Fringe day 4: Bring it on home (for opening weekend at least)

​Got to my first show with literally a minute to spare. Note to self: plan more time when trying to get from the Northside to the Playwrights' Center. It's a good thing there's a bit of a break (well, until Monday evening) as I started to lose a grip on my own version of sanity by the end of the day. Thankfully, I knew I could stay on target until the end.

Think like an Egyptian.

Denmo Ibrahim's transformation in Baba is a remarkable thing in and of itself. While pop hits from the 1980s blare on the soundtrack, the performer pulls together a new identity out of a suitcase, transforming into a portly Egyptian-American who is trying to get his daughter's passport for a trip back to her home country. At least, that's what it seems at first. As the story unfolds, we learn a lot about Mo. This isn't just the familiar immigrant's story, full of misunderstandings about customs, dreams of a better life, or even fighting against the racism he finds. This is about this one, deeply flawed man who -- it becomes clear -- isn't just heading for a vacation home. That story, and the way Ibrahim brings it to life, is what makes Baba one of the highlights of the 2011 festival.

It takes a bunch of hipsters to do, you know, whatever.

Onto the latest proper-noun-based musical, which had what could have been a pretty good concept, but stuck so close to the middle of the road that it never made all that much of an impression. A team of coffee-shop hounds are horrified by the thought of a Trader Jack's opening on Lyndale Avenue. So, they hatch a, well, rather ineffective plan. But that's really in tune with our tattooed heroes lives, isn't it? There are funny moments sprinkled throughout the show, and the performances are bright and likable, but the script seems stuck in first gear throughout, not so much going on a journey as eventually running out of time.

"I'm a horrible thing."

Tim Uren's Fringe shows have always been a delight, and this year's entry is no different. It has a double twist on Robert Louis Stevenson's original: What if Dr. Jekyll only thought he drank the potion, and what if someone else did? Uren plays meek Jekyll,whose monstrous side isn't much worse than wanting some sexual release, and maybe a little love. Amy Schweickhardt plays Mary, the maid who ends up with the right potion. Free of the boundaries of 19th-century society, Mary wants to... learn, a lot. Her inner self is taken with education, and occasional fits of brutal violence. While often played for laughs, the script does dig into the politics of gender and identity, and the difference between knowledge and wisdom.

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