More Fringe reviews: Wanderlust, Tap Me on the Shoulder, Lolita

Erika Kate MacDonald performing Tap Me on the Shoulder
Erika Kate MacDonald performing Tap Me on the Shoulder
Jonathan Farmer

Though the Minneapolis Fringe Festival is rightly noted for its experimentation and unusual work, it is still held up by shows that fulfill familiar archetypes. Using a structure most of the audience has seen before has its potential pitfalls, but the three shows I took in on day five of Fringe -- an autobiographical comedy, a story of personal transformation, and a literary adaption with a irreverent twist -- managed to mostly avoid them and stay fresh.

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Martin Dockery has been touring Wanderlust at Fringes around the world since 2009, though this is his first time in Minneapolis. It's a familiar story: a disaffected 30-something from Brooklyn escapes his disappointing work and love life to travel to West Africa in search of "an epiphany." However, Dockery makes it clear from the first vignette that the play is more than self-unaware, cocktail-party ramblings. It explores the contradictions behind any search for meaning or maturity, especially one that involves international travel, and does so while pulling the audience along through a frequently hilarious story.

Dockery avoids the common mistake of talking like a standup comedian who's only doing one extended bit by being thoroughly theatrical. His style of delivery has echoes of slam poetry in its rhythm, and is intensely physical. This can be overwhelming at times. Some of the broader jokes, though well executed, wore on after a while. But it mostly works, and the humor moves well beyond the scatological (though it spends a lot of time there, too). The script is tightly structured, and the performance is professional and well-practiced in its madcap zaniness.

A significant percentage of the audience at Erika Kate MacDonald's Tap Me on the Shoulder were artists or staff, and it's easy to see why, as this is definitely Fringer's piece. MacDonald lives in Northhampton, MA, and is part of the Pack of Others theater company in Brooklyn, whose flagship play, FLUID, premiered at Minneapolis Fringe in 2007. In Shoulder, she tells her story of how a white queer women from New Hampshire began appreciating and composing rap music, touching on the strange ways life moves us along and the power of self expression. The material is personal and engaging, if not particularly exciting, and it is told in a free-form style interspersed with samples of raps and charming asides to the audience.

When a show is described as intimate, especially an autobiographical one, I often read a subtext of "prepare to be uneasy." Intimate theater is intense and often highly cathartic, but it can also have a note of voyeurism, or knowing a dark secret you weren't prepared to hear. Tap Me on the Shoulder is certainly personal, and at moments dark, but its intimacy feels more like sitting with a friend you've know for years. It's comfortable, and MacDonald builds a strong connection with the audience though her eloquent conversational style and loose, quasi-improvisational script.

This ease and casualness are also the show's major area for improvement. The segments of MacDonald's raps show her command of rhythm and language, and there could have been more of that in the main body of the play, which was occasionally hindered by its lack of narrative structure and composed prose. Still, the show avoids becoming a ramble, and you leave with a sense of having been invited into a person's home -- a great feeling for Fringe.

Though both of these shows were well attended, Four Humors' Lolita: A Three Man Show was packed, essentially filling the Illusion Theater space on the eighth floor of the Hennepin Center for the Arts. The elevator loads of people traveling up to the packed lobby set the tone for the raucous production that followed. It's a parody of the 1962 Stanley Kubrick film adaption, rather than the novel itself, but a familiarity with the film is by no means a prerequisite to enjoy the piece, which is the latest in the company's long line of inventive comedies at Fringe.

The danger of shows like this, with a strong gimmick right in the premise (or, in this case, the title) is that they become a one-trick pony, always going back to the same well. To be sure, the company milks their casting of the burly Brant Miller as Lolita for all its worth, but the play gets the majority of its mileage from jokes that would have worked just as well if things were performed more traditionally. Some of the best lines are directly from the novel or film, warped beyond recognition by facial expression and delivery. The work is also built around the classic conceit of "the play that we're currently performing is falling apart," used most famously in Noises Off. Some of the funniest moments come from these planned mistakes, though the infrequent moments that seem overly indulgent relate to this aspect of the structure.

The script never treats itself or its source material with any seriousness, and is simply flat-out funny from beginning to end -- the downside being that it's hard to keep up. Even its broadest moments are smartly done, kitsching up the dark heart of the story to the point of absurdity. Lolita lives up to the company's tagline: "We make the beautiful foolish and the foolish beautiful."

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

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