Fringe Festival 2015: Touching tributes, sold-out bubble baths

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Broken Bone Bathtub

A cold laid me up Monday evening. Thankfully, there are still plenty of shows to catch up on from the weekend.

High Flight

Here's a perfect example of the best of the Minnesota Fringe Festival. The piece brings together artists from multiple disciplines to create a show that wouldn't fit in with their usual programming. It also provides a haunting, beautiful tribute to a man who went out for a plane ride one summer afternoon and was never seen again.

The man in question is Mike Bratlie, a musician, composer, painter, and family man who took the flight in 2012 to test a new engine. The piece explores the journey and emotions of those left behind. We get music by Mike's Brass, the five-piece group Bratlie led; dance created by Windy Bowlsby; and narration created by Ben Tallen. The brass group (which includes Carin Bratlie Wethern, Mike's daughter and the leader of Theatre Pro Rata) runs through a string of classical, jazz, and pop tunes that bring clarity to the piece's tough emotions.

I'm no dance critic, but the performers matched the intensity (and the occasional humor) of the musicians. Part eulogy for a lost friend and part meditation of loss itself, High Flight pack a wallop throughout.

Total Eclipse of the Heart

Here's another quintessential Fringe show, though one that is not nearly as successful. The Peanut Butter Factory has made oddball shows for years. This time, they look to deconstruct Bonnie Tyler's 1983 hit, "Total Eclipse of the Heart."

Well, the ensemble decided to go deeper than just that. The song has been turned into an ongoing soap opera. It's a soap opera with a strong interest in modern art, with instances of mistaken identity, sudden changes of heart, and an almost-literal red herring right in the middle.

It's really too diffuse to keep our attention, even for 45 minutes. There are discrete moments that work well, but the whole thing just falls flat. Not unlike plenty of other Fringe shows in the past.

Broken Bone Bathtub

At the end of her one-woman show, Siobhan O'Loughlin mentioned she hoped to bring the piece back to the Twin Cities in the future. Her run at the Fringe sold out before the festival even started. That wasn’t too much of a surprise, as she can only perform to seven people at a time.

O’Loughlin does the whole show naked in a suds-filled bathtub (the bathtub of former Fringe director Robin Gillette, playing the perfect host/house manager). She’s recreating a time from a couple of years ago when she broke her hand in a bike accident and would use friends' bathtubs to bathe. That experience led her to think about the connections we make among ourselves and the troubles we can have with that in the fast-paced and impersonal modern world.

The intimate show isn’t so much a performance as a conversation. O’Loughlin involves the whole audience in the piece, as she asks questions and opens up talk among a group of strangers. It’s a moving, uplifting, and even empowering experience that hopefully more folks will get to experience in the future.

The 2015 Minnesota Fringe Festival runs through Sunday.


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