Sunday, July 23, 2017

Fringe 2017 - Fringe Scheduling - Every Day A Little Death

Scheduling this year is a particularly challenging puzzle this year for some reason. 

I’ll have to confer with Mom on her preferences for the first six days of the festival.  There are multiple options most days in which way we could go, depends on what she wants to see more. 

She likes to fill all 30 slots during her visit, so that means clustering our shows together in the same general area, since there’s no late seating and we don’t want to take the chance of missing a slot (it’s happened). 

Plus, she’s 79, and I am now 15 years older than I was when I started Fringe blogging so high speed sprinting to a venue is out of the question.

Even if you’re around for the whole festival, as I will be, it’s only humanly possible to see 56 out of 166 shows.  And that’s if you see something in every single slot and don’t see anything twice. 

So no matter what a person does, about two thirds of the Fringe is just out of reach.

So just like every year, the hard decisions mount.

Given the complexity I’m going to set the schedule aside for a little bit and focus on posting the rest of that pre-Fringe Top 10/Top 20 list. 

I was hoping to work out both the list and the schedule at the same time, but the schedule is proving resistant. 

If past is any guide, no matter how I plunk down that Top 10/Top 20 list, I’m going to end up missing a few of them just due to logistics.

So, if I could see quite literally everything, which 20 new acts would be first in line…?

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Fringe 2017 - Returning Favorites - Victoria Pyan

"Nobody noticed the first bombardment, not when it happened. One morning we woke up as usual, and there were babies on our doorsteps. We chose to take them in. Then the choices got much, much harder."

In addition to serving as director of Making It Home for Delve Theatre, Victoria Pyan of Little Lifeboats is also performing as part of the ensemble of this horror show - how do you battle back against weaponized children who are trying to kill you?  Not for the faint of heart.

Fringe 2017 - Returning Favorites - Laura and Zach Delventhal

"The largest population of Somalis in North America lives in the Twin Cities. Listen as a local ensemble of storytellers share their experiences of the joys and challenges of creating home in Minnesota."

Though I enjoyed their over the top comic antics with the short plays of Chekhov in 2015, their upcoming showcase of immigrants to Minnesota feels like perfect timing as a way for all of us to understand one another a bit better.

Fringe 2017 - Returning Favorites - Ariel Leaf and Scot Moore

"From communism to circumcision, from getting high in Winnipeg to getting laid in Nepal, Scot Moore and Ariel Leaf invite you aboard for their adventures abroad. But use the bathroom first."

Even though I got to Scot Moore’s one person show Break Your Heart late in the festival last year, and didn’t get to crank out a full review of it, it still wound up on my Top 10 post-Fringe list of shows for 2016.  Mom and I have both enjoyed Ariel Leaf’s solo shows expounding on the colorful (and slightly terrifying) events of her life.  So putting them both in the same storytelling show feels like a win-win.  Looking forward to it.  Here’s their preview of interlocking key phrases out of their respective tales.

Fringe 2017 - Returning Favorite - Sheep Theater

"Ex mobster Gepetto wishes his wooden puppet child, Pinocchio, to life and now there’s an insane puppet who can walk and talk and gets involved with the mob and Jiminy Cricket’s expected to make this kid good."

Honestly, just see these peopleDoesn’t matter what they’re doing.  They’ve already produced one new play that’s guaranteed to be on my Top 10 list for theater for the whole of 2017 (The Assassination of the Archduke of Austria-Hungary Franz Ferdinand), and they may earlier this month have just presented another (The Good Boy And The Kid).  They’re so good, and so prolific, it’s kind of ridiculous.  But thank God they’re hard at work in the Fringe as well.  Can’t wait.

Fringe 2017 - Returning Favorite - Scream Blue Murmur

"Northern Ireland's Scream Blue Murmur search for explanations in a world of chaos and flames. Through spoken word and song, this show is an irreverent look at a world of constant change and bizarre happenings."

If you didn’t have a chance to see them in 2007 or 2009 or 2011, boy are you in for a treat!  I'm so happy they're back.  Music, spoken word, actual genuine Irish accents (plus, they're just charming, lovely people).  I’ve loved them all three times before, I expect no less this time.  Set aside a slot for them on your schedule and enjoy a little something different.

Fringe 2017 - Returning Favorite - Rough Magic Performance Company

"Shakespeare's classic comedy of love/hate relationships made modern by 6 women and 2 puppets. A hilarious and moving tale of love, jealousy, trickery, and redemption with a fresh and feminist perspective."

This company did a really nice rendering of Twelfth Night when they were on my Top 20 list back in 2014.  This time out, it’s an all-female take on Much Ado About Nothing.  It’s a kick-ass cast and these ladies know their Shakespeare.  So if the clowns Dogberry and Verges taking over the story with their peculiar brand of butchered English strikes your fancy, you should check them out. Plus… puppets!

Friday, July 21, 2017

Fringe 2017 - Returning Favorite - Katherine Glover

"A group of time travelers wants Reagan to help save the Republican Party. A rival group wants to teach him a Scrooge-style moral lesson. But Reagan's reaction to 2016 may not be what any of them expect..."

