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

 

Ashes to Ashes
17SECONDS THEATRE COMPANY

Harold Pinter's short 1996 play Ashes to Ashes takes place in an English country house on a day that somehow allows Devlin (Brian O'Neal) to sport a turtleneck, sweater, and jacket while his presumed wife Rebecca (Shannon Jankowski) appears comfortable in a sleeveless dress. That's okay, though--you're not supposed to understand everything in a Pinter play. Rebecca has just confessed an infidelity, or perhaps she's recalling the Holocaust, or maybe she's delusional. Whatever it is, she's serene about it, disquietingly so. "I am very upset," she says at one point, cheerily. A painfully arty close in which offstage players echo Rebecca's lines is among the few misfires of Jason Bucklin's direction. Fri 7:00 p.m.; Sat 2:30 p.m. Loring Playhouse. --Dylan Hicks

 

City Girl!
THE NEO-FUTURISTS

Self-referential in the "meta" style of stuff like Charlie Kaufman's Adaptation, City Girl! from Chicago's Neo-Futurists is a winning musical comedy mainly about its failings as a musical comedy. The show is frequently interrupted by commentary from a mysterious voice heard over the PA system. In a dry tone similar to the doorman's on Rhoda, the unseen critic torments Noelle Krimm, the show's star and creator, with snide remarks such as "I suppose we're to think that Tom is a different person just 'cause he has a hat on." The songs are sometimes hilarious (the elfin "Happy Dance" stands out), and the company is filled with gifted comic actors and not-bad singers. Thu 8:00 p.m. Hey City Theater, upstairs. --Dylan Hicks

 

Coya Comes Back
PLAYING ON PURPOSE PRODUCTIONS

The unwieldy metaphysical conceit of this play is a discussion between a reanimated Coya Knutson, Minnesota's first U.S. congresswoman, and an invisible Betty McCollum, our present distaff rep. (By repeating everything McCollum says, Coya, we're forced to gather, has experienced some hearing loss.) While nibbling on donuts and peeling potatoes for lefse, Coya, in a saintly portrayal by Kathy Ray, recites the major bills she passed while in office and explains her farm platform. But it's the hinted-at Lifetime Network undertones that really intrigue: Coya's husband Andy was an abusive alcoholic whose famous letter asking Coya to return from Washington--"Coya Come Home"--fueled rumors of an affair and undermined her campaign for a third term. Wed 7:00 p.m.; Thu. 7:00 p.m. MCTC Whitney Studio. --Steve Marsh

 

Exposure
NOAH BREMER

The type of exposure the four agile dancers present here is about emotions. We're talking the uncomfortable and awkward interpersonal sessions of youth, which are sometimes sweet but are mostly tormented, drawn out, and melodramatic. There's little dialogue on offer here; the director reports being influenced by the sculptural movement tableaux of Pilobolus. The strong, acrobatic, serpentine feeling-each-other-out segments are engaging and artistically admirable for quite some time--but an hour's worth of post-adolescent discomfort might be more than some would want to revisit. Fri 2:30 p.m.; Sat 10:00 p.m. Minneapolis Theatre Garage. --Christina Schmitt

 

Five Women on a Hill in Spain
OUTWARD SPIRAL THEATRE COMPANY

In this nonlinear drama by Claire Chafee, five women (one seen both as an isolated teenager and a stylish adult) stargaze, navel-gaze, and make love in a series of vignettes loosely connected by the 1963 astronautic expedition of Valentina Tereshkova, the first female space traveler. At least on first exposure, I found Chafee's script a bit leaden, but enjoyed trying to puzzle out its recondite interweaving of characters and themes. The six-woman cast, superbly directed by Suzy Messerole, nicely vivifies things, especially in the scenes between two time-separated couples, the interactions of which range from pensively romantic to urgently horny. Thu 10:00 p.m.; Fri 5:30 p.m.; Sat 7:00 p.m. Loring Playhouse. --Dylan Hicks

 

Gwen Hairy Gwen Gloss
3 MONTHS TO LIVE THEATER COMPANY

It's a good, fringe-y sort of idea, to pull an Amy Heckerling with Glengarry Glen Ross, resetting Mamet's play about the bitchy world of salesmen and their bad language in a hair salon filled with women. Kind of makes sense, right? And sometimes it even works. Amy Columbe's Uptown district manager eschews Alec Baldwin's memorable stamp on that character, choosing instead to infuse it with the schlocky soul of Cruella de Ville. And it's fun listening to all the ladies curse with gusto, though sometimes the instinct for over-the-top grandstanding isn't as funny as it aims to be. And no, you're wrong, actually: Mamet isn't always like that. Thu 8:30 p.m.; Fri 8:30 p.m.; Sat 7:00 p.m., 10:00 p.m. Jungle Red Salon. --Steve Marsh

