Walking on the Margins

Walking on the Margins
READY OR NOT, the Minnesota Fringe Festival returns for its third scrappy season. Hosted at six theaters within walking distance of each other on the West Bank, the majority of this year's 46 production are local. All play at various times throughout the festival; all run under 90 minutes; all cost eight bucks or less. On the positive side, democratic festivals like this provide fledgling theater companies, jugglers, part-time playwrights, storytellers, and sundry other artists with ultra low-rent venues and, theoretically at least, an audience for their work. On the downside, show quality (see below) can be uneven. So set realistic viewing goals for yourself; be brave and generous in spirit, and most of all, be optimistic. (Through June 30; call 770-6482 for schedule information.) --Michael Tortorello
Through Shite to Shannon

Kevin DiPirro

           This one-man show is an oral road trip--assumably once a true story, now embellished generously with magical realism--that relates a young man's overnight trip from Dublin in the east of Ireland to Shannon in the west. Apparently storyteller Kevin DiPirro visited the island 10 years ago and found crazy love among the country's phantoms, gravestones, and pints of Guinness. He hits his mark often enough: the cosmic serendipity inherent in the best sort of travel; the Irish storytelling reflex; the stupid things a traveler does (like running along a train platform with a backpack, bike, and a suitcase whose handle breaks off at the worst moment); the unattractively proprietary feeling an expatriate develops for his chosen home. DiPirro's fun, funny, and sometimes mystical, if a tad self-impressed. (Sullivan)

Passion Playing

Bedlam Theatre

           This performance collective grows more primitive and more fascinating with each production. For this "montage of oh-so-theatrical morsel/tidbit/appetizers-which-one-tries-to-make-a-meal," the crazy kids employ drums, guitar, a shrieking soprano sax, oversized cardboard puppet-heads, Wizard-of-Oz wicked witch stockings, the biography of Pushkin and an actor enclosed in a duffel bag like a jumping bean. Then there's the tribal body paint. What follows in sketches like "Bestiality" is a kind of prolonged hysteria with little pretense to anything other than maximum chaos. This aesthetic--however cryptic and cacophonous it may be--remains the best known antidote to a night at the Guthrie. (Tortorello)

Love Stories

Skirt Wax Productions

           A new play--really two one-acts, with a closing speech by the author--that considers the psychological torsion of eating disorders. The first piece, "Undergarments," follows a late-late-night conversation in the bedroom of Clara and James, a young couple on the verge of something big and perhaps very bad: Clara is anorexic, and the patient James has grown tired of picking up clumps of her hair. "The Power Elite" portrays a barbed exchange among three young women in a therapy group, goading each other to both 'fess up to various subterfuges, and to eat a bagel. Unfortunately, the one-act form doesn't afford time to map out the characters' psyches with much depth; one ends up knowing quite a bit about these women's eating (or starving) patterns, and too little about the workings of their brains and hearts. (Sullivan)

Blood, Masturbation and

the Vampyre's Creed:

an autobiography

Bill Snyder

           On display here are writer/performer Bill Snyder's tequila-soaked, twentysomething memories of past trysts and his late-night thoughts on life, death, love, and the soul. Yes, they all have something to do with Vampyres. But despite Snyder's frequent assertions that his thoughts are dark and disturbing, there's little here that's even remotely offensive--and even less that's particularly insightful. At best, his observations are poetic and genuinely affecting; at worst, sophomoric. For all his confusion and guilt, Mr. Snyder simply comes across as a nice white boy looking for meaning and significance in his life's events; to his credit, he manages to do so with a surprising lack of self-indulgent ranting (a refreshing change from most autobiographical performance art field trips). (Peterson)

