In keeping with the impetus to go forth and multiply, the sixth annual Minnesota Fringe Festival is bigger and broader than ever, with 300 performances in 10 venues around the Loring theater district. While we suspect that the best way to test the fest is still an eight-dollar ticket and a dart thrown at the program from four paces, we've also tossed our battalion of reviewers at the first week of the Fringe to see what sticks.
Below, then, is a more-or-less arbitrary list of the good, the bad, and the really bad--and, of course, the so-bad-it's-really-good. All the listed acts continue through the second week, so there's plenty of time for the intrepid theatergoer to forsake air-conditioned comfort in favor of the theatrical wilderness. As usual, there are no guarantees of quality, but with this much rough there are bound to be a few shiny lumps of coal. And why not call that a diamond? The Fringe Festival runs through August 8. Call (612) 343-3390 for tickets and information.
1633 Hennepin Ave.
Two Tender Eyes Meet: A Butcher Shop Musical
Emily Charlotte Conbere
"I don't get it," whispered the little girl to her mother midway through Emily Charlotte Conbere's weird cocktail of a musical comedy. "What are they doing?" Indeed, most of the audience was probably wondering why the robots running the titular butcher shop were preparing for a "meat raffle," why the Prostitutes/Flowers and the Birds were at odds, why a half-naked man in suspenders was living in a liquor cabinet, and why Conbere's script seemed to consist of randomly organized words. If the little girl's mother was able to formulate any explanation beyond weirdness for weirdness' sake, she would have been kind to share it with the rest of us. Thu 8:30 p.m., Sat 10:00 p.m. (Ritter)
Fifty Foot Penguin Theater
From his father's recollections of the Vietnam War, writer and actor Zach Curtis has crafted his own dramatic tour de force. The loosely connected stream of anecdotes composing War Golems is the familiar stuff of the Vietnam travelogue: fetishized military hardware, hawkish bravado, and death and diversion In Country. Yet Curtis's portrait of a man battling the pull of nostalgia also underscores an oft-disregarded truth. For all its capricious brutality and soul-numbing drudgery, combat is fun. And that is, as Tim O'Brien once noted, both the best argument against war and the reason it will always be with us. Thu 10:00 p.m., Fri 10:00 p.m., Sat 4:00 p.m., Sun 1:00 p.m. (Ritter)
So when will Lilith Fair be calling Vox Medusa for tour appearances? It seems only natural, given the group's commitment to celebrating those of us with two X chromosomes. In Sirens, Kristen Freya leads her passionate troupe of dancers in examining the strengths and shortcomings of historic icons including Echo, Cleopatra, and Lucretia. The brief, almost ritualistic works are well framed by the fiercely sensual and self-assured words of poet Desdamona while music from traditional and club sources completes the nearly Amazonian environment. A good stop for your estrogen fix. Sat 2:30 p.m., Sun 8:30 p.m. (Caroline Palmer)
This macabre show follows a recovering alcoholic and a recovering hooker as they try to regain custody of their baby, only to be blocked by a condescending social worker. Even if you're not a talk-show junkie, it's entertaining to watch these actors move nimbly between hope, anger, and sorrow, pulling laughs from surprise twists while underscoring the pathos behind life. Throughout, the characters seek to return humanity and justice to the talk shows they watch, even as their own lives spiral into a desperation too subtle and lasting for TV. Thu 7:00 p.m., Sat 8:30 p.m., Sun 2:30 p.m. (Leyla Kokmen)
Ebullient Theatre Co.
Twentysomethings try to find love amid a morass of cultural jetsam and California cuisine: Hasn't this concept played on every network, including UPN? At the start of this entertaining show, sensitive guy Peir (Patrick Meehan) is receiving romantic coaching from his swaggering "Food Pimp" roommate (Jamison Haase, channeling the entire Brat Pack). Soon they're pontificating on My Fair Lady and unwittingly dating the same repressed artist (Jennifer Paige), who has her own advice-wielding (and nymphomaniacal) roommate (Jennifer LaSalle). Kookiness ensues. Sublimating the range of human emotion into food (cereal as self-love) and videos (a couple picnic in Blockbuster), Meal is an indulgent pleasure. Wed 8:30 p.m., Fri 8:30 p.m., Sun 7:00 p.m. (Guy Branum)
Phoenix Black Box
1819 Nicollet Ave.
The First Blonde Homo Erectus (Stories for a Fire Island Campfire)
Mark Hooker puts a pleasant twist on this variation of the gay coming-(out)-of-age story. Through story and song, Hooker takes us through his life, stopping to sing about Zsa Zsa Gabor, telling of an embarrassing dinner party for Yma Sumac, and reliving how he was kicked out of the Royal Ambassadors for Christ. Delivered with a relaxed and confidential air, Hooker's show holds the audience from the minute he steps onstage. And with his strong tenor putting across some witty songs, Hooker discovers himself without uncovering too many clichés in the process. Thu 7:00 p.m., Sat 8:30 p.m. (Doug Collins)