Fringe 2012

A wonderful festival: 160 plus performances in ten delightful days.  It’s hard to know which to see.  I’ll be averaging at least two shows a day.  Check here for reviews and keep checking back.  I will indicate at the top of the article which shows I’ve reviewed.  Note also that my HWTS colleague, Janet Preus, is also seeing and reviewing Fringe shows, and posting in a separate article.

Fifth batch: casual encounters, Theatre Garage warning, posted, 11/10.

Fourth batch: DEAD WRONG, THREADS, posted 8/7.


Second batch: NEVER MIND, THE DUST, posted 8/5.



casual encounters

Georgia Hallman as blowsy and flamboyant Moira and Nora Montañez as reserved, fussy (and very funny) Polly exquisitely animate casual encounters.  Moira and Polly have connected via a Craiglist ad and have met at an empty warehouse space – to fight.  “I really want to hit someone.”  The show evokes two women reacting to the emptiness of their lives through something vivid: the sound of skin striking skin.  Their initially sedate and giggly face slapping quickly escalates into real punching.  And then…  Well, I won’t go into what happens except to say that the performers make combat choreographer Carl Schoenborn earn his lavish salary.   Hallman and Montañez are quick to retreat into comedy (e.g, a kotex used to staunch a nosebleed) and this may remove some edge, but on the other hand it makes casual encounters a hoot to watch – and then some.  Together, Hallman, Montañez and director Seth Patterson created this delightful show.

I am completely enamored of Ms. Montañez.  There, I said it, and I don’t care who knows it.  I have watched her quiet energy and intelligence enliven shows at Mu, Mixed Blood, Park Square, etc, etc.  According to her bio, Ms. M moves to Chicago next month.  Sigh.  What this means, though, is that you have one (1) more chance to see her: Sa Aug 11 at 10:00 PM.  Don’t miss casual encounters.  I may go again.



Parking is a major challenge, the theater isn’t close to any other Fringe space and if you come 30 seconds late they won’t let you in.  Avoid this venue.



Dead Wrong (written and performed by Katherine Glover, with direction by Nancy Donoval) is an exquisitely wrought piece of solo theater on a troubling and difficult subject: the pitfalls of witness identification.  We need witness IDs – don’t we?  How else can we put these monsters in prison?  But if they are as iffy as Dead Wrong suggests, we are regularly locking up innocent men.  There are no easy answers, but Dead Wrong explores the subject forthrightly and unblinkingly.

Our narrator, Megan Shepard, has been violently raped, several times knocked unconscious, stripped naked, left for dead.  Aided by the subtle manipulations of a (presumably) well-meaning cop, Megan identifies an innocent man as her attacker.  He is imprisoned.  He lives in Megan’s nightmares.  Later, Megan realizes that she has made a horrible mistake and takes step to rectify it.  Beyond this I’m not going to reveal anything; Dead Wrong‘s plot is simple – and compelling.  See it.

Glover performs with a pitch perfect combination of simplicity, earnestness, awkwardness and barely controlled teeth-clenching anger.  What particularly thrills is Megan’s courage: we never doubt that, although the process may take years, she will be OK.  Lovely.

Patrick’s Cabaret: T 8/7 10:00; Sa 8/11 7:00.



One person shows work well when there is a strong and vivid story and when the performer sustains a deep emotional connection to it.  These qualities animate Dead Wrong and are firmly in evidence in Threads, written and performed by Tonya Jone MillerThreads details the experiences of Miller’s mother, Donna, who finds herself, almost by accident, teaching English in Saigon – in 1967, at the horrifying height of the conflict.  Miller’s canvas is huge; the play ranges all over the continental U.S. (as Donna follows her husband to various military bases), to Hawaii, to Viet Nam.  The play details the war experiences of Donna’s brother (and his early death, caused by Agent Orange-induced leukemia), Donna’s adopting of an impoverished Vietnamese family, having a child with Vietnamese father.  There is a bravura sequence as Donna, 8 plus months pregnant, struggles to catch a taxiing airplane.  With such a sprawling plot, inevitably, things get diffuse and a tad confusing.  Still, Miller’s energy, her soft-spoken passion, and her obvious delight in the story carries the performance.

This show satisfies, definitely, but I do hope Miller is working on an expanded version, with added characters.  Viet Nam lives in the American imagination and we haven’t yet finished exploring it.  Threads is a worthy addition to the literature and I have a sense that it hasn’t yet found its “perfect” form.

