Philly Fringe reviews: ‘A Billion Nights on Earth’ and ‘These Terrible Things’

 Part of a poster for 'A Billion Nights on Earth,' a show brought to the Philly Fringe Festival by the festival producer, FringeArts.

Part of a poster for 'A Billion Nights on Earth,' a show brought to the Philly Fringe Festival by the festival producer, FringeArts.

A Billion Nights on EarthLittle Winslow, a character who may be 5 or 6 years of age, just can’t get to sleep. Or won’t. He’s lost his stuffed whale. How can he sleep without it? So he’s wide-awake and driving his dad nuts. Winslow wants milk, and goes to the kitchen to sneak some. He climbs inside a kitchen appliance and out into the cosmos. A little later, his father does, too.

And after that, the fantasy of “A Billion Nights on Earth” begins — a production of big and impressive stage effects created by versatile theater artist Thaddeus Phillips, who is a Fringe veteran, and artist/designer Steven Dufala. (Dufala is also the chief set designer for the current Fringe show “Home.”) This dreamy journey through and above the planet, a family-friendly Fringe show, is inspired by Phillips’ four-year-old son who “is absolutely fascinated with the moon and the stars,” Phillips writes in a coloring book given out at the show’s end.

Indeed, “A Billion Nights on Earth” at the FringeArts Building has the moon and the stars, and much more — it’s a paean to the wonder of our world. Phillips has always displayed that wonderment in the theater he makes, whether he’s exploring a doorman’s life in a Columbian apartment house or the inner workings of a telenova. He’s also a master at stage effects, but never before on the scale of “A Billion Nights on Earth.” Among the highlights, he and Dufala fill a stage with huge scrims that serve as land and sea, plus air-filled animals nearly ceiling high.

The two endearing characters are played by a real-life father and son, Michael and Winslow Fegley. They find themselves in arctic cold, or swimming in the ocean, or free-floating in space, where they encounter various cultures. It’s a stage spectacle backed by Juan Gabriel Turbay’s airy and amusing music and meticulously lit by David Todaro. This hour-long show moves at its own pleasant amble. But slowing down is essential when you’re setting out to appreciate the world._“A Billion Nights on Earth,” from Thaddeus Phillips and Steven Dufala, runs through Sept. 17 at FringeArts, Race Street and Columbus Boulevard.

These Terrible ThingsThe zany Berserker Residents, who are also Philly residents, began with a bang in the Fringe’s early days when they tried like dubious documentarians to unveil the Jersey Devil. They’ve continued to create loopy spoofs ever since. This latest in their canon — “These Terrible Things” — is a co-production with University of the Arts. It takes you into an acting class where three teachers (Berserker members Justin Jain, Dave Johnson, and Bradley K. Wren) are leading five students in the ways of a particularly bizarre acting method.

“I’m not buying it!” the teachers spit, interrupting the students’ acting exercises and bullying them to bare their psyches. The teachers offer the strangest advice: If you can’t “spot the gaping flaw in everything around you,” says one, then you’re not living with meaning.

The students are thrown into different exercises, always competitively. They’re played by real University of the Arts students, and all five (Annika Cowles, Tess FitzPatrick, Christian Flynn, Rudy Schreiber, and Julia van der Sloot) are convincing in parts that give them specific characteristics. The show, written by David Jacobi with the ensemble, and bristling with snap-snap direction by Jack Tamburri, doesn’t let up — it’s 75 minutes of fun._“These Terrible Things,” produced by the Berserker Residents and University of the Arts, runs through Sept. 23 at the university’s Caplan Studio Theater in Terra Hall, 211 S. Broad St., between Walnut and Locust Streets.

The Philly Fringe Festival runs through Sept. 24. For more information: fringearts.com.

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