Friday, July 30, 2010

Fringe 2010 - FFA2 - "Just Tell Them You're A Bat!"

This is an example of a show that had a high hurdle to clear for me during its Fringe-For-All preview, and I was pleasantly surprised when they pulled it off...


Creatures of Fancy

"Do some spelunking with Batmama and Jimmy as they welcome Mumuseleh, Popwitch and the Scientist in a musical sideshow attraction! Batmama delivers a little song, a little dance and little bats in her pants.

This campy cabaret late-night talk show features original music and an international cast of physically dynamic characters. Batmama (no relation to any bats currently on the market) invites you to 'jump in, come on, get batty' providing you with your own set of batwings and a catchy tune to do the Bat Dance with the people next to you. Explore the depths of the cult genre and find your subterranean bliss!"

This description is an improvement over the first one, used during the Fringe Lottery...

"Batmama and her musical counterpart, Jimmy, perform songs and exchange banter as Batmama tries to convince the audience she is really a bat, a star, and a mother."

For some reason that was setting off all kinds of red flags for me. And then I saw their Fringey Award video entry

No. Just. No.

The high-pitched trilling, the strange anccent, the evil laughter, the Fredericks of Hollywood Halloween outfit, the combing of the breast hair. Yikes.

I'd pretty much written the show off, even though Joel Sass, Associate Artistic Director, The Jungle Theatre, of all people had this to say in praise of them on their page...

"If I could only catch one Fringe show this season, it's going to be Batmama! Teresa Mock is talented, funny, fearless, and an artist to watch on the Twin Cities performance scene. I hope everyone hops in their Batmobile and makes the trip to her lair. Backed by her posse of retro-chic vaudevillians, Batmama is going to be a scream!"

I was bracing myself for the Fringe-For-All preview, and then a funny thing happened. I actually enjoyed it...

The trilling was still there, so was the outfit, so was the accent, but for some reason Batmama actually grows on you in a longer format. Plus, there were many goofy dance moves, and her sidekicks. The Cigarette Girl who nervously set up the keyboard and then ushered out the piano player was delightfully odd. Jimmy, tied to a rolling chair and forced to play accompanist to Batmama's musical numbers, nearly the stole the show. He's the highest maintenance hostage ever. Growing impatient with Batmama's big windup, he bellows "Just tell them you're a bat!" And when Batmama wants to move Jimmy and pulls his chair from the keyboard, he looks very put upon. "Pull the cord!" he cried as they got the keyboard in his lap. Then Batmama yanked a little too hard on his ropes and down Jimmy went on his rear, thankfully breaking the fall of the keyboard in his lap. And... off they scurried at the end of their time.

"I sense I am being upstaged," said Robin Gillette as the audience laughed when Jimmy was rolled out on his chair. Don't worry, Robin, Jimmy was upstaging a lot of people, but it all seems to be part of the master plan.

All this, and characters named Mumuseleh and Popwitch besides. I start to find all of this strangely charming. If you're going to be this weird, it's best to commit to it with enthusiasm, and that they do.

Layer on top of all that the fact that this even has some high-brow origins...

"Batmama and American Vaudeville

The tradition of busking, or street performance, is very much embedded in the fabric of vaudeville and the real life developmental journey of Batmama parellels the journey of the performers who were hawking their wares on the early 20th century vaudeville circuits. Director/performer Teresa Mock began developing Batmama while she was broke and busking as a singing mermaid on the banks of the Thames. At the time she was also studying at LISPA (London International School for Performing Arts), a Lecoq-based physical theatre training program. In response to a provocation offered by an instructor to come to class as a "creature of the night" for an exploration of the cabaret genre, Mock arrived with batwings sprouting from either side of her head and no further plan. The act she presented began as nothing more than a chirping sound and a bizarre get-up, but before an audience Batmama began to emerge.

Performers of the vaudeville era sought to push the boundaries of performance and took great personal and artistic risks in doing so. Batmama takes its own liberties by merging the musicality and mood of a campy cabaret with the structure and form of a late night talk show. The character of Batmama herself largely draws influence from the "cult genre" (see also Pink Flamingos, Hedwig, Rocky Horror Picture Show, Myra Breckinridge as well as stars like Mae West and Marlene Dietrich.) Vaudeville was a performance institution that, unlike the traditional theatre houses and opera of the day, often features the acts that prized the unique personalities of individual performers, and it is with that spirit of ingenuity that Batmama is presented. Batmama celebrates the best of what the old vaudeville shows had to offer: a fierce sense of humanity, originality and sensationalism."

Go, Batmama!

Their Fringe page

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Interregnum 2009-2010 - Blog of the Time Between - Leave

Yup, the gay Marine play is back. And I have an artistic home. Weird. So, we begin the march toward my first production with Urban Samurai Productions, a new full-length version of "Leave, or The Surface of the World," which kicks off their 2011 season next February...

7/29/10 Taking The Rules For Granted
Urban Samurai blog version

7/17/10 A Picture's Worth A Thousand Words
Urban Samurai blog version

7/16/10 Incubator - Leave - A Picture's Worth A Thousand Words
Twin Cities Daily Planet version

6/23/10 This Is How Plays Don't Get Written
Urban Samurai blog version

6/17/10 The Beginning Is The End, The End Is The Beginning
Urban Samurai blog version

6/3/10 What's A Minnesota Playwright Doing In Omaha?
Urban Samurai blog version

4/29/10 Ice Cream
Urban Samurai blog version

4/22/10 The Gay Thing
Urban Samurai blog version

4/16/10 Structure
Urban Samurai blog version

4/8/10 Plotting It Out
Urban Samurai blog version

4/5/10 New Season, New Play - Kicking Off Urban Samurai's Season 2011
Twin Cities Daily Planet version

4/1/10 Picking A Play Apart
Urban Samurai blog version

3/25/10 Impending Hard Drive Failure
Urban Samurai blog version

3/11/10 Bright Ideas
Urban Samurai blog version

3/11/10 The Accidental Board Member
Urban Samurai blog version

Fringe 2010 - FFA2 - "This Whole Thing Has Been An Adult Evening..."

Another pleasant surprise at Fringe-For-All...

An Adult Evening of Shel Silverstein

Evil Temptress Productions

"Lacey Piotter and John T. Zeiler take you through the darkly comic adult world of Shel Silverstein, a world where nothing is as it seems and where the most innocent conversation can turn menacing in an instant.

A bag lady in training?
60 words for boobs?
Auctioning of a woman at her own request?
A dead pony for a birthday present?
The punishment for not reading the fine print?

Seven different talented local directors (Claire Avitabile, Mike Davidovich, Mary Fox, Ariel Pinkertson, Duke Piotter, Eric “Pogi” Sumangil, Nicole Wilder), seven different twisted vignettes, 14 characters, and 2 actors."

Lacey just isn't busy enough this Fringe acting in her own play In The Weeds for The Flowershop Project. She needed a two-person show to really wear herself out completely.

Who knew Shel Silverstein was such a sick, amusing bastard? Clearly, I'm not up on my children's literature. Not that these are kid's stories...

