Sunday, August 30, 2015

Theater Review - The Map Is The Territory - Fire Drill

If you haven’t seen one of Fire Drill’s showcases of local and touring experimental artists (like spring 2014’s Bring In The Indigo, or last winter’s Absolute Bliss), you really owe it to yourself to follow them so you get word the next time one springs up.  Like their latest offering, The Map Is The Territory, these showcases pop up for only a day or two, but they’re always stuffed full of material that plays with your head and your notion of performance and audience in intriguing and entertaining ways.

“The dystopian future I’m most terrified of is happening now.”

The Map Is The Territory also served as an inaugural event for Fire Drill in their new studio space, Fresh Oysters Performance Research (basically the building right next door to Open Eye Figure Theatre).  Fire Drill will be sharing the space with Skewed Visions and choreographer Laurie Van WierenThe Map Is The Territory was a fitting way to invite people into the space, as it was largely local performers this time out, with one significant visitor from Seattle.

“The blood I didn’t ask for and the air I now choose to receive.”

That visiting artist would be Tim Smith-Stewart and his artistic partner Madeline Marchal.  They shared two segments of a much larger, evolving work entitled (deep breath) Awaiting Oblivion, or How To Be OK When Everything Is Not OK: Temporary Solutions For Surviving The Dystopian Future We Find Ourselves In At Present - (phew).  The story behind the piece is almost as fascinating as the performance itself.  Smith-Stewart is being sent anonymous packages of art and text from a street artist who calls him/herself AO.  AO also sends instructions, some of which are to turn these mailings of material into live performance.  The lengthy but very apt title is AO’s, as are the titles of the individual temporary solutions.  The ones presented at this outing were #4 - You’re Not Icarus, You’ll Make It, and #1,113 Mermaids Stay Free, or Live or Die, But Don’t Poison Everything.

“I say Live, Live because of the sun, 
the dream, the excitable gift.”

The basic structure of each performance goes like this: one person performs the text while the other person unveils a dizzying array of photographs, text and pieces of art on the surface of a table directly under a video camera that projects the image larger than life on the wall behind them.  It’s a dance of words and images juggled by two performers in perfect, fluid synchronization with one another.  It’s a very impressive feat that at the same time is careful to always draw attention to itself as performance.  AO’s words are being channeled (first through Smith-Stewart on Icarus, secondly through Marchal on Mermaids), and he wants the audience aware of this.  Smith-Stewart wears a bluetooth headset that feeds the spoken text into his ear while he’s performing it.

“Are you OK?”
“Absolutely not, but please keep walking.”

At one point in Icarus, a flow chart constructed by AO is unrolled and taped up on the wall to make the audience (and the performer) visually aware of all the corporate entities to which the artist is beholden.  AO doesn’t want the audience to think the piece of art is the revolution itself.  The art is already compromised by the messenger.  The revolution happens separate from the art.  Because AO knew that Smith-Stewart would be performing in Minneapolis, they researched Billy Mullaney and Emily Gastineau of Fire Drill and created an addendum flow chart of the organizations providing them with day jobs (and what the corporations and foundations supporting those organizations do to the world at large) that also got rolled out (taller than a single person) and taped to the wall.  A picture of the front of the Fresh Oysters Performance Research building was also nimbly inserted into the flow of the projected images shuffled across the table.

“When losing everything, grip anything.”

At one point the camera was turned up from the table to capture Smith-Stewart in motion, and the audience surrounding him.  Everyone present gets pulled into, and indicted by, the performance.  At the end of Mermaids, Marchal and Smith-Stewart raised a flag with an image of Anne Sexton above our heads, and had us stand for the recitation of her poem Live or Die, But Don’t Poison Everything.  Marchal’s performance of AO’s Mermaids was a meditation on and celebration of Sexton the poet, a story about the (imaginary?) mermaids who lived in houses destined for destruction, and the reengineering of paychecks from a day job into art or typing paper for various poems and manifestos of resistance.

“The non-profit arts industrial complex.”

Now on one level I’m sure that all sounds really precious and self-indulgent, but trust me, in performance, it’s pretty mesmerizing.  It’s a perfect example of the notion that you have to see some things with your own eyes, live in performance.  Reporting or words on a page alone simply don’t do it justice.  Which is why it’s a great service that Fire Drill brings these kinds of artists to town, to screw with our heads and make us reevaluate our definitions of live performance, and our role as audience members for live performance.  Just the physical existence of the things AO created as the launching pad for these performances is mind-boggling - the care with which they’re put together, the actual typing on a manual typewriter and not a computer keyboard, it’s really something.

“Is anyone seeing this?”

All of the above is not to imply that the local artists on display didn’t also deliver great stuff.  Smith-Stewart, Marchal and AO are just operating on a whole other level here, and Awaiting Oblivion and its individual segments are highly detailed, fully realized works.  All of the local artists are using The Map Is The Territory as an incubator for works in progress.  The works are still taking shape, and need some exposure to an audience to capture what’s working and what’s not.  Thankfully, a whole lot’s working just fine here.

“They tell us not to cry because we deserve this.”

Hmong dancer/choreographer Magnolia Yang Sao Yia gathered a half dozen other Hmong women (Ahne Her, Gaosong V. Heu, Itly Thayiegn, Nplooj Siab Vaj, Holy Yang, and Prescillia Yang Sao Yia) combining poetry, spoken word, music (on a qeej) and movement in her piece Shhh…silence.  The performance was an exercise in finding the voice of silenced Hmong women and finally giving it permission, and volume.  It feels very much like the opening movement of something much longer: now that the voice has been found, what will it say?

“I have been taught to be ashamed of my voice.”

