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7 Standout Performances To See at This Year’s Capital Fringe Festival

The cast of "The Laramie Project," a new piece of physical theater in this year's Capital Fringe Festival. Photo courtesy of The Wandering Theatre Company.

As the name says, Capital Fringe is all about bringing independent, Fringe theatre, music, art, and dance to DC. The annual festival, which started in 2005, is the second largest of its kind in the country and highlights contemporary works created by local artists. While it runs from July 6 to 30 and features 80+ shows, there are a few standouts in this year’s lineup that are worth noting—so we created a short list of them to make things easier on your schedule.

For all performances, tickets (which cost $17), can be purchased online up to two hours before start time and may also be available at the venue 45 minutes before start time.

Photo courtesy of LiveArtDC.

Clara Bow: Becoming ‘It’

Clara Gordon Bow was a silent film movie star, sex symbol, and nationwide “It” girl of the roaring 20’s—but because of her short-lived career and crippling struggle with depression, her name is not often remembered. The cast and crew at LiveArtDC are aiming to change that: they’re reviving her story in the new play, “Clara Bow: Becoming ‘It’,” which explores the star’s rise from the tenements of New York to the silver screen.

The idea for the play first came from Rebecca Ellis, the lead actor, who has been told her entire life that she looks like Clara Bow. She brought it to LiveArtDC co-founder Heather Whitpan, and the company launched into research. Five years later, the final product tells the story of a girl who didn’t have the same classical upbringing as the rest of the female stars at the time and who preferred to hang with the crew rather than attend society balls. “It’s the story of how the media built her up,” Whitpan says, “so she became the face of scandal and flirtation—but also how it brought her down. And that creates a conversation about the media’s role, too, which is just as relevant today.”

“Clara Bow: Becoming ‘It'” will be performed at the Logan Fringe Arts Space: Trinidad Theatre on Saturday, July 8th at 10 PM; Sunday, July 9th at 4 PM; Tuesday, July 11th at 5 PM; Friday, July 14th at 7:45; Tuesday, July 18th at 7:15 PM; and Saturday, July 22nd at 3:45 PM.

Photo courtesy of A.J. Campbell.

Constructive Fictions

For years, Rabbi Barry Freundel of Kesher Israel was revered among Jews in the DC area and beyond, especially for his success as leader of the Rabbinical Council’s conversion committee—but on October 14, 2014, everything changed. He was charged with six counts of voyeurism for filming women when they were undressing before immersing themselves in the Mikvah, a small pool of water used in the Jewish conversion process. When the story broke in the news, playwright A.J. Campbell wrote “Constructive Fictions,” a play blending the details of Rabbi Freundel’s story with Campbell’s own musings on the Rabbi’s experience in jail.

Campbell was fascinated by Freundel’s downfall. “I figure at some point,” Campbell says, “something happened, and he convinced himself (his own little constructive fiction) that he needed to check on women in the Mikvah. And after that, I suppose he got a taste for the power and intimacy of it—the ability to do what he wasn’t supposed to.” The play is centered on Freundel in the jail cell and how he’s forced to relive his wrongdoings when he is visited by four women representing his victims: Rachel, Sarah, Rebecca, and Leah (the four biblical matriarchs).

“Constructive Fictions” will be performed at the Gallaudet University: Eastman Studio Theatre on Thursday, July 6th at 7:45 PM; Friday, July 7th at 9:30 PM; Saturday, July 8th at 3 PM; Thursday, July 20th at 9:30 PM; and Sunday, July 23rd at 1:45 PM.

The cast of “Abortion Road Trip.” Photo courtesy of Theatre Prometheus.

Abortion Road Trip

When limited access to reproductive services near a woman’s home restricts her ability to get an abortion, she and her half-sister hire a taxi to embark on an interstate road trip in Theatre Prometheus’ new play, “Abortion Road Trip.” In the car, the story of the sisters’ upbringing in a multiracial family, as well as the taxi driver’s lesbian relationship come to the fore, highlighting the many kinds of relationships that can exist between two women. 

Beyond issues of healthcare access and LGBTQ rights, “The Abortion Road Trip” touches on the repercussions of rape, incest, and alcoholism, making it more appropriate for an adult crowd. That said, the communications director at Theatre Prometheus, Rachel Messbauer, says that it’s still very much a dark comedy—and you’ll find moments of well-earned comic relief throughout. “In the end,” Messbauer says, “it’s a healing show. You’ll be able to empathize with the characters and understand why abortion is such a personal issue, why it could be the hardest or the easiest decision of your life.”

“The Abortion Road Trip” will be performed at the Logan Fringe Arts Space: Trinidad Theatre on Friday, July 7th at 5:15 PM; Saturday, July 8th at 11 AM; Saturday, July 15th at 7:30 PM; Tuesday, July 18th at 5 PM; Thursday, July 20th at 9:15 PM; and Sunday, July 23rd at 4:30 PM.

Adam Davidson as Matthew Shepard in “The Laramie Project.” Photo courtesy of The Wandering Theatre Company.

The Laramie Project

After University of Wyoming student Matthew Shepard was beaten, tortured, and left to die near Laramie, Wyoming on October 6, 1998, Moisés Kaufman and members of the Tectonic Theater Project wrote a play encapsulating the reaction. Shepard’s death, which seemed to be motivated by his attackers’ anti-gay sentiments, sparked a nationwide conversation about hate crimes and the lack of substantial hate crime legislation. This past year, the Wandering Theatre Company created a new piece of physical theater also reflecting upon Shepard’s death, and more broadly, our present political climate, which may allow people of any racial, gender, ethnic, or sexual orientation minority to feel marginalized.  

