Does it matter that New York has a drearily mediocre Fringe Festival?

I have long thought not, since the annual August assembly line of toothless political parodies, dumb musicals, navel-gazing solo shows and occasional gems always seemed harmless. It gave hundreds of young artists a chance to shine and filled a niche for the press during the dead quiet of summer. As I have visited much more audience-friendly Fringes in Edinburgh and Philadelphia, however, the New York International Fringe Festival now appears needlessly bland and poorly organized. It also does no favors for the reputation of downtown theater. We deserve better.

Of course, complaining about the Fringe, run by the artistic director Elena Holy, is part of its tradition. Before the first festival even opened, it was attacked for using a jury to pick shows, which, the argument went, violated the spirit of the movement, started by the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in the middle of the last century.

A s someone who has covered almost every Fringe Festival since it began in 1997, the real problem now is that for the average theatergoer it remains too hard to find a good or interesting show. The reasons for this have as much to do with a lack of vision on the part of the producers as the talent level of the artists.

The first mistake was the gradual spreading out across lower Manhattan. Running from one theater to another is a challenge and there are fewer crowds of spectators milling around together, Consequently, you are much less likely to bump into audience members and trade tips. You could spend all day downtown and have no clue that the Fringe even exists.

Some Fringe festivals are easier to navigate because they are smaller. Edinburgh is much larger, but by decentralizing the curating, allowing individual theaters to create their own programming, the aesthetic has an eccentricity entirely lacking in New York. The Fringe here makes it difficult to find the kinds of shows you want to see. And if you arrive one minute late, the no-latecomer policy is strictly enforced (which I discovered the hard way racing to a show).

This year I did my usual routine of scouring reviews, listening carefully for buzz. What I have discovered so far (the festival runs through Sunday) are a heartfelt, but flawed solo drama; a charming two-person genre piece; and a bunch of forgettable shows. When you present 200 productions that are quickly put together, there will be bad work. I may have had poor luck this go-round, but over the years, the kind of bad shows at the Fringe has changed. They are now usually failures of ambition and imagination as much as craft.

“Platinum,” a revival of an obscure 1978 backstage musical with a book by Bruce Vilanch and Will Holt about an aging pop star (Donna Bullock) trying to rejuvenate her career, is a perfectly pleasant show that could be much better if more thought was put into its conception.

Ben West, who revised and directed the show, did nice work last year with a similar effort to resuscitate the ’60s musical “How Now, Dow Jones.” This time, the late ’70s sound doesn’t work with an orchestra of only one piano — couldn’t they at least have brought in a synthesizer? — and the chance to spin the show with style and period flair is squandered.

Gary Moore’s “Burning in China” also shows off artists who don’t seem to consider the challenges of the form. A sincere multimedia rap opera, I am sorry to report, is probably not going to work in a cheap Fringe show. To be fair, this wrong-headed effort is not, strictly speaking, a rap opera, so much as Mr. Moore acting out by himself a rap opera that he directed when he taught English in China in the late ’80s. And the multimedia, to be clear, was limited to a video of street life that was obscured by lights hung too low. The director Caleb Deschanel, an Oscar-nominated cinematographer, probably never had to worry about sight lines in Hollywood.

In this deeply sentimental inspirational-teacher story, Mr. Moore crams his experiences into the familiar formula of an exuberant outsider inspiring his difficult charges. This time, it’s in the shadow of the Tiananmen Square protests. Mr. Moore urges his shy students to open up through the rap opera, which includes a cross-cultural relationship between the Monkey King, a legendary character from Chinese folklore, and Abraham Lincoln.

Donning a top hat, our 16th president rhymes with a sing-songy, old-school flow:

I’m the Great Emancipator, I’m the man from Illinois

I can free your slaves, I can bring you joy

But I can’t do nothing for anyone

If you’re the kind of people don’t know how to have fun.

The Five Lesbian Brothers, the celebrated downtown ensemble that includes the playwright Lisa Kron, certainly know how to have fun, and their comedy “The Secretaries” (first done in New York in 1994), begins with a great premise: sweet, smiling receptionists are methodically killing lumberjacks. But any hope for a quick and dirty cult classic is dashed by the unsure and slow pace set by the director Mark Finley. This slight piece needed quickness and a touch of the bizarre, but instead hit the same note over and over, finally getting to its gory conclusion 15 minutes beyond its scheduled running time.

Still, it was preferable to the somber meditation on male body issues from Laura Brienza, “War Zones,” that employed metaphors of combat to explore anorexia.

David Rhodes’s multicharacter solo “Rites of Privacy” begins with his taking off a bathrobe and putting on makeup and a women’s pantsuit, and then moved through a series of characters — an aging Southern widow, a rabbi, a married woman having an affair — organized around the themes of secrecy and self-deception. Mr. Rhodes is not the most nimble actor, and while his voices change, some vocal tics show up in several characters. But the piece ends on a moving revelation that made me wish he had explored it more directly throughout.

The best show I have seen, “Trick Boxing,” a screwball play about crime and boxing that features rapid-fire dialogue and bursts of whimsy, has been touring for years. Brian Sostek, who plays a lowly apple seller turned pugilist and the men who recruit and exploit him, has marvelous chemistry with Megan McClellan, his romantic interest. The fights are dramatized in a puppet show, an example of the kind of low-tech ingenuity perfectly fit for the Fringe. At moments in the hard-boiled tale, the stars break out into dance, and while Mr. Sostek moves more fluidly than his partner, these numbers add a little fleet-footed fantasy that you didn’t expect.

It was one of the few surprises of my week. Waiting in lines, I would often overhear conversations between audience members who were excited to finally see a show away from the bright lights of Broadway. Reaching those people is important. What I worry is that while Off-Off Broadway throbs with energy, ambition and the finest low-budget experimental theater scene in the world, you would likely never know that from attending the New York International Fringe Festival.