Theater Beat: Rocking their Pepys at FringeArts; Leah Walton in '2.5 Minute Ride'

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Aaron Mattocks and Elizabeth DeMent in “17c” at Philly Fringe.

Samuel Pepys goes Fringe

A VIP performance of the dance-theater piece 17C, based on the diaries of late-17th-century Englishman Samuel Pepys, was the gala opening to this year's Fringe Festival.

Not such a promising premise?

Actually, it was. Pepys is one of literary history's most fascinating personalities. He is one of history's great oversharers: about his affairs, business dealings, bathroom breaks. The material is rich, and this multitalented crew made it work.

It was by turns moving, sad, and funny, and it had those big, thick wigs. That show ended Saturday. The festival continues through Sept. 24.

Fringe goes afield

At twilight the evening following the sparkly VIP opener, I found myself on the DuPont Crescent Trail beneath the Grays Ferry Avenue Bridge taking in another Philadelphia Fringe show, called . . . strand . . . (various times, Sept. 13-17 and 20-23), by Brian Sanders' dance troupe JUNK.

I met a bunch of nice people, all wondering, "What is this going to be?" Answer: some astonishing dancing and a lovely late-afternoon walk.

You proceed down the trail (or, in my case, try to work a scooter – they're available in limited numbers for daring audience members) following sprinting dancers and convening at various stations to watch what they do. There are four different "tours" to choose from (consult www.strand.tours). Mine was titled Nuclear Romance.

JUNK has a dance vocabulary that would fill a couple of libraries. Seven superb dancers evoked friendship, racial competition, sexual politics, parallel play, careless boogieing, schoolyard high jinks, and pagan rituals. The program was set to music such as Caro Emerald's "Liquid Lunch" and Roy Orbison's "In Dreams," plus classical waltz, with various combinations of humans engaging in fluid movements, awkward-on-purpose huddles, gymnastic wall-walking, and intense wrestles.

There was also rope-dancing, sheet-dancing, and body-monument-making in the park.

Sanders himself played an apparently homeless guy in a soiled, Arte Johnson-style raincoat. During one expansive romp in the fields, he appeared with – what? – a high-pressure power-sprayer. Dancers leaped through veils of water. At the end, many were the smiles in the sunset. I may go back and do the other tours.

Roller coaster for Norristown

Leah Walton performs Lisa Kron's autobiographical 2.5 Minute Ride at Theatre Horizon in Norristown on Oct. 6-29. "It chronicles her brother's wedding, her dad's love of rollercoasters, and a trip she took to his home in Germany and to Auschwitz, where his parents died," Walton says.

All in a single one-woman show? "Yes, it's a challenge," she says, "but it's storytelling, and that's what I love, that direct connection with the audience. I used to do the First Person Arts Story Slam, and you're in the same room as audiences that want to hear your personal stories. It's frank, it's immediate, it's pretty wonderful."

Can't wait to see

Something Wicked This Way Comes (Delaware Theatre Company, Friday through Oct. 8). As a longtime Ray Bradbury fan, I'm intrigued by the notion of a musical based on his fiction.

TOWN (PHIT Comedy, Second Stage at the Adrienne, Wednesday through Sunday). Philly improv troupe does a "metaphysical horror-comedy" number on Our Town. Perfect for Philly Fringe!

jt@phillynews.com

215-854-4406 @jtimpane