By Jake Rossen
By Jesse Marx
By Michelle LeBow
By Alleen Brown
By Maggie LaMaack
By CP Staff
By Jesse Marx
Walking Shadow Theatre Company
Part Encyclopedia Brown mystery and part IQ test, this interactive show suggests that mystery is a sleeper genre at the Fringe. Set in an unfinished (and grossly overpriced, I might add) Uptown condominium, the show offers a chilling puzzle—and a less-than-satisfying ending. Still, you'll leave this condo with the new knowledge that the owl, not the raven, is the creepiest avian species around—and with a new fear of the real estate listings. Wed, Thu, and Friday at 7:00 p.m. and 8:30 p.m., Sat 4:00 p.m., 8:30 p.m., Sun 2:30 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. The condominiums at 1926 Pleasant St.
African Roads, American Streets
Universal Dance Destiny
Loosely based on director Edna Stevens Talton's personal story about her journey from Liberia to the United States, the work is less a narrative than a shimmering collage of dance styles: African dancing, break dancing, popping, locking, and krumping. It's all set to live drums and beatbox, and spoken word from local stars Truth Maze and Desdamona. Many of the dancers in this large multicultural cast are still teenagers but they move with worldly intensity, rubber-band flexibility, and infectious joy. Even the audience gets a chance to join the party on stage at the end of the show. Thu 5:30 p.m., Fri 4:00 p.m., Sat 8:30 p.m. Southern Theater.
Theater for the Thirsty and Front Porch Theatre
A show that is more about wanting to forget than actually forgetting, this romantic musical comedy begins by introducing us to Jack, whose tragic past is diagrammed on a dry-erase board. Naturally, Jack decides to obliterate his memory and move to the Rockwell-esque town of Christmas, OH. Unfortunately (and fortunately) for him, his past, present, and future soon catch up. A play with many characters performed by a cast of two (the talented and occasionally gleeful Vanessa and Jeremiah Gamble), Amnesiac Jack can teeter toward the maudlin zone. But then it remembers it's a comedy and returns to silly good cheer. Fri 7:00 p.m., Sat 2:30 p.m. Mixed Blood.
Players of Notorious Temerity
Looking for a big-picture show that could tour in a Mini Cooper? Exploring the intervals between the onset of desperation and the surrender to chance, playwright Dan Miller's existentialist diptych is no less eloquent for its severe economy and casual language. With nothing but the street clothes on their backs, a handful of props, and tech whiz Elliot Durko Lynch's inspired sound design and lighting, the young company's five actors tackle monumental questions just long enough to tag and re-release them into the great unknown. Fri 8:30 p.m., Sat 1:00 p.m. U of M Rarig Center Arena.
Baghdad Burning: Electronic Postcards from Iraq 2003-2006
Joint Theater Department of the College of St. Catherine and the University of St. Thomas
It's difficult to fully appreciate the awfulness of life in Baghdad while sitting in a theater thousands of miles away. But Riverbend, the pseudonym of an Iraqi woman whose blog has received international recognition, provides powerful insights about survival under occupation. "We have 9/11s on a monthly basis," she observes, before going on to imagine a reality show in which Bush supporters spend a week in Fallujah. She sees the fates of the United States and Iraq as hopelessly intertwined, and democracy as an illusion. The four women who portray Riverbend give her poignant words space to reverberate, and they do, louder than bombs. Thu 8:30 p.m., Fri 4:00 p.m., Sat 4:00 p.m. Intermedia Arts.
The Balcony Scene
In the Basement Productions
New neighbors Karen (Rachel Finch) and Alvin (Joe Swanson) strike up a conversation from their adjacent balconies, and the prospect of friendship or something more quickly becomes apparent. Complicating things are Karen's possibly psychopathic ex-boyfriend and, even more daunting, Alvin's hermetic and hysterically misanthropic existence. This 75-minute show aims for a mix of light and dark, and generally achieves it through decent performances and a lack of pretension. That said, I'd still recommend caution before you flirt with the Manson type on the fire escape next door. Thu 8:00 p.m., Sat 4:00 p.m., Sun 2:00 p.m. Bryant-Lake Bowl Theater.
Three Sticks Theatre Company
Suit-wearing bureaucrats (good-naturedly) hassle a number of folks coming into this show. That sets the stage for their surreal harassment of a young couple (I know this is spoiler territory, but the conceit falls away pretty quickly) who are really actors, and whose characters are called upon to prove their love. The ensemble cast tackles musical numbers with visual wit and endearing oddball charm. But the story-within-a-story of the two young lovers quickly turns saccharine. We're supposed to be sweetly moved by make-believe that tries to have it both ways, a gambit that doesn't work. Fri 7:00 p.m., Sat 4:00 p.m. Minneapolis Theater Garage.
