13th Annual Seattle Fringe Theatre Festival Sept 17-Oct 1 at a variety of venues on Capitol Hill; see www.seattlefringe.org for full details.

Another Seattle Fringe Theatre Festival is upon us, luring mobs of theatermakers, theater-lovers, and garden-variety gawkers to a 10-block radius of Capitol Hill. This year's fest is literally bigger than ever, boasting shows by 95 companies (67 local, 24 national, 4 international) on 10 stages over 15 days. With so many options, how are discerning theatergoers to find those sharp, smart shows that thrill the soul while avoiding those klutzy, agonizing disasters that extinguish the will to live?

One method is to gravitate toward shows by companies with good artistic track records; another is to trust the critical ink particular shows have garnered in pre-Seattle Fringe runs. Both methods were used in selecting the nine shows highlighted for you below by Stranger writers Brendan Kiley and Bret Fetzer, as well as the 13 additional shows-of-interest rounded up by Mr. Fetzer on page 27. But what about those shows by companies without track records, boasting no critical ink? For these mystery shows, we turned to a high power--a real live psychic, whose tarot-inspired premonitions can be found to the right in In Arts News. --David Schmader

Throwing Bones
Seattle, WA
The title refers to the extreme allergies of a young woman named Ana, who doesn't know why she lives in a lab or why her mind is being regularly manipulated by a guy named Frank. "I wanted to write a comedy," says Mary Jane Gibson (half of the duo who created one of last year's Fringe Fest hits, Burning Cage). So Gibson wrote (and performs in) a creepy play that tackles cloning, DNA, genetic manipulation, and more, all in under an hour. Why, the play wonders, is it important to have a perfectly orange orange? "[It's] a weird love story, and maybe a look at the future, but it's mainly a black comedy. And we're really close to the beer garden," she adds, for extra enticement. Directed by Sheila Daniels, artistic director of Baba Yaga Productions. BRET FETZER

And the Cowgirl Jumped Over the Moon
Maria Glanz
Seattle, WA
Following her flesh-happy solo show See Me Naked, Maria Glanz wanted to write a play her dad and mom would like. On the surface And the Cowgirl Jumped Over the Moon may be easier for her parents to take, but the story--about a rodeo queen living through the end of the frontier era, when the Wild West began to be packaged as entertainment--has a bittersweet taste as it pits wanderlust against the love of a good man. Glanz is a two-time Artistic Pick at previous Fringe Festivals; Cowgirl has already won rave responses at the FringeACT festival this past spring, so Glanz may be up for her third extended run. BF

Big Fish, Small Pond
Fort Awesome
Seattle, WA
According to Stephanie Timm, who wrote the text for the puppet smash Frankenocchio and whose tale of female serial killers was a hit at the last FringeACT festival, "We all have that one subject that will never go away and insists on crawling into everything we create...." In Timm's case, that subject is fear and loneliness. But as her obsession is being filtered through a faux-documentary about a squabbling punk-bluegrass band called Fish Stick, features music by John Osebold (co-creator of Ballyhoo and longtime member of sketch comedy troupe the Habit) and performances by Osebold and Montana Von Fliss (member of the Royal Famille DuCaniveaux and bearer of perhaps the best porn name of all time), and includes a breakup song called "Kicking the Dog I Named After You," we can assume the spirit of Big Fish, Small Pond is more Christopher Guest than Ingmar Bergman. BF

Niki McCretton
Bridgwater, Somerset, UK
Last year, Niki McCretton's Worm-Hole provoked love-it-or-hate-it responses, and judging from the flow of press and audience feedback from her recent performances in Canada and Minnesota, Heretic will be just as divisive. Heretic concerns a woman who refuses to renounce her Christian faith in the face of a secular totalitarian government, and so is banished to the moon until she fills a fish tank with her tears. Apparently in performance the storyline is a bit obscure, but even McCretton's detractors usually acknowledge her outstanding physical skills; her shows mix slapstick comedy, dance (with perhaps some butoh influence--there are many references to the show being slooooow), and mime, along with film projections and chanted text. Not an easy show to watch, but possibly a radically memorable one. BF

