A Guide to the 2008 Fringe Festival
Another summer has duly heated up here on the tundra, and the Fringe has arrived with clockwork regularity. But let's not take it for granted; after all, we're fortunate to live in an arts mecca strong enough to generate dozens of local fringe works and to attract first-class shows from around the country.
Trying to encapsulate it all remains as elusive as ever, but to help you separate the fabulous from the frivolous we've reviewed nearly three dozen of the most promising shows. We also continued our tradition this year of picking a hearty handful of fringe shows that sparked interest and inviting their creators to answer a few pithy questions. We've got nerd love, horror with dance, squirrels, political satire, and a trapeze exploration of the inner workings of Evel Knievel.
We have, in other words, another Minnesota Fringe Festival. —Quinton Skinner
All Rights Reserved: A Libertarian Rant
Here's a well-titled show, a scream (sometimes literally) for critical thought and intellectual clarity. The stuff that works best includes a mayoral debate between two flesh-eating zombies and a representative of the larger human population (the latter ends up receiving a single-digit vote tally), and a cringe-worthy peace rally in which the pieties of multiculturalism and antiwar politics are held up to the light in search of flaws. There are songs (including the opener, "Fuck No," which captures a certain political insouciance), and, yes, rants. At times this is a work too much in love with the sound of its own voice, but surely not lacking in original, brainy tones. Thu 10:00 p.m., Fri 8:30 p.m., Sat 1:00 p.m. Minneapolis Theater Garage. —Quinton Skinner
TMJ Productions and Theatre Unbound
Rosannah (Stacey Poirier), her car broken down in an Alaskan snowstorm, barges into the lonely home of Henry (Edward Linder), an oil rig worker with a profound desire to be left alone. Complicating matters is the fact that Rosannah is wearing a wedding dress, and that after her arrival she promptly collapses and sleeps for two entire days (Henry, despite his misanthropic leanings, has a pot of hot soup waiting for her when she wakes up). From here on we have a meditation on attachment and loss, and the heart's need for connection, with Linder and Poirier painting their characters with subtle yet purposeful strokes. Sat 2:00 p.m., Sun 6:00 p.m. Bryant-Lake Bowl. —Quinton Skinner
Joseph Bingham Presents
Imagine a vintage musical revue with a goulash of dance styles, a stage festooned with silver lamé, and a sublimely shlocky blend of parody, slapstick, and kick-butt dancing. Conundrum Rehabbed issues from the fiendish imagination of Joseph Bingham, a sort of Mel Brooks redux. Highlights from more than a dozen routines by 21 performers include a parody of Swan Lake in which hunters and swans wind up on crutches that morph into smartly maneuvered rifles, and a version of "Mein Herr" from Cabaret in which a sinuously sinister dominatrix is backed by a chorus of little old ladies. Sat 2:30 p.m. Ritz Theatre. —Linda Shapiro
Call it an "A" for effort for the youngsters involved in Dandelion, whose honest attempts to explore the psyche of a messed-up teen put it a step ahead of any number of ironic Fringe pieces. Created by Zach Kolodjeski, the piece takes us on a tour of the mind of Paul, a 17-year-old who can't feel a thing. Considering the show is entirely set in Paul's mind, it feels rather tied down and never manages to truly get inside the main character. Good performances from the cast, especially a raw and convincing portrait of a lost teen in the lead, make for an interesting, if ultimately frustrating, experience. Wed 7:00 p.m., Fri 7:00 p.m., Sat 4:00 p.m. Minneapolis Theatre Garage. —Ed Huyck
Dying in Public Places
An Ambrosiatic Production
Five squabbling characters wandering an anonymous city suddenly find themselves stuck together in an invisible box. One of them knows the secret to escape, but this is a moody group, and they get distracted from their objective with bouts of fighting, insanity, and praying they get out before killing one another. The script, written by Keith Hovis, sets up expectations that also seem to get lost amid the bickering. These strangers have to endure a small space, they want to leave but can't, and they don't know when they're going to get out; the audience for this show will have a similar experience. Mon 10:00 p.m., Sun 7:00 p.m. Minneapolis Theatre Garage. —Coco Mault
