The Chicago Fringe Festival’s second year 

The Four Food Groups (Sat 9/3, 10 PM, Sun 9/4, 7 PM, Sat 9/10, 8:30 PM, Doppler Stage, 1915 S. Halsted)

The Four Food Groups (Sat 9/3, 10 PM, Sun 9/4, 7 PM, Sat 9/10, 8:30 PM, Doppler Stage, 1915 S. Halsted)

People are always doing awesome, out-there stuff with puppets at fringe festivals—my first fringe experience involved tiny ninjas acting out Hamlet. Among the 47 entries in this year's Chicago Fringe Festival is an Avenue Q-style staging of George Romero's zombie classic, Night of the Living Dead, by Milwaukee's Angry Young Men Ltd. (Sun 9/4, 7 PM, Mon 9/5, 10 PM, Sat 9/10, 8:30 PM, Meridian Stage, 1932 S. Halsted). Chicago's own Suitcase Shakespeare Company mixes puppetry, masque, and stage combat in Othello's Furies (Sun 9/4, 10 PM, Sat 9/10, 7 PM, Sun 9/11, 8:30 PM, Meridian Stage).

Another genre where it helps to be out there is one-person shows, and the 2011 CFF has plenty of those. 'Rie Shontel's Mama Juggs focuses on breasts, from bra stuffing and "titty milk" to cancer (Thu 9/1, 7 PM, Sun 9/4, 2:30 PM, Mon 9/5, 10 PM, Fri 9/9, 8:30 PM, Sat 9/10, 5:30 PM, Dream Theatre, 556 W. 18th). Robin Gelfenbien details an unusual cross-country trip in My Salvation Has a First Name: A Wienermobile Journey (Sat 9/3, 7 PM, Sun 9/4, 10 PM, Mon 9/5, 8:30 PM, Sat 9/10, 4 PM, Sun 9/11, 5:30 PM, Dream Theatre). And Minnesota's Maximum Verbosity—which touts its "rants that get raves"—offers Camelot Is Crumbling: An Arthurian Nightmare (Thu 9/1, 8:30 PM, Sat 9/3, 5:30 PM, Mon 9/5, 7 PM, Sat 9/10, 2:30 PM, Sun 9/11, 4 PM, Doppler Stage, 1915 S. Halsted). Two transgender solo artists to look out for are New York's Roman Rimer, performing Evolution, the tale of his death-defying sojourn in the American south (Sat 9/3, 5:30 PM, Thu 9/8, 8:30 PM, Sun 9/11, 7 PM, HumanThread, 645 W. 18th) and Chicago's Rebecca Kling, presenting No Gender Left Behind, about the experience of getting "fired from a teaching position for being a transgender woman" (Thu 9/1, 7 PM, Sat 9/3, 4 PM, Mon 9/5, 10 PM, Sat 9/10, 2:30 PM, Sun 9/11, 5:30 PM, HumanThread). For a larger ensemble there's MelnColly Theatre Company's "lingerie party murder mystery," Nearly Naked (Thu 9/1, 10 PM, Sat 9/3, 4 PM, Mon 9/5, 2:30 PM, Fri 9/9, 7 PM, Sat 9/10, 8:30 PM, Dream Theatre).

The CFF's nerve center, Festival Central (2003 S. Halsted), offers food and drink for sale, video games, and an afterparty notice board. It's also the venue for a special League of Chicago Theatres Theater Thursday performance by Rebecca Kling (9/8, 6:15 PM, $25) and for several free events, including the festival's opening (9/1, 6 PM) and closing (9/11, 9:30 PM), daily coffees (9/1-9/11, 1 PM), and a 9/11 observance (9/11, 11 AM-1:30 PM).

Opens Thu 9/1. Through 9/11: Thu-Fri, 7, 8:30, and 10 PM, Sat-Sun and Mon 9/5, 2:30, 4, 5:30, 7, 8:30, and 10 PM, no 10 PM shows Sun 9/11. Various locations, 773-428-9977, chicagofringe.org, $5 festival button required for admittance to shows. Single tickets $10, five-show package $45, ten-show package $80, unlimited admittance $175.

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