Minnesota Fringe 2013

A sure sign of High Summer: the Fringe.

Minnesota boasts one of the best and largest, with 175 shows playing in 16 separate venues, through August 11.  The festival is, as you may know, uncurated.  No one makes decisions or passes judgement on any show; one gets into the festival via a lottery.  Fringe performers are often young, new to the art, and wildly creative.  But many shows are misfires and thus play-goers depend on reviews.  Check out reviews on the excellent Fringe website and, of course, read HowWasTheShow.com.  HWTS reviewers Janet Preus and John Olive will fearlessly forge into the Fringe forest and file reports.  Enjoy!



dateThe great mystery of Death.  We think about it, at some level, every day: what will the moment be like?  How would we come to terms with death’s approach?  Is there an afterlife or do we simply cease to exist?  Would it be better to die quickly or to be informed by a pedantic, fake-sympathetic, scan-ordering technician/doctor that we can expect to live anywhere from 3 months to 5 years?

In Expiration Date, performer/creator Candy Simmons gives us the latter.  Lucille Barker has cancer.  The show is vague about the specific type but it is, we are informed, aggressive, intelligent, stage 4, inoperable and it has spread through-out Barker’s 35 year old body.  Simmons creates a series of vivid characters – she is an actor of significant power – as she comes to terms with this reality: a prissy airline tech, her slovenly brother, a calm and insightful fellow chemotherapy patient, Barker’s mother.  She fantasizes about what she will do with the rest of short life: Paris, Bali, a love affair with Richard Gere.  Simmons does bitter-funny extremely well and her work is affecting, substantive, powerful.  Expiration Date is well worth seeing.

But she pulls back, imho, and I felt frustrated.  Barker doesn’t actually die.  Indeed, she hardly feels any pain beyond a few demure coughs.  Simmons’s Barker faces her illness, but not, disappointingly, the great mystery.

At Intermedia Arts: 8/10 1:00; 8/11 4:00




Tap shoesFunk, Reggae, rock and electronica. These guys can tap to anything – even Mozart! – and nail it. In unison. Can’t help but be impressed with dancers at this skill level.

Brothers Andy and Rick Ausland are amazing tappers and charming performers. In fact, they’re so good that they can get away with a show that’s not as good as their dancing, and that’s the issue. (I wouldn’t say this if I didn’t think they were worth it.) The audience really enjoyed themselves, but they knew that dancers this talented should have – deserve, in fact – a show that’s as good as they are. With a solid director, they’d be killin’ Las Vegas – or anywhere they want to go.

You only have one chance left to see them this Fringe, so by all means, go. I mean it when I say they’re worth it.

Music Box Theater, 8/10 at 2:30





2476Carrie Brown plays Professor Penelope Vindlevoss who has been training Edward the Zombie (Karim Muasher) to be a real human. Ok, fine. This is really about the clowning, which is darn good. And to the extent that Brown plays straight man, or Muasher gets to do his Zombie thing, it’s really great schtick. The tricks are silly – anyone could do them, if they only knew enough to carry it through to its absurd conclusion. But it’s the sweet little joke at the end that takes it all to another level. The zombie stand-up business with the audience is worth a whole hour, and Muasher is just the guy to do it: clowning chops, exquisite timing and improv in his heart. I’d like to see this show move that direction. They might also wish to find another means to the denouement. The ticket-taker puppet slowed the pace and was a little too dark for the show we had come to expect. But, it’s still a charmer. I recommend you bring grade school-aged kids.

This is a first-time Minnesota Fringe producer, Animal Engine, hailing from Astoria, N.Y.

At the Illusion Theatre, 8/10 at 4:00 and 8/11 at 1:00




queenJena Young stands in a pool of light, in the middle of the Whiting Proscenium stage, in front of a music stand (which contains her neatly printed story), with a microphone and a stool which holds her water.  Without moving, speaking into the mike with a minimum of affect, Young tells her story: a toxic childhood (rapes, an absent father, a prone-to-violence mother), furtive sexual explorations, pregnancy, abandonment by her cocaine-addicted boyfriend (whom Young refers to as “BabyDaddy”), shaming by uptight members of her church, her (inevitable) entry into the labyrinthine welfare system, and finally (though she is somewhat vague about this) her escape from the “system” and the re-entry into her child’s life of the now-clean and considerably more mature BabyDaddy.

At first I was put off by Young’s use of the microphone and the music stand – I couldn’t see her – but I soon grew grateful for it.  The story Young recounts is unfortunately familiar but also harrowing and disturbing.  Young is unable to disguise a sharp edge of outrage as her tale accelerates and the myriad humiliations she suffers builds.  In the end Young doesn’t triumph so much as she survives.  She discovers, but doesn’t celebrate, reserves of real courage.  Young in no way asks for our affection; despite this, and perhaps because of it, in the end we come to admire, and even love her.  Wonderful.

