Saturday, August 21, 2004

One Last Fringe TV Alert

Well the Fringe may be over and done for this year, but St. Paul's public TV station, TPT-17, is doing one last broadcast of a Fringe spotlight episode of the show "Cue To Cue: A Conversation about Theatre in the Twin Cities," tomorrow, Sunday, August 22nd, at 10pm.

I'm the host, and the guests will be:

- Amala Dance and Music's "On The Beaded Fringe II: Traveling In Hip Circles"

- Claire Simonson's multi-media offering "The Origins of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind"

So if you missed seeing them at the Fringe, or you saw them and would like to see them again, here's a chance to see a snippet of performance in studio, following by a conversation with the artists about their work in the Fringe, plus what they're up to the rest of the year.

(For more of my writing - plays, past blog entries and more - visit

Thursday, August 19, 2004

Fringe Number Crunching

I realize the reviews in the press - both mainstream and alternative - are very important for getting the word out. I'm awfully grateful for the positive notices in the Star Tribune for Dandelion Snow and Fast Fringe 1 and 2 - reviews like that put you on the map with folks who aren't quite as addicted to Fringe website buzz.

Me, though, I'm always very interested in the audience response, particularly the way the audience reviews on the Fringe website pan out. Those are the hard core people, the most invested Fringe-goers. If someone takes the time to write about your show, you have no doubt at all that you've moved them, for better or worse, to action.

It's fun looking at the tallies and dissecting it all. The key indicator for me is not just how many stars, but how many reviews it took to get a show there.

For instance, there are a little over two dozen of the plays out of the 175+ shows in the Fringe that managed to land and hang on to a 5 star rating.

The shows I'm most impressed with are the ones who had multiple reviews and still managed to hold onto a high rating.

After all, while it's good that a even a single person thought so highly of a show that they gave it 5 stars, if it's only one person who gave those 5 stars, that's hardly a universal endorsement. Six shows got a 5 star rating that way. Another nine shows had five reviews or less and hung onto that 5 star rating. While that's certainly impressive, and for all I know may be warranted (they weren't shows I've seen so how am I to know, I have to trust the people who were there and actually experienced it), the shows I'm most bowled over by are things like Knock! with 18 reviews, or Wanted with 12, or, Goddess Menses & The Menstrual Show with, get this, 35 reviews. Even with all those people weighing in, the opinion was damn near unanimous - these shows were judged to be great. The 5 star rating is even more of an achievement in situations like that.

Conversely, it's too bad for a show when its only review is a less than stellar one. They end up sitting out there with one star or less the whole festival, warning people away even if they never read the actual review to judge for themselves. (I'm not going to pick anyone out of the pack for that. If you're really curious, go to the Audience Reviews section via the link from the front page of the Fringe site, and click on the column header for "Number of Reviews." The ones with the most reviews are at the top, the less widely reviewed ones are at the bottom.)

Another fun thing to browse through is to see when and how long people were talking about these shows. If you go to Audience Reviews and click on the column heading for Most Recent Review, you get a whole different picture. Knock!, Spilled Drinks, Women! Live On Stage!, and On The Beaded Fringe 2were all still being reviewed by audience members two days after the Fringe was over. Another thirty shows were still being reviewed the day after the Festival closed, in many cases a couple of days after they'd had their last performance.

Conversely again, it's a little sad to scroll to the bottom of the list and see what shows people gave up writing about (and perhaps even attending) early on in the Fringe schedule.

Personally, even when the review is less than glowing for a show of mine, I'm happy to get it. As I said above, it means, for whatever reason, that my show either really pleased someone or really disappointed them. That's what you want a show to do - incite a response. Dandelion Snow ended up in a four way tie for 6th place toward the top of the list of the shows with the greatest number of reviews. That's gratifying, even if it does mean that as the more negative reviews got added on, the star rating slipped down from 5 to 4.

More importantly, I've been getting a lot of really specific feedback - both the postive and the negative equally constructive. It's great to know where the script perplexes or frustrates people, what they want more or less of, what their questions are. In some cases, I already had an inkling something would or wouldn't work. In others, I'm getting an outside perspective on the strengths and weaknesses of my play that I might otherwise have missed.

So thanks, everyone. I've copied your reviews into a file on my computer and as I move forward with this script, your thoughts will be on my mind.

(For more of my writing - plays, past blog entries and more - visit

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Fringe - In Summation

Here's a little cheat sheet so if you're interested you can hop around and see what I wrote about you all - saw 48 performances, 41 shows if you pull out the repeats. I could review all but three on the Fringe pages - those being my own, Dandelion Snow and Fast Fringe 1 and 2. I held off talking about them myself until most of the votes were in and the festival shut down. More on them in a bit. In the meantime, here's all the rest of it.

A number of people and I have had this conversation and we all sort of came to the same conclusion - there wasn't one show for any of us that really knocked us on our ass this year. But on the plus side, there were so many more good shows, and much fewer duds (I only saw one I regretted). And many of the great shows were local this year, whereas last year the truly amazing shows were all imports. So it all bodes well for both the Fringe and the Minneapolis theatre scene in general, I guess.

5 star shows
For me, this means I love them unreservedly and there's little or no room for improvement - click on the title for their Fringe page to see other people's opinions (my mini review should be in there somewhere, too), click on the link next to the title to hear more from me on this show's pros and cons

Death Penalty Puppetry (full review)
Jack & Ben's 10th Annual Bar Crawl and Moveable Feast (full review)
Knock! (full review)
The Lives of the Most Notorious Highwaymen (full review)
Look Ma, No Pants: The Last One (full review)
The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind (full review)
Philosophy: The Music of Ben Folds (full review plus thoughts on my return trip later in the Fringe)
Pipes (full review)
Plants and Animals (full review plus thoughts on my return trip on the last day of the Fringe.)
Punk Rock Awesome (full review)

4-1/2 star shows
Love and highly recommend them, but maybe there was one little thing which could have made it even better - click on the title for their Fringe page to see other people's opinions (my mini review should be in there somewhere, too), click on the link next to the title to hear more from me on this show's pros and cons

Before Dark (full review)
Dandelion Snow (more on Dandelion Snow later)
Metamorphoses (full review)
Osama Kincaid: Painter of Terrorism (full review)
Patrick and James: A Love Story (full review plus thoughts on my return trip on the last night of the Fringe.)
The Swimmer (full review)
This Love Train Is Unstoppable And I Am The Conductor (full review)
Whiskey Bars (full review)

4 star shows
Love and recommend them. Wanted to love them more, and more than one little thing would probably be required to do it - click on the title for their Fringe page to see other people's opinions (my mini review should be in there somewhere, too), click on the link next to the title to hear more from me on this show's pros and cons

10,000 Comic Books (full review)
Fast Fringe 1: The Agony (more on Fast Fringe later)
Fast Fringe 2: The Ecstasy (more on Fast Fringe later)
Feeling Faust (full review)
From The Diary of Virginia Woolf (full review)
Goats (full review)
Improv A Go-Go: Deathmatch (full review)
In Defense of Sin (My Friends' Best Stories) (full review)
John and Jen: Part One (full review)
Murderers (full review)
Women! Live On Stage! (full review)

3-1/2 star shows
Rough around the edges but still above average and well worth your time - click on the title for their Fringe page to see other people's opinions (my mini review should be in there somewhere, too), click on the link next to the title to hear more from me on this show's pros and cons

The 7 Project (full review)
Agog (full review)
Dix (full review)
The Judas Cradle (full review)
Lokasenna (full review)
Mary Kelley Sunshine Box (full review)
Six Steps Part Deux (full review)
U Betcha! eX-posed! (full review)
The Valets (full review)

When I compiled this sort of list halfway through the Fringe, I set up a section for 3 star shows, saying that they were sort of like pizza or sex, even if a Fringe show isn't the best in the world, it's still better than no Fringe show at all.

But I didn't have any shows that fell into that category - either halfway through the Fringe, or even now. Pleasant surprise that.

However, there was one dud on my travels. I didn't bother to give it a mini-review or any stars on its Fringe page because I didn't want to drag them down (not that I really could, so many people were gushing about the thing - as you can see by clicking on the title and visiting their Fringe page). The link next to the title is my list of the show's...well, cons, basically.

