Fringe’s hundred-plus shows offer (almost) too much to choose from

The 2016 KC Fringe Festival could be an exercise in distraction or frustration, with its smorgasbord of 108 or more acts spread over eight (alphabetical) categories: cabaret, comedy, dance, film, music, spoken word, theater (with the largest number of offerings) and variety. How to choose? As Fringe executive producer Cheryl Kimmi commiseratively said at one of the recent previews, you can’t see everything.

But you can at least map out a few possible starting places for the event, which begins Thursday, July 21, with an opening-night preview at the Folly (300 West 12th Street) and runs through Sunday, July 31. (See for more information and a schedule.) For us, those jumping-on points are the following shows.

Young Black Victorian, based on the true story of a young girl rescued from tribal warfare in West Africa to become the adopted goddaughter of Queen Victoria, is a play by Rasheedat “Ras” Badejo, a first-generation Nigerian-American, who also stars. A brief preview was compelling. It’s directed by Heidi Van, at the Fishtank (1715 Wyandotte), and continues there after Fringe, playing through Saturday, August 13.

Set in England but three centuries earlier, Shadows: The Life of Anne Boleyn is one of six promising dramas that Central Standard Theatre offers at this year’s Fringe. Megan Greenlee portrays the notoriously cunning queen in her final hours in the Tower of London, after a notoriously tragic and short reign.

Another one-person show from CST, Crazy Horse: a Dream of Thunder, should be a strong vehicle for local actor Sam Wright. The play, directed by British actor-director Nicholas Collett, captures the tumultuous life of Crazy Horse, the Lakota warrior famous for leading his tribe to a resounding victory over the U.S. military at Little Bighorn.

In Performing Annie Oakley: Shooting Is a Gentle Thing, Cheryl Weaver’s sharpshooter seeks to redefine herself and has some things to say on the treatment of native peoples, and the role of women and guns. The play, by John Gronbeck-Tedesco, features music by Forrest Pierce and is directed by Bob Paisley.

Fans of the indomitable Marilyn Lynch (and who isn’t) should make time for her performance in The River’s Trembling Edge. The heartfelt drama, written by Denny Dey, chronicles one woman’s struggle to resolve her grief and reclaim her independence after a loved one’s death.

And another British actor-director brings new life to an American classic in The Fall of the House of Usher. Gavin Robertson directs actors Heidi Van, Ken Sandberg and Zack Chaykin in a haunting adaptation of one of Edgar Allan Poe’s most famous stories (with original music by composer Danny Bright). All of CST’s plays are onstage at Metropolitan Ensemble Theatre (3614 Main).

Fishtank curator Heidi Van’s latest creation may be ideally timed. Second Ladies taps into the insanity of the 2016 presidential election with a historical overview of “the influential women behind the woman behind the man.” Expect political intrigue, complex sexual and power dynamics, and lots of nods to Dolley Madison. See it at the Fishtank.

Speaking of Trump v. Clinton, Electoral Dysfunction is the theme this year for the returning act Right Between the Ears, a comedic troupe that appears on Kansas Public Radio. Find the show at Union Station’s City Stage (30 West Pershing Road).

The Living Room provides a comedic palate cleanser in Hacks, a new play written by the team at Friend Dog Studios (Ben Auxier, Brian Huther and Seth Macchi). The trio play three brothers who unwittingly launch a terrorist organization online. Their entry in last year’s Fringe, The Ballad of Lefty and Crabbe, was one of the festival’s highlights. So no pressure. And comedy will no doubt be found in Forrest Attaway’s Selfless, which is said to recount moments from his own life. Though we thoroughly enjoyed his previous Fringe entries — The Grave and Outta Beer and Outta Space — he had us at Macchi, who stars in this one-man “tour de force.” It’s also at the Living Room (1818 McGee).

The Living Room’s Bryan Moses has a busy Fringe ahead of him. He directs former Kansas City Star reporter Mike Rice’s play John and Leslie Are in the Copy Room Again, a comedy about scheming co-workers, stretched copywriters and the perils of office romance. But Moses directs a show for the blue-collar set as well: Hayden Popp’s Bug Hunting charts the adventures of Mac, a man who invents a new pest-control technique. Both shows play at Phosphor Studios (1730 Broadway).

Though it doesn’t sound on the surface like a comedy, Steve Karol’s self-described satiric (and timely) Stackers tells the story of a laid-off architect who is forced by circumstances to take a blue-collar job and, as a result, discovers new things about himself. It’s at the Just Off Broadway Theatre (3051 Penn Valley Drive).

Local writer and playwright Victor Wishna, who gave us the smart and witty The Impressionists last year, returns to the festival with a new short play, part of a showcase that also includes new works by Inbar Kahn and Sarah Aptilon. Desperate Acts, at Just Off Broadway Theatre, “focuses on issues of art and identity in a changing world.”

At last year’s Fringe, artist Billy Blob dazzled us with his animations for festival hit Voyage to Voyager. This year, we’re eager to see what he does as a playwright. Freak Up the Street combines childhood nostalgia, functional time machines, and possums, in a show that promises, like most of Blob’s work, to be wildly original. See it on the Unicorn’s Levin Stage (3828 Main).

On the Unicorn’s intimate Jerome Stage, sound designer Jonathan Robertson produces Mannequins, a not-so-familiar marriage plot told in vignettes. Manon Halliburton stars as a costume designer obsessed with a life-size doll, and David Fritts plays her drunk and disordered husband.

Bingo on the Boulevard brings together a group of disparate individuals living along Troost, who meet for a monthly bingo game. Inspired by actual interviews with denizens of the area, the play by Donna W. Ziegenhorn personifies those who are shaped and/or affected by our city’s racial dividing line. It’s on the Unicorn’s Jerome Stage.

Ryan Hruza, working on a full-length play about lupus and its devastating effects, offers a condensed version of his “pop-hip-hopera” The Lupus Chronic(SLE). A portion of the proceeds will go to the Lupus Foundation of America. It, too, can be found on the Jerome Stage.

At the Bolender Center for Dance & Creativity (500 West Pershing Road), Kacico Dance collaborates with St. Louis’ Common Thread Contemporary Dance Co. for A Silent Majority, with choreography built around the themes of women, the human condition and gun violence. VidaDance, a company based in Leawood, presents From This Pointe On, which it bills as a family-friendly amalgamation of modern and classical dance, tap and Irish step.

The National Storytelling Network holds its annual conference in KC during Fringe, which means yarn spinners from around the country will also take part in the festival July 21-23, at the Marriott Plaza hotel (4445 Main). They’ll show up as well at The Mosquito Radio Hour II: The Itching Continues … at the Fishtank, which features artists from the Free State Story Slam, and River and Prairie Storyweavers.

And it seems like every Fringe, we’re newly impressed-slash-disturbed by the mind of playwright Jesse Ray Metcalf. Metcalf’s latest, The Toymaker, promises to be a similar blend of his signature black humor, sinister subjects and campy charm. The hourlong horror show plays at Just Off Broadway Theatre.

Categories: A&E, Stage