Thursday, October 15, 2009

Shameless Plug of the Day - Dramatists Guild/Playwrights Center Sunday Events

A play of mine is being read at the Playwrights’ Center this Sunday, October 18th.

If I’d typed that sentence sometime between 1994 and 2002, it wouldn’t seem all that strange.

Typing it in 2009 seems pretty strange.

But I’m happy to be typing it. And a bit hopeful.

I’m not really hopeful for me.

I’m not really hopeful for anybody who’s already gotten fellowships or core memberships or writers already involved with the Workhaus Collective and the like because, really, they’ve always been taken care of, one way or another.

The people I’m hopeful for are the general membership. The playwright who’s trying to get that first production. The playwright who’s trying to arrange the first public reading of one of their scripts. The playwright who has never actually finished a play yet, but who wants to do so. All the regular joes and janes off the street who have an idea, and a desire to put it on stage, but they haven’t been recognized by the larger theatrical community just yet.

It feels like the Playwrights’ Center might be interested in local writers again.

The event on Sunday is a first step.

The Dramatists Guild and the Playwrights’ Center are teaming up to bring local playwrights of all stripes together in the same place.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

3:30 pm - Dramatists Guild Town Hall Meeting/Dramatists' Rights Workshop

Guild members and non-members are invited to attend an information session that will detail an overview of the Dramatists Guild, discuss new programming in its future and then an open Q & A for all. Following that Q & A, the Dramatists' Bill of Rights will be explained and explored with participants. With Gary Garrison (DG Executive Director of Creative Affairs), Roland Tec (Director of Membership), and John Heimbuch (Twin Cities Regional Rep).

(Oops. Sorry. The RSVP date on this first part of the day is past, I just noticed. I’m working my second job, so it was already out for me, hence my lack of urgency in posting. Apologies. But fear not. If you’re not on board for the opening salvo, the evening has much more to offer that’s wide open to all.)

5:00 - Social gathering with hors d'oeuvres and drinks

(Let the awkward banter among strangers begin!)

5:30 - A reading of two short plays:

Dandelion Snow by Matthew Everett 


How to View The Comet by Anne Bertram

(Hey, I know those two! They wrote a Fringe play together in which a guy played a dog, among other things.)

5:55 - Discussion: What the Playwrights’ Center and the Dramatists Guild can do for the careers of playwrights, including how the organizations are the same, and how they’re different.

7:00 - Representatives of small, medium and large-sized theatres and service organizations will discuss trends in theatre, playwriting and dramaturgy with Gary Garrison, moderator. As guests are finalized, the list will be updated.

Panelists so far include:

Hayley Finn (Playwrights’ Center)

Gary Garrison (The Dramatists Guild)

John Miller-Stephany (The Guthrie Theater)

Ben Krywosz (Nautilus Music-Theater)

John Heimbuch (Walking Shadow Theatre Company)

Ron Peluso (the History Theatre)

Trista Baldwin (Workhaus Collective)

Steve Busa (Red Eye Theatre)

Anne Bertram (Theatre Unbound)

Elissa Adams (The Children’s Theatre Company)

Reservations are recommended.

RSVP to 612-332-7481 x10

For more information go to:

For a period of about nine years, the Playwrights’ Center was a second home for me.

Then quite abruptly, it wasn’t anymore.

It was strange to go from being one of the Center’s biggest cheerleaders, to being... not one of its cheerleaders.

For the last seven years, I’ve rarely darkened the Center’s doors. The occasional production my friends were putting on, renting the black box space. Fringe Festival season. Other than that, I stayed away.

I don’t go where I don’t feel welcome.

All this went down before I started blogging, so the words The Playwrights’ Center have turned up in the blog rarely if at all, and then never as a subject, only as a location, mentioned in passing.

To be honest, I know pretty much nothing at all about the current configuration of the Center. I didn’t visit the website, I didn’t link to the website (even though a great many of my plays were developed there, and thus it’s all over my online resume and production history of various scripts), and I have to admit I actually ripped up any mailing that came from the Center without even reading it. (Though no longer a member of the Center, since I gave them money during the capital campaign to renovate the place from ramshackle former church building into its current much spiffier state, I was permanently ensconced on their mailing list.)

The Center and I had a mutual sort of “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” kind of relationship.

“George, if you existed, I’d divorce you.”

At first, the split made me angry. Then it just made me sad. Eventually, I just decided to stop expending emotional energy on a situation that didn’t look like it was ever going to change.

I didn’t blog anything about the Center, because I didn’t have anything constructive to say.

Now, here I am blogging about the Center.

Why the thaw?

Anna Peterson, the Membership Manager & Literary Associate at the Playwrights’ Center.

She sent me an email in March, curious about the background regarding my lapse in membership, wanting to meet me and pick my brain.

She had coffee with Anne Bertram, learned I used to run one of the Center’s new play reading series for several years, and was thus even more curious.

When I got past my work on the Medea play, we met for lunch and she got an earful.

Back around 2001-2002, the Center had a major shift in focus. The culture of the place seemed to turn its eyes to becoming more of a national presence on the theater scene. All to the good. Higher profile for the Center means higher profile, and access, for its members.

The trouble, as perceived by me and a number of other general members, was that the Center seemed to forget that Minnesota was also part of the nation.

It always struck me as a missed opportunity. If suddenly there was this outpouring of amazing scripts and writers from Minnesota, and the Center could take credit for helping develop that, it seems like everybody wins.

There used to be a weekly new play reading series, open to anyone, you didn’t even have to have your script written yet.

Ten months out of the year, a new play every week.

Actors volunteered their time. No rehearsal, often they could read the script ahead of time if they wanted, but it was basically a cold read. Seat of your pants theater at its most basic.

Fellow writers came to be part of the audience, and to circle the chairs and offer constructive feedback after the reading was over.

Often, those who could stay longer would adjourn to the local bar or coffeehouse just down the block and continue the discussion and the camaraderie.

A grassroots community of writers, supporting one another’s work, and each other as writers, grew up.

The shift happened. The reading series and that community doesn’t exist anymore.

Which is too bad, but water under the bridge. Spilt milk. A bell that can’t be unrung.

The refugees of that community found other places to congregate and develop their work. Writing groups, the Minnesota Fringe Festival.

Those writers have moved on. They have productions, get grants, run their own theaters, make films.

But it would be nice to think that the writers they used to be, in need of a nurturing place to act as a launching pad to start their careers in theater, could find a home again in the Center, rather than have to work around it or succeed in spite of it.

The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.

When Anne and I were asked to submit short works to be read as part of the event on Sunday, there was a moment’s hesitation.

The gesture has been made. If we return the gesture, we’re saying we’re invested on some level in facilitating this moment of change. As Anne put it, “Are you ready to climb that hill?”

I am.

Local writers, the Playwrights’ Center seems genuinely interested in re-introducing itself to you. It wants to let you know what it has to offer. It wants to find out from you what you feel you need.

The door is open. I’m walking through it in order to peek around, see if I can purge a little of the bad juju, because that’s the kind of curious and hopeful fool I am on my better days.

Care to join me?

(And hey, those of you who wondered when I was going to have some kind of local reading again - this would be it.)

5pm - treats

5:30 - plays

5:55 - the dialogue offstage begins...

The Playwrights' Center is located at 2301 Franklin Avenue East in Minneapolis

Its website is

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Shameless Plug of the Day - Vaudeville Extravaganza

It's the final weekend for this event, and it's entertainment for a most worthy cause, so I thought I'd give it a shout-out. The artist involved is someone who did a really fine Fringe show back in 2005 - Swim Home - which removed a lot of the stigma off of miming for me. When done well, it can be pretty amazing. And he does it well. When he's not fighting for his life, which at the moment, he is.

A friend emailed me about this event last week and she says it best, so...

"Dear Friends,

A friend of mine is fighting a hard battle with leukemia. Leukemia that he developed from his treatment for colon cancer last year.

His name is Mikael Rudolph.

My friend is a long standing member of the local performing community that you may know, or have at least seen perform. He delights both children and adults and has a generous heart and spirit as a professional clown. He competes and teaches ballroom dancing. He is also an actor that has graced many a Twin Cities stage.

But, even if you don't know him, I want you to know about him, because he's fighting a really hard battle to save his own life right now.

