A Guide to the 2008 Fringe Festival

Underpants, Shakespeare, and Giant Squirrels

Another summer has duly heated up here on the tundra, and the Fringe has arrived with clockwork regularity. But let's not take it for granted; after all, we're fortunate to live in an arts mecca strong enough to generate dozens of local fringe works and to attract first-class shows from around the country.

Trying to encapsulate it all remains as elusive as ever, but to help you separate the fabulous from the frivolous we've reviewed nearly three dozen of the most promising shows. We also continued our tradition this year of picking a hearty handful of fringe shows that sparked interest and inviting their creators to answer a few pithy questions. We've got nerd love, horror with dance, squirrels, political satire, and a trapeze exploration of the inner workings of Evel Knievel.

We have, in other words, another Minnesota Fringe Festival. Quinton Skinner

All Rights Reserved: A Libertarian Rant

The ladies of Lili's Burlesque
Nick Vlcek
The ladies of Lili's Burlesque

Maximum Verbosity

Here's a well-titled show, a scream (sometimes literally) for critical thought and intellectual clarity. The stuff that works best includes a mayoral debate between two flesh-eating zombies and a representative of the larger human population (the latter ends up receiving a single-digit vote tally), and a cringe-worthy peace rally in which the pieties of multiculturalism and antiwar politics are held up to the light in search of flaws. There are songs (including the opener, "Fuck No," which captures a certain political insouciance), and, yes, rants. At times this is a work too much in love with the sound of its own voice, but surely not lacking in original, brainy tones. Thu 10:00 p.m., Fri 8:30 p.m., Sat 1:00 p.m. Minneapolis Theater Garage. —Quinton Skinner

Brilliant Traces

TMJ Productions and Theatre Unbound

Rosannah (Stacey Poirier), her car broken down in an Alaskan snowstorm, barges into the lonely home of Henry (Edward Linder), an oil rig worker with a profound desire to be left alone. Complicating matters is the fact that Rosannah is wearing a wedding dress, and that after her arrival she promptly collapses and sleeps for two entire days (Henry, despite his misanthropic leanings, has a pot of hot soup waiting for her when she wakes up). From here on we have a meditation on attachment and loss, and the heart's need for connection, with Linder and Poirier painting their characters with subtle yet purposeful strokes. Sat 2:00 p.m., Sun 6:00 p.m. Bryant-Lake Bowl. —Quinton Skinner

Conundrum Rehabbed

Joseph Bingham Presents

Imagine a vintage musical revue with a goulash of dance styles, a stage festooned with silver lamé, and a sublimely shlocky blend of parody, slapstick, and kick-butt dancing. Conundrum Rehabbed issues from the fiendish imagination of Joseph Bingham, a sort of Mel Brooks redux. Highlights from more than a dozen routines by 21 performers include a parody of Swan Lake in which hunters and swans wind up on crutches that morph into smartly maneuvered rifles, and a version of "Mein Herr" from Cabaret in which a sinuously sinister dominatrix is backed by a chorus of little old ladies. Sat 2:30 p.m. Ritz Theatre. Linda Shapiro

Dandelion

Onomatopoeia Productions

Call it an "A" for effort for the youngsters involved in Dandelion, whose honest attempts to explore the psyche of a messed-up teen put it a step ahead of any number of ironic Fringe pieces. Created by Zach Kolodjeski, the piece takes us on a tour of the mind of Paul, a 17-year-old who can't feel a thing. Considering the show is entirely set in Paul's mind, it feels rather tied down and never manages to truly get inside the main character. Good performances from the cast, especially a raw and convincing portrait of a lost teen in the lead, make for an interesting, if ultimately frustrating, experience. Wed 7:00 p.m., Fri 7:00 p.m., Sat 4:00 p.m. Minneapolis Theatre Garage. Ed Huyck

Dying in Public Places

An Ambrosiatic Production

Five squabbling characters wandering an anonymous city suddenly find themselves stuck together in an invisible box. One of them knows the secret to escape, but this is a moody group, and they get distracted from their objective with bouts of fighting, insanity, and praying they get out before killing one another. The script, written by Keith Hovis, sets up expectations that also seem to get lost amid the bickering. These strangers have to endure a small space, they want to leave but can't, and they don't know when they're going to get out; the audience for this show will have a similar experience. Mon 10:00 p.m., Sun 7:00 p.m. Minneapolis Theatre Garage. —Coco Mault

Fools for Love

Hastings High School Drama Club

The fools in question here are an ensemble of youngsters in red noses and clown apparel, directed by grownup Noah Bremer. The troupe arrives banging on the theater's side door, and once inside launch into an appealing ruckus on horns and drums. From here there's a sense that this physical-comedy mishmash might be more fun to perform than to watch, but there are highlights: a goofy monster assuming control of a jet, a romantic bus ride almost thwarted by the same monster, and a silly penguin ballet in which our game performers lock into antic choreography. Foolish, yes, but sweet. Wed 7:00 p.m., Sat 4:00 p.m., Sun 2:30 p.m. Southern Theater.—Quinton Skinner

Gone, Gone, Gone

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