Tuesday, August 09, 2022

2022 Fringe Review - The Marvelous Magpie Moon - A World of Talking Birds and Shadow Play - 4.5 stars


“He’s always been able to talk, you just haven’t been listening.”

Synopsis: Could the rumors that Little Maggie Pie is stealing shiny things from her peers to help a magpie goddess capture their souls be true? Watch this puppet show to find out!

Tweet review: #mnfringe Marvelous Magpie Moon: just as charming, strange and occasionally dazzling as I expected it to be; puppetry, shadows and wordplay create a modern “grim” fairytale - 4.5 stars

The Marvelous Magpie Moon works just as well for adults as it does for kids. Given that it revolves around the rumored practice of magpies stealing people’s souls, one might think it was better suited for adults than it is for kids.  But it’s a simple straightforward narrative that’s easy to follow, and it also revolved around the fact that a young girl just doesn’t have very good social skills and could use a friend.  In the end, she does get one, and that’s because another girl realizes maybe her current friends aren’t such a good fit and maybe she’d like someone with a bit more substance as opposed to just superficial polish.  Really, that’s not a bad moral of the story for any of us.

“The wind was caused by the beating of great wings.”

Eva Adderly’s Deer Child Puppets creates a story from an intriguing mix of shadow puppet work behind a screen, and three-dimensional puppet work out in the open.  You can see the operators working and voicing the puppets but it doesn’t detract from the enchantment of it all.  The fact that the show requires the audience to focus their attention down into small areas for the bulk of the show also makes for that much bigger a moment when the Magpie Queen makes her long-awaited appearance.  I give nothing away by saying she is a big puppet you should see in action for yourself.  Very impressive.

“Did you turn Bell and Ray into a cake?”
“Of course not.  They’re gross.  I don’t want to eat them.”


The selective use of color is quite effective.  So much of the stage and the shadow puppets, and even the wardrobe of our heroine puppet Maggie, are black, that when color appears, it makes an impression.  Right at the top, with the detail that the houses of the town have stained glass windows, color pops in the shadow puppetry.  The trio of girls who can sometimes be Maggie’s tormentors are known for their predilection for always wearing the color blue, pink or yellow, depending on the girl.  And in a sly bit of commentary, two of the girls, more superficial and less important to the workings of the plot, get personified in three dimensions not as people puppets but as colorful balloons with faces on them. (Also, I’m sure this might have been a cost savings, but it’s a smart use of resources that also makes a thematic point.)

“I’m only gonna live for three years anyway.”

And I haven’t even mentioned Maggie’s primary friend, a talking magpie.  A good-looking bird with more personality than some of the human cast of characters, and a good friend to a lonely schoolgirl while she’s figuring out how social skills work.

“(Singing) Happy birthday, dear terrifying Magpie Goddess.  Happy birthday to you!”

The only real challenge to The Marvelous Magpie Moon firing on all cylinders is that the sense of stakes in the story is a bit fuzzy.  In the theology of any world, even an imaginary one, it would seem that stealing someone’s soul would be a bigger deal.  In this village, it just means that kids behave a bit more badly, and sometimes need to stay home from school.  The two balloon head children even plot to try and deliberately get their souls stolen so they can avoid having to go to school.  That’s just a bit screwed up.  The production doesn’t lean into that absurdity very hard, and with something that extreme, it feels like you should go all in or not do it at all.  And the rest of the story isn’t operating at that level.  Even for fairy tale logic, the world here is pretty grounded in something that operates like our own reality (minus the talking birds, of course).  The soul stealing is presented at first like it’s a big deal, but it doesn’t stay that way.  The wobbly consequences undercut the urgency the rest of the story appears to be trying to build.

“They only people who could stand her company weren’t even people, they were magpies.”

Apart from that, though, The Marvelous Magpie Moon can just be enjoyed for the beauty and spectacle alone.  And the story of Maggie’s almost accidental quest for friendship is quite lovely and ultimately sweet.  If you need something to satisfy your puppet quota for this year’s Fringe, The Marvelous Magpie Moon should definitely be on your list. (They’ve got three more shows, today 8/9 at 5:30pm, then closing weekend Saturday 8/13 at 1pm and Sunday 8/14 at 4pm.  Bring the family!)

4.5 Stars - Very Highly Recommended

 

(You can click on the following links to see a set of links to reviews of all the 5 and 4.5 star shows (VERY highly recommended), and other shows, plus the full Top 10 list, the Top 11-20 list, a list of returning favorites, and the full coverage of the 2022 Fringe on this blog.) 

(Side note: Also during Fringe season, Minnesota has a primary election on August 9th.  You can check out what's on your ballot ahead of time on the Minnesota Secretary of State website, as well as other voting services and information.  In Minneapolis, not only do we have the Governor and Lt. Governor on the ballot, but there's our U.S. Congressional Rep., our MN State Senator, the MN Secretary of State and MN Attorney General, as well as our County Sheriff and County Attorney, and two members of the Minneapolis School Board.  These are the people who decide what laws we live under and how they get enforced.  These are the people who decide whether or not we have voting rights.  These are the people who decide how our kids learn.  This is how we change things.  Personally, I'm alternately furious and despairing that my goddaughter and her little sister now have fewer rights over their own bodies than they did a month ago - there are things we can do, voting in the primary (and the general election) is one of them - here's a place you can go to do more.)

 

 

 

2022 Fringe Review - Silver Hammer - Sometimes Paranoia Is Funny - 5 Stars


“I guess I realized he did a lot more with his theater degree than I did.”

Synopsis: An autobiographical horror-fiction concerning disinformation, non-linear warfare, arson, troll-farms, Russian oligarchs, psychic attacks, tik tok, and our ever-eroding sense of what is true and what is false.