And his friends in the performing community have gathered together to form their own 'army' to fight one battle for him - his growing medical bills. Their 'battle' is taking the form of a two week cancer benefit aptly titled the "Vaudeville Variety Extravaganza". It opens today, Wed Oct 7, and runs through Sun Oct 18.

Please take a moment to check out the website to see the list of performers:

I hope you'll consider going - it promises to be very entertaining (even for the kiddies!) and it helps give back to someone who has contributed to our rich performing community.

Tickets are available only at the door (no pre-sales) and the Box Office will open one hour before each performance.

And even if you can't go - you can still go to the website and make a donation. Every cent helps!

Thank you for letting me share Mikael's story with you."

So, if you're looking for a fun outing Wednesday through Sunday this week, with the added benefit of helping out an artist in need, this fits the bill nicely. Check it out.

More info here, and here plus more about Mikael at

Friday, September 04, 2009

Review - Good Boys - Minnesota Shakes - 3-1/2 stars

"Don't worry. It's not loaded."
"I lied."

How do you make sense of the unthinkable?
How do you assign blame when there's no one to blame, and everyone's to blame?
How do you forgive the unforgivable?

These are all meaty questions to take on in a play. Jane Martin's "Good Boys" explores the aftermath of a school shooting. Originally produced at the old Guthrie Lab space back in 2002, the play is back again, produced this time by Minnesota Shakes at the Lowry Lab Theater in St. Paul. The five actors involved all grapple admirably with the issues and emotions tackled by the script. Some puzzling directing and production decisions undermine their good work, however.

Two men meet in the park, but not by chance. Thomas Thurman (Eric Wood) has come looking for James Erskine (Bill Gorman). Erskine is the father of Ethan (Nick James) who eight years ago killed several of his fellow high school students, including Thurman's son Marcus (Pedro Juan Fonseca) and then turned the gun on himself. Erskine's downhill slide since then has been precipitous - losing home, job, and family as the lawsuits piled up and the news reporters continued to hound him. He's chasing down his hot dog lunch with a flask of liquor. Thurman and his younger son Corin (Anthony Galloway) have come looking for answers, perhaps forgiveness, perhaps revenge. Memories of the dead boys, and their spirits speaking directly to the audience, weave in and out of the conversation between the two grieving fathers.

Here's the first place the production loses me. The script seems to be crying out to play uninterrupted. The dead boys appearing and disappearing aren't supposed to be distinct separate scenes, divorced from the confrontation between their fathers. The audience is supposed to see the fathers, ever present, whether the parents are watching or not. The past is supposed to mingle with the present onstage because these men can't escape their past. The play keeps cycling back to the notion that wars of words can lead all too quickly to wars with bullets. Having the two planes of reality share the same space is visual reinforcement of one of the play's recurring themes.

Also, once those two men are facing off with one another in the park, they can't leave. It takes all the air out of the confrontation, and the thing has to be rebooted, constantly. It doesn't make any sense that these men would wander off together and come back to the same place, over and over again. The one man clearly doesn't want to have this conversation. If he can make his escape, he will. The other man needs to hold him there. The play needs to hold him there. The places the play most strains credulity are the places where it seems like Erskine could just walk away from Thurman and not look back, and yet he doesn't. The production lands a one-two punch on the script by undermining its strengths and reinforcing its weaknesses. Here, the fathers leave and return, leave and return.

The times when the production doesn't do this, but the past and the present, the fathers and the sons, share the stage together, all work so well, I find it baffling that the strategy of isolation and escape kept happening instead. The production would have been so much more powerful if everyone had just stayed put.

To compound the lessening of tension, two musicians - a keyboardist (Jack Rose and Chris Thompson each working different performances), and a bass player (Ralph Wittcoff) - play jazzy riffs in between scenes. Not only is it letting more unnecessary time pass, but the music is so friendly and relaxing, it flies in the face of the intensity of the play. The musicians do a nice job, but they're completely out of place here.

Also out of place, an act break. This is written as a one-act for a reason. Like the Greek tragedies of old, it's supposed to start and then barrel forward, unrelenting, to its climax. Don't give your audience an opportunity to walk out on you. Yes, the audience did come back the night I was there. But going to an intermission, when you don't need to, right after a kid shoots another kid in the face on stage - when you know, from the set-up of the play, that things aren't going to get better, only worse - I'm not sure whether that makes you a sadist for expecting your audience to come back, or your audience a bunch of masochists, or both. In addition, though, it robs the play of still more tension, and just makes the uphill battle of reeling in the audience for the actors that much harder when they have to restart the confrontation all over again.

The cast members all seem capable of making this thing work. There are moments that are quite powerful in their heartbreaking intensity. The parents trying, and ultimately failing, to save their sons from their worst instincts stand out. But it doesn't seem like anybody got a lot of guidance. This is particularly true of the confrontation between the fathers, which is the backbone of the play.

The script is far from perfect. It has all the advantages and pitfalls of a two-person play, wrapped inside a five-person play. Plus, the deliberate and largely unexplained absence of the mothers from this story is very strange. Every school shooter has a mother somewhere in their life, or they wouldn't be walking around with that gun in their hand. They wouldn't exist at all. The notion of race (Erskine is white, Thomas black) seems to be thrown in at random. It's a problem when the author needs it to be a problem, and recedes to the background when it's convenient. (In a torturous bit of convoluted backstory, it turns out Thurman has a record for armed robbery, but doesn't really have a record for armed robbery. Really? The black guy has to serve time in jail, but only because of an outrageous coincidence? Was any of that necessary? What does it have to do with anything? The father's absence didn't get his kid killed. The kid's attitude and another kid's love of firearms got the kid killed.)

Then there are times in the conversation between the fathers when the script seems to be literally repeating itself. Which is when the actors and director have to dig deeper and find where the difference in tactics lies. How is this moment different than the one that came before? How is this moment leading to the next one? How is each line driving the story toward its conclusion? More importantly, how is this one man keeping the other man from walking out on a conversation they both desperately need to have? What holds the reluctant man there? How are these two things manifested in the words they say, and avoid saying, to one another? There were times it felt like the father characters had only two settings - angry and weeping. That seesaw ride can get old quickly. The fathers can't peak too early or they have nowhere else to go emotionally. For that, I don't blame the actors, I blame the director. All the actors clearly have the ability to hit the highs and lows, which means they can also handle that middle ground. It was the nuances in between that I was often missing.

All that said, there's a lot to recommend this production. The actors, as previously mentioned, dive into this thing with relish. It's a story dealing with the nature of responsibility and the possibility of redemption. Powerful stuff. It could be so much more - both in script and production, but what it is now is not easily dismissed. The troubles this play was built on continue today. This play, and this production, give us a chance to get the issues out in the open, beyond the sensationalistic sound bites of 24-hour news coverage, and spend some time with the human beings whose lives are shaped by these kind of events. It offers us some depth, and maybe some understanding. Even if theater doesn't always hit the mark it's aiming for, we're almost always better for it having tried. There is no wasted effort. Only more to do.


"Good Boys" from Minnesota Shakes runs through the Labor Day weekend - Friday and Saturday, 7:30; Sunday and Monday, 6:30. Tickets are $20, with the final performance on Monday, September 7, 2009 being a Pay-What-You-Can night. Reservations, call 651-786-9102 or email to The Lowry Lab Theater is located at 360 St. Peter Street in St. Paul. (Warning - There are several loud gunshots throughout the evening (beginning, middle and end), and it's a black box space, so it's close to the audience. Though this one's shooting blanks, it's good to be reminded every now and again just why we should be scared of real guns in the wrong hands.) More information at

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Review - Phaedra's Love - Red Letter Theater - 3-1/2 stars

“If only there’d been more moments like this...”

An Open Letter to Select Fellow Audience Members...

Dear Viewers of Phaedra’s Love,

You were warned.

First of all, the script is based (loosely) on the legend of Phaedra and Hippolytus. Her name’s in the title. It’s a legend where a woman is in love with her stepson. Granted, in most of the source material nothing ever happens between them. He’s a grown man. They’re not related by blood. It’s only technically incestuous. But it’s a story about incest.

Secondly, the script is by Sarah Kane. This playwright had a history of mental illness, depression in particular, and ended up hanging herself - while in a hospital to get treatment. (It’s all right there in your program.) What kind of a play do you think a person with that going on in their brain is going to write? Incest, bleak world view, doesn’t exactly promise a garden of posies and hand-holding now does it?