Katherine was at the top of my 2012 Top 10 list for one of her solo shows on a much more serious subject. In the 2016 Fringe, her unusual romantic comedy Celebrity Exception was one of the funniest and best things I saw in the festival.  She’s back again with more comedy, a little snippet of which I got to enjoy in my writing group.  If anyone can get me to sit through a comedy that involved Ronald Reagan, it’s probably Katherine.  Plus, it’s directed by my friend Denzel Belin, so he’s also sure to keep things interesting.  So here comes Ronald Reagan: Time Traveler.

Fringe 2017 - Returning Favorite - Mame Pelletier - FurTrader Productions

"Remember the 90s? Mame does. Besides sun-dried tomatoes and The Rachel, Mame faced the deaths of 3 loved ones in 3 years. In this interactive show, Mame will talk about death and life. Oh, and there’s singing!"

Mame and FurTrader were right at the top of my Top 10 list in 2015 and the her show Confessions of a Deliquent Cheerleader did not disappoint.  It was one of the highlights of that festival for me.  Mame is always among the best things in any production of which she's a part.  When she takes the stage to tell her own stories, she's both hilarious and seriously compelling to watch.  She sees the absurdities of life through a lens that transforms them into the unlikeliest of comedy. I'm sure F@*k The 90s will be no different.  Here's her preview.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Fringe 2017 - Top 20 List

I'll be gathering links to the write-ups on my choices for a pre-Fringe Top 20 list here, so you can easily see the full list in one place.

11 -

12 -

13 -

14 -

15 -

16 -

17 -

18 -

19 -

20 -

Obviously, some work to do to fill in the blanks...

Fringe 2017 - Top 10 List

I'll be gathering links to the write-ups on my choices for a pre-Fringe Top 10 list here, so you can easily see the full list in one place.

1 - Odd Man Out - Underdog Theatre

2 - Blackout Improv - Rogues Gallery Arts

3 -

4 -

5 -

6 -

7 -

8 -

9 -

10 -

More to come...

Fringe 2017 - Returning Favorites List

Over the years since 2003 when I first got drafted to start this blog about the Minnesota Fringe Festival, I’ve accumulated quite an ongoing list of Top 10 and Top 20 artists I was anticipating.  Each year I cleared out the list to make room for more.  So here’s some favorites of the past making returns this year - links to fuller write-ups will be added as I post them.  Meantime, you can’t go wrong giving these folks a try (I think I caught them all. It's entirely possible I missed someone.  I'll update as necessary):

Marcus Anthony (2014 Top 10) of
Hey Rube - Be Your Selfie

Amber Bjork (2012 Top 10) of
The Winding Sheet Outfit - The Memory Box of the Sisters Fox

Allison Broeren (2007 Top 20) of
La Vie Theatre - Debacle: Stories of Life’s Ultimate Fiascos!

Josh Carson and Andy Kraft (2012 Top 10) of
Outlandish Productions - The Wright Stuff, or You’ll Believe They Can Fly!

Laura and Zach Delventhal (2015 Top 20) of
Delve Theatre - Making It Home - some reasons why

Ferrari McSpeedy Theatrical Productions (2007 Top 10) - Sevlin & Devlin Presents: Seven Evans In Heaven

Matthew Foster (2003 Top 10) of
American Civic Forum - Themselves They Made Immaculate: Clara Barton at Andersonville

The Fourth Wall (2015 Top 20) - Fruit Flies Like A Banana: World Tour

Katherine Glover (2012 Top 10) Presents - Ronald Reagan: Time Traveler - some reasons why

Andy Gullikson and Robb Krueger (2011 Top 10) of
SaMi Productions - The Perils of Steve

Keith Hovis (2014 Top 20) of
Devious Mechanics - Jefferson Township Sparkling Junior Talent Pageant

Ariel Leaf (2015 Top 10) and Scot Moore (2013 Top 10) of
Mermaid Productions - A Mermaid Abroad, and A Fish Out of Water - some reasons why

Howard Lieberman (2009 Top 20) in
2Lorens - 1967

David Mann (2005 Top 20) - The Best of All Possible Worlds

Maximum Verbosity (2007 Top 10) - Serpentine

Tyler Michaels and Tyler Mills (2016 Top 10) of
Bearded Men Improv - Swords & Sorcery: The Improvised Fantasy Campaign

Mike’s Brass (2015 Top 10) - Rumpus

Derek Miller (2006 Top 10) of
The Miller Conspiracy - The Banana Wars

Mame Pelletier (2015 Top 10) of
FurTrader Productions - F@*k the 90s - some reasons why

Jeffrey Peterson choreographing (2010 Top 10) for
First Daughter Dance - So Goshdarn Warm and Fuzzy!

