Edinburgh shows off its fringe

Festival adds 150 shows, 1,000 perfs

EDINBURGH — The world’s biggest arts fest shows no sign of getting any smaller.

The newly announced line-up of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, running Aug. 6­28, includes 28,014 performances of 1,867 shows. That’s an increase of more than 150 shows and 1,000 perfs over last year — and nearly twice as many as a decade ago.

An estimated 16,990 performers will descend on the Scottish capital from around the world in shows ranging from the sublime to the ridiculous. Those with a rarefied taste will head for Korean puppetry or Czech polyphonic singing. Those in a more frivolous mood can choose the bouncy-castle “Hamlet,” which promises to put a spring in the step of Shakespeare’s Dane.

As ever, the Fringe serves as a barometer of the political mood of the times. According to Fringe helmer Paul Gudgin, this year’s most prominent theme is religion.

“At the 2002 Fringe, we felt a massive response to Sept. 11, while in 2005, the war on terror was a central point of inspiration for many shows,” he says. “This year, I’m fascinated to see so many shows addressing faith and religion.”

Promising to be one of the more incendiary treatments of the subject is “Petrol Jesus Nightmare #5 (in the Time of the Messiah),” by Henry Adam, author of “The People Next Door,” which enjoyed a London transfer after its 2003 Edinburgh run. His new play is a thriller set in occupied territory where faith and belief have violent consequences.

It’s one of the central productions in the program at the Traverse, the new-writing theater that serves as a fulcrum for the serious Fringe playgoer. The program in this venue alone includes work from the U.S., South Africa, Denmark, Canada, France, Colombia, Ireland and the U.K.

From Gotham, the Team returns after its award-winning debut last year with the world premiere of “Particularly in the Heartland.” Set on a Kansas farm, it’s a play about losing sight of America and trying to fall back in love with it.

It will be joined at the Traverse by “In the Continuum,” the Pulitzer-shortlisted drama about HIV/AIDS in African-American women, produced by Primary Stages; and “¡El Conquistador!,” the epic tale of a soap opera star, produced by the Lucidity Suitcase Intercontinental and New York Theater Workshop.

Another U.S. visitor to the Fringe is Harry Shearer, dissecting American demo cracy while denying his day job in “This is so not about the Simpsons (American Voy eurs).” He’s part of a wave of hard-hitting political com mentary, much of it coming in the form of verbatim theater. Examples include “What I Heard About Iraq,” Simon Levy’s adaptation of an article by Eliot Weinberger; “Twilight Los Angeles 1992,” Anna Deavere Smith’s docudrama about the Rodney King race riots; and “(I Am) Nobody’s Lunch,” the cabaret satire of American public culture by the Civilians. Also, “My Name Is Rachel Corrie,” about the late American activist and famous for not playing at the New York Theater Workshop, makes an unusual move from the West End to the Fringe.

At the more commercial end of the spectrum, all eyes are awaiting news of the starry casting for an adaptation of “Midnight Cowboy,” which is en route to London’s West End.

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