Fringe Day 5: "I kill people's dogs"

Mary Fox, Kim Kivens and Caroline Innerbichler.
Mary Fox, Kim Kivens and Caroline Innerbichler.
Image courtesy Minnesota Fringe Festival

A first weekend of frantic theatergoing, interspersed with waits standing in multiple lines to get into the theater, ended with the Minnesota Fringe Festival doing similar business in 2013 to what was done in 2012.

If you like numbers: 17,758 tickets were issued over the first four days for 352 performances, or a per-show average of about 51 people per performance. That's about 1,000 more tickets than last year, but there is an additional venue this year. Last year's per-show average over the first weekend was also about 51. In all, Fringe organizers estimate that 7,000 people attended shows over the weekend.

Of course, not all Fringe shows are created equal. Seventeen shows sold over the weekend. Some were more than expected. Joseph Scrimshaw can sell out the massive Rarig Thrust, so his show, How to Swear Like a Minnesotan, in the tiny Rarig Xperimental had sell out written all over it when it was announced.

Others came from an out-of-towner The Zebra Shirt of Lonely Children (albeit an out-of-towner with Minnesota connections), a children's show, and the piece with the Fringe-baiting title of Fashion Risk of the Accidental Nudist.

The sell-outs are a good reminder that advance reservations are available and are a good idea for shows in the smaller venues.

Also, Monday brought word of just how flexible artists can be when it comes to the Fringe. A family emergency forced Fata Morgana to drop out of the festival. Instead of having a dark venue for the remaining trio of performances, Fringe veteran Tim Mooney stepped in with The Greatest Speeches of All Time. Mooney's show is pretty much there in the title, though as this is a Fringe show don't expect just direct oration of the speeches. You can see it at the Playwrights' Center at 8:30 p.m. today, 10 p.m. Thursday, and 4 p.m. Saturday.

Onto a couple of reviews.

I caught some heavy hitters Monday evening. At the New Century, there was Shelly Bachberg Presents: How Helen Keller and Anne Frank Freed the Slaves: The Musical. Created by Michael Gruber, Nikki Swoboda, and Max Wojtanowicz, the musical takes everyone's (well, everyone in theater at least)  favorite political punching bag, Michelle Bachman, and weaves an hour-long satire based on her often shaky understanding of history, politics, and the world at large. It's the kind of thing that has led to plenty of good Brave New Workshop skits over the years, but could it hold up as a full Fringe show? The answer is yes, as the show keeps pushing the edge as American history becomes more and more twisted. By the end, Holocaust victim Frank is battling slave-owning President Lincoln with an assist from Keller.

Beyond the absurd history and satire (Bachberg's fabulous husband makes a few appearances as well) the show's strength is the performances. Kim Kivens is excellent as Bachberg, while Caroline Innerbichler brings the kind of gusto and energy that could lead a full-length Anne Frank musical. The whole piece is slickly produced and engaging, though the clock is ticking as to how long it will remain topical.

Another packed house greeted Trusty Paper Ship's I Make No Promises, but Someone's Going to Die. Annie Scott Riley's absurdist adventure has a lot of ideas in play that don't completely come together.The journey, however, is a lot of fun. The setting is a waiting room that appears like any doctor's office, complete with magazines, cushioned chairs, and an air of nervous dread. The people waiting, however, aren't getting an examination. They are to meet the "Giant Eyeball," which will open, and then they will die. The play doesn't just look at suicide, but the traps we make for ourselves in life. Along the way, we have one character, Adam (Clarence Wethern) who ran away from his first appointment with the GE; another, Brianna (Joanna Harmon), who has tried repeatedly to kill herself with no luck; and her therapist, Doug (John Middleton), who is both terrible at his job and shares a secret that is so awful that it becomes horribly funny.

Oh, and we, the audience, are there watching the action. The characters can occasionally see us, which causes a few freak outs along the way. This last bit is probably the least successful of the elements, and doesn't do much but diffuse the intriguing tension that's happening onstage. Even with the occasional misstep, this is a show not to be missed. (Again, reservations may be a good idea, even at the relatively large Illusion.)

The Fringe runs through August 11. For more information about the 2013 Minnesota Fringe Festival, visit online.

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