City of Sideshows

Amid all the carnival barking of the fringe, we tell you which tent shows deserve your ten bucks

Ah, the Fringe, the Fringe, the Fringe. Here it is, the one Twin Cities theatrical experience that fully deserves to be referred to as an event. There are familiar pleasures to be had at any Fringe, many of them tangential to the 130-odd shows on offer--and the spoken-word and Visible Fringe, too. It's a marvelous social experience, wandering from show to show, often at a fast clip, given the nearly overlapping showtimes. There's the bonhomie of hobnobbing and comparing notes with fellow Fringegoers, sharing drinks at the end of the day, or engaging in other group activities perhaps best left unmentioned. (For example, one crowd of Fringe performers and attendees escaped last year's sweltering heat with an impromptu naked late-night swim.)

That said, 2002 seems to be a year of transition for the Fringe, making this edition something of a mystery. First, there is the departure of the Fringe's most tireless producer and promoter, Dean Seal, in circumstances that remain murky and vaguely unsavory. The earliest Minnesota Fringe festivals were not promising affairs--as the 14 people in attendance would tell you--and though his management style may have been erratic, Seal deserves credit for rescuing the event from likely extinction. Now, there are more venues than ever, including such established Minneapolis stages as the Jungle Theater, the Illusion Theater, and both the upstairs and downstairs of the Hey City Stage. This proliferation, along with a host of corporate sponsors and a free all-day trolley, suggests a steady march toward unabashed professionalism.

So the Fringe has moved two steps forward, and the price reflects it. The cost of individual shows has nudged upward to $10 (or $12.50 reserved), and the price of an Ultra-Pass, which allows audiences to see an unlimited number of shows, has lurched from $75 to $90. (Call UptownTix at 612.604.4466 or go to www.uptowntix.com.) Meanwhile, quite a few Fringe mainstays are back, such as the omnipresent Scrimshaw Brothers. Indeed, they will be represented by three shows: a Fringe production of Look Ma, No Pants, as well as Joshua Scrimshaw's Shut Your Joke Hole and Joe Scrimshaw's The Worst Show at the Fringe. (This last show features actor David Mann, himself a Fringe pillar.) Also on tap is a one-woman show by Heidi Arneson, a puppet performance by the Galumph troupe, and another act of agitprop anarchy by the Ministry of Cultural Warfare, all veterans of this theater campaign.

That noted, the 2002 Fringe also seems to be taking at least one step backward. Last year's affair featured a few distinctly high-end performances. Kevin Kling remounted his one-man 21A, while playwright Jeffrey Hatcher and playwright/performer/Mystery Science Theater 3000 alum Bill Corbett brought a dazzling pair of monologues, The Murderer and the Martian, to the stage in person. A completely open and unjuried booking policy has always been a point of pride for the Minnesota Fringe. Yet the presence of some more established talent last year drew audiences that may not have turned out to watch a cross-dressing recent college grad offering epiphanies realized while sitting on the crapper. This year has its share of talent, but it cannot boast the wattage of 2001.

Neither does it offer the sort of unrestrained weirdness of past seasons. There is nothing comparable to Jill Bernard's production of A Doll's House, performed in 2000 in a minuscule cubby in the basement of the Acadia. (Talk about domestic claustrophobia!) Nor is there anything to match avant-garde maven John Troyer's 2002 show, set in his own apartment. For those of us who look to the Fringe for the utterly unexpected and inexplicable, the generically salacious show descriptions featured in this year's Fringe guide boast little to be excited about.

But then, something at the Fringe always surprises. Using a complex mathematical calculus, we at City Pages have selected a fair sampling of Fringe plays for your attention. Though the formula is proprietary, we can reveal the broad outlines: We scanned the Fringe guide looking for shows that featured puppets, nudity, and violence, and took it from there.--Max Sparber

THE ABERRATIONS OF COITUS EXOTICUS
Now & Again Productions

"So you're here to see a sex show?" Elysabeth Ashe teases us. Mais oui, with a title like that. She starts to talk about flirting. The guy next to me mutters his disappointment and leaves, perhaps for the friskier Skyway Lounge across Hennepin. Loren Niemi, Ashe's improv partner, ups the ante, describing a bodacious barmaid crammed into a crawfish costume, and a white-trash Wisconsin strip joint. Ashe, in turn, wiggles through a nightclub fantasy. It's all funny and thoughtful, but this pair's carnal musings are about as titillating as Garrison Keillor reciting Henry Miller. Where's Susie Bright when you need her? Thu 10:00 p.m. Hey City Theater Downstairs. --Caroline Palmer

 