Two media pieces also joined the roster of live performance.  Egyptian-born US citizen and poet/performance artist Moheb Soliman offered up the short film Naturalized.  The idea of binding or connecting a person to a country, to the land of their choice, was represented in the film by the physical metaphor of people being lowered and raised on some kind of crane into a muddy pool of water.  The spectator only sees the heads of the people, upside down, as they are raised and lowered, each twice.  The second dunking is always a little deeper, but the subjects are never completely submerged.  You can hear the whir and whine of the engine of the machine that moves them.  You see the water droplets raining down from their wet hair as they are raised again.  The boundary of the pool of water is surrounded in small stones and fallen leaves.  Two men, two women, and finally the artist, the film fading out as he goes in for a third dunking.  Not entirely sure about the point of this one.  It wasn’t performed so much as it was something that was staged to happen that was filmed.  Observance of the ritual itself may be enough for the artist.  Maybe I was wrong to look for anything beyond that.

“Godzilla is a metaphor.  A suit is ephemeral.”

An audio-only offering came from local writer/performance artist Ali O’Reilly, excerpts from her work Men Tell You About A Time They Rescued An Injured Bird From a Storm Drain.  Excerpts were played at the top of the evening and then at two other points between other acts.  Three different male voices, what the artist calls invented text written and performed by local male artists.  Men tell stories of times they helped animals, as if revealing incidents of tenderness and emotion are accpetable as long as there aren’t other human beings involved.  The program says the project “uses moments of fabricated vulnerability to explore the compartmentalization of emotional and physical interpersonal intimacy.”  This piece may have been least served by presentation in an excerpted capacity.  I get the feeling I’d probably understand it better, and get the desired impact, if it were allowed to play out, and the feelings to accumulate in response to the project as a whole.  Side note: I love the title of her upcoming book of poetry: What Is The Opposite of a Machine Gun And How Do I Empty That Into You?

“I have the mark of Ghengis Khan.”

Local director Lisa Channer used the showcase to develop ten new minutes of material from a longer piece called Rant in which she tries to capture the spirit and personality of her father, and their unusual relationship.  Traditional parenting was apparently not something in the cards for Harold Channer.  He was more focused on changing the world, or at least talking about and planning to execute that change.  He doesn’t travel, so his daughter comes to him. Channer uses a combination of spoken word, computer and film technology and, like the three blind men trying to figure out an elephant, focuses in on different parts of her picture of her father, that may or may not lead to an accurate representation of the whole.  A suit hangs in an alcove above a chocolate cake on a stand, under the table holding the cake sits a child (Daniel Rovinsky), occasionally engaging Channer in dialogue, other times flashing his reading lamp in the Morse code for S.O.S.  Volunteers (regardless of gender or age) are drawn from the audience to read two person father daughter scenes.  A recorded conversation between father and daughter gets scrambled through the projection of voice dictation software.  Channer’s father developed a sudden affinity for the film Birdman and shared it with her.  Trying to decode the message in that gesture comprises the second part of the new material.  As with the other excerpts, I’m curious to see where this one is going.

“You go through the verbs to get to the cake.”

The evening concluded with local writer/performer Paige Collette presenting her piece Food Blog. Her alter ego here is Patricia Lake, Mary Kay cosmetics consultant and food blogger.  The food blog is a calling for her.  A way to be there for her fellow humans in their time of need, which naturally also revolve around food.  I’m always happy to see Paige Collette’s name on a talent roster because I know I’m going to be entertained.  Whether it’s one half of a two-person play like Buttercream and Scotch, or a solo outing like she did in 20% Theatre Company’s Q-Stage a couple of years back, she’s serving up a variation on the type of woman for whom words like brassy and ballsy are a compliment.

“Here’s where I see a parallel between mental illness and sex.”

Collette’s characters frequently say outrageous things, but the thing that makes them doubly funny is the kernel of truth that lurks inside them.  The other thing that’s engaging about Collette’s writing is that it embraces the pains and disappointment of life but is never dragged down by them.  In the end, there’s a freewheeling celebration of life and sensuality.  Here in Food Blog, it’s a dance full of wild abandon - plus ketchup and a roll of tin foil.  Collette peels off layers, tosses off her wig and encourages an audience member to help cover the front of her in ketchup.  While that might sound odd or transgressive, it ends up being mostly playful.  Just like past encounters, it made me look forward to whatever Collette’s going to try next.

“Any of these can fill in that masculine coloring book for you.”

Something I found interesting about the evening as a whole was an unintentional commonality of many of the pieces - their almost complete dependence on technology.  Though designed as live performance, there were so many projections and sound effects involved, I couldn’t help but see the pattern.  I even wrote the note “So many silver Apple laptops” in my book.  I’m still not entirely sure if it’s a good thing or a bad thing, but it’s definitely a thing.  The use of technology is such an integral part of the language and movement of Awaiting Oblivion that it would be a much less rich piece without it (it would survive, because the words and the performance are so compelling, but an extra layer of meaning and audience engagement would definitely be lost).  Some of the other offerings hadn’t fully integrated the technology into their DNA yet.  Maybe they need it, maybe they don’t.  That’s what workshopping’s for.

Be on the lookout for the next Fire Drill showcase.  There’s always something, several somethings, you’ve never seen before.

5 stars - Very Highly Recommended

Friday, August 07, 2015

2015 Fringe Review - Post Traumatic Super Delightful

Tweet Review - Post Traumatic Super Delightful- part clown/part chameleon, hilarious, moving, unreal - 5 stars

There are a lot of amazing things about Antonia Lassar’s Post Traumatic Super Delightful (PTSD), but the most amazing thing is Lassar herself.  Because if you call it a clown show, that’s not an expansive enough label to encompass what’s going on here.  If you call it a one-woman show, that also doesn’t do it justice.  Mostly because Lassar isn’t just a clown or even just one woman.  She so vividly creates so many characters that it feels like she’s several people at the same time.  And then you meet her on the street saying “Feminist clown show?  Feminist clown show?” as she puts a postcard for PSTD in your hand, and you still fail to recognize her because she seems like yet another person offstage.

