Minnesota Fringe Festival 2011
Billed as “Minnesota’s festival of the performing arts”, The Fringe Festival boasts performances of 160+ shows spread over a breathless ten day period, Aug 4-14. We at HowWasTheShow.com (J.O. = John Olive and J.P. = Janet Preus) offer herewith highly selected reviews of a few shows, in hopes that we can add to the buzz. Keep logging in and checking back.
MIMI’S LAST REHEARSAL
Ben Kreilkamp‘s lovely and ethereal Mimi’s Last Rehearsal is refreshingly un-Fringey, both in its subject matter – Death, the nature of theater, the importance of becoming, of rehearsing – and also in its acting style. No one tries brutally hard to make you like them. The plays moves with an easy-going, lyrical, even hallucinatory structure. I quickly experienced that ahhhhhhhh that happens when a play allows you to lean back and let go.
Krielkamp has hit on a simple and effective idea: that in the theater, for a while, you can beat back time. You can even defeat Death. But only for a while: Life intrudes, in the form of the cell phones that the characters are constantly yakking into.
Admittedly, some of the play frustrates. I didn’t understand the importance of the singing, or why Mimi disappears for so long. But this is okay. It’s the just the fragmented way this play works. Don’t go to this one expecting every moment to make logical sense
I was also frustrated by the lack of a program. I can say that I greatly admired the actors who do Mimi, Mo-Mo, the Angel of Death. But I can’t tell you their names. Ah, well. There’s something sort of indefinably perfect about this.
Mimi’s Last Rehearsal has a terrific and, from the point of view of a longtime twin cities theater artist, very moving ending. You have but one more chance to check it out.
Huge Improv Theater
3037 Lyndale Ave.
Sa 8/12, 4:00
OUR FREAKING KIDS SHOW
“Hey, kids! Let’s put on a show!” This is the basic premise of Our Freaking Kids Show, a brisk and shallow piece produced with admirable zest by Mainly Me Productions. A group of recently out-of-work theater artists decides to put on a children’s play because, they believe, they can make some money. (In what alternate universe can you make money doing theater? Take me there immediately) So they write, cast, rehearse and perform the show, and foil the nefarious saboteurs, in two short weeks. We get little sense of what the show is about, except that it is a western and involves quite a lot of MTV-style (am I revealing my age?) dancing. Naturally, the show’s a hit. It will run forever.
Our Freaking Kids Show is smartly written and moves briskly. The actors are good and several (Kendra Ryan, Greg Eiden) are excellent. There is some smart writing – “Ooh, you’re so cute, I just want to buy you things.” (Script is by Josh Carson). But the play is substance-free; no real relationships form, there is no meaningful character development, no exploration of what it means to create children’s material in the twenty-first century. As a result, the piece became tedious. A shame, because these talented people are capable of better.
Rarig Thrust, 330 21st Ave. S.
F 8/12, 8:30
THE LOVE SONG OF J. ALFRED PRUFROCK
In The Love Song Of J. Alfred Prufrock solo performer Tyler Stuckey surrounds himself with 6 video monitors and a rat’s nest of electrical cords. On the TVs plays a number of videos loops, some static, some violently edited (I could only see 3, as the show is done in the round, at TRP). From time to time, Stuckey turns the monitors off, then on again.
And he delivers a… text, I suppose you could call it. Sometimes he recites the famous T.S. Elliott poem. Sometimes the text consists of “found material” – I recognized Shakespeare, P.K. Dick. Often the text is original (David James Peterjohn receives writing credit). Stuckey is an excellent actor and he varies the tone and passion level of the text with admirable control. There is a frat-boy ordinariness to his demeanor that works extremely well. He beautifully holds the stage.
But nothing makes real sense. The Love Song is the theatrical equivalent of trance music – early Phillip Glass, electronic compositions. You can drift in and out, watch the videos, follow some of the imagery, then safely drift away again. Grand for those like this sort of thing. But I would counsel play-goers who want story, real characters, thematic substance, to avoid this piece.
Theatre-in-the-Round, 245 Cedar Ave.
Sa 8/13, 5:30
SOUSEPAW: A BASEBALL STORY
Ooh, a good one. The Shelby Company, based in New York, brings us Sousepaw: A Baseball Story, about Rube Waddell’s stay in a fleabag hotel, somewhere in Texas, 1913. Waddell is in the end-stage of his life. Indeed, Death stalks the room, along with Reptile Girl, a circus performer/quasi-prostitute, who visits the famous lefty pitcher in the wee hours of a hot night. Playwright Jonathan A. Goldberg gives his a story an hallucinatory intensity that will make you forget the contrivance of the situation. That and Goldberg’s fierce lyricism makes the play work beautifully.
