniacal task of reviewing all 188 shows.) The cream will rise to the top and, with any luck, a show that truly rocks will be extended or revived later on down the road, giving you ample time to see it when it’s had a chance to breathe a bit.

Nevertheless, after the jump those with an adventurous spirit will see we’ve sifted through the chaff to come up with a short list of shows that might not have you praying that the gun on stage is loaded with live rounds. Of course, this is all conjecture so don’t come commenting to us if our picks disappoint! (Though if we recommend something that blows your mind remember who told you so.) And do let us know in the comments what outrageous omissions have been made. We also highly recommend Alexis Soloski’s incisive think piece on The Fringe in this week's Voice. (Image above from Fringe show Baum for Peace or The True Adventures of the Slightly World-Renowned Lesbian Playwright Who Ran for Congress

Detailed information on performance times and tickets for the shows listed below can be found at the FringeNYC handy guide.

Dirt, a “haunting” one-man drama about prejudice against foreigners, receives its New York premiere. It’s all about Sad, an illegal immigrant from Iraq, who sells roses on the streets to make ends meet. Playwright Robert Schneider was awarded Best New Playwright by some big-time Kraut theater magazine, so this seems like the one to take your clove-smoking, nihilist girlfriend to see.

Champ: A Space Opera, features a seven-piece band led by Jeff Curtin and Juan Pieczanski (two dudes familiar to fans of the PlumTV show Juan’s Basement) and is set on a spaceship carrying the last remnants of the human race. When a mysterious signal is intercepted, “space rock” ensues. With choreography by Mark Morris dancer (and Fischerspooner collaborator) John Heginbotham, plus far out video projections mined from old view-master slides and B-movies.

We have an obsession with hot-air balloons, but with autumnal Hudson Valley rides starting at $350 an hour, it looks we’re going to have to settle for An Air Balloon Across Antarctica, brought to us by Australia’s Invisible Theatre. As a female explorer longs to escape her world of white without boundaries, she’s joined by “an obese hamster who dreams of becoming a lemming, the spirits of several Antarctic explorers, a lost Amelia Earhart and one urn.”

Avant-garde performance blog Culturebot saw and recommends the multimedia show Bucharest Calling, by Romanian company Monday Theater at Green Hours. Performed in English, it casts a penetrating look on life in Bucharest 17 years after the fall of communism. If Culturebot says “cool”, we say go.

With The Times of London calling Brit import Pigeon Man Apocalypse “raw, livid and utterly mesmeric", this black comedy seems as close to a sure thing as you can get. A hit at The Edinburgh Fringe Fest, the one-many play concerns one Arthur Cork, who holds forth in an abandoned London squat where he lives on pigeons and rainwater. Then a family moves in next door and “demons awake”!

Inspired by the short stories of Nathaniel Hawthorne, the musical comedy The Medicine Show conjures up that old-timey milieu of traveling snake oil salesmen. The unctuous Dr. Boggs is supported in his sales mission by Hannah – the show’s main attraction for her remarkable birthmark on her face – guitar man Nate and Dark Cloud, “the Chief who sees all.”

Rude Mechanicals is represented in the Fringe by Managing Director Corey Patrick. His comedy bombs in your mouth concerns estranged half-siblings Danny and Lilly, who reunite for fisticuffs, Jell-O and beer in the wake of their abusive father’s death. Fun fact: The play was developed on 8th Street in the former apartment of Jimi Hendrix, so maybe his spirit will set something ablaze.