Potter Presents - Sean Neely (2014 Top 20)

Victoria Pyan (of Little Lifeboats (2015 Top 10), and director for Delve Theatre) also in
Oncoming Productions - The Last Bombardment - some reasons why

Tom Reed (2008 Top 10), involved in both:
Weggel-Reed Productions - Couple Fight 3: Weddings!
(including 2014 Top 10'er Shanan Custer)
Turd Spout Productions - Stranger-er Things: Netflix and KILL

Rough Magic Performance Company (2014 Top 20) - Much Ado About Nothing (as told by Dogberry and Verges) - some reasons why

Ben Sandel (2006 Top 10) - Spec

Scream Blue Murmur (2009 Top 20) - Atlas Dynamo’s Burnt Offerings - some reasons why

Sheep Theater (2015 Top 10) - Pinocchio - some reasons why

Siege Perilous Films (2014 Top 10) - Small Time Dicks

Joshua Scrimshaw (2005 Top 10) of
Comedy Suitcase - Intermediate Physical Comedy for Advanced Beginners

also in
Tim Uren’s (2004 Top 10)
Ghoulish Delights - The Mysterious Old Radio Listening Society
(also including 2014 Top 10'er Shanan Custer)

Lucas Skjaret (2014 Top 10), directing for
Market Garden Theatre - On The Exhale

Kirsten Stephens (2008 Top 20), producing for
Laughing Nomad Productions - Never Wonder Land

Rachel Teagle (2008 Top 10) of
The Rachel Teagle Effect - Queen of Delicious Animals

Paul von Stoetzel (2009 Top 10) - directing for both
The Park Theater Company - Blackbeard’s Revenge
Headcanon - The Tragedy of Obi-Wan Kenobi

Check out the links, put some shows on your Fringe calendar.  Enjoy!

Friday, July 14, 2017

Review - Momentum: New Dance Works Festival, part 1 - There’s No Wrong Way To Move - 5 stars

Both presentations in part 1 of Momentum: New Dance Works Festival (part 2 is next weekend) play with the notions of the role of audience and artist and the illusion of performance.  BLAQ’s Taneber/BLAQ Wall Street, which is the second half of the evening, and Fire Drill’s Bill: The Musikill, each revel in the idea of peeling away that final layer that would polish off the thing and make it something perfect to be observed and admired from a distance.  They’re not pretending the audience isn’t out there, in fact they’re well aware the audience is watching and listening.  They’d very much like it if you played along.  (Don’t worry, this isn’t the dreaded audience participation that sends some people screaming for the exits.  It’s the gentlest of invitations and you can do with it what you like.)

Deja Stowers’ creation with her ensemble of collaborators in BLAQ is actually arranged on the Southern Theater stage in such a way that you can’t really get the full experience if you stay in your seat out in the audience.  It’s a women’s arts and crafts market - jewelry, paintings and a variety of other disciplines. The tables are in a semicircular arrangement on one half of the stage, all facing in toward the center.  Among them is a table with some snacks.  Scattered throughout are cafe tables and chairs where people can sit and watch (and/or eat).  To one side is the DJ’s table, and the music takes over immediately during the scene change at intermission.  I didn’t leave the theater at intermission because the music was great and it was fun watching the previous group of dancers tear down while the BLAQ market was setting up.

BLAQ’s ensemble (Alicia, Asalesol, Lindsey Bradley, Kenna-Camara Cottman, Aneka McMullen, and the previously mentioned choreographer Deja Stowers) are also joined by a couple of little kids, one just a toddler.  It’s a great touch, because the inclusion of the children immediately starts breaking down barriers.  Kids don’t care about things like fourth walls.  They wander, and dance, freely.  They also bring out the best in dancers and audience alike.  You can feel a community forming around the kids, even as the artists are going about the work of setting up the market and throwing in some dance moves, and the audience is trying to go about the regular business of watching.  That remove doesn’t last long.  Like any good dance party, the pull of the dance floor, and the pull of the curiosity about the wares in the market, are too much for people to resist.  Even a shy midwestern audience eventually succumbs.  Heck, I think the run crew up in the booth came down briefly to grab some food.  And if, like me, you’re more of a people watcher, it’s a lot of fun just observing the ebb and flow of people around the market and the DJ.

People both graceful and awkward move to the beat.  (There is no wrong way to move.)  And about three quarters of the way into the hour, a full-on dance show kicks into gear, the BLAQ dancers doing their thing while an audience surrounding them on the stage looks on.  It’s a different DJ each night, and if they’re all as good as Michel Be was for the opening performance, this’ll be three really fun nights to hang out in the theater.  Someone early on even wanders through with some sage and incense.  Part of me imagined she was cleansing the place of any lingering bad feelings from people’s work days, and blessing the proceedings at the same time.  Every time a person wandered down from the audience, someone from the ensemble was quickly there with a friendly smile, ready to usher them into a world they might not have encountered before.  Taneber/BLAQ Wall Street was a great way to end an evening.

Kicking off the night was the singularly weird amusement of the latest creation from Fire Drill (Emily Gastineau and Billy Mullaney) in collaboration with LA-based wordsmith and spoken word performer Tom Comitta, entitled Bill: The Musikill.  Fire Drill and Comitta had collaborated earlier in the year, when Comitta was on a double bill with the Lux String Quartet at Fire Drill’s home base of the Fresh Oysters Performance Research space.  (That presentation, Piece By Piece, was an exercise in listening - Lux brought music, followed by Comitta in a dimly lit room bringing on the words - descriptions of nature collected and restructured into a new narrative from a wide range of works of literature, journeying through earth, sky and water.)  Here now in Bill: The Musikill, words aren’t so much arranged for sense as for sound and their percussive, rhythmic qualities.

Bill: The Musikill puts Comitta front and center (well, technically off to the side).  Put the man on a microphone and he can fill, even overwhelm the place with volume and patter.  Comitta also has a couple of sound looping devices at his feet. A touch of the pedal, and he’s recording one of his word riffs.  Another touch of the pedal and that riff plays back while he layers another one live over the top of it.  Then of course it’s time to bring on the dancers!

