Fringe Festival 2015: Highlights from day 1

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Backlash

My 2015 Minnesota Fringe Festival started a little bit after 5:30 p.m. Thursday, when the lights dimmed at Mixed Blood and Jonathan Manchester's dark "found" piece, Everything You've Done That Hurt Me, started. You'll have to wait until next week's paper for my full opinion of the show, but the experience (the script is a 20-page, handwritten post-breakup letter that Manchester found by a Duluth home one February day) was very much like having a character from a Drive-By Truckers song come to life before our very eyes. 

The piece is short, so I had plenty of time to get to Theatre in the Round, where I got to have another first experience for 2015: waiting in line in the hot sun. Note to self: The hat was a good idea, but next time don't forget the water bottle.

On to what I saw during the rest of Thursday.

Backlash

Mainly Me have become old hats at the Fringe. Each year, they emerge with another high-concept comedy. This time around, the theme actually is comedy. Backlash centers on Bill Young (writer and director Josh Carson), a teacher-by-day/comic-by night who has been mentoring Blair (Tucker Garborg), a high-school senior with dreams of making comedy his life. 

Their little dreams of playing at comedy clubs or at summer theater festivals get turned upside down when Blair's class project (a farting version of Law and Order) goes viral and the pair end up with an audition on Saturday Night Live.

That leads to a road trip, with Bill's long-suffering wife Allie (Sara Marsh) in tow. There are adventures and hijinks along the way, especially when they meet up with current SNL star, man child Wesley Wallace (Andy Kraft; it can't be the Fringe without a few Andy Kraft sightings).

The show is pretty rough around the edges, but it does generate some nice comic sparks, especially whenever Kraft or Sulia Alternberg is onstage. There is also a big, bleeding heart at the center of the show that mostly manages to avoid the John Hughes-inspired traps (it's a road trip with a bunch of misfits heading to New York City; Hughes would come back from the grave to direct it) and really have something to say about how couples can survive with wildly diverse interests.

Comedy Suitcase Presents The Averagers

During Backlash, Bill mentions that his Fringe shows have received five out of seven "worth considering" rankings from the Pioneer Press. "That's worth at least a Scrimshaw," he says at the point. The Scrimshaws have been a long fixture at the Fringe Festival. Though Joe is out in L.A. this year, Joshua is in the house. In this case, the same house, as Comedy Suitcase's latest spoof, The Averagers, is also playing at TRP.

Like past shows from Scrimshaw and Comedy Suitcase partner Levi Weinhagen, The Averagers mixes pop culture and Minnesota spoofs. This one is all about a bunch of typically Minnesotan superheroes. So the Hulk becomes the Bulk (Matthew Kessen), where an overly emotional scientist becomes a giant green creature with his feelings as tightly wound as an Ervin Santana fastball. He is joined by Iron Range Man (Weinhagen in an Iron Man costume covered in Post-it notes), Black Wood Tick (Laura Zabel), Captain Average (Eric Webster), and Paul Bunyan, God of Lumber (Schrimshaw getting frightenly deep into a man-child role).

They, ahem, assemble to take on Babe (Amy Schweickhardt), an evil enchantress and Paul's mother. Some shows would use this story to explore family relationships. Here, it is an excuse for Babe to give Paul a kid's bike as an enticement away from his friends, which allows Scrimshaw to ride up and down the stage, hallways, and arena at TRP.

The show has plenty of funny bits, but also includes some of the tedium of watching the Avengers movies, or any of the various Marvel Comics/general comic-book adaptations of the last 15 years. As with those movies, I wanted to shout, "less backstory, more action." The action set pieces, complete with slow motion arrow shots and a giant world (or at least theater), devour the serpent at the end.

The Fringe continues through August 9.


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