AMERICAN AUTOBAHNICS OR MR. SNIP'S MASK AND PUPPET FANTASIA
Larry Pontius

Lawyers have bad reps, sometimes deservedly so, but rarely has a boorish barrister caused such upheaval as in this wacky night-of-a-thousand-masks story. After a legal mishap at McDonald's, our hero (portrayed interchangeably by Nancy Ruyle, R. Charle Rollings, and Larry Pontius) searches for the "American Way." Turns out things are weird everywhere, what with all the scheming cows, alien abductions, hot-dog-stand philosophers, and psycho beauty queens. Director Anthony Paul keeps the comedy well-paced, and while Pontius (who also designed the masks and puppets) sometimes forces the parody, he lovingly portrays the USA at its eccentric best. Thu 7:00 p.m., Sun 8:30 p.m. MCTC Whitney Studio. --Caroline Palmer

 

THE AMERICAN DREAM
Afrika's Ensemble

American history is defined by amnesia--a convenient forgetfulness about sins of the past. But selective memory is dangerous because it prevents healing and progress. Afrika's Ensemble topples this barrier through a collective spirit dedicated to beauty and the beat. Improvising confidently through jazz and African rhythms, reed-player Rene Ford leads percussionists Kevin Washington and Eliezer Santos, and bassist Yawo Attivor. Joining them are dancers/singers Aimee Bryant and Tarloh Quiwonkpa, plus a roster of guest artists. The result is a vibrant journey highlighted by Bill Cottman's projected photographs and the soaring poetry of Langston Hughes and J. Otis Powell! A memorable performance. Wed 8:30 p.m., Fri 1:00 p.m. Intermedia Arts. --Caroline Palmer

 

ANTIGONE
First Magi

A retelling of a remake of a classic, this story of one woman's middle finger at authority should be as relevant in these, our terror-scare days, as it was in Bertolt Brecht's World War II Germany, or Sophocles' warring Greece. Yet in this well-intentioned attempt at agitprop, nothing much gets agitated. The action is set in Brecht's Berlin of 1945. We know this because it's spelled out for us on a chalkboard, although that reference point is never really explored. Likewise, we're never truly pulled into the action here--with the notable exception of the Bacchus festival. It's even hard to get worked up about Creon, the prick. Wed 8:00 p.m., Thu 10:00 p.m., Sun 2:00 p.m. Bryant-Lake Bowl. --Christina Schmitt

 

BRING ME THE HEAD OF DOMINIC PAPATOLA
Pigs Eye Theater

The stage is emblazoned with unexpectedly barbed mots from the same Pioneer Press theater critic whose murder is demanded in this production. But the greatest savagery in Randall J. Funk's comedy is reserved for actors, here represented by Adam Fielitz (who was skewered by Papatola in last year's Fringe), Ann Michels, and Don Eitel. Besides being petty creatures whose cruelty toward each other exceeds that of the harshest critic, they prove to be so incompetent as killers that they are only capable of causing themselves harm. Papatola, seated at the back on opening night, sniffed at its conclusion. "Well," he said. "There it is." Thu 8:00 p.m., Fri 8:00 p.m., Sat 8:00 p.m. Cedar Riverside People's Center. --Max Sparber

 

BURNING CAGE
Woman Alone Theatre Company

Heavy material made even heavier, this dramatization of brainwashing experiments conducted upon U.S. and Canadian mental patients during the Fifties lets no one escape: neither inmates nor audience. Two women, imprisoned in adjoining rooms at a Boston asylum, have identical daily regimens: shock treatment, meds, and deprogramming. Real and dream worlds blur, and the wall between the two patients' rooms dissolves. The women can now commiserate, the only moment of hope in this entirely depressing story. Told with minimalist artiness and strong performances, this pedantic tale of power abuse and mid-century prejudice is well told--though the homicidal climax leaves a big fat question mark where a period would have sufficed. Thu 7:00 p.m., Sat 10:00 p.m., Sun 2:30 p.m. Loring Playhouse. --Christina Schmitt

 

THE CANDID BIOGRAPHY OF A SINGLE CHESS TABLE CHOSEN AT RANDOM ON AN AMBIGUOUS SPRING DAY IN CENTRAL PARK
Shantz Theatre

There aren't many theatrical performances relating to psychological theory, but Shantz Theatre's production is clearly Gestaltist in scope. Alone, each of the 14 vignettes is a fine piece; united, they represent a tightly acted composition that evokes the gamut of emotions. Using its Central Park setting as a constant, Matt Fotis's script enlivens both mundane and bizarre human interactions. The cynosure, however, is the cast's versatility in adopting multiple roles, each done adeptly. Hey, any performance that successfully mocks pretentious Borders clerks, incorporates Rod Stewart songs, and garners nervous titters at suicide jokes must be as effective as any talking cure. Wed 8:30 p.m., Sat 4:00 p.m., Sun 5:30 p.m. MCTC Whitney Studio. --Erin Adler

 