Third, they actually made an announcement over the loudspeaker in the theater when the house opened that there would be adult content. A verbal warning. At the Bryant Lake Bowl. Seriously?

During the course of the 75 minutes, someone is raped (from behind) and has their throat slit, two people commit suicide, someone has their genitalia cut off, and one person is disemboweled (and takes forever to finally die).

But what really bothered you, apparently, were the blow jobs.

Simulated blow jobs.

At no point do we actually see a human penis, mind you. (Or a butt, or even a breast.)

The masturbation (into a sock) at the top of the show didn’t trouble you any.

But the blow jobs, well, that required you to get up and leave the theater.

Which actually would have been fine.

If you hadn’t come back five minutes later.


Granted, neither of the blow jobs in question seemed like they were particularly pleasant for either of the parties involved.

And the second one seemed pretty gratuitous.

Which means (hilariously) that I must have perceived the first one to actually be germane to the plot.

But no one is particularly impressed with your righteous indignation, especially since it seems to be so incredibly short-lived.

“Well, I really can’t watch a fake blow job, but I have to see the rest of the play.”


Perhaps it was just your bladder calling you to the restroom, but the timing was fairly obvious.

Nothing - and I mean this, nothing on that stage was shocking.

Unless you’ve had your head up your own ass for the last ten years.

Between cable TV and the internet, Sarah Kane’s once incendiary taboo-smashing seems almost quaint.

So, if you know what you’re getting into, and even if you don’t, you’re not at home watching TV. If you’ll pardon the expression, suck it up, sit still, and watch the play. The rest of the audience can see you. The actors can see you. But you’re sitting in the dark. We all signed on for the same experience. Nobody cares if you’re offended. And nobody wants to watch you act out your own personal psychodrama.

Your behavior offended me far more than anything I saw on that stage the other night. Disrespect for artists and fellow audience members tends to rile me.

You were warned.
Get over yourself.

Oh. PS -

Blow me.

Now that I have that out of my system, how was the show?

Pretty damn good. The failings, I think, were more the fault of the script than the acting or directing. This was a well-executed showcase with which to launch a new theater company. Red Letter Theater couldn’t ask for a better calling card. Edgy script, regional premiere by name playwright, experienced (and in some cases also well-known) cast, sharp design - all very positive elements to have in the mix.

Heather Stone, fresh off her great work in the Fringe Festival as the title character in Sandbox Theatre’s “June of Arc,” here again plays the hapless title role in the festivities. Her Phaedra is wound pretty tight, and her impending undoing hangs like a cloud over the story at all times. Taking your eyes off her is almost impossible.

Jonathan Peterson does a fine three-part turn - first as the royal doctor, clinical and helpless; next as a well-meaning priest making a jail visitation (warning - gratuitous blow job alert); finally as the bereft and dangerously angry Theseus - home from abroad to find his wife dead and his son accused of having a large role in her fate. Peterson goes from supporting player to primal force at astonishing speed. He becomes the merciless hand of justice, and in this case justice is extremely blind, and deadly.

Nicholas Leeman has an uphill battle with the character of Hippolytus, since the playwright appears to be daring us to hate him (and the play) from the time the curtain opens. Hippolytus is slovenly, selfish, and uncaring of others’ feelings. He says and does awful things without a hint of remorse, often without even realizing their impact. Leeman’s character also got the lion’s share of the lines that had the audience gasping in disbelief, and the actor took full advantage of the ammunition he was given. The strange thing is that Leeman has the charisma that Hippolytus needs for us to buy that everyone’s so obsessed with him, but it’s almost as if he wasn’t allowed to use it. The performance is purposely tamped down, deadened, flattened out. Great for conveying ennui, not great for presenting an object of irrational desire. There are a couple of moments of genuine tenderness toward the very end when you almost like the guy (almost), but the vast majority of the time, compassion is not part of his makeup.

Here’s where it all kind of starts to come unglued - these characters are, at their most basic, just fundamentally annoying. They are people of means, of power, of leisure. It is only because they hold a lofty station in society that they have the luxury of becoming bored, oversexed, and obsessed. Boo-f*ckin’-hoo. Kane took these characters and made them human, but she also made them assholes. Poor Strophe (Larissa Shea) has the dubious honor of being the voice of reason for both her mother and stepbrother and everything she says is perfectly correct. She sees these people from the outside, and points out their absurdity. But she also leaves us no one to root for. This is where I think the script fails the actors and director. I don’t get the feeling they didn’t dig deeply enough, I just don’t think there’s any deeper to dig in this text. There is nothing noble about animals in heat, and that’s essentially what we’ve got here. It’s all instinct, no filters. People do colossally stupid things, and pay for it. But there’s no catharsis. These people aren’t falling from a great height. They’re already down in the gutter. They just poke their heads up for a moment and have them squashed back down again. They just have better clothes.

Speaking of better clothes, the design of “Phaedra’s Love” is great. The look of the production - set, props and costumes - is very sharp. When that red curtain first opens, Phaedra and Strophe are in black, head to toe, including their hair. The doctor and nurse, and all the set pieces (table, chairs, wheelchair, coat rack) are bright white. Hippolytus is in blue medical scrubs. There are red accents here and there, including a remote controlled toy car that has its own obscene cameo performance. Director David Hanzal concocted a vivid piece of design, which Megan Wannarka’s costumes and David Pipho’s wigs helped flesh out in a major way. It would be tempting to take short-cuts on the visuals when the words and acting are so central, but Red Letter wisely avoided that trap, giving the production a whole other layer of professionalism.

Not being acquainted with the script beforehand, it’s hard to tell whether the ending was a production choice or actually scripted the way it transpired. The reason I found myself questioning this is because of the way the production started. The play opens in silence, for several minutes, and nothing is explained to us. All the central characters and issues of the play, however, are made clear. Because there are no lines of dialogue, the audience is forced to watch closely, and make up their own minds who these people are and what’s going on. Because the physical language of the actors, and the visual language of the design are so clear and specific, we know what world we’re entering. It’s intense, and immediately draws the audience in.

Contrasting this silent opening, the end in this production is narrated by Phaedra (or rather, her spirit). But I had the nagging feeling that these were stage directions (very engaging stage directions, but stage directions nonetheless) being read to us, rather than actual lines. This wasn’t because of the performance. Stone gives us an anchor in the middle of the play’s final minutes of chaos by threading it all together with her voice. However, all the events of the end of the play, though chaotic, were clear without this narration. This again was partly due to acting, partly due to design. All the characters were clear from the way they were performed. Additionally, the costumes reinforced who was who - despite the fact that two of the actors were characters in disguise. The audience could tell who they were underneath. Again, we didn’t need the explanation. Even Phaedra could still appear, silently, and have her moment of reconciliation with Hippolytus, without the benefit of lines. Kane’s script, up until that sequence, never seemed to feel the need to explain itself or offer any kind of omniscient perspective, so I’m not sure I buy that she suddenly changed her writing tactics because she was worried it would be too hard for the audience to follow. Kane seems to demand that her audience pay attention and keep up. She doesn’t disregard the audience, but she gives them credit for a lot more than most scripts would. Because of that aesthetic on the part of the author, here it felt like instead it was the production which wasn’t trusting us to keep up and follow along. Whether it was indeed the script or the production’s choice, it felt strange to suddenly layer on that tissue of words over top of the action that late in the game. But there’s a lot of strange (good, bad, and indifferent) going on in “Phaedra’s Love,” so it’s probably a wash.

Phaedra’s Love” was a one-weekend only affair, ending Sunday, August 30th at 7pm at the Bryant Lake Bowl. But after seeing this, I’m very interested to see what Red Letter Theater is up to next.


More information at

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Shameless Plug of the Day - Good Boys

Thanks,, or I'd have never known this one was happening...

The Minnesota Shakespeare Company is... not doing Shakespeare this month.

Instead, they're doing a play by another playwright about whom there is a lot of speculation but very few actual facts, Jane Martin.

The play is Good Boys.

Here's a bit of info off the MSC blog...

"Good Boys centers around the patriarchs of two families--one white, one African-American-- suffering eight years after a Columbine-like school massacre. Both lost sons, one of whom was the killer.

Good Boys was written by the mysterious Jane Martin, of whom little is known except her plays. It is speculated that she is Jon Jory, who directed every Jane Martin premiere, including the Good Boys premiere at the Guthrie Theatre.

