"Don't Ever Say (EXPLETIVE DELETED) Onstage Again!"
Theater people must go to bed every night cursing the law of averages. No matter how carefully they have prepared, no matter how much they think they are in control of their material, theater is a live medium, and--statistically speaking--this means sooner or later there will be a catastrophe. Kevin Kling, who appears in this year's Fringe Festival performing his one-man show 21A, recently described a production he was in at the Mixed Blood Theatre in the late Seventies--a stage adaptation of Rebel Without a Cause. He dubbed it Rebel Without Applause, and explains, "The reviewer from the newspaper wrote about the play, 'If one thing goes right on stage during this production, it won't be worth seeing. But right now, with nothing going right at all, you must go see it. It's the funniest thing I have ever seen on stage.'"
It was the early years of the ordinarily competent Mixed Blood Theatre, and Kling relayed how, in the Sal Mineo role, he was expected to move a dead cat across the stage. In fact, the cat was very much alive, and put up a mighty fight every night, scratching him badly. He describes how, during the script's deadly cliffside game of chicken, the production had simply shown footage from the film with cast members' faces superimposed over those of the film actors. "And during the switchblade fights," Kling adds, "we used switchblade combs, because real switchblades are illegal. But we didn't even bother to tape them over. We just painted them silver, so when the characters would fight each other, they would just click open silver-colored combs."
Worse still, during scenes where the characters were on motorcycles, the director placed plastic figurines on miniature remote-control motorcycles and sent them whizzing across the stage. "But they kept breaking," Kling says of the minibikes, "so we just piled them all up on whatever motorcycles were still working. And the cue for the motorcycles was the same as one of the lighting cues, which got confusing. And so once in a while, without explanation, these little motorcycles covered with figures like the Flying Wallendas would race across the stage in the middle of a scene."
And that brings us to this year's Fringe Festival: With 120 companies performing in 12 main venues around Loring Park this weekend, the ghost of the law of averages will be peeking in on the various productions, looking for its opportunity. Indeed, there may be a few in the audience with a perverse sense of humor who will be clutching their $75 Ultra Pass and waiting for the catastrophes: flubbed lines, lost actors, collapsing sets, and all. For those discriminating readers with a less perverse appetite for the unhappiness of others, we're offering 30-odd capsule reviews of Fringe shows to help guide your viewing, as well as information on venues and showtimes.
Because the worst experiences often make for the best stories, we asked members of the local theater community for their favorite anecdotes of past mishaps and missed cues. What follows is a chilling peek into a world held hostage by the law of averages, where actors can be menaced by everything from murderous audience members to poisonous Jell-O.
Cats: Now and Forever
In 1980 Mixed Blood was producing Bloody Bess, a woman's pirate play--sort of Patty Hearst on the high seas. To get the out-at-sea feel, I set oyster shells and humidifiers with salt water around the theater. At intermission on opening night, as the audience stepped outside to smoke, 50 cats charged into the theater!
One fall, Mixed Blood produced Accidental Death of an Anarchist. In one scene an actor snuck into the seats and started borrowing pieces of clothing from audience members. Well, on the night of a Halloween promotion in which people got in for free if they came in costume, the actor asked to borrow a woman's mask for his onstage disguise. She declined, but he persisted. Finally she blurted, "It's a cast!!" It seems she had a broken head and it was the only night in months that she'd been able to leave home incognito.
The Ordway presented a touring production of I'm Not Rappaport immediately before Mixed Blood's production opened in 1988. In a marketing ploy, we compared our database with that of the Ordway. Our patrons who had gone to see the show at the Ordway got a letter offering a free ticket so that they could compare. The letter started out "I noticed you've been unfaithful..." One livid audience member didn't read closely and chewed us out for spying on her. It seems she'd gone to the Ordway with a man other than her husband and felt busted!
The Energy Crisis
As a theater company that loves to push the physical boundaries of performance, Margolis Brown ensemble members pride themselves on their well-trained bodies. Preparation for the rigors of performance are taken seriously by the company, with an actors call at least three hours before every show. Therefore no one took much notice the night that one young company member decided to forgo dinner, replacing needed nutrition with four energy bars. As we all know, energy produces energy--and energy has to go somewhere.
Tony Brown and I first knew something was wrong in the middle of a scene when most of the actors who were supposed to enter stage right entered from stage left instead. It wasn't until we exited to change costumes that we were confronted with the backstage reality of this evening's performance. All the actors were furiously waving their hands in front of their faces while trying to prepare for the next scene. Backstage smelled worse than a men's room in the New York subway. It was close to the smell we once encountered at an outhouse in Yugoslavia!
Backstage was a madhouse of actors running around, hands over noses, moving costumes from stage left to right, quickly redesigning the show to avoid the culprit actor at all costs. To this day I can honestly say that I have never been backstage with a more dedicated group of artists than the group that was willing toward the end of the show to submit themselves to getting under a thick black piece of fabric with the notorious energy-bar consumer. What generosity, what bravery, what artistry!