Fools for Love
Hastings High School Drama Club
The fools in question here are an ensemble of youngsters in red noses and clown apparel, directed by grownup Noah Bremer. The troupe arrives banging on the theater's side door, and once inside launch into an appealing ruckus on horns and drums. From here there's a sense that this physical-comedy mishmash might be more fun to perform than to watch, but there are highlights: a goofy monster assuming control of a jet, a romantic bus ride almost thwarted by the same monster, and a silly penguin ballet in which our game performers lock into antic choreography. Foolish, yes, but sweet. Wed 7:00 p.m., Sat 4:00 p.m., Sun 2:30 p.m. Southern Theater.—Quinton Skinner
Gone, Gone, Gone
Monica Rodero & Daniel Schuchart
Monica Rodero and Daniel Schuchart play out (or rather dance out) relationship issues of the my-space-your-space-our-space variety through lithe moves interspersed with idiosyncratic gestures. They make clever use of rolls of masking tape and paper towels. While the two are supple and endearing performers, nothing is at stake here but the ingenious manipulation of props and one another: How many ways can they: 1) bind themselves with tape? 2) entangle their arms? 3) lift and carry one another? Ultimately Gone, Gone, Gone sends out a flurry of compositional ideas adding up to—at most—a pleasant kinetic rapport. Thurs 10:00 p.m, Fri 5:30 p.m., Sat 1:00 p.m. Southern Theater. —Linda Shapiro
An Inconvenient Squirrel
Joseph Scrimshaw Productions
The confused but heroic squirrel at the center of Joseph Scrimshaw's delightful new fairytale has a problem: He doesn't want to be defined by a simple name. Scrimshaw fractures fairytale motifs in a fun way and presents a number of memorable characters, such as Evil Genius Squirrel and Thinks He's a Pirate Squirrel. By the end, there's a moral that's really not all that simple. That aside, there's also plenty of good physical humor, some deft parody and, above all, four guys dressed up as squirrels. What's not to like? Thu 5:30 p.m., Fri 5:30 p.m., Sat 2:30 p.m., Sun 4 p.m. U of M Rarig Center Thrust. —Ed Huyck
An Intimate Evening with Fotis: Part Two Mike Fotis
Sit-down comic Mike Fotis (literally, he sits in a chair at a table and reads from a notebook, albeit disarmingly) hit his stride about five minutes into his series of comic monologues on opening night, and combined a storyteller's cadence with sharp, self-deprecating observational humor. With Jen Scott providing groovy backup on stand-up bass (at least she stands), Fotis tackles many of the pressing issues of the day: his intense self-loathing while playing video games, his teenage musk of "death and sexual desperation," his first (entirely unjustified) fight, his galaxies-wide fandom for Tom Petty, and his multiple run-ins with bats (squeakers, not sluggers). He also achieves a very high laughs-per-minute ratio. Sat 2:30 p.m. Minneapolis Theater Garage. —Quinton Skinner
Musical the Musical
Urban Samurai Productions
Doug Neithercott and Hannah Kuhlmann have written a musical for people who hate musicals by thoroughly knocking some sense into the typical small-town-girl-moves-to-the-big-city story. That means seriously funny, inappropriate jokes, vivid sex talk, and an almost postmodern deconstruction of the musical form. When roommate Rasheda, played by Krystyn Spratt, has had enough of the overly cheerful opening song (called "The Opening Song"), she speaks for all of us when she stomps her platform shoe-clad foot and yells "Shut the fuck up!" She misbehaves quite a bit and, in the process, practically steals the show, along with a drag queen friend whose language is even more colorful than her clownlike makeup. Thu 10:00 p.m., Sat 8:30 p.m. U of M Rarig Center Proscenium. —Coco Mault
No Stranger Than Home
Katherine Glover weaves a warm, easygoing monologue based primarily on her experiences in other lands: hearing tales of guerrillas and Communist incursions in El Salvador, being pressed by a teacher to outline her nonexistent "culture shock" in Berlin, dealing with a boyfriend in Nicaragua who fears she will sell his organs on the black market, and trying to decipher sexual signals from another woman in Ethiopia. She connects the audience, and her tales, to her theme of alienation back on the home front, but this feels a draft or two away from where it needs to be. Tying together her theme with stronger twine would help, and so would the addition of more telling detail. Still, it's a capable, heartfelt hour. Wed 10:00 p.m., Sun 1:00 p.m. Intermedia Arts. —Quinton Skinner