Tyehimba Leadership Center
Bill Cosby's disparaging remarks about Black America act as an entry point into an examination of why high-profile African Americans might profess such critical, rather than constructive, views. Conservative talk show host Condoleeza Storm reveals the early shame and frustration that causes her to forget a history of resilience in the face of racism. The show is moving and, at times, humorous. But the inclusion of Condi's childhood abuse and a closing jab at another oft-slighted group ultimately feel out of place. That said, the show's point is well-taken—if the Cos could see it, he might return to pushing Pudding Pops instead of politics. Sat 2:30 p.m., Sun 7:00 p.m. Intermedia Arts.
In Timothy Mooney's one-man sci-fi nightmare, the United States of the future fragments into states delineated by the first digit of their citizens' Social Security numbers. Daft, yes, but Mooney sells it with taut writing and a sharp performance. His narrator, we learn, has been raised from boyhood to explode a dirty bomb on the West Coast, and Mooney builds to that possible catastrophe in a multi-character diner scene. It's surprisingly funny and oddly insightful: My SSN apparently paves the way to an okay future, and I can't explain why that pleases me so. Wed 7:00 p.m., Sat 5:30 p.m. Intermedia Arts.
Dance Hall Days
Christopher Street Dance
Director Christopher Yaeger has created a nostalgia tour for dance lovers that begins with early 20th-century crazes (who knew there was a dance called the Grizzly Bear where folks growled at one another?) and rolls through the seductive Tango, the high-kicking Charleston, and the effervescent Lindy Hop. By the early '60s, we're watching a cool line dance set to "The Madison Time." Yaeger's dancers clearly enjoy sharing the history (Bill and Shannon Butler earn kudos for their fleet feet while doing the Shag) and archival films provide hilarious context. Wed 8:30 p.m., Fri 4:00 p.m., Sun 2:30 p.m. Red Eye.
Dancing Rats & Vampire Moms
Great storytellers make you lean forward in your chair, make you laugh until you cry, and remind you that everyone has bizarre yet lovable family members. Nancy Donoval, wearing jeans and standing on a bare stage, achieves all this and more as she energetically presents three tales. She covers a lot of ground: mother-daughter relationships (including one that involves a lot of garlic, hence the title), end-of-life decision making, second wives, jealousy, and flying rodents in Paris. Some of Donoval's stories are true, others are adapted from folk tales. All are thoroughly entertaining. Fri 10:00 p.m., Sat 1:00 p.m., Sun 7:00 p.m. Playwrights' Center.
The Depth of the Ocean
Perpetual Motion Theatre Company
Derek Miller's splashy afterlife drama would represent a full-immersion Fringe baptism even if it weren't staged on an inflatable raft in the downtown YWCA's pool. The five-person troupe's compelling ensemble work is all the more impressive for the production's close quarters and sopping period costumes. Granted, Depth docks before resolving all its choppy questions. But even if you look at The Ocean as a 60-minute sketch for a 90-minute play, it's still a frigate in a week full of dinghies. Wed 7:30 p.m., Thu 7:30 p.m., Fri. 7:30 p.m., Sat 7:30 p.m., Sun 7:30 p.m. YWCA.
Four Humours Theatre
Biblical revisionists tend to become preachy, a trend that playwright Nick Ryan bucks here by axing the sermons in favor of dick jokes and a killer premise. The end is nigh—or would be, if Lucifer could just overcome (nudge nudge) his 2,000-year bout of erectile dysfunction and conceive the Antichrist. Lee Richards as Jesus gets the best lines, while lead actor Danny Salmen does an admiral job of wading through Ryan's dense dialogue. A few ostentatious monologues bog down the action, but the play makes up for it with a hilarious supporting cast and hit monosyllabic catch phrase (delivered by the Prince of Darkness to his own ineffectual member): "Fuck!" Sat 10:00 p.m., Sunday 4:00 p.m. U of M Rarig Center Thrust.
Die, Clowns, Die!
