Fringe Day 6: Time to catch my breath

<i>A Brief History of Irish Music.</i>

A Brief History of Irish Music.

Prior engagements kept me away from the Minnesota Fringe Festival Tuesday night, but I had been prepared as there were a couple of shows I had watched but not reviewed.

Earlier in the festival, my theater side and geek side combined for Who's on First. As someone whose first published writing was Doctor Who fan fiction (and who waited with baited breath Sunday to find out Peter Capaldi was the new Doctor), it was a production that I couldn't miss.

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As it turns out, the creators hail from the edge of the world: Bayfield, WI. That's up on the south shore of Lake Superior by the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore. I spent a few years in the 1990s at the beginning of my career learning my trade at the nearby Daily Press in Ashland, so I felt a bit of kinship there.

I chatted with show creator Liz Woodward a bit about the piece's genesis and performing in a festival four hours from home (unlike most out-of-town companies, they were able to head home during the week before returning for tomorrow's performance).

Woodward participated in last year's Fringe with The Habits of 7 Highly Offensive People. That was a one-woman show. "I thought that if I ever did another Fringe, I would want to do it with some other folks. I think actors always do their best work with friends, so I started thinking about doing something with my Stagenorth [a professional theater in nearby Washburn] buddies."

A long love of Doctor Who, and the show's 50th anniversary (November 23) made the program a clear choice. It also connected to the Bayfield company with the larger Doctor Who community in the Twin Cities. "I love to see the cosplayers out in the audience. The first night, we had some women from the Twin Cities TARDIS Tea Society dressed up as different doctors. They were hard-core and quite lovely, with impressive costumes. The cast had a drink with them after the show to talk some 'Who' and they knew their stuff, for sure," Woodward says.

Apart from that, the cast has been doing what most artists do during the festival: seeing other shows. Woodward had her family with her for the first weekend, so she ended up doing more Minnesota touristy things, from watching the Twins to going to Valley Fair. 
"I have a list of shows I want to see.  I've been hearing great things about Stuck in An Elevator with Patrick Stewart and as with most Whovians, I am also a very big Star Trek fan, so that is definitely on my to-do list," she said.

Onto a couple more reviews:

At least once a festival, my careful schedule breaks down and I find myself at the wrong venue or at the wrong time. That happened Sunday afternoon, and (as I usually do) I got a ticket for the show in front of me and took it in. 

If Cocaine & Ethel Merman: The New Homo Guide was a mistake, it was a happy one. While the gay confessional has long been a staple of theater, especially at Fringes, creator L. Robert Westeen has a strong, larger message to bring out through his own difficult teenage years. The title is a bit of a tease, as that scene, after a Gay 90's hookup, is just a precursor to the journey Westeen took earlier.

The bulk of the piece explores his own early life, and the support system he found to make it through, from his gay "parents" (a couple who took him in after he left his abusive home) to the school librarian who gave him a vital education in gay history. Finally, there was the hairstylist whose life and death profoundly affected Westeen. All of this comes through in a funny and sometimes moving performance.

A Brief History of Irish Music is certainly the first and third, but certainly not the second. Performed by the Dregs, a collection of Irish-obsessed musicians who also have spent time in previous Fringe shows, the piece mixes traditional (and not so traditional) Irish tunes with stories behind the music that have little to do with reality.

That's the fun, of course. The tales are fairly well balanced with the music, though the acting could have been a little sharper, if only to heighten the comedy of each of the scenes. Still, it's the kind of show that makes you wish you had a drink in hand. (Note: the New Century Theatre does have a bar, so belly up!)

The 2013 Minnesota Fringe Festival continues through Sunday. Find more information online.