Everything and Nothing All At The Same Time (full review)

(For more of my writing - plays, past blog entries and more - visit

Tuesday, August 17, 2004

Best of the Fringe?

The oddest thing just happened. You never know where you're going to run into a little Fringe gossip.

I had stopped on the way home from work earlier this evening at my local Apple computer store, First Tech (yes, I'm a Mac user, let the snorts of derision begin, I don't care, I'm not giving up my iBook). Anyway...

I stopped in to pick up a new, sturdier, computer bag for my (yes, it's finally here, cue the heavenly chorus) replacement computer. Goodbye, lemon. Hello, slightly larger (and much faster than my backup laptop) new iBook on the block. (Figures I'm just about done with Fringe blogging for the year.)

The receptionist at the store was chatting up a friend and was just gushing about the two shows they've chosen for remounting as Best Of The Fringe at the Loring Playhouse. My ears perked up. And they are...?

Buckets and Tap Shoes



Both pleasant surprises. Guess I shouldn't be too surprised after seeing the B&TS guys and gals (or as another Matthew calls them, his "rhythm angels") strut their stuff at Fringe Central, plus that extra show of theirs added to the schedule probably should have been a clue.

And if the line I was in opening night sold out, and even Joe Dowling from the Guthrie had a hard time getting into a performance later that week (so the story goes), I suppose Knock shouldn't surprise me either. I'm extremely happy for Jim Lichtschiedl. Hopefully, they'll spell his name right this time.

Who knows if this guy was just talking out of his butt. I haven't seen confirmation anywhere yet. But it's nice even to think that a couple of underdogs might have pulled off a coup and gotten themselves a little extra time in the spotlight. Best of the Fringe runs August 20th (this Friday) through September 5th. So if you just can't let the Fringe go, this is your ticket.

[Update - I just went to Uptown Tix. It's official. They're the ones.]

Whoever the Best Of The Fringe is monetarily, overall, this was a mighty good year. (More on that later, of course. Right now, I've got a new computer to break in so I can crank out the last of these entries on a laptop that can match my typing speed.)

(For more of my writing - plays, past blog entries and more - visit
Fringe Day 10, Part 5 - August 15, 2004, 8:30pm

Patrick and James: A Love Story
The Artsy Guy, Inc.
Interact Center for Visual and Performing Arts

47 shows behind me, only 1 left. After all this theatrical gluttony of the last ten days, I still saved a little room for dessert.

Everything I said about this play after I first saw it still stands.

It was gratifying to see the tiny house full of people this time. A preponderance of male couples, of course - this is, after all, a perfect date play for gay men.

It was also fun to meet Michael Snyder (playwright and "James") face to face after exchanging a couple of emails when he'd read that first review of mine earlier in the week. Also chatted with Kenny Kiser (producer and "Patrick") again - a phone call and a meeting in passing at one of the Nautilus shows preceeded this. We're all planning to talk after the Fringe releases us and we have a chance to collapse for a while. Who knows? After all the "drama" offstage at my own show, I might be coming out of the Fringe with a new producer and some fellow gay writers as friends after all. Cross your fingers.

My praise this time is for the ladies in the cast - Heather McCornack who played Patrick's sister Tammy, and Lisa Clair who played James' sidekick Katie. These could have been thankless fag hag roles. But they were written, and acted, far better than that. In fact, the ladies get off just as many good lines in a script filled with enough good lines to go around, and some of theirs are the most memorable. Tammy gets the zingers and "wake up and smell your own neurosis, little brother" pep talks. Katie gets the "still single" person material. Both Heather and Lisa make the most of these women and their showcase moments.

The one that sticks with me the most is Katie's speech about the man who got away - and how she still kicks herself a little for not so much pushing him away as letting him just slip away without a fight. It's a well-observed moment and we've all been there (or at least I have, more times than I care to count).

The show may be called Patrick and James, and theirs may be the central relationship, but it would be a poorer show indeed without Tammy and Katie (and without Heather and Lisa to bring them to life).

A perfect end to a manic week of theater-going.

(For more of my writing - plays, past blog entries and more - visit
Fringe Day 10, Part 1 - August 15, 2004, 12:00pm

Plants and Animals
Der Stamen Spielers
Bryant Lake Bowl

When you're in the home stretch known as Day 10 of the Fringe, and there's still one full day of theatre ahead of you, you have to do a couple of nice things for yourself.

My carrots on either end of the stick today were two shows I enjoyed so much, I couldn't think of a better treat to myself than to let myself see them again before they vanished (as all theatre - good and bad - ultimately does). The end of my day would see me in the audience of the final performance of Patrick and James: A Love Story. But to begin my day, I once again embraced the lunacy of Scot Augustson's latest script Plants and Animals.

This was even funnier the second time around, and in new ways - since the jokes and plot were flying by so fast the first time, it was inevitable that I didn't catch all the finer details. It's great to run across scripts which unfold more riches with repeated viewing and reading. Scot's scripts fall in this category.

The performances of Jonah Von Spreecken and Megan Hill also fall into this category on the acting side of things. It's a pity they all live and work in Seattle - these are people whose work I wouldn't mind seeing year round. (There were whispers of the idea of traveling troupes of artists in the many months between official Fringes - Seattle, Minneapolis, and other cities playing host, then taking to the road themselves and having their artist friends return the favor of a place to stay and a showcase in their home city hundreds of miles away. This is an idea I'd very much like to catch on. We shall see.)

In the meantime, I wasn't in a big hurry to go rushing off to another show right away, so I offered Jonah and Megan a lift to the airport. We went to the place they were house-sitting and they packed their bags as a fellow Fringe squatter flipped through the channels of Olympic coverage in Athens, and then landed on a wild movie we all kept trying to figure out. It wasn't that it was good, it was your typical "Dangerous Minds/To Sir With Love" teacher-reaches-the-slacker-kids kind of movie. But it was stuffed with pre-star performances - sort of the opposite of The Love Boat, they did this movie to fluff up their resumes while they waited for their careers to take off, instead of hitting the big white cruise ship on the way to has-been-ville with Charo. We got a pre-"To Die For/Good Will Hunting" Casey Affleck, a pre-"Bring It On/Buffy the Vampire Slayer" Eliza Dushku, and a pre-Oscar Halle Berry, with a little Jim Belushi and Steve Zahn thrown in for good measure. In case you're reading, guys, I just hit IMDb - it's a 1996 clunker called "Race The Sun" - based on a true story (egad) written by the very post-Oscar for "Rain Man" screenwriter Barry Morrow. Ouch.

And with that, it was off to the airport, and they were off to Edmonton Fringe - they opened yesterday with shows at 5:30pm and (eek) 12 midnight. Hope they got some sleep in there somewhere.

(For more of my writing - plays, past blog entries and more - visit
Fringe Day 10, Part 4 - August 15, 2004, 7:00pm

Skewed Visions
Intermedia Arts

Oh how I wish I'd gone to see this when I'd originally planned to, for then I could be seeing it again, now, on closing night, as some of my other Fringe friends were so wisely doing.

Skewed Visions uses Intermedia Arts - all of it - in ways which were as amazing as they were entertaining. No corner or crevice of the space went wanting for attention. Whether it be crawling around up in the rafters high above the stage, or skulking around under the risers beneath the audience, that same audience was constantly craning its collective neck - twisting and turning around or leaning back in their seats to try and catch a glimpse of just where in the world the whole performance was headed next. The standard definitions of audience and performance space were not just blurred, they were practically obliterated.

But before all this interactivity, before the powertools sparking in the darkness against metal doors, before the journey outside, before the lilting song, before the loading dock door flew open and the performer leapt back into the space along with a shaft of bright sunlight from outdoors - before any and all of the above, there was first darkness and silence.

The audience is left to sit in darkness for an uncomfortable (but quite deliberate) length of time. There is music, which eventually careens out of control. Then there is breathing, and finally there is speech.

