Minnesota Fringe 2014

It’s that magic time of year again, when local theater folk drain their cowboy coffees and step forward (and when national artists working the extensive Fringe circuit bring themselves and their talent to our fair city) and, green-lighting themselves, throw the biggest theater party around: the Minnesota Fringe Festival. 168 shows and many hundreds of performances. Folded into the many stinkers are nuggets of pure brilliance and inspiration. HowWasTheShow.com will help you to separate the two.

The Fringe venues are clustered in three areas: the confluence of Lake and Lyndale (Intermedia, Huge Improv, Bryant Lake Bowl, Theatre Garage); downtown Minneapolis (Illusion, New Century and – it’s a hike, but doable – the Music Box); and the West Bank with spaces almost too numerous to mention (4 theaters at the Rarig, Mixed Blood, the Southern, TRP, Playwrights Center). The Fringe hands out a slim but useful schedule at all show but your best bet for info is the well-designed Minnesota Fringe website.

So:

 

HABIBI

Fringe - habibiA beautiful piece, written Sharif Abu-Hamdeh and directed by the estimable Jamil Jude. The situation is simple: a Palestinian man, Mohammed, offers awkward guidance to his thoroughly Americanized son, Tariq. But Tariq resists – and yet he is strangely drawn to his father, a man with one foot in an idealized, never-to-recovered Palestinian past and a buttoned down, starched American present. Tariq yearns to break free and yet he yearns for everything his father represents.

Am I making Habibi sound like just another father-son drama? It’s not. Abu-Hamdeh writes with originality and flair. There is a third character, Nadia, who takes the play places you won’t expect. Abu-Hamdeh uses some nifty McCraneyesque techniques. The ending is terrific: unexpected yet utterly logical (and of course I’m not going to reveal it).

Performances are excellent. The accomplished James A. Williams plays Mohammed with passion and power. I could go on about his work, but I’m afraid of revealing too much of the plot. In the difficult role of Tariq (ambivalent characters are always a challenge), the breathtakingly handsome Ryan Colbert is pitch perfect. And Nastacia Nicole does wonders with her two characters.

See this play.

JO

Intermedia Arts: 8/6 at 7; 8/9 at 4

 

CURSED

Fringe - cursedThe cursee in Cursed (based on a Strindberg play) is called the “Stranger.” He meets a sweet young woman, the Lady, convinces her to leave her pompous psychiatrist husband, takes her to a strange cliff-side hotel, impregnates her, then deserts her, looking for… something. He ends up raving in a mountain monastery. The Stranger is a once-successful but still ambitious musician. We hear a brief selection of his dark and nasty metalish music (a nice turn by composer/performer Jeremy Rosenwinkel). The Stranger suffers the burden of talent with no outlet for it. He despises the world; the Lady idealizes it. Are they a match made in Heaven or in Hell?

Excellent stuff. Bruce Abas captures the Stranger’s world-weary passion with lean eye-shadowed (think Robert Smith of The Cure) pitch perfection. He animates this play. Also terrific is Natasha Roy as the Lady, searching for something to believe in. Will she find it in pregnancy? I wish I could be sure. Mark Rosenwinkel (a triple threat; he writes, directs, acts) delights as the louche monk. And Elizabeth Streiff plays her three characters with flair and absolute control.

There is a lot of talent on display in Cursed. The production moves, exhibits energy and creativity. Definitely worth seeing.

JO

Huge Improv: 8/8 at 4; 8/9 at 10

 

THE HISTORY OF MINNESOTA: UNSCRIPTED!

Fringe - historyA nice performance by the zestful and accomplished Theater Of Public Policy.

Here’s how it works: an accomplished story-teller/author/librarian tells stories based on Minnesota history. The show I saw featured the estimable Richard Rousseau; upcoming tellers include Lori Sturdevant, Wendy Jones, Doug Hoverson. Then the actors, all members of the Theater Of Public Policy, improvise comic scenelets based on the stories just told.

There were 5 actors. The program lists 13. So I can’t tell you who the improvisers were. But I can tell you that they played their scenes with gusto and creativity. If improv comedy is your cup of tea, then this is the show for you. Also: Mr. Rousseau was, no surprise, terrific.

JO

Bryant Lake Bowl: 8/6 at 5:30; 8/8 at 4; 8/9 at 7

 

THE OHMAN STONE

Fringe - ohmanIs the Kensington Runestone genuine? Surely you have asked this question a hundred and one times. Every scientist who has examined the Stone (it was “discovered” in 1898 by a fellow with the wonderful name of Olof Ohman) has declared it to be a fake. But never mind: the creators of this musical entertainment, along with a cadre of hard-core true believers, are fervently convinced that the Stone is genuine. In the play, Olof, along with his daughter Amanda (who, despite being deceased falls in love with cynical TV producer Brian) exit in the “netherworld.” They engage a number of fellow dead characters in earnest discussion about the Stone’s provenance. They sing songs. Once they establish the Stone’s genuineness, they triumphantly enter Valhalla. Brian waves Amanda a fond farewell.