Out of the Pan, Into the Fire
I was doing Escape From Happiness with the Bald Alice Theater Company, and I was onstage playing this crazy mother. Dale Pfeilsticker was onstage, tied to a chair--I don't think I had gagged him yet. Another character was threatening him angrily. She picked up a frying pan to threaten him further, while I was standing there, just wiping down the table.
Meanwhile, Dale's father was in the audience, and he cried out, "Jesus! Dale, look out! She's got a frying pan!" Fortunately, my character was able to turn upstage, so that the audience couldn't see me laughing.
Choked With Emotion
The best story I can give you is about the time that one of our audience members tried to strangle one of our actors. It was during a run of our interactive show Success! Now It's Your Turn, which was at Patrick's Cabaret in January and February of 2000. Audience members were part of a corporation called IHT (International Hoses and Tubes). They had to unravel a mystery which involved an insane CEO (played by actor Tim Jopek) who went around confiding to his stapler about his plans to blow up headquarters. Audience participants had to find out what was going on, disengage the four bombs, and bring the CEO to justice.
Unfortunately, one of our audience members had had too much to drink before he came, and at the moment of truth actually leapt up onto Tim's back and wrapped his arms around his throat. Now, Tim is no shrimp--sort of a John Goodman type--and the audience member was a short, wiry man in his 60s. Tim's eyes bulged with surprise and he turned around a few times, with this little guy hanging fire off of his back. All the performers were sort of nonplussed for a split second at the bizarre behavior, until we realized that Tim could be in actual danger. We all moved in on them at once and managed to disengage him. Somehow we worked it into the plot. I still feel like we haven't bought Tim enough beers to make up for that evening.
Galumph Performance Troupe
Love's Labors Lost
A short story from Tony 'n Tina's Wedding: A couple was "in the act" on a stack of chairs on the theater's lower level when the show was over. Cast member Greta Grosch went over to them and said "Zip it up, kids. You can't do that here."
Hey City Theater
One Hundred Beautiful Actors and Three Ugly Ones
When the theater opened, we had a huge indoor parade to mark the event, featuring belly dancers, puppets, stilt walkers, indoor fireworks, the whole nine yards. One of the "acts" was a live appaloosa horse, and in Minneapolis you have to get a permit to have a horse inside the city limits.
So I trekked off north of downtown to the dog pound to get the permit from a kind man who had come here from Hawaii, so he obviously had a sense of humor. He, however, had to call another office to get permission, saying in a booming voice, "I need to get a live horse permit for Theatre de la Jeune Lune. They need it to open their theater in the Warehouse District."
A long pause.
Then, "No, not Déjà Vu! Theatre de la Jeune Lune!"
So much for name recognition....
Theatre de la Jeune Lune
The White Man's Burden
Three years ago I drove out-of-town actors to and from rehearsals and performances at the Lab in the Guthrie van. One day, an actress climbed into the front seat of the van, slammed the door, pointed a finger in my face and said, "You do not know how lucky you are to be white and male and living in this country!" I proceeded to shut up and drive while she vented (not diva-style; she just needed to vent) and when we arrived at the Lab, she opened the door, stepped out, turned back to me and said, "And just remember: The best person never gets the part!" She paused, then added, "Nine times out of ten!" slammed the door again and walked into the Lab.
Andrew R. Cleveland
Where the Hell Art Thou?
Two years ago I was part of a production of Romeo and Juliet at the old Phoenix Black Box space. The actor playing Lord Montague doubled as the Apothecary in Act V. In between, he would take a nap backstage underneath the props table and snore. Despite the best efforts of the stage manager and other cast members to wake this guy, Romeo could never be absolutely sure he would be there when he called "Apothecary!"
One night, this actor proceeded to take a nap at home before the show and was awakened by a phone call from our frantic stage manager approximately fifteen minutes before curtain. He arrived at intermission. Our Friar Laurence played Montague in Act I and then Lady Montague entered in his place in the final scene to announce to the Prince, "Alas, my liege, my lord is dead to-night; grief of our son's exile hath stopp'd his breath." Within a week, this became a permanent change, and the actress who played Mercutio took over the Apothecary.
During a rehearsal of this same production, the director instructed me to "snatch the fan from the nurse's hand." As he walked back to his chair he called over his shoulder for us to "take it from the snatch!" He turned around, red-faced, to see his actors rolling on the floor, convulsing in laughter.
Andrew R. Cleveland
Hotdish! was touring in Provincetown, Massachusetts, in the summer of 1994. We were doing a one-hour cabaret show at a restaurant/theater called Cappuccinos. One of the sketches we did that summer was one of our most popular, "The Jackie-Oh's"--a tribute to those Sixties girl groups like the Supremes or the Shirelles. It involved three of us dressed in Jackie drag (think pink Chanel, flip wigs, and pillbox hats) singing a medley of utterly tasteless and wholly inappropriate songs relating to the JFK assassination and Jackie's true feelings on the subject.
