Shakespeare, 1950s lesbians and Chicago blues — it’s just another season with Key West’s Fringe Theater. Over the years, the Key West company has gained a reputation for offering distinct content, celebrating an array of genres and representing characters with diverse backgrounds. This season, Fringe kicks off its season with “The Last Flapper,” an offering that promises a tuned-in look at a very specific slice of American history.
Written by William Luce and directed for Fringe by Rebecca Tomlinson, “The Last Flapper” recalls snippets of the dazzling Jazz Age through the eyes of a struggling Zelda Fitzgerald. Stephanie Miller plays Zelda on point with a humanizing portrait that depicts the storied icon in her final days. Often relegated throughout history to her role as wife to F. Scott Fitzgerald, “The Last Flapper” takes Zelda from a two-dimensional stylized symbol of an era to a passionate woman battling mental illness and taking stock in her past. The personifying portrait is heightened by Miller’s performance, which imbues the character with necessary comic relief and hints of mischief, allowing her to become accessible to the audience. It’s Zelda, but with the soft filter removed.
The unfortunate news for Key West audiences is that the run of “the Last Flapper” is sold out. Fringe performances are always offered as short runs, typically limited to just a few days. The good news is that, at this point, all other upcoming productions still have tickets available. Early birds, take note.
The next opportunity to catch the enthusiastically nomadic company happens in December with the return of a popular character in “An Evening Lost with Lillian Baxter.” The fictional Ms. Baxter is inspired, very loosely, by the life and times of Judy Garland. In this dimension though, the aging starlet is still with us and deigns to grace the stages of Key West once a year to dish on her roller-coaster career and her seven ex-husbands. This iteration, the third annual presentation by Fringe, finds the bawdy icon navigating a second career of game show and sitcom stints. John Vessels, as the star and writer, provides the laughs while Jay Schwandt arranges an evening of classic showtunes and cabaret numbers. The show premiers the day after Christmas, allowing audiences to shake off holiday stress with cocktails and commiseration.
In January, Fringe shifts gears to present “Talley’s Folly,” a Pulitzer Prize winner in which a Jewish immigrant woos a Southern belle. Originally mounted off-Broadway in 1980, and at The Lyric in London in 1982, the love story captured contemporary audiences with a recent New York revival starring Sarah Paulson.
February brings a play that celebrates black cultural heritage. August Wilson’s “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” will be presented as a reading with music. The play, directed by Terri White, mixes fact and fiction at a 1927 Chicago recording studio where a blues legend is recording her latest work. Fringe also plans to present excerpts from the show at area schools in celebration of Black History Month.
In February, “Desdemona” offers an inventive take on Shakespeare’s “Othello.” Nobel Prize-winner Toni Morrison penned the retelling of Desdemona’s tragic life. The play, which will be presented at Aqua Side Bar, promises unique staging and performative elements.
“Bloomsday,” opening March 17, offers a chance to ponder the would-you-rathers of life. The storyline follows a professor on a journey to find his long-lost love. Along the way, though, a time shift complicates matters, forcing questions and conversations into existential terrain.
April showers bring May flowers, but the month also brings an end-of-season effervescence. “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged)” tackles the task of presenting 37 plays in 97 minutes. Phew. A frenetic, breathless, laugh-out-loud look at the works of the Bard.
Each year, Fringe wraps its season during Pride week by presenting a work that celebrates the LGBTQ+ community. This year, “Five Lesbians Eating Quiche” fills the bill. The play, which won the 2012 NYC International Fringe Fest, offers a peek into a 1956 breakfast meeting that is very rudely interrupted by the threat of a Communist attack.
As always, the company keeps Key West on its toes, popping up in a new location each month while tackling every topic with a trademark tone that mixes reverence and humor in equal measure.
Full season schedule and tickets available at www.Fringetheater.org.