Bill: The Musikill isn’t a musical, per se, but it does traffic in a lot of the tropes of musical theater that most audiences will clearly recognize.  Those familiar sights and sounds are just stretched beyond their normal limits until they become comically grotesque.  First of all, there’s no music, just Comitta’s word buffet - sometimes sung, but often just spoken.  And though the small army of dancers are incredibly graceful and accomplished movers onstage, here they let the strain deliberately show through now and then.  Routines often drag on long enough that someone gets out of breath and needs a break.  Or everyone just collapses in unison to the floor.  No one’s ever in danger, mind you.  Fire Drill just wants you to be reminded, periodically, however briefly, that these are still human beings up on stage.  The moves this ensemble goes through have a cost.

Most of the time, however, the dancers retain an almost manic grin across their faces, as if willing the observer to have a good time - or perhaps invite them to think the performers are just a little crazy.  The dancers - Samantha Johns, Margaret Johnson, Pedro Pablo Lander, Holo Lue Choy, Genevieve Muench, Tim Rehborg, Jeffrey Wells and Maggie Zepp, alongside choreographers Gastineau and Mullaney - enter first as if they’re in the big closing number “One” from A Chorus Line - silver spangled top hats and silvery unitards.  There are kick lines, group creations like a car made from their collective human bodies, and arms spread in final poses that hold on more than just a little too long.  There’s a sequence during which the ensemble form the letters of the name Bill, but they have to hold that formation during an extra long recitation by Comitta that tests their endurance. 

There’s another scene around a water cooler where Mullaney and Johns mime the roles of their half of the conversation while Comitta narrates (in song) the sequence describing the kind of thing that’s said, rather than the actual dialogue (“obligatory laughter,” “random obvious observation,” “exclamation!” “herculean avoidance of the untrue inference”). Meanwhile the other dancers provide backup, physically and vocally.  Later, there’s use of five blackboards on wheels, with the ensemble scribbling in time with chalk to the cadence of Comitta’s words.  Bill: The Musikill doesn’t have a traditional narrative with a beginning, middle, and end.  Even the satirical dystopian future they sketch in is just a useful backdrop to get the performance to a place beyond the everyday, and the everyday use of language.  It puts us in a weird place, so we can see weird things, and engage with words on a more subatomic level, freed of the need for meaning.

The ending shouldn’t be a surprise, since Comitta comments more than once when interrupting an already extended sequence of vocal and physical repetition “This goes on for a while” or “This continues for another three minutes or so.”  The performers could go on, but do they want to test how long the audience will sit still for something that repeats itself and has no end in sight.  We’re polite, we like to stay in our place, but is our patience endless?  You know those windsock dancers they inflate outside of car dealerships to smile and wave at passing motorists?  Bill: The Musikill unleashes two of them at the end, and then just leaves them onstage unattended, along with a final sound loop of Comitta’s voice.  It soon becomes apparent no one’s coming back to end the show and take a bow.  Were it not for the fact that, after a generously awkward pause, the next group came onstage to begin setting up for after intermission, who knows how long that might have continued?  Would they leave it rolling long after the last audience member had gotten up and left (in frustration? confusion?)  How long would that last person wait thinking, “There’s gotta be more, right?”

Both BLAQ and Fire Drill push back against the limitation of the standard boundaries of storytelling and audience behavior.  And they both do it by putting on a hell of a good show.  Different, but good.  This year-long collaboration between the artists, The Cowles Center, the Walker Art Center, the Southern Theater and the Jerome Foundation is a great investment in keeping dance vibrant and its audience awake and engaged.  This first double bill of Momentum: New Dance Works Festival has one more performance, Saturday, July 15, 2017 at 8pm.  The other double bill of Cathedral and STRONGmovement is at the Southern next Thursday, Friday and Saturday, July 20 to 22, 2017.  It’s sure to be just as unusual and compelling.  Catch ‘em both while you can.

5 stars - Very Highly Recommended

(photos by Gene Pittman, courtesy of the Walker Art Center)

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Fringe 2017 - Top 10 - #2 - Blackout Improv

#2 on the Fringe Top 10 list this year is

Blackout Improv - Rogues Gallery Arts

“Members of this all person of color improv team take on the Minnesota Fringe in a way that only they can, with humor, swag, and a focus on social issues. Each performance will feature an amazing special guest!”

Like I said the other day, it was a toss-up between this show and Odd Man Out for the number 1 slot.  Odd Man Out and Blackout Improv were the two shows that excited me the most about the upcoming Minnesota Fringe Festival.  I could technically grandfather these folks in as a returning favorite since one of the members of the troupe, Duck Washington, topped my Top 10 list last year with Caucasian-Aggressive Pandas and Other Mulatto Tales, but they warrant more of a spotlight than that.  Honestly, given all the press they’ve garnered, most recently as one of the acts in this week’s New Griots Festival (see THAT, too, tickets to all acts are just $9 and it runs through this Sunday - very Fringey in spirit and a much needed spotlight for artists of color - plus, see three shows and get vouchers for seven more tickets free)… ok, that sentence got away from me. Simply put, they don’t need my help to get the word out.