Charles Campbell is a marvel as the solo performer in this show. Though he is doubtless supported by countless others hidden around us in the darkness, his is the only face and form we see. Even another singing and speaking voice toward the end of the play remains completely disembodied (until the curtain call). Charles holds our attention whether he is far off, sitting against the back wall of the stage on a chair high in the air, or under our seats, over our heads, or even completely out of sight as he continues to speak while he walks around outside of the building altogether. A tremendous amount of technical work goes into something like this. The beauty of it is that the kind of work Skewed Visions does, you never "see the strings" unless they want you to.

This compelling, claustrophobic, subliminally political showpiece is perfect Fringe fare. I'd gladly see it again, if only I had the chance (this was, after all, the next to last performance slot of the night on the last night of the Festival).

This fall, Skewed Visions is remounting its previous Fringe hit, "The Car," as part of its triptych entitled "The City Itself." Part 1, "The Car," runs September 8th through October 10th. 7pm each night, meet up at the Acadia Cafe, and you will be escorted into the back seat of the first of three cars, with the performance taking place in the front seat as they drive you around Minneapolis ($19). Part 2 is FREE - "Side Walk" - Noon to 5pm - September 8th through November 14th - Go to the front desk at Intermedia Arts and you can "check out" the show. Part 3 - "The House" takes place at a Minneapolis home, October 20th through November 14th starting at 8pm ($19). Performance times, dates and locations vary. For information and reservations, go to or call 612-823-4990. They say it can be experienced in any order, but for the full effect, see all three. Having just experienced yet another of their singular achievements at the Fringe, I have no doubt this triptych will be worth the journey.

(For more of my writing - plays, past blog entries and more - visit
Fringe Day 10, Part 3 - August 15, 2004, 5:30pm

Osama Kincaid, Painter of Terror
Tom Cassidy
Pillsbury House Theatre

One of my regrets about last year's Fringe was that I missed seeing Tom Cassidy's one man spoken word show. Having finally seen his show in this year's Fringe, now I'm doubly bummed that I missed him last year. This is a man who's own off-kilter poetic worldview is one that we all desperately need a big dose of - especially in these absurd days of "down-the-rabbit-hole" spin doctoring of blunders and coverups and generally bad news.

Tom isn't interested in being delicate about these things. If he thinks something is crazy or stupid, he says so outright. Political correctness to the exclusion of all common sense is something with which he has no patience. He'd rather get the thoughts out there, outrageous though they might be, rather than let them go unsaid or unheeded.

Even with his equally opinionated mother choosing his material for him, the unapologetic and hilarious ranting comes through full force. And what a refreshing, bracing blast of fresh air his compositions are.

The sparring matches with his mother between selections, and his free form introductions of the poems and how they came to be, in addition to the poems themselves, are all great fun. Even as I'm gasping with "I can't believe he just said that" laughter, I'm thinking and rethinking my own views on such things. No one is allowed to sit comfortably with their beliefs unchallenged. It's the best kind of mental exercise. Your lungs feel better for getting that good workout laughing as well.

Good spoken word, like good theatre, can sometimes be hard to find in a city with such an embarrassment of riches as the one we live in. But the upside to having all that entertainment to sift through is that there's something out there for everybody, if you just keep looking. Tom Cassidy's work speaks to me. So I'm very glad to know that he has a regular monthly gig at the Anodyne coffeehouse (one of my favorites). This way, I don't have to wait til the Fringe rolls round again to get another much needed dose of common sense, outrage and laughter from Tom.

Tom can be found hosting an open mike night at 8pm on the first Friday of every month at Anodyne - 43rd and Nicollet in Minneapolis. As his ad says, "Sit back and gawk, or get up and wail...pyramid marketing pitches and yodeling prohibited."

(For more of my writing - plays, past blog entries and more - visit
Fringe Day 10, Part 2 - August 15, 2004, 4:00pm

Alan Berks
Pillsbury House Theatre

(Well, I was about a paragraph into this review this morning and then the fire alarm went off in my apartment building. So, since I was already dressed for work and the sirens were blaring, I just closed up the laptop and left. Sadly, this also means I left all hope of wi-fi access behind for the day. Since I have returned to find my dwelling not a charred ruin after all, it's time to sign off on the last of these little missives about Fringe shows...)

Mixing the personal and political, particularly in a solo show, can be tricky. One needs to strike just the right balance. If you focus too exclusively on your own problems, you seem petty in comparision to the larger problems facing society. If you focus too exclusively on politics, the story can lose its human dimension and you come off as didactic, just a performer bludgeoning an audience with their point of view and allowing no room for gray areas or compromise. Goats strikes the right balance.

On the face of it, it appears at first to be a story of a young man's journey of personal discovery - both about himself as an individual, and about his heritage. But it is the location of that journey and the nature of that heritage that lets the audience know almost immediately that this story is going to be about something larger. Alan Berks may be herding goats on top of a mountain in the middle of nowhere, but the middle of nowhere is the middle of Israel - with Jerusalem in sight on one side of the mountain, and the West Bank in sight on the other. And the time is shortly after Prime Minister Rabin was assassinated, by one of his own people. The Jews, the Muslims and the Christians all agree that, though God is everywhere, God is closer to Jerusalem. And where different visions of God collide, there's always trouble.

Sadly, the Middle East hasn't changed much for the better since Alan's original journey. The personal, political and religious are all closely linked together. But rather than making politics more humane, issues of religion tied to the land just make the fighting that much more vicious. This seems removed from Alan's mountaintop lessons in goatherding - at first. However, left with time to think, even as he scrambles to learn the basics of keeping the goats in line, the larger picture and civilization's troubles are constantly finding him. Even the few people he meets in the course of his duties on the mountain each come to represent in their own way, multitudes of other people, each group with its own stake in the outcome of the region's battles, each sustained by hope but often blinded by outrage and hatred.

This probably makes the show sound much bleaker than it actually is. Though it deals with weighty matters, this show, in putting a human face on a large and complex issue, finds generous doses of humor among the ruins. Alan Berks is a charming and genial presence on stage. His willingness to poke fun at himself, not just at others, as well as his open admission that he has no real answers, makes this an extremely accessible piece of theatre - even for the Gentile writing this review.

I've heard tell that this piece was originally a full-length evening of theatre, pared down to this one hour size for the purposes of the Fringe Festival. Since the show left me wanting more, in a good way, I'd be interested in seeing the fuller script to find out what else I can learn about a subject I'm woefully underread on.

Many of the great leaders of Israel - Moses, David, even Rabin - started their careers has goatherds. Once you learn to tend a flock of creatures bent on nothing more than eating and basic survival, more complicated living things, such as humans, become a little easier to deal with. Alan Berks has the goats figured out. Thankfully, now he's moved on to the rest of us.

For more information on Alan and his plays, check out

(For more of my writing - plays, past blog entries and more - visit

Monday, August 16, 2004

Fringe Day 9, Part 6 - August 15, 2004, 10:00pm

Six Steps Part Deux
Illusion Theater

This is a case in which the sequel for me is better than the original.

I liked last year's show well enough, but it didn't wow me. This year's script is more the writing of Brent Doyle that I'm familiar with - sharp, funny, filled with clever allusions to current political hijinks, and still just entertaining on its own terms as a spoof on superheroes and supervillains (including the U.S. government).

Since it's been a year, I frankly was just a little lost at first - why are they in prison? (for instance)

Mostly I tried to just go with the flow and not require the whole thing to make perfect sense. Even though it ran long, just like the Illusion Fringe show before it, the script was still trying to cram in a whole lot of material in a very short time. Because so much of the material, and the acting, was so good, I was willing to let quite a few things slide as long as the larger picture held together, which it did.

The U.S. agents gunning for information (even, perhaps especially, fake information) on France so they could start bombing it was great. The repeated discourse on the torture of prisoners to extract information, though cartoonish in tone, nonetheless hit its mark. I'd say these would be funnier if they weren't so true, but it seems, for me anyway, and most of the audience around me, they were funnier because they *were* true. I guess we'd rather all laugh than cry about it. Much of the play worked on this additional level and this was why I think it was more successful as an entertainment than last year's installment.

Or maybe the heroes and villains are just a lot clearer and easier to spot this year in general.

The numerous battle sequences were a kitschy, Batman-esque hoot. These additional sequences of the characters in action, rather than inaction, helped the entertainment quotient as well in comparison to the first installment.

