Fringe Day 1: Running into inanimate objects

Wandering around the Soap Factory Thursday evening, the biggest fear wasn't Live Action Set's spellbinding Crime and Punishment. No, it was whether or not my glasses were going to slip off and leave me blind in the show's confusing underworld.

The audience, you see, has to put on masks that are not to be removed under punishment of expulsion from this year's hottest Minnesota Fringe Festival show. I was able to get my somewhat chunky glasses on over the mask. It seemed fine at first, but then they started to slip off while I explored the labyrinth in the art gallery's already creepy basement.

See also: Tech crews keep Fringe running behind the scenes

Regardless, it was a spooky and even scary experience, especially as the non-linear tale reached its end. While you could visit events from or inspired by the novel in any order, there was a definite sense of growing chaos as the show unfolded. One of the final images I caught was of a man screaming in rage and guilt, running into a hanging cinder block.

If you want to catch Crime and Punishment, make reservations now. The show is close to selling out its entire run. The same is true for the Fringe's musical walking tour, Into the Unreal City.

Running into the inanimate, interestingly enough, also plays a role in Amateur Hour, a decidedly different Fringe offering at Illusion. Here, a group of talented performers revisited their earliest moments of glory (or infamy) on the stage.

Levi Weinhagen described the evolution of his personal brand of humor, from the whoopee cushion to injury-inducing pratfalls. His comedy partner Joshua English Scrimshaw took us back to a sixth-grade talent show and his efforts to lip synch to Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean" at his Roman Catholic grade school.

My 2014 Fringe started at the New Century Theatre, where the Catalysts gave us A Very Merry Unauthorized Children's Scientology Pageant. The musical mocks L. Ron Hubbard and his religion/cult creation at every turn. As the title indicates, the show is presented as a pageant by a group of young performers. They are somewhat stiff (intentionally so, I would guess), the songs turgid (definitely intentional), and the ludicrous underpinnings of Scientology laid bare. By the time Xenu arrives in all his dark glory, the show has made its point. There remains, however, a good portion of the running time to go.

This isn't as successful as the company's 2013 send-up, Shelly Bachberg Presents: How Helen Keller and Anne Frank Freed the Slaves: The Musical. Still, it shows a willingness to explore plenty of different corners of the crazy modern world.

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