Keep in mind that not only did we do this in Cape Cod, but we did it only a month after Jackie had died--though the sketch had actually been written in early 1993.
As we began the sketch, in the middle of the show, a group of four audience members, who had until then been thoroughly enjoying the performance and eating their dinner, stopped whatever they were doing and sat dumbfounded at the spectacle before them. Without consulting one another, they simultaneously put their forks down on the table, turned their chairs around and sat with their backs to the stage for the rest of the sketch. They made no noise. They made no disparaging remarks. No boos. No hisses. No nothing.
When the sketch was over, they turned around, picked up their forks, resumed eating and enjoyed they rest of the show.
It was such a strong, strange, and evenhanded reaction to something that obviously offended them--make no mistake, we knew the sketch pushed some people's buttons--I had no choice but to respect their response. They simply chose not to participate in that sketch and to allow themselves to enjoy everything else we had to offer on its own terms.
Hazy Shade of Winter
I've had the experience more than a few times of an audience member flipping out during the performance while I've been onstage as an actor. It happened when I was acting in The Winter's Tale at the Guthrie nearly ten years ago. (I was playing one of those court guys who smiles and nods a lot and occasionally dispenses needed information--though I fancied that I was doing so with an extra pizzazz: "The part of Cleomenes has never stood out before, but actor Bill Corbett provides a certain clarity and passion that..." etc.).
Anyway, during the opening scene, which was basically a big party at the court, all is well--the stuff hasn't hit the fan yet, and there is lots of general jocularity. I was in the middle of a very charming laugh at the king's joke, but because of where I was standing onstage, I noticed that one of the doors to the house was opening, and light was streaming in. Since we'd been running it for a few weeks already, I knew that this was not the standard "seating the latecomers" time. A woman emerged from the light and started down the aisle. Nervy of her, thought I, in the midst of my courtly onstage smile, but she'll sit down in a second. Nuh-uh. She kept coming down the aisle. Wow, she must be sitting close up!
Very close--she kept coming, and coming--and I watched with disbelief as she stepped up on the stage! Needless to say, by this time other actors were noticing. It was scary, a violent break of that fourth wall--the poor woman looked disturbed, and wasn't wearing any shoes. She just looked at us.
Actor Steven Yoakam, who was playing the king, took charge of the matter brilliantly and compassionately, taking the poor woman aside and gently asking if she was all right, leading her to the ushers. Then after she was led away, he addressed the audience and told them we'd be resuming from where we left off. Seamless. (Stuff like that is how a man becomes king, I suppose.) Apparently the woman had stopped her car right in the middle of Hennepin, and just kept walking from the street to the stage. This was the fourth time an audience member had decisively interrupted a show while I was acting. Is it me?
Years ago, while studying theater at the University of Minnesota, I performed in their summer theater programs at the Peppermint Tent and the Showboat. The Showboat offering was an old melodrama centering on Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Moriarty.
In one scene, Moriarty is having dinner in his apartment, planning to kill his unsuspecting dinner guest. The actor playing Moriarty gets up from the table and casually strolls over to a sideboard and opens a drawer. The prop gun usually sitting in the drawer is gone. Someone forgot to set it for that performance. Moriarty has to kill his guest before the scene ends, and it must be done quickly. What will he do?
Moriarty picks up the prop food from his plate, yells, "Poison Jell-O!" and mashes it into his victim's face. Luckily, the actor playing the victim knew a cue when he heard one. He immediately expired and slumped forward, lifeless, onto the table.
The Littlest Cast Member
We opened the Bryant-Lake Bowl. We were there for the first three months. Danny Schmidt thought it would be funny to open the show with a little girl--this little bouffanted Ethel Merman freak child with a huge-ass voice.
I thought this was too weird for the show. I mean, she would sing "Lipstick on Your Collar"--this really adult material. She would lap-dance on senior citizens. She'd always end with the "Star-Spangled Banner," and she'd have a little banter with the audience.
One night she came up to us and said, "I've got some new material," and she said that she wanted to introduce our show by saying, "If you like music from the Seventies, you'll love Martini and Olive. And if you don't love music from the Seventies, you'll still love Martini and Olive." And I thought, okay, at least she's plugging the show.
That night she was really nervous, her voice was quavering the whole time, and I thought, oh, this little robot child, it's the new material, it's making her nervous. So she gets to the point where she has to introduce us, and she says, "If you like music from the Seventies, you'll like Martini and Olive. And if you don't like music from the Seventies, you'll still like...COCK." And I'm sitting backstage thinking, did that little girl just say cock?
The sad thing is, her mother always took her to the show, and when I went backstage afterward she was spanking the little girl: "Don't ever say 'cock' onstage again!"