The "dead pony as a birthday present" scene gets progressively funnier and more twisted the longer it goes on (and that was just three minutes worth). The actors are enjoying the hell out of the material and deliver it sharply, so we can enjoy the hilarious inappropriateness of it all. Daddy is giving his little girl the worst birthday ever. And it's wrong, but you gotta laugh.

This was the next to last preview of the Fringe-For-All night and Robin Gillette's comment during the introduction, "This whole thing has been an adult evening..." was not off the mark. It was good to have Shel's dark sense of humor to bring us home.

See for yourself...

Fringe-For-All preview

Fringey Awards video entry

Their Fringe page

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Fringe 2010 - FFA2 - A One-Man Hootenanny

Still more entertainment in unexpected places at the Fringe-For-All...

The Big Four Oh: 40 Jokes, Poems and Stories by Brian Beatty

Brian Beatty

Droll witticisms performed for the entertainment of people seated in the dark.

"One of my favorite Minneapolis comics. Odd, endearing, adored by hipsters and Wobegonians alike." - Maria Bamford

"A comedy force wrapped in a riddle trapped in a paradox dressed in a bear suit." - McSweeney's Internet Tendency

"Weird, dark, twisted, hilarious." - METRO Magazine

"Brian Beatty works with both a scalpel and a hammer. He's a dry wit who isn't above the occasional bawdy one-liner." - Dessa

“I never recommend things done by people who defeat me in Literary Death Matches, but if you miss this show you will have made a serious fucking mistake.” - John Jodzio

"Brian does more in four lines than most of us do by five p.m." - Opium Magazine

[Blogger note - I misread this more than once as "Brian does more than four lines (of coke)..."]

"A one-man hootenanny. You never know what you're going to get, but it's always entertaining!" - Mary Mack

Droll is indeed the word.

Actually, the combination of testimonials above give you a good feel for the kind of material you're in for.

"He's nervous, so be nice to him," warned Robin Gillette in her introduction.

What does this guy have to be nervous about? If he's got nerves, he hides them well. He just strolled out and started chatting up the audience, willing to patiently ride the waves of their response. You get the feeling you're definitely in good hands with this guy. He knows where he's going and he's in no big hurry to get there, but he's not dragging along either. The pace is just right.

There will be no dick jokes, we are told. However, there will be dick poems.

The delivery and tone of the material are reminiscent of another Fringe comic - Ben San Del. A large economy size, hairier version of Ben San Del. Or perhaps Ben is a fun-size, less hirsute version of Brian. (I just knew Ben first, that's all, so he gets to be my comedian yardstick.)

Originally, the Fringe lottery version of the show description promised to unfold the many ways in which he'd wasted and/or ruined the first four decades of his life. To which my thought was, no thank you. But now that I've seen him in action, I'm more than a little curious to hear more. This is no one-man self-pity marathon. This is another guy who knows how to mine the absurdities of life for humor, and that's always welcome.

Check out the videos below and judge for yourself.

Fringe-For-All preview

Some (site-specific) toilet humor

Brian Beatty’s Toilet Comedy from METRO Magazine on Vimeo.

Fringey Award video entry

His Fringe page

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Fringe 2010 - Random Oddities

Here's a bunch of handy links to all the write-ups on Fringe acts that, for whatever reason, struck me as strange (but interesting...)

Ballad of the Pale Fisherman - Isabel Nelson (Seals Who Turn Into Women, and the Men Who Love Them) - 7/5/2010
Twin Cities Daily Planet
Single White Fringe Geek

Bedroom Eyes - Junkyard Theater (Creepiest. Panda. Ever.) - 7/7/2010
Twin Cities Daily Planet
Single White Fringe Geek

Bloddeuwedd - Mark Hunter (Woman, Made From Flowers, Turns Into Owl) - 7/3/2010
Twin Cities Daily Planet
Single White Fringe Geek

EWOCs Do It In 10 Minutes - The Unit Collective (Cheekiest Star Wars Reference. So Far.) - 7/1/2010
Twin Cities Daily Planet
Single White Fringe Geek

The Selkie - Scotia Productions (Seals Who Turn Into Women, and the Men Who Love Them) - 7/5/2010
Twin Cities Daily Planet
Single White Fringe Geek

Skinny Dipping - Not Your Mama's One Woman Show - Shanna Shrum (Drag Show Without The Drag Queen?) - 6/30/2010
Twin Cities Daily Planet
Single White Fringe Geek

Stay Carl Stay - Berxco Theatrical (Underdog Show, This Time With Actual Dog Included) - 7/24/2010
Twin Cities Daily Planet
Single White Fringe Geek

Fringe 2010 - FFA2 - World's Cutest Corpse

Another pleasant surprise in the Fringe-For-All previews...

Happy Sauce

Plywood Productions

"Rudolph Happy is a kid with a dream. He has invented an amazing tasting sauce that is sure to win him fame, fortune and (most importantly) recognition from the girl of his dreams. But on the day of the big meeting with a potential investor
(a paranoid used car salesman fearful he's being targeted by Al Qaeda), Rudolph's roommate suddenly drops dead after one bite of the sauce. Now, Rudolph and his best friend are in a race against time to solve the mystery of the sauce before their dreams reach an expiration date."

Well, it's a new play, but not fresh out of the wrapper, because this is to be the midwestern premiere. It's been done elsewhere (east?), and managed to land some online coverage...

"Pleasantly saucy, zany and over-the-top, Happy Sauce is a fast-paced satirical farce driven at turbo speed...a roller coaster of one crazy event after another...before you know it, you feel exhausted from the ride."

"Genuinely clever...caustic satire"

"A tale of greed, addiction and love...high energy and hilarious...

Playwright/performer Ben Lewis (the blond in the video below) was joined in the preview by Eric Powell Holm. After several years immersed in the classics with Shakespeare on the Cape, and The Strange Capers, I have to say it was weird (but fun) to see Eric onstage saying something that wasn't in iambic pentameter written several hundred years ago. Also along for the ride, Ben Gansky, aka The World's Cutest Corpse, who started the preview by wandering out, tasting the Happy Sauce (no, that's not a euphemism), and then promptly falling down dead without saying a line. Wacky antics ensue with Eric and Ben Lewis (the non-dead Ben), as they try to figure out how to work around a dead body in the kitchen when meeting with a potential investor for the (deadly) Happy Sauce. Suddenly, the World's Cutest Corpse lurches back to life and gives us the cliffhanger questions, "Will the mystery of the sauce be solved?" etc., concluding with "Find out all this and more at Happy Sauce. RARIG. ARENA." Then the World's Cutest Corpse drinks in the applause and flirts a little (shyly) with Robin Gillette on his way offstage because, hey, dead guys need love, too.

Fringe For All preview

Their facebook page

Their blog -

Their Fringe page

Monday, July 26, 2010

Fringe 2010 - Fringe-For-All #2 - A Kids Show Loaded With Great Fringe Vets

Another Fringe-For-All preview that pleasantly surprised me was...

