Fringe Day 5: Dust on the prairie

Ash Land.
Ash Land.
Image courtesy Minnesota Fringe Festival
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Fringe Festival 2012: 165 shows packed into 15 days

Opening weekend for the 2012 Minnesota Fringe Festival was similar to those recorded in 2011, which meant a lot of folks were out fighting road construction and art-festival traffic to take in shows during the first four days.

How many? The Festival estimates that a little less than 7,000 folks collected 16,904 tickets for shows Thursday through Sunday. That's a few hundred more individual ticket purchasers and about 800 fewer tickets distributed. In the end, the per-performance average was nearly the same from year to year, owing to fewer performances over the time frame: 52.

There were certainly plenty of folks out at Rarig Monday evening, many of them waiting patiently in line for Ash Land, already one of the breakouts of the festival. In fact, demand was high enough that the balcony for the Thrust Theater was opened to contain the full crowd.

It's clear why this is such a hot ticket. The show, from Transatlantic Love Affair (creators of Red Resurrected and Ballad of the Pale Fisherman), recasts Cinderella for the Dust Bowl, as a family struggles with loss in the form of a dead mother and a landscape baked by the sun.

Crafted by director Diogo Lopes and the eight-person ensemble, Ash Land uses no props or sets other than the actors themselves, performing as snorting pigs, waving fields of grain, or a creaking, banging front door. The story centers on Ellie, a young woman whose life is tossed into turmoil when her mother dies and her aunt -- who owns the land -- marries her father. As in the fairy tale, they don't get along, but this isn't cardboard evil. There are a lot of complex emotions in play over the course of the show's hour.

Some of that comes as the story is recast as a farm family's struggles with money. The aunt plans to sell the farm behind the back of the other two, but Ellie intercepts the letter inviting her to a meeting and attends the "ball" in her place, becoming intertwined with the banker's valiant son along the way.

The staging is not only clever, but it serves as a constant reminder of the people that have worked -- and still work -- the land in our country's history. There is a sense of "happily ever after" here, thought it is the joy that comes from hard work rather than just good looks and luck.

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