Martini and Olive
Before going to the Fringe shows with the sleazy names and the sexy handbills, first read our critical guide. (Then go to the shows with the sleazy names and the sexy handbills.)
Part medieval mystery play, part laid-back cabaret, Ben Kreilkamp's About Time touches on everything from the knotty intersection of past, present, and future to the scaly creatures lurking at our primal core. He and fellow traveler Joe Demuth sing, play the accordion, wrestle with their demons and with one another, and discourse on the artist Goya's increasingly phantasmagoric oeuvre. Meanwhile, a slick, talking-head producer (Tom Carlson on videotape) urges Kreilkamp to tighten up his meandering artistic process, while Kreilkamp's rich single-malt voice beckons us to go with the devious flow of his ruminations. A time trip well worth taking. Thu 5:30 p.m., Fri 1:00 p.m., Sat 7:00 p.m. Red Eye Collaboration. (Linda Shapiro)
Afflictions, Entanglements and Associations
Deborah Jinza Thayer must have been a spider in a past life. She loves to play with ropes and rubber tubing, weaving them through space, catching her performers in elaborate webs (both literal and choreographic). The evening begins with "A Tenuous Evolution," featuring a trio of dancers dangling from harnesses who alternate between contemplative, inside-a-womb-like moments, and breathtaking drops toward the floor. The title piece is an exceptional study in dynamism featuring dancers propelled through a field of tubes, at times creating fantastic optical illusions. Big Daddy, Jr. & the Spook's music completes what deserves to be a Fringe fave. Thu 10:00 p.m., Fri 4:00 p.m., Sat 1:00 p.m., Sun 7:00 p.m. Red Eye. (Caroline Palmer)
Another Femme Fatale Freak Show
After seeing this Dover, Massachusetts, quartet begin so promisingly and fall so precipitously in the space of 45 minutes, one has to wonder whether artists should have to apply for surrealism licenses. Seriously, this stuff can be dangerous in the wrong hands! Okay, so we have a flower-covered modern dancer, a feisty tap dancer in a Michelangelo's David mask, a very limber woman on stilts, and a beauty-school dropout with Frankenstein tendencies, all going about their business to a Combustible Edison soundtrack. Too much belly-gazing mayhem (literally) and not enough direction. Somewhere Dali is somersaulting in his glass-eye factory. Thu 7:00 p.m., Fri 10:00 p.m., Sun 5:30 p.m. Wesley United Methodist Church. (Palmer)
Attack of the Atomic Trash Monster's Bride
Mouth of Truth Productions
My nomination for hammiest performance of the Fringe goes to Kevin Vance as a mad scientist in this parody of science-fiction films from the Fifties. While every other cast member does an extraordinary job re-creating the stilted, awkward performances found in the cheapest of these films (particularly Tom Butler and Paul Economon playing two bumbling cops cribbed directly from Ed Wood's oeuvre), Vance must be under the impression that it is enough to just be weird and loud. He's wrong, but he is the only sour note in this otherwise lovingly crafted comedy, which includes everything from doctors who chain-smoke while examining their patient ("His brain waves are...waving properly," one declares) to a voice-over narrator who constantly gets lost in her own tangents. Fri 10:00 p.m., Sun 4:00 p.m. Loring Playhouse. (Max Sparber)
Beat: A Showcase of Modern Dance
Truth be told, it's difficult to be a cool cat when the heat index is over 100 degrees, but Terrill and his dancers are hip to summoning Jack Kerouac's spirit through their moves. All of the elements are present here--the bongos, the black threads, the dysphoric jazz. What's missing is that tight beat-generation attitude, the Ginsbergian world-weariness, the rebellious atmosphere of smoky poetry readings. Judging from Terrill's other decidedly optimistic and lyrical modern dances on the program, playing jaded might not be in his repertoire. Wed 7:00 p.m., Fri 2:30 p.m., Sat 8:30 p.m. Wesley United Methodist Church. (Palmer)
The Best Show in Town
Certainly the riskiest title in town, particularly when the Fringe Festival offers 120-plus shows, but the Frontier Theatre deserves credit for its cojones. This play, a backstage drama set in a vaudeville theater during one particularly unhappy performance in the early Twenties, is creaky with melodramatic plot conventions--the star of the show is thinking of leaving, the manager must fire his failed-magician brother-in-law, and the costume girl desperately wants to get onstage and sing. But much of the staging of this production is pleasantly elegant, including a long, fascinating opening tableau of the chaos that reigns backstage before a performance, done in near-total silence. Wed 8:30 p.m., Fri 1:00 p.m., Sat 8:30 p.m. Whitney Mainstage. (Sparber)
Bobby Gould in Hell
Pigs Eye Theater
If David Mamet had his own personal Hades, one would surmise that it would include nothing but missionary-position sex, voices without New York accents, and an anti-cursing crusade led by the newly soap-washed mouth of Prince. In this Pigs Eye Theater production, the underworld is a place where Mamet's alter ego, Bobby Gould, goes on trial for his sins. (His ex-girlfriend--a stubborn whiner--and the devil--a philosophical fisherman--act as judges.) But amid heated empirical discussions about morality, staged within the fiery bowels of eternal damnation, the acting in this particular production still feels lukewarm. Fri 7:00 p.m., Sat 1:00 p.m., Sun 4:00 p.m. Acadia Cabaret Theater. (Melissa Maerz)