CHARLIE BETHEL'S BEOWULF
Charlie Bethel

Theater doesn't get much more storied than this: Storytellers have been retelling the adventures of the son of Scyld for more than a millennium. Charlie Bethel's version is about as rip-roaring a good adventure as one can imagine, focusing on the graphic details, which can be quite gory indeed. This is the tale of Grendel, a beast who, when feeling a bit peckish for Danish, feeds on 30 Vikings, leaving their dashed brains behind. Bethel's telling is filled with good humor: He delivers Beowulf's dialogue with an absurdly slapdash bravado and lingers lovingly on every ghastly detail as sword rends flesh, sinew, and bone. Fri 7:00 p.m., Sat 4:00 p.m. Hey City Theater. --Max Sparber

 

CIRQUE D'ÉTÉ
Jay
Gilligan

If juggler Jay Gilligan has seemed very much a club kid, throwing dazzling patterns of balls and rings as deejays spin rhythmic accompaniment, with this show he seems to be more of a camp kid, tossing beanbags by the campfire as somebody strums guitar and sings thin-voiced folk songs. Accompanied by three singers, a guitar, and a boom box, Gilligan creates inventive, sometimes dazzling juggling patterns. Mostly, though, he seems to be enjoying a mellow, late-night sing-along. Sat 12:00 p.m., Sun 6:00 p.m. Bryant-Lake Bowl. --Max Sparber

 

THE COMICAL MISADVENTURES OF MR. PUNCH
Galumph Interactive Theater

Chris Griffith's fuzzy-eyebrowed Punch doesn't gets his hand on a noisemaking stick until midway through this production, and he spends a happy moment beating the floor with it, delighted by its exaggerated thwack. "I like this!" he declares. "I could do an entire show about this!" But this is a gentler Punch than the murderous puppet given to us by British tradition, so he spends most of the play searching for his lost infant rather than attempting to kill it. Still, great chaos is afoot, and more than a few times Punch displays his historic delight in comic carnage. Wed 8:30 p.m., Thu 5:30 p.m. and 8:30 p.m., Fri 8:30 p.m., Su 1:00 p.m, 2:30 p.m., and 8:30 p.m. Grace Trinity Lutheran Church. --Max Sparber

 

CONFESSIONS OF AN ART SCHOOL MODEL
Theatre on T.A.P.

That Confessions is a true-to-life portrait of the way artists and models interact is both an advantage and a disadvantage. It's a disadvantage because the exchange that occurs as the artist and model work (for real) onstage is less dramatic than it could be with a little more hyperbole thrown in. Still, this is the Fringe, and it's only reasonable to expect an audience to pay attention to what comes out of a naked model's mouth and to read between the lines to find her deeper messages. Besides, it's worth it to see a naked 50-plus-year-old woman do the splits without skipping a beat--or a line. Wed 8:30 p.m. Red Eye Collaboration. --Michael Fallon

 

DANCE WHIRX
Ann-Marie

It begins simply with a Renaissance pavane followed by dancer Monique vamping through an Egyptian Raks Sharqi number. Then, the first of many non sequiturs: Ann-Marie arrives with plastic bags taped to her body, plucking imaginary objects from thin air. Extra loud applause down front--her husband. More sumptuous dancing, this time by Middle Eastern maestra Margo Abdo O'Dell. Next, Ann-Marie is birthed from a pile of Mylar and performs in reptilian regalia (her alter ego, apparently, is the slithery alien being Zlagathor). More enthusiastic applause. Finally, a group shimmy, including Zlagathor, tail swishing in the spotlight. Ah, Fringian unity. Thu 5:30 p.m., Sat 5:30 p.m. Intermedia Arts. --Caroline Palmer

 

DREAMS AND SCHEMES
Tim Tucker and Edie Baumgart

Dreams and Schemes is the story of a woman who could have chosen two paths in life--either one leading to man troubles, career struggles, and sundry midlife crises. The dialogue--peppered with cranky one-liners and throwaway comebacks--is a serviceable vehicle for the song list ("Both Sides Now," "Philosopher's Stone," "Passionate Kisses"), which shows off the real joy of the show--Baumgart's vocals. Her singing does for canned music what Jack Daniel's does for a Coke. The knockout rendition of "I'm Changing" is a damned good reason to occupy a seat. Thu. 8:30 p.m., Fri. 10:00 p.m., Sun. 5:30 p.m. Loring Playhouse. --Sarah Sawyer

 

ELLEN'S EMPTY CHAIR
Illusion Theater

Though the premise has more sap than a giant sequoia, this story of an elderly woman remembering her past is a fine piece of theater indeed. Barbara Kingsley plays Ellen, a 78-year-old lady talking to the ghosts of her two dead--but still very handsome--brothers. There's Andy (Sam Rosen), the prankster who was killed during World War II; and Hugh (Peter McCain), the poetically tormented brother who had killed himself years ago. Then we have the Chair, which acts as a metaphor for childhood games as well as trauma and death. So much happens here with so little, thanks to a witty script and humorous and humane performances. Thu 8:30 p.m., Fri 5:30 p.m., Sat 5:30 p.m. Illusion Theater. --Christina Schmitt

 