 

The Good Parts: A Celebration of Literary Sex
HARDCOVER THEATER

This lighthearted trounce is more a comedy than a sex show, a silly way to catch up on some literary history. The cast of five, who immediately strip down to boxers, slips, and Dickensian nightshirts, cheerfully give readings of bawdy passages from the Arabian Nights, the Bible and other texts. The jokes breathe a little life into dated and unshocking material: Yep, the word cunt was used much by authors past; there are all sorts of words for a man's pipe; and Anaïs Nin was a dirty bird. Big deal. More impressive is the story of a monk and his young maiden pupil, the monk explaining that his "devil" needs to be put back into her "hell"--very often. She obliges and wears the poor demon out. Wonder what The Bad Parts are like. Thu 8:30 p.m.; Sat 2:30 p.m. Minneapolis Theatre Garage. --Christina Schmitt

 

Helen Gurley Brown's Sex and the Office
MOCKINGBIRD THEATRE

Despite her obsession with extramarital romps, writer and longtime Cosmopolitan editor Helen Gurley Brown always seemed more Martha Stewart than Machiavelli, often with unintentionally comic consequences. In this campy adaptation of Brown's early-'60s man-catching manual, Kirby Bennett captures the seduction guru's ditzy tone with near-phonographic precision. She slathers on the dither and froth as she flits about the play's barebones set instructing hapless protégé Jane (Abigail Hoover) on matters ranging from proper dress and the use of props to snaring a co-worker for a luncheon date or nooner. As Brown says, "It's fun to like men!" Thu 4:30 p.m. Jungle Theater. --Rod Smith

 

Moby Dick
CHRISTOPHER MOORE

As one might expect from a one-hour, one-man staging of Moby Dick, there are times when it feels like actor Christopher Moore is trying to pour an ocean into a wading pool. The wrenching scene in which Ahab refuses to help another ship passes hurriedly without leaving much emotion in its wake. The characters could also be more tonally discrete: Starbuck and Ishmael sometimes bleed into one. Still, this is a fine piece of dramatic storytelling, and a performance that's notably restrained in the face of such grand material. Moore makes a soulful Ishmael, finding a low-key affability that evokes a richer version of Robin Williams's quiet mode. Wed 4:30 p.m.; Fri 4:30 p.m. Jungle Theater. --Dylan Hicks

 

Oil on Canvas
15 HEAD--A THEATRE LAB

Can't say the work--or life--of early 20th-century modernist painter Amedeo Modigliani ever really interested me. Still, 10 seconds after the lights came up after the end of 15 Head's gorgeously grim, shockingly physical bioplay, I found myself turning to my longtime playgoing partner, and, still fighting back the tears, hissing: "That was a whole fuck of a lot better than Vienna Lusthaus." Fringe-goers looking for an almost preternaturally focused production and impeccable ensemble acting need go no further. Wed 5:30 p.m.; Thu 5:30 p.m.; Fri 7:00 p.m. Intermedia Arts. --Rod Smith

 

A One-Woman Show Starring the Scrimshaw Brothers
THE SCRIMSHAW BROTHERS

In the piece that gives this sketch-comedy show its name, the Scrimshaw Bothers play two hard-up male actors--one a sniveling nerd, the other a cocky "metrosexual"--who harbor vain hopes of starring in a feminist performance piece. It's funny stuff, though not as much so as the sketch involving two on-the-make bachelors--one a sniveling nerd, the other a cocky "metrosexual"--who wind up putting medicine balls to hilariously violent and absurdly erotic use. The other skits range from moderately amusing to severely lame. Wed 7:00 p.m.; Fri 1:00 p.m.; Sun 2:30 p.m. In the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theater. --Dylan Hicks

 

The Point
VISTA PRODUCTIONS

Especially for the typically bare-bones Fringe, this ambitious, large-cast adaptation of the 1971 TV special by brilliant tunesmith Harry Nilsson is a triumph of costuming and design (credit Elliot Hays and Beth Nistler). Especially striking are the walking trees and the talking boulder, though I'm torn about that rock's Fat Albert-style accent. Vista Productions is using just a few of the show's original tunes ("Me and My Arrow" was the hit), but has added a number of other Nilsson tunes, which are generally well sung but impaired by an anemic band and cutesy interpretations. I suspect, however, that these alleged musical failings will be forgiven by most eight-year-olds, especially those into jive-talking rocks. Wed 7:00 p.m.; Thu 5:30 p.m. MCTC Mainstage. --Dylan Hicks

 