Tweet review: #mnfringe Silver Hammer: @thecoldharts offer up more personal tale of paranoia this time. Nick Ryan holds the stage solo, gets my brain to hear "tired" topics (COVID, Russians, disinformation) in new, intriguing ways; delightful little mindf**k - 5 stars

Here’s the thing about The Coldhart’s Fringe solo show, Silver Hammer - it may all be complete bullshit (and I love that about it).  Nick Ryan tells you at the beginning he may be lying to you, Nick Ryan reminds you in the middle he may be lying to you, and Nick Ryan tells you at the end that he’s probably been lying to you the whole time.  Now, he doesn’t (often) say it that directly.  But the show is about disinformation, and inspired by the work of one of Vladimir Putin’s top aides, the man behind Putin’s war of disinformation on the people of Russia and the rest of the world.  The show begins with a quote from the aide, and then Ryan’s performance of an (unauthorized) adaptation of one of that man’s short stories (in addition to creating propaganda for a living, the man also writes science fiction).  Oh, and the author/disinformation guru Valdislav Surkov also got himself an MFA in theater with an emphasis on the avant garde.

“My coping strategies… began to break down.”

Did Nick Ryan really submit an application to the 2020 Cincinnati Fringe with the working show title of “Vladimir Putin Wants Me Dead?”  Did this Fringe show, unexpectedly canceled by the pandemic, come to the attention of the Kremlin?  Did a Russian troll farm start cyber-attacking Ryan in retaliation?  Maybe?  Only he knows for sure if he’s screwing with us.

“Unfortunately my show about a show that never happened… never happened.”

Did Ryan’s research into COVID-19, and a string of arson attacks, and psychic warfare, lead to a series of unusual and increasingly expensive online purchases that worried his partner?  Did he send his arson research to MinnPost?  Was he actually being attacked by psychic spies working for the Russian government?  Of course not, that’s ridiculous… or is it?

“What got me was that ‘hypocrites’ was spelled incorrectly.”

The thing about Nick Ryan, and the work of The Coldharts in general, is they can get you to buy into pretty much anything, because they can make even the most outrageous things start to seem both human and plausible.  They’re dangerously charming.  They’re very good at drawing you into their world and getting you to follow along with their twisted sense of logic, even as you’re laughing nervously and trying to remind yourself it’s just a show.

“Here are bombs for the defense of love.”

Not for nothing, but Silver Hammer also had the single biggest laugh from an audience, with additional applause to go along with the guffaws, that I’ve experienced at the Fringe so far.  And I’ve seen a lot of comedy this year.  Even I laughed at the joke, and I’m more of a silent smiler most of the time.  When theater people get a joke, they get a joke.  Also, that short story about future war from Vladislav Surkov?  Not bad.  Very creepy, and all too believable - I can see why the Coldharts were drawn to it.  Makes for a great opener.

“My God, what a delightful strolling bass line.”

Two more shows for The Coldharts’ Silver Hammer, tonight 8/9 at 10pm, and then they close on Thursday with a 7pm performance.  Catch ‘em while you still can.  ‘Cause who doesn’t want to feel just a little more paranoid these days, am I right?

5 Stars - Very Highly Recommended

 

(You can click on the following links to see a set of links to reviews of all the 5 and 4.5 star shows (VERY highly recommended), and other shows, plus the full Top 10 list, the Top 11-20 list, a list of returning favorites, and the full coverage of the 2022 Fringe on this blog.) 

(Side note: Also during Fringe season, Minnesota has a primary election on August 9th.  You can check out what's on your ballot ahead of time on the Minnesota Secretary of State website, as well as other voting services and information.  In Minneapolis, not only do we have the Governor and Lt. Governor on the ballot, but there's our U.S. Congressional Rep., our MN State Senator, the MN Secretary of State and MN Attorney General, as well as our County Sheriff and County Attorney, and two members of the Minneapolis School Board.  These are the people who decide what laws we live under and how they get enforced.  These are the people who decide whether or not we have voting rights.  These are the people who decide how our kids learn.  This is how we change things.  Personally, I'm alternately furious and despairing that my goddaughter and her little sister now have fewer rights over their own bodies than they did a month ago - there are things we can do, voting in the primary (and the general election) is one of them - here's a place you can go to do more.)

 

 

2022 Fringe Review - Aureate - Some of the Best Dance at Fringe This Year - 5 stars


“We all have the same holes in our hearts.”

Synopsis: Presented by The Pilot Dance Project, Aureate is a meditation on the human inclination to create rituals, ceremonies, and myths, and is a call for peace, contemplation, and respite in these troubled times.

Tweet review: #mnfringe Aureate: I’ve seen a lot of great/fun dance at Fringe but Pilot Dance Project is just… whoa; gorgeous work, the concept, use of sound and light, costumes, precision of the bodies in motion; I have to come up with better words, just see it - 5 stars

Aureate is another one that should have been on my pre-Fringe Top 10 list that somehow got by me. Aureate from The Pilot Dance Project was an unexpected reminder to me of how important the experience of live theater is.  I saw a recorded version of this show during the first pandemic Fringe online.  I wasn’t sure if it was the same show but the cages/hoop skirts made out of copper piping in the background of the show image on the Fringe site make me think, “Wait a minute, haven’t I seen this before…?”  I had.  And it was a great recording of a performance.  Good camera work from various angles, good editing.  But this show is a whole different thing with the dancers living and breathing right there in front of you, sharing the same space and oxygen as the audience.

An audience can appreciate so much more the precision of the choreography and the way the dancers execute it.  The texture of the costumes and the way they move.  The simplicity of the design that focuses the eye on the stage picture the different sections of the program are trying to create, whether it’s one dancer, two, three or the full group.  The nature concept which has dancers evoking the moves of deer, insects or birds - not a scientific recreation, but enough subtle hints here and there that trigger little memories in the corners of your mind.  The unworried way that they toy with gender expectations - hey, if it’s easier for a person to move in a long black dress, whether they present as male or a female, then people should be wearing long black dresses.  The previously mentioned hoop skirts?  That’s the one time it felt more like humans showing off for each other than animals preening, though honestly, we have a lot in common, as the dance reminded us.  Also, in lesser dance, the moves are all there, but the dancers’ faces are a blank, no emotion.  Not so in Aureate.  You may not know exactly what is on their minds, but faces of these dancers and where their eyes go let you know they’re thinking about a lot more than just the next set of steps.