GRENDEL'S MOTHER
Dorothy Cleveland

Between Charlie Bethel's performance of Beowulf and this riff on the tale's monstrous materfamilias, this year's Fringe certainly doesn't skimp on the Old English sagas. Since Grendel's mom appears in the original poem only as a man-eating cipher, however, Cleveland's performance is less a straight retelling than an extrapolation in the spirit of John Gardner. In Cleveland's richly imagined--though largely improvised--yarn, Grendel's mother gives up a promising career of killing and retreats to her cozy cave to raise a little beast of her own. "I have a growing boy," she explains apologetically. "He eats and eats and eats." So long as he doesn't fill up on Geats. Wed 8:30 p.m., Sun 2:30 p.m. Acadia Café. --Peter Ritter

 

GEORGE BUSH'S NUTS (OR HOW I LEARNED TO ENJOY REAL TIME WAR FOOTAGE ON LSD)
DareDevil Psychonautic Research Ensemble

A post-9/11 patriot seemingly fresh from Wayne's World (he smokes pot and carries a "God Bless War" sign) is the first character in this series of one-man vignettes. Yet just when the stereotypes--the geographically indeterminate "trashy" accent, the mullet--are becoming as problematic as the worldview under attack, our dude switches characters. Now he is a flamboyantly gay man, whose friends find it fashionable to go to political protests. Next he becomes an FBI agent in charge of retrieving all known photos of George W.'s genitals. Over the course of this long rant, the jokes get progressively funnier; the message more sincere and pointed. Wed 7:00 p.m., Sat 10:00 p.m. Brave New Workshop Theater. --Christina Schmitt

 

HOMELAND SECURITY
Heidi Arneson

In a red, white, and blue, star-spangled short skirt, Heidi Arneson go-gos madly, chanting her usual singsongy, beatniky observations. But Arneson's musings here concern America after 9/11, and she has some pointed comments to make. After all, the country we are so eager to defend is still filled with aching, marginal characters, and Arneson essays a few of them in a handful of chilling monologues. These include a prisoner whose filthy cell is a reminder that prison is not his home, a homeless man struggling through a bitter night in a shelter, and a failed bulimic who has only mastered bingeing, until her ravenous appetite consumes toilet paper rolls, small businesses, and even Third World countries. Thu 8:30 p.m., Fri 10:00 p.m., Sun 5:30 p.m. Hey City Theater Downstairs. --Max Sparber

 

HOW COME AIN'T NO WHITE PEOPLE IN THE SHOW?
Illusion Theater

Aimee Bryant and Amy Anderson are such engaging performers you'll wish their material were more sure-fire. When you milk ethnic stereotypes for satire (Bryant is black, Anderson Asian), your jokes had better be zingers, because the satire is inevitably obvious. But the pair do score several direct hits: A skit in which two 11-year-old Thriller fans write to Michael Jackson is heartfelt and gains resonance by excerpting a video clip from Free to Be You and Me with MJ cooing, "We don't have to change at all." Thurs 5:30, Sat 8:30, Sunday 7:00. Illusion Theater. --Keith Harris

 

THE IMAGINARY INVALID
In the Basement Productions

Isn't it strange how a play can become dated? Just check this Molière satire, written mere months before his death by hemorrhage way back in 1673. First off, there's an old dude complaining about exorbitant medical bills--what's that about? It gets even weirder when the same dude wants to marry off his daughter to a doctor, just for the health benefits! Yeesh--hasn't he heard of "domestic partner" benefits? Okay, so Molière may have been more prescient than even he imagined. This nimble cast (featuring a star turn by Kjersti Brekke as the "impudent hussy") reins in the ironies and never lets the convoluted logic of the farce stop them belly laughs from comin'. Wed 10:00 p.m., Saturday 8:00 p.m. Bryant-Lake Bowl. --Nick Phillips

 

KUNG FU HAMLET
No Refunds Theatre Co.

Stripped down to its revenge essentials, the plot of Hamlet becomes as economical and precise as this show's title. Voices emerge from offstage as actors move their mouths out of synch, the slightest provocation results in swift fist flashes and roundhouse kicking, and the inhabitants of Elsinore neatly correspond to kung-fu-flick stock characters. (Horatio as the cowardly servant is a masterstroke.) The flattened language wears thin over time, but the choreography is sharp and a potentially slight comic idea is successfully stretched past the breaking point. Sat 8:30 p.m., Sun 2:30 p.m. Hey City Theater Upstairs. --Keith Harris

 

THE LEGACY JOURNALS
Media Noir

A crime melodrama designed to sound like one from the golden age of radio, this production is acted out in front of microphones while a harried and somewhat incompetent foley artist (Elizabeth Hawes) scurries around, slamming doors, stomping feet, and firing pop guns to provide the appropriate sound effects. The script is bad and clichéd, but no more so than the radio shows it borrows from, and the performances are wooden, but appropriately so. Occasional comedy comes from the cast members, who prove as inept as their sound-effects woman, dropping their scripts and shooting each other eye-rolling glances at every minor mishap. Wed 7:00 p.m., Fri 5:30 p.m., Sun 5:30 p.m. Minneapolis Theatre Garage --Max Sparber

