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All shows are 45 to 60 minutes long.

This decree courtesy of the Minnesota Fringe, one of the largest and, at age 17,  most firmly established of the roughly two dozen fringefests that happen around the U.S. each year.  They’ve got 169 shows on their 2010 docket — about 30 more than our Fringe is putting up, but just you wait — so it stands to reason organizers might want to enforce, or at least suggest, some guidelines that might-could encourage festivalgoers to take in more performances.

Glancing through Capital Fringe’s very handsomely designed guide, I can’t help but be struck by the running times.  Because they’re striking.  In the way that former pro wrestler Matt Striker, inventor of The Lungblower, among other innovative submission moves, was striking:  They go straight for the throat.  And straight for the backside: I just found three shows that shatter the 90-minute barrier without even looking very hard.

Am I alleging that 90, or heaven forfend, one hundred twenty minutes is too long for a Fringe show?  My answer to that question is an unequivocal maybe. I haven’t seen any of them yet.  The festival doesn’t even begin for another couple of hours.  And in even in light of the stark and terrible brevity of the human lifespan, I am not the least bit averse to art that makes great demands upon my life.  I love plenty of 70-minute albums and 2.5-hour movies and books that never let you forget they’re in your backpack.

But the 60-minute play — it’s a under-exploited form.  This is probably due at least in part to commercial realities.  Back in 2005, in the dark days when the iPhone was merely a figment that everyone in the world knew was definitely going exist in reality very soon, and DC had yet to experience its first Fringe, the Studio Theatre mounted a fine production of Caryl Churchill’s A Number. It was intense.  It was intelligent.

It was barely an hour.

Despite the show’s conspicuous excellence, patrons complained.

The year before that, the New York International Fringe Festival begat [title of show], a mostly harmless little cutesy-cute metamusical that was later expanded for a Broadway run and continues to have regional revivals.  The Signature Theatre production I saw back in April was diverting enough until almost exactly the one-hour mark, at which point it immediately embarked upon a sharp high-gravity climb up the irritation axis from taxing to grating to insufferable.

So, er, let this be a lesson to you.

We’ll see you all at the Baldacchino Gypsy Tent tonight for opening-night revels, which commence at 8 p.m.  I and other representatives of your Fringe & Purge Action News and Commentary Squad will be present.  We’d be delighted if you would find us and say hello.

Only make it snappy, will you?  None of us is getting any younger over here.