We’re a little more than halfway through PortFringe, the volunteer-driven festival of short-form theater, dance, storytelling and all-forms-are-valid live performance, and audiences have spoken. The festival, now in its eighth year, offers a calendar of over 40 shows from artists near and far, offering space for young local artists to develop new works, showcase vital legacy artists in the state and multiple opportunities for audiences to be moved any given night in Portland.
Sure, it can be tough to parse its many and bizarrely titled shows, and we get that indoor theater can be a tough sell in the first weeks of summer, but the festival can be extremely rewarding if you play it right. To help with that, I asked a number of festivalgoers about the PortFringe shows they’re talking and thinking about. Here are 10 that kept coming up.
Though it might get lost in a sea of attention-grabbing titles, word is that you should not miss “Procession” by the Chicago-based act Muscleflea, a “folk-theater” collaborative known for balancing old school with multimedia performance styles. “Procession” is an immersive theatrical experience that courses through social practice and ritual, bridging the affects of rage, grief, ceremony and celebration to a uniquely moving show. (Note: They’re capping shows at audiences of 12, so queue up early.)
Remaining shows: Thursday, June 20 at 8:45 p.m. and Saturday, June 22 at 7:30 p.m. at Portland Stage, 25A Forest Ave.
Sometimes, the best Fringe shows seem like they’re lifted straight from The Moth. That’s true of the brave and uniquely American tale that New Yorker Richard Cardillo tells in “Invisibility: A Journey of Pasta, Prayer, Protest, and Peru,” a one-man show that works as a metaphor for the last generation of LGBTQ liberation tale. Cardillo, now in his sixties, grew up in a large Italian Catholic family. “Going to high school in the ‘70s, I had no role models for growing up gay besides these miserable Paul Lynde characters,” Cardillo said. Knowing he couldn’t “fake it and marry a woman,” Cardillo channeled his energy into religious fervor, becoming a celibate monk and Catholic missionary in Peru, where he lived for 15 years. When he left the monastery in 1991 to work elsewhere in Peru, he still couldn’t come out. Eventually, he found his way to New York, becoming the activist he’s been for the past 25 years. “I decided I couldn’t hide who I was any more. I was a gay man and I needed to experience that life.”
Remaining shows: Friday, June 21, 8:30 p.m. and Saturday, June 22 8:30 p.m. at Studio Theater at Portland Stage, 25A Forest Ave.
In a compelling double-feature pairing, a movement-and-dialogue piece titled “The Unkindest Cut” parries the tensions of depression’s incessant internal chatter with a tender microballet performed by Jocelyn Leighton and J. Dionne. It’s followed by “BURAKEYE,” a breathtaking performance by Ikirenga cy’Intore, an electrifying African drumming and dance troupe led by Maurice Habimfura. Bonus: This also includes some of the best costuming you’ll see in the festival.
Remaining shows: Friday, June 21, 6 p.m. and Saturday, June 22 at 2:30 p.m. at the Apohadion Theater, 107 Hanover St.
It’s impossible to be disinterested in magic, but it’s actually quite possible to be disinterested in magicians. Skip Daniels, a lifelong student of the form, knows firsthand that magicians can overstay their welcome, but “The Prince of Mystery” is as much a magic show as a parody of the hokey hocus pocus that magicians seem to adopt in order to practice their art. Through self-deprecating, deadpan humor and actually-impressive magic, Daniels is an unlikely highlight of the festival.
Remaining show: Friday, June 21, 10 p.m. at Mechanics Hall, 533 Congress St.
“Radical Softness” is another example of how PortFringe expands beyond the limits of theater. Using “contemporary dance as a form of resistance,” the four women of South Carolina’s Yuhas & Dancers model tactics and physical rituals for staying soft and practicing empathy in a world that rewards steeling the senses.
Remaining shows: Friday, June 21, 8:15 p.m. and Saturday, June 22, 6:30 p.m. at Mechanics Hall, 533 Congress St.
Spun from a sketch show that appeared in the previous two festivals, “Deep as Hell: The Skunk Cycle” is a showcase of the hilarious interplay between 2 Sheets Theater Company actors Khalil Lesaldo and Ella Mock — one a human, the other a skunk — as they uncover mutual understanding through a series of ridiculous scenarios.
Remaining shows: Thursday, June 20, 6:30 p.m. and Saturday, June 22, 3 p.m. at Mechanics Hall, 533 Congress St.
“Raisin’ Cain in the Hammer Lane,” a rowdy and satirical script by popular local actor/playwright Brent Askari, tells a madcap tale of The Rascal and his buddy Hamhock, viscerally recognizable types from Everytown, America. In a harebrained attempt to save the local diner, or maybe just have a good time tryin’, the two old boys wrestle sheriffs, friendly orangutans and manipulative pan-European existentialist philosophers. One of those shows that’s so exquisitely dumb you don’t realize until later how smart it is, and it depends on terrific performances from some of Portland’s best actors.
Remaining show: Saturday, June 22, 8 p.m. at Empire, 575 Congress St.
At a loss for words after the 2016 election, New York’s Kaitlin Kaufman redirected her search for answers into Penelope the Clown. The result, a clown show called “Yay America!”, attempts to cut through the madness of trying to rationalize the absurd. “I wanted to get to the heart of how it feels, as a proud American, to finally take a hard, honest look at the shadows that existed in this country long before the 2016 election,” Kaufman said.
Remaining shows: Friday, June 21, 6:30 p.m. at Mechanics Hall, 533 Congress St.; and Saturday, June 22, 6:15 p.m. at Empire, 575 Congress St.
Another must-see, “g e e l” is the original, devised, and continually evolving work from Portland artist Rene Goddess Johnson, who applies kinetic movement, group dynamics, radical embodiment, song and much breaking of the fourth wall to tell a personal and political story of her and her brother’s arrival to Portland from South Africa as children.
Remaining shows: Friday, June 21, 10:15 p.m. and Saturday, June 22, 1:30 p.m. at Portland Stage, 25A Forest Ave.
Finally, audiences have shared a bunch of charming anecdotes about the double feature of “Io Bello,” an awkward-as-hell clown show by Boston’s Elyse B. Brown, and “Cooking with Kathryn,” Kate Owens’ comedy cooking show in the style of a repressed southern housewife.
Remaining shows: Thursday, June 20, 10:15 p.m. and Saturday, June 22, 6:45 p.m. at the Studio Theater at Portland Stage, 25A Forest Ave.
All shows are $12. Bulk ticketing is also available. Visit PortFringe for more details.
Watch: Performer grapples with racism here: ‘I don’t feel like a Mainer. I wish I did.’