Fringe Day 7: A zebra shirt, old shoes, and pauses

Matthew Trumbull

Matthew Trumbull

A Wednesday-evening triple header started out at the James Sewell Ballet Tek Box to see Matthew Trumbull's The Zebra Shirt of Lonely Children. I attempted to go the show last Saturday, but the person in front of me nabbed the last ticket. With a reservation in hand for Wednesday evening (a good idea with this show), I got a chance to see Trumbull's heartfelt and heartbreaking piece.

Trumbull may have his acting career in New York City, but he's a native Minnesotan. The story he tells is soaked in local atmosphere as he recounts his father's final days, and the somewhat surreal scenes that happened after.

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Trumbull's father, a practical-thinking engineer, had donated his body to the University of Minnesota for medical study, so in place of undertakers, a pair of medical students arrived on the family doorstep in 2003 for the final journey.

Trumbull recounts that day, but also takes side trips backwards and forward, examining the singular man at the center of the story and the obvious hole it has left in his only son's life. Trumbull is a seasoned performer who keeps his outward emotions cool enough to let the power of his stories ring true. This isn't a maudlin piece. There is absurd humor along the way, from a meeting with a funeral director to his stint, fresh out of college, at a low-rent hotel in Hopkins. All of it combines to give the show a tremendous, powerful wallop.

More strong emotions, and a near sell out, came next at the Music Box Theatre for Transatlantic Love Affair's These Old Shoes. The company has built a tremendous following over the past few years, and their signature style of performing without sets and props (using the actors to define them when they are needed) took a sentimental turn this year.

The story centers on lovers separated by 60 years, the Korean War, and youthful choices. As an old man, Jim, prepares to move from his home into senior-citizen housing, his memories take him back to a time when he was a young man on the edge of his adult life. The ending is a little pat, but it is also well earned by the work of the company, especially Derek Lee Miller as Jim.

After two packed houses, my night ended in a nearly deserted Theatre in the Round for a pair of Harold Pinter plays, Landscape and Night. Pinter is a tough sell at any time, and these pieces strip the storytelling down to the bare essentials. Both work in on the Nobel Prize winner's favorite themes, as characters talk at cross purposes to each other.

In Landscape, that is intensified greatly as the two characters exist in two different mental states. They may share the same physical space, but one talks aloud to fill the silence, while the other recounts memories in her mind. Along the way, there is a sense of the shared story the characters have, and how they have arrived in this place. 

The short Night continues the theme, though the characters are in a conversation. It's an old idea of a couple having different memories of their first date, but given a particularly clinical vibe here.

Actors Bob Malos and Bethany Ford do solid work as they, along with director Bryan Bevell, dig into the underpinnings of the two plays, bringing some emotion into the brittle worlds on display.

The 2013 Minnesota Fringe Festival continues through Sunday. For ticket reservations and more information, visit online.