Review: Pared-down San Diego International Fringe Festival reveals some early gems


Organizers of the seventh annual San Diego International Fringe Festival have described the 2019 outing as a “transition year” as they work out the kinks of a move from downtown San Diego to Balboa Park and the number of shows has plummeted from 90 acts two years ago to just 24 this year.

On Saturday, I caught five of this year’s new Fringe shows, some of the international imports, some repeat performers with new shows and a local newcomer. Fringe headquarters this year is the outdoor lobby gallery of the long-shuttered Starlight Bowl and most of the shows take place through June 16 there and in three buildings, the Marie Hitchcock Puppet Theatre, the World Beat Center and the Centro Cultural de la Raza.

The challenge presented here is proximity. It’s a 10- to 15-minute walk between the Marie Hitchcock and the Worldbeat and Centro venues. And if you’re fringe-binging five or six continuous shows, it can be a logistical challenge. When my schedule repeatedly alternated between Hitchcock and Centro shows with just a 10-minute break in between, I rented a Lime scooter to make curtains on time. But when a circus show ran 12 minutes late, and my parked scooter was commandeered by another Lime customer, I ended up 15 minutes late to a show.

Daytime parking in Balboa Park can also be challenging, so arrive early and make use of the park’s new free green shuttle. The best plan is to shop ahead and buy tickets online, where the daily schedule is available, since the festival is no longer producing printed programs. Also be sure to check online before you arrive for schedule changes.

Marketing and advertising for Fringe festival got off to a late start this year and festival signage in the park is minimal, but in future years, a well-promoted festival could dramatically benefit from the park’s heavy foot traffic of adventure-seeking day-trippers in future years.

Tickets to most shows are $10, plus a $5 Fringe tag is required for all shows. Visit

Here are mini-reviews for shows seen Saturday:

“Monsters of the American Cinema” by Boy and Monster

For the third year in a row, San Diego playwright Christian St. Croix has written and directed a new play at San Diego Fringe. His plays, produced through his company Boy and Monster, deal with the LGBT and black experience. St. Croix stars in this year’s play, “Monsters of the American Cinema,” with frequent Boy and Monster collaborator Devin Wade. The touching and funny two-character play is honest, well-acted and engaging. St. Croix plays widower Remy, who runs an old drive-in movie theater in Santee. He shares a trailer with his late husband Brian’s 16-year-old son, “Pup,” played by Wade. Brian died of a heroin overdose four years before and they’re both still struggling with grief. The play’s name comes from the creature features shown at the drive-in and the symbolic monsters that Pup sees in his nightmares. Remy and Pup have developed a warm and loving familial chemistry but their relationship fractures when Remy discovers Pup and his friends have been bullying a gay teen at school. Critic’s choice. Remaining performances: 9 p.m. June 12. 7:30 p.m. June 14. 4 p.m. June 16. Centro Cultural de la Raza, 2004 Park Blvd.

“A Box in the Desert” by Huldufugl

Iceland’s immersive theater company Huldufugl makes its first appearance at San Diego Fringe this year, but hopefully not its last. Tickets went fast for “A Box in the Desert,” a 20-minute, one-on-one virtual reality show where the audience member wears a virtual reality headset and hand controls and interacts with an actor, recorded sounds and a beautifully rendered 360-degree virtual environment. To say too much about the experience would spoil it, but as the title implies, the audience member is imprisoned in glasslike box in a rocky desert. A guardian keeps watch nearby, but is she friend or foe? Every show is different, depending on how the audience member chooses to interact with the guardian, a disembodied voice and the hand controls. Critic’s choice. Starlight Bowl. Shows are sold out, but check with Fringe box office for cancellations.

“The Fever” performed by Pat O’Brien

Back for the first time since winning the “Outstanding Solo Performance” prize at the 2017 San Diego Fringe fest, ultra-talented Minnesota actor Pat O’Brien returns with Wallace Shawn’s incendiary 1990 solo play “The Fever.” It’s a 60-minute monologue about a comfortably wealthy and cultured American’s fever-addled emotional struggle with his responsibility to aid the world’s poor. Addled by food poisoning in a rundown hotel in a third-world country, O’Brien’s character is eaten up from the inside out with the competing forces of his proud liberalism and an affluent lifestyle he increasingly finds irredeemably corrupt. The talky, political and surprisingly contemporary play could be deadly in the wrong actor’s hands, but O’Brien is a master of the craft and he brings the words alive in a perfectly pitched, superbly acted and visceral performance. Remaining performances: 6 p.m. June 10, 9 p.m. June 11, 7:30 p.m. June 12. Critic’s Choice. Marie Hitchcock Puppet Theatre, 2130 Pan American Plaza, Balboa Park Palisades.

“Real[ise]” by Tangata Circus Company

Making their first appearance at San Diego Fringe this year, this three-member New Zealand circus/theater/comedy troupe delights with an endearing all-ages show about discovery and friendship. Using the traditional acrobat acts of contortion and aerial silk (Jackson Cordery), hoop and rope swinging (Laura Oakley) and hand balancing and aerial hoop (Sophia O’Connor), the trio wordlessly acts out the story of three friends whose repetitive, humdrum existence is enlivened by their discovery of some unused circus equipment, not to mention a previously unseen audience who, at times, are pulled into the show. The year-old troupe’s circus skills range from adept to masterful, but their personalities and sweet chemistry make the show a winner. Remaining performances: 6 p.m. June 13, 2:30 p.m. June 15, 1 p.m. June 16. Centro Cultural de la Raza.

“The Chameleon” by Zugzwanging

San Diego actor Geoffrey Ulysses Geissinger, whose stage name is Zugzwanging, wrote and stars in this solo play based on the strange but true story of Frederic Bourdin, a French impostor who assumed the identities of hundreds of kidnapped and missing children. In 1997, the 23-year-old Bourdin pretended to be teenage abductee Nicholas Barclay of San Antonio, Texas, who had been missing for three years. Despite obvious signs this Frenchman was not 16-year-old Nicholas, Barclay’s family accepted him, perhaps to cover up an even greater crime. The backstory of “The Chameleon” is fascinating and Zugzwanging — peforming a confessional monologue as the alternately angry and despondent Bourdin — is a strong and natural actor. But his rapid-fire delivery in a sometimes incomprehensible French accent make it hard to follow the fast-moving plot. Remaining performances: 9 p.m. June 10, 6 p.m. June 13, 7:30 p.m. June 14. Marie Hitchcock Puppet Theatre.