Story Time Time Bomb

Snikt! Bamf! Thwip!

"Noted children's book authors Tim and Chris must write and illustrate their next book before the show is over and they are going to need all they help they can get, including yours!

This interactive improvisational show will engage the children in the audience in the process of creating the show. What will the hero will be doing? Who will she be meeting? What obstacles will she have to overcome? Kids finally get to write their own fringe show (with a little help).

When the show is over, they won't just have a brand new story, they'll be able to see the cover of the book that goes with it!

Tim Wick and Christopher Jones have been writing comedy sketches together for nearly ten years. Tim is a local comedian and musician and Christopher is a professional Comic Book artist with DC and Marvel. This is their first full length show for their production company Snikt! Bamf! Thwip!"

This was a pretty funny preview. Very meta, "OK, in the amount of time I just had to take to explain that to you, we now have 2-1/2 minutes left of our preview time"

Art on a deadline. Christopher has a nice drawing style (since he's a comic book artist, that shouldn't come as a surprise). He and Tim have a great way of bantering with and playing off of one another. Since they have their roots in improv, it all seemed very natural and believable, not the least bit awkward or staged. When Tim stalked off after Christopher had screwed up the audience's suspension of disbelief, Christopher's harried excuse for exiting, "He's my ride. I gotta go!" was a fun way to conclude things and get off stage.

What surprised me on further investigation was the all-star cast of supporting players on this one. You've got the wonderful Amy Rummenie of Walking Shadow in the director's chair. You've got improv comedy guru Butch Roy on sound. You've got Matt Alex who was part of the ensemble of Streaming Twin Cities back in Fringe 2007. And the inexhaustible Jenn Scott, doing not one, not two, not three, but four Fringe shows this year. Damn. Bonus points, Tim and Matt are also heavily involved in Vilification Tennis. Ah, Vilification Tennis. My old Fringe-For-All buddy.

The kids shows are really bringing out the big guns this year. Good for the kids, and making us adults a little envious. Well done.

They did an interview with Behind The Fringe. Wow, another Fringe offshoot to follow? This theater thing we've got going will not be contained.

Their Fringe-For-All preview

Their facebook page

Their Fringe page

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Fringe 2010 - FFA2 - Bad Teddy, Bad Teddy

Another Fringe-For-All preview that pleasantly surprised me was...

Bad Deeds Done Bad


"Have you ever had a good friend give you bad advice? Nolan's friend is a teddy bear who tells him to shoot his father in the leg. A dark and fuzzy comedy.

If 'August: Osage County' and 'Avenue Q' had a drunken one night stand, they might have produced this darkly comic family drama."

So I guess the "Avenue Q" parent is responsible for the DNA that caused the lead character to fondle his own nipples using a teddy bear, while wielding a pistol.

And the "August: Osage County" parent caused the two female characters to don slinky red dresses, cart around martini glasses, and generally perpetuate family dysfunction.

This was just... weird. Intensely goofy, mildly threatening and... weird. But in a good way, an entertaining way. When an actor came out to give voice to the evil teddy bear and interact with the gun-wielding teen, well, it got weirder, and more fun.

Is it a little rough around the edges still? Sure, but it still definitely feels like one of those Fringe shows to kick back and enjoy the ride.

I just need to resist the continual urge to keep amending the title to

Bad Deeds Done Bad-ly

Watch for yourself...

Their Fringe-For-All preview

Their Fringe page

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Fringe 2010 - Underdog Show, This Time With Actual Dog Included

OK, not a real dog, just an actor playing a dog.

Hmmm... an actor playing a dog... where have I heard that before...?

Oh yeah...

Clearly they're targeting the right blogger.

"Dogs may be Man’s Best Friend, but who knew that they were also Woman’s Best Boyfriend? Caroline trades in her demeaning, bullying beau for a dog named Carl, who quickly learns how to dance, talk and win his mistress’ heart. A satiric look at the perils and pitfalls of love, sex, relationships, therapy and pet-ownership … and not necessarily in that order. Please note: No animals were harmed in the making of this production, but the actors did have to miss a couple of meals."

Plus, who doesn't love a good Fringe underdog story? Not that most Fringe acts aren't underdogs, but this one's really coming down to the wire (I can't top the press release this time)...

Fringe Show Squeaks in by the Skin of Its Canine Teeth

The Minnesota Fringe Festival show, “Stay Carl Stay,” squeaked into the Fringe at the last possible moment. Its cast and crew never lost hope and plowed ahead with their production even before they had actually secured a slot in the festival.

The producers and cast of the Minnesota Fringe Festival show, “Stay Carl Stay,” didn’t actually have a slot in the festival until this week – months after most of the other 160+ shows had captured slots. But that didn’t slow them down. They secured the rights to their show – written by former Brave New Workshop performer and Emmy-winner Peter Tolan – cast the show, gathered props and started rehearsing … long before they actually had officially made it into the festival.

“We were number 31 on the waiting list after the Fringe lottery last February,” said co-producer John Gaspard. “People with past Fringe experience told us that we were a shoo-in, as upwards of 50 shows would drop out before the Fringe actually starts on August 5th.”

Despite that rosy prediction, the move up the waiting list was painfully slow and, after several months, the troupe finally found themselves at the number 3 position on the waiting list. “We decided at that point to bite the bullet and just start,” said Gaspard. “We rolled the dice that we would get in and we did – but at the last possible second.”

Although they had moved up to the number one slot on the waiting list by last week, a new hurdle was looming on the horizon. After Tuesday, July 20, the Fringe was going to abandon the rankings on the waiting list. If a slot became available after that point, it would go to the first producer who answered a mass e-mailing.

“It basically would have put us back in a lottery situation,” Gaspard explained. But fate intervened and at the eleventh hour a group coming from overseas for the festival was denied their visa … and a slot became available for “Stay Carl Stay.”

“We were able to hit the ground running,” said Gaspard, “because we had our cast in place, had our props, set pieces, and PR materials ready.”

And what if they hadn’t gotten in? “We were already planning a one-time performance for our friends and families,” Gaspard admitted. “But we much prefer being in the Fringe instead.”

This will be the area premiere of “Stay Carl Stay.” Written by Peter Tolan (co-creator of “Rescue Me,” Emmy-award winning writer of “The Larry Sanders Show,” “Analyze This!”), “Stay Carl Stay” is the story of Caroline, who trades in her demeaning, bullying beau for a dog named Carl, who quickly learns how to dance, talk and win his mistress’ heart.
The play is a satiric look at the perils and pitfalls of love, sex, relationships, therapy and pet-ownership … and not necessarily in that order.

The play features Amy Shomshak, Kelli Gorr, Joel Raney, Dorian Potter, and Nathaniel Nesheim-Case as “Carl.” It was directed by Scott Gilbert. Produced by John Gaspard and Dan Berks.

[Blogger note - one of my favorite things about this whole scenario, their motto...]

Berxco Theatrical: "We're not really a theater company. We just act like one."

