The Kansas City Fringe Festival is back once again, presenting dozens of productions at venues across the city. As always, this year’s lineup is an incredible range of material, from spoken word to musicals to deeply personal dramas. With only a $5 buy-in for a festival badge and relatively low ticket prices per show, this week is a fantastic opportunity to expand beyond our normal theatrical inclinations and go on an all-out cultural bonanza if the impulse strikes.
With so many shows to choose from (54, plus a selection of films and visual art), it’s really just a question of how to fit in as many as possible and which to prioritize. Here are five we’re especially excited to check out at this year’s festival.
Last year, Timothy Mooney brought his one-man show Breakneck Comedy of Errors to the KC Fringe Festival, presenting the entirety of Shakespeare’s comedy in the span of about an hour. I found it to be thoroughly enjoyable but with the show’s geographical intricacies, large cast of characters, and nonstop mistaken identities, there was an immense amount of information Mooney had to get across in addition to the slapstick comedy, all of which ultimately weighed things down a bit. The decision to maroon himself behind a podium only created more of a sluggish distance between himself and the audience.
I’m excited to see what Mooney does with Romeo and Juliet. The show is less complicated than A Comedy of Errors in terms of sheer exposition, which will hopefully allow him to focus more on the comedy (which we’ve seen he excels at) and the drama.
Based on a press release, this show came about in the exact way you might expect: with a text between friends reading, “what if we wrote a musical about the Unabomber called The TUNEabomber.” That sort of ludicrous pun usually just remains in text message ponderances, but playwrights John Lampe and Michael Wysong have turned it into a fully-fledged production.
This sort of material is most likely not going to be to everyone’s taste. But if the musical numbers featured on the show’s TikTok page are any indication, the show appears to present mass murderer Ted Kaczynski as a satirical celebrity without actually glorifying him. Fans of irreverent true crime with a comedic bent will probably want to make time to check this one out.
In Their Own Words is a presentation from the Black Repertory Theatre of Kansas City’s RiSE – (Repertory in School Empowerment) program, in conjunction with the South Kansas City Performing Arts Academy. The slate of original works written and performed by high school students has been a Fringe standout in past years, presenting an impressive range of subjects, tones, and creative approaches. If you’re looking for a burst of optimism regarding the state of today’s youth, it can likely be found here.
Written and performed by Paris Crayton III, Bloodline is a “semi-autobiographical, multi-generational love story,” telling the story of three men who share the same name. It received both the Critic’s Choice and Staff Pick awards at the Orlando Fringe Winter Mini-Fest and from only the show’s brief teaser—which is both hilarious and heartwrenching—it’s clear Crayton is a talented playwright and performer who infuses his work with levity and heart.
This show from comedian Jamie Campbell premiered at the KC Fringe Fest in 2022 and has been touring festivals and sweeping up awards in the year since. I didn’t catch it last year but have heard fantastic things so I’m hoping to make the one-night-only (Friday, 7/28) return this summer. Campbell’s show is described as a Gen X nostalgia fest about growing up and parenthood (or the experience of non-parenthood as it may be) and as being uproariously funny but with genuinely heartfelt and thought-provoking turns.
The Kansas City Fringe Festival runs through July 30 at various venues city-wide. For more information on these and other shows, visit kcfringe.org.