At the Fringes

Dean J. Seal, producer of the Fringe Festival, wants you to get hooked on "fringing"--that is, spending a day walking from one show to the next. Getting you addicted is a daunting goal for a small-theater community that would just love it if you went to, say, a show a month. To encourage this habit, the good fringe folks have made it possible to see three shows a night, and as many as six on a weekend day, with productions running from 2:30 p.m. to 11 p.m.

While the Fringe has a reputation for, um, varied quality, we found that the majority of the works were rather good--and even if they weren't, hell, they weren't more than an hour long. The shows listed below, though not all recommended, do have something to recommend. Though the festival is conveniently located in venues within a few blocks of Loring Park, the intrepid theatergoer should still heed a few cautions. Bring a sweater: The Woman's Club is arctic. Drink plenty of fluids: Loring Playhouse and Ballet of the Dolls studio are equatorial. And, it should go without saying, know when to say when.

Call 823-6005 for more information, or check the Fringe Web site at members.aol.com/mnfringe/.

STOLEN CIRCUITRY  with Matt Jenson and Heidi Geier
STOLEN CIRCUITRY with Matt Jenson and Heidi Geier

FOUR STORIES Upstart Theatre dedicates itself to reanimating all those dusty works that you were assigned in English 101 but probably didn't read. Selling tickets to a Norton Anthology is hard work, but thanks to Upstart's exceptional cast and fine dramatic intuition, there is no mildew on these Victorian tales of repression and possession. Director Craig Johnson also gives the performance of the Fringe, re-creating Poe's "The Tell-Tale Heart" with heart-palpitating urgency. Tamsen Brock's sanity disintegrates before our eyes in her rendition of Charlotte Perkins Gilman's "The Yellow Wallpaper." Beyond the fine acting, this local company also achieves seamless transitions and gently elegant staging; as Johnson delivers the prologue, Poe's "Annabel Lee," he methodically uncoils a rope around the stage, defining the boundary within which each character will suffocate by his obsessions. Sa 2:30 p.m., Su 8:30 p.m. Loring Playhouse. (Anne Ursu)

PRE-HANSEL AND POST-GRETEL In Heidi Arneson's one-woman production, the Gretel of Grimm Brothers fame has survived to grow up in modern-day America, but her encounter with a witch's odd culinary habits has left her with some, shall we say, issues. Consisting primarily of Gretel's bizarre series of true/false questions and non sequiturs, the engaging, often humorous creation of this Minneapolis performance artist is laced with imagery of incest and sadism. If that weren't scary enough, there's also a gruesome auto wreck, and, perhaps most horrifying of all, bad country-and-western music. This variation on the fairy tale suggests that the inner lives of Hansel and Gretel--and presumably the rest of us--are no less convoluted than that of the witch who sought to turn the tots into a midmorning snack. Call it (gulp) food for thought... Th 10 p.m. Red Eye. (John Pribek)

freak The Loring Playhouse was characteristically sweltering for the start of this talky drama. PJ Harvey was blaring from the production next door, and the two actors on stage (Amy Rydberg and Steve Lattery) were sitting still talking rather quietly about relationships. It is a testament to Bruce Abas's script that in five minutes I found myself engrossed in the play. Abas, a local playwright and director, methodically exposes the tangled history (and histrionics) of a group of four friends whose interaction is defined by posturing and deceit. The sexual gaming that ensues creates palpable erotic tension on stage. It's an ugly display of human nature, and we can only hope to distance ourselves from their behavior as we find ourselves thinking newly about each character, "What a...freak." F 8:30 p.m., Sa 7 p.m., Su 2:30 p.m. Loring Playhouse. (Ursu)

SissY The antagonist in John Troyer's one-person show is Chron, a government agency of the future that utilizes time travel to perform some convenient "historical editing." It's allowed for some unfortunate abuses, including that of some French existentialist guerrillas who have transplanted Sisyphus into a contemporary office job. There, the boulder man faces elimination by a melancholic Chron assassin and imminent downsizing thanks to the merger of Temps R' Us and Monkeyland. Joyously original, n'est-ce pas? Now, go back and read the last few sentences again, inserting "Blackout...Pause" between each phrase. There lies the impediment to Troyer, a self-styled small-theater renegade, and to the potential of this performance. SissY allows too much downtime while it creates its dramatic context, time for us to be alienated by our confusion. W 8:30 p.m., F 10 p.m., Sa 7 p.m., Su 2:30 p.m. Ballet of the Dolls studio. (Ursu)

I'M MAD (WITH POWER) This one-man comedy recalls the experience of zoning out with a long-lost, eccentric friend. Harmon Leon may terrorize you, may threaten to kill a child if you don't laugh at his jokes. You may see through his simplistic bits and the wisdom of a dreadlocked vegan from San Francisco. But more often you'll laugh at his anecdotes filled with pop culture and his big persona. Imagine: Stephen Hawking as Ginger Spice's replacement. See "Bobo the Stripping Bear" perform a tease to AC/DC's "You Shook Me All Night Long." And just when the humor starts to drag, Leon follows rad-dude protocol, switching on the tube to show classic television moments. If you've never seen William Shatner do his spoken-word rendition of Elton John's "Rocket Man," here's your chance. F 8:30 p.m., Sa 10 p.m. Whitney Performance Space. (Christina Schmitt)

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