The way these dancers made use of the small studio space was just mesmerizing.  Seeing the human body in motion like that - lit and dressed as they were, with the variety of sound backing them up - can take your breath away.  It was a treat to be so close and share the room with them.  The Pilot Dance Project has three more performances of Aureate, tonight 8/9 at 10pm, Thursday 8/11 at 5:30pm, and Saturday, 8/13 at 2:30pm - go seem them for yourself.  It’s some of the best dance in the Fringe this year.

5 Stars - Very Highly Recommended

 

(You can click on the following links to see a set of links to reviews of all the 5 and 4.5 star shows (VERY highly recommended), and other shows, plus the full Top 10 list, the Top 11-20 list, a list of returning favorites, and the full coverage of the 2022 Fringe on this blog.) 

(Side note: Also during Fringe season, Minnesota has a primary election on August 9th.  You can check out what's on your ballot ahead of time on the Minnesota Secretary of State website, as well as other voting services and information.  In Minneapolis, not only do we have the Governor and Lt. Governor on the ballot, but there's our U.S. Congressional Rep., our MN State Senator, the MN Secretary of State and MN Attorney General, as well as our County Sheriff and County Attorney, and two members of the Minneapolis School Board.  These are the people who decide what laws we live under and how they get enforced.  These are the people who decide whether or not we have voting rights.  These are the people who decide how our kids learn.  This is how we change things.  Personally, I'm alternately furious and despairing that my goddaughter and her little sister now have fewer rights over their own bodies than they did a month ago - there are things we can do, voting in the primary (and the general election) is one of them - here's a place you can go to do more.)

 

 


2022 Fringe Review - Life Underground - Falling In Love With A Subway, and Its City - 5 stars


“When I go deaf, I go deaf alone.  My wife cannot go with me.”

Synopsis: A one man show about going deaf in New York using the through line of the city, the subway, as the through line of the story.

Tweet review: #mnfringe Life Underground: Brad Lawrence is such a natural, amusing and charismatic storyteller that it’s easy to forget how hard it is to tell a good story well. One of the best - 5 stars

This is the third time I’ve seen work by Brad Lawrence at the Minnesota Fringe and I’m really happy he keeps coming back because his storytelling skills are among the best I’ve seen.  There’s a lot of solo shows and a lot of storytelling shows in a festival like this but you can feel it when you’re in the capable hands of a person who really knows how to tell a good story.  Even when it seems like they’re off on a tangent, you can see in their eyes, they know where they’re going and how they’re going to get there.  You can just strap in and enjoy the ride on all its twists and turns.

“Like a burrito of despair.”

The synopsis for the show threw me off a little.  (That quote I threw in at the top is probably also misleading.)  I was expecting the show to dive right into this issue of the storyteller beginning to lose his hearing.  Having seen a couple of Lawrence’s other shows, I should have known better.  Yes, you always get there - whatever the final destination of any one of his stories is, but it lands with more force if you start somewhere else you weren’t expecting to lead there.

“The two dumbest reasons to move to New York and I did them both at the same time.”

The title, Life Underground, is more illustrative of where we spend our time, and what the second half of that synopsis above is driving at.  It’s a loving meditation on the New York City subway, and by extension, life in New York.  When he was younger, like a lot of aspiring performers, Lawrence moved to New York in search of an acting career.  Also like a lot of people in love, he was also following his girlfriend to New York.  Though neither of those strategies worked out as planned, he still fell in love with the city, in part through is work with a moving company.  He also fell in love with the subway, and all the ins and outs of the culture above and below street level.

“You get to second base, you find out she’s racist, you get off the train.”

It’s only once he’s established the often childlike wonder the subway holds for him that we can feel how rough it is when developing hearing issues also means developing a case of vertigo. Suddenly the subway environment without warning can become a very unsafe place - no matter how helpful the assorted jumble of his fellow New Yorkers try to be when he’s in distress.  The isolation of potential deafness in the middle of the great thrum of humanity in a big noisy city feels like a much bigger loss and a bigger thing to fear.  The fact that he found love in the city after all, and that love can be his salvation, regardless of what’s coming, well, that’s the kind of hope we all need.

“If you get me drunk and get me on the subway (which my wife will tell you is not hard), I turn into a 13 year old… who’s drunk.”

Brad Lawrence’s run of Life Underground concludes tonight (Tues. 8/9) with a performance at 8:30pm.  It’s good that he came back just as the Fringe is trying to come back after two years of pandemic isolation.  Never hurts to be reminded why we need to gather together and listen to good storytellers.

5 Stars - Very Highly Recommended

 

(You can click on the following links to see a set of links to reviews of all the 5 and 4.5 star shows (VERY highly recommended), and other shows, plus the full Top 10 list, the Top 11-20 list, a list of returning favorites, and the full coverage of the 2022 Fringe on this blog.) 

(Side note: Also during Fringe season, Minnesota has a primary election on August 9th.  You can check out what's on your ballot ahead of time on the Minnesota Secretary of State website, as well as other voting services and information.  In Minneapolis, not only do we have the Governor and Lt. Governor on the ballot, but there's our U.S. Congressional Rep., our MN State Senator, the MN Secretary of State and MN Attorney General, as well as our County Sheriff and County Attorney, and two members of the Minneapolis School Board.  These are the people who decide what laws we live under and how they get enforced.  These are the people who decide whether or not we have voting rights.  These are the people who decide how our kids learn.  This is how we change things.  Personally, I'm alternately furious and despairing that my goddaughter and her little sister now have fewer rights over their own bodies than they did a month ago - there are things we can do, voting in the primary (and the general election) is one of them - here's a place you can go to do more.)