And just when you think it's taken a very dark turn from which it will never recover (not that this would be a bad thing, just sad, and earned by both script and performers), we get a deus ex machina which allows us to leave on a more positive note. I'm still a little conflicted about that. While I'm grateful that the conclusion didn't end up looking like something out of the last act of "Hamlet," since there is no easy answer in real life, should there be in the fake world?

(Damn, I guess there's just no pleasing me. This does, however, mean that I'm not finding the script or the questions it raises as easily dismissable as I did last year. Kudos for not giving my brain any peace this time. I'd rather have theatre that sticks in my craw, and the possibility of another sequel this smart and funny, than sit through an hour I can quickly forget.)

The Illusion folks did manage to get us in pretty quickly after the previous show's over-extended length (all hail in particular to the stage crew for a rapid-fire changeover) and the show only started six minutes late, and only ran over an hour by an additional seven minutes. Longer evening that I expected at the Illusion, but they provided the entertainment to make it worthwhile.

(For more of my writing - plays, past blog entries and more - visit
Fringe Day 9, Part 5 - August 14, 2004, 8:30pm

Illusion Theatre

My love for and admiration of Barbara June Patterson and Phyllis Wright was only reinforced by these performances, and the sold out house was right there with me.

A friend of mine liked the first monologue (Margaret Faydle Comes To Town, performed by Barbara June) better than the second (Match Wits with Minka Lupino, performed by Phyllis), which he didn't like much at all. He found fault with Jeff Hatcher's script, not the performances.

I only partially agree with him. Yes, the first monologue is the strongest. But while he didn't buy the reality of the second story at all, I didn't have the same trouble.

Barbara June's monologue is more personal, I'll grant him that. The motive for the murder, and the outlines of its impending execution (pardon the pun), are indeed more believable. The stakes are higher, the underpinnings of the betrayal and final solution much sadder, even though this was also the most uproariously funny of the two halves of the evening. The fact that not more than a sentence or two could go by without a vigorous bout of laughter from the audience no doubt contributed to the show's running seven minutes overtime. The contrast of light and dark being so extreme made the whole thing hit more that much harder. One thinks they have it all figured out shortly after it starts, but one would be wrong. But it's also not trying to trick the audience with a last minute surprise ending either. Once the shape of it slowly starts to take its true form at the end, it remains faithful to that dark outline and fills in the details. This character will get the last laugh. But it'll cost her.

While the monologue given to Phyllis is less of a personal vendetta, I don't find it any less believable. Is it outrageous? Certainly. Was I pretty much willing to suspend my disbelief and go along? Heck yeah. This murderer is bumping off people who deserve it. It's fun to hear the creative ways these awful people meet their ends at Minka's hands. Is it also, because the victims and their fates are so varied and the offstage cast of characters so enormous, a bit on the convoluted side, to the point where it might be just a wee bit hard to follow? Guilty. I followed it most of the way, but even I got lost in the forest of all those details about three-quarters of the way through. Did it clear itself up enough that I could piece together most of it and walk away satisfied? Pretty much.

Though the gales of laughter weren't as numerous as they were for the previous speech, I think that was a function of the audience listening and trying to follow the plot, not that they weren't enjoying themselves, or appreciating the delivery. I sometimes felt that Phyllis was waiting purposely for her share of the evening's laughter, and wasn't above mugging now and again to force the issue. The director should trust the material and rein her in. The director should also ask the playwright to tidy up the speech so we can track it - particularly the final plot and counterplot to do in the mystery writer that ultimately does in his foe instead (trust me, I'm not really giving anything away here, I could barely follow it, so I'm probably getting it wrong).

These two speeches, coupled with Jeff Hatcher's 2001 Fringe outing, The Murderer part of his "Murderer and the Martian" double bill with Bill Corbett, are destined to be part of an upcoming season at Illusion in the near future. It's good to see them all taking the time to work out the kinks so the final product will be worth the full ticket price they will no doubt charge - probably almost twice Fringe rates.

It's nice that Illusion wants to join in the spirit of the Fringe, and extend its long-established Fresh Ink series further into the summer by putting more new work on display. I appreciate their adjusting more of their showtimes this year so that they were in synch with the rest of the Fringe schedule at the other 23 venues. I also appreciate the need a theatre may have to work a popular show for every ounce of income they can get out of it - and that this has the added benefit for audience members on the waiting list of actually getting most, if not all, of them in to see the show.

But starting 12 minutes late and and then running over an additional seven minutes on top of that, however, pretty much screws anyone who had hoped to see a show anywhere other than Illusion right after that. This may also be the point, but if you really want to be part of the community - start on time and end on time. I don't care who's writing - cut it. I don't care who's performing - adjust the performance to fit the time. Otherwise, what's the point?

(For more of my writing - plays, past blog entries and more - visit
Fringe Day 9, Part 4 - August 14, 2004, 6:00pm

The Mayasphere Project
Bryant Lake Bowl

This one was worth the wait and the extra effort it took to finally get into a performance and see it.

This is theatre boiled down to its compenent parts, an actor and an audience, and very little else - some flame, a lamp, a few candles, some hanging fabric through which light and shadow can play, a harp, and that's it.

One actor, a whole panoply of roles ranging across quite a few stories from ancient mythology compiled by Ovid. Todd Conner is quite literally the whole show here. His voice and body contort to deliver all manner of characters. He's a mesmerizing storyteller who makes you forget that there's only one of him up there.

The prologue - basically the history of all mankind - and the epilogue - essentially trying to tell us why it was important to see what we had just seen - seemed extraneous to me. I know we need to set the stage for the spectacle to come, but having seen Todd do so very much with so very little, I get the distinct feeling he doesn't need that long a prologue as a warm-up act - at least for the audience's sake. We're with him from the moment he brings light onto the dark stage. As far as I was concerned, he could have just launched right into a tale and I would have been happy and quite able to catch up with him. Who knows, it might not have even needed a 90-minute slot if you lopped off the ends?

There's also always the danger with any one person show - less so with singers going solo, but even there it's a problem - that this single voice could inadvertantly lull a person to sleep. A person gets used to hearing the same voice, particularly a voice like Todd's, which is very soothing, and that person might just comfortably start to drift off in spite of themselves. Getting right to the story, while not eliminating the problem, might have the advantage of keeping the listener on their toes.

I felt bad he didn't have bigger audiences but I sensed this might have been the function of several things working against him. 90-minute slots, though I love them, do play havoc with some people's tight Fringe schedules. The "absolutely no late comers" policy on this one must have turned away more than just a traffic-delayed me on Monday. This was also the only show during which no food was allowed to be served.

Now, I understand an artist wanting to preserve the integrity of their work, I really do. I also understand that performing a one person show, where you are your own best friend and you have no one to back you up and save you, should something go wrong, make concentration paramount. Doing such a show with a bowling alley and a bar/restaurant just on the other side of the wall, and all that noise drifting each time the server's window is opened to let in food, can't be easy to deal with. Not to mention the silverware clinking on plates and the ice cubes clinking in glasses.

But, honestly, it's the Fringe. The audience makes allowances. They can tune out just about anything to concentrate on the art at hand. The audiences of the Fringe, and the Bryant Lake Bowl in particular, are incredibly adept at this. Part of the attraction of Bryant Lake Bowl is that it's one of the few venues in town where you can eat, drink, and have your theatre served to you at the same time. Far from being dinner theatre, it's a celebration, it's a party. It's part of the convivial atmosphere and contract between audience and performer there. And as Bertolt Brecht once said, "A theatre with no beer is just a museum."

(Ironically, a museum - the Getty - is where many of the stories in this Metamorphoses first took shape)

Just like in auditions or with grant applications or playwriting competitions, at the Fringe, potential audience members have too many choices before them. If they can find an excuse to check one off the list, they'll probably do it.

Side note to this side note - Someone I know was leaning toward attending a certain other Fringe show (not this one), when they heard through the grapevine reports that the actor involved in that show threw the hissy fit that was this year's winner of the Difficult Actor contest. Though the show was getting great word of mouth, that little bit of word of mouth turned that potential audience member off. So very many of the Fringe performers are so accomodating and pleasant, why would one go out of their way to patronize the show of a performer who's not? Kharma, people. Look it up.