The Fringe is filled with gimmicky but forgettable plays that make us laugh but provide no real insight.  There’s nothing wrong with this and if this is what you require, well, Memoirs Of A Welfare Queen may not be for you.  But if you want insight, grit and genuine heroism, Young is your woman.

On the Rarig Proscenium: 8/8 5:30; 8/9 4:00;  8/10 5:30




ChristyIf you don’t feel comfortable with gender identities different from your own, but you would like to, this is the storyteller you should hear. If you’re curious about what it means to be transgender, this is the person who can explain how it affects extended family, spouse, children, friends, job, spiritual life – in other words, the same things any person would value when faced with a major life decision.

Christy Marie Kent is smart, passionate and thoroughly likeable. And she was once a man. I can’t imagine a single Fringe-goer who wouldn’t walk away from this performance and say, “I’m so glad I saw that.” Nuff said. Just go.

Rarig Xperimental , 8/7 at 7:00 and 8/10 at 4:00




TeenageDon’t be put off by the title. It’s a not-so-good title for a sardonic and silly slap in the face for popular youth culture. These “kids,” however, are in college (which doesn’t seem quite a fit for going bonkers over a teen idol) and capable of acting out their egocentric fantasies in the extreme, which they do. To music. Lyrically, it simply cracks with face slaps, although the music is quite the younger sibling tagging along, you might say. In brief, three (very) young college kids (two straight girls and one gay boy) comprise a fan club devoted to a pop singer. The plot is set in motion by a contest creating the chance to meet said idol, but that’s just a means to set up the mayhem. It ends, and ends and ends. But the real end is perfectly suited to its beginning. Yes, there is fake blood, so be patient. Written by Keith Hovis (also music director) and directed by Callie Meiners for Devious Mechanics.

Theater in the Round, 8/8 at 8:30 and 8/11 at 5:30




WanderlustShould you want to know the meaning of life, there is a trail that you’re supposed to be following; at the end “everything will be revealed.” The journey is to West Africa, because nobody writer and performer Martin Dockery knows will be able to share their own experiences about this place on earth.

This is a travelogue like no other. Dockery could offer master classes in how to physicalize a line of dialogue—if, in fact, one can teach just what he does. The timing of each facial expression (slightly ahead of the line? a beat behind?) is virtually perfect; his broad physical style is carefully nuanced; he knows exactly what a punchline is—and his are never what you expect. This is funny, smart, cohesive, brilliantly paced—well, he’s simply, a pro. Nothing – and everything—is, at last, revealed.

Rarig Thrust, 8/11 at 7:00




Now Hour“All magic takes place in your imagination,” says magician/performer Christian Cagigal. It was just the right impetus to carry us into his real world—and his magical one. A metronome to tick away time in a strictly methodical way (he uses it only intermittently, so don’t worry, it’s not at all annoying) and an antique stereoscope to “see” what others are thinking are both devices and abstractions of the story he relates. Bottom line, he’s extremely skilled. He’s also charming, funny, and relates in the gentlest terms a most difficult story: his dad, a Viet Nam vet, suffered from PTSD. While his father created some havoc in Cagigal’s young life,  he also sparked an interest in the performer as a boy that’s firmly rooted. You will be amazed.

TexBox at the Cowles, 8/8 at 7:00 and 8/10 at 10:00




GwenMary2A cleverly constructed send-up by Robin Pond of the David Mamet play of similar name, it’s funny on it’s face, but very funny for those familiar with the play – or Mamet’s writing style. Girls vying for academic honors fire off hefty speeches, replacing Mamet’s profanity blitzing with the more innocuous “freaking,” “flippin,” or “falutin’” for emphasis. The more intense Mamet’s scenes are, the funnier the parody, in this case. The director’s hand was a little too light, and the ending fizzles instead of bangs, but Bella Blackshaw and Ella Peterson as Gwen and Mary motored full speed to the finish. Noteworthy performances by these two young talents. Presented by Colfax Theatre.

Mixed Blood Theatre, 8/10 at 10:00 and 8/11 at 4:00




DatingCan’t fail material, a dandy threesome to deliver it, and projections that up the anty … yup, that works. Based on New Yorker writer Ian Frazier’s material, John Gaspard has proper respect for the writer’s comic quirks in a nicely paced adaptation. Ari Hoptman, Amy Shomshak and Joshua Will show impressive sketch comedy chops on “The Cursing Mommy Cooking Show,” “If Memory Doesn’t Serve,” with just-perfect projections, and “Not in the Living Room,” in which the actors prove, again, that it’s all in the timing. Bravo! Will got his moment in “Dating Your Mom,” the show’s finale. I’d have happily watched another sketch by him!