So, there’s the founding members Alsa Bruno, Joy Dolo, John Gebretatose, Andy Hilbrands, and Kory LaQuess Pullam; and the second generation of artists invited in - Denzel Belin, Sami Dee, Alyssa DiVirgilio, Ashawnti Ford, Neal Hazard, Khary Jackson, Theo Langason, Duck Washington, and Nimene Wureh. (Denzel, Alyssa, Joy, John, Kory, Duck, and Nimene are listed as performers in the Fringe outing, with Khary as musician and Sami as stage manager)

If you haven’t run across at least one of those names in your theatergoing over the last several years, where the heck have you been hiding?  They work in theaters large and small, in projects obscure and inescapable, all over the Twin Cities metro.  (I quite literally do not have time to find and link to all my past theater reviews, or even shows of my own, that mention each of them.)  If you’ve seen any of them in action, you know this Fringe show is going to be smart, quality comedy.  If you haven’t, honestly, catch up.  The Fringe is providing you with an ideal opportunity.

And it’s improv, so it’s going to be completely different every single show.  You could go to all five and have a new experience each time, newer than the usual “all theater performances are different” kind of thing.

Blackout Improv has a regular monthly berth at Phoenix Theater (which is also their Fringe venue) - third Friday of the month, 10:30pm.  Now if, like me, it’s been (cough) a while since you were in college or grad school, 10:30pm on a Friday to START a show is a little late.  But the performers are so busy with other theater projects around town on a regular basis that it was either late night or not at all.  I must admit to only being able to summon the stamina for a late Friday show once so far.  (I’m very glad I did, which is why I’m so excited about their Fringe and New Griots outings, but I wish I had the strength for more at the end of a work week at the day jobs.) That’s why their banner ads on the Fringe website say “Blackout Improv at a reasonable hour” :) (Their latest time slots in the Fringe are 8:30pm, so we’ll all still be fresh as daisies.)

It’s a show I can already say I’m likely to see more than once because, well, it’s rare that you KNOW ahead of time you’re going to have a good time AND it’s worth repeat viewing. That’s Fringe gold right there.

If you haven’t seen them, you should.  If you have seen them, you probably stopped reading this blog post at the headline because you needed no convincing to go.  So Mom and I will see you there.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Fringe 2017 - Top 10 - #1 - Odd Man Out

Every year I look for ten new sets of artists I haven’t spotlighted before to be a sort of pre-Fringe Top 10 - shows I’m looking forward to.  I’m not certain I’m going to love them yet, but given what I know, I’ve got a really good feeling it’s a show I’m going to enjoy.  (A post-Fringe Top 10 is, naturally, a lot easier to sort out - I’ve seen them already.)  Of course, given all the past Fringes I’ve blogged about, there’s a whole host of past Top 10 or Top 20 entries that I’m looking forward to seeing again (more on them shortly). But I always try to mix things up, and try to get the word out in case other folks are interested in trying something new.

When the Fringe lottery winners, and more recently the Fringe website, were available to look at, there were two shows that immediately jumped out at me that I was very excited to see.  It’s almost a coin flip which of the two I’m most interested in.  But this one’s a new play, so as a playwright with a soft spot for new plays, it gets the edge.  Plus, given the lead artist in charge, there’s overlap between the two.

#1 on the Top 10 list is year is

Underdog Theatre’s Odd Man Out

“The death of a family patriarch summons James to his hometown in South Texas. Once he arrives, James is confronted with issues of the past and present. Nothing is left on the table in this world premier drama.”

This is sort of “the script that got away.” Playwright Kory LaQuess Pullam submitted the first 25 pages to Workhouse Theater when I was working on their new play reading series.  We really enjoyed the first 25 pages and we anxious to see the whole thing.  Kory got an opportunity to have a reading with Theatre Pro Rata instead, so they nabbed it.  I didn’t get a chance to see that reading.  So when the script resurfaced again as part of the Minnesota Fringe Festival, it was a no-brainer to be on my schedule.

Why top of the list? That first 25 pages was really good.  Some of the best stuff we had submitted to Workhouse all year.  We were sad to see it go.  I’m really curious to see where all the characters and relationships end up.

Plus there’s adult language, violence, GLBT content, political content, and artists of color involved, according to the Fringe website tags so really, what’s not to like?

Also, Underdog’s production of Kory’s script Baltimore Is Burning was one of the best pieces of theater I saw in all of 2016.

Kory and Underdog know what they’re doing.  If you’ve seen their work before, you don’t need any convincing from me.  If you haven’t seen them, you’re missing out.

That’s why they top my list this year for the Fringe.

Sunday, July 09, 2017

Fringe 2017 - Fringe PR Malpractice - Don’t Do It

(This show didn’t commit Fringe PR malpractice. Be like them. Learn how below.)

Hey, Minnesota Fringe Festival artists!

Wanna do yourself a favor?

Wanna do something really simple to help publicize your show?

Go to your page on the Fringe website.

Go to the Cast and Crew section.

Enter the name of every single person working on your Fringe show.

You don’t need to list what they do.  You don’t need to post a bio.

Just post their names.

Then anybody looking for the show their friend or family member is doing can enter their name in the Fringe website search field and Boom, they find your show.

I’ve produced Fringe shows before.  I know there are a million things pulling on your time and attention right now.

But honestly, it’s the easiest thing you can do to make sure people can find your show.

If I know someone who is working on a show, I’m MUCH more likely to go.

