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Chicago Fringe Festival 2011 preview

These entries in the second annual Fringe caught our eye.

Photograph: Yi-Chun Wu
Nejla Y. Yatkin's Wallstories

This week the Chicago Fringe Festival returns to Pilsen for its second year. The fest is expanded this time to two weeks and 50 shows, evenly divided between Chicago-based artists and out-of-town entrants from the fringe circuit. The gamble of not knowing what to expect is part of the Fringe’s appeal, but here are a few of the shows this go-round that caught our eye.

Am I Blue
Brooklyn-based performer Elizabeth Blue’s solo comedy sounds on paper like standard-issue quarter-life-crisis stuff: dating, spirituality, surviving single life in New York. But Am I Blue was nominated for multiple awards at this year’s Montreal Fringe, where one review called Blue “almost certainly the lovechild of Kristen Schaal and Tina Fey.” That’s enough to prick up our ears.

Anonymously Yours
Finally, someone makes a persuasive case for anonymous commenting. Chicago’s studio BE transmutes online foaming into offline funny, crafting a comedy piece from the depths of Internet message boards.

Camelot Is Crumbling
Playwright and performer Phillip Andrew Bennett Low portrays King Arthur’s bastard son Mordred in this solo piece about the decline of the Round Table, inspired by Sir Thomas Malory’s Le Morte D’Arthur and produced by Low’s Minneapolis-based company, Maximum Verbosity.

Jesus, Shakespeare and Lincoln Walk into a Bar
Well, that’s a setup. Indianapolis-based youngsters Giants of Theatre recast J.C., Will and Abe as hippie drinking buddies in this irreverent spoof, even though none of the Giants are themselves old enough to drink legally—four of the cast of six are still in high school. According to Indy alt-weekly Nuvo, “There’s plenty to edit and crudities to make you wince, but there are also good lines, good timing and good karma.”

My Salvation Has a First Name: A Wienermobile Journey
New York comedian Robin Gelfenbien recounts her post-college stint behind the wheel of the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile, traveling the country to spread the gospel of encased meats. Reviewing its debut at FringeNYC, Time Out New York called the piece a “painfully honest and hilariously self-deprecating tale.”

No Gender Left Behind
Chicago-based performer Rebecca Kling’s Uncovering the Mirrors, which related her journey to self-acceptance as a transgender woman, was one of the more affecting solo works of last year’s Fringe. She returns with a new piece about being fired from a teaching position because of her gender identity.

Strangerland
With productions such as Dante Dies!!!, Theories of the Sun and Heddatron (not to mention its own, er, sideshow, the Chicago League of Lady Arm Wrestlers), Sideshow Theatre Company has established itself as one of the most polished young theater companies to emerge in Chicago in the last few years. Strangerland, about the disruption of a society built on systematic routine, is the company’s first ensemble-devised piece.

Wallstories
Award-winning choreographer Nejla Y. Yatkin, a native of Berlin, made this dance-theater piece in 2009 to mark the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. It comes to Chicago direct from last month’s FringeNYC, where Backstage wrote that “the work derives its expressive power from the choreography’s bold use of full-bodied actions initiated from deep in the torso, plus the exciting combination of big and fast: humongous movements done with startling speed.”

The 2011 Chicago Fringe Festival runs Thursday 1–September 11. Visit chicagofringe.org for the complete schedule and venue info.

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