Their Fringe page

Friday, July 23, 2010

Fringe 2010 - FFA2 - From the other Manhattan, in Kansas...

Proving once again that Fringe recommendations can come from far away places indeed...

Blake E. Bolan, part of the brain trust behind Savage Umbrella, which produced Love Me Or Die, #1 on my 2009 pre-Fringe Top 10 list, and one of only two shows in the Fringe I saw more than once because I loved it so... Blake, who was also part of what made my little blue foot play Two Left Feet so wonderful as part of the Museum of Bad Art Plays at the Bryant Lake Bowl last year, emailed me out of the blue to say...

"I'm writing from the other side of the world: I'm teaching English/adventuring in South Korea, and I'm missing the Fringe vibe like you wouldn't believe."

And then proceeded to sing the praises of an out-of-towner group which had a pretty spiffy video as part of the Fringe-For-All previews on Monday...

The show...

living traces - burning breath

The group...

The Manhattan Experimental Theater Workshop

Why Blake loves them so (and why I'm so keen now to see them for myself)...

"They are a group near and dear to me, they're to blame for getting me performing, writing, and thinking the way I do.

The Manhattan Experimental Theater Workshop is an educational program based in Manhattan, KS that teaches experimental and avant garde theater to high school students. After studying movement and staging techniques, as well as reading some of the masters, the students choose a well-known story to write and perform under the influence of the styles they have studied.

When I was 13 years old, I signed up, not having a clue what I was in for. By the end of the first day, we had sweat, we had wailed like banshees, we had read Artaud and Foreman, and little did I know, my life had changed forever. Needless to say, all of my current passions in the arts are tied directly to what I learned in the years that I wrote and performed with that group, and later when I went back to direct.

The group performs in the first week of the Fringe, since they are an out of town group, and if you had a chance to see their work, I think you wouldn't regret it. I know you're a buuuuusy bee during the Fringe, but I wanted to give you a head's up. Their intelligence and hard work are a delight."

Show description...

"In living traces - burning breath a group of wickedly intelligent young artists

("Is there any other kind?" commented Robin Gillette when reading their introduction.)

explore the story of Aladdin and the Magic Lamp from the Arabian Nights. Using the techniques of Ntozake Shange, Betsuyaku Minoru, Harry Kondolen, Peter Handke, and the dadaists, they have created a collage of provocative works full of fascinating soundscapes and movement that defies physical limitations- pushing their minds and bodies to the edge to create a performance of astounding passion and infectious abandon.

Wealth, Regret, and Sacrifice, explores the confusion of Aladdin's mother as she tries to reconcile her son's behavior towards her with her hopes and sacrifices for him.

The Sword in the Bed, explores interpersonal relationships and how they are affected by shared trauma, dissonant memories, and ritual as Aladdin and his wife discover an old relic that dredges up uncomfortable memories from the past.

In I Tell, Scheherazade tells of her personal struggle to defeat the Sultan, whose revenge hardened heart consumes him, threatening the lives of women everywhere. She uses rhythm and dance to conjure characters for her stories and survive in a world where greed begets power, as power begets greed.

The Manhattan Experimental Theater Workshop (MXTW), created by Dr. Jim Hamilton, professor of philosophy at Kansas State University, in 1989, is a program of the Arts Center of Manhattan, Kansas. It is a 5-week workshop for high school students. Part classroom and part production-company, participants study various styles of avant-garde theater, then write and perform original pieces under the influences of the styles they have studied. MXTW empowers participants to make strong creative choices, engaging an audience as abstract, intelligent, and innovative as they are. MXTW will astound you with their perception, innovation, and passion."

(So, they're not shy.)

Considering some artists' DVDs sent to the Fringe didn't work at all, and others, while entertaining, had wonky sound quality at best, The Manhattan Experimental Theater Workshop's video preview was all the more impressive. Well edited, with some low grade special effects, a combo of video and still photos, with lots of subtitles, it guided us through their process of gathering and studying and creating a show, all in under 3 minutes. The only "live theater" accident of fate was the fact that the blacks on the stage were hung in such a way that they bunched up in the bottom left corner of the screen, which is the corner of the screen were most of the subtitles started. So "We did this," or "We did that" came off looking like "e did this" and "e did that." No worries, the audience was able to suss it out for themselves.

The process involves the study of high-brow theater names I haven't heard or used in conversation since grad school, if then. All of which might be a warning sign that the whole thing was hopelessly pretentious (not to mention the "we're too cool to use capital letters, just like e.e. cummings" title). But I trust Blake's assessment. And the slickness of the video presentation is equally impressive in their favor. If they can get their act together enough to trot out media like that, imagine how finely tuned the show is likely to be.

I haven't a clue what the heck their show publicity image is supposed to be. Since the show deals with Aladdin it could be three gizmos for the three wishes. They don't look like three magic lamps (and besides, there was only one lamp). The piece is in three parts so it could be representative of that. Maybe we should have a guessing game and then corner one of the artists and force them to tell us. And then I'll feel foolish because it's so painfully obvious that I'm missing it.

Their blog -

Their YouTube channel -

Their facebook page

Their website -

Their Fringe page

Fringe-For-All preview video

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Fringe 2010 - FFA2 - A Dracula Musical That Doesn't Bite

Another Fringe-For-All preview that pleasantly surprised me was...

Dracula's Castle

Top Hat Theatre

"Locked inside Dracula's domain, chilling secrets unveil. Delicious discoveries drip from Transylvanian walls as this musical montage surrenders secrets of why the school children are disappearing one by one..."

So... Dracula as a metaphor for pedophiles? Or child-abducting serial killers?

Sorry, that's what the publicity blurb makes me think.

Of course, Dracula as theater for young audiences doesn't exactly click for me either, but the company has a track record of knowing what they're doing, at least in terms of pulling in a crowd...

"2008: Voted Runner Up for Best Children's Theater in the Twin Cities! ~MN Parent Magazine

2008: Robin Hood The Musical (#7 in the Minnesota Fringe Festival attendance)

2007: Voted Best Music for Kids in the Twin Cities! ~MN Parent Magazine

2007: Hansel & Gretel (#5 in the Minnesota Fringe Festival attendance)

2002: Cinderella (#2 in the Minnesota Fringe Festival attendance)"

And they do know how to put on a preview.

I was all set to write this one off as a kids show and then...

Dracula started singing.

In a welcome trend of not repeating the volume issues of Fringe-For-All 1 last week at the History Theater, most artists this time around could be clearly heard, and without the aid of microphones.

Dracula (Josiah Gulden) has (you'll pardon the pun) a monster set of pipes. A really impressive, hall-filling voice.

I'm not sure if the young lady he was intent on seducing was Mina (Quinn Shadko) or Lucy (Emily Temple) (not a school child by the way, so I'm still a little puzzled by the kiddie angle in the publicity) but she also had a lovely voice and they blended well together. I think the dissonant note at the end between them was intentional (after all mixed marriages between humans and monsters never work out.)

Basically, your standard-issue Dracula scenario,
"Haven't I met you before, several centuries ago?"
"Oh, I can't, I really can't, OK maybe just a nibble."

