click to enlarge Petunia and Chicken

Petunia and Chicken

Our top picks for Orlando Fringe Festival 2017 

Historically, my picks for which Fringe shows will be the hottest tickets have proven about as accurate as the 2016 presidential polls. Nevertheless, I persist, and again present my list of highly anticipated productions, based on the artists' past performances, previews and insider word-of-mouth. Since there are too many local shows with great potential to print here, I'm simply giving short shout-outs to a handful of hometown shows that I'm keeping an eye on.

Shows From Outside Orlando

Caws & Effect (Mind of a Snail Puppet Co.; Silver Venue)

I'm an admitted sucker for anything involving puppetry or analog animation, so this Canadian company immediately had me with "shadow puppets" and "overhead transparencies." Chloe Ziner and Jessica Gabriel have received rave reviews for their raven fable from Toronto to Taiwan; now Orlando is getting their first audience with these wise-cracking crows.

Delirium (Concrete Drops; Pink Venue)

I wouldn't ordinarily feel obliged to lend Martin Dockery extra publicity, because with a long track record of critically acclaimed hits (The Exclusion Zone, Holy Land Experience, Moonlight After Midnight), his name practically sells itself. But the title of Dockery's latest one-man show, Delirium, accidentally got left out of the official program, and I wouldn't want his original monologue about love, loss and butterflies to be overlooked.

The Devil/Mama's Boy (Mike Delamont; Silver Venue)

Orlando audiences have grown to adore Mike Delamont's incarnation of God as a Scottish drag queen through three top-selling testaments. That cross-dressing deity is absent this year, but Her diametric opposite, The Devil, is here to deliver satanic satire from the inverse perspective. More unexpectedly, Delamont is also devoting three of his time slots to Mama's Boy, a profound piece of intimate autobiographical storytelling that shows a complete different side of this skilled performer.

Forget Me Not – The Alzheimer's Whodunnit (Rob Gee; Gold Venue)

Bald British slam poet Rob Gee scored with Smart Arse and Fruitcake at Festivals early this decade, but six years of bad Fringe lottery luck has denied Orlando his dizzying wordplay. The drought finally ends with this detective dramedy set in a dementia ward, inspired in part by Gee's experiences as a psychiatric nursing student.

Petunia and Chicken (Animal Engine; Yellow Venue)

Last year, New Yorkers Carrie Brown and Karim Muasher charmed Orlando Fringe audiences with Darlings, their physical theater take on Peter Pan. For 2017, they've brought an "epic prairie love story" inspired by Willa Cather novels like O Pioneers! With the pair playing a plethora of objects both animate and in- (including the title characters) it promises to be both funny and heartfelt.

Roller Coaster (TJ Dawe; Brown Venue)

TJ Dawe has been an Orlando Fringe legend as long as I've been attending, and after bringing us countless monologues about other cities, he's finally written one about us. Dawe's latest work was conceived in a queue at Islands of Adventure, and I can't wait to see how he weaves together tales of Orlando's theme parks with his take on the Trumpocalypse. Also look for Kerry Ipema's Sex Ed, which was dramaturged by Dawe and written by Ipema during their One Woman Sex and the City tour together.

Weaksauce (Sam Mullins; Green Venue)

Acclaimed Canadian storyteller Sam S. Mullins, whose musings you may have heard on NPR's "Moth Radio Hour," previously appeared at the 2015 Orlando Fringe with his Untitled Sam Mullins Project. This time, he's revived one of his earlier monologues, a coming-of-age tale about his 16th summer that's been called "sweet" and "quirky," much like its creator.

Shirley Gnome: Taking It Up the Notch (Heartichoke Arts; Yellow Venue)

After winning Patron's Pick in the Blue Venue last year, Shirley Gnome has upgraded to a larger stage for her all-new cabaret of saucy, satirical songs and boundary-pushing pop parodies. Gnome is breaking into the mainstream, thanks to appearances with sex advice podcaster Dan Savage, so catch her act in an intimate setting here while you still can.

Til Death: The Six Wives of Henry VIII (Monster Theatre; Brown Venue)

In 2015, Tara Travis tackled 87 Oscar winners in Best Picture with the help of Kurt Fitzpatrick and Jon Paterson. This season, she returns solo to take on an even more terrifying task: portraying all six ill-fated spouses of England's infamous royal ladykiller. Travis has received strong reviews on the Fringe circuit, so I suspect her show will slay here.

The Unrepentant Necrophile (The Coldharts; Green Venue)

The Coldharts gave me and my fellow critics chills with Edgar Allan, the creepiest show of 2016, but the latest from this Brooklyn troupe threatens to make it look like light comedy. With a punk rock score and a story (inspired by real-life maladjusted mortician Karen Greenlee) that delves straight into the most deep-seated of society's sexual taboos, this could be the edgiest Fringe show since the Festival's early days downtown.

Locals to Look For

Commencement (Beth Marshall Presents; Gold)

Future Legend (Prospero Theatre Company; Orange)

Joe's NYC Bar (Beckett Thomas Productions; St. Matthew's Tavern)

Joan Crawford's House Party (Doug Ba'aser Presents; Brown)

La Reina Yolanda (Leesa Castaneda; White)

Mean Old Kitty Face (Quiet Desperation/Marcie Schwalm; Red)

O-Town: Voices From Orlando (Ant Farm Productions; Brown)

Psycho Mode (John B. DeHaas; Gold)

Snack (Gromalot Theatre Factory; Silver)

Thankskilling: The Musical (Johnnie Maier; Silver)

Unbelievable (Logan Donahoo; Pink)

VarieTease: Haunted (BlueLaLa & FatStar; Black)

Vincent (Rauce Like Sauce; Brown)

Wanzie With a Z (Wanzie Presents & D Squared; Orange)

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