The play concerns forgiveness. In the face of terrible guilt under terrible circumstances, a father seeks another father. One is a minister who has lost his vocation in the aftermath of his son's murder. The other father tries living a life after his son killed 8 students, and himself. It is a raw, tragic story, with Hope at play's end, appearing as a nuanced possibility.

Venue: THE LOWRY LAB, 360 St. Peter St., St Paul, MN, 55199--In the Lowry Building.

Dates: Friday, August 21 Sat, Aug 22 Sun, Aug 23 Fri, Aug 28 Sat, Aug 29 Sun, Aug 30 Fri, Sept 4 Sat, Sept 5 Sun, Sept 6 and Labor Day.

Show times: Fri, Sat eves at 7:30 PM; Sundays & Labor Day at 6:30 PM
Ticket prices: $20.00, with two for the price of one Saturday, August 22, and a Pay-what-you-can performance Labor Day.

Ticket phone: 651-786-9102

Ticket email: Please include your telephone number, your preferred date and number of tickets.


From reports on the blog, they apparently had a great opening weekend crowd and discussion afterward.

The reason I'm really glad I found out about it is one of the cast members is Nick James Parker.

Nick portrayed Seth, the gay Marine who was part of the central couple in my play "Leave" last fall (in rehearsal right about this time last year). He's a big part of the reason the production was on Lavender's Top 10 List for Theater in 2008

He's a great fearless actor, and a pretty funny improv comedian when he's not hip-deep in a drama, and I'd go see him in pretty much anything.

And I'd recommend other people go see him in pretty much anything.

This would be no exception.

From the blog, it would seem he's the troubled kid with the gun and anger-management issues.

With luck, I should be able to catch their Saturday show. They run this weekend and next and then they're done.

If Nick's in it, I recommend it, sight unseen. But I'll report back once I have a chance to see it myself. Meantime, if you get a chance to see if for yourself - go.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Shameless Plug of the Day - Phaedra's Love (this weekend only)

Another, yes another, scrappy little theater company rears its head in the Twin Cities this weekend. One weekend only, blink and you miss it.

Red Letter Theater is the brain child of young director David Hanzal. And he's amassed some pretty interesting collaborators, both on and offstage for this one. Not to mention he's already landed himself a grant to help get the production up on its feet. No shrinking violet, this one. Of course, it helps to have a regional premiere by an edgy (late) playwright in your back pocket as well.

The late playwright would be the troubled Sarah Kane. The edgy play being premiered is "Phaedra's Love."

Heather Stone, fresh off her great work in this year's Fringe as "June of Arc," is in the title role.

Nicholas Leeman, who I liked a whole lot in last Fringe's "Hue and Cry" and the Urban Samurai farce "Protection Program," is playing Phaedra's incestuous object of desire, Hippolytus.

But, as the press release makes clear, this ain't yer grandma's tragedy...

The tag line for the production is "Have you ever had a love that burned you?"

(No comment)

"Phaedra’s Love is Sarah Kane’s contemporary, radical reworking of Seneca’s classical tragedy. Hippolytus (Nicholas Leeman), the spoiled prince, is driven to a reclusive life. Emotions, love in particular, and need of any type are an unbearable threat to him. His uncontrollable sexual impulse, which would otherwise draw him into contact with others, must express itself in masturbation and the humiliation of his sexual partners."


"Phaedra (Heather Stone), his stepmother, is desperately in love with him. Her drive to submit herself to the impossibility of her desire, to lose herself within it, is the opposite of Hippolytus. Phaedra’s longing for Hippolytus forms the second of the twin impulses that move this contemporary royal family towards a violent destruction."


"With additional performances by Helen Buron, Kayla Hambek, Peter Heeringa, Eva Nelson, Jonathan Peterson, Steve Ramirez, Andrew Sass, Linda Saetre, Larissa Shea, this Red Letter production will also feature wigs by David Pipho, who previously designed for the Jungle Theater’s critically-acclaimed production of Hedwig and the Angry Inch, cutting-edge fashion designs by local artist Megan Wannarka, and an original score by experimental percussionist Dylan Jack."

This, on a stage in a black box where food is being served before, during & after the show, traffic whizzes by just outside the back wall, and there's a bowling alley just beyond the theater doors.

Damn, I love the Bryant Lake Bowl. And anyone brave enough to do theater there.

So, the details...

Performances at 7pm this Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday, August 27, 28, 29 and 30. Doors at six for food and drink. At the BLB - 810 West Lake Street, Minneapolis.

Tickets $12, or $10 for students, seniors, and groups of 10 or more.

Call 612.825.8949 or go to for reservations.

More info on Red Letter Theater at

I'll be seeing it opening night, Thursday, and reporting back. But since it's the shortest of short runs, I wanted to give an early shout-out. What can I say? I'm intrigued. The first of my post-Fringe theater outings. Perhaps I'll see you there.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Interregnum 2009-2010 - Blog of the Time Between - Lonesome, Wild and Blue

So, between Fringes, all sorts of things happen, like writing plays. This one started with a song lyric, picked up a werewolf and a zombie, got performed in a restaurant, and who knows? Might even be a Fringe script in 2011, if the ping pong balls are kind. I give you, the genesis of "Lonesome, Wild & Blue: or How To Date A Werewolf"...

8/20/09 - Incubator - Where Ideas Come From
Twin Cities Daily Planet version

Incubator - Where Ideas Come From

Most of the time, it starts with a title.

Some of the time, the title comes from a song.

I get asked periodically if I have a script that's Fringe-length (over 30 minutes, under an hour).

The first time I got asked, I cobbled together four ten minute plays and came up with 2004's Dandelion Snow

One of the more recent times, I pulled a short play I last touched in 1998, and another whipped up with a friend in 2005, put them on the same bill and voila 2008's The Bronze Bitch Flies At Noon, and Dog Tag.

But I really don't have that perfectly Fringe-shaped one act in my arsenal. Most of my one acts, created by commission of one sort or another - Studpuppy, But Not For Love, Leave, Medea & Jason: Rubicon Waltz - all land in the 90 minute zone.

Most of my other ideas end up being full-length, two act affairs - Heaven & Home, The Hopes and Fears of All The Years, Love's Prick etc.

Most of my shorts were created for 10 minute play festivals, the Chicago Avenue Project and 24 hour play projects or Thirst and the Museum of Bad Art Plays. Too short to fill out a whole Fringe slot.

So I figured it was time I did something more deliberate, so the next time I get asked the question, I can say, "Why yes, I happen to have a script right here." Or two scripts, or three...

For some reason, for me, it normally starts with a title.

Some turns of phrase from well-worn songs have been dogging the corners of my mind of late, so I figured they were as good a place to start as any.

Most likely candidate at the moment...

Emmylou Harris, that great country crooner, teamed up with Del McCoury on the soundtrack to the film "You Can Count On Me" for an aching little ex-lover duet called "I'm Still In Love With You." Two people spotting each other in the crowd after a long time apart, at least one of them (if not both) going to this event quite deliberately on the chance they might run into the other. Emmylou kicks in on the second verse...

"There you are, right across the room from me
Just the way I knew you'd be
Looking lonesome, wild and blue..."

I love the idea of

Lonesome Wild and Blue

as a title for some reason

Next thing dogging me...

The Counting Crows song "The Rain King" was used by a theater out in LA as the final pre-show song before the opening of my play "Heaven and Home." About two thirds of the way through, they use the phrase...

The Burning Heart of God

I've been carrying that around in my head since the production back in 1997.

Coming in third right now...

The folk song "Stones In The Road" was sung by Joan Baez, but also by the person who wrote it, Mary-Chapin Carpenter. I listen to Carpenter a lot.

The bridge before the last verse includes...

"We drink our coffee on the run
We climb that ladder rung by rung
We are the daughters and the sons
And here's the line that's missing..."

And then the music continues with no words for four bars, the same track ticking by in the background.

I always liked that empty space

The Line That's Missing.

And on the content/substance front...

Finally, just a few days ago on the radio as I was driving home from the day job, I heard a story about town in California where a lot of Iraqi refugees were congregating. There was an English as a second language class being used as a framing device. As the story was winding down, the class could be heard in the background repeating phrases in unison...