We Live Like This
This breezy dance show offers an appealing mix of bittersweet angst and youthful cheek. Much of the stage time is split between dancer-choreographers Kaleena Miller and Ned Sturgis. Miller spends most of the evening in tap shoes, notably in a cool, virtuosic number set to Cat Power singing "New York, New York." Sturgis's work is more poetic and searching, reaching a high point in the two-person "Well Versed," performed with Luke Melsha, depicting the push-pull of romance and breakup. Matters are padded with a bit of hoofer's jamming at the end, but however brief, this show delivers a pleasing wash of emotion. Thu 8:30 p.m., Fri 7:00 p.m. Theatre de la Jeune Lune. —Quinton Skinner
The New Theatre Group
Trista Baldwin's new play plops four college-age hormone factories on the edge of the Grand Canyon midway through a road trip to Las Vegas. Mood-altering substances are duly consumed, and all manner of uncomfortable weirdness emerges amid a torrent of deceptively vapid youth-speak. Sex is, of course, beneath the surface of the conversation, when it isn't the primary topic. But that isn't why this work has such capacity to disturb—it's a jaundiced, heart-heavy depiction of post-romance sexuality, when a declaration of love is regarded as an antiquated inconvenience. This is a work that drops grenades without cleaning up afterward, a raw look at a culture unacquainted (or perhaps overly acquainted) with its own desires. Wed 8:30 p.m., Fri 7:00 p.m., Sat 10:00 p.m. U of M Rarig Center Arena Stage. —Quinton Skinner
Boys Don't Make Passes at Girls Who Wear Glasses
True Enough Theater
Chances are if you're going to the Fringe you've got a little geek in you already. But don't fret—as Curt Lund, the sly and quieter half of this storytelling duo reminds us, "Nerds are so hot right now." He and the bombastic, effervescent Laura Bidgood have been telling bits and pieces of this show around town for some time; now they've compiled the bits into an hour of nonstop, hilariously self-aware riffs on the tribulations of growing up nerd, from childhood fears of being turned into a robot by a grade school bully to the adult entanglements of dating as part of the brainier set. The material is fantastic, the delivery polished—it's a must-see. Fri 4:00 p.m., Sun 7:00 p.m. U of M Rarig Center Arena Stage. —Ward Rubrecht
The Cody Rivers Show Presents: Stick to Glue
The Cody Rivers Show
Everyone I talked to who saw The Cody Rivers Show at last year's Fringe gleefully told me how much fun I had cheated myself out of by missing it. And they were right. Mike Mathieu and Andrew Connor provide a frenetic two-man comedy rush, which is entertaining and inventive in direct proportion to how difficult it is to describe. Think high-concept dance comedy that at moments verges on optical illusion. The pair tackles academic double-speak to describe our collective bleak future, the unreal confessions that emerge from a spat over a stack of old newspapers, and the application of the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle to the sale of stray electrons. And that's amid offering up the first interpretive geography dance that I've ever seen. Thu 10:00 p.m., Sun 2:30 p.m. U of M Rarig Center Thrust. —Quinton Skinner
Dance of the Whisky Faerie
Sara Stevenson Scrimshaw
Faeries are obnoxious and deceitful creatures—witness the choreographer as the Whisky Faerie, a pesky sprite who denies the unwillingly sober storyteller (Joseph Scrimshaw) his favorite poison. This mixture of lively dance and well-embroidered Scottish and Irish tales offers up pleasingly silly moments, including yarns about a changeling who rocks the flute like Jethro Tull and a New Yorker's quest for an enchanted rice cooker. As Scrimshaw becomes unhinged the tales grow more fanciful—and the Whisky Faerie shows her endgame. "You're trying to take away my self-respect," he finally wails. "And I don't have much to give!" Sat 8:30 p.m. Southern Theater. —Caroline Palmer
Live Action Set