JOB: The Hip-Hop Musical
Foqué Dans La Tête Productions
Providence, RI
A theological titty-twister, JOB: The Hip-Hop Musical promises Dre-inspired production, Prokofiev samples, and Old Testament raps. Delivered entirely through verse and beats, the production transplants the long-suffering faith hero into the corporate world of hiphop record tycoon J. Hoover (Jehovah--get it?). Well road-tested (creators Jerome Saibil and Eli Batalion have been touring for over a year), JOB is also a critics' darling, winning praise in publications from the venerable Village Voice to the comically named Saskatoon StarPhoenix. "I used to think the show was for young people who get hiphop references," said Saibil. "But we've seen houses of 200 people over 65--we go in for a matinee and it looks like a bingo game." Saibil and Batalion are currently negotiating an off-Broadway contract for JOB with the producer of Gypsy and Thoroughly Modern Millie; if the combined votes of grannies, hiphop heads, press, and big-time producers aren't enough to get you in the door, you're too fucking picky. BRENDAN KILEY

Harrington and Kauffman
New York, NY
Richard Harrington and Chris Kauffman come rolling into town with more good press than just about anyone--only much of the press seems befuddled as to just why this show is so damn funny. A yeti-obsessed Belgian and his inexplicable, inarticulate sidekick are trapped in a blizzard at the North Pole, where they put on a final performance (featuring musical numbers, puppet shows, and more) for an audience that they believe are figments of their dying imaginations. Harrington says, "It's sort of a clown show, but my partner doesn't like me to say that because he says clowns don't make money." Not only have Harrington and Kauffman been sued by the Eagles for copyright infringement, this confident duo gives the audience practice golf balls to throw at them--ideally as part of the show, but who's to stop you from expressing any displeasure you may feel? That's worth paying for. BF

SABOTAGE: in fine form
Burning Cities New Works Co.
Albuquerque, NM
The Sabotage boys are back in town, and we should all feel lucky. I hate to recommend shows I've never seen, but I'm confident this one will be a doozy. Some of Seattle's finest fringe comedians (including members of the Habit and the Stuntmen) have been recounting bits from last year's Sabotage III for months--and have had me in secondhand stitches. According to fans, the duo relentlessly pursues smart, fearless, bizarre cut 'n' paste comedy--but the shows are impossible to explain because Sabotage is a unique style the two have created. Whatever it is, Sabotage has won awards, sold out house after house, and earned compliments from the likes of Drew Carey. I can't imagine anything sweeter. I will see in fine form come hell or hailstones, and if it isn't stellar, I'll eat my hat. BK

A Tale of a TIGER
Ami Dayan
Boulder, CO
Italian Nobel Prize-winner Dario Fo is famed for his leftist satire, parables, and allegory. An eager student of Marx, Gramsci, and storytelling in piazze across Italy, Fo is a hero to artists who try to fuse politics and beauty--they routinely fail where Fo succeeds.

In 1994, Israeli Ami Dayan was approached to direct Fo's Tale of a TIGER. Realizing that its revolutionary conclusion would translate as an encouragement to attack then-Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, Dayan rewrote the end with Fo's blessing. Dayan's version still plays in Israel, and this will be the adapter's first Seattle performance--an interesting bit of history, if nothing else.

In Dayan's words, TIGER is "an Israeli adaptation of an Italian Nobel Prize winner's version of a Chinese theatrical folktale based on an Indian myth with physical comedy and philosophical theater." Clowns and multiculturalists will love it by default--and I suspect it holds some treasure for the rest of us as well. BK

What Is It Like to Be Joe Boling?
Theater Schmeater
Seattle, WA
Joe Boling is a legend in the Seattle theater community. He attends hundreds of performances each year and posts his reviews on the Theatre Puget Sound website. In his first one-man show (mistakenly listed in the Fringe program as What Does It Mean to Be Joe Boling?), he talks about himself, theater, and other specialties he asked me not to mention, for fear of "telegraphing too much." I don't want to violate his request, but can't help dropping that he is an internationally known specialist in Japanese Meiji-era counterfeit coins and an advocate of the Boy Scout slogan "Do a good turn daily."

Curious Seattle theatermakers will undoubtedly stack Boling's audience. That Rob West, artistic director of Theater Schmeater, has chosen to direct the piece is recommendation enough. If for nothing else, Boling is a chance to watch one of America's most obsessive audience members turn the tables on himself. BK