There’s a reason Fringe rhymes with binge, especially now that the Minnesota Fringe Festival is on a day-pass model. The wristband system, which debuted last summer to generally positive reviews, means that instead of selling tickets to individual shows, the Fringe sells passes good for every show in a given day.
In other words, if you’re going to see one play you might as well see several: You’ve paid for them, and it’s very much in the Fringe spirit to take chances and get outside your comfort zone. Of course, there’s no need to operate purely on wild guesses. We’re here to get you started with a guide to this year’s 167 shows, organized by neighborhood for maximum venue-hopping convenience.
Once the festival starts, watch for reviews on citypages.com, and keep an eye on the Fringe’s website for audience takes that drive a lot of buzz as shows compete for each venue’s coveted encore slot, which is determined by attendance. Make a game plan, have fun, and stay hydrated.
810 W. Lake St., Minneapolis
You can grab beer and maybe a light snack at most Fringe venues, but the BLB is the only spot where you can straight-up order dinner to eat during a show. While you drink your Bloody Mary and munch on your grass-fed beef, you can enjoy a play (and try not to be distracted by the occasional cheer for a 10-pin strike in the next room).
The cozy and festive space lends itself to fun, small-scale shows, like David Lawson’s Flyer Guy, a monologue based on the performer’s years of handing out flyers in Times Square. Then there’s The End of the World Sing-Along Hour, with an ensemble that reimagines the protest song for an era when nothing makes sense and everything’s going to hell. It also wouldn’t be Fringe without a coming-out story, and Penny Sterling has won national acclaim for her transition tale Spy in the House of Men: A One-Woman Show With Balls.
HUGE Improv Theater
3037 Lyndale Ave. S., Minneapolis
The Fringe’s southern outpost, HUGE, provides a space ripe for audience engagement. Watch out, then, for Knifeslingin’! Portraying Ted “Critter” Montana, J. Merrill Motz promises to share his blade-wielding secrets.
Satire also goes over well at HUGE, and gumshoe fans will want to catch ace actor Aidan Jhane Gallivan as a detective searching for the Larcenist Arsonist in The Murmur of Murder. The Hamlet riff Swoopstake features a twist on Shit-Faced Shakespeare, with Ophelia still hypnotized from a stage demonstration.
There’s also some real drama happening at this comedy venue. With Fringe vet Pat O’Brien directing, Mortimer Productions is presenting a take on Edward Albee’s The Zoo Story. Professional companies can only stage that one-act play as part of a longer work… but in the free-form Fringe, anything goes. (Don’t tell that to “Critter” Montana.)
2822 Lyndale Ave. S., Minneapolis
Performers have a lot of room to roam on the big stage of this Lyndale Avenue theater and gallery. That makes it a good fit for epic (by Fringe standards) productions like Full Metal Rabbit. If that sounds like a mashup of ’80s war movies and Watership Down, that’s because it is.
The most intriguing spectacle scheduled for Intermedia Arts, though, is Gravitational Collapse, a space opera written by spoken-word star Cole Sarar with music by adventurous artist Dameun Strange. There’s also a pretty perfect cast in place for the alternate-universe Powerpuff Girls comedy Mayor Lear of Townsville, featuring Natalie Rae Wass (Fashion Risk, or the Accidental Nudist) and Emily Rose Duea.
Intermedia Arts also hosts a showcase of artists curated by one of Minnesota’s pioneering queer organizations, under the apt title Wait...Didn’t Patrick’s Cabaret Close? (The answer is no, although its longtime location is now home to the Hook and Ladder Theater & Lounge.)
2951 Lyndale Ave. S., Minneapolis
The Jungle Theater is returning as a Fringe venue after a seven-year absence. That will give theater-goers the opportunity to take in the kind of shows that aren’t often seen at the elegant Lyn-Lake venue.
For example, Al-Bahira Dance Theater is bringing a piece called Dancing with the Enemy (and Other Celebrations of Life) to the Jungle. Many of the other shows slated for the space, though, are darker. In one case, literally darker: The Migraine Room (Photophobia) dramatizes a recent episode when creator Tim Cameron’s migraines got so extreme that he spent six months in an almost constantly lightless room.
If you enjoyed the Jungle’s own summer musical Fly By Night, you might check out Alexander Gerchak’s musical adaptation of Slaughterhouse-Five. It’s a time-bending meditation on the horrors of war, condensed from 288 pages into 50 minutes... with songs. Yep, sounds like Fringe.
2605 Hennepin Ave. S., Minneapolis
Blackout has a home-field advantage at the Phoenix, as the acclaimed African-American improv troupe performs there every third Friday. Their Fringe gig, promising special guests, is sure to be a huge draw. Another surefire hit at the Phoenix is Stranger-er Things, a comedic re-enactment of the Netflix hit. It’s presented by Tom Reed, whose satires of franchises like Twilight and The Hunger Games have made him one of the Fringe’s most reliable brand names.
The Phoenix is also a hotspot for ironic self-improvement this year, with David Mann’s Best of All Possible Worlds and Ed Burke’s Your Motivational Power Hour! both riffing on the topic of business speaking.
