Fringe Festival 2009: Robots, penguins, and bodily urges

Minneapolis tradition serves up 11 days packed with theater performances: Get your reviews here

When I called up the Minnesota Fringe Festival's executive director, Robin Gillette, a couple of days before the festival opened, something she said kicked off an alarming memory.

"Things are going bizarrely smoothly," she told me.

As always, the state of things is measured in relative comparison. Two summers ago, when Gillette was about to launch into her first Fringe in her new job, the I-35W bridge collapsed. Attendance and revenue dipped opening weekend, but by far less than anyone might have feared. In those weird, supercharged hours after the tragedy, folks got on with making and communing with art, not to ignore what had happened but to deny cruel fate its power to keep us from embracing the moment.

Jason Raish

And if the Fringe is about anything, it's the moment. For a brief summertime window, we realize that we're surrounded by artists, thinkers, dancers, and provocateurs. Some of them are familiar, some come from other places, and others emerge from nowhere with a story to tell or an experience to impart. Sometimes they're brilliant, other times they fall on their face; but we rarely leave without a sense that everyone in the room has shared something worthwhile, that convening in a place on a summer night and giving way to the fantastic was precisely the right thing to do.

Of course, the festival is labyrinthine, and running it requires a combination of the ruthlessly mundane and the outright nutty. Gillette sounded positively blissed-out by how well the cogs and gears were turning.

"We're at the point where the team that's in place is a really solid group of people," she said, including both the Fringe's year-round and seasonal staff. "So many systems are set in place that the tweaks we're making are for fun."

Oh, yeah: fun. Mustn't forget about that one. To help on that score, we've prepared our annual Fringe package: reviews galore, nuts-and-bolts info on venues and tickets, and some questionnaires we sent to Fringe performers when the festival was still just limitless potential.

"Of course, it's the Fringe and there are the random surprises," Gillette added, pondering the preparation and how things might play out. "It's super geeky, but it's really exciting."

What she said. Quinton Skinner

2 Sugars, Room for Cream
Shanan Wexler & Carolyn Pool Productions

The title gets it half right. There are indeed two sugars, embodied by the two-woman company of Wexler & Pool. But there isn't a whole lot of cream. The versatile, vivacious ladies do throw themselves with caffeinated abandon into the string of skits, most of which revolve around the Last Acceptable Stimulant. However, none of the situations—involving weary professionals, giddy social networkers, disturbed mothers, and ashamed readers of Twilight—lasts long enough to become engrossing, and they're not funny enough to work as comedy sketches. Still, a couple of moments indicate what a promising show this could be with more work: a wonderful rendition by both players of the jazz standard "Black Coffee" and an unsettling closing skit involving a killer hangover, some available java, and an impromptu filter that would be more appropriate in prison. Fri 10 p.m., Sun 5:30 p.m. U of M Rarig Center Xperimental. John Ervin

AfterLife
SunsetGun productions

Candy Simmons depicts three incarnations of one soul though time, from the early part of the 20th century until today, in a varied, magnetic, and captivating performance. First is an Appalachian nurse whose single-minded pursuit of motherhood leads her to a sideline in assisted suicide (voluntary and otherwise). She's followed by a sadly alienated Wisconsin housewife in 1960. Next comes a brittle and emotionally disconnected career woman in present-day New York. The script, by Chris Van Strander and Simmons, is concise and dynamic, with all manner of internal crosscurrents, and Simmons's performance is chilling, a bit heartbreaking, and rarely less than fascinating. Thu 5:30 p.m., Sat 2:30 p.m. Intermedia Arts. —Quinton Skinner

Axed! (The Rockstars' Remix)
Rockstar Storytellers

Rik Reppe, Dave Mondy, and Courtney McClean weave spoken-word tales of, respectively: an eccentric hermit artist who finds love on the remote island where he lives; a time spent at a Christian camp, involving love and revenge; and a paranoid's journey off the grid, in the bedroom, then into the frying pan and the fire. A rapid-fire format of moving from speaker to speaker, segment to segment, adds to the enjoyment through the differences in each speaker's style. Reppe fares best this time out, with his story of a weird diner owner who finds improbable, and short-lived, happiness. Wed 5:30 p.m., Fri 7 p.m., Sat 10 p.m. Bryant-Lake Bowl. —Quinton Skinner

Boobs
Kari Kelly and Molly Dimba

Kari Kelly and Molly Dimba put together a series of riffs, song fragments, and spoken-word segments focusing on their mutual magnitude in the upper torso, or what they call the "breasticular area." They also share a love-hate relationship with their titular boobs (pun intended) that entails a mortal fear of bathing suits, the need for multiple sports bras, and a funny sketch imagining their effect during adolescence on their male counterparts. It all comes off as light, funny girl talk, transparently half-baked for certain stretches, but also with a sense of long-needed unburdening regarding their sweater puppies. Hey, they said it. Fri 5:30 p.m., Sat 7 p.m. Gremlin Theatre. —Quinton Skinner

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