"We are homesick"

"They are in love"

"I am hungry"

"She is nervous"

"He is confused"


If I can't make something out of that, there's something wrong with me.

Bits and pieces.

Tucked in a folder on my computer called "Fringe Project"

Guess we'll see...

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Fringe 2009 - Review - An Intimate Evening With Fotis III - 5 stars

It's Always A Good Idea To Get Intimate With Fotis

(too much? I couldn't resist the headline, sorry.)

"I was curious to see if I could keep something alive other than my cat. Cats don't count."

Mike Fotis

An Intimate Evening With Fotis III

Mom wanted to end her Fringe with a funny show, so she could leave laughing and upbeat. And really, there's no better way to do that than to watch Mike Fotis sit at a table and tell three stories while the lovely and talented Jenn Scott backs him up with improvised musical accompaniment on her upright bass. Mom loves that Mike can get a whole room full of people laughing pretty much non-stop for an hour without resorting to a lot of foul language or bathroom humor or sex jokes. (Mike would perhaps bemoan the fact that there aren't more sex stories to be told - or maybe, even for storytellers, some things are indeed private.) At any rate, Mom marvels at the way Mike can take seemingly ordinary stories - time in the Boy Scouts, procrastination stress, and caring for a new puppy - and use them as the fodder for something extremely amusing. Just this morning she was saying to me on the phone, "I should be able to do that." Yes, Mom, we all have the raw material in our lives. But just like with the best baking - it's not the ingredients, it's the cook.

"I'm gardening because it lowers my stress, and because deep inside, I'm a 70-year-old woman."

Mike Fotis just looks at life from a different angle than the rest of us. He's able to put structure around the ridiculousness of everyday life. His comedy is not the comedy of the one-liner. His insights come in paragraph form. His jokes are built of sturdier stuff than fleeting insight or turns of phrase. Even when aiming comedy at himself, or those he loves, it's not the comedy of mockery. It could be. He knows his subjects well enough to land more pointed, mean-spirited blows. He chooses not to. There's a beating heart under all this comedy. There's a longing to do better. There's an intention to get it right next time by looking at how we cocked it up this time.

"My father put his hand on my shoulder and told me, 'You can do this.' And I was f*cked."

The procrastination stress monster story is a case in point. Fotis is writing and performing a story about how he waits until the last minute to write the stories he performs. If you think about it, it's like matter and anti-matter crashing together on the same stage. The story should disappear in a puff of circular logic. Or it should be something so self-referential that it falls into the category of "art about artists" which I tend to dislike. But it wasn't. Because Fotis sees that his art isn't separate from his life, but part of his larger existence. The devastating internal critic takes aim at not just the script but his house, his pets, his appearance, and on and on. Anybody can relate to being their own worst enemy in putting things off, and letting that nasty voice in your head take over.

(Funny as that story was, imagine what he could do if he just didn't procrastinate to begin with? If he wrote for himself like he wrote for his blog or his work at the Brave New Workshop? If he started writing something without an end audience in mind, but just for himself? What might he come up with? Of course, I'm just as guilty. Come the end of all these reviews, with no production deadline staring at me - what will I be doing?)

Sorry, Mike, I think I just became both your mother, and my own, in the space of one paragraph.

To finish that digression, I should probably be careful what I wish for. Fotis is so amazing in spurts of creativity - a constant steady output might be too much for my envious heart to bear [and Mom's].

But I am mighty glad that the Fringe lottery has been regularly throwing him a new deadline each year, so we can get more of this intelligent, hilarious storytelling. Even if your presentational style is to barrel ever forward, not letting the pace slacken, it's still hard to keep an audience laughing continuously, in waves, for the full time of a Fringe show. We laugh so much we're in danger of missing the next punchline. Mike Fotis knows how to keep an audience reeling.

And with that, Mom's Fringe adventure for 2009 was complete. Six days, 30 shows, her Ultra Pass making it all just five bucks a performance. That's a very efficient bout of theatergoing she's got under her belt.

Me, I've still got 26 performances to go. Best to get on with it.

Meantime, Fotis is, of course...

Very Highly Recommended

His website -

His show page

Fringe 2009 - 10:00 Tuesday - show #30

Fringe 2009 - Life of a blogger

Filling in (some of) the blanks of a blogger's life between posts about other people's stuff...

8/18/09 - Writer On The Run (Literally)
Twin Cities Daily Planet version

8/17/09 - Decompression Day
Twin Cities Daily Planet version

7/28/09 - I'm Tired, But Not That Tired
Twin Cities Daily Planet version

7/26/09 - Germs
Twin Cities Daily Planet version - single post
Twin Cities Daily Planet version - group post

7/2/09 - Advice To The Players
Twin Cities Daily Planet version version

6/27/09 - Relay, or Where's My Duck? (aka, Boyfriend Season)
Twin Cities Daily Planet version version

3/9/09 - When I Disappear
Twin Cities Daily Planet version version

Monday, August 17, 2009

Writer On The Run (Literally)

This Friday morning, 11am, I'll see what my two trainers (both named Tim) over the last year and a half have made out of me.

I know I'm thirty pounds lighter than I was back in April 2008 when I met and started training with Tim #1. In July 2008, I bought my first pair of running shoes and started running outdoors, not just on a treadmill. That was followed by purchases of running socks (who knew there were such things?), and other running gear for when the weather turned colder. Come near springtime, I got handed off to Tim #2, who likes big goals. So he floated the idea of Ragnar's Great River Run. August 21 and 22. 24 hours. 195 miles. A relay race with a team of 12 runners. Me, Tim, and 10 others I'm only just getting to know.

At the first team meeting, we divvied up the running assignments. Each runner has a pre-determined set of three legs, of varying degrees of difficulty (Easy, Moderate, Hard, and Very Hard). After handing out the four most challenging assignments (over 17 miles total, and/or Hard or Very Hard designations on two or more of the three legs) to the really hardcore runners among us, we were determining who would pick up the next assignment in line. People were talking about their running speed, and it turned out I was next fastest (at a 9 minute mile - though Tim #2 is determined I'm going to magically hit 8-1/2).

So, that set of legs is the lead-off runner, #1.

I kick us off in Winona, MN, the starting point of the race. Cross the Mississippi River (on a bridge, this isn't a triathalon), then follow the river up along the Wisconsin side. 7.5 miles (intimidatingly labeled Very Hard) after I begin, I arrive at our first exchange point in Fountain City, WI. Then I get to stretch, maybe rest a little, and do a lot of cheering from the sidelines as the other five runners in my van, and the six in the second van, all do their first legs in the race.

Round about 9:30pm (if everyone's time holds up), we're in Stockholm, WI, and I'm heading out on leg number 13 of the race (hopefully not a bad omen). 6.2 (Hard) miles later - after dark, I'm in Maiden Rock Park, WI.

Everybody else does their second leg. Then around 7am, we're in Stillwater, MN for leg 25, my last of the race. Easy, so the label says. Only 3.1 miles this time, and I end up in Bayport, MN.

Runners 2 through 12 on my team get us all the way back to Minneapolis - Boom Island Park (700 NE Sibley Avenue). Our anchor leg runner should be hitting the finish line sometime around 3:30pm if all goes according to plan. So it's taking us more like 28 or so hours.

My brother doesn't think you should run unless something's chasing you.

When I mentioned running five miles for the first time last summer, someone asked, "Was there a bear behind you?"

I don't listen to music. I get outside so rarely, other than for the running, that I just like listening to nature, and the traffic.

I'll get 16.8 miles of that in less than 24 hours this weekend. We'll see if the charm wears off.

So think good thoughts (say a prayer, whatever good kharma you feel like throwing my way, I'll take it) around 11am on Friday, then again at about 9:30pm, and the following morning about 7am.

And drop by Boom Island Park if you happen to be in the neighborhood. Our team name is "A Team of Crazy People" - which seems apt. Our team colors are orange and black. We'll have decorated both our vans and ourselves accordingly. There are 230 teams participating in this thing, all leaving at different times, all hitting the finish at different intervals. It'd be nice to see some friendly faces among the throng.

4 days after this is all done, I turn 45. So all the expenses involved in doing this thing are sort of my milestone birthday present to myself. An event to mark the next step in the new me. A little older, but a little sturdier.

Then Tim #2 starts ruminating on what our next goal will be. (I smell a lot of free weights, perhaps a bicycle in my future.)