The most notorious show at the Phoenix—and, suddenly, in all of this year’s Fringe—is Sean Neely. Technically an eponymous show “about Sean Neely,” it’s in fact the play about pedophilia that sparked litigation when the Fringe banned it last year. Although the Fringe was surprised when Neely revealed he planned to use his slot this year to perform a show actually titled Having Sex With Children in My Brain, at press time Neely was still on the schedule.
2303 Kennedy St. NE, Minneapolis
The Crane Theater is a former appliance warehouse that’s recently been converted into a performance space. It’s a good thing that floor was built to hold refrigerators, because the Fringe is going to shake the Crane’s foundations with a parade of dance performances.
There’s disco (We Would Not Exist Without Disco, a show exploring “one of the greatest human needs,” which, true). There’s hip-hop (FUNKiN’ Good Time, with plenty of popping and locking). There’s modern dance, in both Minnesota Dance Ensemble’s Carmen and in Twin Cities Dance Court’s Passing the Poison.
Square dancing? There Ain’t No More! is a one-man show, but Willi Carlisle will at least do the calling. Or, you can just sit back and take in Melody Mendis’ “like buttah” impersonation of Barbra.
Ritz Theater Mainstage
345 13th Ave. NE, Minneapolis
The crown palace of Northeast Fringe venues has a few of this year’s hottest draws.
Bollywood Dance Scene, the sensation of the past few years’ Fringing, don’t have their own show this year (they’re appearing as part of the Patrick’s Cabaret showcase at Intermedia Arts, on August 12 only), but Fringe-goers can sate their desire for upbeat Indian song and dance with Neha Damle’s comic mystery, A Bollywood Twistery.
Horror is another hot trend in local theater, and there’s a lot of top-notch talent behind The Last Bombardment. Physical-theater vets including Emily Dussault and Jay Kistler star in this adaptation of a short story about adorable babies who hide a nasty surprise.
RomCom-Con is the latest production from Kyle DeGoey, who was behind past years’ popular musical satires of Oregon Trail and Gilligan’s Island. Can Will (Aaron Cook) and Samantha (Erin Kennedy) find true love at a convention for fans of romantic comedies? Not without complications, because that’s just how these things work.
Ritz Theater Studio
345 13th Ave. NE, Minneapolis
Down the alley past the Ritz’s bright facade is a smaller space, home to some of this year’s quirkier shows. (Yes, this is Fringe, so that’s saying a lot.)
The prize for this year’s best show title goes to The Buttslasher, a melodrama about “the cheekiest villain ever.” It’s based on a true story, which you can Google at your own risk. It’s not the only dark comedy at the Ritz inspired by life: Set in the world of Minnesota State Fair food competitions, A Pickle features stage star Angela Timberman (Guthrie Theater, Jungle Theater).
Other Ritz Studio shows take a harder-edged look at life: It Can’t Happen Here adapts Sinclair Lewis’ suddenly relevant 1935 novel, while Cocaine updates a one-act drama from 1916.
824 18th Ave. NE , Minneapolis
Strike Theater was a new addition to last year’s Fringe venue list, built to showcase sketch comedy, storytelling, and spoken word.
Accordingly, this is where you’ll find one-handers (in theater parlance, one-person shows) like The Banana Wars, a politically pointed show about U.S. military involvement in Central America. Ambitious? Sure, but if anyone can pull it off, it’s lauded local actor Derek Lee Miller (Sandbox Theatre, Transatlantic Love Affair).
Speaking of politics, it’s often said that the Trump administration must have Ronald Reagan rolling in his grave. Now the Gipper’s rolling right into Nordeast, reincarnated by playwright Katherine Glover (last year’s very funny Celebrity Exception) and actor Phillip Schramm. The cast of supporting characters in Ronald Reagan: Time Traveler include John Hinckley Jr. (Isabel Middleton-Watts) and Pope John Paul II (Erik Bredeson).
THE WEST BANK
1420 Washington Ave. S., Minneapolis
The Southern Theater’s weathered proscenium will see some strange and epic spectacles this year. One example: Atlas Dynamo’s Burnt Offerings, an apocalyptic conjunction of music (from the Belfast band Scream Blue Murmur) and spoken word.
Mike’s Brass are a Minneapolis brass quintet that happens to include Theatre Pro Rata’s leader Carin Bratlie Wethern. She directs Rumpus, a kid-friendly show combining music, dance, and poetry, inspired by Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are.
If you’re looking for an escape to distant realms, try Mnemosyne (a science-fiction story with hypnotic choreography by Taja Will). Stick around for De Hjerteløse (The Heartless), an epic from Norse mythology starring Jayme Godding (a standout in Theatre Coup d’Etat’s Antigone).
Mixed Blood Theatre
1501 S. Fourth St., Minneapolis
Mixed Blood’s newly expanded lobby should help cut down on the time you spend standing around on 15th Avenue waiting to see this year’s most in-demand shows, a few of which always seem to land here.
