Fringe Festival 2015: Weekend highlights

Trevor Goris as Dorian Gray.

Trevor Goris as Dorian Gray.

A busy weekend at the 2015 Minnesota Fringe Festival meant plenty of long lines, unusually intimate settings, and getting to one show with mere seconds to spare. It also meant plenty of shows. Reviews of the festival will run all week, but here are a few weekend highlights.

Pretty Girls Make Graves

Loudmouth Collective

This isn’t quite like “Stuck in the Middle with You” from Reservoir Dogs, but The Smiths “The Queen is Dead” will never be the same after the final moments of Sam Landman’s Pretty Girls Make Graves.

There’s quite a twist that comes at the end of the show, which -– as good twists do -– both makes you re-examine everything that has been said to that point, and makes it hard to write a full review without spoiling it all.

Basically, BMX is cleaning her brother’s apartment after he died. His current girlfriend, Carla, stops by to pick up some of her things. The pair talks, drink a lot, and take a few hits of pot.

They talk about the dead man, and the messed-up paths they’ve taken to get to this point. How do the Smiths fit into all of this? BMX is obsessed with Morrissey, Marr, and the other two guys that no one remembers. In fact, she has reduced her musical life to the band’s five albums and 71 songs.

Katie Willer (BMX) and Emily Dussault (Carla) breathe plenty of life into Landman’s often funny, sometimes horrifying script, and the use of actual Smiths (and at one point, Jethro Tull) vinyl is a brilliant touch.

And it got me to pull my own Smiths vinyl out. There are worse ways to spend a Sunday morning.

The Picture of Dorian Gray

New Epic Theater

Making a deep play about shallow people is a tough assignment. Having Oscar Wilde in your corner certainly helps, as you can see in Joseph Stodola’s re-imagined Dorian Gray.

The guts of Wilde’s original are there: A beautiful young man retains his beauty by swapping his soul out into a portrait. The image turns uglier and uglier, while Dorian is able to do whatever his heart desires. It also means that Dorian can’t feel anymore, and this leads him to terrible and ice-cold acts.

Stodola embraces the modern, using severe lighting, pounding techno, and stark staging to bring out the empty lives of the young people populating Dorian’s world. Trevor Goris has the sharp features and white-blond hair that brings to mind a more angular Andy Warhol. It’s a perfect look for the title character.

Still, the impact wasn’t as strong as I had hoped. Maybe we needed more of Dorian’s friends and lovers to make sense of what’s happening. He’s an empty vessel, but they could be developed beyond tortured artist or failing actress.

Shelly Bachberg Presents: Orange is the New POTUS

The Catalysts are back with another political-themed musical. So is their creation Shelly Bachberg, a crazed conservative politician from the northern Twin Cities’ suburbs.

Just like Michele Bachmann, Bachberg has fallen on hard times. She’s in a minimum-security prison for campaign finance fraud and has to share her cell with a trio of left-leaning criminals.

She has to use all of her guile and knowledge of how to push the right buttons to get the three of them on her side, escape, and ride the wave to the presidency.

The concept still has some legs — let’s face it, crazy and Republican go hand in hand these days — but Bachman’s faded star take away some of the urgency. On a performance level, the show needs a bit of work. The actors are fine (especially Kim Kivens as Bachberg), but some of the song and dance numbers had hard-to-hear lyrics.

The 2015 Minnesota Fringe Festival runs through Sunday.