 

LET IT BE...JAZZ
Illusion Theater

Singer Connie Evingson suggests the lasting popularity of the Beatles has to do with boomers' nostalgia for the music of their youth. Indeed, she cites her Duluth-childhood memories of sneaking Beatles LPs into the turntable rotation between the Duke Ellington records of her father. And while her current musical trick--mixing songs like "Can't Buy Me Love" with Peggy Lee's "Fever," or "Blackbird" with Miles Davis's "All Blues"--is not really intellectually challenging, Evingson smoothly transfers the achy sexuality of Liverpudlian rock 'n' roll into an exquisite kind of cool. The backup band and the overall production are top quality, too. Fri 7:00 p.m., Sat 4:00 p.m. Illusion Theater. --Michael Fallon

 

LIABILITY
The Coders Union Theater Company

The funniest scene in Liability is also the most believable: A tyrannical office manager is pushed to--and, eventually, over--the edge by the two employees she supervises. The rest of the plot concerns a jaded academic resigned to temp work and the rebellious newcomer he takes underneath his wing. Anne Bertram's clever script places a great burden on the actors, demanding extensive character development during silence, gestures, and, yes, filing. Although the relationship forged between the protagonists occasionally seems contrived, the dialogue still offers ample rewards for anyone who has tasted humility in the office or the ivory tower. Wed 10:00 p.m., Fri 2:30 p.m., Sat 8:30 p.m. Acadia Café. --Wendy Weisman

 

THE LION'S PRIDE
Green T Productions

Kabuki purists might balk at Green T's production, which, under the guiding hand of director/performer Kathy Welch, commits such cardinal sins as allowing women onstage (in men's roles, no less). But there are precious few kabuki purists in the Twin Cities, and, without Welch, there would be even less of this terrific Japanese theater form. Welch's cast, although amateur kabuki performers, boast solid résumés as performers. They act out this comedy of a kabuki master (played by Welch) and his gadabout son with relentless good humor, even as the characters are possessed by the spirits of errant lions. Wed 8:30 p.m., Thu 8:30 p.m., Fri 7:00 p.m., Sat 7:00 p.m., Su 2:30 p.m. Hennepin Center for the Arts Studio 600. --Max Sparber

 

LOVESICK ON A SUNNY AFTERNOON
C.Z. Lee Presents

Belle and Sebastian's fans are a melodramatic brood--the kind who secretly mouth their lyrics into hairbrushes in front of the bathroom mirror. But it still seems doubtful that anyone has ever performed an entire lip-synched musical based on the Scottish band's songs until now. Lovesick has all the essential archetypes of a B&S performance: a bisexual love triangle, naughty lesbian professors, and a few exciting dance numbers that makes Grease look like Waiting for Godot. Sadly, there's less camp than at a Girl Scout retreat. But watching the entire cast shimmy to "Judy and the Dream of Horses" will still make you want to jump up and do the pony yourself. Fri 10:00 p.m., Sun 7:00 p.m. Red Eye Collaboration. --Melissa Maerz

 

THE MEMORY TREE
The Puppet Project

Every day is Arbor Day in this strange and messy fantasy about a tree that keeps the memories of the dead. This Montreal-based puppetry collective seems to have built its show out of scraps of spare fabric, and the resulting designs are mostly grotesque, angular caricatures that might have been pulled from the inner sleeve of Pink Floyd's The Wall. These puppets behave terribly toward each other, wrestling for power in the shadow of the tree. Ultimately, they manipulate each other's desires as much as the puppeteers do their bodies. Maybe leave the kids at home. Wed 5:30 p.m., Fri 7:00 p.m., Sun 7:00 p.m. Minneapolis Theatre Garage. --Max Sparber

 

MORE! ALL NUDE IMPROV!
3 Months to Live Comedy Company

Improv comedy generally leaves me suicidal, so in this particular situation, I admit, I was there for the boobies. But no: In an actionable breach of truth in advertising, this show is about as "all nude" as a Promise Keepers convention. Nevertheless, I didn't leave--couldn't find the exit in the dark--and actually found myself enjoying the damn thing. Off-color Afghanistan jokes, sex-slave shenanigans, children onstage--it's all here, deftly handled by a talented troupe presided over by the hypnotically Richard Lewis-like Toni Halleen. This being improv, of course, it's only as interesting as the audience's off-the-cuff witticisms, so think of something clever before you come. Wed 8:30 p.m., Fri 2:30 p.m., Sat 4:00 p.m. Brave New Workshop Theater. --Nick Phillips

 