As Waddell, James B. Kennedy gives a bravura performance, simultaneously boyish and Death-haunted, athletic and alcoholic, pathetic and attractive. His love for baseball shines through – as well as Waddell’s propensity for bizarre behavior. His goofy grin will break your heart. Ariana Venturi does wonders with the difficult role of Reptile Girl, who visits Waddell in the middle of the night, fastening onto him with true despair. That this strange haunted man is her savior indicates how desperate she is. Her quandary at the end is vividly felt. Both performers are marvels.
Highly recommended, but Sousepaw is going to be a tough ticket. There is only one more show. Show up early.
Huge Improv Theater, 3037 Lyndale
Su 8/14, 2:30
TEN REASONS WHY I’D BE A BAD PORN STAR
Performer May Lee-Vang is a performing piston, energetic, charming, with an infectious smile and a stage-filling persona. In Ten Reasons Why I’d Be A Bad Porn Star, she begins by showing off a table filed with sex-aids (which Lee-Vang herself reps): lube jellies, dildoes, bust creams, etc. Then she launches into her monologue. Porn stars make beaucoup bucks, she says wistfully, but there are ten good reasons why she wouldn’t cut the mustard: she can’t afford a boob job, she’s picky, hates anal sex, believes firmly in safe sex, etc. Lee-Vang gets some able assistance from Saymoukda Duangphouxay Vongsay, tall and leggy with a goony grin and a sexy mini-skirt, who as Mango Crotch demonstrates the butt-swishing porn star sashay, which of course Lee-Vang can’t reproduce.
Ha, ha. We laugh, and get pulled in by the goofy ho-jinx. This is, we think, a show about the pervasive presence of the sex industry and Lee-Vang invites us to feel superior to those pathetic porn stars and the masturbating fat guys who form their audience. But there is anger and subversive intent here. Lee-Vang, a Hmong, in fact despises the facelessness of this new American version of love-making. She hates the emasculation of Asian men. The denigration of women. This fervor raises the stakes. Not all the jokes work, but plenty do. But what really makes Ten Reasons powerful is May Lee-Vang’s passion.
Intermedia Arts, 2822 Lyndale Ave. S.
Sa 8/13, 2:30; Su 8/14, 7:00
THE PROBLEM and (WITH) YOUR MOTHER’S BUTT
The Problem and (with) Your Mother’s Butt are two short pieces by major American writers: A.R. Gurney (The Problem) and Alan Ball ((with) Your Mother’s Butt). In the Gurney piece, Wife presents Husband with a problem: she’s 8¾ months pregnant and “I’m not entirely sure this is yours.” “Hm,” replies her utterly unflappable math professor Husband. They proceed to very deliberately work on the problem. (with) Your Mother’s Butt takes place in a psychiatrist’s office. Patient launches into a series of increasingly strange monologues, climaxing with his dream of being in a tub, faced with his mother’s derriere. The Therapist, bored, eggs him on: “Talk to the butt. Tell it what you feel.”
The level of writing is, as you might expect with these writers, high and so is the acting. Ari Hoptman, Amy Shomshak (who appears in both playlets) and Nathaniel Nesheim-Case (a scream as Patient) are all excellent. The best thing about these performances is that the actors don’t try so desperately (like so many Fringers) to make us like them. Both plays go for outrageous but they succeed only so far, dragged down by a ritual literary quality. They don’t really get under our skin. Still, the quality of this work is high and the plays are quite watchable.
Huge Improv Theater, 3037 Lyndale Ave. S.
F 8/12, 4:00; Sa 8/13, 10:00; Sun 8/14, 4:00
THE FOLLY OF CROWDS: a heterosexual buttsex play
The Folly Of Crowds: a heterosexual buttsex play certainly titillates. Barb Morris’s boyfriend Jerry badly wants to… enjoy anal sex (the play uses a slew of saltier terms). “Don’t keep your love locked down,” pleads Barb’s sweetly pathetic beau. Should I, wonders Barb. Could I? Barb writes the campus gossip columnist, Dear Denise, in hopes that Denise will provide some anonymous advice. But Denise turns out to be Jerry’s bitter and breathtakingly nasty ex. She prints Barb’s letter, name and all. Now everyone knows that Barb wants to… to have anal sex. Eeeeeeeeeeeeek!
It may sound dreadfully wink wink tee hee, but in fact this piece is quite good. Playwright Mat Smart has crafted a nifty story about gossip, damage control, love, the nature of sexual jealousy, death (Barb’s mother died, literally, in Barb’s arms and this is central to her character). Barb’s angry father keeps the story moving in unexpected directions. Characters are multi-dimensional and there are some real surprises. The writing is muscular and taut.