Someone wandering by the Soap Factory during the evening and peeking into the slightly ajar door would be greeted with this image: a young woman, dressed as a housewife, threatening a tied-up banana with a hand axe. Under the direction of former Jeune Luner Robert Rosen, the Live Action Set presents an intense, funny and quite disturbing look into the mind. Using every inch of the Soap Factory to good effect, the four craft an ever-changing world in which milkmen dress as giant rabbits, a woman announces that the hair she is wearing was her mother's, and two men slap each other for a woman's attention. The show is probably 15 minutes too long (and does run beyond the typical hour) but will still haunt the audience after it's done. Wed 7:00 p.m., Thu 7:00 p.m., Fri 8:30 p.m., Sat 5:30 p.m., Sat 8:30 p.m., Sun 7:00 p.m. The Soap Factory. —Ed Huyck
Fool for a Client
When Mark Whitney takes the stage and starts talking about his love of high-school civics and how he was the class smart-ass who married the valedictorian, for a moment you might experience a sensation akin to sitting down next to the wrong guy at a bar. Then you realize something about the guy: He's exuding the weird, almost unfamiliar fumes of a guy absolutely high on old-school American freedom. With a stand-up comic's wit, Whitney tells the story of his life: his rapacious tactics as a vacuum cleaner salesman, his forays into early Ben and Jerry's franchises, then his conviction for bank fraud and subsequent odyssey as a self-taught legal expert and federal prisoner. By the end, he pulls his themes into our present moment, complete with babies being scanned in airport X-ray machines in the name of safety. Raucous, hilarious, damn near revolutionary. Wed 6:00 p.m., Sat 6:00 p.m. Bryant-Lake Bowl. —Quinton Skinner
Great American Horror Movie Musical
Here's what I wonder after seeing this play: Has creator Jonathan Howle ever seen a horror movie? What's with the 1980s music nostalgia, and why does the music have so little connection with what's happening onstage? Shouldn't a show with the word "horror" in the title be, you know, scary? Great American Horror Movie Musical is largely about wasted opportunities, as a highly talented cast of actors and singers try desperately to bring a D.O.A. script to life. Instead of a send-up of '80s-style horror or even the Blair Witch bit promised by the premise (a group of filmmakers in the woods making a horror musical), we have underdeveloped characters, easy targets for spoofs, and a score that manages to use Night Ranger's "Sister Christian" with a straight face. Fri 7:00 p.m., Sat 10:00 p.m. Lab Theatre. —Ed Huyck
The Gypsy and the General
Here's the way to send off the Theatre de la Jeune Lune space in style. The five performers in 3 Sticks present a musical fable about driving so hard that the original mission is lost. Always in motion, four of the performers play out the tale of an exiled general who is—or maybe isn't—trying to get back home. The "Gypsy" never interacts, but instead provides songs to illustrate the tale. Along the way are some terrific set pieces, such as a jungle fight and a mountain climb, that remind me of the late host theater at its very best. Wed 10:00 p.m., Fri 4:00 p.m., Sat 7:00 p.m. Theatre de la Jeune Lune. —Ed Huyck
Love and a Lion
NihaoHello Theatre Company
Mathilde Mouw, the recent high-school graduate who wrote and directed this musical, cites as her inspiration a series of school shows that demonstrated, in her words, "expert amateurism," and I would be hard-pressed to come up with a better description of Love and the Lion. Mouw has composed an idiosyncratic libretto, seemingly borrowed from German art songs, to tell a story of love in the circus, and has recruited fellow Southwest High School students and recent graduates to act it out. I defy anyone not to be charmed by the results, in which a brown poncho and greasepaint are about all you need to make a circus lion, and in which juvenile heartbreak is written with unfeigned intimacy. Mouw may not be the most polished writer or director, but she understands that the tragedy of having a friend compete for a boyfriend is the risk of losing both. Wed 5:30 p.m., Sun 4:00 p.m. Theatre de la Jeune Lune. —Max Sparber
Four Humors Theater
