The Consul, an English-language opera that won the 1950 Pulitzer Prize for music, is a lovely example of the possibilities of subtlety and small scale. In tiny Jolie Laide Gallery, the front row is literally within inches of the performers and the acting is ... actually acting, nice to see in an art form where productions sometimes focus on the music to the detriment of all else. The mostly young cast of the Philadelphia Opera Collective sounded uniformly great; they had clearly thought about how to make the tiny space feel intimate rather than cramped, and how to handle selling it to the back row when the back row is only a couple yards away. The Consul follows Magda, the wife of a political dissident who disappears as he goes on the run from the secret police of their unnamed, East Germany-ish country in the first act. Nearly the entire second half is set in a surreal bureaucratic purgatory as Magda attempts to get visas for herself, her husband, his mother and their baby. The story gets heavy into some brutal, emotional stuff. There’s no rose-colored glasses here on the standard outcome of opposing a totalitarian state — I cried a little twice, which doesn’t happen for me all that much at operas. Screw Donizetti, this is how madness should be done: Not as a gorgeous four-minute aria followed by shouts of brava, but agonizingly drawn out, surreal and deeply affecting. Runs through Sept. 14. —Emily Guendelsberger
Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, Kurt Cobain and Amy Winehouse — the dead-at-age-27 club — host a barbecue in a rundown basement with tacky lighting, bad paneling and plenty of smoke-machine fog. This dark movement comedy isn’t the most pointed show we’ve seen from Fringe veterans New Paradise Laboratories, but it’s noisily uncomfortable fun. Runs through Sept. 16. —A.D. Amorosi
I remember the “wow” of seeing Pig Iron’s first show at Swarthmore College years ago. I felt it again at Hackles, produced by The Groundswell Players, comprising mostly students at the year-old Pig Iron School for Advanced Performance Training. This improvisationally developed piece follows teenage misfit Cynthia (Martha Stuckey) as she copes with dating goony Greg (Scott Sheppard) and caring for her paranoid blind dad (Nick Gillette). Everything changes when she witnesses a death and sees a beautiful lady (Alice Yorke) appear to be taking away souls. The story is beautifully staged by Mason Rosenthal with humor and grace in an ethereal all-white room. Runs through Sept. 16. —Mark Cofta
In some ways, this Headlong Dance Theater production steps into territory that’s as unfamiliar for even seasoned Fringe audiences as it is for the brave families who act as both hospitable hosts and as amateur performers. (There’s four families, and you buy tickets for the 10-person seatings blind — mine turned out to be for South Philly’s Aryadereis, a family comprising a Tehran-born father, a Roxborough-bred mom and three delightfully rambunctious kids.) It’s a wonderfully heartwarming thing to be welcomed into a home, to get to know the fascinating folks who live there and hear their powerful stories. To evaluate it in terms of art feels nearly beside the point. It’s clear, however, that the lively post-performance potluck is as crucial a part of the experience as the “show” itself, and possibly more memorable. Runs through Sept. 22. —Deni Kasrel
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- Four regular families become performers, telling their own stories in their own homes.
- Cooking up a dignified but futile era of left-right relations.
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- Our Picks for this year's Philadelphia Live Arts Festival and Philly Fringe.