Intermedia Arts, 8/9 at 5:30 and 8/10 at 8:30




shoesOoh, a good one.  It tells a real story, and an affecting one at that: Jim, on his way to the war in Korea falls head over heels in love with Marjorie.  They spend every free moment together; their discovery of the intensity of their feelings at a dance is especially moving.  The play vacillates back and forth between the early 50s and the present, when the now-elderly Jim, prodded by his grand-daughter Bea, moves to a retirement community.  Beyond this I don’t want recount the plot; part of the pleasure of These Old Shoes is the discovery of where this delicate love story goes and I don’t care to ruin it for you.

Director/Conceiver Diogo Lopes stages this play (created by “the ensemble,” with Gemma Irish credited as “collaborating writer”) brilliantly, moving the actors around the large Music Box stage fluidly, but with unflagging focus.  The play switches back and forth repeatedly between the past and present and Lopes never lets the proceedings get flaccid.  He has also hit on a terrific device, of having the actors play easy chairs, doors, TVs, etc.  Everyone is terrific but the two leads, Peytie McCandless and Derek Lee Miller, are especially wonderful.

I do have a complaint: the elderly characters in These Old Shoes are, to a person, played as cartoonish buffoons, suffering from various bizarre and rare maladies, such as curvature of the spine, palsy, nerve disorders causing them to shuffle, senility, etc.  I’m not elderly but I’m old enough to find this offensive.

But I certainly wouldn’t want you to pass up one of the Fringe’s best shows.  So ignore my criticism and do check this one out.  If you’ve ever been to the Music Box you know that the balcony goes back to infinity.  You don’t want to sit there.  Come early, and be prepared to stand in line.


In the Music Box: 8/7 8:30; 8/10 5:30




pullmanDirector Sam Weisberg has hit on a brilliant conceit: to take master Thornton Wilder’s seldom-produced play Pullman Car Hiawatha, add some modern but still quite accessible music, and turn it into a rich poetic celebration slash movement piece slash music driven theatrical experience.  Not much happens in Wilder’s stream-of-consciousness ghost-filled drama (there is one major plot event which I don’t intend to recount; see the play) and the new material matches the play nicely.

The music, composed by Jennifer Hartsell with lyrics by Maureen O’Malley, is terrific, tense, driving, Britten-esque with a bite of atonality, enough to keep us perched on the edge of our seats.  The music is truly the star of the show.  I hope that Weisberg, Hartsell and O’Malley will continue to work on this; as is, the material is rough – but they are really onto something.

The production, by the Blue Water Theatre Company is, unfortunately, community theater.  Good community theater to be sure: the performers are in no way intimidated by the rather difficult material, and no one is absolutely horrible.  Still, they don’t have the focus and power and presence that professional performers would bring to the proceedings.  Keep your performance expectations tamped down, and let the excellent music in Pullman Car Hiawatha work its magic.

Another problem: the music doesn’t blend well with the voices (it’s too loud).  So sit, inasmuch as possible, in front, so you can adequately hear the singers.

At The Music Box: 8/6 7:00; 8/8 7:00; 8/10 4:00





legendA lovely performance by Katie Hartman based on material created by Nick Ryan (Hartman and Ryan call themselves the Coldharts).  Hartman plays Dr. Catherine Tice, a buttoned down paranormal researcher, who channels the ghost of a gritty 19th century Kansas pioneer, Anna Morgan Faber.  Once Faber’s ghost is well established, Hartman picks up her Taylor guitar, steps up to the mike, and sings.

It sounds hokey, but I assure you it’s not.  Hartman is utterly convincing as Tice/Faber.  Moreover, she can really sing.   Really sing, in a rich and soaring soprano that evokes the voice of the young Joni Mitchell.  Her guitar chops are middling, but she inhabits the lovely old timey songs (presumably composed by Ryan) beautifully.  Between songs, in very short snippets, and in the song lyrics themselves, Hartman provides information about Faber’s (gruesome) life in a prairie sod hut.

And this where The Legend Of White Woman Creek needs work, imho: the between-songs info is troublesomely vague, hard to glean.  Don’t hold me to this, but I believe Ms. Faber had a child with an Indian…?  And was slain by angry Kansans…?  Buried anonymously in the creek…?  Maybe.  Hartman is soft-spoken to a fault and while she is evocative as all get out, I found the nebulousness about events frustrating.