“I wish a ceiling fan could cry.”

Lassar uses the clown persona in interludes throughout Post Traumatic Super Delightful to give the audience a chance to breathe, and laugh in a different way.  Perhaps there’s some satire included as well, or maybe just an enormous fart to undercut tension or sentimentality.

“I took advantage of the situation.  I did not take advantage of her.”

But the heart of PTSD is Lassar’s recreation of three key people impacted by a case of sexual assault on a college campus.  The framework in which we meet this people is ostensibly the artist creating a thesis show about sexual assault.  We’re led to believe it’s ultimately the show we’re seeing right now in front of us, but the interviews take place over a period of time.  During that time, the clown show goes through more than one draft, and even a set of initial performances.  We hear the interviewees responding to it.  Some elements of that show are things we see around these interviews.  But the show within a show has become so politically troublesome that the campus no longer supports it and it needs to find a home at the local YWCA.

“Is he being punished?  No.  He’s on vacation.”

The survivor of the sexual assault is much discussed, but never met.  Instead we meet the Title IX administrator, hired by the campus in the wake of the sexual assault, to try and improve the atmosphere and safety for women at the college.  The administrator is an outspoken Russian woman who prides herself on her looks, and her determination not to back down in the face of resistance from those who govern the school. 

“Julia does not look like a rape victim.”

There is also a professor who had both the survivor and the alleged perpetrator of the assault in one of her classes.  The professor serves as the faculty advisor to the accused rapist, and at first is very vocal in her support of him.  She is just as vocal in her doubts about the victim.

“I’m no good at this job.  I just want justice.  What is wrong with me?”

Finally, we also get to meet the young man accused of the crime of sexual assault.  He doesn’t understand how he finds himself in the middle of this maelstrom.  He is convinced of his innocence.  His suspension and pending hearing trouble him, but not nearly as much as the idea of his younger sister (who reveres him) finding out about it.

“You know the details.  Do you think I raped her?”

Lassar in creating these three people is such an adept chameleon that it’s mindboggling.  After establishing the three “characters” - their personalities, accents, vocal inflections, the way they carry themselves physically - Lassar begins to switch between them at will, sometimes in the middle of sentence, without missing a beat.  It’s like you’re watching three interviews in a documentary being interspliced together - only it’s a single performer bouncing back and forth between characters so effortlessly that you can forget she’s doing it.

“With all the sh*t on this campus, we have to use it to fertilize something good.”

There’s a lot of humor even in these interview segments of PTSD.  Some of it’s dark humor, but with a subject like this, that would seem to be completely impervious to comedy, you gratefully take your laughs where you can get them.

“I was raped.  But I got over it.”

There’s also a lot of food for thought in Post Traumatic Super Delightful.  But what a great gift the show is.  One person, easy to travel, and given the epidemic of sexual assault on college campuses these days, there’s a far too vast array of potential audiences out there in need of it.  If anybody’s got the energy to make those journeys, it’s Lassar.  I’m just glad she brought it to Minnesota for our Fringe.

5 Stars - Very Highly Reccomended

2015 Fringe Review - Backlash

Tweet Review - Backlash - mom says Josh Carson's shows get better every year; I agree 5 stars

There are days I don’t think we deserve Josh Carson, but I’m awfully glad he’s here.  Mom can always rely on him for a lot of laughs any year he’s got a show in the Fringe Festival, just as he does this year, with Backlash.  But, as Mom rightly points out, Josh turned it up a notch this year.  For her, that can be summed by saying, “That scene between him and his wife…”  If you see the show, and you should (because who doesn’t like to laugh?), you’ll know the scene she’s talking about.  It’s not the funniest scene in Backlash.  There are a lot of other candidates for that honor.  But like many of the best scenes in Backlash, there’s a lot of genuine emotion, and even pain, lurking under the surface.

“And that’s how I nailed Helen Mirren.”

There’s nothing like honest, slightly embarrassing sentiment, as a set up for a joke to undercut it and not take ourselves so seriously.  Carson’s theatrical machine, the aptly titled Mainly Me Productions, has been through some life transitions between Fringes.  Since last year’s Our American Assassin, or You Can’t Handle The Booth!, Carson’s main partner in crime Andy Rocco Kraft got married and moved to California.  Now Carson’s comedy protege from shows like Class of ’98 and One Hit Thunder, Tucker Garborg will be heading off arts college in the fall.  The guys’ll come back in the summer for Fringe shows as needed, but hey, life moves on whether we want it to or not.  It’s that inevitable tide of life’s transitions that Carson mines for humor in Backlash.

“I think I had a stroke.  Here’s Madonna.”

Bill and Allie Young (Carson and Sara Marsh) are married teachers at the local high school.  Bill’s student Blair (Garborg) has filmed a gag video (Law and Order - With Farts) that goes viral and gets him national attention.  It also gets him - and Bill - an audition for Saturday Night Live, which sets them off on a road trip to New York. 

“Are there any gluten free options?  I have celiac, I’m not an asshole.”

Along the way, they pick up another traveler, the relentlessly optimistic Hope (Sulia Altenberg), whose car doesn’t recover from trouble as easily as theirs does.  They also run into the SNL cast member Wesley Wallace (Kraft)  - the guy they might be auditioning to replace.  Wesley is a reluctant star who wants out of his contract so badly, he’ll happily help Blair try to ace the audition process.  Playing a host of other roles, including the ominous ruler of SNL, Lorne Michaels, is Nels Lennes.