MR. GOD AND THE WALRUS TAINT
The Collective

Would God, in the guise of a teenager, don a Jim Morrison T-shirt? What is the sexual preference of Buddha? Local improv troupe the Collective tackles such burning questions in this kooky one-act, fifteen-scene comedy. The complicated plot centers on God and Jimmy Stewart's broken friendship, culminating in a good-versus-evil football game. Though the bestial gay sex demonstrations between Buddha and the walrus occasionally feel too vulgar (they warned us) and one wonders if points are being awarded for expletive use, the show is redeemed by Joel Gray's outstanding Stewart impersonation and Scott Zilka's turn as the Prince of Darkness. Wed 10:00 p.m., Fri 7:00 p.m. Brave New Workshop Theater. --Erin Adler

 

MUFFY VON MUNCHAUSEN AND THE FEMININE MISTAKE
Cara Ullrich

In her one-woman cabaret, Cara Ullrich juices oranges using rimmers attached to her bra; explores her attraction/aversion to the Barbie doll; invents a queer creation myth; and compels audience members to defile Barbie dolls using condoms, pudding, and rope. As a finale she offers a charming and bittersweet drag homage to the Travolta/Newton-John classic "You're the One That I Want." Ullrich's performance is informal, unpolished, and inviting: She may well be the most endearing butch dyke ever to blaspheme on the local stage while serving cookies and milk. Wed. 8:30 p.m., Fri. 4:00 p.m., Sun 7:00 p.m., Hey City Theater Downstairs. --Sarah Sawyer

 

NEIL GAIMAN'S SIGNAL TO NOISE
Council of Doom

The stage adaptation of fantasist Neil Gaiman's illustrated novel has been produced by the suitably named Council of Doom, who, we presume, are a collection of theatrical supervillains. But Gaiman's story, which tells of a screenwriter dying of cancer who parallels his own forthcoming end time with an apocalypse that never happened, never rises beyond its intriguing premise. The story is given a lackluster production here: The cast of three overacts every line, mistaking shouting for character development, and tearless sobbing for grief. Wed 7:00 p.m., Thu 7:00 p.m., Fri 4:00 p.m., Sun 7:00 p.m. Acadia Café. --Max Sparber

 

NO SMOKING, NO PETS, NO LOUD SEX
Rhino Productions

Cockroaches, killer pets, nosy neighbors, and violent abduction aren't supposed to be funny. The acting and staging at a fringe festival aren't "supposed" to be this professional. But there you have it: four solid performances in three excellent short plays, all taking place in a single apartment. The apartment's successive inhabitants include some challenging roles, including the elderly Pippa and Olaf (who've still got it going on in the bedroom), and three cockroaches. There should be a Best of Fringe nomination for Best Death Scene With Legs in the Air. Thu 10:00 p.m., Fri 7:00 p.m. Loring Playhouse. --Tricia Cornell

 

OH DAD, POOR DAD, MAMMA'S HUNG YOU IN THE CLOSET AND I'M FEELIN' SO SAD
Chaos Theories Theatre

This surly tale of a homicidal mother and her stammering, stamp-collecting son climaxes when the son chops his mother's creepy Venus flytraps to bits with an ax. One wishes the director had done the same thing to the script. The monologues are interminable; the physical comedy falls flat; and the message is so grim that none of the characters can conjure up sympathy--to say nothing of a laugh. And it's nearly 90 minutes long to boot. Skip the play and take up philately. Thu. 10:00 p.m., Sat.10:00 p.m. Hey City Theater Upstairs. --Sarah Sawyer

 

OOOPS! YOU'RE PRESIDENT
The Burning House Group

The four-year-olds in the audience loved it. But that isn't the damning statement it sounds like. Of course they loved it: The Burning House Group has conjured up that old-fashioned, broad physical comedy that uses every muscle in the face and nearly every one in the body. The jokes are the kinds of puns that literal-minded kids love and not everyone grows out of. While Ooops! You're President inhabits roughly the same universe as the Marx Brothers' Duck Soup, don't come looking for political satire with much bite. (That said, it's hard not to recognize the current administration in the "Operation Supertruth" jokes.) Fri 2:30 p.m., Sat 7:00 p.m. Hey City Theater Downstairs. --Tricia Cornell

 

OR WAS IT THE RED KING'S DREAM?
Normally Closed Theatre

In a twist that would no doubt titillate Alan Greenspan, this elaboration on Lewis Carroll's Alice stories replaces Carroll's love for logic puzzles with a peculiar focus on economics. The game Alice must play here is a version of Monopoly, and she skips around the stage purchasing properties from characters such as the Boardwocky). Coauthors Ryan W. Scott and Kristin Elizabeth Brabec have fun with this, as they do with their roles as an avuncular but vaguely menacing Carroll and a naive but eager Alice. The best fun, however, comes from a witty poetic retelling of the life of Carroll, told from three perspectives--one insisting that he was thoroughly perverted. Sat 8:30 p.m., Sun 5:30 p.m. Woman's Club of Minneapolis. --Max Sparber

 

