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At the Philly Fringe Festival: After vaccines, ‘laughter is the best medicine’

A healthy dose of laughter this week on stage includes Extree! Extree! riffing on the news and Che Guerrero's Yo Sabo

Che Guerrero, part of Crossroads Comedy Theater's Comedy Hub at Philadelphia Fringe Festival.  Photo provided by the artist.
Che Guerrero, part of Crossroads Comedy Theater's Comedy Hub at Philadelphia Fringe Festival. Photo provided by the artist.Read moreProvided by Che Guerrero

Mike Marbach doesn’t have a degree in medicine, but the founder of Crossroads Comedy Theater knows what to prescribe for a world where, he said, “there’s so much that’s wrong.” After vaccines, he said, “laughter is the best medicine,” and it’s laughter the Philadelphia Fringe Festival is delivering with a comedy-focused festival within the Fringe organized by Crossroads. “Being in a room full of people, sharing in that experience of both learning and laughter is super-beneficial,” Marbach said. “They can sit back and laugh before reimmersing themselves in the world.”

All the Crossroads shows, which are heavy on improv but include sketch and stand-up, take place at Theatre Exile in South Philly. Marbach, who hails from the Philly Improv Theatre, which is temporarily closed for renovations, has pulled together some favorites, among them Study Hall, originally produced for the Fringe in 2013. An actual professor delivers a serious (short!) lecture. That’s the learning part. Then a troupe of talented improv types riff off the themes for the laughs.

There’s also Extree! Extree! based on the news. “We are trying to educate people on current events,” Marbach said, so stay tuned for the whole range — COVID-19, voter suppression, and “dogs on skateboards.”

Two shows with great funny potential but which are particularly challenging from the performers’ perspective are Not Yet Rated, in which the performers follow a suggestion from the audience and a suggested genre (horror, sci-fi) to create an improv movie, and Thank You, Places: An Improved Musical — the same idea complete with choreography and soundtrack.

“The main challenge is to keep track of what is going on and who the characters are,” Marbach said. Extra tricky is what Marbach calls “landing the plane,” bringing all these hastily devised plot elements to a tidy end.

Shows run Sept. 22-27 at Theatre Exile, 1340 S. 13th St., Philadelphia. For information on the shows, visit the Crossroads website, To buy tickets for a particular show, search for the show on the Fringe website,

‘Holy Ground’

The courtship and marriage began beautifully, but what followed when Monica, played by Kirsten Quinn, married a famous footballer wasn’t so beautiful — mental abuse, isolation, and heartache. On the day of his funeral, she’s embarrassed and heartbroken by the fact that no one attending knows who she is. What had gone wrong? The Irish Heritage Theatre, which has as its mission to present Irish and Irish American theater to audiences in Philadelphia and beyond, promises a startling end in its season opener. Delivered online, Dermot Bolger’s nuanced solo work, The Holy Ground, is directed by Peggy Mecham.

Recorded live and streamed. Tickets available through the Irish Heritage Theatre’s website Sept. 22-26.

‘Murder for Two’ and a Cruise

Two performers play 13(!) roles, as well as the piano, in a hilarious two-person musical mystery, Murder for Two, written by Joe Kinosian, who takes on the role, (or should it be the roles?) of The Suspects at Bristol Riverside Theatre. For fun and fund-raising, the theater is offering two preshow champagne cruises from the Trenton Marina, including admission, for $100 on Sept. 26 and Oct. 3. Call 215-785-6664 for cruise info.

Through Oct. 10 at Bristol Riverside Theatre, 120 Radcliffe St., Bristol, 19007, Proof of vaccination and masks required. Unvaccinated people with a recent negative COVID-19 test can attend a special 2 p.m. Oct. 9 performance.

‘Not I:’ A Mouthful of Beckett

Strapped into a chair, actress Billie Whitelaw’s head, hooded in black, was held in a vice to keep her lips in the light in 1973 when she played the role of the Mouth in Samuel Beckett’s 15-minute one-woman play, Not I. Another actress, Jessica Tandy, needed a teleprompter, and a third did the entire piece in one breath by not swallowing for nine minutes. Often staged as a solitary mouth babbling in darkness, the Not I version at the Philadelphia Fringe , isn’t quite as physically taxing for actress Catharine Slusar, a two-time Barrymore Award winner, who will use her whole body in the play. Beckett told one actress that he was “not unduly concerned with intelligibility. I hope the piece may work on the nerves of the audience, not its intellect.” This production, directed by Mark Lord, a theater professor at Bryn Mawr College, takes the view that Beckett’s words are worth hearing.

Through Oct. 3, by Joyous Eddies House of Theater, at 908 Christian St., Philadelphia. Proof of vaccination and masks required. Tickets through the Fringe.

‘Soundscape Visualz’

When Teyquil Skelton thinks of theater, he thinks about all the emotions it conveys — anger, grief, fear, happiness, love, loss. In his Philadelphia Fringe Festival offering, Soundscape Visualz, Skelton distills those emotions into sound and sight. There’s no plot and no story, but there is a river of feelings evoked by music and sound selections interwoven with images on screen, some connecting with current events.

“The visuals and the music will take you far beyond the room that you are in,” he said. Skelton, who grew up in Philadelphia, has many degrees, including a master of fine arts from the University of the Arts, and another degree in audio engineering from Dark Horse School of Music in Tennessee. His Fringe production aims to put all that knowledge to use. “I wanted to challenge myself and push the envelope.”

Sept. 24-26, 7 p.m. Warehouse on Watts, 923 N. Watts. St., Philadelphia. Proof of vaccination, masks required. Tickets via the Fringe.

‘Yo Sabo’

The title of comic Che Guerrero’s stand-up routine, Yo Sabo, is an inside joke — a gentle way of poking fun at Spanish speakers who aren’t really conversant in the language. On Sept. 26, it’ll be Yo Sabo, entirely in Spanish , at Punch Line Philly, a comedy club. On Sept. 27, he has assembled a group of local Latinx comics for a Crossroads Comedy show for the Philadelphia Fringe Festival. The title? Latinx 2044. “Looking to the future when we are the majority,” Guerrero said. Portions of the show will be completely in Spanish.

Sept. 26, 7:30 p.m. Punch Line Philly, 33 E. Laurel St., Philadelphia. Two-drink minimum required plus tickets. Masks required. Only clear plastic bags or small handbags permitted. Sept. 27, 8:30 p.m., at Theatre Exile, 1340 S. 13th St. Phila. For tickets, Crossroads Comedy, Masks and vaccination proof required.

Also on stage

Ursinus College showcases professional, student, and faculty work at its 22d annual Fringe Festival Cabaret, at its Kaleidoscope Performing Arts Center, free, 7:30 p.m. Sept. 24. The coming of age one-act Once on This Island with an all-Black cast opens the season through Oct. 3 at the Ritz Theatre Co. in Haddon Township. A wine and cheese reception will follow Rendezvous in Bangkok … Who Killed Thomas Merton, an original play written by Philadelphia writers Thom Nickels and Sabina Clarke about the life of theologian Thomas Merton, staged at the Commodore John Barry Arts and Cultural Center in Mount Airy 2 p.m. Sept. 26. Check individual venues for COVID-19 requirements.