Welcome to the 14th annual New York International Fringe Festival, which over the years has brought the world such hits as “Urinetown” and “Abraham Lincoln’s Big Gay Dance Party” – establishing, if nothing else, that it helps to have a weird name to make it big at the Fringe.

The Fringe, which this year runs from August 13th to August 29th, is the largest theater festival in North America, and the fifth largest cultural event of any kind in New York City (if you count the auto show as a cultural event; if you don’t, then the Fringe is the fourth largest). But this is one event in which New York is neither first nor biggest.

The Edinburgh Fringe Festival is 50 years older than the New York International Fringe Festival and a dozen times bigger — 2,453 shows this summer compared to a mere 197 in New York. But at least New Yorkers can boast that our festival is juried: A committee selected those 197 out of some 900 submitted.

Elena Holy, head of Fringe Festival
The selection, New York Fringe artistic director Elena Holy likes to say, is based on “innovation, vibrancy and diversity,” and presumably assures a minimum level of theatrical competence. But it does not guarantee a satisfying experience. Even if it did, no individual theatergoer could see all 197.

So how does one choose?

I have written at length about this from the very first Fringe in 1997, on up to last year’s Fringe festival, and this year’s as well, at TDF Stages – part 1 and part 2. To sum up succinctly: The best way is to ask people on line with you at a Fringe show. Another way is to go to the Fringe’s website and check out its Slice-o-matic, a search engine that allows you to search by a wide variety of criteria, such as genre, location, time. There is a brief description of each show written by the shows’ creators, often the playwright.
And then there is buzz.
Here are 20 of this year’s shows I am considering seeing, and reviewing, based on the buzz. There are no guarantees, and there are always bound to be some surprises. (Details about each show are on their individual websites, and at the Fringe website and paper program guide)

By Hands Unknown
A collection of American historical dramas about lynching and other violence, written by
witnesses of the era. 120 minutes

Bunked!: A New Musical
The exploits of five summer camp
counselors 100 minutes

A down-on-his-luck-writer’s notions of race and identity are turned
upside down in this darkly comic examination of marriage for hire. 75 minutes

Daddy Day
Father shows his daughter a slide show of his summer holiday in an unusual setting. Voted Best of Amsterdam Fringe. 50 minutes.

Dream of the Marionettes / Le Rêve des Marionettes
When the Puppetmaster loses control, Les Marionettes take over.

Evan O’Television in Double Negatives
Evan O’Sullivan’s “video-ventriloquism” act; he talks to a videotape of himself. 60 minutes.

Hearts Full of Blood
A horrifying secret forever affects the lives of a couple and their
two single friends. Well-reviewed show by Chicago’s The New Colony. 120 minutes

The Hurricane Katrina Comedy Festival
Five true stories about surviving Katrina told in their own words. 90 minutes

Lenny’s Dead
The story of Lenny and Hank, buddies from the Vietnam War who cannot manage to separate even though Lenny is dead. 80 minutes

Living on the Edge
High-flying Brooklyn-based acrobatic performers demonstrate the art of Parkour while enacting a tale of struggle and survival. 30 minutes

Over There: Comedy Is His Best Weapon
One-man show about a screw-up who enlists, serving a stint as President Clinton’s dental technician, and eventually getting shipped off to Afghanistan. 60 minutes

A newly revised version of a 1978 musical about a Hollywood legend trying to make a comeback. 90 minutes

Ruby Wilder
Ruby Wilder believes she has found the man who murdered her sister. There are differing views of what she should do. 70 minutes.

The night before his first NYC Marathon, his wife’s just hours away, his wife’s attractive former roommate shows up unexpectedly. 90 minutes.

Shine: A Burlesque Musical
A family of talented misfits try to save an infamous downtown
burlesque theater from demolition or worse – respectability. 120 minutes

Trick Boxing
A physical comedy about the rise of a 1930’s championship boxer told through high-energy dance numbers, puppetry, boxing. “Fred and Ginger of the prize-fight circuit.” 65 minutes

The Twentieth-Century Way
A true story set from 1914 about two male actors who were hired by police in Long Beach, Calif., to entrap and arrest gay men.
100 minutes

Inspired by true events about an attempt in1920’s Harvard to purge the school of all homosexuality. 100 minutes

Viva La Evolucion!
First generation Cuban-American comedian Diana Yanez makes ‘mojitos out of the limones’ of her life growing Cuban and
queer in Miami. 75 minutes

When Last We Flew
After stealing his library’s only copy of Angels in America, misfit
teenager Paul begins reading and discovers that his dull Midwestern
life is about to take flight. Developed at Lincoln Center and Sundance Theater Lab 120 minutes

Photographs by Jonathan Mandell of scenes from Fringe 2010 shows: from top to bottom: Shine, Veritas, Evan O’Television in Double Negatives, Living on the Edge

Culture The 2010 New York International Fringe Festival: 20 Shows With Buzz