Director Natalie Villamonte Zito says, “I chose to do ‘The Laramie Project’ three days after the presidential election; it was my response. We were starting to see hate crimes pop up again all over, toward people of Muslim faith, toward African Americans, toward gay people, so this was just an extremely important story for us to tell again now.” The performance has ten actors, with nine speaking roles—the silent one being Shepard himself, a spiritual presence of sorts. The nine speaking actors take on about 80 different roles throughout, transitioning between the many people who were interviewed after the crime, including Shepard’s family, the perpetrators’ families, and other people living in Laramie at the time.

“The Laramie Project” will be performed at the Atlas Performing Arts Center: Lang on Saturday, July 8th at 1:15 PM; Friday, July 14th at 9:30 PM; Saturday, July 15th at 4:30 PM; Sunday, July 16th at 9:45 PM; Thursday, July 20th at 9:30 PM; and Friday, July 21st at 5 PM.

Russ Widdall as a grief counselor at Umpqua Community College in “Roseburg.” Photo courtesy of New City Stage.

Roseburg

On October 1, 2015 in the small southwest Oregon town of Roseburg, Chris Harper-Mercer went on a shooting rampage, killing an assistant professor and eight students before shooting himself in the head. That night, director of New City Stage, Ginger Dayle, was watching the news recap of the crime when she saw an old clip of Robert F. Kennedy giving a campaign speech about gun control in the same town of Roseburg—just seven days before he was assassinated. It’s the connection between these two tragic incidents, separated only by a few miles, that inspired Dayle’s new play, “Roseburg.” In exploring the gray area of the gun control debate, the play addresses both the evolution of presidential protection over time, as well as the mental health issues central to a discussion of school shootings.

Dayle says her main goal was to keep the conversation around guns and gun control going because it’s something she has mixed feelings about. “I do favor more gun control,” she says, “but I try to show a balanced picture. Going to the range was something I did growing up, and hunting was a thing for us, so it’s not a black-and-white issue.” 

“Roseburg” will be performed at the Atlas Performing Arts Center: Sprenger on Thursday, July 13th at 5:30 PM; Saturday, July 15th at 9:45 PM; Sunday, July 16th at 11 AM; Thursday, July 20th at 10 PM; and Saturday, July 22nd at 3:45 PM.

The cast members of “Contractions” in rehearsal. Photo courtesy of Julia Hurley.

Contractions

We all might feel like work is taking over our lives sometimes, but in the dark workplace satire “Contractions,” the corporate giant looms larger than ever. The new play, directed by Julia Hurley, centers around an unnamed corporation personified by the manager and an employee named Emma. The problem arises when Emma develops feelings for another employee—who we never actually see in the show. Although the company policy on relationships between employees is vague, the manager’s disapproving undertone rings clear. Emma is forced to make a difficult choice: cut off the relationship or risk getting cut from her position.

“Contractions” is a reflection on our often decried lack of privacy in the workplace—especially in recent years, thanks to technology. But it’s also about how American workplace culture might sometimes encourage the blending of our social and work lives into one. “There’s this idea of individual success,” Hurley says, “and going above and beyond the call of duty. Especially at higher levels, there is an idea of living for the company, rather than, ‘This is a job that I will go home from.’” The fact that “Contractions” is also an all-female play—and one that focuses on the corporate workplace—implies the question often asked of women seeking both career success and a family: “Can you really have it all?”

“Contractions” will be performed at the Logan Fringe Arts Space: Trinidad Theatre on Saturday, July 8th at 8:15 PM; Thursday, July 13th at 10:15 PM; Sunday, July 16th at 8 PM; Friday, July 21st at 5:30 PM; Saturday, July 22nd at 11 PM; and Sunday, July 23rd at 1:15 PM.

The cast members of “Show Business 101” in rehearsal. Photo courtesy of Lawrence Lucaneer.

Show Business 101

Sometimes the best topics for comedy are those closest to home: this whimsical series of comedy sketches pokes fun at show business itself, using scenarios as relatable as a Fringe Festival audition and as wild as a homicidal maniac in an improv troupe. One particular scenario transports audience members to a future era, where a female android actress is being considered for a leading role in “The Importance of Being Earnest” by Oscar Wilde. The only issue? The android-woman, naturally, lacks emotion when she says her lines. But a spot in the show is also the only way she can save herself from being sent to a “re-engineering center” to have her memory wiped and reset. The sketch goes on as the android-woman makes every effort to teach herself how to fake emotional response and appear alive.

Although the series of sketches in the show are not tied directly to one another, they all touch on show business-related ideas—a common theme for the show’s playwright Robert Kittredge. Those involved with show business may particularly relate, but “Show Business 101” will generally offer some much-needed comic relief to audience members of all kinds.   

“Show Business 101” will be performed at the Atlas Performing Arts Center: Lab II on Saturday, July 8th at 6:30 PM; Sunday, July 9th at 8 PM; Friday, July 14th at 7:45 PM; Saturday, July 15th at 11:15 AM; and Sunday, July 16th at 11:45 AM.

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Former editorial fellow Erica Sloan is now an editorial assistant at Prevention Magazine.