In the Garden

Bald Alice Theatre Company

           Following the company's recent performance of Sam Shepard's apocalyptic one-act "Action," playwright/director Matt Sciple returns with his own post-doomsday drama. Set in an elaborate subterranean shelter, a man and his two grandchildren study the scriptures and await the Rapture. The arrival of a Mad Max-style scavenger (actor Jeff Tatum applying his usual blustery charm) and his promise of an outside world introduces the figurative serpent to this new Eden. Or not so figurative, as the case may be; for while the script is quite good in whole, Sciple wields his allegory a little bluntly. And the ending is sillier than it ought to be. (Tortorello)

Please Stand By... Experiencing Technical Difficulties

Grendel's Mother

           A combination of The Twilight Zone, The Phantom Tollbooth, and Dante's seven circles of hell, in which a directionless slacker whose TV addiction is putting his relationship with his girlfriend in jeopardy gets sucked into an ephemeral TV land. On his transformational journey from being a fuck-up to being a "fuck-up with perspective," Dave must pass through realms both dangerous and fantastical, ruled by various TV genres and characters: Westerns, sci-fi, sitcoms, and detectives. There's also a particularly deadly circle inhabited by TV sidekicks, and a hellishly surreal one involving cartoon characters. More proof that good comedy is really, really hard to do, but a noble effort was made--especially considering this production played to an audience of one. (Reminder: Avoid such situations by never Fringe-ing alone.) (Caniglia)  

Tom Taylor Thomas

Jay Sheib

           What to say of the latest play by the American Aesthetic Institute's Jay Sheib, the adventurous and frighteningly prolific playwright we love to hate? That this story of a man and his mental paralysis makes no sense goes without saying. Here's what is known: Thomas and two friends (one representing sunset, the other, dawn) pantomime through some banal blocking, then repeat the 20-minute loop with verse dialogue. It's better the first time. Sheib's innovation with this play is that Thomas shits his underpants (or perhaps more likely, uses shit makeup), then pulls down his pants and investigates. I feel disgusted. No, make that nauseated. No, make that bored. (Tortorello)

The Blind

Cruz de la Luna

           The audience is blindfolded and seated onstage for the entire course of Maurice Maeterlinck's symbolist masterpiece. And while the skeptic may suspect gimmickry, the surround-sound story that ensues--that of a group of blind men and women lost in deep forest outside the walls of an asylum--is experienced as no other drama. The cast circulate through the chairs. Light rises and falls. Leaves crinkle. And while the blind speak their fear in lyric dialogue, the universe within one's head becomes as deep and dark as the unseen space outside the blindfold. The effect can be exhilarating. (Tortorello)

Seven Blow Jobs

Peter Peter Pumpkin Theater

           First things first: No actual blow jobs occur during the course of this performance. Instead, an envelope with the seven titular glossies arrives unsolicited in the office of a conservative senator. The pictures also have Borzois, bedposts, and grotesquely distended organs. Secretary Dot drops cold on the floor. The senator's aids ogle. They repeat the line, "is that really that" a hundred times, pointing incredulously. While Mac Wellman's tiresome script wears its crude politics in the wrong places, the acting is good; kudos go to Jeff Redman, who froths at the mouth, then performs with a gob of drool mid-chin for 15 minutes. (Tortorello)

Guns 'n' Afros

The Bad Mamma Jammas

           "We want people to think, 'that's freaking weird,'" says Bad Mamma Jamma Victor Varnado. Well, so be it. But this clever ensemble manages to be understandable and easily comic as well. On my visit, the improvisation that turned the lame audience suggestion of "peas" into a cyborg vs. human future society bent on vegetable-eradication was quite impressive, as was their sly faux-TV pilot about a kilt-clad Scottish undercover detective. Surprising sound effects and funky live music accompany these veteran Comedy Sportzers, who have a preview show on public access cable (Wednesdays at 12:30 p.m.). Comedians as light on their feet as these deserve a look, even if they're not so much freaking weird as sharp, exuberant, playful, and funny. (The Bad Mammas have their own hotline: Call 996-9216.) (Moskowitz)