 

 

 

Fringe 2022 - 4 and 3.5 Star Shows - Highly Recommended

Running list of 4 and 3.5 star Fringe shows for 2022 (in alphabetical order), with links to more content, all highly recommended (updated 8/9):

Highly Recommended

4 Star Shows 

Bellerophon's Shadow: Voyage of the Pegasus - Phantom Chorus Theatre

Tweet review: #mnfringe Bellerophon's Shadow: Voyage of the Pegasus - inventive, amusing use of puppetry, human bodies, Greek mythology, black light fx to tell a sci-fi tale of alien worlds; central character could be more compelling, but fun 1st chapter - 4 stars



(You can click on the following links to see a set of links to reviews of all the 5 and 4.5 star shows (VERY highly recommended), and other shows, plus the full Top 10 list, the Top 11-20 list, a list of returning favorites, and the full coverage of the 2022 Fringe on this blog.) 

(Side note: Also during Fringe season, Minnesota has a primary election on August 9th.  You can check out what's on your ballot ahead of time on the Minnesota Secretary of State website, as well as other voting services and information.  In Minneapolis, not only do we have the Governor and Lt. Governor on the ballot, but there's our U.S. Congressional Rep., our MN State Senator, the MN Secretary of State and MN Attorney General, as well as our County Sheriff and County Attorney, and two members of the Minneapolis School Board.  These are the people who decide what laws we live under and how they get enforced.  These are the people who decide whether or not we have voting rights.  These are the people who decide how our kids learn.  This is how we change things.  Personally, I'm alternately furious and despairing that my goddaughter and her little sister now have fewer rights over their own bodies than they did a month ago - there are things we can do, voting in the primary (and the general election) is one of them - here's a place you can go to do more.)

 

 

 

Monday, August 08, 2022

Fringe 2022 - Other Shows I've Seen

Just in case you were wondering if I give everything either 5 stars or 4.5 stars, here's a rundown, updated on an ongoing basis, of links to other shows I've seen at Fringe so far this year that didn't end up in the very highly recommended (5 or 4.5 stars) or highly recommended categories (4 or 3.5 stars), but still have things going for them (updated 8/8):

3 Stars - Recommended

All We Ever Wanted Was Everything - The Drollery

Tweet review: #mnfringe All We Ever Wanted Was Everything: kind of a musical, kind of a story about the end of the world, while not fully being either (4 good and ill); strange but intriguing mix, lots going on, not all of it fully developed; but a helluva try - 3 stars

 

Daybreak Diner - Lady Z Productions

Tweet review: #mnfringe Daybreak Diner: memory play set in a small town MN diner about to be demolished; woman reflects on her first job, and first love; good at creating world, but cuts out abruptly; solid work in progress - 3 stars




Sunshine - House of Frogs

Tweet review: #mnfringe Sunshine: one-woman show where actress asked to act alongside a ton of sound cues; not quite sure if playwright or director inflicted that on her, but she does her valiant best, often succeeds - 3 stars




Maybe See Other Things First

2.5 Stars

Happy Endings Church - Toby Cryns

Tweet review: #mfringe Happy Endings Church: I'm pretty sure everyone here means well, but the satirical target is unclear, so the show runs the risk of sounding like it's endorsing the misogyny, faulty theology, anti-Semitism and homophobia - 2.5 stars



1 Star

The Brothers Dangus Vol. 1: The Liturgy of the Big Yellow Ghost - The Yes Fly List

Tweet review: #mnfringe The Brothers Dangus: well…they warned us it wasn’t good. Created a literal waste of time, actively resisting all meaning or redeeming value. Not meta, repelling that label, too. For sheer unwavering commitment to the bit for 50 minutes, 1 star (don’t go, not kidding)



(You can click on the following links to see a set of links to the full Top 10 list, the Top 11-20 list, a list of returning favorites, and the full coverage of the 2022 Fringe on this blog.) 

(Side note: Also during Fringe season, Minnesota has a primary election coming up on August 9th.  Early voting options are currently available.  You can also check out what's on your ballot ahead of time on the Minnesota Secretary of State website, as well as other voting services and information.  In Minneapolis, not only do we have the Governor and Lt. Governor on the ballot, but there's our U.S. Congressional Rep., our MN State Senator, the MN Secretary of State and MN Attorney General, as well as our County Sheriff and County Attorney, and two members of the Minneapolis School Board.  These are the people who decide what laws we live under and how they get enforced.  These are the people who decide whether or not we have voting rights.  These are the people who decide how our kids learn.  This is how we change things.  Personally, I'm alternately furious and despairing that my goddaughter and her little sister now have fewer rights over their own bodies than they did a month ago - there are things we can do, voting in the primary (and the general election) is one of them - here's a place you can go to do more.)

 

 

Sunday, August 07, 2022

Fringe 2022 - 5 and 4.5 Star Shows - VERY Highly Recommended


Running list of 5 and 4.5 star Fringe shows for 2022 (in alphabetical order), with links to more content, all VERY highly recommended (updated 8/9):

5 Star Shows

Ancestors Rising - Goddard’s Gardens (Joe Davis)

Tweet review: #mnfringe Ancestors Rising: @JoeDavisPoetry is a brilliant poet and performer overflowing with creativity and positivity; his way with words (and an audience) is mesmerizing; someone get this guy a bigger crowd; crazy good and inspiring - 5 stars

Arsgang: What You Follow Follows You - The Winding Sheet Outfit

Tweet review: #mnfringe Arsgang: What You Follow Follows You - They're so good at creating these creepy, melancholy meditations on mortality and loss that I even enjoy being faked out, repeatedly, by what I think the plot and characters are; just lovely - 5 stars

