For this year’s Capital Fringe Festival, Laura Zam is stuffing a sock in her underpants.
Recently she explained: Along with a short wig and the suit and tie that she’ll wear to play the title motivational speaker in her one-woman show “An Hour with Ken Johnson” (at the Goethe Institut), she’s decided to complete the costume by adding a bulge down below.
“It’s fantastic to dress as a man,” says the seasoned performer. “I’ve played men in the past, but Ken is my most sustained male role. As a writer and an actor it’s allowed me to enter an entirely new world. The sock should only make it better.”
“What I’m doing combines comedy, theater and motivational talk,” continues Zam, a Brooklyn transplant who lives with her husband in D.C. “And Ken is part evangelical preacher and a little bit Anthony Robbins. He’s also a recovering Internet porn addict, and though he’s kind of weird and a bit of clown, he delivers a message of optimism and comments on human resilience. Hopefully audiences will have a laugh but also get something out of what he has to say.”
An annual performing arts event, the Capital Fringe Festival features more than 140 performances including theater, dance and music in various venues around town. It draws both accomplished and less experienced artists performing both well known and original, untested works. The results are uneven but rarely dull. Tickets are affordable.
Local African-American historian Anthony Cohen has twice retraced arduous Underground Railroad routes. After completing his second trek, walking from Alabama to Canada, Cohen uncovered an account describing how his runaway slave African-Jewish-Irish-Cherokee ancestor Patrick Sneed had traveled the identical path to freedom in 1849.
Blown away by his discovery, Cohen who is gay, began speaking about his connection to Sneed’s experience. For this year’s Fringe he’s adapted his lecture expressly for theater with a one-man show titled “Patrick & Me” (at Goethe Institut), supplementing the material with visuals and musical montages. “I went searching for the Underground Railroad,” says Cohen, “but the Underground Railroad was searching for me.”
At the Apothecary, Mixrun Productions presents Shakespeare’s “King Lear.” Only this time the tragic tale of betrayal and insanity is played out by present day bikers locked in a violent turf war. And while the company’s take on the classic is heavily abridged, says cast member Katie Wanschura who is gay, the text is otherwise mostly faithful. Because almost one third of the parts have been re-imagined as gay or bisexual, some pronouns have been changed.
A web designer by day, Wanschura is thrilled to be cast wily and wicked Edmund restyled as a flirtatious lesbian bartender at the aptly named Gloucester. “From behind the bar, I get to watch the story unfold,” she says. “Also I hit on the female patrons and interact with the audience. It’s great.”
For several years, Patrick Doneghy has toyed with the idea of doing a revue featuring men singing Broadway songs typically performed by women. With Dominion Stage’s “That’s What She Sang” at Studio’s Mead Theatre, he’s realized and expanded on the idea by writing, staging and acting in a juke box musical with a connected story.
Comprised of a seven man, mostly gay cast (Doneghy is gay), the show focuses on a queer men’s support group and the problems its members encounter. Songs include women’s tunes like “Gimme Gimme” from “Thoroughly Modern Millie,” and “Maybe This Time” from “Cabaret.”
“We’re exploring romantic mishaps here, not big social issues,” says Doneghy. “It’s a chance to hear music we all know in a new way and to hear some LGBT stories that don’t always get told.”
In “Cecily and Gwendolyn’s Capital Balloon Ride,” Philadelphia improv partners Kelly Jennings and Karen Gertz play a pair of time-traveling Victorian cultural anthropologists. Wherever they land — in this case Mountain at Mount Vernon Church– these curious, slightly loopy ladies take stock of their surroundings and set to work getting to know the locals.
“It’s unlike anything you’ve ever seen,” says Jennings, who is gay. “While our characters kick off the conversation, the audience actually guides the show exploring subjects that are important to them. Participation isn’t mandatory, but once warmed up, almost everyone is willing talk; and people leave feeling they’ve connected with their community in a way that doesn’t happen in any other theater experience.”
For performance schedules and venue locations, go to capfringe.org.