10 must-see shows at the Minnesota Fringe Festival 2015

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The Averagers

Christmas comes in July for Minnesota theater fans. Over 11 days, you’ll be able to open 170 presents during the 2015 Minnesota Fringe Festival. By the end, more than 900 performances will have been given at venues large, small, and unique around Minneapolis.

The choices can be as dizzying as the long waits in the hot sun outside the Rarig Center. Yet the rewards for theatergoers — from those who take in 50 shows to those who dabble in a few — are considerable.

This is theater at its most vital. The seat-of-yourpants vibe lets creators take risks and explore ideas that would never fl y in full-fl edged productions. Here are 10 of the most intriguing shows on tap for 2015, ranging from the intensely personal to broadly satirical. All last an hour or less and can be seen for the price of a movie

The Averagers!
Comedy Suitcase

The Fringe isn't just a place for the hard-hitting and experimental. Some shows celebrate goofiness for goofiness' sake.

That's certainly been the M.O. of Comedy Suitcase, which has produced a string of festival favorites that rely on slapstick and a skewed view of life in Minnesota.

This year, Levi Weinhagen and Joshua English Scrimshaw are going the extra geek mile with The Averagers! Taking cues from the billion-dollar film franchise, The Averagers! gives us a battalion of distinctly Minnesotan superheroes: Captain Average, Iron Range Man, Passive-Aggressive Hulk, and Paul Bunyan God of Lumber.

If you've seen the first Avengers film (or had your annoying friends describe the plot ad nauseam to you), you have an idea of the story. A group of diverse heroes is brought together to face a common enemy: Babe the Blue Ox, who plans to destroy the Earth. Will the gang be able to work together long enough to save the planet? Or at least offer some impressive set pieces?

"There will be some big action scenes," Weinhagen says.

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Art (Like It Matters)

Theatre in the Round
7:30 p.m. July 30, 2:30 p.m. Aug. 2, 5:30 p.m. Aug. 6, 5:30 p.m. Aug. 8, 2:30 p.m. Aug. 9.

Art (Like It Matters)
Lesser Mortals

Lesser Mortals' show about modern art has a fitting location: the Frank Gehry-designed Wiesman Art Museum on the University of Minnesota's East Bank.

Art (Like It Matters) offers an interactive journey through the museum. As in some sort of monstrous focus group, each person's tastes will be measured and detailed.

There will be five "stations" to guide you to the "perfect" piece of art. The first step will see how money affects your reaction to a piece. If you know a particular work is worth a ton, are you the type who will like it more?

Other stops attempt to codify how a person reacts to — and appreciates — art. Can music or different sounds affect your appreciation? What can Carl Jung's theories say about your tastes?

At the end, "Each audience member will be presented with a data-matched work of original art to keep and cherish," says creator Roger Nieboer.

Last year, the same team presented Existentia, which offered strangers a chance to pair up and visit booths on an existential vacation. Some of the same themes are in play this year, as is a desire to continue to break the wall between audience and performer.

"We're not there to freak anybody out," Nieboer says. "No one will grab you or throw paint at you. We're satirizing the corporate and academic worlds where everything is carefully controlled and monitored. We want everyone to have a good time."

Weisman Art Museum
7 and 8:30 p.m. July 30 and 31; 5:30 and 7 p.m. Aug. 2; 5:30 p.m., 7 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. Aug. 5; 5:30 and 7 p.m. Aug. 9

Broken Bone Bathtub
Siobhan O'Loughlin

After suffering a broken hand last year during a bike accident, Siobhan O'Loughlin didn't want to shower with a plastic bag over her cast. She found a different solution.

"I decided to go to people's homes to borrow their bathtubs. One friend of mine said, 'It's like you're doing a bathtub tour.'"

Cue the light bulb. O'Loughlin developed a piece based on the experience and has brought it to bathtubs around the world. She'll visit the bathroom at former Fringe director Robin Gillette's home for a very personal and intense series of performances.

Each performance "seats" only seven people. As the hour unfolds, O'Loughlin will talk about her experiences visiting friends' bathrooms across New York, all the while clad only in her cast. The shoehorned audience may even be asked to help with the bathing.

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Broken Bone Bathtub

"The audience is truly right up against the tub with me, which can be scary for them — and me. Since the piece is about vulnerability and healing, it honestly wouldn't work any other way."

Though this is the artist's second visit to the Fringe, she's entering the unknown in Gillette's bathroom. "I haven't met her or seen the room," O'Loughlin says. "I'm beyond honored and thrilled to be hosted by the woman who could quite possibly be the most popular theater person in town."

Gillette House, 2113 E. 22nd St., Minneapolis
7 p.m. July 31-Aug. 2; Aug. 6-8; 4 p.m. Aug. 1-2 and 8-9

Everything You've Done That Hurt Me
Offbeat Productions

Writing a 20-page breakup letter to your girlfriend is a dangerous proposition.