Aureate - The Pilot Dance Project

Tweet review: #mnfringe Aureate: I’ve seen a lot of great/fun dance at Fringe but Pilot Dance Project is just… whoa; gorgeous work, the concept, use of sound and light, costumes, precision of the bodies in motion; I have to come up with better words, just see it - 5 stars

Full review here

 

Erotica For Houseplants - Tom Reed

Tweet review: #mnfringe Erotica For Houseplants: If @tbreed wants to read me naughty plant stories, sing some songs and imitate a bee, I’m down for that. Laughing for 50 minutes is good for the soul - 5 stars

 

 

 

Help Me Help You Help Yourself - Your Silent Partner (Danny Wightkin)

Tweet review: #mnfringe Help Me Help You Help Yourself: come help a clown make a delightful mess @hugetheater with an array of funky outfits, dancing, unexpected challenges, callbacks and candy (for starters); more clever fun than can be summarized in a tweet - 5 stars

 

I think we are supposed to be 'Coming of Age' by now... - LCcreations

Tweet review: #mnfringe I think we are supposed to be 'Coming of Age' by now... Lily Conforti and her fellow dancers continue to create joyful, beautiful, energetic dance, this time in collaboration w/live alt-rock band Oister Boy; revel in the dance party - 5 stars
 

 

Joteria: Our Untold Stories... - Gabriel Mata and Adrian Gaston Garcia (closes Thursday 8/11)

Tweet review: #mnfringe Joteria: Our Untold Stories... @GabrielMata91 in a more intimate venue, w/co-star Adrian Gaston Garcia, still serving up gorgeous dance but now also spicy comedic dialogue, spoken word, fabulous costumes, and tasty snacks - 5 stars

 

Life Underground - Brad Lawrence (last performance tonight, Tuesday 8/9)

Tweet review: #mnfringe Life Underground: Brad Lawrence is such a natural, amusing and charismatic storyteller that it’s easy to forget how hard it is to tell a good story well. One of the best - 5 stars

Full review here

 

 

Moonwatchers - Killer Whale Collective (Nigel Berkeley & Corey Quinn Farrell)

Tweet review: #mnfringe Moon Watchers: goofy, profane, inventive, adorable, just a hell of a lot of fun; 2 guys populate a tale of custodians who must work to recover a stolen moon (also a cow and cowboy fall in love) - 5 stars

Full review here

 

ShMILF Life - Penny Sterling

Tweet review: #mnfringe ShMILF Life: is it really never too late to make a change? @sterling_penny contemplates this with a lot of humor but just as much honesty; perfect way to start my Fringe - 5 stars

Full review here



Silver Hammer - The Coldharts (closes Thursday 8/11)

Tweet review: #mnfringe Silver Hammer: @thecoldharts offer up more personal tale of paranoia this time. Nick Ryan holds the stage solo, gets my brain to hear "tired" topics (COVID, Russians, disinformation) in new, intriguing ways; delightful little mindf**k - 5 stars

Full review here




4.5 Star Shows

The Biggest Wail From The Bottom of My Heart - RE|dance group (CLOSED)

Tweet review: #mnfringe The Biggest Wail From The Bottom of My Heart: so great to have RE|dance group back live onstage again; joy in motion, even when they’re angry and fed up with the world sometimes (only here thru Monday, catch ‘em now!) - 4.5 stars

 

Bob and Reggie Go To Bed - Comedy Suitcase

Tweet review: #mnfringe Bob and Reggie Go To Bed: mishaps w/pajamas, magical bed transference, battles w/the Tooth Fairy, the 4th wall completely breaks down, plus a dance off; you know, the usual - 4.5 stars

 

Developers - Michael Rogers

Tweet review: #mnfringe Developers: Michael Rogers and his collaborators always find a clever way to make me care (deeply) about folks with whom (I think) I have nothing in common; this time it's video game creators - 4.5 stars

Full review here 

 

Finger Lickin' Good - Special When Lit

Tweet review: #mnfringe Finger Lickin' Good: the sheer volume of comedic talent stuffed into this one Fringe show is ridiculous; VERY loosely based on the life of a very horny Colonel Sanders of KFC fame; very funny, but chickens will have their revenge - 4.5 stars

 

The Local Music Scene - Philip Simondet

Tweet review: #mnfringe Local Music Scene: local musician sings their songs, chats with improvisers who create comedic scenes inspired by lyrics and personal info; good music, good improv, good times - 4.5 stars

 

 

The Marvelous Magpie Moon - Deer Child Puppets (Ava Adderly) 

Tweet review: #mnfringe Marvelous Magpie Moon: just as charming, strange and occasionally dazzling as I expected it to be; puppetry, shadows and wordplay create a modern “grim” fairytale - 4.5 stars

Full review here

 

 

She's Already Gone - Laura Deirke Productions

Tweet review: #mnfringe She’s Already Gone: hard to not give the game away; teenagers created impressive original musical that’s actually about something; lovely voices; problematic character choices but that’s kinda what fascinates; points for just going for it; nicely done - 4.5 stars

 

 

swim team - The Aquatic Center

Tweet review: #mnfringe swim team: Still thinking about this one, which is good; still a bit confused (which might be deliberate); 3 young women on a swim team engage us in non-linear sometimes nonsensical episodes; fascinating - 4.5 stars

Swords and Sorcery: The Improvised Fantasy Campaign - The Bearded Company

Tweet review: #mnfringe Swords and Sorcery: First packed house I’ve seen this year. Just as fun as the other 2 Fringes I saw them. The gay stuff as an easy joke (for them and the audience) is starting to make me a little uneasy, though - 4.5 stars

 

 

 

(You can click on the following links to see a set of links to the full Top 10 list, the Top 11-20 list, a list of returning favorites, and the full coverage of the 2022 Fringe on this blog.) 

