070508wmd.jpgIt’s almost that time of year when the NYC Fringe Festival dominates the theater scene with hundreds of new shows of wildly varying quality. But before the Fringe sucks the air out of the room in August, it’s worth noting that July is packed with a number of smaller, more manageable and generally more-reliable theater festivals. For starters:

The Summer Play Festival: Now in its fifth season, this festival of new plays is being hosted at the Public Theater. Since SPF doesn’t allow critics to review the shows, which number eight (each running for one week) you kind of have to fly in blind. But founder Arielle Tepper Madover, who produced Frost/Nixon and The Pillowman, has a good eye for talent, and this year’s shows include top-shelf performers like Annie Pariesse (Law & Order), Jenny Ikeda (Top Girls) and Passing Strange’s inimitable Stew, who has written music for The Future Me. Also, tickets are only $10.

Ice Factory Festival: This is the fifteenth year for the Soho Think Tank’s Obie-winning festival; it's New York’s gold-standard in summer experimental theater festivals. Starting July 9th and running through August 23rd at the Ohio Theater on Wooster Street, the festival has seven premiere productions. These include Neil Young’s rock opera Greendale, Sponsored by Nobody’s heavily-workshopped W.M.D. (just the low points), and The Riot Group’s Victory at the Dirt Place (their impressive Pugilist Specialist got rave reviews in 2004.)

HOT!: Now in its seventeenth year, the Dixon Place HOT! Festival is a raucous, uninhibited “Celebration of Queer Culture.” Running from July 2nd through August 25th, the festival is a veritable bonanza of (deep breath) long and short plays, performance art, music, theater, dance, literature, poetry, spoken word, puppetry, burlesque, drag, and circus. Some shows are still rough around the edges, but the informal atmosphere and adventurous spirit that permeates Dixon Place is irresistible.

Photo of W.M.D. (just the low points) courtesy Garret Savage. The play is "structured around the events of a single date (January 8, 2004), using found texts as a base to examine Americans’ relationship with their media during wartime."

Ontological Incubator: This is technically not a festival, but rather a summer-long series of artist residencies. Nevertheless, we had one of the best theatrical experiences of 2007 thanks to the Incubator’s hosting of The Debate Society’s The Eaten Heart. In winter, the space is home to Richard Foreman’s annual mind-fuck, but through September 6th the intimate room hosts some of the most gutsy non-narrative work around. Red Handle’s Yellow Electras, for instance, which is the next show up: It’s described as “a mash-up of the Electra myth and Kandinsky’s Yellow Sound, and includes several Electras, a chorus, opera, dance, video, and sounds from Strauss, Kandinsky, and Grizzly Bear.”