The four shows I selected for Thursday's opening night of the Minnesota Fringe Festival ended up being a near perfect microcosm of the entire festival: high-quality clowning, a solo show that saw an artist stretching himself, a Mad-Libs-style creation that missed the mark, and a loose cry against the injustices of the world that snapped the entire festival into focus.
David Gaines studied and later taught at the Ecole Jacques Lecoq in Paris (the same school that produced the original core members of Theatre de la Jeune Lune). His expert clowning and, yes, mime skills are on display throughout this piece. Over the course of an hour, Gaines takes Akira Kurosawa's Seven Samurai and recreates it before our eyes using just his body, his skills, and a pair of masks. The story comes across clearly, from peasants tormented by bandits to the unlikely band of heroes they bring in to save the day.
There are plenty of moments played for laughs, from the different personalities of the samurai, the peasants, and the bandits to the cartoon-like fate of the bandit leader (a tip from Bugs Bunny: never look down). Most of the dialogue is presented as gibberish, though the occasional bits of "Engrish" are a bit distracting. Despite any misgivings, Gaines's world-class skills are worth a look for any fan of physical theater.
It sound like Fringe Festival Mad Libs: "What do you get when you mix Shakespeare's Tempest with Aliens?" As it turns out, you get a very slick, well-produced show that still manages to miss the mark. In Tedious Brief's vision, as the ship leaves Prospero's island at the end of the original play, the now-freed Ariel wrecked the ship in a mighty storm as she left. Miranda, protected by her father's spells, is the only survivor, but is not found for 20 years... and if you've seen James Cameron's film, you know the rest of the plot.
This is part of the issue -- Tempest doesn't take a sequel nearly as well as Aliens, so the situation feels absolutely contrived, with characters being forced into roles (Caliban in the android's role, for example) that don't quite fit. And while Aliens isn't an example of real deep characters, the brief sketches here don't do any of the characters justice. The action brightens when Ariel arrives on the scene, as Jane Froiland gives an ethereal and scary performance as the mad spirit. A story about that -- a spirit free from long torment that has driven her mad -- would have made for a better experience.
Christopher Kehoe's new piece is maddening, but mainly in a good way. The creator is onto something with this story of a lost soul unsure of his place in his own head, but I don't think it is quite there as of yet. In other words, a perfect piece to showcase at the Fringe. Kehoe mainly plays Brandon, a hard-driving engineer hiding some deep hurt and coming to grips with the disintegration of his love life and the mental decay of his father. The piece ping pongs from moment to moment, slowly unfolding the full story of Brandon's life, often taking long diversions into his imagination. Kehoe's comedic skills and his long, lanky frame serve him well in fantasies of being a superhero or a figure skater, while his acting brings Brandon fully to life. I only wish the piece dug deeper into Brandon -- it's an intriguing character with more lurking beneath the surface than we've seen.
Understand this, when you attend Something's Gone Wrong in the Dreamhouse, you will participate. The company hands out homemade shakers, and audience members may be plucked out to help with backup vocals. The Northern Irish ensemble merges music, poetry, spoken word, and multimedia images to examine the politics and plight of life in the 1930s. The loose show examines the chaos on both sides of the Atlantic, from the growing tide of fascism in Europe, to the persistent racism in America, to the economic hardships in both. It's pretty easy to draw parallels to today's world, though Scream Blue Murmur leaves that mainly up the audience. This is angry, political, punk rock without the electric guitars, though a version of Willie William's "Armagideon Time" brought out all of the cold fury of the famous Clash cover version.