(Side note: Also during Fringe season, Minnesota has a primary election coming up on August 9th.  Early voting options are currently available.  You can also check out what's on your ballot ahead of time on the Minnesota Secretary of State website, as well as other voting services and information.  In Minneapolis, not only do we have the Governor and Lt. Governor on the ballot, but there's our U.S. Congressional Rep., our MN State Senator, the MN Secretary of State and MN Attorney General, as well as our County Sheriff and County Attorney, and two members of the Minneapolis School Board.  These are the people who decide what laws we live under and how they get enforced.  These are the people who decide whether or not we have voting rights.  These are the people who decide how our kids learn.  This is how we change things.  Personally, I'm alternately furious and despairing that my goddaughter and her little sister now have fewer rights over their own bodies than they did a month ago - there are things we can do, voting in the primary (and the general election) is one of them - here's a place you can go to do more.)

 

 

 

Friday, August 05, 2022

2022 Fringe Review - Developers - So Much (Too Much?) Good Stuff Crammed Into 50 Minutes - 4.5 Stars


“It sounds… personal.”

Creature Comfort Games, the renowned video game studio led by icon "Elvis" Trask, is disgraced upon the release of its latest game, "Raw Rob". Gutted, three developers go rogue to craft their first indie game.

Tweet review: #mnfringe Developers: Michael Rogers and his collaborators always find a clever way to make me care (deeply) about folks with whom (I think) I have nothing in common; this time it's video game creators - 4.5 stars

I have to confess, I don’t play video games.  My brother does.  He even managed a GameStop store for several years and he knew his product.  I guess my generation was just on the cusp of video games becoming a genuine thing that ran the culture.  I just missed it.

So why would I go see a show like Developers?  Because Michael Rogers wrote and directed it, creating the show in collaboration with his acting ensemble (Jake Cunningham, Alex Engelsgjerd, Eric Heiberg, Thalia Kostman, Tara Lucchino, Kristen Ragnacci, Chris Rodriguez, Maureen Tubbs, with backup from Siri Hellerman, and live music composition and performance by Garrison Shea).  And you don’t have to know or understand video games to understand these characters.  They’re just trying to find purpose and meaning in their lives by doing something they love, and not compromising so much that they end up feeling dead inside.

“Please tell me, what would a bear say?!”

The realization of portions of different video games on stage is fun and inventive (turns out you don’t need special effects if you just have talented and silly humans).  But that isn’t the main attraction.  That’s the people behind the making of these games, even if those games are terrible or don’t sell.  When Elvis (Hieberg) sells out his video game company to a larger one, three of his employees quit to form their own firm and create games that come from their own inspiration, rather than corporate assignments. Hannah the team leader (Lucchino) leads the way, with Dan the writer (Rogers) and Chris the artist (Rodriguez) following her example.  They set up shop in Dan’s garage, much to the chagrin of Dan’s long-suffering wife Miranda, a teacher (Ragnacci) who finds camaraderie with Chris’ mother Susan (Tubbs) - and yes, Chris still lives at home with his mother.  Meanwhile, Elvis is drawn by an interviewer (Cunningham) into recounting tales of the past, which makes for a handy doorway into a wealth of flashbacks that intertwine with the present day work of Hannah, Dan and Chris as they start their company and create their first game for the market.  Everyone does double and triple duty as parts of the video game excerpts and members of the gaming press, always ready to pass judgment in an instant on something that took years to build.

“The eggnog sits in the garbage can, where it belongs.”

The web of relationships here is easy to follow, even if that plot rundown of mine wasn’t.  The only drawback to Developers is that feels like a 50 minute Fringe slot isn’t enough runtime for it to fully breathe.  Things don’t feel rushed, and the characters all have intriguing levels to them that we get some time to explore.  But not enough time.  I couldn’t help thinking about what they might do with an extra 10, 15 or even 30 minutes.  There’s a lot going on here.  Relationships start, bend, break and come apart at a rapid clip.  It’s a credit to the creators of these characters that I wanted more time with them, and felt a little cheated when I didn’t get it.  Still, it’s a full story as is, and a fun one to hang out with for less than an hour.  And the happy-ish, melancholy ending we get is very satisfying (I found myself surprised by how happy I was that a potential couple *didn’t* get together, for instance.  Because why would they?)  These people are in love, for better or worse, with the job they do.  And even if you don’t get video games, you get that.

“When you love something, you’ll do just about anything.”

Developers has some of the best staging, plotting and character work by an ensemble at the Fringe this year.  (That improv comedy training most of them have really pays off.). You should go see it for yourself.

4.5 stars - Very Highly Recommended

Here's their preview:

 


(You can click on the following links to see a set of links to the full Top 10 list, the Top 11-20 list, a list of returning favorites, and the full coverage of the 2022 Fringe on this blog.) 

(Side note: Also during Fringe season, Minnesota has a primary election coming up on August 9th.  Early voting options are currently available.  You can also check out what's on your ballot ahead of time on the Minnesota Secretary of State website, as well as other voting services and information.  In Minneapolis, not only do we have the Governor and Lt. Governor on the ballot, but there's our U.S. Congressional Rep., our MN State Senator, the MN Secretary of State and MN Attorney General, as well as our County Sheriff and County Attorney, and two members of the Minneapolis School Board.  These are the people who decide what laws we live under and how they get enforced.  These are the people who decide whether or not we have voting rights.  These are the people who decide how our kids learn.  This is how we change things.  Personally, I'm alternately furious and despairing that my goddaughter and her little sister now have fewer rights over their own bodies than they did a month ago - there are things we can do, voting in the primary (and the general election) is one of them - here's a place you can go to do more.)

 

 

 

2022 Fringe Review - Moonwatchers - Delightfully Odd From Start To Finish - 5 Stars


“A dude ranch on the other side of Uranus.”

Synopsis: Two "Moon Custodians" clock in for a normal night shift. When the moon goes missing, a chaotic space adventure ensues. Funny, heartfelt and hopeful, this new original musical is out of this galaxy!

