Even before the crowds sporting their official admission buttons began receding from the Capital Fringe Festival, which ended Sunday as one of the most artistically successful in the event’s seven-year history, the speculation started about which plays and acts might turn up somewhere in D.C. again.
Surely, we’ll be seeing a hit like “The Brontes,” the clever literary concert-musical that rocked out under the festival tent just off Mount Vernon Square, courtesy of the troupe that calls itself Dizzy Miss Lizzie’s Roadside Revue. “DC Trash,” Ron Litman’s sold-out solo show redolent of indigenous wisdom and humor, seems by the reactions of reviewers and audiences to cry out for a spot on some other club program. And “Beertown,” the endearing exercise in democratic drama that proved wildly popular throughout its run in Woolly Mammoth Theatre’s rehearsal hall, has demonstrated its ability to settle in for a longer stay.
Under the auspices of the Fringe Festival itself, a small number of shows will indeed return on Nov. 1, as part of the 18-day festival extension known as Fall Fringe. But as for the city’s year-round arts institutions figuring out how to annex the output and harness the energy of Fringe? That’s still not occurring. The town’s performing-arts companies remain far too detached from what’s going on at ground level to take advantage of some of the theatrical developments happening just beyond their doorsteps. And at a time when established groups are dealing in ever more visible ways with leaner times, engaging the modest works and motivated younger artists of Fringe might lead to some apt and smarter programming choices.
What this year’s Fringe — which ran from July 12-29, mostly in makeshift venues in and around downtown — spoke to so vibrantly (and poignantly) was the passionate desire of emerging play- and dancemakers from this region to claim a larger share of respect and attention. Capital Fringe has truly matured into an enriching regional showcase. It’s not anything like another stop on the international Fringe circuit, for artists taking modest shows on the road. In the entries I surveyed, what I found again and again was a fulfillment of one of the most consequential goals of Fringe: the presentation of a satisfying caliber of home-turf talent, the kind needing to be both supported and nurtured. And audiences are responding: By Sunday, Fringe officials were reporting more than 29,000 tickets already sold to this year’s festival, outpacing last summer’s totals.
If you sampled the wares over the past 17 days, you would have been able to gauge the magnitude of the embrace of Fringe by small local companies like Banished Productions, with its cheekily bewildering “The Circle,” Faction of Fools’s “Tales of Marriage and Mozzarella”—during which actual weddings took place — and Pinky Swear Productions’ saucy “Cabaret XXX: Love the One You’re With.”
Playwrights from the region spoke up, too, in promising works by Danielle Mohlman (“Stopgap”), Stephen Spotswood (“We Tiresias”) and Timothy Guillot, whose “Webcam Play” inventively used technology to portray a romance that was virtual in every sense of the word. Under director Sasha Bratt’s sensitive guidance, actors Steve Isaac and Sarah Ferris gave amusing and appealing accounts of young people crossing paths, purposes and wires on an online dating site. (I should note that Guillot was a student of mine several years ago at George Washington University.)