Joseph Scrimshaw's latest is a "comedy about comedy," and while he manages to name check Hegel and Freud, due attention goes to such lower matters as the appeal of watching someone slip on a banana peel and fall on his ass. Scrimshaw is in pretty good form here, and his recitation of the horrors that make comedy necessary is pretty much evergreen. Still some bits fall flat—a court jester in the noose, a lame comedian trying to get laughs from a cancer patient—leaving the sense that this show won't be included on Scrimshaw's best-of DVD set. Thu 8:30 p.m., Sat 8:30 p.m., Sun 1:00 p.m. U of M Rarig Center Arena.
Dental floss, strawberries, clever fashion statements (literally), and actual hair shirts all figure into this brief but intriguing ode to the dark side of human nature. Choreographer Chris Schlichting gives his fearless dancers plenty of well-crafted movement moments, including two hypnotic duets. But what resonates is the rage seething beneath the surface as they undermine one another and turn against a tortured (and yes, very dirty) soul who seemingly offends their rigid value system. The piece ends too abruptly; here's hoping this performance is a preview of a longer work to come. Fri 10:00 p.m., Sat 4:00 p.m., Sun 2:30 p.m. Southern Theater.
Fresh Meat NYC
The New York-based sketch comedy trio of Michael Feldman, Julie Katz, and Adam Laupus is fearless, tackling topics that would appear fiercely resistant to a punch line. Their take on Middle East politics, for instance, delivers devastatingly subversive humor. In another bit, a Microsoft Word paperclip icon tries to help draft a suicide note. On video, a man in an ape suit snaps photos of people at their most vulnerable. Not everything works, but when it does Feldman, Katz and Laupus convincingly prove that almost anything has comic potential in the right hands. Wed 10:00 p.m., Thu 5:30 p.m., Sun 4:00 p.m. Red Eye.
H.P. Lovecraft's the Rats in the Walls
Uren offers up this dramatic reading of a story by old Mister Scary Pants himself. The last survivor of a cursed aristocratic line returns to Europe to take possession of his massive family home. Somewhat inevitably, it contains a disturbing and deeply unnatural secret. Uren is a fine storyteller, and Lovecraft's particular brand of ungodly, truly chilling horror is well represented here. By the time it's over, a horde of devouring rats are pretty much the least of our narrator's worries. Fri, Sat, and Sun 7:00 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. Mill City Museum.
How to Cheat
The New Theatre Group
In Alan Berks's sharp new drama, a married journalist (Emily Gunyou) and a single stem-cell researcher with a lascivious eye (Randy Reyes) steal off for some private time in an upstairs room while the party continues below. The dialogue rings nicely, with even the science-and-life metaphors going down well. And Gunyou and Reyes give complicated and magnetic performances, particularly when their dalliance is represented by a heated game of cards. Note to self: When preparing for extramarital dalliances, always brush up on gin rummy. Thu 5:30 p.m., Sat 7:00 p.m. U of M Rarig Center Arena.
This show lends itself less to criticism than to a feeling that one has just experienced an affectionate artistic mugging. Kats D Fukasawa and Masanari Kawahara blend surreal silliness with flashes of the sublime in pieces that mine traditions of Japanese culture. We have, in no particular order, a guy in a Day-Glo blue Godzilla suit, a long and gorgeous movement piece about violence and love featuring a very phallic bloody sword, and a maniacal dance to Japanese pop music with a bit of lip-synching thrown in. Not sure if any of this would make any more sense to Japanese audiences. Fri 8:30 p.m., Sun 4:00 p.m. Southern Theater.
Kill the Robot
Stages Theatre Company
Director Jon Ferguson collaborates with 11 teenagers to produce this abstract meditation on time travel and rites of passage. Upon graduation, a claque of teens opts to skip into the future, which is naturally an authoritarian dystopia. You'd think they'd feel right at home, having just been in high school and all, but instead they fight. It's thin broth at times but the ensemble serves it with a certain sweetness—not least during the musical number when the class nebbish confesses his love for an android. Sat 2:30 p.m., Sun 7:00 p.m. U of M Rarig Center Thrust.
Love in a Time of Rinderpest
Impossible Theater Group
Writer/director Josef Evans cooks up a scenario in which two local high schools compete for thespian acclaim and eventually see their fate altered by professional ghostbusting. That's right—it's just this side of incoherent, and it also happens to be extraordinarily funny. The nine-person cast is an all-star team of local indie theater, and the show looks to be as much fun to perform as it is to watch (that is, a lot). You'll probably walk out unable to remember the plot, but you'll surely emerge in a better mood than when you entered. Thu 10:00 p.m., Sat 8:30 p.m. Minneapolis Theater Garage.
