The first week of Fringe is almost over, and you're all probably wondering the same things. First, will the pre-recorded welcome messages continue to refer to wristbands as "all-day, all-play" pieces of "festival bling" and tell audiences to wake their phones "the heck up" after the show? Also, where's the next batch of City Pages reviews? The answer to the second question, at least, is below.
Snow Country, Minnehaha Productions
Theatre in the Round
Snow Country, written by Carmen Angelica and Emily Schmidt, is a very light comedy about life at a regional airline that promises you don't have to leave home to travel. Minnesota jokes abound, but ultimately, the show is less about local in-jokes than about the travails of being a flight attendant. The show doesn't have a lot of big laughs, but there are plenty of chuckles a.
A chipper TV ad convinces Madeline (Casey Haeg) to join the staff of Snow Country Airlines, where her debut flight involves plenty of turbulence. Not outside the plane, however, but inside, where she has to deal with testy coworkers and passengers who treat the cabin like it's a hotel room. Meanwhile, there's emotional turmoil in the cockpit as the copilot (Eric Webster) is bitterly disappointed to learn that the pilot (Tom Winner) forgot the pair's takeoff anniversary.
Shanan Custer capably directs and co-stars as Trudy, a flight attendant whose crush on a mild-mannered passenger (Nate Morse) is complicated by the fact that a neighboring passenger (Lizzie Gardner) has just been dumped and is looking for a quick rebound. Will Trudy find true love? Will Madeline learn to "be the underwire," as she's advised, and be supportive yet firm? It's all on the next episode of Snow Country.
The Gospel of Sherilyn Fenn, HT Productions
In this one-man monologue, Brad Lawrence describes a pivotal period in his Evangelical 1980's youth. The Sherilyn Fenn vehicle that provides Lawrence's sexual awakening is Two Moon Junction, an erotic thriller from 1988. (There's something you can watch while you're waiting for the Twin Peaks reboot.)
To get to his blissful experience with Showtime After Hours, though, Lawrence had to wade through a minefield that included bullying at school, repression at church (a highlight of the story is a spontaneous battle against "the devil lust" in a glass Indianapolis elevator), and a troubled family member who kept asking young Brad, with increasing specificity, whether he was "gettin' any."
It's an engrossing story about (in this order) faith, family, and pop culture — but buckle up, because Lawrence, a Moth veteran, talks like a podcast set to 1.5x speed. It's hard to blame Lawrence if it seems like he's trying to make up for lost time.
Now or Later, New Epic Theater
A certain shambling spirit is part of the Fringe fun, but that's not what you'll find at Now or Later — a tightly-wound tale of a crisis that grips a presidential campaign just at what seems to be its moment of triumph. New Epic Theater is giving Christopher Shinn's acclaimed 2008 play its local premiere in a gripping production that's obviously timely, and a must-see at this year's festival.
The action unfolds in a hotel room, defined by a glowing rectangle of lights on director Joseph Stodola's pristine set. A Democratic candidate (Peter Moore) sits just outside the room, along with his wife, Jessica (Jennifer Blagen), ominously present while, inside the room, their college-student son John (Grant Sorenson) discovers that photos of himself in an offensive costume have leaked online. As the campaign tries to form its response, the political and the personal merge.
Now or Later covers an impressive amount of territory in its one carefully structured act: a family history, themes of tolerance and personal expression, and an exploration of compromise and character in the political arena. The acting, by seasoned pros, is superb.
The production's only weak links are Michael Wieser's exaggeratedly infuriated campaign aide, and an over-the-top musical soundtrack. Radiohead is just too familiar not to distract from this tense tale... though at least it's better than Survivor.
Rune, Vox Medusa
Vox Medusa is a company associated with the Heartbeat Performing Arts Center in Apple Valley, and they anchor the New Age wing of Fringe dance. This year's show is a mystical journey through the underworld, inspired by artistic director Kristin Freya's "two-week trek in Norway to retrace her ancestral Sami roots and further her quest for answers."
A connected series of episodes, Rune is soundtracked by meditative music with a deep-house beat, aided by live singing and playing at the journey's opening and close. Freya knows how to make good use of the Intermedia Arts space, covering the stage's rear wall with projections of trees, silhouettes, and other scene-setting visuals.
The show's dancers are all women, mostly young, whose complete commitment to the multidisciplinary choreography makes for an absorbing show. Often low to the ground, they writhe across the stage and perform ominous ensemble dances as co-choreographer Julie Marie Muskat sets out to uproot the virus that's plaguing her tribe.
If you're ready to set your mind free and let your spirit soar (and to describe the experience in precisely those terms), Rune is the show for you.
Darlings, Animal Engine
Ritz Theater Proscenium
As you enter the Ritz Theater for Darlings, Karim Muasher greets you, standing stock-still, dressed in an Edwardian suit, holding an umbrella and a flyer that indicates his three children are missing. Their names: Wendy, John, and Michael Darling.
Performed by Muasher and Carrie Brown, Darlings invites you to imagine what went on back at the Darling home while the children were off in Neverland. Despite comic moments and charming inventiveness, it's a heart-heavy show about love and loss.
Left waiting and wondering, the Darling parents themselves retreat into a fantasy world inspired by things their children told them and by what they already knew. The two reenact the adventures of Peter and Wendy, turning the familiar story into an exploration of hope and grief.
This polished, highly intelligent, desperately sad show will linger with you. At first it seems that the Darlings might be able to summon their children back by recapturing the spirit of playfulness their lives had lost, but this isn't Hook, and there's no Hollywood ending for these artfully mourning Darlings.
Evil Twin, Ilana Kapra Productions
Ritz Theater Studio
Ilana Kapra and Billie Jo Konze have worked up a nifty sister act: their nameless duo just can't help speaking and acting in synchrony, despite the fact that they kind of hate each other a little bit. The two performers aren't related in real life, but they have an appealing, familial chemistry together.
Evil Twin finds the pair in jail, where they probably belong but definitely don't want to be. On the bright side, this is one of those low-security prisons where your work involves knitting dog sweaters instead of pounding license plates, and where you just might be able to escape if you can knit yourself a ladder. In a series of antics soundtracked by a dry Benjamin Domask playing musical toys and miscellaneous objects, the twins make a break for it.
Kapra and Konze make a winning pair, though their show feels a little undercooked: The adventure never really builds momentum, and there's a lot of talking despite the fact that these characters' strong suit is physicality. The best part of the production is actually the pre-show, as the twins run frantically across the stage trying to get everything ready while flashing the audience wide, nervous grins. It ain't easy being a Fringe twin.