Must-see Fringe Festival shows

The cast of Nightmare Without Pants, a play true to its name
Craig VanDerSchaegen/Minnesota Fringe

The 19th edition of the Minnesota Fringe Festival got off with a bang Thursday evening and rolled through the weekend, featuring 163 productions across the Twin Cities. Here is but the briefest sampling of those shows, which will continue through Sunday. Watch City Pages' Dressing Room blog at for more reviews.

Billy Beechwood and the Mountain of Terror

Mt. Terror has never been scaled, but 12-year-old Billy Beechwood will do it to save his town and regain the family honor lost when his father failed in his attempt. Before it's all done, he'll contend with mustard makers, a mad scientist, a "thousandaire" with a love for airships, and even a yeti. The latest from Ferrari McSpeedy moves along at a blazing clip, leaving plenty of chaos in its wake. I wouldn't expect anything less from these improv and Brave New Workshop vets, though sometimes the show is too sloppy for its own good. (University of Minnesota Rarig Thrust, Saturday at 7 p.m.)

Font of Knowledge

Slamming together noir, spy thrillers, '50s science-fiction films, and a love of typography, the latest from the Shelby Company is perfect Fringe fodder: a piece that is funny, absurd, and perfect for the hour-long slot. The plot involves Soviet spies, a Howard Hughes-like madman, and the most dangerous of all fonts, Helvetica (not the bland one we all know and use; that's a front to hide the truth). Playwright Jonathan A. Goldberg crafts a bright and funny story, while the company embraces every odd nook and cranny of the tale, such as portraying the president in disguise by wearing a false mustache and a sash that says "disguise." (Mixed Blood Theatre. Friday at 8:30 p.m., Saturday at 5:30 p.m.)

The Gentlemen's Pratfall Club

There's some kind of plot going on in Levi Weinhagen's and Joshua English Scrimshaw's latest creation, but that's not what's important. What's important is Scrimshaw first taking a series of falls over four chairs and then, a few minutes later, tumbling from the top of the stairs at the Southern Theater all the way to the floor of the stage. As the title promises, there are pratfalls galore, along with a fight featuring a French baguette versus a bagel, Weinhagen's numb-legged job interview (he'd been hit with a dart poisoned with an extract of banana ... oh never mind), and — finally — a wordless routine that proves that comedy may be hard and painful, but it can be so much fun to watch. (Southern Theater, Thursday at 10 p.m., Friday at 7 p.m., Sunday at 2:30 p.m.)

The Gay Banditos

So, what if exposure to gay people actually made you gay? And what if roving mobs of gay folks invaded your town, bringing dance music, disco balls, and free-loving, sweaty sex? In the hands of the Mechanical Division, this conceit makes for a probing (heh heh) look into the modern American psyche, where innocent small-town folks have their lives ruined during one long, fabulous night. Presented as an after-the-fact documentary, the play scores a lot of on-the-nose points, but it really hums when it digs into the dark and unspoken fears of the main characters. (University of Minnesota Rarig Thrust, Wednesday at 7 p.m., Saturday at 1 p.m., Sunday at 7 p.m.)

Joe Dowling's William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet on the Moon, featuring Kate Mulgrew as Lady Capulet

Christopher Kehoe has made a habit out of intriguing Fringe pieces, but the latest from the Peanut Butter Factory hits it completely out of the park. Serving as a satire and exploration of the theater-making and theater-going experience, Joe Dowling's... merges broad satire and comedy (hey, look, there's a funny, awkward robot as the padre who helps Romeo!) with a look at how different audiences experience the theater — from a snooty theater critic to an angry college professor to a man finding an unexpected connection while watching an absolutely mad production. (Theatre in the Round, Saturday at 1 p.m., Sunday at 7 p.m.)

Nightmare Without Pants

The whole shebang is there in the title of Joseph Scrimshaw's latest Fringe piece. This story of a woman forced to find love in 45 minutes is definitely a nightmare — what else could explain the nightmarish pony that haunts her — and the three male actors perform sans trousers. Beyond that, there is the usual mad humor tossed with moments of real human insight performed by an absolutely stacked cast that, along with Scrimshaw, includes John Riedlinger, Anna Sundberg, Shanan Custer, and John Middleton, who steals the show even with a can of unopened Pabst Blue Ribbon held in front of his mouth for a good chunk of the show. (See, it really is a nightmare.) (University of Minnesota Rarig Thrust, Wednesday at 5:30 pm., Friday at 10 p.m., Saturday at 8:30 p.m.)

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