Fringe: Getting closer

Fringe: Getting closer
Orlando International Fringe Theatre Festival
May 14-25 at Lowndes Shakespeare Center and Orlando Repertory Theatre

At the April 13 Fringe preview, producer Beth Marshall updated the audience (not quite a full house) on the ticket situation. Ticket sales have been delayed a week, until Monday, April 20, instead of going on sale the day of the preview. And when tickets go on sale, it signals the button-buying, ticket-buying phase of Fringe that continues until the May 14 kickoff. Pace yourselves accordingly.

That's the most useful information for prospective Fringers to know about the 18th annual event at this point in time. All the rest of the rules and regulations can be found online at Pay attention to those rules that Marshall pounded into our heads at the preview: You really will have to buy another button ($8) if you lose or forget the one you bought, no matter who you know.

Furthermore, button sales benefit the nonprofit Fringe as a whole, unlike the dollars spent on the show tickets; ticket revenues go directly to the performers. So expect the usual guerrilla marketing to be intense this year; it's a make-or-break deal for many of the acts that need to recoup their costs and hopefully make a few bucks. That doesn't always happen, as you know if you're around when things wind down and the bitching and moaning begins.

On the note of vicious competition, here are some overall impressions on this year's Fringe lineup based on the limited preview experience: three minutes of stage time from half of the participating groups, chosen at random. So there's a whole 'nother half of the lineup the audience didn't see that awaits investigation. The sneak peeks that were seen sometimes reflected the full show, and sometimes didn't. For instance, while Jeremy Seghers sang Nine Inch Nails' "Closer" (as in "I want to fuck you like an animal") as a teaser to his Under the Covers interactive cabaret, that number may or may not be on his changing song list (the audience sends requests 24 hours in advance), but we caught the drift.

Free stuff: Even if you have no money to purchase a button or any tickets, there's enough entertainment going on outside, in Loch Haven Park, on the "Green Lawn of Fabulousness," to keep creative minds stimulated. The preview offered a taste of what Tod Caviness has in store from his Poetry Vending Machine and Fringe Poetry Smackdown, as well as a promise from Gunther Barnaby's Traveling Show to cure what ails you. Plus there's fantastic family fare at the weekends-only, free Kids Fringe.

Sexy stuff: Sexual content abounds at Fringe, and gay humor is mainstream. Still, previews don't tell all. Case in point: Jacksonville's Carbon Productions decided the best marketing for The Amazing Adventures of Normal People in 3D was to present three minutes of two men standing and making out — no words spoken. Even this Fringe-hip audience grew restless, which may have been discomfort or boredom. But you get the idea — groups will do anything to make people talk … and buy tickets. Same for The Five People You Meet in Porn from the Greater Orlando Actor's Theatre, which featured a limber team of men and women running through a routine of sexual positions. What it has to do with the actual plot of the show (about a porn star ascended into heaven), we don't know, but it was an athletic tease that was also educational. Flaming Dragon, eh?

Beyond comedy and drama: The new Yow Dance gave a taste of its classical moves in addition to Fringe veterans Voci Dance, teamed this year with New York's DeXdance for Simplex Complex. Technical problems interfered with the presentation of the Voci collaboration, which was painful to watch, knowing that Fringe associate producer Genevieve Bernard was one of the troupe members onstage. But that's how things go at the Fringe — fast and loose and move on. The crowd-pleasing VarieTease finished the night with its bizarre Lullaby. (The guy sitting next to me was a friend of Blue's and offered some insight into her evolution.) With Duelling Divas: The Battle Begins, the Fringe introduces opera by means of two surprisingly funny "ego-crazed" singers eager to draw blood. The video clip by Movin' Melvin Brown of Austin, Texas — tap-dancing, singing soulfully and sweating his way through Me, Ray Charles & Sammy Davis, Jr. — appears to be a straightforward flash from the past.

My picks: Based on the preview performances, if you held a gun to my head and made me choose, here are my top three personal picks (subject to change):

The Karate Guy — From KMK Productions, a clever comedy that massages the Mr. Miyagi funny bone. One "K" stands for Kubersky, as in Seth, our Live Active Cultures columnist and arts writer; the other "K" represents Christian Kelty, sandwiching the "M" of Michael Marinaccio. Those three names together equal big laughs.

The Well of Horniness — Billed as a "high-camp" lesbian murder mystery from TheatreMania, this five-actress vehicle appears to deliver fresh female goods. Robyn Pedretti alone is funny as hell, and with the rest of the gang, the show looks like a must-see.

PuppetSlam and Family Puppet Blast! — Orlando Puppet Festival caters to adult humor and the G-rated crowd with two offerings. But that big bunny at the preview did it for me.

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