But this is a minor complaint (and maybe you won’t feel this way).  All in all, The Legend Of White Woman Creek is a unique show, an affecting portrait of pioneer life.  Just sit back and let Hartman’s talent wash over you.

Not to be missed.

In the Rarig Thrust: 8/5 7:00; 8/6 5:30; 8/8 8:30; 8/10 4:00.




fashionMixed Blood was packed to the walls!  This is how you sell a Fringe show: include nudity.  Even better, put the word “nudist” in the title.

(Pardon me while I wax arithmetical.  Mixed Blood has roughly 200 seats, times, well, let’s call it ten bucks per butt, times six shows: holy moley, that’s 12 grand plus.  A nice chunk ‘o change)

The play?  Pretty good, actually.  Narrator/author Natalie Rae Wass details her upbringing (mostly in England).  The childhood she describes is normal – nasty schoolmates, macabre playground machinations, etc.  The usual.  Except for one thing: her parents were avid nudists, and this is where Wass’s show gets interesting, when she recounts nudist policies and politics, and her own decidedly conflicted feelings about this world.

As Wass goes on, naked people enter – oh, was that a non-PC word?  Excuse me.  Nudists, naturists enter.  They play cards, read, sun bathe, apply suntan oil, leave and return, strolling in and out, mostly ignoring Wass.  Soon Wass is in the middle of a veritable sea of nudity.  This in no way slows her down; her delivery is refreshingly up-energy and breezy.  At the end they all…  Well, let me just say that if you’ve never seen 12 naked people bust a move to loud disco music, you have to go to Fashion Risk.  It will sell out, so arrive early and be prepared to wait in line.

At Mixed Blood: 8/6 8:30; 8/8 5:30; 8/10 4:00.




worksLike no other art form, dance creates that delicious sensation of letting go.  It lets you lean back in your seat and say, “Ah, yes.  I like this.  I’m going to put my critic’s notebook away and let it wash over me.”

The Threads Dance Project’s A Woman’s Works definitely achieves this.  The serene beauty of the choreography, the slow unfolding build, the way the dancers reach out, then pull back, the way they take and hold the stage.  Lovely.  Yes, there a few jarring transitions and a few unison moments that are anything but.  The first piece, Bootyful, though amusing, is overlong.  Still, the dances flow thrillingly (the choreographer is Karen L. Charles, though one particularly compelling dance, Hush, is credited to Rae Charles) and the dancers (all women, as the name implies) are gorgeous.  It also helps that the piece is performed in the Southern, the best, imho, performing space in town.


Note: this excellent company will present a new dance, Malignant, at the Lab Theater, in October.

At the Southern: 8/8 10:00; 8/10 8:30; 8/11 1:00




frightI am  happy to report that Stage Fright is not a detailed investigation of performance anxiety in all its spewily creepy manifestations.  Rather, it is an affecting portrait of a young actor, Clara James, preparing to open, after years of pavement-pounding, a career-making show – on Broadway.  Working with a compelling combination of zest and spot-on creativity, actor Kelliann Kary creates a swirl of characters, the people responsible (or so they believe) for Clara’s success: her bitter vodka swilling director, her politely controlling British mother, her poisonous friend/rival (my fave), her calmly larcenous dresser.  Et al.

The show ends with Kary’s portrait of Clara herself, and here’s my question: is Clara anti-climactic?  We’ve been building so steadily to her appearance; does Kary’s Clara let us down?  I didn’t think so.  You might disagree.

However the ending might work for you, I think you’ll find that Stage Fright, though in no way earth-shatteringly powerful, is a terrific showcase for an accomplished performer, a lovely way to spend an hour.

At the Playwrights Center: 8/7 5:30; 8/9 8:30; 8/11 7:00




dateHow To Date A Werewolf begins with a bang: the doctor (Joy Dolo) informs a shocked Terry (Meaghan DiSciorio) that Terry suffers from advanced lycanthropy (werewolf-ism).  And, though she’s presently symptom-free, she’s likely to pass the disease to anyone she has sex with.  The scene crackles along and immediately had the audience howling (so to speak).  Delightful.

But then, unfortunately, Matthew A. Everett‘s play devolves into past-tenseness and repetition.  The same scene – “You mean you’re a werewolf?” – is played and replayed.  The basic premise is that Terry’s lycanthropy has rendered her untouchable, an idea that doesn’t land in this post-AIDS world.

Still, the play does have a major ace up its sleeve: Dolo.  She plays a fast series of characters with zeal and zest.  She is focused and compelling and she energizes every scene.  I’ve never before had the pleasure of seeing Dolo; no doubt I’ll see her again.  As Terry, DiSciorio does nicely with a difficult character; her Terry is depressed, yet irrepressibly sweet.  Katie Sparks plays the most agreeable zombie you’re ever likely to encounter – and the she provides some nice ending oomph.