And given the period costumes and the cape and the booming voices, I kept expecting someone to bust out with "The PHAN-tom of the opera is there... inside my mind." But they refrained (again, no pun intended)

I'd go just to hear Dracula and his lady friends sing. That's some good stuff.

Always a plus in the Fringe musical when the performers can actually sing.

Fringe For All preview video

Their website -

Their Fringe page

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Fringe 2010 - Internet Withdrawal - Scheduling Overload

Halfway through the evening yesterday, I lost the internet connection at my apartment. Clearly I've been spending too much time online blogging and sorting through the Minnesota Fringe website lately, because I couldn't think of a thing to do with myself.

Here's a thought, your play that you're rewriting isn't online.

There are these things called books.

Radical suggestion, maybe go to sleep at a decent hour.

The internet connection issue was still present this morning. Sigh.

So much for getting a jump on blogging, perhaps stockpiling some entries to dole out over the next few days, keep ahead of the curve.

This new bookmarking feature on the Fringe website is mighty handy. Once you sign in, if you visit a show page you like, you can bookmark it. There's a little link you can click on that appears right under the title of the show with a little heart next to it. Then later just look at your page of bookmarks, rather than have to search the whole site or look at the monster listing.

Of course, this only works effectively if you are capable of narrowing down your options.

Which, apparently, I am not.

After I got done flipping through all the shows and the Fringe program, I realized I had 117 bookmarks.

(When you stop laughing, I will continue...)

OK, so that's more than two-thirds of the festival listings.

Of which I could only see less than a third originally anyway.

So there needs to be a little more ruthless hardcore winnowing done.

Some of them will fall away easily ("Hmm, that looks interesting...").
Others will be painful ("But I really wanted to see that...").

I'd already mapped out a preliminary schedule for the first seven days when Mom's here, based on her favorites, and things I think she'd like.

Revisiting that, there were already some changes to be made. Previews and other research have made some shows must-see that weren't on my radar before. Other previews and research made me think "eh, not so much..." on a few others. Plus there's just the logistics of getting from one place to another to take into account.

I have to say, the Fringe scheduling grids you can download this year are enormously helpful. I didn't notice til yesterday that they clump venues together by location - NE Mpls, St. Paul, Uptown, West Bank. Very handy. Well done, Fringe staff! My directionally impaired brain thanks you. (Mom's better with sense of direction, but I'll only have her the first seven days of the festival. After that, I'm on my own.)

OK, day job now. Online noodling later.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Fringe 2010 - Fringe-For-All 2 - Unscheduled Zombie Singers On The Sidewalk

This preview wasn't even part of Fringe-For-All, officially anyway. A gathering of teenagers in zombie makeup greeted those of us exiting the Ritz after Fringe-For-All #2 last night, greeted us with postcards - and song.

Zombie High School

Late Night Menu

"The Zombie Apocalypse has come and gone, and now the undead and humans are trying desperately to coexist. A young human student, Maggie Mulligan, decides to brave all obstacles and become an exchange student at a high school for zombies in order to learn more about their culture. However, in the folly of youth, Maggie ends up biting off more than she can chew.

Local a cappella group Late Night Menu takes you on a 100% unaccompanied a cappella musical through Maggie's adventures. Their golden pipes will tickle your fancy throughout terrifying moments, delicious zombie-on-human romances, haunting throwbacks to the civil rights movement, and stunning vocal percussion from an undead principal.

This show would be perfect for the following:

-zombie-lovin' Minneapolitans

-musical theater junkies

-a cappella enthusiasts

-teenagers, young adults, parents of cast members [Blogger's note - hee]

-horror movie fanatics

-college students

-civil rights activists and historians


The Twin Cities has a huge a cappella scene, and Late Night Menu is excited to bring this type of music to the fringe festival in the form of zombies, one of Minneapolis' famed obsessions. Their overall humorous production has surprising depth through nods to relevant political, social and racial issues, characters full of heart, and song and dance that will set your heart a-flutter.

This show was written for people who can't resist a good musical, and who can't resist a good zombie play. Come one come all. Also, BRAINS!"

Zombies squick me out. I'm not entirely sure why. I'm not a big fan of horror films anyway. Blood and entrails and death don't really provide me with any thrills or catharsis. I'm more an emotional rather than physical consequences kind of guy. The sort of monsters I can handle are the TV variety - Buffy, Angel, The Vampire Diaries, Twilight (ok that's a movie), Supernatural, True Blood (though those last two are pushing my comfort envelope more than a little). I can deal with vampires and werewolves, apparently. But zombies throw me for a loop.

So why I'm currently writing a play that features a zombie, I haven't a clue. Since there isn't currently any flesh or brain-eating going on, that may be helping.

If you type "zombie" into the Search function on the Fringe website, you get not one, not two, but three hits. The high school noted above, a collection of short plays called Eat My Zombie Shorts!, and, on a tangent, Kill Will - Oh no, not more Shakespearean Zombies!

Zombie normally equals "no" in my book, automatically, without question. I'm a pussy.

But the singing of these high school zombies is really good. (There were two songs they cycled through - I forget the title of the second one but the first was an upbeat ditty called, "Welcome To The End of the World" - no really, it was bouncy.)

They're a group that's used to working together, so the musical bits I heard on the sidewalk, and in the video clips below, impressed me. Good music in a Fringe musical is always a plus.

And it makes the zombies a bit easier to take, though of course I'm sure it still all ends badly (plot-wise, I mean). The singing makes me want to give it a chance, though.

They know music, but do they know plot? I wonder about the script, (or the story, if it's all just music).

But the music is so entertaining, I almost don't care. I may give it a go regardless.

They were smart to have their little impromptu concert. It made me give them a second look.

Also worth a look, their training in a zombie workshop

The ballad Don't Lose Heart. The camerawork on both the songs has a tendency to cut off heads, which is amusing, given the subject matter...

And this one has "perky opening number" written all over it - Everything's Going To Be Great! - stay tuned at the end for rehearsal banter, and a lingering boob shot (oops)...

Their website -

Their Fringe page

Fringe 2010 - FFA1 - Shows That Get Physical You Knew I'd Like

In the category of "shows that I liked which will surprise absolutely no one" there is of course a subcategory of "Shows That Get Physical" (aka, that brand of physical theater everyone keeps talking about, covering a spectrum from mime and clowning to dance, all wrapped up in some kind of theatrical storytelling)

Waiting For Biffy

Kirsten Stephen, Dean Hatton & Renee Howard

"Come experience an imaginative, visual world of physical theater where a disco soldier dazzles his enemy, lovers fall prey to the power of the flower and desperate hippies are Waiting for Biffy!"

