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Big news and big excitement for local playwright, actor, teacher and Xpress contributor John Crutchfield: His play, Songs of Robert, has been accepted into the New York International Fringe Festival. The mid-August festival spans 16 days, 200 venues and draws about 75,000 people.

It's Crutchfield's first foray there, and a chance to show his work in a different world.

"New York audiences are really kind-of legendary for being challenging," Crutchfield says. "They're really savvy about theatre, their patience for mediocrity is down around .005 percent."

The play tells the story of Robert, a high-school boy growing up in Southern Appalachian town, writes producer Chall Gray. "In addition to the usual perils of the educational experience — insane guidance counselors, sadistic assistant principals, and megalomaniacal class poets — Robert is also caught up in the surreal world of being in love for the first time as he falls for a seemingly out-of-reach dark-haired girl," Gray writes.

"This play is actually very rooted in southern Appalachia, its people and places and experiences," Crutchfield says. "I don't have any idea how it's going to go over."

Originally begun as a passel of poems Crutchfield wrote in graduate school about ten years ago, the play had a successful two-week run last year at N.C. Stage. It wasn't intended as a one-man play, but after a second actor dropped out, that's what it became, and how it works best, Crutchfield says.

"In little more than an hour, Crutchfield switches between a dozen characters of different age, race and sex. He also performs eight songs, accompanying himself on both slide guitar and clawhammer-style banjo," Gray writes.

Local audiences have a chance to see the show before it heads to New York. Crutchfield will perform two shows on Friday, July 31 at the BeBe Theatre (one at 7:30 p.m. and one at 10 p.m.). The evening will also feature short performances from Asheville Contemporary Dance Theatre, improv comedians Karen Stobbe and Mondy Carter, the gripping, minimalist folk music of Jaye Bartell's Pilgrim and performance poet Julian Vorus. Tickets are $10; reservations available at 674-2036.

Songs of Robert's acceptance into the fiercely competitive festival was a homegrown effort, Crutchfield explains. A nicely done DVD made by local videographers William Towers and Peter Brezny surely boosted his application, he says.

Also joining Crutchfield and Gray on the road to New York will be longtime theatre hand Steven Samuels (read his reviews at www.mountainx.com/theatre). "I don't know how we'll fit in the same vehicle," Crutchfield says. "Luckily the set is basically a shopping cart and two instruments."

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