“If you’d taken the improv class I recommended, you’d have an excuse by now.”

There’s a lot of heartfelt moments packed inside all the laughs of Backlash.  It’s an engaging mix that keeps the comedy side from getting too crass, and the sentimental side from getting too treacly.  It’s a delicate balance, tilted toward the comedy side of things, because who wants to dwell too long on life’s changes and disappointments if you can find a way to smile instead? 

“I do improv in the back of a bowling alley for drink tickets.”

It always astonishes me how Carson can not only produce and write but also act in and direct his own work.  Not everyone has the presence of mind to see themselves and the work clearly enough from the outside to be able to get the whole thing to work.  It’s a gift he has that I have to admit I envy.  Also, it helps to have the kind of collaborators he has in Garborg, Kraft, Altenberg (another Mainly Me regular), Lennes and now Marsh.  They make it all look so easy, but I know doing comedy this well is hard work.

“They made Paul Walker finish *his* movie.”

Like I said, there are days I don’t think we deserve Josh Carson, but I’m awfully glad he’s here.  Also, that scene between him and his wife…

5 Stars - Very Highly Recommended

2015 Fringe Review - Terra Incognita

Tweet Review - Terra Incognita - easily the sexiest, most romantic thing I've seen at Fringe this year, may have to go again (phew) - 5 stars

Dancers who are graceful are a joy to watch.  Dancers who are also acrobats can dazzle you with feats most of our human bodies aren’t fit or strong enough to attempt.  Dancers who are also performers from the neck up, not just the neck down, can capture your attention on a whole other level.  Dancers who are all these things at once?  Well, they can make you catch your breath for periods of time that are probably not healthy.  The dancer/acrobat/performers of UpLift Physical Theatre (presented here by Soma Acrobatic Theatre) can hold an entire audience in that kind of suspension for nearly an hour with just the briefest of chances to breathe.  Their Fringe show Terra Incognita is so good I’m going back to see it a second time before they close.  I wish I’d seen it sooner so I could see it yet again.

Why?  Because the experience of Terra Incognita washes over you the same way the sounds of the surf on their sound effects track does.  It requires your almost constant attention because there are eight bodies in motion nearly every moment from the start of the show til its finish.  They make things like somersaults look easy.  Or try jumping into or out of a somerault.  How about a cartwheel?  How about a one-handed cartwheel?  How about standing on someone’s shoulders?  How about that person below them walking around with someone on their shoulders?  These dancers are in such control of their bodies that they can use one another as balance to bend and twist and turn and carry and even walk up walls.

But the thing here that puts it all over the edge into another realm of performance is the way these artists engage one another.  If they were just rolling around in precise synchronization with one another, sure that’d be captivating.  But it’d be about as human as a set of dominoes arranged to collapse in an elaborate display.  These performers are fully human and engaged even as they’re in a near constant state of motion.  There are periods of time when a single person or pair or trio of the dancers will take focus, and others will be on the sidelines or perhaps right on top of them looking on.  It’s the way these dancers watch each other, it’s the attention they pay to each other, that can mesmerize you.  No matter where you look on stage, even if a person is standing still, they are actively engaged in what is going on.  They aren’t just passively observing.  They care, or disdain, or dare, or hope, or long for the other performers in the spotlight.  You can see it all over their faces.

And while it’s not exactly GLBT content, Terra Icognita is by no means heteronormative.  Some of the most elegant and passionate interchanges take place between Nicholette Routhier and Alyssa Hughlett, clad in light colored fabric, some tight, some flowing.  They spend a great deal of time entwined together, or carrying one another on their backs, all in ways that are extremely intimate and tender.  Audrey Leclair and Juliana Frick mirror one another’s movements in more playful ways during one exchange, but one of them is always trying to get closer and more comfortable in response to the other attempting to break away.  Hannah Gaff mixes it up with everybody in powerful, athletic ways, while Andrea Martinez isn’t shy about using flirtation and sex appeal to spice up the mix.  The two men in the ensemble - Jerome Yorke Jr. and Moses Norton - have an embarrassment of riches in terms of female dance partners and they engage each one in different, specific ways.  But there are also moments where these two men embrace and support one another that are tender and powerful in their own right.

There isn’t a story here, per se, but the connections between the dancers carry a lot of emotional freight.  Your brain might not be able to parse it all, but your heart and your gut certainly can.  When they climb over one another in groups like mountains or wash over each other in waves like water or drop from the sky into each others waiting arms - kind of makes you wish you had friends of your own you could hang out with and do incredible things like that.

But since most of us don’t, Terra Incognita is the next best thing.  Watch, and be amazed.

Final performance tonight 5:30pm, I’m there.

5 stars - Very Highly Recommended

2015 Fringe Review - You and I: Verse

Tweet Review - You And I: Verse - not ashamed to admit it, words turn me on - 5 stars

The more I think about how this production was put together, the more impressed I am.  You and I: Verse is three interwoven stories, but they’re not really thematically related.  They are instead tied together with the most tenuous of threads - words, images, sounds which recur in all three tales. 

“I dodge the fury of another of her smiles.”

One story, performed by Dobbs DeCorsey, is more straightforward storytelling, about a guy who falls in love with fire (and arson) and gets metaphorically and emotionally burned in a big way.  Another story, performed by Camille Isadora Smith, weaves poetry and poetic turns of phrase throughout the tale of mismatched lovers who may not have the right timing to make it for the long run. 

“I keep my mouth shut in order to make a good third impression.”