A fellow blogger astutely pointed out part of the strategy for keeping things original here. They keep adding a new person each year. At least the first year I finally saw him, Fringe 2008, it was Dean going solo with Silent Poetry. He was part of my pre-Fringe Top 20 that year, and ended up with a five star review from me, and equally complimentary praise from his audiences. A Returning Favorite in Fringe 2009, he had his performing partner Kristen back from the war (that's not a euphemism. She was literally in the Middle East) for Silent Poetry 2, which I unfortunately missed, but which audiences again embraced wholeheartedly

This year, they've added Renee, who was present as part of the preview of Waiting for Biffy. Their standard waist-high black frame for handy appearances and disappearances, and handful of optical illusions. Their usual energetic music. And a quest for toilet paper, or at least to be the one who ended up in possession of the toilet paper. Elevators, escalators, a lot of furious running in place, hands comically appearing halfway across the stage to nab the roll of toilet paper from their unsuspecting prey. It was a tidy little preview that shows what they're up to. I'm curious to see what new scenarios they have in store this year. Sure to be a combination of the comic and the sentimental, both most welcome.

They also filmed a video preview in an actual location, with props they didn't need to mime.

Their website -

Their Fringe page


Ballad of the Pale Fisherman

Isabel Nelson

"What happens when a fisherman falls in love with a woman who happens to be a seal? Faced with the dueling calls of land and sea, which will she choose?

Ballad of the Pale Fisherman is a re-imagining of the Irish/Scottish folktale of the seal-woman, or selkie. In this timeless fable, a fisherman falls in love with a beautiful seal-woman, and takes her as his wife. But a love that defies the laws of land and sea is never simple (see: Little Mermaid, The), and the seal-woman must eventually make a choice borne of betrayal and self-sacrifice. Will she choose her past or her future, her heart or her home?

Using song and movement to portray fisherman and sea creatures, curmudgeonly storytellers and sweeping landscapes, this newly-formed ensemble creates a world that is as magical as it is moving, as lyrical as it is heartfelt. The performers hail from backgrounds and trainings as varied as Live Action Set, Sandbox Theater, the Minnesota Shakespeare Company, the University of Minnesota B.F.A./Guthrie program, and the Lecoq-based London International School for Performing Arts (LISPA). From such far-flung experiences, these eight physical theatre creators have come together in collaboration to build this re-imagining of the selkie folktale through original music and storytelling.

There will be physical theatre, but it's not a dance piece. There's an accordion, but not a polka to be found. It's family friendly, but it's not a kid's show. It's a fairy tale with depth, with sharp edges and deep longing. Above all, it is imaginative.

Come see for yourself!"

I've already written a bit about the seal-woman trend in this year's Fringe.

This was one of those previews that stood out because of its precision and polish. Everything I'd expect from a group like this, and more besides. The thing was timed out meticulously, and the excerpt was perfect for a showcase like this. Unusual entertaining storytelling. They even had a cliffhanger, just when you were totally into watching it, so they wouldn't run over time. (But not a "hey, no fair!" kind of cliffhanger. More of a "damn, I need to see that" kind of cliffhanger.)

The ensemble were waves and wind and fish flopping about on the deck of a ship, and from that emerged the fisherman, and after that, the seal woman, caught in the fisherman's net. Would he gut and scale her just like the other fish (well, of course not, or we wouldn't have a show, but he seemed pretty determined)? "Wait!" cried out the ensemble... and, scene.

Derek Miller was front and center, barefoot, narrating with an accordian in his lap. But the musical instrument wasn't so much for melody as for sound effects - the nets being cast and reeled in, the wind and waves, among other things.

It was all strangely hypnotic, carrying you along like the tide. I was already intrigued by this one, but now I'm looking forward to it even more so. Mission accomplished, preview folk.

They're even recommended by Sally Wingert, and I'm certainly not going to question Sally's taste. She knows her theater. (And I've had a big theater crush on her ever since she did my little play in Thirst a few years back, so she can do no wrong in my book.)

My previous Selkie blog entry

Their Fringe page

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Fringe 2010 - FFA1 - Shows With Funny Guys You Knew I'd Like

In the category of "shows that I liked which will surprise absolutely no one" there is of course a subcategory of "Shows With Funny Guys"

I've already written elsewhere in the blog about The Princeton Seventh from Partizon Theater as one of the Returning Favorites from my 2009 Top 20 list...

"A twisty mystery of a comedy, hilarious and sad, about literature and fame and failing at both. Two men walk into a bar. It's not the start of a joke, it's the start of a hundred jokes. And some twists. The #5 show from the 2005 Fringe, starring Ari Hoptman and Alex Cole."

Their Fringe-For-All preview was just what I expected, all very good things. Clever script, Ari and Alex, plus the bonus of Alayne Hopkins portraying an old Jewish lady.

Their Fringe page


The Quest

The Myth Players

"A modern day quest for... something important. You tell us what. The hero's journey surrounds your seats and moves between them. Joseph Campbell's classic hero cycle twisted by our own interesting times."

This is a *great* idea. Taking the classic hero's journey myth and using it as the structure around which to build a long-form improv. Hard to get something going in just 3 minutes of preview time but they did their best. And of course, the audience gave them a little something to work with.

"Something that you've lost and haven't yet found."

"Hair!" someone cried out, a bit forlornly.

A Quest for Hair, then

"Something that exists in nature."

"Ticks!" hollered someone

"A building or structure"

"The 35W Bridge!" someone else called out.

You could tell by the look on ringleader Damian Johnson's face that he was wondering,

"Wow. Too soon?"

Because once you send an improv team down that path...

And so, Chapter 1, "The 35W Bridge... of Ticks"

It was a fun bit, and I'd be interested in checking out what happens when they have the full hour to play around in.

It's a site-specific Fringe show, which can be problematic for scheduling and travel. However, this particular venue, the Sacred Paths Center, is really easy. They're just a block north of where Gremlin Theater (a regular Fringe venue) is, 777 Raymond Avenue, right off University, near the 94 and 280 intersection. If you can get to Gremlin, you can get to Sacred Paths. And since there are almost a dozen shows playing at Gremlin, you can do your St. Paul day and throw The Quest in the mix as well.

It's a nice mix of new and more established improvisers working on this one - Rita Boersma, John Eisenrich, Damian Johnson, Matt Kelly, Josh Lanset, Emily Schorr Lesnick, Adam Litz, Matt Pitner, Joe Rapp, Taj Ruler, Jen Scott, Eric Simons, Josh Stenseth, directed by Jason Bindas

I have written at length about how much I enjoy improv, and the funny ladies and (cute) guys who perform it. I wish I saw more of it. There's tons of it going on in the Twin Cities (just like "normal" theater). The Fringe is one of those times I get to catch up on a little of what I'm missing the rest of the year. So I'm hoping to get over to Sacred Paths on my own little Gremlin day(s).

Their Fringe page


Princess Jessica & The Kingdom of Boogers

The Mechanical Division

"Warning: this play contains some very silly, life-sized, talking boogers.

Princess Jessica and the Kingdom of Boogers is a fun and slightly unorthodox children’s story created by the fun and slightly unorthodox team at Minneapolis’ The Mechanical Division, producers of two top-ten best-selling Minnesota Fringe Festival shows (2006, 2009).

