Fringe day 3: Comedy can be dangerous

There was much heavy-lifting Saturday at the Minnesota Fringe Festival with the four shows I had planned to review, plus a bonus production. The cracks of stress are starting to show from others as well. For example, before my 10 p.m. play the house manager gave the usual speech, including a reminder that we needed to vacate the theater quickly because another show would be starting in 30 minutes. It took a few shouts for her to understand that this was the last piece of the evening. I knew exactly how she felt.

Still, onward!

"If you actually have a pager, that's ridiculous."

Singer/songwriter/storyteller Kevin J. Thornton wasn't particularly pleased about the 1 p.m. slot for his show about his decades of love and heartache, but it only took a few minutes for him to get into the right rhythm. His piece hits on sexual awakenings, early crushes, a massive breakup, and the politics of being gay. It's a funny play that runs deep into the darkness of the human heart -- certainly best in the evening -- but one that works at 1 p.m. as well.

When meeting your hero doesn't disappoint.

This was an unplanned show for me, but one that showcases a side of the Fringe that sometimes gets lost amid the noise. Robert Hubbard, who spent several years in the Twin Cities as an actor and writer before taking a teaching post in Iowa, runs deep into his own life for this play about his relationship with his alcoholic father, and his love of the Denver Broncos and legendary quarterback John Elway. You don't need to be a fan of pro football to be swept up in the story, or fully engage with Hubbard's personal, heartfelt approach.

Cats and dogs performing together.

Live Action Set's latest Fringe entry brings Edward Gorey's children's book to glorious life in a cavernous space by the Mill Street Museum. Five performers bring all of the characters of this unusual circus to life when Fletcher (a cat) and Zenobia (a dog) help a wayward troupe put on a show after all of their stars and animals flee the scene of a train wreck. Physical action has always been a Live Action Set hallmark, and that side of the comedy comes out crystal clear. Gorey's book is also full of wordplay and puns, which director Sara Richardson (in her program notes) says are intact. I'm not sure, as much of the dialogue from my perch in the back of the improvised house was badly muffled. It was the only issue I had with the show, and was largely negated by the high quality of the rest of the performances.

Remembering your father, mentor, aunt, uncle, and all the people of the planet Alderaan.

Finishing up my science-fiction Shakespeare triple header is Brad Erickson's mad mash-up, where the maybe-mad Dane exists a long time ago in a galaxy far, far way. In this case, the characters from Star Wars are bent (sometimes broken) to fit into Shakespeare's story, from Leia turning into poor Ophelia to the gravedigger becoming that most vile of creatures, Jar Jar Binks. It's an entertaining mix, filled with all manner of obvious and not-so-obvious allusions to the film series, while still telling a fast-paced and engaging version of the original story.

"It looks like Abe Lincoln as the lead singer of Mumford and Sons."

I've always liked Mike Fotis's storytelling style, just him with his notebook sharing stylized moments of his life. However, the Danger Committee -- the mad trio of local jugglers led by knife thrower Caleb McEwen -- don't agree, and arrive onstage to help Fotis spice up his act. What follows is a bracing piece that showcases the very different talents of the four performers. The highlight comes with McEwen doing a "safe" version of his knife throwing act, hurling teddy bears and massive spitballs (via a high-tech slingshot) at Fotis while he tries to complete a story about a swimming test.

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