The last story, performed by Mike Hentges, is a torrent of spoken word excess, rivers of words flying out of the guy’s mouth as he recounts his unrequited love for a pretty barista in his local coffee house that resurfaces in the most unlikely of ways years later after he finds himself happily married.

“I’m sure Degas committed tons of felonies.”

Director Steve Soler has crafted this experience with great attention to detail that doesn’t tend to draw attention to itself.  Only now am I appreciating, thinking back over the piece, how the arsonist’s story moves at a slower pace, while the young poetess recounts her story at a pace that ebbs and flows - mostly normal, but sometimes faster, and the lovestruck coffeeshop artist is barreling along at warp speed for much of his tale.  Yet none of them are ever really offstage.  Shared noises, finger snaps and the like, are timed perfectly in unison.  The performers need to be paying close attention to pull this off. 

“She asked what I wanted and I almost asked for my breath back.”

The arsonist and the young woman in love have to go to some pretty melodramatic places - whether you want to go with them, or even believe them, varies from audience member to audience member.  Mom, for instance, wasn’t engaged in the same way I was.  I was riveted.  In the same way I am transfixed and hold my breath at times when watching expertly performed dance, the way the words danced here had me totally bewitched.

“I’m sorry that you’re never going to teach her how to read.”

All three performers are good but the standout here is Mike Hentges.  I saw him in a clunky but enjoyable modern musical riff on Jane Austen’s romantic novels called Austen-tacious (I know, I know) last year.  He was fun to watch in that, but he’s a completely different person here.  Now, in the intervening time, he’s spent a lot of hours doing spoken word and storytelling, so it shouldn’t be surprising that he’s upped his game as a performer.  But this isn’t just next level steps up.  He’s leaped a great distance between last year and this one.  The words and the performance here perfectly capture the kind of manic, giddy strangeness that being under someone’s thrall can do to a person.  He admits to stalker-isn behavior, but it somehow remains charming and less ominous than the dark places the other two stories travel. 

“With shame I didn’t think I had left, I ordered my steak burrito.”

Of course you can’t really have one without the other.  If the other two stories didn’t exist for contrast, Hentges’ story might seem less gleeful and more neurotic.  It might also not seem to have the real potential for turning out poorly, if the two other stories didn’t take their unfortunate turns.

“This was my most fortunate mistake - we made eye contact.”

If words are your thing, and they are mine, you should definitely check out You and I: Verse.  I enjoyed myself so much, I’m going back again for their final performance on Sunday (and I don’t do a lot of repeat viewing at Fringe time).  But you don’t have to wait, they’ve got one tonight - Friday 8/7 at 5:30pm

5 stars - Very Highly Recommended

2015 Fringe - Friday night 5 Star Shows I’ve Seen and Recommend

Tweet Reviews and links to full reviews below.  More reviews coming:

5:30pm - Rarig Arena - You and I: Verse - (full review here) #mnfringe You And I: Verse - not ashamed to admit it, words turn me on - 5 stars (I’ll be going again, Sunday)
#mnfringe Review - You and I: Verse - 3 stories, 3 speeds, tied up neatly together; catnip 4 word junkies - 5 stars

5:30pm - Rarig Proscenium - Terra Incognita (FINAL PERFORMANCE) - (full review here)
#mnfringe Terra Incognita - easily the sexiest, most romantic thing I've seen at Fringe this year, may have to go again (phew) - 5 stars - (I am going again, today)
#mnfringe Review - Terra Icognita from - visually and emotionally dazzling - 5 stars

5:30pm - TRP - Backlash (FINAL PERFORMANCE) (full review here)
#mnfringe Backlash - mom says Josh Carson's shows get better every year; I agree - 5 stars
#mnfringe Review - Backlash, from and Mainly Me - laughing off some of life's transitions - 5 stars

5:30pm - Ritz Proscenium - Dance With The Devil - full review from when I saw it in the Twin Cities Horror Festival (a dance/storytelling mix that’s a great blend - 5 stars)

5:30pm - Theater Garage - Fruit Flies Like A Banana
#mnfringe Fruit Flies Like A Banana - high energy beat the clock lunacy from a trio of frighteningly talented musician/dancers - 5 stars (they sold out on Sunday, so get there early) (part of my Top 20 list for the Fringe this year)

7pm - Ritz Proscenium - 105 Proof, or The Killing of Mack “The Silencer” Klein
#mnfringe 105 Proof - well, it's no fairy tale, but @TLATheatre did it again, intense, 5 stars

8:30pm - Phoenix Theater - Post Traumatic Super Delightful (FINAL PERFORMANCE) (full review here)
#mnfringe Post Traumatic Super Delightful- part clown/part chameleon, hilarious, moving, unreal - 5 stars (part of my Top 20 list for the Fringe this year)
#mnfringe Review - Post Traumatic Super Delightful from - 1 person show that feels like it's 4 people

8:30pm - HUGE Theater - A Mermaid In Narnia (on LSD)
#mnfringe A Mermaid In Narnia (On LSD) - another compelling solo show from Arial Leaf on her tumultuous early years - 5 stars

8:30pm - Ritz Studio - The Secret Book of Jesus - full review here
#mnfringe Secret Book of Jesus - mom admits it may partly be the subject matter, but she thinks this is phillip's best show yet, 5 stars

8:30pm - Rarig Proscenium - Spicy Masala Chai (High Sell-Out Risk)
#mnfringe Spicy Masala Chai - oh, so THAT's what a full-on Bollywood extravaganza looks like; F-U-N - 5 stars

10pm - Phoenix Theater - Coffee, Tea or Me, an existential crisis
#mnfringe Coffee Tea or Me - a perfectly matched pair of very different traveling storytellers - 5 stars

2015 Fringe - Friday night 4-1/2 Star Shows I’ve Seen and Recommend

Tweet Reviews below, full reviews coming:

5:30pm - Mixed Blood - Demo Tape
#mnfringe Demo Tape - just as fun as I hoped it would be; probably needs one more song, streamlined plot - 4.5 stars

7pm - Phoenix Theater - Pretty Girls Make Graves
#mnfringe Pretty Girls Make Graves - another smart funny obsessed Sam Landman play that isn't what you think it is - 4.5 stars

7pm - HUGE Theater - Trans Families - full review in the pipeline right now at Twin Cities Daily Planet
#mnfringe Trans Families - compelling readers theater about shifting identities fraying couples at the edges - 4.5 stars

8:30pm - Rarig Thrust - Goblin In The Attic Joins A Dance Crew
#mnfringe Goblin In The Attic Joins A Dance Crew - very odd, strangely charming, polished piece of musical theater - 4.5 stars

2015 Fringe - Friday night 4 Star Shows I’ve Seen and Recommend

Tweet Reviews below, full reviews to follow:

4pm - Rarig Xperimental - Everywhere You Look
#mnfringe Everywhere You Look - strong script, intense production, weird directing choices. - 4 stars

10pm - Rarig Proscenium - School of Rhythm
#mnfringe School of Rhythm - over a dozen young dancers involved in a whole school day's worth of joyful energetic ensemble dance 4 stars

2015 Fringe - Friday night 3 Star Shows I’ve Seen and Recommend

Tweet Reviews below, full reviews coming:

5:30pm - Nomad Pub -  The Famous Haydell Sisters Comeback Tour
#mnfringe The Famous Haydell Sisters Comeback Tour - assortment of clever, silly, often dirty country songs - 3 stars

7pm - Rarig Arena - The Consolation
#mnfringe The Consolation - precise, well-executed, but strangely bloodless; maybe that's the point? Still not sure - 3 stars

8:30pm - TRP - Confessions of a Butter Princess, or Why The Cow Jumped Over The Moon
#mnfringe Confessions Of A Butter Princess - People turning into butter, talking cows - I liked it but I'm still not sure why - 3 stars

8:30pm - Ritz Proscenium - The Picture of Dorian Gray (FINAL PERFORMANCE)
#mnfringe - The Picture of Dorian Gray - like the title character, gorgeous, expertly crafted, morally repugnant - 3 stars

2015 Fringe - Stuff I'm Seeing Friday

4pm - FLiP! Theatre Company - Lungs

This one hasn't been on my radar, because for a while it was kind of hard to find any information - audience reviews, however, are raving, and I now know Dustin Bronson's one of the actors involved, so I'm checking it out - Rarig Thrust

5:30pm - Soma Acrobatic Theatre/UpLift Physical Theatre - Terra Icognita

Yes, again - saw this entry on my Top 20 list just the other day and was completely blown away - easily the sexiest most romantic thing I've seen at the Fringe this year - these acrobatic dancers are breathtaking to watch in action, so I'm catching them on their final performance - my first repeat this year - Rarig Proscenium

7pm - New Endeavors - Love and Persuasion

I talked about this one previously in my post on a Fringe preview trend full of bras and bros -  new play, local writer/producer and it features actor Nick James Parker in the cast - always a plus, even if his character seems vaguely untrustworthy - Rarig Xperimental

8:30pm - The Restless - Insomniac

This was my backup option if I couldn't get into another show yesterday, but I'm seeing it for real today. Curious to see how the incorporation of music into the story, or story into the music, works here - Rarig Xperimental

10pm - Rhombus Theatre - Brother Ulysses

This honestly hadn't been on my radar but another Fringe artist, working the crowd before their own show no less, raved about it as the thing they'd seen which they really loved, audience reviews seem equally enthusiastic, plus it just seems weird, which late in the Fringe-going, I find enticing to keep me awake at 10pm on the Friday - Rarig Arena

Thursday, August 06, 2015

2015 Fringe Review - Ferguson, USA

Tweet review - Ferguson, USA - dense (in a good way) script, nicely detailed deeply felt acting/directing, solid work all around - 5 stars

I put Ferguson, USA in my Top 10 list because I had high hopes that it might be a Fringe show with not just something to say, but a compelling and theatrical way of saying it.  Ferguson, USA delivers. 

“Who. What. When. Where.”

My hat is off to playwright/producer Maxwell Collyard and his dramaturg Adam Levonian, who had the herculean task of taking the events surrounding the death of Michael Brown and distilling them into a Fringe length format of under an hour.  I also have to say that director Nathan Eckstein and his skilled cast of four (Talief Bennett, Brid Henry, Ashe Jaafaru, and Andrew Wheeler) are to be commended for somehow representing multitudes with a group of people you can count with less than the fingers on one hand.

“We are taught to forget our rights, and focus on survival.”

Playwright Collyard has fictionalized things just barely so he can telescope the situation of the black community in Ferguson, Missouri down to a brother and sister (Bennett and Jaafaru, respectively).  They have lived and somehow survived under the status quo of how things work in Ferguson on the two sides of the racial divide.  But now both of them bear witness to the shooting of the unarmed Brown by a white police officer, and both of them struggle to find a way to respond. 

“I’m not scared.  I’m just not stupid.”

The brother, who was present when the shooting happened, joins the protesters in the streets.  The sister, who only turned to witness events when she heard shots fired outside her home, works the social media angles and cautiously cooperates with authorities to try and tell them the real story of life on the ground in the city they call home.

“They can’t kill us all. They can’t imprison us all.”

Henry and Wheeler take on the parts of all other characters in the narrative - the white side of things in Ferguson and the country at large - witnesses, police, FBI, media.  Some have the best of intentions.  Some are all too ready to despair.  Still others find themselves struggling to understand the way things are, and the reasons some of it might need to change.