Miss Fluffy's S.O.S

Fluff Productions

           Miss Fluffy's School of Ballet, Tap, Acrobatics, Baton Twirling, and Walking With a Book on Your Head is about to be evicted from its longtime headquarters adjacent to Mister Rasta's Pasta Hut--so it's up to Miss Fluffy to Save Our School with a variety show! Gold shoe tap-dancing, singing, bucket-clogging, and some intimate interaction with Mitzi Gaynor ensue, and it's no wonder Miss Fluffy has so many avid devotees. If you haven't seen Kirsten Lind's one-woman cabaret act around town, drag mom or your wise-acre nephew down to one of her Fringe performances. Miss Fluffy is funny, smart, charming--and she proves definitively that classy and campy needn't be antonyms. (Moskowitz)

The Details Are Mine

Jim Barrett

           Storyteller Jim Barrett looks like he aspires to be a Garrison Keillor replacement, and indeed, this mildly witty compendium of anecdotes about architecture--both Barrett's personal interest in it and Frank Lloyd Wright's megalomaniacal obsession for it--drew the same kind of very white, very comfortable audience as MPR does. As Barrett notes, one has to be either a sinner or a saint to inspire as many books as Wright has (52, only seven fewer than Gandhi), and Wright's one who tried to have it both ways. While he's somewhat critical of the architect's notoriously stormy and hypocritical personal life, Barrett is all-around reverent about his art: As one of the ladies complained afterward, "he never mentioned how impossible it is to heat and cool any of those buildings." (Caniglia)  

The Vicegripper Solution

Galactic Noir Theater

           What did the world need less than Snow White on Ice? How about Revenge of the Nerds Live? But then, I only wish that this self-indulgent, sophomoric horror had the linear plot and mediocre acting of that junior-high film classic. Instead, there's one whole act takes that place as an underlit, "surreal" dream sequence, and lines like: "Everyone gets butterflies before surgery," "Hey! That festering sore looks strangely familiar!" and, before the denouement: "Why don't you tell us what you really did." By the time you hear the line, "Just what I was afraid of--a man-sized rabbit!" you will know all too well what it truly means to waste time. (Moskowitz)

Women Who Waltz
With the Warthogs

The Wild Yam Cabaret

           "Come celebrate the feminine spirit!" beckons the Fringe Fest program. Therefore, I should've known I wouldn't laugh at these four monologues, tied together loosely by the aforementioned spirit. In addressing that spirit, three "creator/performers" call upon Marilyn Monroe, Betty Crocker, and Miss Liberty; however, no attempts are made to explain, condemn, celebrate or reclaim any of them. Rather, once invoked, these icons languish, taking up more space in our imaginations than what is actually presented on stage: a Home Ec teacher's dated lessons, a housewife's late-night therapy session with her neighbors, and Marilyn Monroe's thoughts on playing Lady Macbeth. That last scene somehow devolves into a cha-cha during which she eats cold spaghetti after first rubbing herself with it. Only Carla Vogel's turn as a little girl recalling her mother's suicide achieves any sort of theatrical satisfaction, thanks to her assured stage presence and storytelling skills. Otherwise, the first monologue's title pretty much sums up the audience experience: "What's Wrong Here?" (Peterson)


Giant Theater

           This was the only piece I saw that had a set, and for that Bravado gets a special round of applause. My mistake was to then assume it would have a plot. Like everything else I saw this weekend, it seemed to be desperately trying to live up to the Fringe label: That is, it made a point of mentioning jerking off and pissing. It also made a half-hearted attempt to tackle some sort of homosexuality in which the men talk a lot about their homosexual relationship but only kiss women on stage. Still, I was charmed by the attractive cast. I was somewhat less charmed by the senselessly repetitive and confusing script. Joe (Ryan Hill) soliloquizes on having hit a woman or a dog with his car; Sal (Anne Cammarato) inexplicably fails to address her ex(?)-lover's bisexuality; and Hank (Brandan McClain, who wrote the play) forever seethes with anger without any indication as to what might be its cause. An intriguing, but ultimately frustrating work, Bravado doesn't live up to its name. (Peterson)

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