Strong attendance, impending transfers drive 2010 festival

If the world is in recession, no one has told the Edinburgh Fringe, which drew a growing crowd to its lineup of big names and tough themes.

Many flocked to the fest for the chance to see Simon Callow, who gave an illuminating performance as “Shakespeare: The Man From Stratford”; Alan Cumming, whose cabaret show “I Bought a Blue Car Today” met with adoration from the home crowd; and Clarke Peters, who revived his tuner “Five Guys Named Moe.”

The charismatic Peters, star of “The Wire” and “Treme,” appeared as Nomax, the unreliable lover who turns to the songs of Louis Jordan for romantic advice. Played, sung and danced by true aficionados, the show, now transferring to London, was an exercise in easygoing cool.

The first fest box office figures from August show a 5.2% increase in ticket sales vs. last year, amounting to 1,955,913 sold That’s in addition to the burgeoning “free Fringe” — in excess of 500 events — which relies on aud donations. It means that average attendance per performance was close to 50, even in a city offering nearly 2,500 shows.

New Yorkers will get a chance to see their share of Fringe alumni. Tim Crouch’s “The Author,” an astonishing piece of meta-theater that describes horrific scenes of violence and child abuse, is tipped for a Gotham transfer, while a WWII-set “Ovid’s Metamorphoses,” winner of the Carol Tambor Best of Fringe Award, is already lined up for a three-week run at Off Off Broadway’s Flea Theater. The latest from Enda Walsh, Homer redux “Penelope,” has scored a run at St. Ann’s Warehouse in Brooklyn starting in October, while Bryony Lavery’s “Beautiful Burnout” lands there in the spring.

This year the overall Fringe lineup seemed, at times, a barrage of plays about male aggression and female victimization. In a single day at the Traverse, a hub for new work, you could see Linda Brogan and Polly Teale’s “Speechless,” in which the real-life “silent twins” June and Jennifer Gibbons were sexually exploited by a callous boyfriend; Sam Holcroft’s “While You Lie,” a misfiring Darwinist drama featuring a gruesome onstage Caesarean section; as well as Crouch’s “Author.”

It was hard not to be desensitized to the violence by the time you got to the most powerful piece, Cora Bissett’s “Roadkill,” the best of several plays about sex trafficking, in which auds were bused to a city apartment to witness a grim tale of enforced prostitution. The play was one of the winners of the Holden Street Theater Award and will transfer to the Adelaide Fringe in 2011.

Among the work attracting international attention was “Lockerbie: Unfinished Business,” in which actor David Benson portrays Dr. Jim Swire, the bereaved father of a passenger blown up in the terrorist attack on Pan Am flight 103 in 1988. While U.S. senators made headlines in questioning the Scottish government’s decision to release convicted bomber Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi on compassionate grounds, Benson made an eloquent and impassioned case for high-level conspiracy and Megrahi’s innocence.

Meanwhile in the Edinburgh Intl. Festival, helmer Jonathan Mills focused on the Americas. The National Theater of Scotland mounted the preem of “Caledonia,” a satirical retelling of a failed attempt to establish a Scottish colony on the Isthmus of Panama in the late 17th century. Helmer Anthony Neilson papered over the weaker moments in Alistair Beaton’s play with a highly theatrical staging that was always entertaining even if it didn’t always hit its satirical targets.

From Gotham, the Wooster Group made the link between the sexual licentiousness of the 1930s flophouse in Tennessee Williams’ autobiographical “Vieux Carre” and the similarly frank late-’60s underground films of Paul Morrissey. The world preem had the company’s customary technical polish but too little variation in its tone of dreamy detachment.

Even more technically impressive were two shows from Chile’s Teatro Cinema, “Sin Sangre” and “The Man Who Fed Butterflies,” which, by means of front and back projections, placed the live actors in a filmic world. While the technique was brilliantly executed, it gave the actors no freedom and, although helmer Juan Carlos Zagal has important things to say about his country’s dark political history, the cinematic experience tended to overwhelm the theatrical.

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