Fringe Days 2-4: Production up by the skin of their teeth

Luke Soucy in Pullman Car Hiawatha.
Luke Soucy in Pullman Car Hiawatha.
Image courtesy Blue Water Theatre

The crowds were out in full force around Minneapolis over the weekend. Not just for the Fringe Festival, but for multiple art fairs, a Twins series against a team they could actually beat, and the generally beautiful weather. It was like we were living in a big city or something.

At the Fringe, this meant plenty of lines and a bevy of sellouts. For example, there were 10 shows filled to capacity Saturday. Some were in the smaller venues, but a few were in medium-sized spots. All of the shows I took in were well attended.

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For Blue Water Theatre's Charlie Leonard, the Fringe was almost over before it began. Leonard runs the youth-based company from Wayzata. For the Fringe, the company typically produces a piece created or driven by the young performers. In this case, Sam Weisberg, who directed a production of Company last summer at the Bryant-Lake Bowl, and is bound for Emerson College, chose to adapt Thornton Wilder's obscure one-act Pullman Car Hiawatha into a short musical.

For Leonard, that meant making sure the rights were secured from the Wilder estate. Working with Samuel French, he was able to get everything set. The agreement was reached. The fees were paid. Everything was fine.

Until Tuesday, when he received a notice from the Wilder estate telling him to stop producing the "unauthorized" show. "There was a simple misunderstanding," Leonard says. "Since we never contacted them directly, and were working through Samuel French, they didn't recognize the name Blue Water Theatre Company. But after a few frantic phone calls and emails, Samuel French got it all straightened out."

Then on Thursday, Leonard received an email from a representative at Samuel French telling them that the license had never been paid and that they needed to cease the production. Leonard, who had sent a check to the company back in May, passed that information along via email, and then, later in the day, called the theater clearinghouse.

it turns out that the person who "sent" the email hadn't worked for Samuel French for months, and that the check that was sent in never had cleared. "It's probably on Jabez's desk somewhere," Leonard says.

A quick payment later, Pullman Car Hiawatha was saved for its Saturday premiere. You can read more about what I thought in Wednesday's newspaper, but it certainly is a worthy piece that encompasses the experimentation at the heart of the Fringe.

Some theater thoughts:

Lesley Tsina has a great story to tell in Lord of the Files. Back in 2006, she worked for new media company about to be swallowed up, with one set of layoffs to start, and one to follow nine months in the future. The reward for making it the full time? Severance, a bonus, and unemployment. With that carrot in her sights, Tsina toiled away in an increasingly bizarre work situation.

The story is good, and the Los-Angeles based writer and performer has a nicely tuned script. Her performance, however, never fully met up with the material. At times, her voice would drop to the point that she was impossible to hear, and I was sitting less than 10 feet away. 

Matthew A. Everett has crafted fully engaging shows in the past. How to Date a Werewolf (or, Lonesome, Wild and Blue) isn't one of them. While using horror-movie motifs is a good way to explore real-world problems, the analog between Terry's (Meaghan DiSciorio) lycanthropy and AIDS pretty much screams at you; while zombie Glenn (Katie Starks) is seemingly being punished for not fully appreciating the moments of life; sort of like a blood-spattered Our Town.

The main fault, however, is that the material just isn't gripping enough. There are moments that work extremely well, such as the very funny opening minutes  as a Doctor (played by Joy Dolo, who also takes on the balance of the characters and is a real treat to watch throughout the show) gives Terry her diagnosis, and explains about what her life is going to be like from here on out. Dolo also has plenty of fun as the various folks who attempt to date Terry, from a socially awkward soul who thinks dating a werewolf will hide her own failings; to a real furry wannabe.

Everett doesn't do enough with the farcical implications of either a werewolf or a zombie in everyday life. Too much time is spent on maudlin and dull conversations about missing love that all of the energy is drained from the theater.

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

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