Only a brave and pure-hearted person can journey to the Kingdom of Boogers to save Princess Jessica from the evil Emperor Snotso, and young Squats fits the bill. Join Squats and his best friend Dorfus as they scream, giggle, learn new tricks, overcome their fears, and grow up a little bit along the way. Recommended for kids aged 7-104."

"Missing this show will result in a fringe festival so horrible, only I could make it worse." -- Emperor Snotso

Well, even Sylvia Plath wrote children's books.

The guys behind LICK! in the 2005 Fringe, Cannibal! The Musical in Fringe 2006, and last year's The Return of LICK!, doing a children's show?

Apparently, yes.

Of course, it's still their own particular brand of children's show, but a children's show nonetheless.

They, naturally, continue to tweak the Fringe traditions as they do so. The preview was no different. During Robin Gillette's attempt at an introduction, the fanfare kicked in, and the royal messenger took over the stage so determinedly that Robin just ceded the stage to let him get on with it.

"I apologize for interrupting the Fringe Wench!" he intoned.

OK then. He then described the situation outlined above, and provided more detail as to the many perils those attempting to save Princess Jessica might encounter. They included the fog of sadness, broccoli pie, and invisible belching wolves, among many others. The style is sort of like if Dr. Seuss was feeling just a bit naughty one day, and decided to see how much he could get away with and still call it a children's book. Which is all to the good.

The Mechanical Division is a Returning Favorite from my 2006 Top 20 list for a reason. They always deliver the laughs. It's why they got the encore slot last year, and it's why I attended it, and let them be the cap on my Fringe-going marathon for 2009. Theater's always a bit more fun when they're around.

Their website -

Their Fringe page


Bite Me, Twilight

Tom Reed

"One Man. Four Books. No Mercy.

Bite Me Twilight is an irreverent solo retelling of the entire 'Twilight' saga from the creator of Fringe hit 'Parry Hotter and the Half-Drunk Twins.' This pop culture-infused musical parody of vampire romance will leave you singing, 'Oops! I f#@%ed a vampire!'

Whether you're Team Jacob, Team Edward, or or have just been dragged to one of the movies, this show is sure to delight anyone with a sense of humor who's at least remotely familiar with the perils of vampire/human/werewolf love triangles.

Minneapolis Actor/Comedian/Improviser Tom Reed plays all the characters, sings epic songs and cracks wise about the 'Twilight' universe while retelling a version of the story of all four books (spoiler alert!) in the 'Twilight' series. The result is a biting comedic romp, as smart as it is hilarious."

Here's another series of books my mother has read but I'm just inching my way through in order to be ready to watch the movies with her. (Well, and I have to admit, there's a lot of shirtless werewolf guys, so that's a plus.)

Just the other night another Fringe artist was saying to me, "Damn Tom Reed for having such a ridiculously successful preview. Now what the hell are the rest of us supposed to do?"

I sympathize. I know I certainly wouldn't want to follow that. The Fringe organizers wisely held him in reserve to kick off the second half of Fringe-For-All last Monday - no doubt to insure that 1) we all came back from intermission, and 2) that we got a jolt of fun to fortify us for the 14 previews yet to come.

With Jill James providing the music, and accompanying the tireless Tom on electronic keyboard, Reed set to work with his elastic face and body to create a small cross-section of the characters we'll be encountering. And when Bella sings out, "Bite me, Edward! Bite me now!" well, what are you going to do except get your tickets before the darn thing sells out all five performances, like Parry Hotter did last year.

Even his postcard is funnier than most of them floating around out there. Sample testimonial quotes from characters in the books include...

"Till I saw this show all I thought about was killing people and drinking their blood, now I just want to sing!" - Jasper Cullen, vampire

"This show is even hotter than my sweaty washboard abs." - Jacob Black, werewolf

"I knew you were going to read this." - Alice Cullen, vampire

If I write any more about this 2008 Top 10 Returning Favorite or his show, he'll probably file a restraining order. So let's just say Bite Me Twilight is definitely on my schedule (and Mom's) (if we can get in), and leave it at that.

Oh, and a little video snippet from last year's Fringe-For-All, just for reference.

His Fringe page

Fringe 2010 - FFA1 - Shows With A Big Helping Of Gay You Knew I'd Like

In the category of "shows that I liked which will surprise absolutely no one" there is of course a subcategory of "Shows With A Big Helping of Gay"

Fringe time is one of the few times of the year I actually get to see gay characters on stage who aren't just wacky sidekicks or victims, so I try to take full advantage. Shows previewing in Fringe-For-All 1 that were pretty darn gay included...

Sincerity Forever

Arbor Heavy Theatre

"Two crude, galactic furballs corrupt sweet, all-American, KKK-loving teens. This satire inverts all they hold near and dear with homosexual young love, a black female Jesus H. Christ, and honest sincerity."

The preview featured girls with ample cleavage in KKK outfits having a vapid conversation about life in a small town, when two enormous furballs (really, really enormous furballs) came waddling out on stage. They worked their alien furball mojo on the girls, causing them both to curse like sailors, while cycling back through that same conversation again (just more colorfully). Then the furballs berated them for speaking ill of people they had so much in common with (albeit, more colorfully.)

As Robin Gillette said, "They get to say fuck way more than I'm ever allowed to say fuck." She also noted that they "win the prize for having the weirdest stuff backstage tonight."

Now, none of this preview was especially gay, but the synopsis promises "homosexual young love" AND "a black female Jesus H. Christ."

While FNU LNU in the 2007 Fringe wasn't one of my all-time favorites, I still enjoyed that last Fringe outing with Mac Wellman.

And after spending time in the company of the artists of St. Fortune Productions at the Great Plains Theatre Conference this summer, most of whom are unabashed devotees of Mac Wellman, and enjoying all their own plays quite a lot, I figured it was time to get to know the works of Mr. Wellman a bit better. Thankfully, the Fringe is making it pretty easy for me to get started.

So, a lot of foul language, and a strange style of playwriting, not for everyone, but I think I'll enjoy myself. If you're looking for something different, you might, too.

Weird thing is, I get the feeling Arbor Heavy Theatre is familiar to me, even though they're from Wisconsin. Just can't put my finger on why. Regardless, Sincerity Forever, has my attention.

Their Fringe page


Open and Affirming Fairy Tales

AWOL Productions

"Open and Affirming Fairy Tales: The Fabulous Fables of Rainbeau Bay

Finally, fairy tales showing diverse families living in the magical Land of Make Believe! A collection of classic stories retold by zany actors showing us to love ourselves, no matter what others may think."

The preview was a snippet of the tale of the Princess and the Frog, only the Frog was also a girl, and turned into a Princess when kissed. But the spell didn't hold for long, so the girl, and girl-frog, headed over to the sorcerer's place. The sorcerer who cursed the girl-frog had a sorcerer's hat with Mickey Mouse ears on it. After tricking the sorcerer into giving away the spell, the girls hurried off to try and work the magical cure themselves (but the red preview light meant they'd run out of time - cliffhanger!)

