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A Mop, an American Flag, a Sex Doll, and a Bedbug Robot 

MTV and special effects have transformed movies. We now accept a trampoline filled with snails as “visual art.” But theater has barely evolved since Arthur Miller and “Camelot.” Why is this?

Actually, theater has changed considerably, but most of the theater audience doesn’t know it yet. Actors are writing their own shows, combining music, and chanting with traditional acting. Video and computers are now tools of drama. But largely for financial reasons, most theaters present the greatest hits of the past 50 years.

The Berkshire Fringe, now in its fourth year, is different. The festival will offer six genre-bending theater works from July 16 to August 4 on the campus of Bard College at Simon’s Rock in Great Barrington, Massachusetts.

Under the Table Theater is a three-person, Brooklyn-based ensemble that studied at the Dell’arte International School of Physical Theater in Blue Lake, California. Dell’arte specializes in training “actor-creators.” Under the Table’s piece, “The Only Friends We Have,” was developed through improv and draws on the performers’ clown training. This “antisocial comedy” has both a script and slapstick motifs.” It’s a window into the lives of three friends who are all eccentric characters, and their tangled relationships,” explains Sarah Petersiel, a troupe member. “And it’s about negotiating desire, fear, and infestation.” The infestation refers to bedbugs. Why bedbugs? “That aspect does come from our lived experience,” Petersiel says. “Josh and I, in two different apartments, had bedbugs. We no longer do; we’re survivors. So we have a lot to say about the neurosis, the exhaustion, the paranoia, the fascination that sets in when you have bedbugs.”

Under the Table has been developing the piece for a year and a half, and this is its premiere. “The Only Friends We Have” will include a puppet and a remote-controlled robot, both in the shape of bedbugs.

Alexandra Beller’s one-woman show “US” is a political statement involving an American flag, a sex doll, and a mop. “I deal with my relationship with the country through these three objects, and the objects become different things to me: lovers, enemies, parental figures,” Beller recounts. “The flag becomes a burqa, a gun, a dress, a picnic blanket, a jump rope. I deal with issues of homophobia and gay marriage through the mop, because it’s one of those raghead mops that looks a little like a woman if you stand it upside down.” “US” uses a central stage surrounded by the audience on four sides. “It feels like I’m in a boxing ring,” says Beller.

Alexandra Beller performed with the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company for six years. She has her own troupe in Brooklyn, for which she choreographs. Every Fringe show has at least one audience discussion, and some have conversations after each performance. Often informal discussions will arise in the lobby afterwards, as well. Audiences are pleased to learn that performers are curious about their reactions. When you walk out of “Grease,” you’re humming the songs. Walking out of a Fringe show, you may be humming the discussion.

One of the goals of the festival is accessibility. Many young people and local workers can’t easily afford theater today. “:30 Live!” is a series of free music concerts preceding performances. These include music by Itsnotyouitsme, an electric violin/electric guitar duo, and Newspeak, a five-piece chamber music/rock hybrid with Orwellian lyrics. Audiences pay close attention to these musical shows—this isn’t “background music.” For the first time, the festival will also include a film series, on Fridays.

The Berkshire Fringe will take place July 16 through August 4 at Bard College at Simon’s Rock in Great Barrington, Massachusetts. (413) 320-4175.

click to enlarge Jessica Cerullo in “Miracle Tomato.”
  • Jessica Cerullo in “Miracle Tomato.”
click to enlarge Beth Allen in “Rock That Uke.”
  • Beth Allen in “Rock That Uke.”

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