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Last night, 23 Fringe groups converged on a makeshift stage in the backroom of RFD’s for the fourth annual Fringe Previews. (Video, methinks, forthcoming.) The beer was abundant, the crowd somewhat rowdier and less attentive than last year’s, and the performances less…well, performative than declarative. That is to say: it was a lot more tell than show.

Not without its highlights, though, and certainly replete with the requisite Fringe-isms. Fake breasts? Check. Um, more fake breasts? Double-check. Duplicitous robots from space? Indeed. Desultory allusions to Beckett, Wilde, Shakespeare, et al. wielded with the weight of a French tickler? Duh.

Below the jump, a telegraphic rundown on last night’s 23 previews.

Deep breath!~ Here we go:

  • Let’s Sing Gospel 101!, in which the magnanimous Rosita Mathews induces her mainly white audience to shout, stomp, clap, and otherwise make a joyful noise.
  • Uncorseted, a gender-bender purportedly relating to the 1893 World’s Fair. Lots of gents wearing wigs & padded bras, prancing about and “dueling” with plastic swords. Expect as much phallic wordplay as phallic swordplay.
  • Headscarf and the Angry Bitch: A woman, a hijab, a guitar, and an innocuously irreverent song cycle about “growing up Muslim in America.” The humor seems to revolve around Pakistan, Facebook, and goats.
  • Captain Squishy’s Yee Haw Jamboree (the musical): The gentlefolk behind last year’s smash I Like Nuts! (the musical) return to Fringe with a tale about a Country & Western variety show and the WWI German agent who infiltrates it to spread sedition and funny accents.
  • Lila: The Love Story of Radha and Krishna: Entrancingly programmatic classical Indian dance.
  • Missing Pages: A daughter uncovers her father’s war diary and past as a WWII spy. Vietnam, Iraq parallels.
  • Krapp’s Last Powerpoint: Promising title; no apparent relation to its Beckett namesake. (Unless you count the whole one-man-alone-with-audience-and-memory thing.) Also, faith-healing seems to be involved.
  • Riding the Bull: Something about a rodeo clown, Godsburg, TX, and a handful of giggle-worthy pop culture references. Also, original banjo tunes from “New York City’s Angriest Yodeling Banjo Player.”
  • She Moved Through the Fair: One-woman show; reminiscences of a brandy-swilling Irish lass delivered in a soupy brogue.
  • Irish Authors Held Hostage: Another black comedy from Martin McDonagh? Nope—just a historical mash-up, in which the usual cast of Irish men o’ letters (Wilde, Yeats, Joyce, &c.) get kidnapped by terrorists “of every stripe.” Last night’s short—Oscar Wilde taken captive by Al Qaeda—had the audience (rightfully) in stitches.
  • Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead, in which Nu Sass Productions cuts Stoppard’s fringe darling down to an 85-minute, all-women adaptation. Ambitious—and, if the preview’s any indicator, ripe for chaos.
  • SOUP!, an all-in-the-timing series of comedy shorts. Wednesday’s excerpt—a dysfunctional husband-wife cooking show—split some serious sides.
  • MAY 39TH/40TH, a tale from the future (the yr. 3009, to be precise), in which the more things change (lots of clones) the more things stay the same (dating “still blows chunks”).
  • Please Listen: A Musical Chaos: This year’s rock & roll spectacle. Two musicians kidnap a record exec and assault his ears with their opus—a concept album about duplicitous robots from space.

OK, at this point in last night’s proceedings there was a mandatory beer break. Given the feat-of-endurance nature of this post, I’d recommend the same thing here.

Back? Good.

  • Bare Breasted Women Sword Fighting: Wait, didn’t we just hear about this? Ah…this one involves actual women, who dance, wrestle, and—yes—duel, all in the name of “vaudeville.” Also, if we’re to believe the hype, there’s actual toplessness. If, y’know, you’re into that sort of thing.
  • My Fabulous Sex Life: Confessions of a gay man’s sexual awakening in D.C. Funny; brash; almost inconceivably explicit.
  • Slow News Day: Able, audience-participatory improvisation about TV news. If you delight in such things, this one is a no-brainer.
  • Herbie: Poet of the Wild West: A totally irreverent take on Hamlet that involves eye-patches and six-shooters. Also, since it’s Fringe, a token lesbian cowgirl.
  • The Escapades of Farty Johnson: OK, I’m gonna go out on a limb here. This was the most thrilling four minutes of the entire program. I have no idea whether there’s a plot (if there is, it seems to revolve around a delusional woman auditioning for an unsympathetic director). Farty (or, as she called herself onstage, “Toots…because girls don’t fart”) apparently specializes in an offbeat quadrille that somehow communicates deep sadness while keeping the audience in stitches. Can it sustain over the full 45 minutes? Who knows. But if Patricia Krauss wasn’t the most gifted physical comedian in the room last night, that’s only because David Gaines was sitting in the back.
  • Thou Shalt Not Kill: A Collection of One-Acts: Asks the question, “Can’t murder be innocent?” Looks for answers in ways Dostoevskyan (“Dude, let’s kill a homeless guy!”) and otherwise.
  • The Real Adventures of Tom Mix: Based on the “real-life” adventures of the early-Western film star, this seems to boil down to a lot of monologues delivered from under the brim of a major-league Stetson.
  • Jack, The Ticket Ripper: Slasher-farce about an overenthusiastic usher who goes all Titus Andronicus on playwrights, bartenders, and pretty much everyone else.
  • Pepe! The Mail Order Monkey Musical: Two understimulated brothers order a mail-order monkey, throwing a wrench into the machinations of their social-climbin’ mother.

But what did you think? Let us know in the comments.

Selah.