Last year I spilled several thousand words’ worth of ink (and a not-inconsiderable volume of my own plasma) on coverage of the 2007 Fringe festival. I produced preview paragraphs on each of the 70-plus shows participating in our annual international arts event and followed those up with more than a dozen reviews after the festival’s opening weekend. Some of you responded to my reporting with words of praise, some of you wrote letters lambasting my efforts and the rest probably used the papers as improvised umbrellas.

Thus, it was with a heavy heart that I had to decline dedicating myself to flogging this year’s fest. Before you scream, “Slacker!” I’ve got a good excuse (beyond exhaustion). I have close personal relationships with a number of the people producing this year’s event; plus, after taking a couple of years off to be just an observer, I’m producing and directing a Fringe show of my own. So anything I say about the 2008 Fringe would obviously be positively dripping with “conflict of interest” and lacking in the rigid objectivity you’ve come to expect from this column (cough, cough). But since I’m incapable of keeping silent, here’s what I’m looking forward to, journalistic ethics be damned. Just remember: These recommendations are based on nothing more than snippets from last month’s Fringe preview, the ephemeral but essential “buzz” and personal bias.

When Pigs Fly

The best thing – and the worst thing – about Michael Wanzie’s Fringe productions is the frequent feeling that the script was written just last night and rehearsed over mimosas that morning. But this year Wanzie is producing a previously published “militantly gay musical extravaganza” featuring “phantasmagorical” costuming and elaborate staging that looks anything but last-minute. Even if camp isn’t usually your cup of tea, stars like David Lee, Frank McClain and Sam Singhaus should make it worth seeing.

CineDance’s Move! and

Voci’s Perfectly Broken

Dance has exploded at the Fringe over the last few years, with a plethora of performance styles populating the schedule. But Voci Dance has been doing it here longer than anyone, and along with fellow Fringe vets CineDance Jazz Dance, they’re still the best bet. I’ll admit I don’t know much about the nitty-gritty of dance, but I know what I like – and I’ve long loved watching (and working with) members of both these companies. And while Voci will be serving martinis, neither group will try to sell you finger paints post-show.

Skip Peril and the Players

of the Lost Trunk

Take Shakespeare, vaudeville, film noir and pirates; toss ’em together and ask, “Will it blend?” Eric Pinder’s Friends of the Annie Grant–winning production may have the answer. I can’t yet vouch for how it all tastes, but with crack comics like Jason Horne, Jay Becker and Heather Leonardi onboard, it’s bound to be sweet.

Colored Waiting Room

I don’t know Jessica Taylor, and her preview piece had more uncomfortable awkwardness than a Michael Scott multicultural seminar. But as an aficionado of all things anti-PC, I’ve got to hand it to her – any woman brave enough to don blackface in this town has bigger balls than me.

Here Be Dragons

Here Be Dragons is not a musical. Really, it isn’t. (You had to be at the preview to appreciate those previous, clever lines.) But that didn’t stop David Almeida and Stephen J. Miller’s patched-together production number from being a highlight of the preview. The synopsis – a gay atheist and a conservative Christian couple have a metaphysical meeting – sounds more serious than the usual fare from the authors of Whipping Wally Wonker, but these two rarely disappoint.

Godot Arrives

Just what one of the most impenetrable works of modern theater needed: a sequel! This production, which started as an Osceola County School for the Arts class project, holds a peculiar appeal for me: I just finished directing Waiting for Godot, and this follow-up is directed by Christian Kelty, who starred in my show. From what I’ve seen, this take pushes the surrealism to cartoonish extremes. Nothing to be done.

International acts

There are so many local acts at Fringe, it’s easy to blow all your bucks on stuff starring your neighbors. Don’t overlook the international artists who trek across the pond, or the continent, to be here. Based on previous appearances, I can recommend Brits Gemma Wilcox (Shadows in Bloom) and Jimmy Hogg (A Brief History of Petty Crime) and Canadians TJ Dawe (Totem Figures) and Greg Landucci (MR. FOX) for their masterful monologues.

Visual Fringe

Between sprinting to shows, don’t miss the art on offer inside the Shakes. Curator Anna McCambridge encourages you to “look for live painting, drawing, sculpting and a cool interactive installation” – even nipple daisies. No, I can’t tell you what those are; you’ll have to come see.

Beer Tent

Bring cash. ’Nuff said.

Shameless Self-Promotion

If you like Star Wars, A Charlie Brown Christmas and/or actor Michael Marinaccio, you might think The Boy’s Own Jedi Handbook is the greatest show ever. No refunds!

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