- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 7, 2011

√ Pick of the Pack: Capital Fringe Festival

The annual, monthlong showcase of challenging, experimental — and just plain quirky — theater and performance art is, to paraphrase Forrest Gump, like a box of chocolates. You never know what’s inside until you’ve plunked down money on tickets.

This year’s offerings run the gamut from the heartbreaking and/or sidesplitting stories told by the cast of Speakeasy D.C. to a performance titled “e-Geaux (beta),” in which developers-cum-actors will cull social-media information contained in audience members’ pockets.

If you see a bad show, you might compare the Capital Fringe Festival to a game of Russian roulette, or a blind taste test between Pepsi-Cola and day-old dishwater. If you see a good — or even a great — one, it’s nothing but nougat.

What’s never hit or miss, however, is the Baldacchino Gypsy Tent, where performers, directors, critics, and even you — yes, you! — will head for drinks after the last cast (or one-woman show) has finished entertaining for the evening. The outdoor Gypsy tent — perhaps the last place in D.C. where a nicotine fiend can sip beer without having to quarantine himself from the life of the party — is the closest D.C. comes to replicating Hollywood’s technicolor glamour and New York’s artsy self-regard.

But don’t let the prospect of hanging out with giants of D.C. theater intimidate you: There will be spirited live music most every night, and a gaggle of clowns, armed with pies and the ability to disarm even the haughtiest prima donna. July 7-24 at Fort Fringe, 607 New York Ave. NW. Phone: 202/737-7230. Web:http://www.capfringe.org

Music: Animal Collective

Animal Collective’s 2009 album, “Merriweather Post Pavilion,” named for the Maryland concert spaced beloved by D.C. summer jammers, is possibly the most heralded album you’ve never heard. Uncut called it “one of the landmark American albums of the century so far.” Pitchfork said it was “of the moment and feels new, but it’s also striking in its immediacy and comes across as friendly and welcoming.” More striking than the critical accolades for an album of ambient elevator music is that the band had never even played at Merriweather. Three years after their seminal album, that’s about to change. Will it be the greatest concert ever? Or simply the greatest concert of the century? July 9 at Merriweather Post Pavilion, 10475 Little Patuxent Parkway, Columbia, Md. Phone: 877/435-9849. Web:http://www.merriweathermusic.com

Music: Bela Fleck and the Original Flecktones

Nothing can hurt an artist’s brand with American consumers more than indexing him under “world music.” Despite being called that and worse — smooth jazz! fusion! — banjo master Bela Fleck can still pack the house. His band the Flecktones is basically a house of musical oddities. Saxophonist Jeff Coffin can play two horns at once and still have it sound like music. Bassist Victor Wooten pioneered the use of slap techniques, and his brother, Roy Wooten (aka “Future Man”), is the drummer who plays without drums, preferring instead to percuss a synthesizer worn around his neck, or blocks of wood. The weirdness alone is worth the price of admission; the music — joyous, bubbly, fast-paced — is icing on the cake. July 10 at Filene Center at Wolf Trap, 1551 Trap Road, Vienna, Va. Phone: 703/255-1900. Web:http://www.wolftrap.org

Pro Sports: Washington Capitals Development Camp

The Capitals were supposed to beat the Tampa Bay Lightning in the 2011 playoffs. Lightning coach Guy Boucher declared it would be a “failure” for the Caps if his “little naggers biting” at the favorites’ “ankles” managed to take the series. Washingtonians know what happened next. Tampa swept us in four devastating games. It was a familiar denouement for fans of D.C. sports. But there is a place where the Caps never lose, and that place is training camp at the Ballston Mall. For six days, the Caps will only play themselves, meaning they will always win. Best of all, depressed D.C. fans can get this taste of pseudo-victory for free. July 11-16 at the Kettler Capitals Iceplex, 627 N. Glebe Road, Arlington. Phone: 571/224-0555. Free.

Lecture: Azar Nafisi

Free expression is a cornerstone of open societies, which is why on March 5, 2007, terrorists exploded a car bomb on Mutanabbi Street, the heart of Baghdad’s intellectual community. Twenty-six people were killed, and countless booksellers had their inventories destroyed and were forced to close up shop. The street was reopened in 2008, proof that the pen is mightier than the IED. At the Corcoran Gallery, Azar Nafisi, author of “Reading Lolita in Tehran,” will lecture on the importance of Mutanabbi Street, which Ms. Nafisi says symbolizes the very real power of “imagination and thought,” which “have the power to transcend the boundaries of nationality, religion, ethnicity, gender and race; connecting us one to the other, reminding us not just of our differences, but of how much we have in common.” July 13 at the Corcoran Gallery, 500 17th St. NW. Phone: 202/639-1700. Web:http://www.corcoran.org