I got a trainer at first just to make sure I wasn't going to injure myself on all these foreign machines and unfamiliar exercises. It's turning into a sort of rebuilding, or reclamation, project. I'll never be 25, or 30, or even 40 again. But maybe I'll fall apart a little more slowly this way. After all, if I don't spend the money on the trainer now, I'll just be handing it to the doctor later. I like the gym, and the running paths, a lot more than the waiting and exam rooms.

Time to see what I'm made of.

Fringe 2009 - Decompression Day

I spent the evening of the day after Fringe with tctheaterconnection's Joshua Humphrey and his friend Nick Decker.

I was thinking this would be, you know, a part of my evening. A chat a little short of an hour, like the previous podcast I'd done about something non-Fringey.

Turns out, with 11 days, 162 shows, and three avid Fringers, there was more than an hour's chat in us. Try nearly three hours.

We decided not to focus on the things we didn't like (which were few), but to focus on the good stuff. And there was a lot of good stuff.

So here's the podcasts...

Part One

Part Two

Part Three

That turned out to be the only strictly Fringe-oriented part of my day, despite all efforts to the contrary.

I learned awhile back that diving immediately back into the world of day jobs the day after Fringe is over is too much a case of intellectual and emotional whiplash to take without at least a bit of a buffer. Thankfully, one of my day jobs provides enough vacation time to make an extra Fringe day off feasible.

My intent is always to spend such a day kicking back and cranking out a bunch of the leftover reviews that pile up by the end of the festival. Last year, it didn't happen because that day was spent driving out to Morris, MN, for the first rehearsal of "Leave." I didn't mind that one bit.

This year's distraction wasn't writing-related. I'd been off the training schedule for my running event coming up, so I got a morning run in. The car had been cranky during the festival and I knew I was overdue for an oil change, so I ran the car over to one of the local oil change in-and-out garages. The mechanics on duty said I should go to a full-service place because my "serpentine belt" was in need of replacing. Never heard of it. Trying to explain it in layman's terms, they said it was like the chain on a bicycle - if this belt goes, the car suddenly won't. The current serpentine belt was dry and cracking and not long for this world. So, off I went to a garage. While waiting on the car, I went on a stroll to see if I could get a couple of running related items I'd be needing. Luck with some, not others, so as time was growing short to prep for the event, I took the newly re-serpentined car out in search of the items. Finally got everything, but it devoured more of the day than I planned on.

Pretty soon, time for the podcast. And we're back to where we came in...

The next day, back to the workaday world...

Still got those leftover reviews staring me down. So we'll get on that now...

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Fringe 2009 - Review - Hogg & The Humors - 4-1/2 stars

Freaky Fringe Hybrid

"11 Second Dance Party!"

Artists Without Borders (aka, Jimmy Hogg and Four Humors Theater)

Hogg and The Humors

Hogg and The Humors is half talk show - half sketch comedy/improv. Half Jimmy Hogg - half the Four Humors guys (Jason Ballweber, Brant Miller, Nick Ryan, and Matt Spring). Half British - half American. And the whole thing is a hell of a lot of fun.

After a few pre-show minutes of wandering through the audience exchanging greetings, the show proper began with Jimmy, then Jason, Brant, Nick and Matt all coming out on stage to collectively "sex up" the audience. As each guy joined the line, particularly resistant audience members, or sections of the crowd, were assigned for additional sexing with someone's own personal strategy. Like much of the evening, it was random and silly, but they were all just so committed to the concept, it became progressively funnier.

Then came a demonstration of the "11 Second Dance Party." Later in the evening, the cast would call out "11 Second Dance Party!" Their tech booth person would crank up the music, and the audience was supposed to get on their feet and... well, dance. For the practice run, to be sure we were ready, they warned us not to get too enthusiastic or the risers might collapse beneath us. Mom was totally into the concept, and surprised me by rising to her feet to dance those 11 seconds away. I was thus shamed into participating in the actual 11 second dance party later in the show.

Jimmy Hogg (a returning favorite among the out of towners, solo storyteller joining us from the United Kingdom) took over the hosting table and chairs as his domain. This relegated the Four Humors guys to fend for themselves to find a place to be seated. Brant ended up on a blue yoga block, Matt got a small gray wooden bench, and Nick perched on a red plastic milk crate. Jason, meanwhile, had an impossibly small concrete block which he could only place one butt cheek on at any given time. His evening was spent being creative with positioning, and looking pained.

Hogg & The Humors continued jockeying for control of the production, but Jimmy had the set list in front of him on the table, so he resisted all efforts to hijack the hour away from him. There would be no premature 11 second dance party on his watch. Nor would they refer to the audience members "tweeting" in the front row before their appropriate time on the rundown.

After a plea from the Humors that perhaps Jimmy should translate his banter and "use American references," we got to the random improvised section of the evening. Audience members drew three different show descriptions out of a wooden box. The five H's had cut up the entire Fringe program and each little show description and picture was in the box. Matt would then struggle to read the tiny show description, and Brant would struggle to adequately describe the show photo. The options drawn by that night's audience were - The Gayer Show, The Actor's Nightmare, and Spermalot The Musical (three guesses where this is headed, and the first two don't count). Audience applause determines the winning show. Then that show gets a ten minute improv comedy preview from the Humors. This, despite the fact that the Humors had not seen pretty much any of the shows in the festival (but since each of them are in at least two or more themselves, this isn't surprising). The Gayer Show was popular (and I hear Brant Miller does a killer Les Kurkendaal impression) but the winner was, of course, Spermalot The Musical. David Shore came up on stage to play the harp for musical accompanient (no, really). Nick then asked, "Is anyone in the cast of Spermalot here tonight?"



I keep forgetting the Four Humors guys are steeped in improv comedy performance, since I'm used to seeing them doing scripted work (Fringe hits like 2006's Deviled Eggs, 2007's Bards, and 2008's Mortem Capiendum. They were on my 2006 Top 10 list because of work with new plays). But they are fearless improvisers. They dive right in and just let the weirdness pile up. The harp began to play and Nick sang out

"I am a virgin bride,
No one has been inside."

Oh man.
Of course, it just got sillier. Brant, Nick's husband, was clueless how to satisfy his new wife on their wedding night. Matt was a hapless knight in training (who, according to audience instructions, needed to have an Arabian accent - uh, forget it. We ended up with a world tour of peculiar foreign accents instead.) Knight Matt was sent on a quest for a sex manual, to help the newlyweds. Jason ducked in and out to steal some carrots, just to prove how bad a guard night Matt was. But soon Matt was mounting Jason's back to ride off in search of a sex shop. Brant and Nick became medieval sex shop proprietors, and later a sex ogre, and well, you didn't expect it to make sense, did you? The quest for the sex manual was fulfilled. Huzzah! (And now you know exactly what Spermalot The Musical is like. Not.)

Special guest artists for the night were Bob and Ashley from Ireland's
Scream Blue Murmur and the show The Morning After The Summer of Love. The chummy conversation (dueling Irish and British accents always a plus) led to a little (dark) humorous banter about the historical conflicts between Ireland and Great Britain ("Your people shipping guns to kill my people" "After you invaded our country" etc.) Murmurs of discomfort were heard in the audience. Jimmy responded, "Ooo. Politics. Very uncomfortable for Americans. We can feel the collective tightening of rectums."

After that chat concluded, Ashley was set free but Bob was retained to be the star of the big dramatic reading as part of Hogg and The Humors' "Dramaturgy" series. There apparently was a competition in New York to find the absolute worst play ever written. Boy, did they find it. And now, we would be graced with hearing it. Hogg, the Humors, and Bob performed the tragically written tale of a good suburban boy gone wrong. Think of every cliche - in dialogue, character, plot and even stage directions. This one had it all. It was wonderfully painful to sit through, and laugh at.

The evening concluded with a couple of songs from singer-songwriter Sage Price, who does the musical accompaniment for the visiting Fringe show Cherry Cherry Lemon - clever bouncy tunes called "Diligent Heretic" and "Dirty Little Secret." Nice way to cap off the show.