Tweet review: #mnfringe Moonwatchers: goofy, profane, inventive, adorable, just a hell of a lot of fun; 2 guys populate a tale of custodians who must work to recover a stolen moon (also a cow and cowboy fall in love) - 5 stars

In hindsight, clearly I was a fool not to put these two performers and their show Moonwatchers on my pre-Fringe Top 10 list.  I got an inkling of that on preview night, with their strange and whimsical play excerpt and musical number (video below).  Full confirmation came within minutes of the performance starting.  Moonwatchers is just delightfully odd, and oddly endearing, from start to finish.

“We read Space Jane Austen together.  She loved the flowery language.  I just liked that I had a cow that could read.”

The writer performers, Nigel Berkeley and Corey Quinn Farrell, don’t wait for the show to officially start before connecting with the audience.  There’s a lot of playful moon tossing and banter as they tweak the setup of their table covered in string lights and cottony clouds which glow from within.  (Don’t worry, I’m sure if you seem fearful of interacting, they’d probably leave you alone, but they’re so non-threatening, you kind of can’t help responding in kind.)  

“I was the center of the whole sky.”

They’re good at working the crowd throughout, and they’re having so much fun that even they can get caught off guard and laugh if their co-star is being particularly ridiculous.  They’re so good at disappearing into all these weird characters they created, it’s nice to catch some flashes of humanity now and again.  There’s also a lot of lighting effects for comedy (the phone call from Saturn, say, or the general demeanor of the “villain” Tommy Rumble whenever he strums his guitar for effect) so the playfulness often extends to their technician in the booth, and that playfulness is reciprocated. (Go, Fringe tech crew!)

“I need you to jump me like I’m the moon.”

The show is the comedy equivalent of a bullet train, once it starts it doesn’t let up for the full run-time, and I think they were so light on their feet they finished a few minutes early.  That’s not to say the audience doesn’t get a chance to breathe.  When the moon goes missing and Rocko (Berkeley) heads out on a quest to retrieve it from Tommy Rumble (Farrell) who stole it, we get what seems like detour for a second, introducing a cow named Bessie (Berkeley again), who jumps over the moon.  She jumps even when that moon is really just the bald head of Rocko’s co-worker Allen (Farrell again), filling in for the moon temporarily so people don’t freak out.  Bessie is seeking a lost love, and strangely enough she gets that reunion later in the show, which is a hoot.  Points for not being shy, when Berkeley and Farrell’s characters go in for a kiss, they commit so enthusiastically that you could give them an honorary LBGTQ+ content tag on the Fringe website (even though technically Bessie is female, and her cowboy is male, so the bestiality is heterosexual - and I can’t believe I just typed that).

“The observatory sits at the exact spot where the night sky touches the land.”

Moonwatchers is basically un-summarizable, except to say that it’s a really good time - a smart, well-crafted script, executed with aplomb.  A random stranger asked me in passing earlier in the evening, since I had a T-shirt with Minnesota Fringe on the front of it, “What is the Fringe exactly?  Give me two sentences.”  If they had 45 minutes to spare, I’d just take them to Moonwatchers.  It’s very Fringey.  You should see it.  I’d go again.

5 Stars - Very Highly Recommended
 

Here's their preview:

 

 

(You can click on the following links to see a set of links to the full Top 10 list, the Top 11-20 list, a list of returning favorites, and the full coverage of the 2022 Fringe on this blog.) 

(Side note: Also during Fringe season, Minnesota has a primary election coming up on August 9th.  Early voting options are currently available.  You can also check out what's on your ballot ahead of time on the Minnesota Secretary of State website, as well as other voting services and information.  In Minneapolis, not only do we have the Governor and Lt. Governor on the ballot, but there's our U.S. Congressional Rep., our MN State Senator, the MN Secretary of State and MN Attorney General, as well as our County Sheriff and County Attorney, and two members of the Minneapolis School Board.  These are the people who decide what laws we live under and how they get enforced.  These are the people who decide whether or not we have voting rights.  These are the people who decide how our kids learn.  This is how we change things.  Personally, I'm alternately furious and despairing that my goddaughter and her little sister now have fewer rights over their own bodies than they did a month ago - there are things we can do, voting in the primary (and the general election) is one of them - here's a place you can go to do more.)

 

 

 

2022 Fringe Review - ShMILF Life - Is It Really Never Too Late? - 5 Stars


“I’m no longer willing to exchange laughs for truth.”

Synopsis: While waiting for her date to show up, storyteller/comedian Penny Sterling discusses her transition, and how difficult it is for her to find an authentic relationship as an older transgender woman.

Tweet review: #mnfringe ShMILF Life: is it really never too late to make a change? @sterling_penny contemplates this with a lot of humor but just as much honesty; perfect way to start my Fringe - 5 stars

Both Mom and I thoroughly enjoyed Penny Sterling’s last outing at our Fringe back in 2017.  Thanks in part to a couple of years of pandemic, it’s been five years since we last saw her.  I’m glad she liked Minneapolis enough to return - I can use the laughs, and the insight which she provides in equal measure.  I saw her just prior to the Fringe previews the other night and went over to say hi.  “I’m happy to see you’re back,” I said.  To which she replied, without missing a beat, “Well, I’m happy to see your front.”

“Hang gliding, bungee jumping, one woman Fringe shows - they’re all great ways to die.”

5:30pm on Thursday of opening weekend is a tough slot for any Fringe act, but particularly for a traveling solo artist in the smaller of the two hubs of venues for this year’s festival (Uptown).  So I thought that’s probably where I might be needed most as an audience member.  I’m very glad I went, it was a perfect way to start my Fringe experience for the year.

“You are fire, fire, fire, eggplant.”

Penny is very clever, so a joke is never very far from her lips, even when discussing difficult or sensitive topics.  But, as with her previous show, I think I appreciated that laughter even more in the context of the sometimes uncomfortable honesty she brought to her story.  It’s hard to see yourself clearly, but Sterling does, and she’s not afraid to call herself out.  Even the punchlines have a lot going on underneath them.  For instance, at one point she says, “I’m so old that when I transitioned I went through puberty and menopause at the same time.”  And she’s not kidding. Unpacking what that means is part of the heart of ShMILF Life.