Another bad idea: losing said letter.

Even worse: losing it right in front of Jonathan Manchester's Duluth home.

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Manchester makes theater. It didn't even take a full reading for him to realize the theatrical gold in his hands.

"What begins with bullet points and a breakdown of their relationship quickly turns into spiteful rants and bold accusations. On page 18, I realized I had a show," he says.

Everything You've Done That Hurt Me consists of the full text of the letter. While angry from the start, the early relative coherence slowly fades as the anonymous author works himself into a lather. Manchester will perform, aided by songs from Brian Ring.

Telling someone's story without their permission raises plenty of questions. Manchester is solid in his convictions, since the letter included this line: "I want to post this for the whole world to see."

"I took this line literally, though I have doubts of his willingness to go through with it," he says.

Manchester has performed the piece several times in Duluth. "It could have been my neighbor, my boss, the drug dealer on the corner, or the mayor," he says. "I expected someone to come forward and say, 'Hey, asshole, I wrote that.'"

Mixed Blood Theatre
5:30 p.m. July 30; 1 p.m. Aug. 1; 7 p.m. Aug. 5; 10 p.m. Aug. 8; 5:30 p.m. Aug. 9

Glorious Garbage, Good Grief: True Stories of the Notorious Lang House in Dinkytown
Sneak Up On Ya Productions

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Glorious Garbage, Good Grief: True Stories of the Notorious Lang House in Dinkytown

"From 1970 to 1980, our house was a notorious hot spot for sex, drugs, rock 'n' roll, crime, parties, violence, mischief, mayhem, anarchy, and anti-religious, anti-government, and anti-military activity."

That's how Damiian Lang describes his childhood home. It's far from the gentrified streets of modern Dinkytown.

Lang will perform in the backyard of the place he called home during this tumultuous time. His is the story of growing up in an intense and strange environment, and how it has stayed with him throughout his life.

"For the audience, they can identify with and learn about this decade in history, and how our household was intertwined with a piece of Dinkytown history."

The piece allows Lang to explore his family's background, and how his mother created an unstable environment for her children. Lang doesn't blame her.

"The intention of Mother, no matter how skewed or abusive it became, was always community and compassion, and trying to help those from the outside of the system."

Lang House, 1129 Sixth St. SE, Minneapolis
7 p.m. July 31-Aug. 2, Aug. 5-9; 4 p.m. Aug. 1 and 2

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A Mermaid in Narnia (on LSD)

A Mermaid in Narnia (on LSD)
Mermaid Productions

For her latest solo show, Ariel Leaf is headed for the unreal. And the real. And the ever-changing melding of the two.

Leaf found success at the Fringe in 2013 with Died in a Trailer Park/Woke Up a Mermaid. Like that show, A Mermaid in Narnia collects several stories from Leaf's life, from growing up with a mother with Multiple Personality Disorder to almost marrying a conservative Christian (which sounds like a horror story all its own).

"All of these stories tackle moments in my life of unreality — where either drugs put me on another plane, or I simply realized that no one I knew had anything in common with the version of the world I was living in," Leaf says.

She opens the show discussing her mother's disorders and how "that changed the way I played with my best friend as a young girl. We all had a list of characters and could switch from one to another instantly. This mirrored my home experiences of never knowing who my mother would be from one moment to the next."

The experiences of 2013 helped Leaf mold this year's stories.

"I always talk directly to and with my audience. I rely on them to tell me what pace I should be setting, where the laughs fall, and when to pause and let things sink in."

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Pretty Girls Make Graves

Huge Theater
1 p.m. Aug. 1, 10 p.m. Aug. 2, 7 p.m. Aug. 4, 8:30 p.m. Aug. 7; 2:30 p.m. Aug. 9

Pretty Girls Make Graves
Loudmouth Collective

Sam Landman sees the Smiths as the punching bag of 1980s rock, which he finds unfair.

"Morrissey is an easy target for people who have barely heard a Smiths song," he says. "But if you listen to the lyrics, you hear a wonderfully absurd humor that most bands wouldn't be bringing to the table."

His play follows BMX, a woman obsessed with the Smiths. She listens to the band's five albums over and over again while cleaning the apartment of a recently deceased relative. BMX never particularly liked the guy, so the act of cleaning is a way for her to explore where the resentment may have come from.

"It's a coping mechanism," Landman says. "A loved one dies, so you listen to the music that made you happy back in the day and clean the place without having to focus on why you're there doing it."

Landman understands the obsessions that motivate BMX. "When I was 13, I was essentially a teenage version of BMX, except with Pink Floyd. It's possible there was at least two years there when I was collecting all of their albums that I literally didn't let any other band seep into my eardrums."