I can’t see everything being done by artist friends and acquaintances whose work I know and like, but if I know their work is out there, I’m gonna have a better chance of finding it and maybe getting it on the schedule.

Some quick examples:

Over a dozen dance shows at the Fringe - how do you choose?  If you’re me, you look to see if there’s anyone involved whose done work you liked before, just to get you started

(then I’ll throw in something random I’ve never tried before because, how else do you ever see new stuff?) (for example - Out of the Shadows - Gabriel Mata, first time Fringer, artist of color, GLBT content, kickass photo, sure, why not?)

Back to searching for my friends and compatriots among the dance shows:

Oh look, a show that includes the work of a choreographer whose work I’ve enjoyed before. (So Goshdarn Warm and Fuzzy! - their exclamation point; I’m not overexcited, it’s too early in July)

Oh look, a show that includes a dancer I’ve seen in other weird shows I ended up liking. (Passing The Poison)

How do I know that?

They listed these people in Cast and Crew.  I recognized their names.

Anyone who knows them who types in their name can find their show even if they’ve forgotten the title.

Boom.  Done.  Search a success.

Tell us who you’re working with.

It’s quick and easy to do, and can only help you.

Denzel Belin directed a short play of mine last year for Freshwater Theatre.  So I like to keep up on other things he’s doing - which are, quite often, too numerous to fully capture them all.  But I try.

At Fringe, his work is concentrated in one place, so that makes it easier.

So I type in the search field just Denzel, three shows come up (and they all have to do with him):

Blackout Improv (who, if you haven’t seen them, they’re amazing, so add that to your list)

Ronald Reagan: Time Traveler (which might have been on my list anyway since it was written by fellow playwright Katherine Glover, of whom I’m a fan)

En Passant (which, honestly, I might otherwise have overlooked - the chess metaphor thing has been WAY overdone, but if Denzel’s involved, I’m willing to give it a try)

Your Fringe-busy friends don’t always have time to reach out and let you know everything they’re doing.  They’re probably stuck in rehearsal.  But there’s no reason you as an audience member can’t be proactive.

That is, if the people involved with the Fringe show have listed their Cast and Crew names.

So, Fringe producers, do yourself, and your fellow artists and your audience a favor:

Post the names of the people you’re working with.

Then we can find you.


Saturday, July 08, 2017

Fringe 2017 - Doing A Fringe Preview At Rarig Center? Some Advice

 Hi, Minnesota Fringe Festival artists!

Doing a Fringe Preview at the Rarig Center on July 17 or 24?

Here’s a little piece of advice.

The event will likely have audience not just in the center but on the sides.

So when you do your preview, make sure you do everything downstage of the proscenium arch.

If you do anything at all upstage of the proscenium arch, the people on the sides won’t be able to see you.

I say this as someone who ended up sitting on the side last year.

The people in the center will always be fine no matter what you do.

But if you want everyone to see you, don’t drift too far upstage.

Looking forward to the previews!

Break a leg!

Tuesday, July 04, 2017

Review - Idiot’s Delight - Girl Friday Productions - Romantic Couplings Stumbling Into An Alternate Version of WWII - 4.5 stars

Girl Friday Productions has carved out a unique niche for themselves in our delightfully overstuffed theater environment here in the Twin Cities.  They take on American plays that aren’t seen that often anymore, mostly because those plays require a large acting ensemble to properly pull off.  Because of that larger than average production, they only produce one show every other year.  But when they do, they do it up right.  Their current production of Robert E. Sherwood’s Pulitzer Prize-winning dramatic comedy (comic drama?) Idiot’s Delight is no exception.  (There’s also a lot of musical flourishes - from a lounge piano player to a traveling nightclub act - thrown in for good measure, so Idiot’s Delight resists easy categorization.)

“Some things that happened for the first time, seem to be happening again…”

Sherwood wrote the play in the mid-1930s and poised his characters on the precipice of an imagined second world war.  When the play hit Broadway in 1936, Hitler was still a couple of years away from invading Poland and starting the real World War II.  But fascism was already in control of much of Europe, and alliances for the war to come were already taking shape.

“Ask yourself, who are the greater criminals?”

(Girl Friday is also extremely useful for filling in the holes in my theater history education.  Sherwood’s Pulitzer for Idiot’s Delight was the first of four - two more for plays [with which I also have to admit I was unfamiliar], Abe Lincoln In Illinois, and There Shall Be No Night, and one for a non-fiction book on President FDR - for whom Sherwood also served as speechwriter.  He also helped create the Voice of America on radio, and won an Oscar for the screenplay for the movie The Best Years Of Our Lives - now that last one I had seen.  So, Robert E. Sherwood, totally lazy, accomplished next to nothing.)

“We have to make the world a decent place for heroes to live in.”

In Idiot’s Delight, we enter the lounge of a luxury hotel in the Italian Alps, with the countries of Switzerland, Austria and Germany all in sight from the hotel windows.  This particular winter day in the life of the hotel quickly spirals out of control when the place is overrun with unexpected guests.  These guests provide a handy cross-section of the citizens of the world, and as such, they don’t always get along.

“For those people, the deadliest weapons are the most merciful.”

