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Highlights and lowlights from the eighth annual Chicago Fringe Festival

Jeff Fort and Fred Hampton: A Revolutionary Love Story is among the standouts at this northwest-side showcase for "the untried and the weird."

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Evil women, mind pickers, Fred Hampton, one spectacularly overdue library book, and, of course, the usual sex and death: the Chicago Fringe Festival is back for its eighth go-round, filling nine Jefferson Park venues with "the untried and the weird." Below please find our collected short reviews of 12 shows that run into the festival's second weekend. It's all over September 10.
—Tony Adler

Dandy Darkly's Myth Mouth! Imagine an even queenier, more hyperactive Rip Taylor with a penchant for sequins, wordplay, and revisionist queer history, and you'll have a sense of Brooklyn's Dandy Darkly's overwhelming hour of outlandish mythmaking. His images are meticulously hallucinogenic (outer space cats invading to end the cold war, for starters), but challenging acoustics and a rattling delivery make him difficult to follow. (Thu 9/7-Fri 9/8, 8:30 PM) —Justin Hayford

Evil Women Talk about nasty—four of history's most villainous real-life mobsters, queens, and serial killers entertain and torment each other for eternity in this all-female redux of No Exit by #Divahs, in which a newly deceased history professor reconciles her abject horror with her morbid appreciation for her new housemates' acts of notoriety. The metaphysical threads get tangled up, but there's some thoughtful absurdity here. (Fri 9/18, 10 PM; Sat 9/9, 7 PM; Sun 9/10, 5:30 PM) —Dan Jakes

Exceptions to Reality Truth be told, I have no way of fact-checking William Pack's assertion that most magicians start the craft as a child because of "problems at home," but it sounds . . . questionable. I hope. Between dad jokes, Pack adeptly performs mind reading and slight sleight-of-hand card and coin tricks, and his gentle demeanor serves as a nice foil for his later, more squirm-inducing illusions. (Sat 9/9, 10 PM; Sun 9/10, 8:30 PM) (DJ)

Jeff Fort and Fred Hampton: A Revolutionary Love Story - COURTESY CHICAGO FRINGE FESTIVAL
  • Courtesy Chicago Fringe Festival
  • Jeff Fort and Fred Hampton: A Revolutionary Love Story

[Recommended] Jeff Fort and Fred Hampton: A Revolutionary Love Story A timely and intriguing exploration of the relationship between the leaders of the Blackstone Rangers gang and the Chicago branch of the Black Panther Party, this play captures the spirit of what these two ambitious young men aspired to and the ways they were undermined by both internal and external forces. Whatever their individual flaws, their dream of bettering the plight of African-Americans in this country remains urgent, noble, yet unfulfilled. Steven Long wrote and directed. (Thu 9/7, 8:30 PM; Sat 9/9, 2:30 PM; Sun 9/10, 5:30 PM) —Dmitry Samarov

Man Steve Berglund wrote and performed this unfocused misfire of a meditation on the meaning of manhood, which apparently consists of whining about things you can't or won't do. There are attempts at jocularity and off-color humor along the way here, culminating with Berglund's equating his coexistence with a misbehaving dog to the story line of 12 Years a Slave. Avoid at all costs. (Thu 9/7, 7 PM; Sat 9/9, 4 PM) (DS)

Mark Toland: Mind Reader - JOHN OLSON
  • John Olson
  • Mark Toland: Mind Reader

Mark Toland: Mind Reader Mark Toland is not Houdini or Svengali, not Jeanne Dixon or Edgar Cayce, not Miss Cleo or Nostradamus. There's no smoke, mirrors, or astral projection, only pen, paper, and participants eager—or at least willing—to have their minds picked through for trivia. He has no flash and no agenda. He's just a guy from Kansas who's got your number. (Sat 9/9, 8:30 PM; Sun 9/10, 4 PM) —Irene Hsiao

Narratives of Achromatopsia Chicago director Iris Sowlat stitches together firsthand accounts from several people (including herself) with achromatopsia, a visual impairment that inhibits color perception and diminishes visual acuity. The anecdotes vary from predictable (insensitive comments from friends and family) to illuminating (imagine flirting without visual cues). While the documentary-style presentation is clunky, the tales of triumph against tall odds are inspirational. (Sat 9/9, 4 PM; Sun 9/10, 2:30 PM) (JH)

The One Without Words The duet is a commonplace and a zone of infinite exploration, a model for probing the consciousness of self and other, a microcosm of human relations, of which love is only one possibility—here explored by actors untrained in the finer expression of the sinew. Mugging and kissing tell the tiresome story of a trite couple. It's tragic. (Sun 9/10, 8:30 PM) (IH)

Prakriti - COURTESY CHICAGO FRINGE FESTIVAL
  • Courtesy Chicago Fringe Festival
  • Prakriti

Prakriti: A History of the Present Ishti team Kinnari Vora and Preeti Veerlapati combine several traditions of Indian classical dance in their exploration of the tension between opposing beliefs and the rediscovery of balance. Conceptually a work in progress, Prakriti (Sanskrit for "primal matter") showcases the expression of faces, hands, and voices to hint at the value of ritual in the practice of daily life. (Sat 9/9, 5:30 PM) (IH)

Pat O'Brien in Glen Berger's Underneath the Lintel - COURTESY CHICAGO FRINGE FESTIVAL
  • Courtesy Chicago Fringe Festival
  • Pat O'Brien in Glen Berger's Underneath the Lintel

[Recommended] Underneath the Lintel Pat O'Brien (best known as Mr. Dewey on Saved by the Bell) gives an astounding performance as a librarian who embarks on an existential quest after a book shows up 123 years overdue. Inspired by the multiple meanings of the myth of the Wandering Jew, this solo play by Glen Berger is a deeply resonant meditation on choice and consequence. (Thu 9/7-Fri 9/8, 7 PM) (DS)

When That Song Is About You Chicago musical theater actor Julie Soroko has a rather dutiful tale to tell: undergraduate insecurity, self-defeating relationships, postcollege aimlessness, eventual self-acceptance, all scored to on-the-nose pop songs. Soroko's a likable performer with a strong voice, but she too often milks the moments of her own life, making autobiography feel oddly impersonal. (Fri 9/8, 7 PM) (JH)

Work to Be Done Fringe festivals are tailor-made opportunities for artists to do the sort of introspective, narrative-be-damned pieces that would otherwise be considered navel-gazing elsewhere. With a healthy dose of self-abasement, solo artist Andy Monson dips in and out of an off-kilter, unfinished manuscript between phone calls with unamused industry colleagues. Keyboard underscoring by Emilie Modaff‏ keeps the audience on its toes. (Sat 9/9, 8:30 PM) (DJ)

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