Set in an old-timey medicine show, Mortem Capiendum manages to be strange and base and fun, all while putting forth an elusive undercurrent of intellectual confidence. The main charlatan is Professor Saint Miracle (Matt Spring), who launches himself at the audience with maniacal vigor, pulling audience plant Lloyd (Jason Ballweber) from the stands to demonstrate a blatantly phony cure. Things take a metaphysical turn with the onstage drowning and resurrection of dimwitted foil Eustis (Brant Miller), followed by plenty more carnage and a sideways meditation on the nature of the human soul. Rarely less than funny, you expect the show's momentum to stall when the medicine show goes off the rails. Instead, it pulls out more moods and tones with impressive, restless invention. Wed 8:30 p.m., Thu 7:00 p.m., Sat 10:00 p.m. U of M Rarig Center Thrust. —Quinton Skinner
My War: From Bismarck to Britain and Back
Three longtime local storytellers bring to the stage three generations of women and their experiences with World War II: the grandmother, painstakingly detailing the domestic wartime experience in her diary; the widowed mother who related her observations as a Red Cross worker in her letters home; and the daughter who compiled their stories. The craft that has gone into creating the piece is evident; working with an incredible amount of firsthand material, the story had to be narrowed and focused with masterful precision. There's an intense sense of place and time and many laugh-out-loud moments in the midst of tragedy. Wed 8:30 p.m., Fri 10:00 p.m., Sun 1:00 p.m. Theatre de la Jeune Lune. —Ward Rubrecht
The Nosdrahcir Sisters
Sara and Kimberly Richardson
Sisters Kimberly and Sara Richardson construct what, at first, seems to be a series of unrelated vignettes based around superlatively daffy comic sensibilities: In one instance, they make a giddy epic out of pouring tea for each other. But sometimes a darker mood shows through, such as an unexpectedly pained and awkward phone call to the girls' mother. By the play's end, when the sisters duet on a thrift store synthesizer, singing about how small acts of kindness make them weepy, an unforced poignancy wells up, even though the song is as silly as anything in the show. Fri 10:00 p.m., Sun 2:30 p.m. U of M Rarig Center Xperimental. —Max Sparber
One Night Only with Mike Mahoney
Perpetual Motion Theatre Company
Ah, now this is the Fringe—a play that features a has-been rocker tied to a chair by two of his biggest fans, illuminated in spots by a pair of flashlights. The folks at Perpetual Motion (the team behind the 2006 hit The Depth of the Ocean) craft an intriguing tale, one in which Mike Mahoney is forced to face the sad reality of his post-rock-star life and is given a quite literal jolt to snap him out of it. Part rock musical, part The King of Comedy, One Night Only with Mike Mahoney travels into dark places in a delightfully low-budget and low-key way. And the show's music (crafted by the cast) is a hoot to boot. Fri 8:30 p.m., Sat 2:30 p.m. U of M Rarig Center Arena. —Ed Huyck
The Pumpkin Pie Show
Clay McLeod Chapman and Hanna Cheek, occupying an empty stage, randomly draw lots and take turns telling stories—which ensures that each show is different. Judging from the show I saw, it seems hard to go wrong. Chapman and Cheek match each other character for character, voice for voice, imparting narratives so compelling and frequently funny that it's a disappointment when they stop. The matinee I attended involved Cheek's story of a trapeze artist with teeth so strong that she'd "chewed through suitors like a box of chocolates." Chapman imparted a chilling narrative about a psycho war hero's sniper fantasies, then a sweet story about a female lifeguard at a childhood water park. The high energy in the room was nonstop. Fri 7:00 p.m., Sat 5:30 p.m. U of M Rarig Center Thrust. —Quinton Skinner
Reefer Madness: The Musical
Young Artists Council
A three-piece band and a cast of varying vocal abilities tackle this musical based on the 1936 cannabis-fright classic. The main story is of Jimmy and Mary, clean-cut high-school sweethearts—until Jimmy falls prey to the killer weed. Before long he's hanging out in a den of iniquity, fiending for joints and turning into a libidinous monster. The tunes aren't great, but this thing cruises along with goofball enthusiasm, and Jesus himself makes a brief cameo to (unsuccessfully) lobby for religion over recreational drugs. Wed 8:00 p.m., Thu 6:00 p.m., Sat 10:00 p.m. Bryant-Lake Bowl. —Quinton Skinner
Robin Hood the Musical!