For anyone who hears about a hot date and imagines microwaved fruit in turn, this one is for you. Tom Stoppard and Clive Exton's animated meditation on slippery semantics takes the form of a brain-twisting dialogue between two lexicologists who cannot seem to use their vocabulary to communicate. Todd O'Dowd gives a convincingly exasperated performance as Johnson, a nervous linguist who cannot keep his tongue from twisting into double entendre. If you feel intimidated by those Boundary witticisms that can't be immediately understood, remember: It's only a one-act play on words. Wed 7:00 p.m., Fri 4:00 p.m., Sat 1:00 p.m., Sun 7:00 p.m. Hennepin Center for the Arts, Studio 6A. (Maerz)
Jennifer J. Holt's Vroom-Vroom Group
Jennifer J. Holt belts out her "I'm Still Here" take on life as a driver and a connoisseur of car racing. But in comedy, as in racing, timing is everything, and the spark plugs in Drive never quite fire in sync. Holt and her pit crew (Kiseung Rhee and David Wick) explore the speed-demon psyche in all of us without capturing the visceral charge of hurtling irresponsibly through space. With the exception of a few sly vignettes like Holt's pas de deux with a tenacious remote-controlled toy car, Drive needs some revving-up and a tuneup. Wed 10:00 p.m., Fri 2:30 p.m., Sat, 8:30 p.m. Red Eye. (Shapiro)
Edward Gorey's Helpless Doorknobs
Edward Gorey was well known for his gothic Edwardian illustrations, but he also dabbled in playwriting. And, as anyone familiar with Gorey's aesthetic might expect, these efforts are often baffling. Helpless Doorknobs, for example, was a one-page dramatic treatment based on a series of cards meant to be read in any order. John Carl Heimbuch has fleshed out the treatment, turning it into a full script by superimposing elements from classical melodrama atop the story. And his adaptation works quite well. True to Gorey's poetics, the play follows the mysterious goings-on surrounding a clock, with kohl-eyed, white-skinned beauties collapsing onto chaise longues and black-cloaked strangers emerging from the wings to chloroform their enemies. The minimal set, based on Gorey's illustrations, is superb, and the performances are suitably exaggerated, as is the florid, antiquated language spoken by the characters. Wed 7:00 p.m., Fri 5:30 p.m., Sun 4:00 p.m. Minneapolis Theatre Garage. (Sparber)
Eight Minnesotans and a Bulgarian
Accord! Folk Orchestra with Ethnic Dance Theatre
Dahlings! You simply must go see Olenka, Ukraine's answer to all the Gabor sisters rolled up in one borscht-fed package! She's the mistress of ceremonies during this high-spirited "goulash to glamour" salute to the dance and music of Albania, Macedonia, and Romania (with a little gypsy and Cajun flavor thrown in, plus some Bulgarian scatting). As always, EDT's performers are on top of their game, and the costumes, clearly authentic, are dazzling. The music outfit Accord! (whose members include the titular Bulgarian) provides able accompaniment, particularly during the demanding (and speedy!) closing number. Wed 8:00 p.m., Fri 4:00 p.m., Sun 4:00 p.m. Music Box Theatre. (Palmer)
It seems appropriate that Glass Onion, which is based on the public musings of John Lennon, should open with a cacophony of percussive instruments distributed beforehand to the audience. That is, the script is a lot of noise and not much drama. Not to say that Mann isn't adequate in his portrayal of Lennon--he is brave and somewhat affecting in tackling such an icon. But the words ultimately just depict Lennon's public persona without getting at the interior life of the man--nearly akin to portraying Bill Clinton by reciting the lines of his campaign speeches. Sat 10:00 p.m. Hennepin Center for the Arts. (Michael Fallon)
Grrrls: Subversive Performances of Femininity
Okay, so this show's title sounds like someone's Women's Studies thesis. But fear not, Camille Paglia hasn't joined the Fringe Festival circuit (at least not yet). Instead Whitney, direct from Carbondale, Illinois, makes us laugh out loud about gender politics. Whether she's a country singer twanging about how "we're coming out of the kitchen with a vengeance," playing dominatrix Barbie, rethinking Rizzo from Grease, or considering the butch/femme dynamic, Whitney knows how to make her feminist point without beating us over the head with a hardcover copy of Susan Faludi's Backlash. Hey, sister, go, sister! Thu 10:00 p.m., Sat 2:30 p.m., Sun 5:30 p.m. Whitney Studio. (Palmer)
The Hands of God
The best moments in The Hands of God, a morality play by Carlos Solorzano set in northern Mexico, are silent ones--peasants wearing Day of the Dead masks and pantomiming the suffering of the people. The rest of the play is rather stilted and overacted. And though Kindra McGrane does a nice turn portraying Beatrice, the protagonist intent on rescuing her brother from jail, the rest of the predictable cast of characters--a priest, a jailer, a prostitute, the devil--do nothing to keep us from spiraling toward a predictably ungodly ending. Wed 5:30 p.m., Fri 7:00 p.m., Sun 2:30 p.m. St. Mark's Episcopal Cathedral. (Fallon)
[In John Troyer's Apartment]
John Troyer et al.