A Regular Night at the Strip Club
NICOLE BRENDING

Nicole Brending's intense monologue is a riddle wrapped in a mystery wrapped in, well, very little clothing. With her highly visible breasts taking center stage, writer/performer Brending is stripper Vivian, who begins by telling the audience job-related anecdotes and later focuses on the mysterious death of a friend and fellow stripper. As Vivian becomes increasingly inebriated and gains audience sympathy, the plot twists and one's feelings toward her follow suit. Alternately shocking, droll (she names her nipple with a mole on it Marilyn Monroe), and poignant, Brending's show is well written and proficiently acted. And the ending offers a fine surprise--rather unlike a regular night at a strip club, whose sequence of events is, alas, always salaciously the same. Fri 10:00 p.m.; Sun 4:00 p.m. Minneapolis Theatre Garage. --Erin Adler

 

Sabotage: In Fine Form
BURNING CITIES NEW WORKS CO.

Much like sauerkraut and anal sex, skit comedy is something you either like or loathe. Those in the first group will undoubtedly revel in the pungent antics of Sabotage. Using neither set and props nor external soundtrack, this Albuquerque duo mugs, preens, moans, and whinnies its way through stories. There's the overindulgent father whose young daughter falls in love with a monster, the pair of exceedingly salty spinsters, and the aristocrat whose talking horse is out to kill him. And for some reason they do it all in their pajamas. Thu 10:00 p.m.; Sat 1:00 p.m.; Sun 8:30 p.m. Hey City Theater downstairs. --Rod Smith

 

Shtick, And Its Relation to the Unconscious
PARTIZAN PLAYERS

James Vculek's Shtick, And Its Relation to the Unconscious is a great premise that might someday become a good play. Set in 1928, Shtick imagines a washed-up Borscht Belt stand-up (a droll Ari Hoptman) getting career counseling from a kooky caricature of Sigmund Freud (a hammy Richard Ooms). Perhaps in tribute to the Austrian doctor, the show is rather like a dream: Subplots come and go with no clear purpose, logic is brazenly defied, and little will be recalled in the morning. Still, there are some inspired moments, especially Hoptman's version of "My Yiddish Momme" (backed by an excellent klezmer orchestra), during which an intrigued Freud busily takes notes on the patient's Oedipal tendencies. Wed 5:30 p.m.; Fri 7:00 p.m.; Sun 8:30 p.m. In the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theater. --Dylan Hicks

 

 

Spoken Word: Did You Want Fries With That?
HOSTED BY AMY SALLOWAY

It's hard not to quit your day job when you hate it as much as Tom Cassidy, Erin Harney, Suzanne Nielson, and Tina Schoop do. Did You Want Fries With That? presents five distinct slants on working at unchallenging, annoying, or morally questionable jobs. While the monologues are delivered with varying levels of confidence and eye contact, the familiarity of the experiences and the performers' sincerity is redeeming. Tom Cassidy's "Haiku," in which he rants about being a copy machine salesperson, is rhythmically intense. The standout is host Amy Salloway's "Stalled," a hilarious oration about female employees' inability to move their bowels while other women are present. While this show was a one-off, this spoken word series, hosted by Salloway and others, continues throughout the Fringe at the Loring Park Dunn Bros. (no ticket necessary; $3 recommended donation) --Erin Adler

 

Staggering Toward America: A Post 9-11 Journey
RIK REPPE

Watching L.A. playwright Rik Reppe tell his post-9/11 story onstage--a tale of quitting a corporate job, letting his red hair grow shaggy, and hitting the road in search of meaning--compels you to look inward and ask yourself some troubling questions. Like, "Did Jerry die all over again, man?" Actually, that's just the kind of snide cynicism that Reppe's heart-on-his-sleeve account of our national tragedy means to address. The show succeeds on the playwright's talent for capturing the small details of his cross-country quest. Reppe himself, we learn, has overcome a case of snide cynicism, and we can all relate to that. Fri 6:00 p.m.; Sat 4:00 p.m.; Sun 12:00 p.m. Bryant-Lake Bowl. --Steve Marsh

 

That's MISTER Benchley to You, Mrs. Parker
JOKING APART THEATER

The difference between wit and wisecracking, Dorothy Parker observed, is that wit has truth in it; wisecracking is just calisthenics with words. There's plenty of the latter in Edwin Strout's sharp, sassy biographical sketch of Parker (Carolyn Pool) and fellow raconteur/souse Robert Benchley (Strout). But Strout's script also finds surprising poignancy in the pair's lifelong platonic love affair, over the course of which the celebrated wisecrackers work themselves into a literary lather without ever admitting the depth of their affection. Strout and Pool pull the couple's tense, teasing intimacy off beautifully: To adopt Ms. Parker's most famous barb in the service of opprobrium: The actors run the gamut of emotion from A to B, and well beyond. Wed 8:30 p.m.; Thu 5:30 p.m.; Sun 7:00 p.m. Loring Playhouse. --Peter Ritter