“A massive semi-colonectonomy.  If you hate that joke, you’re going to have a lousy 48 minutes.”

Our brain and sense of self never catches up with how old our body becomes.  Sometimes we’re unpleasantly surprised to see ourselves in the mirror looking nothing like the person we expect to find.  Finding the courage later in life to make her transition, Penny came into her full self at a point in life where, as she put it, “Actuarially speaking, I have three times more yesterdays than I do tomorrows.”  It’s hard not to feel cheated, for the things you missed.  It’s hard to remain hopeful that a connection with another person might yet materialize.  (As a single person in my 50s, I can relate, but I imagine anyone single at any age these days, in this world, could have moments when they wonder.).  Still that’s what imagination, and hope, are for.

“I kept the dresses, though.  I’m not an idiot.”

ShMILF Life starts with a section of material Penny developed in her stand-up routine, but moves on into a second half that isn’t played for laughs so much as truth.  There are still funny lines, but they’re rooted more in reality.  It’s a brisk travelogue through Penny’s social life since the transition, but it never feels rushed.  The audience is allowed to live in moments along with Penny, and it makes the reward of the time spent more meaningful.

“But I kept on not writing dialogue for you, and you kept on not showing up at rehearsal.”

ShMILF Life is the best kind of Fringe solo show.  By the time it’s done, you feel like you know the artist, and their world, a bit better, and have expanded your own world and perception in the process.  But don’t worry, it’s not hard work being in the audience, the comedy helps it all go down easy.  It’s quite a balancing act, but Penny makes it look effortless.  (That’s why she’s on stage, and I’m in the audience.). Do yourself a favor on catch one of her remaining shows.  You won’t regret it.

5 Stars - Very Highly Recommended

Here's her preview:

 

 

(You can click on the following links to see a set of links to the full Top 10 list, the Top 11-20 list, a list of returning favorites, and the full coverage of the 2022 Fringe on this blog.) 

(Side note: Also during Fringe season, Minnesota has a primary election coming up on August 9th.  Early voting options are currently available.  You can also check out what's on your ballot ahead of time on the Minnesota Secretary of State website, as well as other voting services and information.  In Minneapolis, not only do we have the Governor and Lt. Governor on the ballot, but there's our U.S. Congressional Rep., our MN State Senator, the MN Secretary of State and MN Attorney General, as well as our County Sheriff and County Attorney, and two members of the Minneapolis School Board.  These are the people who decide what laws we live under and how they get enforced.  These are the people who decide whether or not we have voting rights.  These are the people who decide how our kids learn.  This is how we change things.  Personally, I'm alternately furious and despairing that my goddaughter and her little sister now have fewer rights over their own bodies than they did a month ago - there are things we can do, voting in the primary (and the general election) is one of them - here's a place you can go to do more.)

 

Saturday, July 30, 2022

Fringe 2022 - Promising Preview (3 of 3) - What Takes Who


The handy thing about Fringe previews is that sometimes, there’s a couple of shows that hadn’t really been on your radar yet, but seeing a little snippet of the performance makes you think, “Hmmm, I’d actually like to see the rest of that.”  Second night of Fringe previews had three of those for me.

What Takes Who - Sugar Throw Theatre

A dinosaur is born, and what happens next? Join us as we walk through time and space. Depictions of capitalism, what it means to exists in the body of woman, and wonder what it mean to make impactful change.

Again, because there was a tag for LGBTQ+ content on this show, it hadn’t completely escaped my notice.  I just wasn’t quite sure, based on what was on their Fringe show page, what type of show it was.  The preview cleared that up in a very engaging way.

In a sign of the times, their master puppeteer and one of the other actors both got sick at the last moment, right before preview night.  Yikes.  But the director pitched in, and I think they got another friend to help them out as well because there aren’t any guys listed in the cast and crew that I could see, and yet a fellow walked out and held up a sign that said,

“Everything the state says is a lie and everything it has stolen”

No lines, he just held up the sign and slowly rotated so the whole audience got a chance to see it, while other scenes went on behind him.  Two of 36 moments the director said would make up their show.  One actor had a monologue that began, “What kind of girl are you?”  And then a lesbian mother and her dinosaur marionette child had a conversation about cultural appreciation vs. appropriation.

Can’t quite put it into words, but I like the vibe.  I could sit with whatever these folks are cooking up for an hour.  Also a first-time Fringe producer.  As it says on their More Information tab for the show page on the Fringe site:  “Yeah, this may be one of those ‘weird Fringe shows’ and yeah, this show may not help you escape the feeling of inevitable doom. BUT we have music, laughs, tears, and a friendly puppet to show us the way!”

 


(You can click on the following links to see a set of links to the full Top 10 list, the Top 11-20 list, a list of returning favorites, and the full coverage of the 2022 Fringe on this blog.) 

(Side note: Also during Fringe season, Minnesota has a primary election coming up on August 9th.  Early voting options are currently available.  You can also check out what's on your ballot ahead of time on the Minnesota Secretary of State website, as well as other voting services and information.  In Minneapolis, not only do we have the Governor and Lt. Governor on the ballot, but there's our U.S. Congressional Rep., our MN State Senator, the MN Secretary of State and MN Attorney General, as well as our County Sheriff and County Attorney, and two members of the Minneapolis School Board.  These are the people who decide what laws we live under and how they get enforced.  These are the people who decide whether or not we have voting rights.  These are the people who decide how our kids learn.  This is how we change things.  Personally, I'm alternately furious and despairing that my goddaughter and her little sister now have fewer rights over their own bodies than they did a month ago - there are things we can do, voting in the primary (and the general election) is one of them - here's a place you can go to do more.)