Live Active Cultures

It is Sunday afternoon of the final weekend of the 2010 Orlando International Fringe Theatre Festival, and so many intoxicating elements of the 30-ish shows I've seen this week are swirling through my arteries, swimming their way toward being filtered through my strained liver. As I squint through the mental haze, here are some highlights glinting from the glare at the end of this theatrical tunnel.

Best food vendor

First things first: The most important Fringe question is not "What did you see?" but "What did you eat?" Longtime favorite Elite Soul Food priced itself out of my market this year; Loving Hut had savory vegan summer rolls, but their Supreme Master propaganda (delivered via a digital screen at the truck and tent setup) gives me pause. Trent's BBQ took the win with ribs that don't just fall off the bone but practically vault into your mouth and chew themselves. An honorable mention goes to Pete's Roadside Grill for Doc Hopper-worthy fried frog legs, voted "best snack to traumatize Heather Henson with." (Hopper is the nemesis in The Muppet Movie, who serves fried frog legs at his fast-food chain.)

Now that the important stuff is out of the way, did I say there were shows at this thing? 

Show I'm most sorry I missed

I experienced fewer than half of the Fringe festival's offerings, so it's inevitable that something excellent got skipped. This year my biggest regret is missing Full of Grace from Kathy Wood and Mik Jacobs, the team behind last year's exquisite Dream Jar. Also topping my personal aw-damn list were Aleshea Harris' poetic Oddlie and Kimleigh Smith's musical T-O-T-A-L-L-Y!, both of which generated great buzz.

Show I'm most sorry missed me

Jeff Ferree's Capt. Discovery and "Escape to Planet O" was a tough show to attend, seeing as how both the cast and audience had to squeeze into the "Jamie Mykins Theater," aka the janitorial supply closet. But I'm kicking myself for not being in the room when one of Ferree's sci-fi puppets protruded from his miniscule stage and smacked theater critic Elizabeth Maupin in the glasses. Now that's ;audience participation!

Show I'm least sorry I missed

Any regular reader knows I love me some Brian Feldman, but I didn't mind missing Fringe of Nature, in which a couple brave patrons went on a Mini-sponsored 17-hour overnight camping trip with the performance artist. Between biting bugs and blundering in the pitch-blackness, I'm much better off safe in civilization, though I wish I'd been a fly on the canvas the night he went camping with Miss Hiccup. Speaking of which …

Fringe crush

If you didn't catch ShoShinz Presents: A Day in the Life of Miss Hiccup, you didn't Fringe enough this year. This adorable Japanese woman who dresses like an FTD floral bouquet brought us the most charmingly whimsical hour of dialogue-free slapstick besides Schave & Reilly (… Some Other Day). One look at this living anime acid trip and all I could say was, "Can we take her home, please?"

Most mixed feelings

As a big booster of babyBlue's VarieTEASE, I was blown away by this year's edition, Deconstruction. With a deeply personal storyline, striking imagery and live singing, this was one of Blue's strongest productions since 2007's Carnivale. When I saw the Fringe Preview show I was apprehensive about the addition of pubescent dancers to the cast. After seeing the full show, I'm relieved to report it was less explicit overall than its predecessors, and the talented youngsters (ages 12 and 15) were kept to choreography tamer than what you'll see in today's youth dance competitions. Now I'm worried that the high-impact landings and hyperextended leg lifts these impressively acrobatic adolescents are executing will put them in an orthopedist's office before they're old enough to drink.

Most unanticipated delight

I had modest expectations for the production from Jessica Mariko (DRIP) and Linda Eve Elchak (Nao Dance Collective), titled Creative Mind Experiment, in which a variety of artists were asked to create different performances inspired by the same annoying song. Some conscripts came up with interesting products, including Brandon Roberts' lost-love pantomime and Sarah Lockard's bloody BioShock tribute. But Evan Miga created a super-awesome-amazing-incredible thing: Dog Powered Robot. Years from now, when Dog Powered Robot is the biggest franchise in worldwide entertainment, I can say I was there when the panting Pomeranian in a "Rock 'em Sock 'em" suit first rampaged through a cardboard city. Dog Powered Robot!!! – the T-shirts are already for sale.

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