 

Unleash the Hounds!
TOTAL CREATIVE CONTROL

The program for this Fringe Fest return of Dean Seal--who's currently getting his master's from New Brighton's United Theological Seminary--promises a "very staged reading." This is irony. Seal, stationed behind a lectern, makes little effort to dramatize the three essays he reads from, though he is assisted by music and slides. This approach wouldn't be so problematic if the material were fresher. Instead, Seal leads with a familiar censure of the white man's crimes against American Indians and moves on to the bold claim that television is inane and driven by greed (something must be done!). Next is Seal's testament of faith, which--praise be--closes the program on its most eloquent and engaging chord. Thu 7:00 p.m.; Sat 8:30 p.m. Loring Playhouse. --Dylan Hicks

 

The Very Persistent Gappers of Frip
JOHN SCHAIDLER

Grade-schoolers will undoubtedly enjoy the fact that nearly half the cast of George Saunders's enchanting lesson in sharing consists of their peers, even though the kids spend much of their time plucking many-eyed marine invertebrates from goats. They'll also dig the fact that all but one of the six adults in the production are self-involved, bellowing idiots. Meanwhile, grown-ups finally get an opportunity to see the one adult exception, Rich Kronfeld of Doctor Sphincter and Let's Bowlfame, play a role perfectly straight--or as straight as he can in knickers and a propeller beanie. Fri 7:00 p.m.; Sat 1:00 p.m.; Sun 2:30 p.m. MCTC Whitney Mainstage. --Rod Smith

 

Voice-In-Head
THE THEATRICAL MUSIC COMPANY

The promising concept here is for a dozen or so zanily dressed, unrehearsed actors to respond to directions received through the headphones of preprogrammed mp3 players. As far as I can gather, they're being told to do things like make farting noises, act like a bird, and recite a bit of Shakespeare. It's a different cast and show every night, so who knows what magic might unfold. On the night I attended, it was hard to imagine even the most inspired improviser making much of the instructions, the most frequent of which was apparently: "Take a minute to plug your other Fringe show." Especially during those commercial breaks, I too began hearing a voice in my head. And it said: "This sucks." Wed through Sat 11:20 p.m.; Sun 9:50 p.m. Minneapolis Theatre Garage. --Dylan Hicks


As the Fringe continues to branch further out from its original West Bank hub, the potential excitement of show-to-show dashes increases. Consider this challenge: Go to Friday's 7:00 p.m. show of the 90-minute Three on a Seesaw at University Baptist Church. Leave 10 minutes early, so you can make it to the 8:30 performance of Teechers at Pillsbury House Theatre. Look for a drag-racing opportunity on 35W South. Seek out someone who will summarize the conclusion of Seesaw prior to the 10:00 p.m. start of City Girl! at Hey City Theater. We're actually frightened by such an itinerary, but thrill-seeking theatergoers might feel otherwise.

Those folks who fondly recall John Troyer's Fringe show in a short-lived venue called John Troyer's Apartment a few years back should be alerted to this year's performances in nonstandard locales. The Neo-Futurists' Drinking and Writing will appropriately be held at Grumpy's Bar, and Gwen Hairy Gwen Gloss, a comedy about hairdressers, is at Jungle Red Salon.

Advance tickets and passes are available through UptownTix at 612.604.4466; or check the website, www.uptowntix.com. Tickets can also be bought at the door. Please ignore the lonely scalper in front of Acadia Café. Shows can be canceled and times sometimes change, so do consult the snazzier-than-ever Fringe website, www.fringefestival.org, for more information.

 

Acadia Café,
1931 Nicollet Ave. S.

Brave New Workshop Theater,
2605 Hennepin Ave. S.

Bryant-Lake Bowl,
810 W. Lake St.

Dunn Brothers Loring Park,
329 W. 15th St.

Grumpy's Bar,
1111 Washington Ave. S.

Hey City Theater,
824 Hennepin Ave. S.

Illusion Theater,
528 Hennepin Ave. S., 8th Floor

In The Heart Of The Beast
Puppet &Amp; Mask Theatre
,
1500 E. Lake St.

Intermedia Arts,
2822 Lyndale Ave. S.

Jungle Theater,
2951 Lyndale Ave. S.

Jungle Red Salon,
1362 Lasalle Ave.

Loring Playhouse,
1635 Hennepin Ave.

MCTC Whitney Mainstage And Studio,
1424 Yale Place

Minneapolis Theatre Garage,
711 Franklin Ave. W.

Old Arizona,
2821 Nicollet Ave.

Pillsbury House Theatre,
3501 Chicago Ave. S.

Red Eye Collaboration,
15 W. 14th St.

University Baptist Church,
1219 University Ave. SE.

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