Getting back to Todd and Metamorphoses, however, he might have done himself a favor if he bent a little more to the venue, rather than expecting the venue and its audience to bend to him.

It's really a shame. Because the show, it was great. I wish more people had seen it.

(For more of my writing - plays, past blog entries and more - visit
Fringe Day 9, Part 2 - August 14, 2004, 2:30pm

John and Jen: Part One
Nautilus Music-Theater
Hennepin (Hey City) Stages, upstairs

This is a tough one for me. I like the idea more than the execution.

I don't mean by this that I don't like the way it was staged. I don't like the musical itself.

The performers, on the other hand, are another story entirely. They make it worth it to listen to this piece. Had I not had another show that required my presence, I might have stayed on to hear Part Two just because of the singers. When I was touched or amused, it was because of what JP Fitzgibbons and Kersten Rodau brought to the performance.

The idea of two acts of a musical - each complete in and of itself as a story, and yet with resonances across the whole canvas if you see the two together - is a nifty idea. Even niftier is the idea that in the first act John is Jen's younger brother, and in the second act, the same actor is Jen's young son, who she named after her brother.

I realize the financial necessities of keeping cast sizes small, but two person plays rarely if ever work for me. Keeping the whole wide world firmly offstage becomes more and more obvious the longer we spend time with the only two people in the world we're allowed to see.

Two actors playing multiple roles, that's one thing. Two and only two, or in this case three characters, that starts to seem lazy and cheap.

Particularly when the story being told has such a large canvas - first, in this part, a brother and sister coming of age in the turbulent 1950's and 1960's; and in part two, a single mother trying to raise a child in the 1970's and 1980's. How are we to get any sense of the scope of the sorts of issues being addressed if we can't get outside of John and Jen's insular little world views?

Certainly not with this music. Though the singers and accompaniast are incredibly gifted (and a gift to these songs they perform), the songs themselves were not particularly memorable.

Confining the entire world to these two characters also makes it way too easy to get ahead of the plot. If you're dealing with the 1960's, one of them has to be against the war, one of them has to be for it. It's not a stretch to imagine young Johnny going off to war, either voluntarily or not. And it's also not far from there to the notion that he's probably not coming back except in a body bag. Also, in a nation obsessed with daytime drama, anyone with half a brain can see that a promise one character makes to the other to always protect them is sure to be doomed to the worst kind of failure.

In addition, these characters (despite the Herculean efforts of the actors to put some flesh on their bones), are only just sketched in. We don't really get to see the characters develop. We are just supposed to take their abrupt changes at face value, because the piece has to keep leap-frogging ahead in time to get the characters to age into maturity. Unfortunately, most of the growth and change takes place offstage, between the songs, rather than in the material. We're told, rather than dramatically shown on stage, what's supposed to have transpired.

I kept wishing the creators of this piece had access to performers like the ones at Nautilus, so they'd be challenged to fulfill the promise of what really is a great idea for a musical. Thankfully, the creators who live and work in the Twin Cities do have Nautilus as a resource. Perhaps productions like this one will feed their muse and inspire them to take things a step further so at future Fringes we see some truly original and compelling work that's up to the caliber of the performers who present it.

(For more of my writing - plays, past blog entries and more - visit
Fringe Day 9, Part 1 - August 14, 2004, 1:00pm

From The Diary of Virginia Woolf
Nautilus Music-Theater
Hennepin (Hey City) Stages, upstairs

Thanks to Michael Cunningham's Pulitzer Prize-winning book, which later became an Oscar-winning movie, "The Hours," Virginia Woolf is seeing something of a renaissance. It's what got me hooked. So when I saw this song cycle on the list of upcoming Fringe events, I thought it was worth a look.

The fact that Nautilus Music-Theater was involved made it even more worth a listen. Nautilus consistently brings new and unusual forms of music performance to the Twin Cities - whether it be their monthly Rough Cuts series or the annual Composer-Librettist's Forum. They also work with some of the very best singing talent our town has to offer. So Nautilus and the Fringe seemed like a perfect partnership to me. (And apparently to Nautilus as well, since they're also aiding two other Fringe slots - John and Jen: Part One and Part Two - more on them later).

I saw the last performance of this and was very glad I did. Jill Anna Ponasik has a truly lovely voice so it was a pleasure to spend time listening to her and watching her take on the character of the great author Virginia Woolf.

The staging was simple but effective. A long writing table was strewn with small, colored pieces of paper that were one by one glued into the journal book as Virginia constructed her various entries, chronocling her days. At one point her frustration reaches a boiling point and handfuls of the paper are gathered and tossed into the air, creating a vibrant, disintegrating rainbow all around her on stage. These choices turned what might have been a drab, undramatic picture of a woman sitting and writing in a plain book, into something quite theatrical.

The music isn't for all tastes as it is often quite dissonant (on purpose, of course. Minnesota composer Dominick Argento won the Pulitzer for this operatic song cycle, so he knows what he's doing).

Also, I probably would have been better off if I'd noticed and picked up a flyer which contained the text of all the diary entries used in the piece, and read them beforehand. Not being a regular opera-goer or listener, my ears were not attuned to the sorts of enunciation that those with operatic training normally use, so I spent much of my time trying to make sure I was understanding what was being sung. Again, not the fault of the performer or the piece, it's my own shortcomings as an audience member.

This was another window into one of the great, if troubled, literary minds of the 20th century. I'm happy I added it to my tour of Woolf's legacy, and to my schedule at the Fringe.

(For more of my writing - plays, past blog entries and more - visit
Fringe Day 8, Part 5 - August 13, 2004, 7:00pm

Punk Rock Awesome
Ferrari McSpeedy
Brave New Workshop

In the middle of the aerial battle portion of their program, Mike McSpeedy spotted me in the audience and later told me, "I wanted to stop and say something to you, but I was afraid the enormous flying guitar might fall off of my head."

I was actually a little afraid as he rounded the corner he might poke me with that thing. But it's all in a day's work for Ferrari McSpeedy as they wrap up their Punk Rock thrillogy with the final installment - Punk Rock Awesome.

Even their tiny program is funnier before they take the stage than most other comedy shows after they're done with their performance. The fake European poster for this "action movie on stage," which said program unfolds to reveal, is just an added goofy bonus.

There are lots of added goofy bonuses here.

There's the third performer on stage - who you're not supposed to acknowledge - who is there as a one-man, CGI stand-in - providing action sequences like the Extreme Bike Chase of Death or the final showdown with evil Don Henley in the Hotel California with hilarious low-grade special effects action ("Thanks, Millenium Falcon!")

There's the fact that these guys are a pop-cultural dumping ground. They have references to so many things - both high brow and low - that it's sort of like having all the DVD extras crammed into the movie itself as the plot goes speeding along.

And of course there's the fact that these two guys work so well together, and have such fun doing it. The seemingly endless rogues gallery of characters they take on is dizzying, yet always crystal clear - even when one actor is playing his own love interest in a death scene and carrying on a conversation with himself, while the other is filling in the five or six supporting roles around the edges at the same time.

It's pretty amazing. And some of the funniest stuff I've seen - and at the Fringe, where funny is all around - that's saying something.

Good news is that Punk Rock Awesome and Jaws: The Musical! will be remounting their shows as a double bill at the Brave New Workshop in the coming weeks. So, more funny to be had - if you missed it the first time, here's your chance; if you didn't miss it, but feel like you might have missed some of the laughs whizzing by your head at lightning speed, here's your chance to enjoy it all over again.

For more information on what they're up to next, check out their website at or at the Improv A Go-Go website -

(For more of my writing - plays, past blog entries and more - visit
Fringe Day 8, Part 4 - August 13, 2004, 5:30pm

Jack & Ben's 10th Annual Bar Crawl and Moveable Feast
Joseph Scrimshaw
Brave New Workshop

Maybe I'm drinking the wrong beer. Or not enough of it.

Joseph Scrimshaw has some kind of wild artistic fuel that he runs on - and rather than ever running down, he just runs smoother and sleaker and funnier with each successive show.

