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Fringe Day 3: Women rule in these patriarchy smashing, body-positive, cat-loving productions

'SIZE' at Minnesota Fringe

'SIZE' at Minnesota Fringe

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.

Minnesota Fringe Festival 2019

Rarig Center
$14; $60 5-show pass; $100 10-show pass; $6 kids

SIZE
Somerville Productions, Theatre in the Round

The creators of last year's wildly acclaimed Fringe hit Not Fair, My Lady! are back with a show about what it means to go through life as someone who's constantly told you're not the right size. It would be absurdly cruel to judge someone for the body they were born into, and yet that's what happens all the time every day, as the stars of SIZE describe in furious detail.

It's a show about reclaiming your right to be wholly yourself, and it's also very funny. Directed by Nicole Wilder and Rachel Flynn, SIZE stars a cast of contributors with standouts including the hilarious Linda Sue Anderson as well as Lauren Anderson, who anchors the show with a powerful multi-part monologue about how she coped with being the subject of a capriciously hurtful remark made onstage during an improv workshop.

SIZE calls out the pervasiveness of body-shaming — from childhood on up — and righteously rails against the internalized effects of a biased society. It's an important show, one that will have you standing and cheering by the time it reaches its triumphant conclusion.

Xena and Gabrielle Smash the Patriarchy
Mermaid Productions, Theatre in the Round

In a time of ancient gods, warlords, and kings, a land in turmoil cried out for...a hero. If you know where this is going, you're the prime audience for Xena and Gabrielle Smash the Patriarchy, an affectionate tribute to the cheesy swords-and-sandals series (1995-2001) that's earned a place in pop culture far exceeding the Hercules show that spawned it.

As the title implies, Xena and Gabrielle goes beyond simple parody to make a point about how the patriarchal oppression that the Warrior Princess and her faithful companion fought throughout ancient history still festers in forms including sexist nerd dudes who could use a little taste of Xena's Chakram. (It's a weapon.) A time-travel plot, nothing remotely out of the ordinary in the Xena-verse, sends the pair to a present-day fan convention where everyone's duly impressed by their authentic duds.

In fact, as actor/writer Nissa Nordland Morgan notes in the program, she was rocking a Xena-themed cosplay outfit years before she wore it to Fringe, so you know this tribute comes from a place of love. She plays Gabrielle, paired with longtime Fringe favorite Ariel Leaf doing an impressive Lucy Lawless impression as the Warrior Princess herself. Heather Meyer is a standout as Alpha, a con staffer with secrets; while Elora Riley's Princess Leah (no, that's not a typo) helps the con's unexpected guests make the very pointed point that a warrior can wear whatever the hell she wants.

'Cat Confidential' at Minnesota Fringe

'Cat Confidential' at Minnesota Fringe

Cat Confidential: The Secret Lives of the Mothers of Lions
Weggel Productions, Theatre in the Round

The "crazy cat lady" stereotype is somehow still hovering out there (thank you, Simpsons), but the cat ladies of this fun show give that meme only a quick nod before moving on to amusing stories that go way beyond Garfield-level gags about how cats just love to eat and lie in sunbeams. That said, there's some pretty solid material about how cats just love to eat and lie in sunbeams, including a kitty boot camp sketch in which felines are drilled in the specific types of baked goods they can emulate for maximum cuteness.

This collaboratively created show is produced by Anna Weggel, co-creator of the blockbuster Couple Fight franchise seen on recent years' Fringe stages. (Disclosure: she's a co-worker of mine at Minnesota Public Radio.) This show also touches on relationships, with cat custody as a central theme of climactic monologues by Danna Sheridan and Weggel herself. Further, the producer provides live music with her Dino Birds bandmate Mandi Verstegen, whose song about being a cat mom while also having a mom is one of the show's highlights.

Director Lauren Anderson has honed a well-paced show in which the performers lie around on cushions like they're at a cat cafe. Fans of the Couple Fight shows will appreciate Cat Confidential's similar mix of relatable comedy and emotional catharsis, moving in its specificity. Monologues deal with themes including mental health, intergenerational relationships, and personal growth. It wraps up on precisely the note you hope for, and everyone goes home to feed their cats.

Stand Up Eight
Kingfisher Theatre Company, Theatre in the Round

The set for Stand Up Eight is a well-worn living room set, complete with crowded coffee table. It sets the scene for five vignettes about characters who've seen some miles themselves. Sometimes they emerge triumphant, other times they shuffle through searching for hope that better times are ahead.

This short production, coming in at just under 40 minutes, consists of two monologues (both performed and written or co-written by Heather Fones), two brief plays, and an empowering spoken-word performance to close things out. It's not as polished as the Fringe's standout shows; the plays, in particular, are haltingly paced and move too rapidly toward emotional climaxes they haven't quite earned.

When Cameron Dahlstrom thumps unexpectedly onstage in a black bodysuit to open the first of the two plays, Fones's Break In: Break Up, it provides a welcome absurdist jolt that the show unfortunately fails to build on. Fans of the holidays, however, will be glad to know that the show includes a lovely adaptation of "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," and you're damn right they do the "muddle through" line.