Italian hotel owner Pittaluga (Kirby Bennett) expected another quiet day, as did her staff - pianist Paleta (Kevin Dutcher, also the music director for the production), servant on call Dumpsty (Sam Landman), and imported American social and activities director Donald (David Beukema).  The only reliable regular guests are the Italian military men stationed at the nearby airbase - Captain Locicero (Eric Knutson) and his two officers (Mike Swan and C. Ryan Shipley - also the show’s choreographer), and a German scientist Dr. Waldersee (Karen Wiese Thompson), who insists on carrying her test subject rats around in a cage with her everywhere she goes.

“I’m fully aware, the international situation is always regrettable.  What’s going on now?”

With political tensions high, Italy has closed the borders to the surrounding countries, leaving a number of people stranded, who then find their way to the hotel as they wait for a train to make their escape.  There’s a newlywed couple from England, Mr. & Mrs. Cherry (Gabriel Murphy, Adelin Phelps) whose newfound bliss takes a while to dissipate in the face of harsh realities.  There’s a traveling music act from America, Harry Van (John Middleton) and his trio of ladies known as Les Blondes - Shirley (Bonni Allen), Beulah (Karissa Lade), and Bebe (Becca Hart).  There’s Frenchman and socialist Quillery (Kory LaQuess Pullam), hoping the workers of the world will band together and refuse to participate in war orchestrated by corporate powers.  And finally, there’s arms dealer Achille Weber (David Coral), traveling with his Russian mistress Irene (Stacia Rice) - who may not be as Russian as she at first appears.  The showgirls mix with the troops, people try to put on a show to keep everyone entertained and civil as tempers flare, and Harry can’t shake the feeling he’s met Irene before.  Sherwood’s world war kicks off with Italy bombing Paris, but the reactions and allegiances will all still feel familiar.

“The enemy. Who is that?”
“I’m not sure yet.”

If that all seems very Casablanca to you, you could be forgiven.  The 1940s movie classic clearly owes a debt to Sherwood’s earlier play.  The plot DNA of “people from different walks of life stranded together in the midst of a world at war” is a very potent mix.  It allows us to watch people struggle with uncomfortable choices, and cling to the hope that basic human decency may save them even as the world around them comes unglued.  Girl Friday once again has a killer ensemble to dig into this play.  Everyone’s great fun to watch in action.  Ivey Award-winning director Craig Johnson is back in the director’s chair for this one (after nabbing that prize for helming Girl Friday’s production of Street Scene, then playing Don Quixote in their production of Tennessee Williams’ deeply weird Camino Real, and directing again for them on The Matchmaker.)

“The only game that never has any meaning, and never ends.”

Not surprisingly, Idiot’s Delight also looks fantastic.  Another great set from Michael Hoover, colorful period costumes from Kathy Kohl, as well as lighting from Dietrich Poppen and sound from Anita Kelling that help bring the war into the theater when war can no longer be escaped.  The whole feel of Idiot’s Delight is like something out of another time, when plays regularly painted on a canvas this sprawling, with ensembles this big, and everyone spoke like they were straight out of an earnest classic movie in black and white.  Characters try to eschew being romantic, but they can’t seem to help themselves.  They try to be cynical and world-weary, but their heart’s not in it.  Sherwood had good reason to feel nihilistic with the storm clouds of war gathering in the 1930s, but even as war seems inevitable (and the war in his play begins), you can almost feel him hoping the whole thing can somehow be avoided.  Maybe we just need to hold onto each other as the lights wink out around us.  Maybe that can beat back the darkness. 

“It only takes one spark, set off anywhere by one egomaniac.”

He wasn’t wrong then.  Is he wrong now?  It’s an intriguing question.  I suppose we’ll know one way or the other soon enough. 

(It’s odd, but despite all the incredibly topical dialogue that could quite easily apply to situations today with a simple swapping out of names, the alternate reality of the plot kind of knocked my brain off track.  You may not have the same issue.  Period pieces can easily translate to the modern moment.  For some reason, with this one, I stumbled as an audience member.  No one else’s fault, really.  I have to own this one.  Maybe it’s just me not wanting to face certain realities, and the fictionalized period nature of the play giving me the perfect excuse to cop out.)

“The long view is not easy to sustain in this shortsighted world.”

My own cognitive dissonance aside, you really should see Girl Friday’s production of Idiot’s Delight at Park Square.  It’s a perfect presentation of the kind of play they just don’t write (or produce) anymore (and that’s a shame).  Catch it before Girl Friday disappears for another two years.  (now through July 23, 2017)

4.5 stars - Very Highly Recommended

(a mere fraction of the cast - l to r: Eric Knutson, Kory LaQuess Pullam, Adelin Phelps, Stacia Rice, John Middleton, Bonni Allen; photography by Richard Fleischman)

Review - The Good Boy and The Kid - Sheep Theater - Deranged Sincerity At Its Wacky Best - 5 stars

Can you really tell a good story when the backdrop is something as ridiculous as professional wrestling? If you’re the folks at Sheep Theater and the play is The Good Boy And The Kid, the answer is a resounding YES! (There’s a lot of all caps, exclamation point action going on in this play. Acclimate yourself to the noise level accordingly.)

“People can’t stop talking, mostly about that ball gag and that kid in a coma.”