“If we bring our stories to them, those will carry something the statistics can’t.”

This might make things sound like Ferguson, USA is a dry documentary affair.  While it’s true that Ferguson, USA takes as its source material witness interviews, media coverage and the Department of Justice report on the events of August 2014 (has it really only been a year?), the honest emotions and conflict inherent in those documents can’t help but bubble up from underneath the words on the page. 

“If they don’t kill me, my mama will.”

The script and the actors bring this situation out of recent memory and back to immediate life.  The sense of hope, fear, anger, and confusion stirred up by these events (in many cases already there, just brought into the light by people finally paying attention), these visceral human responses to inequality and injustice get a full airing without descending into bombast or melodrama.

“Essentially, this place is a debtors’ prison.”

The musical Arrest Me over at the Minneapolis Theatre Garage this Fringe may be the more overtly emotional (and sometimes satirical) of these two productions inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement.  But Ferguson, USA holds just as much emotion.  It’s often quieter, more contemplative, but no less fervent. 

“I don’t know any black parents who don’t care about their kids.”

Its mission seems to be to keep drawing us back to the facts, making sure we see them, and take them in.  Seeing the characters in Ferguson, USA try to navigate the turbulent currents around them, trying to address the issues without setting off the community like a powder keg, is compelling viewing.  Ferguson, USA is unsettling in a way we need to continue to be unsettled right now.

“It’s not my job to make you see him as human.”

Just as we’ve only the seen the beginning of this new wave of social consciousness, I think (I sincerely hope) we’ve only seen the beginning of what groups like Random Walk Theatre Company are going to do to keep pushing theater to help us engage in yet another way in this movement.

5 stars - Very Highly Recommended

2015 Fringe - Thursday night 5 Star Shows I've Seen and Recommend

Tweet Reviews and links to full reviews below.  More reviews coming:

 5:30pm - HUGE Theater - Confessions of a Delinquent Cheerleader
#mnfringe Confessions of a Delinquent Cheerleader - HO-LY CRAP. That was amazing. Funny, yes, but also dramatic and compelling. Wow. 5 stars (part of my Top 10 list this year)

5:30pm - Rarig Arena - Ferguson
 - full review here - #mnfringe Ferguson, USA - dense (in a good way) script, nicely detailed deeply felt acting/directing, solid work all around - 5 stars
#mnfrinnge Review - Ferguson USA - another powerful Fringe take on the Black Lives Matter movement - 5 stars  (part of my Top 10 list this year)

5:30pm - TRP - Comedy Suitcase presents The Averagers
#mnfringe The Averagers - superhero satire for the whole family (you don't even have to turn off your brain) - 5 stars

7:00pm - TRP - Backlash
#mnfringe Backlash - mom says Josh Carson's shows get better every year; I agree - 5 stars

8:30pm - Theatre Garage - Arrest Me - full review here
#mnfringe Arrest Me - Mom cried, then said, "That was a 6." Unexpectedly powerful - 5 stars

8:30pm - Ritz Proscenium - Deus Ex Machina - full review here
#mnfringe review - Deus Ex Machina - a comedy for skeptics and believers alike
#mnfringe Deus Ex Machina - hey, they didn't screw up the theology (finally) *and* it's fun? - 5 stars (part of my Top 10 list this year)

10:00pm - Intermedia Arts - Frankenstein - full review from when I saw it in the Twin Cities Horror Festival (this is some freaky sh*t - 5 stars)

2015 Fringe - Thursday night 4 Star Shows I've Seen and Recommend

Tweet Reviews below, full reviews coming:

7:00pm - HUGE Theater - Growing Into My Beard
#mnfringe Growing Into My Beard - strong voice, romantic and comical songs and stories, plus some skin, what's not to like? 4 stars (part of my Top 10 list for the Fringe this year)

10:00pm - Nimbus Theater - Falling Man - Final Performance #mnfringe - Falling Man - acting/vocal skills don't quite match the dancing, but the dancing is really mesmerizing work - 4 stars
(part of my Top 20 list for the Fringe this year)

2015 Fringe - Thursday night 3 Star Shows I've Seen and Recommend

Tweet Reviews below, full reviews coming:

5:30pm - Nomad Pub -  The Famous Haydell Sisters Comeback Tour
#mnfringe The Famous Haydell Sisters Comeback Tour - assortment of clever, silly, often dirty country songs - 3 stars

2015 Fringe - Stuff I'm Seeing Thursday

Mom's trekking across Indiana and visiting some friends today on her way home to PA, so I'm once again Fringing solo tonight.  Here's what I'm seeing, assuming I can get a ticket:

5:30 - Bollywood Dance Scene - Spicy Masala Chai 

starting off with some Bollywood two nights in a row? (fingers crossed) - this one comes from the the original Fringe Bollywood juggernaut from last year - on my Top 20 list - so I'm curious - Rarig Proscenium

If I can't get in to the Spicy Masala Chai, my backup is Insomniac down in the Rarig X - I liked the use of music in their Fringe preview.  Not sure how the concept plays out - "From Nashville to Minneapolis, pop/rock band The Restless brings a rock show to the theater stage. All in one night, music of The Restless overwhelms a man who is just trying to sleep." Added bonus, cute guy in a hoodie, I'm not gonna lie.
7:00 - Abas Theatre Company - The Debutante

F. Scott Fitzgerald for the stage - This theater is run by a writer/actor friend of mine, so I'm intrigued.  Hard to tell from their Fringe preview if they're going to nail the period behavior or not, but at that point they still had a couple of weeks of rehearsal left.  "Take a wild ride with the rich and foolish in local hero F Scott's tale of young love and all the passion, merriment and pathos that comes along with it. Fast and funny, some of his best writing on love & loss." - Rarig Arena