Rarig Arena: W 8/8 10:00; Th 8/9 7:00; Sa 8/11 10:00




Max Wojtanowicz and Sheena Janson have been best pals for 17 years: do you have any idea how long this is in Actor Years?  That these two have sustained their friendship in a business in which relationships normally last as long as the run of a play is remarkable and it is the subject of Fruit Fly: The Musical, a simple and tremendously entertaining Fringe offering.  It also helps that Wojtanowicz and Janson fairly burst with acting prowess, musical chops and pure charm.  Not a lot happens in Fruit Fly – Wojtanowicz comes out to his friend, threatens vaguely to get “another hag” – but the two performers work with capricious abandon.  “I love you,” they repeat, and we feel the truth of this.

Michael Gruber has composed some lovely music, performed by drummer Jay Corkran and keyboardist Jason Hansen (I assume; the program is a little hazy on this).  The excellent Nikki Swoboda directs and keeps things nicely focused – a job of work with these two performers.

Fruit Fly: The Musical performs in the Rarig Arena, a small venue.  Arrive early, stand in line, get your tickets.  This one will sell out.

Rarig Arena: M 8/6 10:00; Th 8/9 5:30: F 8/10 7:00; Sa 8/11 4:00




I gotta start drinking more.  Sara Stevenson Scrimshaw and her band of gifted (and almost all female) collaborators have discovered something wonderful about the heedless tipsiness that comes from over-indulgence in alcohol.  In the engaging Happy Hour – six unpretentious, good-natured, beautifully wrought dance pieces – they celebrate the joys (mostly) and pitfalls (occasionally) of drinking.

Scrimshaw sets the tone in her marvelous solo piece “Whiskey”; her work is spirited and delightful.  The highpoint of the show is surely choreographer Christine Maginnis‘s frenetic and giddy “Vodka,” in which four fiery dancers (Maginnis, Stephanie Fellner, Heidi Kalweit, Stephanie Narlock) perform with building energy.  Scrimshaw teams up with lovely choreographer/dancer Danielle Robinson-Prater in the terrific tango “Argentinean Malbec.”  Then there’s Gina Louise‘s hallucinogenic strip tease, in “Absinthe.”  The performance ends with Jeffrey Petersen‘s rich “Champagne” (featuring, unfortunately, too many dancers to mention).  All in all, this is one of the most enjoyable Fringe performances I’ve seen.

I doubt whether the powers-that-be at the Southern will let you bring a cocktail into the theater.  A shame.  Plan B: drink a tasty beer at the Town Hall Tap or at the Republic before you see Happy Hour.

The Southern: W 8/8 5:30; Th 8/9 8:30; F 8/10 10:00; Sa 8/11 1:00



That the play is watchable at all is due largely to the detailed and rich performance of Joel Partyka as the clown Jerry.  Partyka combines fussiness with great theatrical generosity and imagination; he energizes every scene he’s in and, luckily, he’s in every one.  Other good performances are in evidence as well: Annie Disch as the cheerfully sluttish Petunia; Aaron Ruder as the hard-drinking Whamo, Ryan Thorsen as the horn squawking and heroin-injecting (?) Sticky.  They keep Behind The Big Top moving and provide real interest.

But the play, by Travis DePaul Berg, left me cold.  It is occasionally non-sensensical: why does Sticky suddenly whack himself into a drooling heroin trance?  Or off-putting: that Petunia seduces her fellow clown knowing she is likely to be caught by her jealous fiancé gave me the creeps.  But the biggest flaw is one of omission: Berg fails to really explore the potentially powerful circus/clown metaphor.  We’re left with good actors wearing weird makeup with nowhere to go.

The Southern: M 8/6 8:30; W 8/8 10:00; Sa 8/11 8:30; Su 8/12 7:00




Looking for an antidote to the hyped up, gee-ain’t-we-clever blather afflicting so much of the Fringe?  Check out Never Mind, a sweet, understated and emotionally stirring adaptation (by Helena Webb) of Pamela Carter Joern‘s The Plain Sense Of Things.  The BairsKaren, Evalyn and Mary (I love writing this) – and the delightfully watchable Amanda Schnabel play the principals in this portrait of hardscrabble life on the World War 2 homefront: hardluck Mary (twice-widowed, a son fighting the Japanese), her daughters and Mary’s slightly unstable (dealing daily with her abusive husband) neighbor and co-worker (at a munitions plant) Irene.  Not a lot happens, but these women form an unlikely and affecting alliance.  Yes, all right, there is some klutziness to the staging (too many lengthy blackouts).  I mention this because, being a hard-hearted reviewer, I have to wax critical whenever possible.  It’s a minor complaint.  Never Mind is truly lovely stuff.

