Fringe Days 2-4: Never fear, the actors will save America

The first weekend of the 2014 Minnesota Fringe Festival brought the usual cornucopia of long lines and sweaty runs to make it to the theater before the drop-dead door-closing deadline.

Somehow, none of that really matters, though that usually changes by the end of the festival. For now, the long lines are a chance to visit with strangers and find out what shows we should be taking in at the Fringe. The running? Well, it's a bit of exercise to go with all of the sitting that comes with the festival.

See also: Fringe Day 1: Running into inanimate objects

Onto the shows:

Failure: A Love Story

There's no guessing what's going to happen in Philip Dawkins play. Even the program lays it out. There are three Fail sisters, and all are going to die within a year of each other. It's not the events, but the telling that makes this clever and moving show work. A strong cast creates the somewhat absurd situation. A suitor, Mortimer Mortimer, begins to woo the sisters in turn, but death keeps getting in the way. It could be unbearably twee, but there's serious heart in Dawkins's script and the top-notch cast finds a solid mix of funny and sad.

Kafka Nuts

Physical comedy meets existential angst in the latest piece from Comedy Suitcase's Joshua English Scrimshaw and Levi Weinhagen. The pair play a classic, Marx Brothers-inspired comedy double act who run roughshod through the pleasant, oppressive streets of Minnefreeapolis. They're out to help poor Zeppo K, a pantless schlub who has been dragged into a, well, rather Kafka-esque world. Really, this is about honoring the great comics of the past. The greatest moment comes when, in one routine, Scrimshaw and Joe Bozic both end up in the same massive pair of pants for a few minutes of pure comic gold.

New York's Shelby Company comes with a solid concept in Real Dead Ghosts, but the strong performances can't save a show based on two rather uninteresting characters. Lara Hillier and Nathaniel Kent play Amber and Graham, a couple whose relationship appears to be on the rocks. That plays out over the evening before their fifth anniversary.

It's implied that we are watching a memory of their fight, and that the "ghosts" have played it out over and over again, attempting to make it right. The trouble is that their situation isn't all that interesting and moves along at a glacial pace. The actors work mightily hard to bring the proceedings to life.

Tourist Trap

There are certain things you usually only hear at Fringe shows. Things like, "Watch the blood as you walk through." Tim Uren's Tourist Trap brings blood, humor, and a bit of South Dakota history to boot. We visit a creepy house that is dedicated to a 19th-century mad cult leader who met a grisly end. From the start, it's clear that there is something odd in the air. Maybe it's the creepy tour guide, or perhaps it's the chair with leather restraints. It doesn't take long for the nightmare to come to life, though Uren's script never loses its sense of humor. The quintet of actors quickly build up their relationships, which adds extra weight to the bloodletting that is to come.

Our American Assassin: Or You Can't Handle the Booth

Making fun of actors and acting is like shooting fish in a barrel, especially at the Fringe. The merry and foul-mouthed crew at Mainly Me Productions are clearly aware of this as they go ahead anyway in this terrifically funny farce. The play offers a twist on Lincoln's murder, where the company that was onstage while the president is shot decides to solve the mystery on their own and track down Mr. Booth and save the reputation of actors everywhere. It, of course, goes horribly wrong, which makes it gloriously funny, whether it is a gag with two actors, the supposed corpse of John Wilkes Booth, or a confrontation between Shanan Custer's lead actress and the dead president.

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