Here's a small sampling of shows from the first weekend of the Minnesota Fringe Festival. Find more reviews online at citypages.com. The festival runs through Sunday.
Something's Gone Wrong in the Dreamhouse
Understand this: When you attend Something's Gone Wrong in the Dreamhouse, you will participate. The company hands out homemade shakers, and audience members may be plucked out to help with backup vocals. The Northern Irish ensemble merges music, poetry, spoken word, and multimedia images to examine the politics and plight of life in the 1930s. This is angry, political punk rock without the electric guitars, though a version of Willie Williams's "Armagideon Time" brought out all of the cold fury of the famous Clash cover version. Intermedia Arts. 8:30 p.m. Wed., 5:30 p.m. Sat., 4 p.m. Sun.
7 (x1) Samurai
David Gaines studied and later taught at the Ecole Jacques Lecoq in Paris (the same school that produced the original core members of Theatre de la Jeune Lune), and his expert clowning and, yes, mime skills are on display. Over the course of an hour, Gaines re-creates Akira Kurosawa's Seven Samurai using just his body, his skills, and a pair of masks, with impressive results. Rarig Proscenium. 7 p.m. Sat.
Smothers Brothers Grimm
The men behind Comedy Suitcase—Joshua Scrimshaw and Levi Weinhagen—take us on a trip through familiar fairy tales, with the able help of Shanan Custer, Eric Webster, and Andrew Moy. The key conceit is that these tales are being told via the stylings of 20th-century comics. So Hansel and Gretel gets the Laurel and Hardy treatment, while Sleeping Beauty turns into an epic silent-film comedy. The latter is the best, as the actors can showcase their physical skills without being confined to aping a particular performer. Rarig Thrust. 7 p.m. Thur., 4 p.m. Fri., 2:30 p.m. Sun.
Joseph Scrimshaw teams up with two of the best performers in the Twin Cities for his latest Fringe effort. The idea of a world where people can transform into other objects is a great one. And while the story is a bit thin, the remarkable skills of the trio, and Scrimshaw's often very funny script, move it along so quickly you don't care. Scrimshaw is joined by Mo Perry and Randy Reyes, and the three are fully transformed by their imaginations, whether they're turning into something straightforward like a cat, or something a bit tougher to perform, like a handheld electric mixer. Rarig Thrust. 7 p.m. Wed., 4 p.m. Sat.
Macbeth: The Video Game Remix
I admit I was getting pretty loopy by this point in the evening, but this Theatre Arlo piece certainly hit a personal sweet spot, combining one of my favorite bits of the Bard with a spot-on parody of video games, especially quest-happy MMORPGs like World of Warcraft. We follow a neophyte player (Tim Uren) who somehow manages to embark on a rare quest to become the King of Scotland. His real-world wife (Dawn Krosnowski) partners with him—after looting his dead corpse, naturally—to get in on the fun. A knowing script and good performances fuel the hour-long madness. Rarig Thrust. 5:30 p.m. Thur., 7 p.m. Fri., 4 p.m. Sun.
Fletcher and Zenobia Save the Circus (by Edward Gorey)
Live Action Set brings the children's book to glorious life at the Mill City Museum. Five performers inhabit the characters, including Fletcher (a cat) and Zenobia (a dog), who help a wayward circus put on a show after all its stars and animals flee a train wreck. Physical action is a Live Action Set hallmark, and that side of the comedy comes out crystal clear. Gorey's book is also full of wordplay and puns, which director Sara Richardson (in her program notes) says are intact. I'm not sure, as much of the dialogue from my perch in the back of the improvised house was badly muffled. Mill City Museum. 7 p.m. Fri., 4 and 7 p.m. Sat., 2:30 and 5:30 p.m. Sun.
Comedy = Tragedy + Someone Else
I've always liked Mike Fotis's storytelling style, just him with his notebook sharing stylized moments of his life. However, the Danger Committee—the mad trio of jugglers led by knife thrower Caleb McEwen—don't agree, and arrive onstage to help Fotis spice up his act. What follows is a bracing piece that showcases the different talents of the four performers. The highlight comes with McEwen doing a "safe" version of his knife-throwing act, hurling teddy bears and massive spitballs (via a high-tech slingshot) at Fotis while he tries to complete a story about a swimming test. Rarig Thrust. 5:30 p.m. Sat., 1 p.m. Sun.
Denmo Ibrahim's transformation in Baba is a remarkable thing to watch. The performer pulls together a new identity out of a suitcase, transforming into a portly Egyptian American who is trying to get his daughter's passport for a trip back to the home country. At least, that's what it seems at first. This isn't just the familiar immigrant's story, full of misunderstandings about customs or fighting against the racism he finds. This is about this one deeply flawed man who, it becomes clear, isn't just heading for a vacation home. That story, and the way Ibrahim brings it to life, is what makes Baba one of the highlights of the 2011 festival. Playwrights' Center. 8:30 p.m. Thur., 4 p.m. Fri., 10 p.m. Sat.