8:30 - Preus Productions - Hank & Jesus (Hay-soos)

another one from my Top 20 list - some acoustic guitar, some spiritual searching, so I'm doubly curious - Rarig Arena

10:00 - minnerican productions - Pam + Javi = Forever

one of only a handful of Fringe shows this year GLBT content; liked their Fringe preview, so I'm checking out these storytellers "Two noted storytellers join forces. Pam and Javi grew up queer in very different places: Iowa and Puerto Rico. At turns moving and hilarious, they explore the kinds of difference difference makes." - Rarig Proscenium

Wednesday, August 05, 2015

2015 Fringe Review - The Secret Book of Jesus

Tweet Review - The Secret Book of Jesus - mom admits it may partly be the subject matter, but she thinks this is phillip's best show yet, 5 stars

The tweet above was not a foregone conclusion.  Just like Deus Ex Machina, Mom and I went into this one secure in the knowledge that Maximum Verbosity’s phillip andrew bennett low is a proven performer, a sharp writer and a relentless researcher.  So The Secret Book of Jesus wasn’t going to be some haphazard, dubiously sourced bit of religious sensationalism. 

“Don’t you know that I’m not yours?”

Having been burned by other theater tackling religion and faith before, however, one can be forgiven for skepticism.  Particularly when confronted with show publicity saying things like this:

“Hidden in Egyptian tombs. Buried in earthenware jars. Traded in dark antiquities markets. For the first time in history, the Gospels suppressed or ignored by the early church have been combined to give a complete portrait of the life of Jesus: his parents' miraculous marriage; his bizarre killing sprees as an infant; his journey down into Hell; his apostles' interrogation of Satan. A new face of Jesus, concealed for centuries, emerges at last: a dark child, tinged by holy madness, bearing strange powers, prone to deadly bursts of rage. A show for the faithful and heretic alike -- two thousand years in the making.”

The clever thing low has done here is use the outlines of the story of Jesus most people know as a familiar (even comforting) framework in which to place the lesser known wilder Jesus stories of the books of the Apocrypha.

“You are responsible for the child who did this!”

He’s also edited the whole thing down brilliantly in such a way that nothing’s really extraneous.  Everything ties together.  Thieves met on the road in Jesus’ childhood end up being the same thieves hung beside him when he is on the cross. 

“The dead boy got up and walked away.”

A child young Jesus tussles with turns out to be the Judas Iscariot who will later follow him as a disciple, then betray him to the authorities in exchange for 30 pieces of silver.  A jar of ointment key to another apocryphal story is revealed to be the very ointment Mary Magdalene would use to wash an adult Jesus’ feet, much to his disciples' consternation. 

“The earth that held his decaying body gave him up, alive.”

And, of course, this being a Maximum Verbosity show, it would be incomplete without an aside related to the Holy Grail, and low’s ongoing excavation and cracking open of the legends of King Arthur and the knights of the roundtable to create a whole other pile of rough and tumble Fringe shows over the years.

“If I could, I would destroy you like I have destroyed so many of your kind.”

This Jesus, Mary and Joseph, all shown to have rougher edges, tempers, and senses of humor, become so human, as do those around them, that you have to remind yourself they are all central figures in a religious narrative that some people never think twice about.  The script is always happy to throw you a familiar image or exchange in order to drive this point home - oh, yes, we’re talking about *that* Jesus.  This isn’t a show that makes a case for Christianity or belief.  It’s not about proselytizing.  low just knows he’s got a good story here, and he’s going to dive in and tell it. 

“Behold the devil and death, condemned by the tree.”

Listening to tales of supernatural powers and heaven and hell, you can picture in your head all the special effects that might be necessary to pull off a film or TV miniseries version of this story.  Luckily here, all we need is the storytelling prowess of low to amuse and astound (and sometimes intimidate) us.  low loves words, and loves a poetic and powerful turn of phrase even more.  This story is stuffed with them and he makes the most of the opportunity. 

“On the third day after the birth, Mary emerged from the cave.”

He is also aware of, and takes advantage of, familiar numbers, symbols and imagery from the Bible most people know, peppering the script with these clues without belaboring them.  If you know the reference, you appreciate the script on a whole other level.  If you don’t, then it’s just part of a story that keeps barreling forward and maybe next Christmas or Easter season you might hear something and go, “Hey, wait a minute, I remember hearing that back in August.”

“Twelve new sparrows flew aimless through the night.”

I suppose some of the source material might make some folks uncomfortable.  But if you’re willing to go along for the ride, this show is respectful without being wooden, and rollicking without being blasphemous (though, I guess that depends on your definition and pain threshold for blasphemy).  I figure, if my mother, an ordained minister once married to another ordained minister, and heavily involved in church her whole life, right up to the present day, doesn’t take offense, then there’s no offense to be taken.  In fact, The Secret Book of Jesus inspired mom to break out her own copy of the Apocrypha and give it another look.  She never knows where the next sermon is going to come from.  And a human Jesus, and his all too human family, doesn’t sound like a bad place to start.

5 stars - Very Highly Recommended

2015 Fringe - Wednesday night 3 Star Shows I’ve Seen and Recommend

Tweet Reviews below, full reviews coming:

5:30pm - Intermedia Arts - #SummthinsGonnaHappen
#mnfringe #SummthinsGonnaHappen - well, summthin happened, a grab bag of different styles of burlesque - 3 stars

5:30pm - Nomad Pub -  The Famous Haydell Sisters Comeback Tour
#mnfringe The Famous Haydell Sisters Comeback Tour - assortment of clever, silly, often dirty country songs - 3 stars