1 - Caucasian Aggressive Pandas and Other Mulatto Tales - Fearless Comedy Productions
Mixing story-telling and sketch comedy in a blend of black-and-white concepts, Pandas is a humorous exploration of what it's like to be mixed raced, handle stereotypes, and find your place in the world. Racism will be mocked, racists shunned, and stereotypes exposed.
I’m looking forward to seeing this Duck Washington show probably more than anything else in the Fringe this year. I was sad to have missed it in its initial run so I was excited to see it resurface in the context of the Fringe. Duck is a smart, funny, gentle soul who always brings his best to whatever material he’s working on (whether he or someone else has written it) and making that material better. With his merry band of artistic conspirators, Duck and company are tackling an issue that we need to talk (and somehow laugh) more about. The topic unfortunately couldn’t be more timely, so thankfully we couldn’t be in better hands. Mom and I will be at the opening performance Friday night.
2 - Lewis/Clark - Rhymes With Montana
Two explorers attempt to discover what remains when there is nothing left to explore.
I think I saw Debra Berger’s hit 2013 Fringe show Hello Stranger a little too late. Everyone had been raving so wildly about how wonderful it was that I think my expectations were set way too high. I didn’t get to encounter the production on its own merits, but through someone else’s filter (says the guy who writes reviews of Fringe shows). I still enjoyed it quite a lot but it didn’t rock my world the way it seemed to so strongly impact other people. I missed last year’s To The Moon, so I’m glad that I have another chance to catch Berger and her collaborators (Emily King, Tyler Mills, Derek Trost and Tyler Michaels) doing what they do best. It’s a treat to be able to escape into a world of self-awareness about art and a whimsical view of life and its changing fortunes and boundaries. I’m looking forward to spending time with them again, and I don’t say that lightly. This time I’ll try to approach the experience with no preconceptions.
3 - Ball: A Musical Tribute To My Lost Testicle - The Catalysts
Max Wojtanowicz was diagnosed with stage 3 testicular cancer in January 2016. A friend told him to "conquer it, and then sing about it." A one-man comedy about the moment when life throws you a curve... ball. A real-life story about laughing (and singing) in the face of darkness. Through stories and songs about his journey through the fun-filled world of testicular cancer, Max Wojtanowicz processes and maybe overshares his thoughts and feelings in his fourth original musical.
Every year when I compile this list, there’s always an easy call. There’s always an artist I run across and go, “How the heck did they not wind up on this list before now?” I’ve seen three out of the first four shows Max and his Catalysts have produced: Fruit Fly (2012), Shelly Bachberg Presents: How Helen Keller and Anne Frank Freed the Slaves (2013), and A Very Merry Unauthorized Children's Scientology Pageant (2014). [I was experiencing Michele Bachmann fatigue last year, so I skipped Shelly Bachberg Presents: Orange is the New POTUS (2015), but that didn’t make it any less of a hit with Fringe crowds.] Max is a tireless artist with a clever satirical point of view and a generous sense of humor. Cancer didn’t seem to slow him down a bit, and with his medical treatments behind him he’s back in the thick of the action, producing what I’m sure will be yet another hit Fringe show. We’re lucky we got to keep him around.
4 - The Disillusionist - Stunt Theater
It's the last day of summer at WONDERPARK AMERICA?. Between his last two performances, the resident magician's show and life fall apart over the course of one afternoon... and you get to be part of it! A high energy alcoholic interactive farce.
The creative mind behind this Fringe show is Neal Skoy, which is pretty much all I need to know. If it’s Neal’s artistic brainchild, I’m there. Neal is a clown. No, I mean he’s a trained professional clown. (He also seems to make a habit of performing in shows that drive me just a little nuts.) But since this is Neal’s show entirely, I’m anxious to see it for myself. Who doesn’t love a high energy alcoholic interactive farce, am I right? Plus, there’s a listing in their cast and crew for a Magic and Movement Consultant, which sounds like fun. This show is one of the reasons Mom and I are finally going to get our butts over to NE Minneapolis and the brand new Strike Theater.
5 - The Gospel of Sherilyn Fenn - HT Productions
Best title on my top 10 list, possibly best title in the Fringe this year.
The true story of how storyteller Brad Lawrence survived a childhood in the Reagan Eighties - the rise of the moral majority and meth amphetamine, the terrors of sex and nuclear bombs, and his guest role in a sibling’s suicide - by escaping into pop culture. This is a show about learning compassion for oneself through the saving grace of late night cable television.
For the longest time, a truncated version of that show description was the only thing on the guy’s Fringe page. He’s since added a bit more. Honestly, I probably would have gone anyway, just because of the title. But he sent me a press release, so I had all kinds of other info. The thing that sealed the deal, though, was a press quote about one of his other solo shows:
“For one hour on a bare stage, he [Brad Lawrence] has nothing but his dry, harrowing sense of hubris to hold the audience, and he is fascinating unquestionably.”
Matthew Trumbull, NYTheater.com
If the name Matthew Trumbull sounds familiar, that’s because the guy was here in the 2013 Fringe with his amazing one man show The Zebra Shirt of Lonely Children. Anyone who saw that, like me, knows that if Matthew Trumbull is praising another solo performer, that person is really good.
There’s a lot more info on his website hblawrence.com, including video clips, so check that out if you need more convincing (first thing you notice, just as Sherilynn Fenn doesn’t look like she did back in the 80s, neither does Brad - they have both aged quite well)