This kind of show can fall apart so easily, mostly because it's so loose to begin with. All lot of it depends on the guests and the success of the improv segments. But since Hogg and the Humors all know how to think on their feet and work a crowd, and they had a good structure to hang it all on, it made for a most pleasant and amusing hour. It also gave a friendly shout out to a half dozen or more other Fringe shows (beyond the ones these guys are all working on), which is a nice nod to the overall community feel of the Fringe this time of year. The best thing you'll ever see? No, but they're not trying to be. Hogg and The Humors is a great way to kick back, relax, and plug into that Fringey vibe.

I kind of hope they bring it back somehow as an annual event. In many ways, it's a perfect distillation of what the Minnesota Fringe Festival is all about.

Very Highly Recommended

Four Humors website -

Their show page

Fringe 2009 - 8:30 Tuesday - show #29

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Fringe 2009 - Review - My Body Made Me Do This - 5 stars

Another Third Rabbit Show With Lucky Feet

"I will pretend for the moment that I am not out of breath"

Third Rabbit Dance Ensemble and Varoom

My Body Made Me Do This

I'm starting to sound like a broken record where Third Rabbit Dance Ensemble is concerned. But choreographer/dancer John Munger and his dancing friends, both young and not so young, consistently deliver a varied and entertaining sampler planter of dance styles set to an eclectic selection of music, and this time, even some poetry. My Body Made Me Do This gives everyone in the ensemble a chance to take the spotlight, in pieces both light and dark in tone. It's just the latest in a series of Fringe shows I've seen from Third Rabbit - 2005's Cliff Notes For Dummies, 2006's Tales To Tickle a Striped Ass Baboon, and 2007's 62. It's good to have this welcome returning favorite from my 2007 Top 10 list back in the Fringe mix again after a year away.

The performance kicks off with "Back In The Swing" to an up tempo number by Hothead Fiasco, danced by Joseph Bingham, Natalie Brown and Cathy Wright. Munger himself takes the stage to music by David Byrne for a slow-paced eery bit called "Wrath" - in which, at one point, it seems he wants to give the audience the impression that he's sh*tting gold.

Sharon Varosh choreographed the next piece, "The Watchers: Francisco" (music by Jimmy Skinner and Odetta) in which an artist's model (Morgen Chang) gets a little bored sitting around and posing as required by the artist (David DeBlieck). Her thoughts wander to freer moves, and her body goes along, though she dutifully returns in both mind and body to her assigned place at the end. It's a fun bit of whimsy.

Munger and Cathy Wright team up on a piece called "Two Faces of Mack." Munger choreographed this one to the tune of two very different versions of the song "Mack The Knife" - the Bobby Darin pop hit from decades ago, and a more faithful, and unsettling, translation of the original Bertolt Brecht/Kurt Weill collaboration. The dance and the dancers make interesting adjustments between the two.

Cathy Wright has choreographed a Fringe show of her own Thrower of Light, and her ensemble of dancers took the stage next to give the audience a sampling of what they have to offer. It was an intense and interesting piece, in which the dancers pulled faces as well as dance moves, and seemed sometimes to be animals as much as human beings. They also cued off each other's noises as much as the music. Creepy, but pretty cool. And had the desired effect of making me what to go see what the whole show looks like. One of the many things I appreciate about John Munger's Fringe shows is how generous they are. Generous with the stage time given to other dancers. Generous with opportunities for other Fringe shows to come do a guest spot and share the audience. Generous about being plugged into the larger Fringe and dance communities. And just generous about wanting everyone to have a good time, and feel like part of the conversation, whether they have a background in dance, or if this is the only time of year they ever see it.

Munger took the stage again for "64," dancing (and hobbling) to the hit Beatles tune - a man of/near 64 himself, and still spry and mischievous, showing no signs of slowing down. Another Munger-choreographed piece, "A Way Out," was danced by Dawn Strom. A flowing tattered white garment and Iranian classical music combined with stunning movements as Strom struggled against the patterns she found herself stuck in.

The evening ended with another whimsical take, "Hippopotamus: The Ballet" staged by Sharon Varosh not to music, but to selected animal poems by Hilaire Belloc. Chang and DeBlieck return with Diane Aldis, Thern Anderson, Julia Deetz, Sher Demeter, Becky Hiest, Jenn Henry, Melanie Nomura, Jen Stuttsman and Sarah Ann Weaver. The rhythms of the poems, and the animal movements suggested by their subjects, paraded around the stage - frog, rhino, polar bear, yak, and hippo. Munger and Varosh recited the nonsensical poems in formal garb off to the side of the stage. As the pace of the poems, and the overlapping of the texts and their refrains, increased, the flurry of movement and interaction between dancers did as well. All this lead to a big, silly finish, and all without the aid of a note of music. A clever way to end a spirited evening.

If you don't want to wait til next Fringe to get more Third Rabbit, they have showcases every other month at the Bryant Lake Bowl. Check out the schedule there for more.

I look forward to seeing what they what they come up with next.

Very Highly Recommended

Third Rabbit Dance on

Their show page

Fringe 2009 - 7:00 Tuesday - show #28

Fringe 2009 - 5 Star Reviews

On a scale from 0 (Run For It) to 5 (Life-Altering Experience), here are the reviews for the best Fringe shows I've seen this year - the 5-star shows - alphabetical by show title

8/6/09 - Animal Cracker Genocide
Twin Cities Daily Planet version

8/5/09 - Axed! (The Rockstars Remix)
Twin Cities Daily Planet version

8/7/09 - Bard Fiction version

8/6/09 - Casebolt & Smith - Speaking Out!
Twin Cities Daily Planet versio

8/4/09 - Every Pastie Tells A Story
Twin Cities Daily Planet version

8/3/09 - Food Shelf Follies
Twin Cities Daily Planet version

8/3/09 - The Gayer Show
Twin Cities Daily Planet version

8/4/09 - The Harty Boys in The Case of the Limping Platypus
Twin Cities Daily Planet version

8/18/09 - An Intimate Evening With Fotis III
Twin Cities Daily Planet version

8/1/09 - Jurassic Dork
Twin Cities Daily Planet version

8/5/09 - Love Me Or Die! version
Twin Cities Daily Planet version

8/8/09 - My Body Made Me Do This
Twin Cities Daily Planet version

8/1/09 - Parry Hotter & The Half-Drunk Twins
Twin Cities Daily Planet version

8/4/09 - The Rise of General Arthur
Twin Cities Daily Planet version

8/4/09 - Tragedy of You
Twin Cities Daily Planet version

8/1/09 - Winnemucca (three days in the belly)
Twin Cities Daily Planet version

Fringe 2009 - 4-1/2 Star Reviews

On a scale from 0 (Run For It) to 5 (Life-Altering Experience), here are the reviews for Fringe shows this year that landed at 4-1/2 (Damn Near Perfect) - alphabetical by show title

8/5/09 - Applesauce Fiction
Twin Cities Daily Planet version

8/9/09 - Hogg & The Humors
Twin Cities Daily Planet version

8/1/09 - Needs, Wants, Desires!
Twin Cities Daily Planet version

8/6/09 - Oops!
Twin Cities Daily Planet version

8/5/09 - Slow Jobs - Servicing America for $12 an hour
Twin Cities Daily Planet version

Fringe 2009 - 4 Star Reviews

On a scale from 0 (Run For It) to 5 (Life-Altering Experience), here are the reviews for Fringe shows this year that landed at 4 (Excellent) - alphabetical by show title

8/6/09 - Crescendo
Twin Cities Daily Planet version

8/3/09 - Fearsome Critter version
Twin Cities Daily Planet version

8/1/09 - That Chair Was My Wife
Twin Cities Daily Planet version

Fringe 2009 - 3-1/2 Star Reviews

On a scale from 0 (Run For It) to 5 (Life-Altering Experience), here are the reviews for Fringe shows this year that landed at 3-1/2 (Good Job Plus) - alphabetical by show title

8/7/09 - June of Arc
Twin Cities Daily Planet version

8/5/09 - Livelihood
Twin Cities Daily Planet version

8/4/09 - Rumspringa - The Musical version
Twin Cities Daily Planet version

8/6/09 - Thin Mint
Twin Cities Daily Planet version

Fringe 2009 - 3 Star Reviews

On a scale from 0 (Run For It) to 5 (Life-Altering Experience), here are the reviews for Fringe shows this year that landed at 3 (Good Job) - alphabetical by show title

8/7/09 - Visions of Johanna
Twin Cities Daily Planet version

Fringe 2009 - 2-1/2 Star Reviews

On a scale from 0 (Run For It) to 5 (Life-Altering Experience), here are the reviews for Fringe shows this year that landed at 2-1/2 (Not Bad, Still Needs Some Work) - alphabetical by show title

8/5/09 - Storm Still
Twin Cities Daily Planet version

Friday, August 07, 2009

Fringe 2009 - Review - Visions of Johanna - 3 Stars

A Valiant Experiment, With Mixed Results

"Where do you tell your girlfriend you're going?"

