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The inaugural San Diego Fringe Festival won't have a "Best of the Fringe" showcase. What this means: Sean Sullivan will only perform his astonishing tour de force two more times.

Redboots is a double-homecoming for Sullivan, a former San Diegan, and the late Philip-Dimitri Galas, iconic local artist whose "avante vaudeville" is "the only performance style to originate" here.

Sullivan plays Baby Four Strings, a heralded child star until his voice changed at age 25. Now he plunks string bass for a band playing "left over" music, since rock and roll is all the rage.

Not only that, he's cursed. Baby Redboots, child star, hates him so much she has a Four Strings doll - maybe even more than one - and sticks pins in it (them) with glee. And he feels each one. He must find a way to break the curse, and to find his way in the world. Otherwise, he may strum the strings for eternity.

Sullivan is so adroit at mime and physical comedy he moves like the flickers of a silent film. And his voice can blaze like scat singing, or bounce like the forlorn bass in a screeching polka band, or combine styles, as when he croons in pain.

Sullivan performs as if trying to rip his way through a straightjacket - non-stop twists, squirms, and contortions - and he flits from one mood to another in a jiff.

He puts so much heart and skill into the work you not only hope Four Strings can beat the curse, but also that Sullivan can survive a performance that threatens to be his last.

If we were at the Edinburgh Fringe, the Scotsman wouldn't have enough stars for this spellbinding effort.


Tenth Avenue Theatre, Mainspace, 930 Tenth Avenue, downtown: Saturday, July 6 at 9:30 p.m., and Sunday, July 7 at 11:00 p.m.


Most San Diegans today are probably unfamiliar with the name Philip-Dimitri Galas (whose Mona Rogers in Person is also at the festival). Between 1971 and 1986, he was one of THE reigning performance artists, touring the world and garnering all manner of awards all along the way. He was one of the youngest ever to have his name in Who's Who in American Theater, and it's impossible to estimate his pervasive influence - as a writer, performer, and thinker - on performance art.

He died in 1986 at age 32.

Sean Sullivan, who worked with him between 1984 and 1986, pays tribute in the program: "His theater, like himself, embodied discipline and mad freedom in equal parts and at the same time. A genius for breathtaking, high-octane language with jazz score musicality," "an encyclopedia of theatrical forms...from soul-baring monologue to stream of consciousness rant," and "an uncanny insight into all things pop cultural.

"Philip tied all this up into a package he dubbed 'avante-vaudeville': a single performer in a spotlight, trying to come to terms with life on the dark side of show business."

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