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Shelly Bachberg Presents: Orange Is the New POTUS

Phoenix Theatre
10 p.m. July 30 and Aug. 1; 5:30 p.m. Aug. 2; 7 p.m. Aug. 7; 1 p.m. Aug. 9

Shelly Bachberg Presents: Orange Is the New POTUS
The Catalysts

Two years ago, the Catalysts introduced us to Shelly Bachberg, a conservative Minnesota politician with a fabulous husband and a unique twist on American history. According to Bachberg, Abraham Lincoln and the Union army didn't free the slaves. Helen Keller and Anne Frank did.

Creators Max Wojtanowicz and Michael Gruber return to their creation with a Michele Bachmann-inspired version of Orange Is the New Black.

While in prison for tax fraud, Bachberg decides to carry on with her goal of becoming president, even though she can't even convince her trio of cellmates of her views. Through spectacle and song, Bachberg works to bring the trio over to her side as a first step on the long journey to the White House.

Though she's faded from the national stage, Bachmann still provides plenty of material.

"We can get away with having her say outlandish things because our congresswoman does it in real life," Wojtanowicz says. "In fact, most of the really offensive things she says, both in the original show and the sequel, are either direct quotes or inspired by quotes."

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Spicy Masala Chai

Meanwhile, composer Gruber takes a walk down musical-theater lane. The opening tune, "Just My Luck," sounds like a cross between "Cell Block Tango" from Chicago and "Lady Marmalade," Wojtanowicz says. But instead of songs professing eternal love, this score's topics range from tax fraud to engaging disenfranchised voters.

Still, the creators do have some serious ideas behind the shenanigans.

"With the presidential election coming up and voter apathy beginning to rear its head 16 months out, it's important to engage in critical conversations about these topics, even if we already feel inundated with them," Wojtanowicz says.

Rarig Center Thrust
2:30 p.m. Aug. 1; 5:30 p.m. Aug. 2; 10 p.m. Aug. 5; 8:30 p.m. Aug. 6; 2:30 p.m. Aug. 9

Spicy Masala Chai
Bollywood Dance Scene

Last year, Bollywood Dance Scene had a massive hit with Hi! Hello! Nameste? The company returns with another mix of Indian-inspired dance.

"Our show's takeaway is that love is boundless," says Sara Erdman. "Our three main characters have had some difficulty being open to love for varying reasons — cultural and otherwise."

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Stuff That Reminds Me of Other Things

The show is meant to be a live-action Bollywood adventure that is centered on a trio of Indian bachelors sharing a swinging pad in Uptown. These are losers at love, but that doesn't stop them from trying. "There is Shyam, a handsome player scared of commitment; Kid, an awkward nerd who can't connect; and Bunty, an enthusiastic new immigrant with no clue about American dating," Erdman says.

Their stories unfold through a series of scenes and spectacular dances, with up to 70 performers on stage.

"Last year, we succeeded on raw talent, energy, and passion," Erdman says, noting that the company is entirely cast with amateurs. "We recognize that last year's runaway success comes with raised expectations, and we want to live up to it. We are planning even more challenging choreography and a greater variety of dance styles. And as with all things Bollywood, bigger and better are essential requirements."

Rarig Center Proscenium
7 p.m. July 30, 5:30 p.m. Aug. 1; 5:30 p.m. Aug. 6, 8:30 p.m. Aug. 7, 1 p.m. Aug. 8

Stuff That Reminds Me of Other Things: A Walking Tour
Keely Wolter

If you want to learn about Keely Wolter's life, you'll have to walk with her.

Wolter's show takes the audience around the West Bank. At each stop, she will talk about how the site or sight relates to her life.

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The creator isn't looking to share earth-shattering or groundbreaking revelations. Instead, she's more interested in the quiet connections that can be made between places.

"Our first stop on the tour is a spot overlooking the river near the Ted Mann Concert Hall. The view there reminds me a bit of the view from my bedroom window in my apartment in London," Wolter says. "The related story is all about some strange noises I heard coming from the back garden one night."

Wolter doesn't have strong connections to the West Bank, having recently moved to the Twin Cities. Instead, the various places serve as triggers for memories of other places.

She found her inspiration in 2011 at the granddaddy of the festivals, the Edinburgh Fringe.

"I thought it would be lovely to lead tours around beautiful places and share interesting facts and stories. I had a friend in London at the time who made extra money doing guided tours, and she was sort of magical and enchanting too."

Wolter's trouble is that she hasn't lived anywhere long enough to build those tight connections. "What I do have is my personal experience. When I take any walk, I am reminded of all the places I've lived and people I've known."

Of course, nature will cooperate or not. And while the show is usually scheduled for daylight hours, there is one 10 p.m. performance that will be a flashlight tour.

Walking tour starts at Rarig Center
7:30 p.m. July 30, 8:30 p.m. July 31; 2:30 and 7 p.m. Aug. 1; 4 p.m. Aug. 2; 7 p.m. Aug. 5; 8:30 p.m. Aug. 6, 10 p.m. Aug. 7; 2:30 p.m. and 7 p.m. Aug. 8, 2:30 p.m. Aug. 9



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