Josh Carson—a ubiquitous comic actor who’s really the Minnesota Fringe Festival’s mascot, no matter what they try to make us believe about kittens and aliens—is doubling down at Mixed Blood this year. He’s hosting Repertoire Dogs (famous scenes “recast” with celebrity impressions) and co-starring with Andy Rocco Kraft in The Wright Stuff (a goof on the invention of powered flight).
More must-see comedy comes from the women of Raw Sugar, who take on swim-dancing in Synchronicity; and from Joey Hamburger, who turns his signature rapid-fire wit on a parody of Pinocchio. Also at Mixed Blood, Fringe superstar Ben San Del presents some “supernatural speculations” in his storytelling show Spec.
Theatre in the Round
245 Cedar Ave., Minneapolis
What might be the most essential show of this year’s Fringe comes from right in the venue’s West Bank neighborhood: Making It Home, a showcase spotlighting Somali storytellers who talk about the realities of their lives in Minnesota.
Beyond those realities, Theatre in the Round is also hosting several fantasies. One sure draw features Tyler Michaels and Tyler Mills, principals of the new Trademark Theater. Their Fringe show comes under the auspices of Bearded Men Improv, who roll “an actual 20-sided die” to determine the course of Swords & Sorcery: The Improvised Fantasy Campaign.
Fringe producers love to delve into weird little corners of history. In Hello, I Must Be Going... writer/director Garrett Rademacher zeroes in on the final years of Groucho Marx (Ari Hoptman, of the Coen Brothers’ A Serious Man) in the 1970s, when the octogenarian had thirtysomething actor Erin Fleming as a close and controversial companion.
Rarig Center Arena
330 21st Ave. S., Minneapolis
The Fringe’s other in-the-round space tends to draw the dramas, and this year’s prime example is Odd Man Out, a homecoming story written and directed by Kory LaQuess Pullam, one of the area’s best and busiest theater artists.
Two other shows here are pegged to anniversaries, though differently timed by an order of magnitude. This year is the 50th anniversary of the Summer of Love, and “1967” has Baby Boomers sharing their memories of that tumultuous year. It’s also the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, and Katie Versus the Devils takes a comedic look at the life of Martin Luther’s wife, Katharina Von Bora.
Every Fringe has to have a high-concept Star Wars parody, and this year’s iteration is The Tragedy of Obi-Wan Kenobi. From Chewie to the Emperor, the whole gang shows up in this—need it be said?—epic tale that casts poor ol’ Ben as the villain.
Rarig Center Thrust
330 21st Ave. S., Main Floor, Minneapolis
This is the big one: Rarig’s Thrust is the Fringe’s largest venue, with an “Alpine Slope” of upper-tier seating that only the most rapturously received shows are able to fill. Will any of this year’s offerings manage the feat?
Don’t bet against Couple Fight 3: Weddings! This third iteration of a concept created by Anna Weggel-Reed and Tom Reed (a married pair themselves) reenacts actual arguments between an all-star cast of couples including Shanan Custer and Eric Webster, Levi Weinhagen and Laura Zabel, and last year’s ringers Lacey and John Zeiler.
Weinhagen also shows up in Intermediate Physical Comedy for Advanced Beginners, a loopy lecture with his Comedy Suitcase partner Joshua Scrimshaw. Then Scrimshaw, Webster, and Custer take the stage with The Mysterious Old Radio Listening Society, presenting a pair of horrifically funny radio dramas.
Other contenders (watch the early reviews) include the Bollywood show Dancing Bare Feet; the pirate musical Get Hooked; Good Kids, a drama about sexual assault starring students from Eagan High School; and sentimental favorite Wellstone: A Minnesotan Musical.
Rarig Center Xperimental
330 21st Ave. S., Minneapolis
This tiny space has only 99 seats, so a little word-of-mouth can lead to quick sellouts—consider making a reservation if there’s a show here you really want to see.
A top pick for this stage: Ifrah Mansour’s one-woman How to Have Fun in a Civil War was a heart-wrenching look at the Somali conflict through a young girl’s eyes. At the Fringe, she explores a refugee’s journey in Finding Mohamed.
The Xperimental lineup also features two more of the Twin Cities’ best actresses, starring in very different shows. Playwright Martin Zimmerman’s On the Exhale will provide a powerful showcase for Jane Froiland as a mother coping, in her own way, with a tragic loss. Jen Maren, superb star of the History Theatre’s Glensheen, presents Live From New York, He’s a Prom Date! It’s an autobiographical tale about how Maren’s mom put her on The Sally Jessy Raphael Show because—yes, really—she needed a prom date.
As always, a couple of shows go off the beaten path. Vox Medusa, the most mystical of Fringe dance companies, is partnering with Infiammati FireCircus this year, so it’s just as well they’ll be outdoors at Boom Island Park for Medusa. In Bear Eats Bear, Texas playwright Lydia Blaisdell takes the Kenwood Community Center as the jumping-off point for a cassette-driven adventure into a post-apocalyptic wilderness. Whoa.
The Fringe Festival runs August 3-13. Visit www.fringefestival.org for tickets and more information, or call 612-872-1212.