The 2021 Orlando International Fringe Theatre Festival is dead, long live the DigiFringe! Ordinarily, I'd be long recovered from my annual post-Fringe hangover by now, after seeing over 65 different productions and penning 50-plus reviews prior to the Festival's "Patrons' Pick" finale on Memorial Day. But this year, the Orlando Fringe has gone into extra innings with its first-ever DigiFringe, which offers an unusual opportunity to enjoy digital streams of many award-winning shows you may have missed — or want to experience again — during this year's in-person event.
The new DigiFringe service, which is sponsored by Imagination House, features 69 shows, 15 of which were on the 2021 Critics Choice list compiled by myself and Orlando Sentinel arts critic Matt Palm. Although Jakob Karr's Ain't Done Bad, our 2021 Critics' Choice for Best Show, is not available for an online encore, nearly all our other picks can be rented at DigiFringe at $10 each (plus a $2 "digital button" service fee) for unlimited viewings from now through June 18.
Outdoing the typical filmed Fringe show, many of these high-definition recordings are edited together from multiple camera angles, and although some captured technical issues suffered during the live productions, their audio quality is often better than what I experienced in the theater.
The notable selections include our nods for Best Musical (Josie & Grace), Best Drama (Shakespeare's Reservoir Dogs) and Best Comedy (It All Started at the Radisson Inn), along with the corresponding Solo Show categories (The 500 List, Rosegold and The Sack). Our picks for Best Dance Show (VarieTease's Alchemist of Dreams), Variety/Specialty Show (Away Now) and Family Show (The Impossible Club) are online as well, and you can study Brandon Roberts' acclaimed direction of Cupid & Psyche or Beejay Clinton's Judas script. Finally, Fringe fans can relive the award-winning performances from Ayataro Motomura (Mind Eater), Trevor Southworth (Oscar Wilde and Jesus Christ Walk Into a Gay Bar), Shelley Cooper (La Divina: The Last Interview of Maria Callas) and the Frogpig & Friends Variety Hour ensemble.
In addition to the award-winners, DigiFringe also offers a second chance to see some quality shows I wasn't able to review, such as visAbility, Logan Donahoo's Slut Like Me and Lake Howell High School's Spotlight. Better still, DigiFringe gives a few favorite out-of-town artists, who were unable to attend this year's Orlando Fringe in the flesh, an opportunity to participate in the Festival, as well as providing an excuse for locals to unearth some vintage footage.
Just 48 hours into DigiFringe, I've only started to make a dent in the nearly two dozen titles exclusive to the virtual festival, but here are three of my favorites so far:
A Day in the Life of Miss Sammy
Originally presented in 2005, this dialogue-free comedic short written and co-directed by Michael Wanzie (who cameos as a persistent foot fetishist) features the late, great Sam Singhaus in his signature drag role. Friends and fans of Singhaus and his sister-in-law, Marcy (who designed his fabulous dresses), will love seeing Miss Sammy getting sauced at lost local landmarks like the Parliament House in this surreal John Waters-meets-Benny-Hill lark. Proceeds benefit Greater Orlando Performing Arts Relief.
Hit the Lights Theater Co. uses old-fashioned overhead projectors and handmade paper cutouts to turn shadow puppetry into pure magic in this Wild West fable about a horse who runs faster than the wind and loses his tail. A couple of feuding musicians on their farewell tour form the framing story for the tale, which is told through amazing analog imagery, with an acid-tinged rockabilly soundtrack that resembles Dark Side of the Moon if it were written by Steppenwolf. This show would be wonderful in person, but the video might be even better because it includes backstage camera angles that allow you to observe these wizards at work.
Playwright Paris Crayton III starts his searing drama with the striking image of four Black men with their hands wrapped in heavy chains, and it only gets more provocative from there. A kind of No Exit for racial oppression, Chainz locks a quartet of incompatible personalities together in a jail cell after a peaceful protest turns violent and lets them battle over the proper response to systemic injustice. The incisive script eschews the usual white perspective to focus on the self-perpetuating cycle of internalized racism that fuels class conflict within the Black community, and it's charged with electric dialogue, which the cast delivers with passion (particularly Carlus Houston as George, the homeless voice of hope). But the most devastating thing about this timely tragedy is that it was filmed in 2014, proving how little progress we've made in the seven years since.