Pont Media

Visions of Johanna

In my Top 10 List for this year, and in the Fringe-For-All coverage of this show's preview, I contended, and still do, that it's one of the lovelier pieces of writing on display in this year's festival. But it was written for two people. And it's being performed by one. Necessity may be the mother of invention, but the inventions don't always work the way you hope they will.

You have to admire writer & performer Cole T. Walsh for his "show must go on" attitude. There were literally only a half dozen people in the audience (Mom and I were two of them). Halfway through the performance, we could all hear someone behind us walk out. That's gotta be tough for the person onstage. But Walsh didn't let it phase him. He kept performing, without a pause, for the meager audience who remained. This, with the bowling alley and restaurant/bar of the Bryant Lake Bowl just on the other side of the wall, and a rather powerful air conditioning system blowing through the vents. Walsh is a soft-spoken performer, perhaps a bit too soft-spoken, but thankfully we were all up close to the front to hear (and support) him.

The decision to go it alone by Walsh hindered him as much as I imagine it freed him. Having only himself to rely on, he got it all done. But having only himself to rely on, there was no outside eye or extra set of hands to offer him perspective on how to clarify and streamline his story for an audience.

Charlie (Walsh) and Johanna (also Walsh) are engaging in what they think is going to be a one-night stand when Charlie feels a lump on Johanna's body where a lump shouldn't be. The lump turns out to be cancerous, and Johanna needs to take a leave of absence from her teaching job to battle breast cancer. Charlie ends up taking permanent leave from his girlfriend, in order to be a supportive friend (and perhaps more) to Johanna as she fights her way toward remission.

Walsh employs some interesting tactics to differentiate his male and female characters in performance. The initial tumble in the dark which turns into a medical examination is clarified by costume. Walsh has a blue plaid button down shirt half on over a red V-neck pullover. Blue side, Charlie; red side, Johanna. Charlie departs, the blue shirt drops to the floor. Simple, but effective.

In several scenes of dialogue, we get the one character's side of the conversation from beginning to end, then double back to follow the other character's end of the scene from start to finish. While it feels like this might get old, it's actually a clever way of withholding information, and the second time through is always informed by the first. Since the scene was written originally for two, there's no explaining by one character what the other is saying, so that feeling of repetition doesn't manifest and weigh things down.

Silent scenes, like sitting in the doctor's waiting room, are also cycled through twice. Charlie flips through a magazine, sitting next to a purse, looking at someone who isn't there. Then the actor slips over to the other seat, and that purse is in Johanna's lap, and she looks over at the seat beside her where the magazine lies, and we see the other side of those pointed looks and nervous smiles.

Other tactics had more mixed outcomes - Mom thought the rolling back and forth across the stage between two separate phone calls worked. I wasn't as sure.

The facing one way/facing the other two-people-in-one approach didn't work as well for the argument scenes (though playing the whole scene through twice approach noted above probably wouldn't have worked in those moments either).

Confusion over who was calling who about what in a central moment, regarding someone else's funeral, really lost Mom. I only could follow it because I was familiar with the script.

The welcome vein of humor (both light and dark) kept the story nicely grounded, and real throughout. The line "It's your funeral" has never been quite so funny as it was here. In addition, Johanna has a wacky moment when she dresses up and pads her newly empty bra with rolls of toilet paper, stating to for the mirror's benefit "My old ones tried to kill me."

There's way too much shifting of furniture. The blackouts between scenes give the story a little necessary room to breathe, but also kill a little of the momentum. Since the stage is completely bare, and the actor has plenty of room to play, leaving some chairs in place, and using area lighting to establish different locales might have helped speed things along considerably.

Walsh should probably be a bit more discerning in his choice of props as well. At the finish of the play, Johanna is supposed to be opening an envelope with her test results from the hospital - an envelope which will determine her fate. This envelope and its contents, however, were clearly a bank statement from Wells Fargo. So rather than "will she live or die?" the question was "is she overdrawn?"

Ultimately, when the writer/performer decided to go this route and be the sole actor in the piece, he should have rewritten the script with an eye to maintaining the story, but also to find ways to make a solo outing with this tale easier both to perform, and for an audience to follow. While it would be a different script, I don't think the qualities that make it such a tender, understated relationship piece would be lost altogether.

All that said, I still admire the guy for getting it out there, despite the challenges. It's a heartfelt story, and a brave performance. Hopefully he's learned enough from the experience to make it worth the price of admission. He's got two shows left this weekend. He, and this story, are worth an hour of your time.


His show page

His Fringe-For-All preview

Fringe 2009 - 5:30 Tuesday - show #27

Fringe 2009 - Review - June of Arc - 3-1/2 stars

The Woman Behind The Pearls & The Creepy Smile

"Mistakes are only mistakes if you notice them"

Sandbox Theatre

June of Arc

June of Arc is the best acting I have ever seen from Heather Stone. And I've seen some mighty fine acting from Heather Stone in the past. Her work here as June is leaps and bounds beyond that, and probably some of the best acting in the whole Fringe Festival this year. Even the times when June of Arc the show didn't thrill me, June herself had my full attention.

Mom was especially fond of the 1950s commercials they had interspersed throughout the show. They were enormously entertaining for two reasons - they were the actual texts of the original commercials, weird though they be, they were authentic (the radioactive skin cream? wow.) The other reason was the design of the commercials - all props and masks (by Ryan Hill and Derek Miller) in black, white and gray, sometimes photocopies of the original artwork. The attention to detail and crisp execution of these odd little ads was a high point. There was also creepiness in the affect of the actors and some amusing gender-bending in the roles. All this made for very pointed but funny stretches of nostalgia.

June of Arc is essentially a "one-joke" premise - the stifled housewife, here represented by the ultimate pop-culture icon, June Cleaver. The main reason the conceit sustains itself so well is that Ryan Hill's sharp writing is in Stone's very capable hands (with Hill and Lisa Moreira serving as the directing eyes on the production). I can't say enough good things about Heather Stone here. Both her physical and vocal control were astonishing. I've seen Heather turn in some pretty wild performances in the past, but this one was tightly buttoned up. The cracks in June's perfect facade are barely perceptible, but they indicate vast chasms of self-doubt and lost opportunity bubbling under her placid surface.

Hill and Stone's June is a woman who could have been a great many things - if she hadn't lived in the 1940s and 1950s. Men, and men alone, still held sway in society. Women had to know their place and learn to like it. June must find comfort in the fact that her boys will have every opportunity she has been denied. June could have been a pathetic or tragic figure. She also could have been a noble martyr. She is none of these things. She is human. She twitches under the weight of oppression, but she works within the system she's given.

Memories of an ill-fated love affair with a World War II pilot are interspersed with vignettes of June's daily life. But June is the only one who gets to speak. Her husband (Hill again) and boys Wally (Miller) and Beaver (Matthew Glover) merely grunt, and fall over. They speak different languages, and live in different worlds, even though they live in the same house. On some level, they'll never understand each other. Husband and sons go from 1950s suburban dress to more distressing costumes - homeless man, satanist punk, hospital gown, retail uniform, blood-stained military fatigues, and so on.

Once used, the costumes and props are simply dropped where they are. The debris of everyday life surrounding June - one more set of things she needs to pick up. A woman's work is never done.

I put Sandbox Theatre in my Top 10 list this year because I was excited for them to bring their act to the Fringe. They didn't disappoint. This is a perfect example of one of their productions in a Fringe-sized package. The show ran a little short, which had me wondering what else we might have learned of June. To get beyond the basic premise, the script and production would no doubt have needed more room to breathe than the Fringe might allow - at least to give it the full-on Sandbox treatment. Part of me really wanted to see them try anyway.

But for now, as is, it's an impressive piece of acting by Heather Stone in a solid production, so June of Arc is...

Highly Recommended

Their website -

Their show page

Their Fringe-For-All preview

Fringe 2009 - 8:30 Monday - show #25