This show is a one-man, seven character, losers-on-parade revue of guys who don't know when to leave the bar behind and grow up. While that may not sound compelling to you - and I wasn't so sure myself at first - trust Joseph Scrimshaw not only to inject this formula with laughs, but also with a lot of heart. Mostly broken hearts, but that just gives it an underlying sense of pathetic grace that keeps these seven very distinct characters from becoming cartoons. At root, these people are very human, and often quite sad. But even as you begin to realize this, the laughs never stop. They keep you going, and keep you rooting for these people to get a little of what they want, however misguided their attempts.

It's about people reaching out for companionship. It's about people being afraid to move on. It's about people terrified of giving up. It's about people not facing up to the fact that life may have passed them by. It's about people who resist and then embrace change, but on their own terms.

I know this might sound like the kiss of death for a comedy show but it's actually quite beautiful, the longer I think about it. And I do think about it.

I wonder where these characters came from. I wonder how one person can so seamlessly move from one character to another and still keep all seven of them distinct and very, very funny. I wonder what Joseph Scrimshaw's going to come up with next. And I wonder where I can line up to get a ticket.

Most of all, I wonder what kind of beer he's drinking. And where I can get some.

Some places you can often track down information on what Mr. Scrimshaw may be up to next are the website for Bryant Lake Bowl - - or the Brave New Workshop - - or at

(For more of my writing - plays, past blog entries and more - visit
Fringe Day 8, Part 3 - August 13, 2004, 4:00pm

Maximum Verbosity
MCTC Whitney Stduio

This show is very much a work in progress. But they warn you about that right up front. They're using the Fringe as an elaborate workshop opportunity, putting their fledgeling show up in the midst of a community where the largest number of people out looking for new and unusual work might just trip over it and stop to take a look.

It's a gutsy strategy and I applaud them for it. They're not from the Twin Cities either. They came in from Rochester to run this thing up the flagpole and see who salutes it.

The performance is basically just a series of unconnected scenes, run in relatively linear fashion, but with nothing tying one to the other. There are songs, there are sketches, there are dances and chases. There are quick changes and wooing. There are also musicians on keyboard and flute who occasionally get drawn into the action in additional to providing the musical accompaniment and rimshots to indicate the end of a sequence and beginning of the next.

Some things work, some things don't, some fall in between and just need a little polishing. The scenes are too numerous to pick off one by one but they all concern Loki, Norse god of mischief, and those closest to him - friends, family, and enemies alike. Loki is a walking/talking vaudeville act. He's always "on." Some of his supporting players are better at keeping up than others. Since Loki is one the characters that pops up most often in Norse mythology, and cuts across all manner of legends, no doubt it will be a daunting task for this troupe to figure out which things to keep and focus on, and which to toss. It's an embarrassment of riches, some of it easier to dramatize on stage than others.

After this Fringe marathon, I think they have an idea where to focus their energies, where their most promising material lies. The audiences have told them through their responses while in the seats, and also with their reviews online.

I can't think of a better incubator for new work than the Fringe. And I'll be curious to see where this piece goes next.

(For more of my writing - plays, past blog entries and more - visit
Fringe Day 8, Part 2 - August 13, 2004, 2:30pm

Spoken Word Productions
MCTC Whitney Studio

As with so many Fringe shows, I went in part to support a friend. As with so many Fringe shows, I'm glad I did. I was treated to something I might not otherwise have seen.

Spoken word can be a tricky thing to make a decision to go see if you have no previous experience with it. Plays, musicals, I normally have some kind of yardstick because I know the material or the company or someone who knows someone. Spoken word is a community of performance that is only just now slightly cracking open for me a bit. I have my friends Eli Weintraub and Tom Cassidy to thank for that.

I was already familiar with Eli's comic flair as a playwright. I now know she's equally funny as a performer.

Curt Lund, who was both usher at Fast Fringe while I was over there playing producer earlier in the week, and also houses out of town Fringe artists at his place, was another amusing performer in this set.

And now I have a new name to add to my list of people to put on my must see list if their name turns up on a list of performers at a future spoken word event:

Allegra Lingo

I know what you're thinking - isn't Allegra the Assistant Audience Services Manager (who gets to do fun things like intervene in gang standoffs until the police arrive)? isn't she that chick who plays a mean clarinet? doesn't she work Fringe box office? doesn't she usher? isn't that just the coolest stage name ever, whether she made it up or not?

Well, the answer to all those questions would be yes, and she's also been a spoken word performer for a number of years. Here, she shared a charming three part piece on her experiences as the girlfriend of the maid of honor at a straight wedding. It was a delightful framework to hang the rest of the set on.

Sometimes when you see a friend's show, you regret it. Sometimes, like this one, you get lucky.

(For more of my writing - plays, past blog entries and more - visit
Fringe Day 8, Part 1 - August 13, 2004, 1:00pm

Before Dark
The Live Action Set with Theatrical Music Co.
Minneapolis Theatre Garage

I have to be honest. If I didn't already know three out of the four performers in this show, I might have been really uncomfortable. Not that it's necessarily a bad thing. But I can understand why some folks in the audience might have been a little perplexed. Having a Bomb Builder listed in the program doesn't exactly put one at ease, for starters.

This show is sort of the polar opposite of the show this group presented last year at the Fringe, called Exposure. That piece was also original and thought-provoking and blended dance, performance, music and text in very interesting and unusual ways - but it stayed clearly on the performers' side of the fourth wall. There was no audience participation - or co-mingling of the acting space and the spectator space.

In Before Dark, there was no hiding behind the fourth wall that would protect the audience from direct contact with the actors.

Don't get me wrong. It wasn't a bad thing. Just very different from what I was expecting. Good for them - both for confounding me and for pushing the envelope and trying something new.

One isn't entirely sure the show has started at first. It might be a drunken homeless person who walked in off the street. You're relieved when you realize it must be an actor trying to engage you in conversation. (Because I recognized Galen Treuer, I was probably one up on most of the audience, but not for long).

Megan Odell, in bandito garb complete with a bandolier of bullets strapped across her chest, placed all manner of peculiar devices under various audience members' seats - to be recalled later in her battles her pirate nemesis Sweet Dickie (Treuer).

These two cross paths with a Working Mom, portrayed by Vanessa Voskuil, constantly struggling with a resistant tower of luggage items, and a Postman, portrayed by Noah Bremer, who lucklessly pursues her, and marks the change of seasons (culminating in a lovely winter snowfall at the end).

Recorded music, along with live music (and slides) provided by keyboardist Rebecca Disrud, is the accompaniment for this non-linear set of interludes - some of which build on one another to form an episodic story arc of sorts, others of which stand alone as mini-dramas of their own. One never knows what is just around the corner.

For instance, I certainly didn't expect Galen to draft me out of the audience, put me in a pirate hat and have me strut about, then suit me up in a too small pirate jacket and step into a large empty chest. There are certainly worse things to do than spend time with a dancer who looks like Galen, even with his off-kilter drunken pirate hair. After a little poking and prodding, I was handed an array of props - pirate flag to wave, pirate beer cozy, martini glass, toy panda, banana. Upon being asked to sit in the box, I started to wonder if they were going to close it on me. But it was basically just to get me out of the way as he and Noah danced about and did some spit takes with a bottle of wine. After a few minutes of this, the Working Mom came out, discovered me, relieved me of my pirate burdens and returned me to my seat.

Other audience members needed to toss the bomb-like devices from under their chairs on request, or relinquish their purses and wallets (all dutifully returned at the end of the show) - so in a way I got off easy? Maybe? Fourth wall, why have you forsaken me?

I may not always understand what they're doing, but it's fascinating to watch. It works on an almost subliminal level, beyond words. Just like last year, the final feeling one is left with is one of gentleness and reconciliation. That's OK by me.

The Live Action Set is already in collaboration with two other groups on two new projects. One coming up in late fall/early winter is with a music group called Spaghetti Westerns, if I remember correctly. Though I'm not eager to make another appearance onstage, I do trust them to take good care of me if I do, and to entertain and inspire me, regardless of where that fourth wall may be hiding.

Sorry I didn't find them earlier in the Fringe, so I could recommend them to more people, but I'm very happy I got to catch this next stage in their development.