How To Date A Werewolf is funny, features some first rate acting, and though the script has a few problems, is definitely worth while.

At Theatre In The Round: 8/4 4:00; 8/7 8:30; 8/10 5:30




TiziA terrific one woman show detailing our intrepid narrator’s return from the U.S. into France, and then on to Algeria, to a small Berber-speaking village, Tizi Ouzou.  Her putative purpose is to marry a young man, Hadid, but the conflicts derived from her “foreign” values, her evolving cross-ocean identity, her taste for expansive American-style freedom, make the match unsuitable.  But her time in Algeria is not wasted, for this is a perceptive woman, detailing for us the dramatic changes wrought in this African nation.

Performer Taous Khazem never gives us the traveling woman (i.e., herself); instead she concentrates on the swirl of characters she meets, a French barista, a travel agent, the denizen of an Algerian disco, a store owner, her mother, et al.  Khazem’s style is a touch repetitive (and her overuse of a gruff male voice off-putting), but ultimately her winning presence delights.  Khazem is wry, calm, passionate.  She deals forthrightly with issues of exile and identity: “If you stay away too long, you can never go back, no matter how much you miss [your home].”  Tizi Ouzou is directed by the always excellent Zaraawar Mistry.  Lovely.

At the New Century Theatre: 8/3 4:00; 8/6 10:00; 8/10 2:30; 8/11 4:00




masterI forewent the glitzy musical revue in favor of Master, the adaptation of Ibsen’s Master Builder, thinking the show would be, like Ibsen’s drama of ambition and success, intelligent and incisive.  This was a mistake.  Master is flaccidly written (nearly plotless), virtually undirected and the two performers (there was no program, so I am unable to tell you who played who; call this a blessing) painfully amateurish.

At the Sewell Ballet Tek Box: 8/4 10:00; 8/6 7:00; 8/9 8:30; 8/10 2:30





Cosmic If Samuel Beckett had slipped into a laughing gas reverie he might have penned something like Stephen B. Brooks‘s exuberantly nonsensical The Cosmic Equation.  Here’s a few quotes: “You’re being ambidextrous.  Stop thinking about sex.”  “These crystally balls emit wisdom.  Don’t touch my balls.”  The story?  Something about two Wives escaping, and their numbers-obsessed Husbands (Smally and Biggy) pursuing them into the Woman’s Club, then into the Jungle.  One of the Wives dramatically gives birth to four golden eggs of wisdom.

Okay, The Cosmic Equation makes no sense and if coherent narration is your cup of tea, well, then this play might not be your slice of meat.  But if you pass on it you’ll miss a smart (if goofy) script; performances by the luminously talented and accomplished Sara Richardson and Suzy Kohane; also by the grinning and plastic faced Tyson Forbes and Alan Fessenden; author Brooks neighing away as the Horse/Narrator (who makes everything clear – not); tasty b.g. music by Caleb Hinz and Geoff Freeman; terrific puppets by Michael Sommers; and giddy direction by the estimable Jon Ferguson.

I had a terrific time at The Cosmic Equation and I bet you will, too.  Recommended.

At Intermedia Arts: 8/4 4:00; 8/5 8:30; 8/9 10:00; 8/10 7:00

P.S.: Fessenden has another show, What If I’m Dead?, at Mixed Blood.  It’s likely worth checking out.




FinalThe death by misadventure of the great Elizabethan playwright Christopher Marlowe, stabbed through the eye in a sordid tavern, has spawned many books (e.g., The Reckoning).  The Final Act is, so far as I know, the only play about the mystery of his death.  It’s definitely playworthy material.  Was Marlowe a Spanish spy?  Was he in possession of a list of spies?  Was he involved in the internecine politics of the day?  Was he slain by inebriated actors in a rival company?  In a drunken brawl?

Rich material, and this cast (large – 10 – for the Fringe) does reasonably well with it.  Playwrights Aaron Greer, Ben Tallen and Brian Watson-Jones use rhymed couplets which, for the most part, work.  But the play feels under-rehearsed.  Moreover, it seems unable to really decide if it’s a mystery, a campy farce, or a drama.  As a result it succeeds at none of these.

One bit of advice: if you go to this play (or to any show at this venue) sit in front.  Lighting is murky and the strident a/c blower might prevent you from hearing the actors.

At the Woman’s Club: 4/4 5:30; 4/6 7:00; 8/8 8:30; 8/10 4:00.






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