We're at the Fringe Festival, checking out the ambitious, the weird, and the ugly offerings, and letting you know our thoughts. Follow us here for more updates.
Emily Michaels King, Crane Theater
Emily Michaels King, a fearless performer and close collaborator with peers like Debra Berger, steps out with her first full-length solo show in Magic Girl, and she indeed casts a spell over the Crane Theater in an absorbing performance that draws on the unique immediacy of live theater.
It's an autobiographical piece subtitled An Ode to Rainbow Brite, but although there are stabs of radio chestnuts, this isn't a pop culture nostalgia trip. It's nostalgic in the deepest definition of that word: seeking solace and inspiration in thoughts of a past that can't be returned, only remembered. King's is a personal journey, with Rainbow Brite serving as an unseen avatar of her more innocent, more confident girlhood self.
King's fragmented narrative incorporates both words and movement, often paired to powerful effect. As a dancer, she finds new meaning in classic tracks; most memorably, the frantic energy of Simon and Garfunkel's "Keep the Customer Satisfied." Her deliberately jarring technique of stopping songs suddenly, sometimes after just a few seconds, keeps the show from dropping into predictable rhythms.
There are a lot of one-person shows in the Fringe, but few of them are as inventive, as effective, and as visually stunning as Magic Girl. In the cavernous darkness of the Crane Theater, King turns hand-held lights on herself and on the audience, reminding us that we, too, have stories inside of us. Magic Girlcelebrates the power of sharing one's story, turning a simple light into a powerful metaphor.
Silver Slipper Productions, Rarig Center Arena
Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey have put their wagons on mothballs, but the circus spirit is alive and well among performers like the six spirited artists who fill the Rarig Arena for this energetic and big-hearted production. No one puts their head into a lion's mouth, but ringleader Gabe Gabriel is even braver, introducing raucous and randy cabaret acts to a teaching theater full of completely sober and slightly sweaty Minnesotans.
When the lights go down, though, the Rarig room turns into a glamorous nightclub. The talents of this inclusive cast encompass classic burlesque (courtesy of Maranda Wright, "the world's most glamorous woman"), hula hooping (Stella Rosa seems to pass her flashing circle through dimensions previously unknown to science), athletic swing dancing (Gabriel pairs with bearded lady Martina Marraccino), and contortion (Midnightwaterfairy arrives onstage as a mermaid, but doesn't leave that way).
There are feats of strength and dexterity, and even engineering: somehow, a spinning hoop on a center-stage stand endures the circling exertions of acrobat/strongman Amir Kinara. Amid all the displays of athletic pizzazz, though, on Sunday perhaps the most dollar bills (yes, this is a Fringe show where you're encouraged to tip) rained down on clown Wanda Fool, an actual Ringling Bros. vet who delivered a perfectly poignant re-imagining of Brandi Carlile's "The Story."
Game of Toms: One-Man Game of Thrones
Tom Reed, Rarig Center Thrust
One doesn't necessarily think of pop-culture parody as a public service, but Tom Reed's new show provides massive relief to Fringe-goers whose Game of Thrones viewership was spotty at best. Now, in just 50 entertaining minutes, we can finally start to figure out just what the hell happened.
Reed is a writer-performer of wide-ranging skills, whose recent shows have included the eerie and inventive Twin Cities Horror Festival entry Greenway. In last year's Fringe, Reed brought dark comedy to America's tragically preventable epidemic in Gunplay! Over the years, though, the bread and butter of Reed's reliable Fringe favorites have been rapid-fire recaps of franchises like Harry Potter, Twilight, and Stranger Things.
This year, he's back at it with Game of Toms, in which Reed and keyboard accompanist Paul Kovacovic zip through every epic season of Game of Thrones — except the one they skip because it was boring. Reed repeatedly acknowledges the HBO program's paradox: that viewers became obsessed with it despite many of them freely acknowledging that it's wildly uneven, often nonsensical, and highly problematic.
Reed's wit and charisma easily carry the show, consistently generating laughs; he pitches his presentation at a level that will reward diehard fans while also engaging Westeros dilettantes. Although the spacious Rarig Thrust stage somewhat mutes the antic bottled energy of his previous productions at smaller venues, Reed makes good use of the space as he symbolically fills it with bodies by putting a Game of Thrones twist on a time-honored stage technique.
You Are Cordially Invited to the Life and Death of Edward Lear: Poet, Illustrator, Composer, and Melancholy Hypochondriac or What is a Runcible Spoon: An Absurdist Eulogy and Existential Crisis on the Stage
The Winding Sheet Outfit, Crane Theater
It's always a good sign when there's a long line of artists at a Fringe show's box office, looking to see their peers perform. On Sunday night at the Crane Theater, many of the Fringe artists who attended the Winding Sheet Outfit's new production were wiping away tears by the end of a show that celebrates the transient beauty of theater, and of life.
Launched in 2012 by Amber Bjork and Kristina Fjellman, the Winding Sheet Outfit have gained a reputation for inventively conceived, exquisitely executed shows that combine witty scripting, haunting music, and some of the most beautiful props and costumes you're likely to see on any Fringe stage. Last year's Blood Nocturne revisited the story of history's most allegedly prolific female murderer, building buzz that's carried over to Edward Lear.
Like Blood Nocturne, Edward Lear puts an authentic historical character at the center of a postmodern meditation on life and truth: come for the edification, stay for the entertainment, leave with an energized spirit. In this case, the character in question is the 19th century artist who hoped painting would be his legacy but who is, instead, best-known for his nonsense verse. Director Bjork serves as narrator in an eight-member ensemble who explore the enigmas of Lear's life and art.
If the artist's hopes and promise were only partially fulfilled...well, this show seems to ask, isn't that true of all of us? When Bjork broke from Lear's story to talk about how much work Fringe artists pour into productions that will last for only five performances, it clearly hit home with many artists and audience members, creating a shared sense of appreciation for all the substance and the silliness of this crazy festival and this mad life.