The Playwrights Center: Su 8/5, 7:00; T 8/7, 7:00; F 8/10, 10:00; Su 8/12 4:00



I enjoyed this piece tremendously, but I must begin with an apology: I’m a Theater Guy, not a Dance Dude.  I won’t be able to offer an analysis such as you might expect from the Star Tribune’s excellent Caroline Palmer.  This aside, I can tell you that The Dust is a compelling exploration, using fragmented music, snatches of poetry, weird sound effects, and, of course, dance of (to quote from the Fringe Website) “myth, belief [and]… mortality.”  The four skilled dancers execute Erin Rehberg‘s intelligent choreography with what I would describe as calm passion.  Their work is fast-paced, yet serene and confident.  Lovely.

Dance works well in the Fringe: the combination of abstract narrative and the intense physical presence of the dancers (you hear their labored breathing, see the sweat beading their foreheads) makes for a perfect 50 minute performance.  Ms. Rehberg is the artistic director of Chicago’s Core Project, the producing entity of The Dust.  There was no program, so I am unable to name the dancers; they were all terrific.  Recommended.

Patrick’s Cabaret: Su 8/5 10:00; W 8/8, 7:00; Su 8/12, 7:00




An affecting and charming one person show.  Show creator/performer Les Kurkendaal‘s beloved mother is slipping into dementia and is no longer, it seems, able to recognize Les.  Is her deterioration irrevocable?  The indefatigable Kurkendaal (he’s appearing in a grand total of three Fringe shows) tells her a series of stories designed to spark some recognition.  The stories are terrific – defining “abortion” for 7 yo Les, the dog named F**k, coming out to her.  After all this, Mom…  Well, see the show.

Kurkendaal’s tells us all this with a pleasant, breezy, up-energy demeanor that belies the frightening seriousness of what he’s dealing with; after all this woman is in serious danger of becoming a permanent ward of the state of Texas.  This contrast gives the show depth.  Less satisfying is that the stories are never told to us as though we are Mom; rather, we hear about the subject matter, and as a result the stories are less effective than they might have been.  A small complaint.  What emerges is a loving portrait of a complex woman – and she has given her son the strength and creativity to create her vividly.  Lovely.

Patrick’s Cabaret: T 8/7 8:30; W 8/8 8:30; F 8/10 5:30; Sa 8/11 1:00



A close look at the lurid and (to me, anyway) unexamined T. Eugene Thompson murder case of 1963.  Two first rate actors, Catherine Johnson Justice and Steve Sweere, take the stage and effectively portray the principals: the hapless victim Carol; the sluttish girlfriend Jackie; Mastrian, the hired killer (who “sub-contracts” the dirty work to the ineffably incompetent Dick W.C Anderson); and finally, “Cotton” Thompson, successful attorney, convicted murderer.  Justice and Sweere are terrific.  Their presence is both understated and vivid.  They handle the multiple casting with aplomb.  Justice’s halting and confused rendering of Carol’s dying moments is particularly lovely.

I was less taken with the play (by James Vcukek), with its relentless past-tenseness, its just-the-facts-ma’am drabness.  The play doesn’t deal very effectively with the times – it doesn’t ask why this crime so dominated Minnesota life in 1963.  And it short-shrifts Cotton’s effective defense: I’m a prominent man, a church-goer, a district attorney.  Surely, you don’t believe I’m responsible for this horror.

Still, the story is excellent and the actors terrific.  This could be worth a look.

Rarig Arena: F 8/3 5:30; Sa 8/4 5:30; F 8/10 8:30; Sa 8/11 5:30



You will encounter the best thing about this show as you enter the cavernous Whiting Proscenium: the band, playing raunchy and nasty, toe-tapping jazz.  The sax player (Robert Russel) in particular needs to be chained up (I considered passing the hat).  The musicians play with gusto and genuine feeling; the music carries the day and is perfect for the show’s (endless) strip-tease.

The cast sings pretty well, too, in a brassy, belty, over-the-top, what-the-hell way.  The songs are tasty: Cole Porter, Pat Boone, Stephen Sondheim and some effective originals.

But the play (Amy Buchanan and Ashleigh Swenson are the credited writers)?  Yikes.  To say that it’s garbled, poorly paced, a Carol Burnett slash soap opera slash deliberately under-rehearsed mish-mash would be to give it more credit than it deserves.

Rarig Proscenium: Su 8/5 2:30; W 8/8 5:30; Th 8/9 7:00; Sa 8/11 4:00

3 comments for “Fringe 2012

  1. August 12, 2012 at 11:09 am

    Blair = Bair. Fixed.

  2. KP
    August 11, 2012 at 3:14 pm

    Glad to read you enjoyed “Never Mind” as much as I did.
    P.S. Note that it’s Karen, Evalyn, and Mary Bair (not Blair)

  3. Dolores
    August 7, 2012 at 8:33 am

    I went to see All’s Fair this past Saturday and it was so touching and well done that it brought tears to my eyes. Great performances and a wonderful story written by a newcomer! Congratulations!!

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