A POSTCARD FROM THE CORN PALACE
Abacus Theater Company

The tacky roadside attraction that gives Corn Palace its title could serve as a warning: No gimmick can produce a respectable work of art. Miraculously, however, this show, constructed from a playwriting exercise, maintains a goofy vitality while confidently skewering theme restaurants, diet fads, and rural Midwestern tourism to boot. The actors' fanatical commitment to their characters (and the playwright's swift resolutions) prevent the four sketches from exhausting their paper-thin premises. Body language, in the form of Chris Wehrman's lusty swoon, David Denninger's disdainful grimace, or Rachel Flynn's nervous blush, breathes marvelous, loony life into each of the inane personalities. Fri 8:30 p.m., Sun 7:00 p.m. Loring Playhouse. --Wendy Weisman

 

PUNK ROCK OMAHA
Ferrari McSpeedy Theatrical Productions

Twin Cities comedy team Joe Ferrari and Michael McSpeedy play a startling number of characters in this riotous story of the breakup of an Omaha punk band. They have a particular gift for switching character mid-scene as the effects of the band's collapse ripple out to an ever-widening circle of the Omaha population. The show comes to an early, bizarre climax in a seedy bar, where McSpeedy, playing an aging groupie, complains, "My vagina has gotten all wibbly-wobbly." McSpeedy then switches characters, leaping into a nearby seat and into the persona of a depressed human-resources manager, who takes this news with an utterly aghast facial expression. Wed 8:30 p.m., Thu 5:30 p.m., Fri 2:30 p.m., Sat 4:00 p.m. Loring Playhouse. --Max Sparber

 

QUE SERA, SERA
Kristina de Sacramento and Anda Flamenco

You'll be wishing Doris Day never uttered the title phrase by the end of this show, because the performers repeat it constantly. But this "flamenco dance comedy" does offer many funny moments between its energetic tangos and alegrias, performed by a competent, if still developing, cast. Musicians Greg Wolfe, Dave Elrod, and Trevor May ably keep the beat while singer Maria Elena "La Cordobesa" inspires the dancers' passions. Most memorable is de Sacramento's perfectly timed duet with a flamenco skirt that seems to have a mind of its own. "You can be replaced!" she warns the recalcitrant costume. Thu 10:00 p.m. Old Arizona. --Caroline Palmer

 

SLAUGHTER HOUSE WARMING
Ministry of Cultural Warfare

"There isn't an innocent among us," four strangers decide when they find themselves together on the back porch during a housewarming. Of course, the sins of the four--a Marx-quoting pot dealer, a hypersexual homo, a straightlaced Christian with something to hide, and an uptight, effete gay man--aren't extraordinary either. Within ten minutes it's confidences time, as the conversation turns into one of those pot-fueled philosofests that are equal parts Marx, Aquinas, and sex. The script has some good zingers ("Heroin is like snakehandling, whereas pot is like Presbyterianism") and four-fifths of the cast give admirable performances. Thu 7:00 p.m., Fri 10:00 p.m., Sat 10:00 p.m. Minneapolis Theatre Garage. --Tricia Cornell

 

STILL SMELLS LIKE TEEN SPIRIT
Square One Theater Company

Although they make gratuitous references to law school, Harvard, and cum laude, the twentysomethings in Still Smells sound like they've been biding their time in Dawson's Creek instead of the Ivy League. This high-school-reunion comedy deliciously captures its characters' pithy conversations and petty fixations with status. Unfortunately, the audience is rarely able to grasp the human relationships beneath the barrage of one-liners. By the end, the characters seem to have learned, after ten years, that they must grow up and let go of the past. The audience arrived at the same conclusion after witnessing the first five minutes. Wed 5:30 p.m., Fri 8:30 p.m., Sat 2:30 p.m. MCTC Whitney Studio. --Wendy Weisman

 

STRANGE NIGHT: SONGS OF KURT WEILL
Divine Entertainment Productions

This cabaret is exactly what you might expect it looked like when the now-closed Loring Cafe first opened, with bartenders and dolled-up party girls wandering in, clutching coffees, and singing "Alabama Song" ("Oh show me the way to the next whiskey bar"). The six singers gathered around a makeshift piano bar here have uniformly good voices. But the songs of Kurt Weill demand a degree of character in a voice, which is lacking, except in Molly Balcom. Her torch-song phrasing finds the thrill in the dissolute melodies of Weill's "Surabaya Johnny" and "Pirate Jenny." Wed. 5:30 p.m., Sat 5:30 p.m., Sun 4:00 p.m. Loring Playhouse. --Max Sparber

 