Yes, the title sounds suspicious, maybe even frightening. The term captive audience takes on a new twist as you contemplate what a wildly creative, Heiner Müller-obsessed playwright like John Troyer might do with you were he to get you into his apartment. Is it a real show? you ask. Yes, it is. Is it really in his apartment? Yes, it is. (And yes, mercifully, the place is air-conditioned.) What is it about? That's harder to answer--and that's the point. Where do characters go when they're not onstage? What happens on the other side of the closed door? What if the four walls surrounding you became the fourth wall in your life's drama? What if everyday life weren't? Wait--what is that woman doing with the noose? What's making that thumping noise? And what keeps John Troyer's neighbors from calling the police? 7:00 p.m. nightly through Saturday; (612) 343-3390. Shows are Webcast via www.fringefestival.org/jtroyer.ram. (Lisa Leonard)
Into the Acid Fountain
Ministry of Cultural Warfare
Loosely basing his madcap comedy on Federico Fellini's La Dolce Vita, local director and playwright Matthew Foster mixes a lethal dose of desperate drama and over-the-top humor. The tight, witty script follows a gay twentysomething, Marcello (Nathan Surprenant), as he drowns in the meaninglessness of our polluted society. While a priest, a psychic, and a series of troubled relationships cannot offer Marcello any answers, there is one man who can: a junkie/scary-clown bum (Matthew Kessen) who also regularly presents comedy skits throughout the show. You may not find enlightenment, but you're gonna love those screwed-up slag jugglers. Thu 10:00 p.m., Sat 8:30 p.m., Sun 1:00 p.m. Minneapolis Theatre Garage. (Jeremy Swanson)
"I've been praying to bare my soul to the world, and the world is yelling, 'Show us your tits,'" Lyndsay Kayser laments toward the end of her one-woman show on the highs and lows of being a broad. Shifting characters (and accents) from Brooklyn vaudeville cookie to Texas high school princess, and from wisecracking movie star to clueless ingénue, Kayser speeds with racy aplomb through the canon of classic babes-on-parade. Sometimes she's like a Barbie doll on speed--too fast for us to follow as she rushes through the booby-trapped territory of the eternal Female. But when she's on, she's a firecracker. Fri 10:00 p.m., Sat 5:30 p.m., Sun 2:30 p.m. Red Eye. (Shapiro)
Loteria Loca romps lustily through the playground of contemporary society, casting a satirical eye on issues of concern to Latinos. El Señor (God), Angelita (the little angel), and Diablita (the little devil) constitute a loving if slightly dysfunctional family, whiling away the hours in heaven playing Loteria, a Latino card game similar to bingo. After El Señor quashes Diablita's cardsharping, he convinces his fractious progeny to act out scenes from various Loteria cards. The resulting sketches lampoon modern U.S. mores with a pleasingly progressive politics, skewering Survivor, the INS, Mexican soaps, and NAFTA in the process. Fri 5:30 p.m., Sun 7:00 p.m. Acadia Cabaret Theater. (Niels Strandskov)
Mafia on Prozac
In this post-Tarantino culture of ours, the spectacle of two grizzled, foul-mouthed killers debating whether to murder someone has become the most fashionable and accessible mode of discourse about philosophy. Not that that's such a bad thing. Mafia on Prozac presents us with two of the nicer type of hit men, "good soldiers" as they call themselves, in the autumn of their killing years. This gangster play about love and friendship and things left unsaid could use polish, but the one-liners, visual comedy, and quick pacing prevent a well-trodden path from seeming too tedious or familiar. Wed 7:00 p.m., Sat 7:00 p.m., Sun 2:30 p.m. The Woman's Club. (Strandskov)
Kruse has a career waitress's poise and ability to read a crowd. Having moved her show to the church parking lot, she regretted the lack of a table to set her story notes on and thereby coaxed some hefty guy in the audience to produce a cooler out of his station wagon. At times, her phrasing can be a touch too perfectly rehearsed, reminding you that she is reading all this off sheets of paper. And the way her real-life, confessional stories transform regret into humor can occasionally seem pat. Still, it's hard to accuse a woman of sentimentality when she's narrating the often-comic ordeal of an unplanned pregnancy at age 20. Wed 8:30 p.m., Fri 4:00 p.m., Sun 7:00 p.m. Wesley United Methodist Church. (Keith Harris)
