Each year a few dominant themes emerge from the Capital Fringe Festival, the massive theater extravaganza with a reputation for edgy, raw productions. This year, one of the most common subjects is ... American history. The festival is nothing if not unpredictable. We used some of the recurring motifs to categorize the 130 shows and narrow the pool to some of those worth checking out. And they aren't all educational.
The play: "Mark Twain's Riverboat Extravaganza!"
Who's doing it: Pointless Theatre Company, which consistently presents some of the Fringe Festival's most polished and inventive shows. Last year's "Imagination Meltdown Adventure" won the Fringe director's award.
What to expect: The famous humorist and some of his best-known characters present short takes on tall tales with a vaudeville twist. Pointless is known for its puppetry, and they'll be spinning these yarns with the help of turn-of-the-century-inspired puppets and toys.
- Theodore Roosevelt might be Washington's trendiest past president: First the baseball races, then the eponymous bar and now "Carry a Big Stick," a play about his time in office.
- "My Civil War" is a theatrical concert from the perspective of a Civil War soldier.
- A solo performance brings Robert F. Kennedy's final years to life in "RFK."
- It's a time warp: "1814! The War of 1812 Rock Opera" reimagines the era in the context of a 1970s rock musical.
The play: "Social Media Expert"
Who's doing it: John Krizel, who presented last year's "In This Economy," returns for another wry look at the 20-something life lived online.
What to expect: A corporate social media manager has to dig his company out of a scandal one tweet at a time (ripped-from-the-headlines hint: It involves horse meat). He also has to navigate relationships with the not-so-savvy people around him, including his boss, roommate and girlfriend.
- "iLust for G-Love: An Auto-Ethnography" takes a hard look at dating in the digital era.
- "One Night in New York!" boasts a musical number about the gay hookup app Grindr.
- A young man parses his online data for answers to life's big questions in "Random Access Memory."
- Actress Kathryn Elizabeth Kelly chronicles what happens when you say yes to every Facebook invitation in "STATUS - A Social Media Experiment."
The play: "Double Freakquency"
Who's doing it: AVAdventure, a multimedia production company based in Richmond that specializes in "immersive experience production."
What to expect: A scene will play out in front of you, but the audio will be delivered through two-channel headphones. One frequency might be a character's dialogue while another his or her inner thoughts - you can switch back and forth between channels. Everyone's experience will be unique, so the company recommends going to the show with friends and debriefing each other afterward.
- Play life-size rock, paper, scissors at "Tickets to an Event," which also will include marriages in crosswalks.
- In Dog and Pony DC's revival of "A Killing Game," a mysterious plague is ravaging the audience.
- Magic and interactive theater combine in "Patterns: A Numbers & Symbols Show," which seeks answers to the secrets of the universe.
- Guests can try burkas in "To Know a Veil" (get it?), a meditation on shrouded women and personal identity.
The real Washington
The play: "H Street Housewives"
Who's doing it: First-time Fringer Jenny Splitter wrote this play, and Kristy Simmons directs a motley cast of talents, including Washington Improv Theater performer Molly Woods Murchie, opera singer Jessi Baden-Campbell and Dane Edidi, better known as cabaret performer Lady Dane.
What to expect: Splitter took inspiration from the "crazy exchanges" on her neighborhood listserv, not to mention her addiction to the "Real Housewives" franchise, for a show that aims toward campy. The play starts with the end-of-season reunion, hosted by Edidi and moves to earlier sequences when the drama around a neighborhood best known for hip, late-night hangouts rivals the histrionics on Capitol Hill.
- "& Afterwards" finds Speakeasy DC's Amy Couchoud directing epic storyteller Kevin Boggs, who spins tales of culture shock after moving to the big city and getting work at a Dupont Circle cafe.
- Longtime Washington resident Tarpley Long received permission from William Faulkner's estate to update "Absalom, Absalom!" The result is "Dark House," her 1960s-era adaptation set around Logan Circle with a story that revolves around the District's
McMillan Sand Filtration Site.
- Relive the days when one of Washington's heavily traversed squares was transformed into a tent city with Rabble Crew Productions' Occupy-themed "McPherson Madness."
The play: "Kubrilesque"
Who's doing it: Los Angeles-born Cherry Kiss Productions is the brainchild of the cheekily pseudonymed Crystal Swarovski.
What to expect: Swarovski assembles a team of burlesque performers to dance and strip their way through a parody of Stanley Kubrick's anthology. This is the area premiere of the show, which was created in 2008 and has made the rounds of European and stateside festivals. You may never look at "Dr. Strangelove" the same way.
- Burlesque Classique presents another kind of single-focus revue with "The Burlesque of Broadway," featuring songs from "Rent" and other musicals.
- Local group Burlesque and Belly Laughs returns to Fringe with another melding of improv comedy and strip teases. "What's in the BOX?!" is inspired by the seven deadly sins.