Top Hat Theatre
You can take Robin Hood the Musical! a couple of ways. As a summer theater project for youth and adults, it's a great experience. For a random audience member who's not related to anyone in the cast? Not so much. The music (crafted by creators Pamela and Todd Russell) is pleasant enough, as are many of the performances. There are elements enough in here to make for a fun diversion, especially amid all the emotional darkness that populates the festival. Instead, the show drags along, dutifully filling out the hour running time instead of packing it with any pleasures. Wed 7:00 p.m., Sat 1:00 p.m., Sun 5:30 p.m. U of M Rarig Center Proscenium. —Ed Huyck
Shakespeare's Land of the Dead
Walking Shadow Theatre Company
It's opening night in 1599 at Shakespeare's newly reconstructed Globe Theatre, and backstage the biggest problem in the early going is the reappearance of Will Kemp (Craig Anderson), who has previously cheesed off the English language's greatest playwright (played here by John Heimbuch, who also penned the script) by hamming it up as Falstaff. There's a bit of intrigue involving Francis Bacon (Joseph Papke), but then we get to the real heart of the drama: the appearance of growling, flesh-eating zombies. If anything, the results are even better than they sound. Heimbuch's script is unerringly witty and unapologetically referential, and the performances are unabashedly crisp and fun. The undead are rarely so enjoyable. Wed 7:00 p.m., Sun 7:00 p.m. U of M Rarig Center Thrust. —Quinton Skinner
What does Johnny Cash have to do with Aida, the epic 19th-century opera by Giuseppe Verdi? More than you may think, at least in this scaled-down retelling by Freeh. Instead of a cast of hundreds, it's just the choreographer and Stephanie Fellner in the key roles. Verdi's drama mingles with Cash's lonesome soul, a few props add to the mix (alas, no elephants), and suddenly the love story spans centuries. Both performers thrive in this miniature milieu, injecting humor (and coffee beans) into a petite production with big ambitions. Thu 5:30 p.m., Fri 7:00 p.m., Sat 8:30 p.m., Sun 2:30 p.m. Theatre de la Jeune Lune. —Caroline Palmer
The Fringe Facts
This is year 15 for the Minnesota Fringe, meaning as an institution it's almost old enough to get a driver's license. Putting aside the fact that institutions are intangible entities that can't possibly take the wheel of a motor vehicle, this is a good time to mention that the Fringe is very accessible to those traveling by foot, bicycle, or Metro Transit: The shows are grouped in the Minneapolis neighborhoods of Uptown, the West Bank, and Northeast. There are a whopping 156 shows this year, and the festival is set up both for those who prefer to dip their dainty toe and those who opt to plunge into the deep end and stay there. Everyone 12 years and older must buy a $3 Fringe admission button before purchasing any tickets (shades of Ticketmaster, but oh well). From there you can tailor your options. Single adult tickets run $12, kids under 12 get in for $5. Seniors, students, and MPR members pay $10. For $50 you can get a five-show punch card, which you can share with friends to enjoy the discount. A 10-show punch card goes for $90. And if you can't get enough, $150 will buy the Ultra Pass, which allows you into as many shows as you can manage. The box office for each show opens a half hour before curtain, seating begins 10 minutes before show time, and all seating is general admission. To make reservations call 651.209.6799, or hit the web at uptowntix.com. For updates, blogs, and general Fringe indulgence, check in through the week at fringefestival.org.
This year's closing night party is at First Avenue on Sunday night starting at 9:00 p.m. You can also check in at Fringe Central at Bedlam Theatre, starting at 4:00 p.m. weekdays and noon weekends—a great stop for beer, wine, soft drinks, food, and a community vibe.
- Bryant-Lake Bowl, 810 W. Lake St.
- Interact Center, 212 3rd Ave. N. #140
- Intermedia Arts, 2822 Lyndale Ave. S.
- Lab Theater, 700 N. 1st St.
- Minneapolis Theatre Garage, 711 Franklin Ave. W.
- Mixed Blood Theatre, 1501 Fourth St. S.
- The Playwrights' Center, 2301 E. Franklin Ave.
- Ritz Theater, 345 13th Ave. NE
- Southern Theater, 1420 Washington Ave. S.
- Theatre de la Jeune Lune, 105 N. 1st St.
- U of M Rarig Center, 330 S. 21st Ave.
Bring Your Own Venues:
- Kieran's Irish Pub, 330 2nd Ave. S.
- McMahon's Pub, 3001 E. Lake St.
- Red Eye Theater, 15 W. 14th St.
- The Soap Factory, 518 2nd St. SE
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