With over 200 companies clamoring for attention at New York International Fringe Festival, it can be super tough to decide which of the 1,200+ performances to attend. But one thing’s for sure: gimmicks help a production stand out, and there’s no better gimmick (or “plot device,” if you prefer) than using a celebrity, dead author, or an Austrian shrink or two as your subject matter. Here now are 15 people who are serving as fodder for some of this year’s standout productions — from deities to Wilhelm Reich to a singing Sigmund Freud.
1, 2. Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes
We’re pretty sure there’ll be a couch on this set. Based (loosely) on actual interviews, The Tomkat Project “transcends the tabloids to discover the truth behind the marriage of Tom Cruise, Katie Holmes and The Church of Scientology.” Brandon Ogborn’s acclaimed comedy also features appearances by (actors playing) Oprah Winfrey, Matt Lauer, Scarlet Johansson, Josh Hartnett, and dozens of other celebs. This should be a fun one! The Players Theater, 115 Macdougal Street, Greenwich Village, Aug. 20-24
3, 4, and 5. Jesus, the Virgin Mary and Sigmund Freud
In the fundraising video for Rubble, Peter Grosz, a writer for The Simpsons for 23 years(!), says his comedy about a writer who reflects on life after being trapped under earthquake rubble features appearances by Jesus, Mary, and a musical number by Sigmund Freud. And the play stars someone who’s bigger than Jesus (girth-wise, anyway): Bruce Vilanch, the comedy writer you know and love from Hairspray and Hollywood Squares. The Players Theater, 115 Macdougal St., Greenwich Village, Aug. 10, 14, 22, 24, 25.
6. Walt Whitman
Kristian O’Hare’s Like Poetry follows Brooklyn’s original bearded hipster into “an uncertain sexual underworld” in which “pills, bugs, and sexuality collide like poetry.” Ellen Stewart Theater at La Mama, 74 E. 4th St., East Village, Aug. 10-14
7, 8. Jack and Charmian London
Another writer with a sexy sex life! Jack London: Sex, Love and Revolution, by Ben Goldstein, follows the Call of the Wild and White Fang author as he “rises from poverty to become the highest paid, most popular, most controversial author in the world.” You get two writers for the price of one here, as Thea Brooks plays London’s second wife Charmian. The C.O.W. Theatre, 21 Clinton St., Lower East Side, Aug. 15, 18, 20, 22, 25.
9. Jack White
Okay, Why Not Me isn’t really about Jack White, but Jen Bosworth does have recurring dreams about the White Stripes frontman. Her one-woman show is, in part, about moving to LA with dreams of becoming an actress only to score a job as… Nicholas Cage’s office manager. SubCulture, 45 Bleecker St., East Village, Aug. 11, 14, 16, 17, 18.
10. Wilhelm Reich
Strange Rain, by onetime East Village Other writer Lynda Crawford, is “not so much about Reich as about deciding what is real and making peace with a difficult past,” but it “follows two reporters as they try to unravel the mystery of a prolonged rain with the aid of lesbian psychics, comic meteorologists, a street-kid poet, and a mysterious man who talks of UFOs and secret experiments in the desert, all leading back decades to the real-life experiments of Wilhelm Reich in the 1950s.” The Lynn Redgrave Theater, 45 Bleecker St., Aug. 9, 16, 18, 19, 22.
11. Tennessee Williams
En Evant! An Evening with Tennessee Williams promises to be “an impressionistic portrait of a wounded man,” with writer William Shuman playing the playwright, and probably bellowing out “Stella!” (or more likely, “Frank!”) at some point. CVS Kabayitos, 107 Suffolk St., Lower East Side Aug. 9, 16, 17, 20, 23, 24.
Presented by the Nrithyanjali Institute of Dance, this work highlights Bharatanatyam (an Indian dance form, didn’t you know?) and explores the flute-tooting boy deity’s “attractive charming form which has mesmerized millions of devotees worldwide.” The Theater at the 14th Street Y, 344 East 14th St., East Village, Aug. 10, 11, 15, 17, 18.
13. Gitta Mallasz
A Best of Fringe winner in 1998, Shelley Mitchell’s Talking with Angels: Budapest 1943 is based on the diaries of Gitta Mallasz, a Hungarian graphic designer who sheltered more than 100 women and children during the Holocaust, only to see her closest colleagues (one of whom communicated with angels) taken away by the Nazis. The White Box at 440 Studios, 440 Lafayette St., East Village, Aug. 14, 17 18, 19, 23, 24.
14. Mary Jane Kelly
The Unfortunates is based on the story of Jack the Ripper’s final victim. In the fundraising video above, Diane Cherkas, who plays Mary, notes, “There have been numerous articles and books and plays and movies about Jack the Ripper and his violent crimes but next to no attention has been paid to his victims — these women who were ‘unfortunates,’ which was the lower class of women who were treated badly during their lives and then just completely ignored after these horrible deaths.”
15. Sojourner Truth
TRUTH, An American Opera about Sojourner Truth recounts the slave-turned-abolitionist’s life via operatic music based on Truth’s own words. Theater 80, 80 St. Marks Pl., East Village, Aug. 9, 12, 16, 17, 25.