Fringiness

Notes toward a different kind of Fringe

According to gossip, the four members of a troupe called Banana, Bag, and Bodice moved away from San Francisco last year because of rising rents. They fled to New York. They're currently back in town to put on a show at the Fringe Festival, but for them the cost of living seems to be slightly lower back east.

Rising rent, and limited space -- as no one in the San Francisco theater scene needs to be told -- is a problem for almost everyone hoping to put on a play, so this year, the Fringe Festival ought be more important than ever. For a low fee the local producer, the Exit's Christina Augello, offers promotion and space to 50 or 60 individual shows. You'd think small theater troupes would leap at this chance to experiment with new material in front of an automatic audience (opening-night ticket sales were up 11 percent this year), but the tone is still more Fringey than really experimental. "Fringey" implies lots of magic, comedy, and overall weirdness that seems unique to the festival, as opposed to envelope-pushing theater. Nothing wrong with Fringiness. Everyone expects it. Some acts do nothing but tour the world's Fringe festivals. But I did expect the local real estate market to change the festival's tone a little more than it has.

Take the Banana, Bag, and Bodice show, inexplicably named Number 2, which seems to be a pale rip-off of a Beckett play (say, Endgame or Godot). It features a serving boy on stilts, a cantankerous boss on a ladder (who mumbles nonsense and eats porridge from a bucket), and two clowns stomping around the stage in a mess of coat hangers, cotton balls, and pornographic playing cards. You can't ask for a better definition of Fringiness. It's lively and fun, now and then, but I assume B, B, & B came back to San Francisco because the troupe had nothing else to do in New York. If you can do absolutely anything at the Fringe, why not a serious one-act? Why not a dry-run of that play you've been writing? Who enforces Fringiness, exactly? And how does an anarchistic free-for-all get to feel so weirdly conformist?

Perfectly Constructed: Trailer Trash Tabloid
Perfectly Constructed: Trailer Trash Tabloid

Details

Through Sept. 17. For info on specific performances, call 673-3847 or visit www.sffringe.org.
Exit Theater and Exit Stage Left, the Phoenix II, the Lorraine Hansberry Theater, and Il Teatro 450

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