3 CAUTIONARY TALES OF BUFFOONERY, TOLD WITH AMAZING INSIGHT BY DAVE MONDY
Dave Mondy

Anyone versed in the ironic, let's-shine-a-spotlight-on-the-oh-so-interesting-and-quirky-things-that-happen-to-me genre of David Sedaris and This American Life, and Dave Eggers and his McSweeney's franchise, will get this one right away. The rest of the audience may shift in the seats for a bit until Dave Mondy tones down the self-aware asides--such as, "I walk down the street like I'm in the last few frames of a hip indy film"--and gets into fleshing out the characters of his tale. When he does, he paints a poignant picture of three women and the relationships they once had with a talented and well-meaning buffoon. Fri 11:00 p.m., Sat 2:00 p.m. Jungle Theater. --Michael Fallon

 

2 NOBLE KINSMYN
CalibanCo

In truth, Shakespeare should probably get second billing for this gloomy melodrama based on the story of Arcite and Palamon from Chaucer. His contribution was likely just a rewrite of John Fletcher's somewhat shapeless and schizo scenario--probably one of the reasons that the play is so rarely performed nowadays. No matter, though. Under director Jeremy Cottrell, CalibanCo's well-acted, noir-flavored production makes a decent case for this Elizabethan bodice-ripper on its own terms. Fri 8:00 p.m., Sat 2:00 p.m., Sun 4:00 p.m. Bryant-Lake Bowl. --Peter Ritter

 

TRAINSPOTTING
Theatre Pro Rata

Irvine Welsh may be content to spend his post-Britpop career sliding slowly into self-parody, but this stunning adaptation of the über-popular Trainspotting serves as a reminder of his literary worth. By compacting the sprawling novel to its bare essentials--four cast members, fewer props--this onstage version achieves a claustrophobic intensity, at turns harrowing and pitch-black hilarious. It also accommodates an active female voice that opens surprising avenues into an otherwise dauntingly sexist landscape. Joe Pepke offers a supremely nuanced take on the blithely nihilist junkhead Mark, and the rest of the cast isn't far behind him. Even the accents ring true. Could this be--gasp--better than the movie? Fri 4:00 p.m., Sat 10:00 p.m. Bryant-Lake Bowl. --Nick Phillips

 

WHEN POP STARS ATTACK
Frontier Theatre

Twenty-four hours later, I'm still singing those blasted songs. And they aren't even "real" pop songs. Eight hilariously catchy original pop tunes accompany When Pop Stars Attack ("You're my vision of gla-amor/Until you get too old"), which skewers pubescent divas and the surrounding hype. Aging rocker Stevie Nicks, I mean, um, Nicki Steeves, kidnaps the latest ingénue, Trinity, driving her fans to despair--for about a day and a half. Sure, Britney et al. are a target as broad as a barn door, but that doesn't make the satire any less fun. Now if they could only work out those pesky sound problems. Thu 10:00 p.m., Fri 2:30 p.m., Sat 8:30 p.m. Red Eye Collaboration. --Tricia Cornell

 

WORM-HOLE
Niki McCretton

McCretton hails from Somerset, England, but her aesthetic seems American--that is, if you still count ex-pat director Robert Wilson as a citizen. Her intricate show, which treads on Orwellian territory, alludes to Wilson's epic physical theater while injecting bits of Beckett-style chaos into the mix. McCretton portrays a bizarre nun who inhabits a room where she's manipulated by an unseen force. This delusional dynamic introduces surprises into her daily routine, as she communicates countless emotions with nary a word. Mind you, this one requires the patience of a saint sometimes, but McCretton's splendid sense of detail is worth the devotion. Thu 7:00 p.m., Fri 4:00 p.m., Sat 8:30 p.m. Old Arizona. -- Caroline Palmer

 

THE WORST SHOW IN THE FRINGE
Joseph Scrimshaw

Given that Joseph Scrimshaw's Fringe entry concerns an aggravated thespian who kidnaps a paraphasia-prone theater critic after the latter fulminates pleonastically about the former's fatuous Fringe entry, one might expect a reviewer to tread lightly. But fear not, friends: I hazard only hyperbole when I say that The Worst Show in the Fringe is the funniest play in the history of the theater. Scrimshaw--of the pantless Scrimshaw Brothers comedy duo--has a brilliant ear for pompous oratory, and David Mann and Craig Johnson, as thespian and critic, deliver his material with luminous brio. I love this show! (Please don't kidnap me.) Thu 7:00 p.m., Fri 4:00 .m., Sun 5:30 p.m. Brave New Workshop Theater. --Peter Ritter •

 

BEING

THERE
The days when one could amble from show to show seem to be a thing of the past, now that some 20 regular venues host events throughout the city of Minneapolis. A free trolley will be schlepping tired Fringers around the city on Saturday and Sunday (no word on whether nap mats will be available); the official Fringe Festival program has stop coordinates and schedules.

Advance tickets and passes are available through UptownTix at 612.604.4466; or check the Web site, www.uptowntix.com. Tickets can also be bought (more cheaply) at the door. We've tried to give accurate information on showtimes and venues, but no one ever regretted having looked for the latest updates and information at www.fringefestival.org. A select number of shows are 90 minutes; everything else should clock in at less than an hour. Just be safe, use the buddy system, and know when to say when.

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