It’s not all perfection. The production overuses TV-esque blackouts and the last scene feels tacked on (though being post-coital, it’s still quite enjoyable). All in all, The Folly Of Crowds is well-written, well-acted, a perfect Fringe offering.
Rarig Center Arena, 320 21st Ave. S.
F 8/12, 7:00; Su 8/14, 5:30
JOHN DINGLEY AND THE BIGGEST PACK OF LIES YOU EVER HEARD
I loved this show. John Dingley is a skinny, wiry little guy in his 60s, Welsh, bespectacled, graying, a stonemason from Wisconsin (most of his program is given over to an advert for his services). But Dingley has the gift of gab and in Pack Of Lies he’s brought 50 minutes of his sweet and highly energized stories to the Augsburg black box. His stories are about Wales, the pub (of course), about his early days at the U of M, his work as a mason. Dingley’s voice is huge and his presence larger than life. He charmed the heck out of me, for sure. Where else but at the Fringe could you see a show like this? Some people will be put off by Dingley’s frankly amateur style, but imo this only adds to his naïve and folksy presence.
Augsburg Studio, 2211 Riverside
F 8/12, 4:00; Su 8/14, 5:30
Actor/singer Kevin J. Thornton breezes into town from L.A. by way of Nashville and southern Indiana, with a one man coming-of-age/coming-out show, I Love You (We’re F*#ked). Thornton grabs the stage with aplomb, sings with a commanding tenor (accompanying himself with a gorgeous-sounding vintage Gibson archtop).
And tells stories. Growing up gay in a small town with a conservative Christian upbringing, gives Thornton a lot to opine upon and he opines powerfully. Some of the stories are genuinely scary-funny, e.g., his description of playing lead guitar in a Christian rock band while nurturing the hots for a young man in the audience.
Still, none of the stories really fulfills the nasty promise of the title. There’s a terrific fractured series of tales mid-way through the show, “Blood Stories.” Ooh, thought I, now this show will bounce up to a new and frightening level. But it doesn’t. The stories feel randomly chosen. They work, certainly, but they don’t work together to create a lasting effect.
But no matter. Thornton is a performer of energy and charm and he works the audience brilliantly.
At Huge Improv Theater, 3037 Lyndale Ave. S.
M 8/8, 8:30; F 8/12, 8:30; Sa 8/13, 2:30
Cool premise! In History Camp, produced with zest, zip and zeal by Zombie High School, 8 historical figures – Houdini, Emily Dickinson, Wm. Shakespeare, Marilyn Monroe, Joan of Arc, to name a few – reincarnate at a summer camp, run by the hyper-energetic JR (Troy Zimmerman). And, once there they… they…
Well, gee, what do they do exactly? They try to figure out who’s stolen Ms. D’s notebook. Houdini tries to seduce Ms. D. They snark at each other. They try to decide who will travel back through the betinselled time vortex (for reasons unexplained, only one historical figure can go). And they put on a show! There you go. But it only lasts a few minutes.
Well, okay, History Camp may not be the best-developed show in theatrical history, but who cares. The Zombies have infectious fun. They make up for their lack of acting experience with ebullience and earnestness. Best of all, they sing Andrew Berkowitz‘s pretty darn good doo-wop inflected songs. And, garbled though it might be, the show sports a rather surprising ending.
At Mixed Blood, 1501 S. 4th St.
T 8/9, 5:30; Th 8/11, 7:00, Sa 8/13, 10:00
Beautifully produced by Nautilus Music Theater, Twisted Apples is a cerebral but thoroughly affecting musical adaptation of one of Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio stories. The show has an excellent script by Jim Payne and some truly gorgeous music, approachable and singable, yet boasting Charles Ives-like intensity. Robert Elhai is the composer and his work here is first rate. Also very good are Gary Briggle as the Doctor and as the Husband and Joshua Hinck as the sensitive narrator.
Ah, but here’s the best thing about the show: it stars Norah Long. Long is a true Minnesota treasure and she is perfect here, lean and haunted, singing beautiful music with fervor and intensity. The scene between Long and Briggle as the Doctor, their paean to lost love, is pitch perfect.
Twisted Apples is a piece very much in progress. Mr. Briggle is still working with the score. The flasbacky, jumping-around-in-time structure could perhaps still use some attention. But don’t let all this put you off; this show has been mounted by seasoned and richly talented professionals. It’s well worth seeing.
Theatre-in-the-Round, 245 Cedar Ave.
