Once More with Feeling

You swore you'd never watch a hemophiliac raise the spirit of a dead cat again. And then the Fringe Festival returned.

EVERYBODY IS A STAR

Your mother always said you were talented. So why aren't you one of the 176 depressive poets, moonlighting A-list actors, poodle trainers, storytellers, avenging angels, funambulists, Bush bashers, and visionaries staging a show at the biggest Fringe Festival in the country?

Last year, my job during the first weekend of the Fringe Festival was to see and review a dozen or so shows. This is not the kind of "job" that one can complain about in a tavern filled, for instance, with coal miners or roustabouts. So I complained a bit at home. There is a limit, I argued, to how much one can be entertained in a single weekend, and that limit must start at about eight plays. After a luckless afternoon of frantically racing from one mediocre show to the next to the next, I started to wonder why these productions were so generously attended when, throughout the rest of the year, better shows often play to crowds of six or seven.

Spleee

But then I took the once proverbial chill pill and wandered, on a lark, into a rather great Fringe show. And all was forgiven. Every year the Fringe produces new mini-stars of local theater, gives us the chance to welcome some bright out-of-towners, lets established troupes and performers try out new stuff, and, of course, gives a stage to some people who might not deserve it. But looking over the 24 reviews that close our Fringe coverage this year, I see considerably more positive reviews than last year. There are even a few certified raves. Perhaps this indicates nothing. This year there are 176 Fringe productions, so 24 represents less than half of the festival's offerings (I never excelled at mathematics). Maybe our critics were just in a better collective mood than last year. This is, after all, a sunny time in world history, and everyone seems to be singing a cheery tune. Or the increase in good reviews might indicate that the 2004 Fringe is not just bigger but better. Let's go with that theory for now.

--Dylan Hicks

THE 2004 MINNESOTA FRINGE FESTIVAL

 

No, It Makes You Look Phat
Storyteller-Performer Amy Salloway Turns Self-Esteem into High Art

Last year, when Amy Salloway was preparing to debut her self-directed one-woman show Does This Monologue Make Me Look Fat? for the Minnesota Fringe Festival, the 37-year-old performer had an oppressive case of the jitters. "I was so horrified--I used every single healing art I could think of," she says over coffee at Dunn Bros. She tried acupuncture, herbs, hypnotism, massage, chiropractic, tarot readings. Nothing worked. After all, the punch-in-the-gut solo piece rested on her struggles with poor body image and rotten self-esteem. Naturally, she feared audiences would hate her.

Instead, they laughed. The show launched her career as a humorist and gave her a much-needed boost in confidence. Soon Salloway was taking time off work to jet across Canada, spreading gut-busting, self-deprecating anecdotes to audiences in Thunder Bay, Vancouver, and Halifax. Call it irony, but the work that stripped naked her loneliness became the very thing connecting her to loads of new, if short-term, friends. After a show in Thunder Bay, a burly lumberjack approached Salloway and kindly asked for a hug. Later, while Google-stalking herself, she found a blogger relating to "the Hamburger Moment," a summary moment during which Salloway comes clean about hating her life.

Accolades for the show surprise Salloway. "I don't ever trust that people will like my show," she explains. "I often assume that people will say, 'Oh my God, what an over-disclosing freak!'" But for Salloway, disclosure was just the thing. The show is filled with accounts of true-life incidents, like the time she tested her boyfriend's love by hypothetically asking for his kidney. He declined, and that relationship quickly crumbled. In another tragicomic episode from the show, Salloway retreats to a body-image workshop, only to stumble into her first same-sex affair.

Salloway bites her lower lip, leans forward and confesses, "I'm so shocked that I turned into somebody who does pieces about sex." But amidst this unease, she maintains an affable presence that invites audiences to laugh at her suffering. One wonders if she'll ever let the show's success soak in a little. "I've lived with low self-esteem for so long; it's just ingrained," she says. So, rather than gloat over her newfound acceptance, Salloway is busy procrastinating on making the changes she has in mind for the show's reprise at this year's Fringe. It's "a tremendous, huge, burning goal" yet to be fulfilled. This fuels her current bout of self-loathing: "I'm undecided and stuck about the changes I want to make," she sighs. "It's possible they won't happen." --Christy DeSmith

Does This Monologue Make Me Look Fat?
Jungle Theater, Aug. 6, 4:00 p.m.; Aug. 7, 2:30 p.m.; Aug. 9, 7:00 p.m.; Aug. 10, 5:30 p.m. and 10:00 p.m.; Aug. 12, 2:30 p.m.; Aug. 14, 2:30 p.m.

 

Shut Your Pie Hole, Beav!
Jim Lichtscheidl Debuts His Silent Sitcom

Jim Lichtscheidl, whose surname was once privately called "very difficult to spell" by the present writer, is a very funny guy. Loose-limbed and in command of a troop of smartly exaggerated facial expressions, Lichtscheidl is the kind of actor who can make you laugh before he even opens his trap, which, as we will see, bodes well for his show at this year's Fringe. He recently earned yuks as the police sergeant in The Pirates of Penzance at the Guthrie Theater, where he has frequently worked since 1998. He also excelled earlier this year in Ten Thousand Things' mirthful reading of Kevin Kling's At Your Service. You may also have seen him over the years at Park Square, Theatre in the Round, or at Brave New Workshop, where he first started to get noticed. (None of the above is meant to suggest that Lichtscheidl is strictly a comedic actor--his turn as Tuzenbach in the Guthrie's Three Sisters was low-key and pensive, while his take on Lear's fool in a Ten Thousand Things production was both ridiculous and trenchant.)

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