Though fringe often serves to provide a decorative border for something, PortFringe 2012 wants to take us to the rougher edges of creativity. Its three venues are set up to become “havens for underground and emerging arts scenes.”

This annual festival of performing arts, presented by the Portland Theater Collaborative, has this year scheduled 45 shows over six days and involved at least a hundred artists. To take it all in would be a daunting task. So the producers have clustered some of the works into logistically and intellectually manageable programs.

One such program, called a “Triple Ticket!”, features three one-act plays by playwrights with varying resumes who all engage with the issues of relationships forged under difficult circumstances.

“Come On Over,”  a play by Conor McPherson, is being presented by the American Irish Repertory Ensemble. AIRE’s production of McPherson’s “The Seafarer” was one of the highlights of the 2010-2011 theater season. So, eager anticipation was a factor for some as Susan and Tony Reilly took the stage first on Wednesday night at Lucid Stage in Portland.

Those not familiar with the voices of the performing couple had to take the billing on faith, though. McPherson has their characters wear bags over their heads during most of this play, which concerns a priest who reunites with an old love while investigating a “miracle” in his hometown.

The play addresses belief and transgression on several levels, mostly through monologues by the two performers who sit next to each other. The Reillys were in fine form and managed to established a touching tableau through the telling lines of the author sonorously delivered.

“Whale Watch,” Linda Giuliano’s play produced by the Lanyard Theatre Company, concerns a conversation between a suicidal young woman and a man who claims he is half-whale. Elizabeth Lardie and Christopher Reiling, under the direction of Joseph Barbarino, had a sometimes silly, sometimes moving dialogue surrounded by the sounds of crashing waves.  A nice little message about lovers who sing in each other’s hearts lifts this fanciful piece above the otherwise comic discussion about blow holes, etc.

Maelstrom Productions’ “Emily and Sue: A Love Story in 5 scenes and 4 Seizures” is a multimedia piece by Caroline Gage with adaptive help from Merry Gangemi. It is based on letters and poems by Emily Dickinson, which are dramatically recited by Karen Ball under the direction of Tobias D. Elliott, who also provided the edgy electronic sound design – matched to some jumpy videography from Laura Powers.

A large helping of poetry and prose as intense and deep as that of Dickinson’s is a lot to take in in one sitting. The piece wants us to look at the loves, lusts and afflictions the great poet endured and Ball was on top and, at times, perhaps just a little over-the-top in trying to suggest Dickinson’s struggles.  But it was a tough assignment taken on by all involved in attempting to get at what was going on in the mind of one of the most fascinating writers in American history.

As hoped for, lots of creative energy was conveyed at PortFringe on Wednesday night.

Steve Feeney is  a freelance writer who lives in Portland.