Tripping the Light Fantastic

At the Minnesota Fringe Festival

There are 162 shows in this year's Minnesota Fringe Festival. That's a 27-show increase from last year, following a pattern that has transformed the 10-day, 10-year-old shindig from a bantam to a banquet, the largest Fringe in the nation. Here's the most basic gauge of the festival's growth: In its first year, 4,600 tickets were sold; last year, there were 32,000 paid attendees, plus one known gatecrasher who kept to herself and had nice things to say after the show.

According to Fringe executive director Leah Cooper, the non-juried, first-come-first-serve festival couldn't accommodate all applicants this year, so clearly there are folks out there gunning for still more shows, more venues, more technicians, more out-of-nowhere genius, more flubbed lines, more everything.

At least from our perspective, a Darwinian cap on Fringe fecundity would not be entirely unwelcome. Deciding which shows to see and review now involves some rather merciless weed-whacking. By necessity, we are now "covering" the Fringe to the extent that a doily covers a Lazy Boy. In '98, when there were 40 shows presented, we reviewed half of them. This year we're hoping to get to 15 percent.

With more shows than ever, the Fringe serves as a broader--if still skewed--zeitgeist-o-meter. In keeping with the tenor of the times, frivolity is somewhat on the wane. In terms of percentages, there appears to be a decline in shows trumpeting nudity, and while comedy remains strong, it's not quite the hegemony it once was. Either that or it's just lurking in odd places. David Hansen's I Hate This, for example, promises "an honest, horrible, and humorous [italics mine] look at stillbirth."

This year also brings an unprecedented number of remounts of past Fringe hits, including Sex with David Mann, Charlie Bethel's Beowulf, Around the World in a Bad Mood, Zap! Kunst! Or Presto! It's Art!, War Golems, and The Worst Show in the Fringe. Whether you see this development as a sign of creative decay or a golden opportunity depends largely on how you view a possible revival of 1999's Barneezlebub: A Hillbilly Porn Opera.

In other changes, the Fringe's new contract with Actors' Equity has helped facilitate this year's strong showing of big- and medium-name actors, including Guthrie mainstay Richard Ooms in SHTICK, And Its Relation to the Unconscious, and Carolyn Pool in That's MISTER Benchley to You, Mrs. Parker. (A minor trend--one I'm sure City Pages is the first to note--is that Equity actors are seemingly attracted to shows that feature one all-caps word in the title.)

Reprising a familiar song in the arts world, it has been a tough year financially for the Fringe. In response, the artists' payout was reduced for the first time, some venue rental fees were re-negotiated, Bastille Day became a Fringe benefit (an instant pun!), and administrative salaries were cut. (I've noticed, too, that the company fleet of Lincoln Town Cars has been looking rather tatty as of late). A $100, all-you-can-see Ultra Pass, then, might be justified as an act of beneficence as well as a good way to cram in 50 cheap shows in less than two weeks. Otherwise, tickets are $10 per show, or $40 for five. (Call Uptown Tix at 612.604.4466 or visit www.uptowntix.com.) Also, Fringers over the age of 12 (no knee0walking or fake IDs!) are required to wear or present a Fringe Fest button to all shows. The buttons cost three bucks. For the uninformed, this may seem like a bait-and-switch. But now you know.

Informal discussions with actors and theatergoers have evinced a rather ho-hum level of excitement about this year's offerings. We can only reiterate that there were far more shows that we wanted to see and review than our deadline would permit. What we wound up watching was based on a mixture of calculation, caprice, and guesswork: a sincere effort to touch on the diversity of the festival, and some hunch-following as to what might be especially worth your while. --Dylan Hicks

 

 

3 Way
FILTHY WHORE PRODUCTIONS

After waking up naked and embarrassed, a male couple and their friend piece together alcohol-blurred memories of their sexual antics from the night before--like Run Lola Run without any running or any Lola. Forced jokes fall flat throughout, but sight gags, double entendres, and charming, hammy comedic acting save this fun, if predictable, piece of sex farce. Ranging from oblivious to bitchy to manipulative, the three Filthy Whores who wrote and perform are capable of fast-paced humor that works at least most of the time. The story especially pays off in the third, hilarious rendering of events that had even the stone-faced audience members cracking up. Sat 5:30 p.m.; Sun 5:30 p.m. Pillsbury House Theater. --Brianna Riplinger

 

A La Carte: In the Fool's Kitchen
CIRCUS MINIMUS PUPPETRY

In this family Fringe offering, Chris Griffith plays a squeaky-voiced chef from some part of France where gibberish constitutes half the language. The juggling clown-chef's attempt to launch a snazzy new bistro runs up against both his own incompetence and the revolt of a cunning lobster (depicted by puppeteer Shari Aronson, who eventually emerges in crustacean costume). Accordion-adept Gabriela Sweet provides clever accompaniment, and Griffith has a mellow way of interacting with the crowd. I saw this with my two-year-old son, whose approval was perhaps infectious (his cold certainly was--sorry, folks), but I suspect that childless adults with a taste for the goofy might also be charmed. Fri 2:30 p.m., 5:30 p.m., 1:00 p.m. MCTC Whitney Mainstage. --Dylan Hicks

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