This one-woman show, scripted by Dale Connelly and featuring veteran actor/playwright Beth Gilleland, is part of Illusion's new-play series and, as such, is somewhat more developed than the average rough-and-ready Fringe entry. The premise is awfully clever: Gilleland, playing a Web-cam entrepreneur-cum-naif, struggles to keep voyeurs interested in watching her. Connelly is a Minnesota Public Radio personality (not an oxymoron in his case), and he brings a breezy intelligence to bear on the material. Still, the funniest moment here might be Don Shelby's prerecorded cameo as a mock-solemn hack TV newscaster. Method acting, indeed. Sat 5:30 p.m., Sun 8:30 p.m. Illusion Theater. (Peter Ritter)
The Murderer and the Martian
Fifty Foot Penguin
A sign of the Fringe's growing reputation, these two monologues have been written and performed by local stars Bill Corbett and Jeffrey Hatcher, with the former as "the Martian" and the latter as "the Murderer." Corbett's monologue is of a piece with his play Heckler from this past year, in that both have deluded egomaniacs as their protagonists. But Corbett's Martian is a gentler character than the trash-talking bully from the earlier piece. He acts the role with a sweet, lost quality that stands well against Hatcher's murderer, who is a creature of grand coldness and malevolence. Hatcher is primarily known as a fine playwright, but he is also a pleasure as a performer, holding the stage with a lazy charisma and superbly droll sense of humor. Wed 7:00 p.m., Fri 5:30 p.m., Sat 10:00 p.m. Loring Playhouse. (Sparber)
Minneapolis Musical Theatre
Here's a drag show that is closest in spirit to those navy talent contests of old, where the most unfeminine men were crammed into grass skirts and coconut-shell bras and pressed onstage for an impromptu hula dance. There was always something a little cruel about this sort of comedy, relying as it did on grotesquely mannered parodies of feminine behavior. Seeing that Pageant is set at a beauty contest, however, such caricature actually seems just right. Here we have a Southern belle whose puppetry seems intended as self-flattery (the puppets crow at her, "Aren't you pretty?"), followed by a hirsute Latina beauty on roller skates playing accordion. Precious, too, are the reactions of the wrathful runners-up. Wed 8:30 p.m., Fri 10:00 p.m., Sat 8:30 p.m., Sun 8:30 p.m. Music Box Theatre. (Sparber)
Say What You Mean
The Burning House Group
Two generic political candidates stand at opposite podiums and spout an absurd volume of verbiage, some cribbed from the historical record itself, all unmoored from any clear referent. The actors (Matt Guidry and Allen Baker) start and stop with thrilling simultaneity, they finish each other's sentences like Run and D.M.C., they obsess over particular words. No less ingeniously choreographed is the wild physical comedy that shows unyielding control even at its most broadly manic. Though both the faux classicism of the 19th Century and the forced eloquence of the 20th ring equally hollow, eventually this language, stripped of any specific meaning, achieves a grandeur of pure euphemism. Thu 10:00 p.m., Fri 4:00 p.m., Sat 8:30 p.m. Loring Playhouse. (Harris)
Chaos/Theory Theatre Project
You can try wandering from the madhouse to the barroom to skid row--the Skriker will follow with her fairy freaks. This woeful tale features two forlorn mortal souls who are eternally plagued by sinister little fiends from beyond the great beyond. As the titular leading fairy, Colleen Mylott gives a commanding performance with her poetic, tongue-twisting monologues and desperation-driven madness. The Skriker never loses its unnerving edge, either, to the extent that we keep glimpsing pieces of the macabre fairy world. With stiltwalkers, masked changelings, vampire spirit dancers, and even a rawheadandbloodybones, this show seems fated to make a return on All Hallows' Eve. Fri 10:00 p.m., Sun 5:30 p.m. Whitney Mainstage. (Swanson)
Small Barbie! Small Barbie!