Writer Joey Hamburger and his regular creative co-conspirators director Michael Hugh Torsch and producer/design director Iris Rose Page have once again gathered their ensemble of like-minded performers to create that rare thing - a production of a new play that doesn’t feel like it needs another draft or two before it’s ready for an audience. 

“We need to find a fifty foot lobster for me to wrestle.  I’m speaking metaphorically, of course.”

The Good Boy and the Kid (like stellar Sheep Theater productions that came before it, including The Assassination of the Archduke of Austria-Hungary Franz Ferdinand, Tamburlaine, and Deus Ex Machina) is a finely tuned machine of oddball comedy. (Honestly, these people must be exhausted - they just did Franz Ferdinand in April this year, and they’re about to head into the Minnesota Fringe Festival with their own riff on Pinocchio in August - meanwhile, there’s this show…)

“Great, but also existentially bad, to see you again.”

The Good Boy And The Kid is willing to fiercely embrace people with big hearts and bigger dreams, while also not forgetting that human beings can be mean and stupid sometimes.  The good guys have a shot at beating the odds, even if they are a little slow on the uptake.  The real enemy here is cynicism, but mostly because it’s so seductive and easy.  You can convince yourself you’re not really giving up, just facing reality.  Such a story could fall victim to sentimentality, if it wasn’t for all the silly jokes flying around.  It’s hard to peg the aesthetic of Sheep Theater sometimes, but their simple motto of “Original plays.  Deranged sincerity” probably sums it up best.

“There are laws.  TV laws.”

Mick Owens (Joey Hamburger), wrestling as The Good Boy, has it all - the championship belt, and a supportive team of fight manager Warren (Robb Goetzke), agent Stella (Madeleine Rowe), and corner man Danny (Jacob Mobley).  Then he loses it all when he gets a beating in the ring from Johnny Outlaw Johnson (Josiah Thompson).

“That’s OK, honey.  Everyone owes $50,000 to somebody.”

A young girl born on the day of Mick’s greatest defeat, Tilly (Emily Wrolson), is now celebrating her 13th birthday. But mother Sarah (Tara Lucchino) is having trouble paying the mortgage.  So Tilly decides she’s going to enter an amateur wresting competition whose winner gets to take on Johnny Outlaw Johnson for a cash prize big enough to solve all their problems.

“How’d you get in here?”
“You don’t have a door.”
“So you think you’re better than me?!”

Tilly goes to Dirty Dog’s Pound Town Gym (“What is wrong with you? Why did you name it that?”) to train with Mick, now living in squalor in the dilapidated gymnasium. And it’s going great, until he accidentally pile drives her into a coma (no, seriously, this is still a comedy, stick with me…)

“Get as far away from here as you can because failure is contagious and I’m full of it.”

Mick decides to come out of retirement to wrestle in Tilly’s place to win the money (which will now also go to help with medical bills).  Meanwhile, Tilly goes on an epic journey in her own comatose head with sidekick Trashman (Nick Saxton).  They are off to see the wizard, I mean, Professor (Michael Rogers), and his assistant Anthony (Michael Hugh Torsch), who have a helmet that might just have the right magic to help Tilly get out of her own head and back to reality.  That is, if older, more cynical Second Tilly (Anna Laranaga) doesn’t get the upper hand and end Tilly’s childhood innocence, permanently.

“It’s like the chicken pox. She had a coma before, now she’s immune!”

Lurking around the edges of all this, playing the ne’er-do-well henchman on both planes of existence, are Randy Sam (Nick Wolf) and Sammy Rand (Jay Kistler).  They also do hilarious low-tech special effects work as men clad from head to toe in black, so in the black space of the Red Eye theater you’re almost (well, never, actually) convinced that people and dancing slices of pizza are magically flying through the air.

“They want pain. They want bloodshed. A perfect group of people.”

All of this is presided over by a wrestling announcer (Daniel Vopova) and the live original music composed and performed by John Hilsen.

“Scary clowns are scary. It’s in the name.”

Nobody has a lower setting in this play.  Their volume/energy knobs are stuck permanently at 11.  That doesn’t mean everyone’s performance is over the top (there really isn’t a top in this play, it keeps moving higher).  The people here are recognizably human, just with an extra layer of ludicrous slathered on top.  Shout-out to Nick Wolf for the fight choreography, and to all of Hamburger’s advisers on the script (Michael Hugh Torsch, Iris Page, John Hilsen, Jacob Mobley, Grace Thomas, Eliot Rahal, and Emily Wrolson).

“I have two clients right now - a magician and an underwater singer.”

I don’t want to deconstruct this thing too much, because that would be almost as bad as explaining a joke.  But The Good Boy And The Kid is a lot craftier than it might appear to be on the surface.  There’s a lot of sly commentary going on underneath the simple comeback narratives that are the heart of the play.  It’s almost like they believe in happy endings, but they wouldn’t want you to catch them at it.

“I didn’t save well and I own nothing.”

The Good Boy And The Kid is loud and sweet and silly and sad and deeply, deeply strange, but it’s a hell of a good time.  You should go treat yourself.  And keep an eye on Sheep Theater.  You should be catching every weird thing they do.  It’s some of the best theater going on out there right now. (4 performances left, July 5 to July 8, 2017 at Red Eye)

5 Stars - Very Highly Recommended

(Joey Hamburger as Good Boy; Emily Wrolson as the Kid; photos courtesy of Sheep Theater)