To get on their mailing list to know what they're up to throughout the year, send a message to

(For more of my writing - plays, past blog entries and more - visit
Fringe Day 7, Part 4 - August 12, 2004, 10:00pm

Feeling Faust
CalibanCo Theatre

This is a nifty little premise that riffs off a very old legend - the Faustian bargain, making a deal with the devil.

There are great many things about the genesis of this production which I like, first and foremost of which is that the producer/creators are one of several theatres to open their doors to the Fringe as a host for nearly a dozen other acts in the Festival. There's also the fact they challenged themselves to do something which, for them, was Fringey in their own Fringe offering - a brand new work, rather than merely a translation or adaptation of an existing classic text from another culture or time (which is the sort of fare they offer up, quite successfully, during their regular season). In keeping with their tradition of exploring the classics, they dug up Dr. Faust and put him through an inventive and fresh round of hell.

Nice to see the bad guy get a taste of his own medicine, particularly these days. Though I have to admit a little discomfort to find myself rooting for the Devil to win. But I'm OK with discomfort that causes me to think. That's what I go to this kind of theatre to see, especially at Fringe time.

Simple set up - beyond the door, a horrific funhouse ride in which Faust must personally experience the pain he has caused others - and there's a lot of pain to work through. Everyone from the family cat of his childhood to his adult daughter in the present day has come to a bad end, and the blame for each of these deaths lies squarely at Faust's feet. Since there isn't a special effects budget to do it justice, we are treated to the debriefing after Faust has gone through his ordeal. What could have been a dull or tedious interrogation is, thanks to a sharp, lean script, and even sharper performances by the three actors involved, a great piece of cathartic theatre.

To single out one of the actors would be foolish. Though Jeremy Cottrell has the bulk of the dialogue as Faust, Erik Wallin and Alisa Pritchett as his two tormentors make silence speak just as eloquently until the moments when the script sets them loose to exact vengeance, and payment of the Faustian bargain in full.

While I know the CalibanCo folks plan to continue delving into the classics in their own special way throughout the year, I would hope that the success of this new work spurs them to experiment further as part of their regular season, and not just wait til the Fringe rolls round again. Some things are too good to have to wait that long to see.

Visit their website - - to keep up on what they're doing beyond the Fringe.

(For more of my writing - plays, past blog entries and more - visit
Fringe Day 7, Part 3 - August 12, 2004, 8:30pm

Vision's Tale: Curse of the Machine/Cycles of Social Haunting/Birth of Vision
Infinity Star Productions
CalibanCo Theatre

This show was one of the best surprises I had at the Fringe this year.

I was fully expecting this show to be a completely cheesy sci-fi geek extravaganza - much in the same vein as The Judas Cradle. I would have been quite happy with that. But I was completely (and happily) wrong about this one.

First, there's the script. It goes beyond simple sci-fi to full-on socio-political allegory, and a scathing one at that. Not just the follies of our present government and business leaders, but the genocides and slavery of our past are invoked. Strong stuff expressed in gorgeously lyrical dialogue that is constantly tipping over from prose to sheer poetry.

This could all have been a bit much to take, it could even have been overwrought or campy in the wrong hands. But these are clearly the right hands. The creators of this show, who have been shaping it for several years now, are also performers, both major and supporting, as well as those responsible for the intricate artwork and set design. It is clear they have a vision, and are earnest and sincere in expressing it. They wish to entertain, but they also wish to make us think. They succeed on both counts.

This is also a change of pace from the majority of shows I've seen at the Fringe because it is truly a multicultural mix of actor ethnicities. Skintones ranged across a wide spectrum of colors. White was not among them. It was a most refreshing change of pace.

There are some bold acting choices going on here, too, which extend not just to vocal gymnastics, but also to vivid hair and makeup as well - including things like a man with his face completely painted over by the stars and stripes of the American flag. The actors are submerged completely within their characters. I haven't a clue what these people would be like in real life because they were so fully committed to enacting the sometimes heroic, sometimes awful, characters that inhabited this script.

Spectacle was also a huge part of the attraction of this play. The set, artwork, hair and makeup have already been mentioned. Special mention must also be made of the giant Cybernetic Soul Snatchers - a trio of Grim Reaper clones in platform shoes clomping on stage in pursuit of our hero and heroine. These were great, imposing, nightmarish figures, who made an impression even among some very bizarre company populating the CalibanCo stage.

I feel I haven't really done the play justice. It's hard to encapsulate all the complexity of this script, boiling it down to simple good vs. evil. But what a joy to find a script, and a production, that, even as they acknowledge the grim realities of the present, are ever hopeful that heroes will rise, and the future will be better. Because it must.

I look forward to seeing more from Peter Jensen, the author/director, and his artistic cohorts.

(For more of my writing - plays, past blog entries and more - visit
Fringe Day 7, Part 2 - August 12, 2004, 7:00pm

Everything and Nothing All At The Same Time
Theatre Transcendare
Hennepin (Hey City) Stages, upstairs

I've said it before, I'll say it again - I'm just not the audience for this show. And I was clearly very much in the minority, both at the performance I attended and among Fringers at large. People whose opinion I greatly respect, and with whom I agree on much else in regard to the quality of shows in this year's Fringe, love this show. I thought it was dreadful.

(I won't be posting a review on the show page because I can't, quickly and succintly, lay out my reasons for this reaction. Since the show is almost universally beloved and heavily reviewed without my weighing in, and since it's over, I won't bring down their average star rating by giving them one star, or less - which, again, is very unusual for me.)

I'm still trying to piece together why I sat there, stone-faced, while other people were laughing uproariously throughout and leaping to their feet to give the performers a standing ovation.

Part of it could be that my expectations were perhaps too high. I'd heard from so many about the virtues of this show, perhaps it had me expecting more. But I don't think so. I've been going into all kinds of shows with a fairly open mind and low expectations and saw them exceeded beyond my imagining. I really believe I went into this show in the same way, fully ready to cut it a break if it needed one. Even the clunkiest shows at the Fringe can normally elicit my sympathy and constructive criticism.

I honestly felt like these people were wasting my time, and insulting me, and then to top it all off, the show ran long.

Maybe it was the fact that the premise of the show - a group of aliens is sent to earth to experience a whole range of emotions in only an hour - was so plainly laid out, I knew what I was going to have to sit through, so my patience was doubly strained. But I knew how a lot of shows I went to see at the Festival were going to end, and it didn't bother me during them. I wasn't thinking, "Oh for God's sake, just get it over with already" at any of those shows and repeatedly checking my watch.

A friend of mine had an extreme reaction I wasn't expecting to something in Fast Fringe, and it was based in something very personal for her. The short play dealing with a writer tortured by his muse, as if she were his oppressive mother demanding incestuous sex, really got her goat. This was because the "tortured writer" role was something a friend of hers had recently taken upon himself, and as such, couldn't bring himself to be around productive writers, since he himself was blocked and angry about it. So she was denied his company, because he was buying into a ridiculous mythology, one that I don't even believe, that the short "incest" play was perpetuating. What I saw as a harmless joke, she didn't see as harmless at all. And I have to admit she was right. I feel sort of bad for not taking the play and its implications more seriously.

I bring this up by way of example. Something in the "Everything and Nothing..." which the rest of the audience found amusing, just made me stew impatiently all the more. By the time the aliens got around to "love" on their list of things, one of the guy aliens started to reveal an attraction for another of the guy aliens. Because, ya know, nothin's funnier than them gays going after straight men who don't want them.


Thanks for nothing. And everything, all at the same time.

I've seen improv - a lot of it - that was tighter, more engaging and entertaining, and a heck of a lot less insulting to me personally, than this show.

I freely admit I'm having an exaggerated, and out of character, reaction to this one. But in all my 2004 Fringe-going, this for me was the only dud.

(For more of my writing - plays, past blog entries and more - visit
Fringe Day 6, Part 3 - August 11, 2004, 5:30pm

In Defense of Sin (My Friends' Best Stories)
The Ministry of Cultural Warfare
Intermedia Arts

Even when the Ministry isn't 100 percent, it's still about 200 percent funnier than most shows floundering around out there.

I loved half this show. The other half, not so much.

There were four stories which made up the hour. Stories one and three were great. Stories two and four were kind of a letdown.