That the script is garbled and the music sluggish and tuneless is bad enough, but what makes The Ohman Stone almost impossible to endure is the astonishingly amateurish performances. Actors have trouble remembering their lines and display almost no stage presence. The show I saw was very nearly sold out, due to a nice write-up in the Strib. That the lovely Habibi goes begging while a show like The Ohman Stone sells out breaks my heart.

JO

Intermedia Arts: 8/3 at 10; 8/5 at 7; 8/6 at 8:30; 8/10 at 4

 

LOUDER THAN WORDS, TALES OF EXTREME ACTION

Fringe - LouderStorytelling.

Four accomplished tellers take the stage and let their personalities flower, filling the New Century space. Storytelling is like standup comedy without the glib and (usually, imo) stupid jokes. It’s much more satisfying.

The best teller in Louder Than Words is the quietest: Hannah Cheese, who tells the affecting story of being called “nigger” by a white woman – a woman who resembled, uncannily, her mother. For Cheese the episode was hugely instructive and her telling of it is vividly charged with grief for her departed mother. Lovely. Alex Cleberg and Javier Morillo look alike (I had to check the program) and have similar styles: both are awkward and passionate and their stories (about a visit to Africa, and about being arrested at a protest in Houston) really work. The performance ends with the smooth, accomplished and, perhaps, glib Richard W. Rousseau who describes, with comic flair, a boyhood encounter with the evil and scary “Hawkalewie.”

Louder Than Words is produced by Story Arts of Minnesota and provides a nice opportunity to sample this ancient and vital form.

JO

New Century: 8/2 at 10; 8/6 at 7; 8/8 at 5:30; 8/9 at 2:30

 

THE WHOLE WORLD IS HERE: PANDORA RETOLD

Fringe - PandoraA mish-mash modernization of a Greek myth, the story of Pandora and her dangerous box. The show features a Greek chorus, two versions of “Panda”‘s father (which I never understood), a psychiatrist who administers to Panda after she has a mysterious medical episode. The play is garbled and makes little sense, a problem seriously exacerbated by an amateurish and under-rehearsed production.

The Whole World boasts creditees too numerous to mention: conception, lyrics, script, music. The music plods – with one lovely exception: “Me Myself And I” (I think) soars and Rya Demulder, who plays Panda, really comes into her own during the song. Would that the rest of the show had as much flair.

JO

Music Box: 8/2 at 8:30, 8/3 at 10; 8/7 at 5:30, 8/10 at 2:30.

 

 

 

UPTOWN BANK HEIST

Fringe - uptownA breaking-up-is-easy-to-do couple comes to a Minneapolis bank in order to divvy up their joint bank account.  The teller is vying for a promotion and a bank officer oversees the systematic looting of the bank and emptying of the lockboxes. Blundering robbers arrive. One immediately dies. The others pull off their masks in frustration. The cops stumble in – at the end of the show.

A little contrived? Silly? You betcha. Add to that cutesy, shrill and utterly unbelievable and you get a sense of this play, which I found as inept as the putative robbers. The performances are pretty good; the actors politely adjust their performances downward, to the level of the script (by James Buffington). I enjoyed Renee Werbowski, Heather Jo Raiter, Charlie Coleman and, especially, Josef Buchel.

Maybe Uptown Bank Heist is your cup of tea. It’s not mine, but maybe you’ll like it: it’s breezy and mud-puddle shallow.

JO

New Century: 8/3 at 4; 8/5 at 10; 8/7 at 7; 8/10 at 5:30

 

ANOTHER OPENING, ANOTHER SHOW

Fringe - openingHere’s a nugget of pure brilliance (which nicely overcomes the slightly flaccid title): an anthology of cuttings from four outstanding musicals, presented by some uber-talented singer/actors – 13 by my count.

You won’t find better material in the Fringe. Maureen Kane Berg and Tom Berg‘s Got It Made reminded me of the film The Apartment; it’s a deft portrait of life in a successful realty firm. In Water From Snow, Janet Preus (truth in reviewing: Ms. Preus is my HowWasTheShow.com colleague) serves up some toe-tapping Nashville-esque tuneage and a script that niftily portrays one woman’s striving. Steven Kennedy and Brian Vinero‘s take on The Magnificent Ambersons is formal and pitch-perfect. Another Opening ends with Shirley Mier and Brian Vinero‘s The Allen Street Yiddish Theater Presents Cinderesther, a rousing celebration of a still-vital theater tradition. All these shows are brilliant, well-deserving of the full productions that they will – because after all, this is a just universe – receive.

And the performances? Terrific. Everyone thrills but I have to especially mention Bill Marshall and Leslie Vincent.

See this one.

JO

Illusion: 8/2 at 4; 8/3 at 8:30, 8/9 at 10, 8/10 at 4

How Was the Show for You?

Your email address will not be published.