Monsters in America: Puppets of Mass Distraction
The Chameleon Theatre Circle
Puppetry and political satire go hand in hand—or, more appropriately, "hand in ass"—as demonstrated in this allegorical depiction of the American government's spin machine and its knack for demonization. Aptly, the scapegoats in this case are already demons. The monsters of the world, a cuddly and marginalized population, take the rap when a global mining corporation accidentally frees a huge, wrathful demon named Crush Fist from its mountain lair. The play has its hilarious moments, but the discourse is about as timely as a bed-in, a fact that, depending on your taste for far-lefty rhetoric and/or singing muppets, makes Monsters in America either a joy or a bore. Fri 8:30 p.m., Sat 10:00 p.m., Sun 4:00 p.m., U of M Rarig Center Proscenium.
Past the Size of Dreaming
Starting Gate Productions
The whole thing is a dream—hey, it's right there in the title! Two couples are locked in this dream: One pair is married and seems modestly well acquainted with reality; the other pair, dressed in devilish office attire, has supernatural tendencies. The married two fight on cell phones even though they're next to each other in bed. (Hey, maybe it's a big bed.) The other couple disrupts this spat, and from there on the four bandy about politics, the war on terror, '70s pop tunes, and the dangers of being wishy-washy. Fri 10:00 p.m., Sun 1:00 p.m. U of M Rarig Center Proscenium.
They Might Be Phyro-Giants Productions
What happens when four friends, two girls and two guys, randomly meet for dinner at a restaurant and start slamming bottles of wine? They loosen up and talk about death, religion, fidelity, and sexual kinks, of course. This play explores the things that happen in the middle of life—whether it's finding out the person for you isn't the one you married, changing your mind about kids, or contemplating life after death. The drinks and discussion that you have after this show might not be as climactic as what you see on stage, but you probably should be thankful for that. Wed 8:30 p.m., Thu 7:00 p.m., Sun 2:30 p.m. Acadia Café.
She, So Beloved
Orpheus had his love Eurydice rescued from Hades, so long as he trusted her and didn't look back on their voyage home. He looked back. Eurydice, in most accounts, took things pretty well. Emily Gunyou, turning a blowtorch and power saw to the myth, thinks otherwise. She fuses dialogue from Ovid and Rilke to her own monologues, songs, and movement. The result is a discomfiting intensity, a nice depiction of the struggle between the heart and head, and a sense of a work still in progress, though not lacking in flashes of insight and beauty. Fri 5:30 p.m., Sat 10:00 p.m. U of M Rarig Center Arena.
Tall Tale of a Broke Heart
In this entirely enjoyable show, Simone Perrin plays Lucy, a girl from Winona with a knack for getting her heart broken and a life-long jones for the accordion. (Think the two might be connected?) Perrin punctuates Lucy's tales of woe with tunes by broken-heart specialists Hank Williams, Jimmie Rogers, and Lucinda Williams, and strikes a near-perfect balance between laughing off life's travails and admitting how deeply they cut. Co-written by Perrin and director Randy Reyes, the monologue script is a small-scale gem, and Perrin is charming throughout. Confidential to Lucy: Girls who play Autoharp get all the guys. Thu 6:00 p.m., Fri 10:00 p.m., Sun 4:00 p.m. Bryant-Lake Bowl Theater.
The Unbearable Lightness of Being American
Ministry of Cultural Warfare
Leigha Horton and Nathan Surprenant tackle the state of the nation in 11 sketches and monologues scripted by Matthew Foster. What works is great: a chilling security-state interview that naturally can't happen here, an exposition on slavery to housecats, and an affectingly raw piece of musical storytelling that commands us to live in the America we were taught should exist. A few segments need more time in the oven, but the show's format ensures that another take on American life comes around the time you'd be looking for the remote control. Thu 7:00 p.m., Sat 8:30 p.m. Intermedia Arts.
La Vie Theatre
How campy do you like your camp? A cowboy hoedown number, inspired by Brokeback Mountain, makes its way into this Alice in Wonderland story set in a gay nightclub. It's fun, really, as are the other dance sequences, bawdy jokes, and giggling visits from succubae types. These last torment and dance with our hero Alex, lost in the Wonderland discotheque. His only chance for escape is to win the Queen's dance-off. That's a tall task, as the Queen (Fran Benjamin) is a diva and the land's best dancer. Heads would surely roll if her king, a leather man in seatless chaps, weren't present to provide the voice of reason. Wed 8:30 p.m., Sat 8:30 p.m. U of M Rarig Center Proscenium.