The New Orleans Fringe Festival opened Wednesday, and there are 60 shows spread across more than 20 venues through Sunday. It's hard to wade through all the options and even get a sense of what some of the genre mashups will offer. I have tried to stick to the fringiest of shows, and here are some recommendations.
The hands-down best recommendation I can make is to see Lead Paint Libretto, a melodramatic and hilarious rock opera that is part Hedwig and the Angry Inch and part School House Rock. Two songs literally lift text from an EPA manual on handling cleanup of lead based paint, and it's impossible not to hope these lessons will save Pabst-toting handyman Giovanni (Owen Brightman). A Roman chorus and supervillainous lead particle add to the offbeat charm. Catch it at the Den of Muses (Architect Street) 11 p.m. Sat. and 5 p.m. Sun.
Two shows that exude extraordinary technique and care but have challenging fringy edges are The Tale of Mephisto and Hunter's Blind. The Tale of Mephisto explores the demon figure in the classic story of Faust's bargain, in which he trades his eternal soul for fame and success. We see Mephistopheles not with Faust but in the rest of her existence, a more mundane one, offering temptation less as a grand bargain than a casual and banal allure. In the one-woman show, Natsumi Sugiyama uses an impressive array of dance, creative movement and martial arts. It's got comic moments and runs as a odd stream of vignettes that make it sort of performance artsy. Temptation is an eternal constant here, and the tale doesn't follow a strong narrative arc. It's hard not to wonder if more of a narrative would help, but Sugiyama is captivating. Remaining shows are at 7 p.m. Sat. and 11 p.m. Sun. at Trinity Church at 725 St. Ferdinand St.
Hunter's Blind is a combination of the fairy tale of Little Red Riding Hood and an account of the horrors of Gilles de Rais, a French knight and child murderer. Pandora Gastelum and the Mudlark Puppeteers created an impressive collection of puppets and props and the show makes the most of the tiny space at the Mudlark Public Theatre. The story telling effects are brilliant. The story itself is dark beyond belief. The first two acts seem like an edgy Grimm's tale, set in medieval France, but once the story enters de Rais' castle, literally all existential hell breaks loose. It runs at the Mudlark (1200 Port St.) 7 p.m. Friday, 3 p.m. and 11 p.m. Saturday and 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. Sunday.
The Women of the House of Tu-Na is a one-woman show by New Yorker Nancy Eng. It's a collection of monologues by women who work in a New York massage parlor, most of whom are sex workers. There are many funny moments, but it's not an outrageously funny show, and a couple of the stories are more heartfelt. It is funny to hear a prostitute railing on how stupid it is for a customer to ask if she enjoyed the encounter as well. But as these cutting rants and humorous observations pile up, you start to hear how weary the job makes the women. It runs at Shadowbox Theatre (2400 St. Claude Ave.) at 11 p.m. Sat. and 5 p.m. Sun.
A show I'd recommend skipping altogether is Trail of Tears at Trinity Church on St. Ferdinand. It sounded like an interesting dance piece using modern Japanese Butoh to tell a story about the treatment and survival of Native Americans. There are a couple of compelling parts featuring Butoh, with white face paint and slow contorted movement. But overall, the dance was weak, costumes were underwhelming, the use of new age music came off as horribly cliched, and the piece focused on a long anti-pollution message that could have been achieved solely through the use of the video montage projected on the large screen. It failed to unearth an original story or message or means of telling it.