With 176 shows at 15 locations, the Minnesota Fringe Festival is impossible to cover completely in one go. At most, a dedicated theatergoer can take in 56 of the shows over the 11 days of the festival. Here are thoughts on a handful of shows seen over the first weekend of the festival. You can find more reviews at citypages.com in the Dressing Room blog.Comedy vs. Calories: Fight!(Rarig Thrust; 7 p.m. Saturday, 2:30 p.m. Sunday)
Comedy Suitcase is a reliable Fringe entrant, and while this year's piece is a bit rough, it's still quite a ride. The three performers — Joshua English Scrimshaw, Levi Weinhagen, and Andy Kraft — spend the hour in motion, presenting sketches and monologues or exercising in an effort to burn off the calories from a McDonald's Happy Meal (a cold and rather disgusting-looking Happy Meal, I'll note). There's some seriousness here, as they examine sporting failures, body image, and parenting, but mainly it's a chance for them go wild playing dodgeball and getting hit in sensitive areas.Who's On First?(Music Box Theatre; 10 p.m. Thursday, 7 p.m. Saturday, 1 p.m. Sunday)
Hailing from the shores of Lake Superior in Wisconsin, the folks from Stage North compress five decades of Doctor Who into a madcap hour, complete with quick costume changes, a life-size TARDIS, and plenty of running. The piece is at its best when it takes a longer view, pointing at the foibles of the show and exploring its tangled history. After reaching its height — a love song to one-and-done Eighth Doctor Paul McGann — the show falls off the cliff as time constraints force the actors to blaze through the show's modern era. Standing on the Hollow(Intermedia Arts; 2:30 p.m. Saturday)
Minnesota Fringe Festival Through August 11 www.fringefestival.org
Tamara Ober has used the Fringe as a springboard to solo success, and the dancer's latest work perfectly illustrates her oeuvre. It features three connected pieces based on stories by Flannery O'Connor, Toni Morrison, and Mary Lerner. Accompanied by flutist Julie Johnson, Ober presents a string of characters struggling against the confines of their lives. Video created by director D.J. Mendel builds on that sense of layering. Ober's clear and kinetic dancing gives the work an emotional wallop.Pullman Car Hiawatha(Music Box Theatre; 7 p.m. Thursday; 4 p.m. Saturday)If the Fringe is for experimentation, this show stands out as the prime example. It's a musical adaptation of an obscure Thornton Wilder one-act created and presented by a bunch of high school-age performers from the western suburbs (under the auspices of Blue Water Theatre Company). It also works remarkably well, as the music, by Jennifer Hartsell, perfectly complements the action on stage, which explores the world inside (and outside) a night train to Chicago in 1930. Director Sam Weisberg pulls together a remarkable experience. Familiar Wilder themes — mortality, memory, and the philosophical underpinnings of existence — play out, from the death of a passenger to a playful scene in which the hours of the evening, the passing geography, and the planets all get their say.Yelling at Bananas in Whole Foods(New Century Theatre; 8:30 p.m. Saturday)By the time we get to the moment described in the title, Dan Bernitt's piece has taken us on a journey deep into the rabbit hole of self-obsession. The Brooklyn-based storyteller and playwright recounts a year in which his obsessions got the best of him, leaving him isolated and emotionally unstable. It all came down to food, as a chance meeting with a '90s-era motivational speaker drove him to be a vegetarian, then a vegan, and finally a raw-food enthusiast. Bernitt is merciless with his grad-school self, who cuts himself off from the outside world by being a real jerk about healthy eating. When the breakdown finally comes, it's harsh and funny and unforgettably absurd.