Few groups integrate video into a performance as well or better than the Ministry. This show is no exception. Snazzy credits and very funny introduction from a sleep-deprived (but when is he not?) Matthew Foster to get the show off on the right footing. The other real life subjects were less amusing that Matthew, but that's to be expected. They never planned on being taped and put on stage. The stage reenactments are what make up the bulk of the show.

Story one - Matthew Foster's evening at a dive bar inadvertantly being a guest at the birthday party for the queen of the Denver KKK was laugh-out funny - the Ministry at its best. The talented ensemble was at its best here. Funniest line, among many many funny lines - "If you don't vote for George W. Bush, you'll give Jesus AIDS."

Story three - The tale of Matthew's friend/fellow blogger/Visible Fringe artist Kate and her life-threatening brain aneurysm - and its embarrassing proximity to her use of a vibrator - was also a hoot. Both the portrayal of Kate and her mother were hysterically funny. Apparently now that it's been a successful stage show, and her family accidentally invited themselves to come see it, Kate has one fewer secret to keep from her family. And just in case they missed it this time around, it's being remounted.

Story two - Friend Lesley's brief fling with a Kurdish rebel leader on the run from the law is funnier in concept than execution. There are a number of funny lines, but the story keeps us at an emotional distance that doesn't allow us to invest in the fates of the characters in the same way we do in the more successful stories. As a result, for me, it was less funny and less satisfying.

Story four - The show unfortunately ends on the low note of friend Mike's run-in with a violent street gang of Thai go-go dancers. Again, the emotional distance, and here even the thread of the story was pretty frayed and hard to follow. I got the feeling I should have enjoyed the physical comedy of Mike's beating, but I really didn't.

But like I say, half a great Ministry show is so much better than a whole show from nearly anyone else, and certainly funnier. I guess my advice would be to end on a high note. After all, if you end well, your audience will forgive you anything.

And, as ever, I await the next opus from Foster and company most eagerly. Lord knows we all need a laugh.

If you weren't lucky enough to catch the show at the Fringe, watch the Ministry website - - and perhaps also the Fringe site - - for news of the remount of In Defense of Sin (My Friends' Best Stories).

(For more of my writing - plays, past blog entries and more - visit
Fringe Day 5, Part 2 - August 10, 2004, 7:00pm

U Betcha! eX-posed!
Hamel Road Theatre Project
Intermedia Arts

For what it was, this was cute. This latest installment in an ongoing and popular spoof of boy bands works best when its dealing with the song and dance numbers - the majority of those having choreography that's quite hilarious. The lyrics are a little less successful but still on the plus side. The harmonies are surprisingly good.

They chose to shape this show around the idea of a talk show format and those are the segments in which it stumbles. This is unfortunately what makes up the bulk of the show. Even here, there are promising elements that could, with some additional work, be quite effective and consistently funny.

Greta Grosh does great work as the desperate host of a cable access talk show will delusions of being a cross between Geraldo and Oprah. She works the crowd from the moment the house opens and people start filing in. At the same time she applies the final touches to her image, she recruits volunteers from the audience and walks them through the set up of the show, all the while also dealing with her gruff and peculiar production assistant Skip.

One video segment - a memorial tribute to the band's lecherous drunken manager - was a genuine hoot.

Each of the guys in the band has honed his persona to a great degree and the comic moments that come out of character are the ones which work the best - particularly the "street tough" band member with an attachment to what he can find in dumpsters, and the "sensitive" pretty boy who has a hard time holding anyone's attention or respect and always makes sure the camera catches him shedding a little tear.

I got the feeling Greta and the boys in the band needed to work together more on doing the improv bits of the show, which was most of it. The guys seemed fairly connected to one another, and on an individual basis, Greta could land good moments with each of them. But the constant chatter of all of them vying for attention ended up just being distracting.

The technical elements were also in kind of a shambles. I got the very real indication that some issues, like mikes not going on and such, were often deliberate. Other things, like issues with video projection (which took up a lot of stage time), seemed clearly to be unplanned and troublesome. Moments such as those took me out of the story on stage and had me feeling bad for the actors and technicians alike. It took awhile for the show to recover from these problems and get the flow of the story back. To have that happen several times in less than an hour put the production at a disadvantage.

It could well be that the group was using the Fringe to try a whole lot of new things at once and some attempts were more successful than others. They're to be commended for pushing beyond their own safe routines.

An added nod must be given to the group for fostering Fringe community by including ads for other shows in between segments as commercials for the talk show.

It also seems like the guys are planning for the future, since the last five minutes of the show were essentially a musical and video commercial for their next Bryant Lake Bowl show about U Betcha and a Haunted House escapade (a la Scooby Doo).

U Betcha fans will no doubt love that, as they did this. The rest of us look forward to a show with a bit more polish so we know what they're truly capable of.

(For more of my writing - plays, past blog entries and more - visit
Fringe Day 6, Part 2 - August 11, 2004, 4:00pm

Philosophy: The Music of Ben Folds
Brown Bee Productions
Loring Playhouse

Couldn't resist a return trip, and I brought one of the actors from my show along with me. He was a good test subject because he wasn't really familiar with Ben Folds' music. The sound issues were more under control this time, but my friend still couldn't make out a lot of what two of the singers were saying. We both could agree that the guy on piano was both a skillful keyboardist and the clearest of the songbirds as well (which is good, seeing as he's a voice teacher).

Though I wish I could have fully shared my enthusiasm with my friend, I still had a great time, even better than the first go round.

It made me go home and dig out my Ben Folds' CDs, which I've been playing ever since. Now to go online and perhaps update my collection for my birthday. After all, Ben Folds is a potent muse for me, and my writing needs all the help it can get in the coming weeks.

Thanks for another good show (and the inspiration), guys.

(For more of my writing - plays, past blog entries and more - visit
Fringe Day 5, Part 1 - August 10, 2004, 5:30pm

The Swimmer
Anne Dimock
Acadia Cafe

My first and only trip to the Acadia for Fringe viewing this year, it was well worth it. But it did present some acting challenges for the performer, which I think she handled admirably. Some artists might be unsettled by the constant clatter of the coffeeshop just outside the stage doors, or the repeated footsteps of people in the offices above tromping about. Anne Dimock, to her credit, was so focused on her story that we remained focused, too.

This is some of the best kind of theatre - back to basics. A single person onstage in a blackbox space, no fancy effects or special lighting, the simplest of costumes and for the set only a place to occasionally sit down. This was all about performer and language and both were of high quality. It was gratifying to see that this little show in a little space had still managed to attract a nearly full house of attentive listeners.

In relating the personal specifics of her battle with breast cancer, Anne Dimock hits on the universal. The fears and hopes that she has, we, too, have. The generous helpings of humor, both light and dark, and the knowledge we have as she leads us into the tale that she has in fact survived and still stands before us, help make a difficult journey one that we are willing to embark upon. The fact that the tale is being told at all is itself a symbol of hope. And she doesn't just speak to the women in the audience. She addresses the men who are present as well, and tries to equate these losses and shifts in identity to something we, too, could comprehend. The inclusiveness of the storytelling is also something to be admired.

Two stories are stand-outs - the way in which Anne deals with breaking the news of the cancer to her pre-teen daughter (including taking her out to buy her first training bra), and the tales of a special dress and the milestones it encompasses in her life (milestones that now include this battle with cancer).

If I have a quibble with the piece at all, it is merely a matter of staging, and then only a small one. There were a number of points when the performer left the stage to effect a costume change that seemed, in retrospect, as if they didn't need to be hidden. I'm not suggesting the actress disrobe on stage, but every time she stopped and left, some of the momentum of the story was lost. I would have liked to remain continuously in her company, speaking even as she was transforming herself from one look to another. It's to her credit it that I neither wanted nor needed a break from her story or the storyteller.

Overall, this solo show was the type of experimenting the Fringe supports best - giving an artist a chance to try something new and perhaps for them a little terrifying, and providing that opportunity in the safest of environments - with low risk financially, and the most enthusiastic of audiences to cheer one on. Kudos all around. I look forward to seeing Anne Dimmock take the stage again.

(For more of my writing - plays, past blog entries and more - visit