M 8/8. 5:30; W 8/10, 8:30; F 8/12, 10:00, Sa 8/13, 1:00
I’M MAKING THIS UP AS I GO
“I’m Making This Up As I Go” offers up stand-up comedy from 20 different comics – four each performance. This is a cool opportunity to see local comics in a bare-bones, do-or-die setting: no bar, no warm-up acts, no comedy club cachet, just one person with a microphone trying to make you laugh. It’s just not that easy to tell jokes and make them work, but the small audience at Sunday Fringe show at Intermedia Arts got their money’s worth of laughs and gave the young comics a chance to try out some new material. Dan Davila showed some polish and timing with a good mix of topics and smooth delivery. Andy Erickson’s goofy persona and off-the-wall material is a good fit. She’s got a unique thing going and should just keep tightening it up. Sam Gorton and Dan Juola have the makings of good performers; they just need to rehearse. Hey, your publicity says “improv sucks!”
Wed. 8/10 at 7; Fri. 8/12 at 10 at Intermedia Arts
“Depression Glass: A Cheery Little Play about Death and Decay” pictures Manhattan the day after an economic crash. No, a real economic crash with men (and women) in suits throwing themselves out of windows and buildings (inexplicably) burning down in a very vaguely defined contemporary apocalypse. Two guys meet to drink beer, talk about the state of things – in completely detached terms – and make an effort to help the unfortunate when calamity lands at their feet. What’s funny about it is the quirky mixture in their conversations that border on the absurd but don’t quite get there. I’m thinking this would have been quirkier, funnier and the satire more effective with a little tighter script and a dose of Moliere-like clarity of purpose. Interesting from beginning to end, though!
Tue. 8/9 at 7; Fri. 8/12 at 8:30; Sat. 8/13 at 10 at Minneapolis Theatre Garage
LOT O’ SHAKESPEARE
“Lot o’ Shakespeare” presented by Timothy Mooney Repertory Theatre (which is Timothy Mooney) is a one-man show I’m happy to recommend. The device of hanging Shakespeare’s speeches on an audience participation game of lotto (“IAGO,” in this case) will make you happy. His high-energy, engaging style will make you happy, and his command of every single Shakespeare play you know (and some you don’t), with a few sonnets thrown in, will simply amaze. And make you happy. Request King John if it doesn’t pop up on the bingo balls. It’ll be worth your tip; you’ve never heard it like this before.
Fri. 8/12 at 10; Sun. 8/14 at 7, Bryant-Lake Bowl
THE SOMETIMES GRACE OF SAINT SIMON OF THE WATER
“The Sometimes Grace of Saint Simon of the Water,” presented by Young Fox Theatre is an exploration of an idea, the performance of a prose poem and a meticulously imagined visualization of one young man’s angst over who and what he is. Body and “self,” anger and love, sex is dirty and water is holy – the title character is awash in ambiguity, so we as an audience are, too. Still, Matt Ouren is engaging as Simon (although his habit of moving his mouth before he actually talks was distracting) and Ted Eschweiler’s direction was skilled and intriguing. Technique is good; technique that I don’t see is even better. Written by Timothy Otte.
Wed. 8/10 at 7; Sat. 8/13 at 4, Bryant-Lake Bowl
UNDERNEATH THE LINTEL
What a pleasure! Pat O’Brian’s production of Glen Berger’s play “gets” everything that’s funny and wondrous about this smart script. O’Brian’s manic librarian, obsessed with a discovery that leads him on an impossible journey, appears to be much ado about very little. For a while. It’s all a masterful setup for the investigation of a centuries old mystery, life, love, myth, and the existence of God. Yes, really. A few clever props, O’Brian in a threadbare suit (dripping wet by the end of it) and bits of music from a boombox are all that was needed to support a story that – preposterous as it was – became more believable with every twist and leap. Just wonderful. Proceed!
Aug. 12 at 8:30, Aug. 13 at 4:00, Rarig Center, U. of M., www.fringefestival.org/2011/show/?id=1571
HIGHLANDER: THE MUSICAL!
Created by John Newstrom and Tim Wick, “Highlander” is just about the quintessential Fringe show: original material, campy costumes, bare-bones but cleverly conceived props and set, talented if not brilliant actors and a wacked out idea that is completely incongruous with its treatment. The melodies in this musical are weak (as if the alto sang her part alone) but the lyrics are frequently laugh-out-loud funny. A little light choreography, a lot of sword fights (one in black leathers; the other in a trench coat) and a harmonizing chorus that guided us through a blitz of flashbacks and fast forwards. How do I explain this? It’s clever nonsense. How’s that?
8/12 at 5:30, 8/13 at 2:30, Augsburg Mainstage, www.fringefestival.org/2011/show/?id=1483