Heidi House Theater
Here is storyteller Heidi Arneson as we are used to seeing her, body covered with sparkles from head to toe, eyes deeply circled with liner, intonation alternating between little-girl vocalizations and husky confessionals. Arneson recasts Barbie as a lush who guzzles vodka while making desperate late-night telephone calls to Ken. Sprawled out on a pink shag rug, she alternately confesses that the relationship was probably doomed from the start and then holds the receiver away from her mouth and begs of her lover pathetically: "Change your mind." Most of the show is scat-sung as a duet between Arneson and a saxophone, but the most compelling moments are Arneson's quietest, as when she notices the telephone spilled onto the ground and picks it up gingerly, asking in amazement, "Are you still there?" Thu 8:30 p.m., Sat 2:30 p.m., Sun 8:30 p.m. Loring Playhouse. (Sparber)
Smart Girls on Ice
Adrienne English and Amy Sackett
Must everything slide into a comedy sketch at the Fringe? No doubt, when these girls dance, their hypnotic movement and physical comedy will delight you. Their most intriguing number may be the two-part "Toy With Me," whose winsome yet sinister tone is reminiscent of Edward Scissorhands. In between routines, however, their emcee will bombard you with weary, run-on stories and ill humor. Understandably, the dancers need time to change, not to mention breathe. So give us music, give us silence, but please, don't make us gag on another rancid one-liner. Fri 1:00 p.m., Sat 7:00 p.m. Music Box Theatre. (Swanson)
The most-hyped play of the Fringe. Had I not seen it, I ran the risk of being run out of town on a rail by the festival's executive staff. Of course, "most hyped" and "best" are not synonyms, and Splice is happily diverting at most. Consisting of a number of short, inventive re-stagings of popular films (all done in the now-chic Jacques LeCoq style of masked and physical comedy), this is the show for anyone who wants to see the shower scene in Psycho performed with two actors, a shower curtain, and two flashlights; or the entirety of Star Wars performed as a Manhattan Transfer-type lounge act. Wed 5:30 p.m., Thu 8:30 p.m., Fri 1:00 p.m., Sat 5:30 p.m. Hennepin Center for the Arts, Studio 6A. (Sparber)
Indian Wars Theatre
This company was clever to produce a play that satirizes journalists: They make critics like me actually try to write (gasp!) an objective review. Ahem: This original comedy by Mark Anthony Rolo follows reporter J. Steady Bones as she trolls through casinos, unearthing the story of seedy Indian gaming lord Seven Bellies and his relationship with Amelia Earhart. The script is sometimes difficult to follow and the jokes occasionally fall flat. But promising young actor Eli Johnson--who plays both male and female characters and does a mean Jimmy Stewart impression--will be one to watch in forthcoming Fringes. Thu 10:00 p.m., Sat 5:30 p.m. Acadia Cabaret Theater. (Maerz)
Kolovitz, whose GirlyWorld was well-received at last year's Fringe, returns this time out with pretty much the same thing--a stream-of-consciousness riff that's equally poetic and bathetic--in a sloppier package. In Temperamental Ladies, Kolovitz's subject seems to be the mythologies and pathologies of Catholic womanhood (i.e., Mary, virgin to bloody). But, while Kolovitz has certainly staked out fertile territory, her writing is, at this point, so unfocused that it sometimes seems she's merely spilling her overheated imagination onto the stage. After 40 minutes of slogging through the results, audience members might be forgiven for feeling a little irritable themselves. Fri 8:30 p.m., Sun 1:00 p.m. Red Eye. (Ritter)
The Trouble With Leo
Galumph Performance Troupe
Ostensibly an educational program meant to teach children about a real-life historic event--a brief, unhappy period when Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo were hired to work on opposite walls of the Palazzo Vecchio--the Galumph Performance Troupe has created an interactive play that takes astonishing pleasure from chaos. In this instance the cast members, dressed in life-size puppet costumes, drag children out of the audience and involve them in a complex plot to drive Michelangelo out of his mind. There's real entertainment for adults who believe, as I do, that children are fundamentally instruments of turmoil. And as their misbehavior toward Michelangelo becomes more egregious, the play grows increasingly hysterical. Thu 8:30 p.m., Fri 8:30 p.m., Sat 4:00 p.m., Sun 1:00 p.m. Children's Theater Company Black Box. (Sparber)
Note to self: Watch out for the new venues next year, as Fringe executive director Dean J. Seal likes to cram the big-ticket items into them, regardless of the fact that in the case of the Wesley United Methodist Church, this meant that Kevin Kling was performing his acclaimed 21A in what amounted to a Turkish steam bath. The acoustics were terrible, the sightlines nonexistent, and Kling seemed ready to topple from heat exhaustion at the end of the performance. Nonetheless, his one-man tour de force, playing almost a dozen characters on a notably unpleasant bus ride, remains a Twin Cities reference point--when people mention Kling, or one-man shows, or the bus system, this production invariably comes up, spoken of glowingly. The reputation is well deserved. Wed 10:00 p.m., Fri 1:00 p.m., Sat 7:00 p.m., Sun 1:00 p.m. Wesley United Methodist Church. (Sparber)
Two Fingers in the Sugar Dish
This dance/performance-art piece certainly bills itself as an "I am Woman. Hear me roar!" act. In interpreting several feminine archetypes and feminist icons, the troupe takes aim at our het-male-dominated society with some of the following valid, if trite, critiques: Marriage is a sham. Joan of Arc was screwed over. Amazon chicks rock! I concur wholeheartedly. With all its whip cracking, however, Womenatrix did nothing to advance my feminist sensibilities. The dance became dull. The humor dreary. In this case, the lioness's roar turned out to be a yawn. Thu 7:00 p.m., Fri 5:30 p.m., Sat 10:00 p.m. Red Eye. (Swanson)
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