It's the same fairy tales you remember, just with a same sex twist. Still kid-friendly from what I saw, though the gender switches may make for some interesting post-show discussions between parents and children. I'd like to think we're beyond all that, but outside the Fringe bubble, I know things are more complicated. It's why I'm happy the Fringe bubble exists once a year. Should be a fun show. I was looking forward to it even before the preview, Fringe-For-All just confirmed the instinct.

(Plus, I can't stop giggling over the publicity photo, because I know this wasn't their intention, but it looks like the most uncomfortable three-way ever.)

Their Fringe page

Their website -


And prize for gayest show preview of the evening naturally goes to...

Naked Yoga (and Other Gay Love Stories)

No More Mr. Nice Gay Theatre

"No More Mr. Nice Gay" found its way from a California Prop 8 opponent's sign to a newly formed theatre company producing its first show at Minnesota Fringe 2010.

No More Mr. Nice Gay Theatre's show "Naked Yoga (and Other Gay Love Stories)" brings to the Minneapolis stage five contemporary short plays about boys who love boys.

The plays are written by Kent Forsberg, are directed by Michelle Schwantes and Dominique J. Caputo, and star a gaggle of fab Twin Cities-area talent.

The show opens with "Why Does Bush Hate Flags?," a comedic drama about two teen boys on opposite sides of a marriage-equality protest. This has been a hit at play festivals in Madison (StageQ's "Queer Shorts"), Chicago (LiveWire Chicago Theatre's "Vision Fest"), Miami (Lavender Footlights Festival), Washington, D.C. (Ganymede Arts' "GLBT Fall Arts Festival"), and Boston (Boston Actors Theater's "SlamBoston!").

The show also features:
"Vampires of Minneapolis," a comedic drama about two gay men trying to connect, despite uncovering unwelcome truths and lies about themselves.

"Justin and Kyle Shop at IKEA," a comedy about two gay guys who find more than furniture in the IKEA Living Room.

"Killer 'Mo," a dark comedy about gay men and the roles they play to spice up their sex lives.

"Naked Yoga," a comedic drama about two gay guys who are hesitant about exposing their bodies, but who end up exposing their emotional sides to each other.

Gay in the title, gay in the name of the theater company, and one, two, three, four men in shorts and nothing else in three humorous and revealing publicity photos (bonus goofy looks abound).

And the preview, from "Justin and Kyle Shop at IKEA," was extremely gay. Justin and Kyle barely set foot in the place before a buff dude named Sven in very tiny shorts and a little tank top burst out from backstage to declare that "EVERY day is Gay Day at IKEA!" Only he says it "EE-KEE-A" (because of his almost impenetrable Scandanavian accent, of course). He's not just a personal shopper, he's a life coach. And a very aggressive one at that. You can bet that the one shopper who is labeled an IKEA virgin won't be one for long with Sven on the job. Furniture gets sexualized perhaps even more than it will be in Yvette. I haven't seen a guy hump the stage floor that enthusiastically since Wonderland at the Fringe back in 2006.

The producers have been trying to do this show in the Fringe since last year (but the ping pong balls of the lottery weren't kind in 2009. They ended up stuck on the wait list.) They're utilizing their Fringe page (& other publicity) plus the preview process really well. You're not going to forget all that young flesh or vigorous comic acting very easily. They make an impression. They want you to know, "This is a gay Fringe show." And god bless 'em for letting the rainbow flag fly high. I met them in May 2009 at a performance of Angels In America, starring (not coincidentally at all, I'm sure) Mason Mahoney as Belize, who is now part of their Fringe ensemble. Mason was one of the bright spots in that production, and I'm sure he'll be the same at the Fringe.

There are times I don't feel I'm quite gay enough to see this show, but I'm gonna get over myself and go anyway. There's comedy. There's a play in the mix that's had some success elsewhere already. There's no downside in having an attractive as well as talented cast. And if I don't get a big dose of gay at the Fringe, when the heck else am I gonna get it, right?

Their Fringe page

Fringe 2010 - FFA1 - Sex, Soap, Torture, Weather

The last of the "unexpectedly charming" group of previews from the Fringe-For-All last Monday would be...

Sex, Soap, Torture, Weather

Shadow Horse Productions/Stolen Dress Entertainment

"SEX, SOAP, TORTURE, WEATHER is a quirky quartet of fantastical and dark comedies showing the clash between the sexes from the stress of potential, the problems that may occur, the pain that may come, and the joy of til death do us part. Sure to be a delight for those who want a night of variety in their Fringe experience, and people who want to see new plays, this show simply can't be missed.

In VOLLEY by Alina Phelan, Matt Saxe, Bethany Ford, and Christopher Mogel, a couple duels to decide if a relationship will even start.

SOAP by Steve Stajich shows a couple at a crossroads deciding how far is too far when it comes to supporting their family.

In Matt Saxe and Christopher Mogels IT SEEMS LIKE TORTURE TO ME an L.A. actor learns a painful life lesson.

Finally in Kennedy Center Award-Winning playwright Jonathan Yukichs A SHORT HISTORY OF WEATHER two weather obsessed eccentrics, meet, fall in love and spend their lives together in a romance sure to touch the funny bone in anyone's heart."

When I read this was a group largely out of California, my first thought was "Uh oh."

Don't get me wrong. Some of my best friends are in California right now. And a lot of amazing writing goes on in California. But the last time I encountered a Fringe show from California, it was kind of a disaster. The acting was great but the writing was awful. It was an approximation of life and emotion and character, rather than, you know, actual human beings. I went in thinking it would be good, but was served up something painfully bad.

So, to be honest, when this, the final preview of Fringe-For-All last Monday, was to be presented, I was bracing myself.

The excerpt, from "A Short History Of Weather," was just the right choice to disarm me. Yes, the characters were quirky. Exceedingly so. Yes, the situation was odd. But it was also whimsical, and funny, and romantic. And if anybody can deliver whimsical, funny and romantic, it's Minneapolis actress Bethany Ford. (Bethany's done a lot of solid work both as an actress and director, more than any one person could keep up with as an audience member. And she earned even more of my admiration by choosing to launch her theater company, Prufrock, with John Guare's Landscape of the Body - one of my all-time favorite scripts, and another grab bag of oddly romantic characters and situations.)

A man describes how his wife fell from the sky one day. A woman traveling in an ill-fated hot air balloon who had to jump to make her escape. (Ahhhh... plop!, says the woman as she lays on the ground to play her part). They are both obsessed with weather conditions. Her name is Aloe Vera, his is Earl Grey. And I know what you're thinking - "Really? Oh, please." But it was delightful and silly and sweet. And after a very full night of 28 other previews, some good, some less than good, for a preview to break through my sense of dread and my sense of "wow, it's been a long night," well, that's pretty remarkable. You get the sense that the writer knows what they're doing, that they're going to walk that tricky line and pull the concept off. And if the other short scripts are just as good, then this could be a really nice collection.

There's a ton of information on their Fringe page, and their website, so give it a look. And consider putting this charming little oddity on your schedule. I am.

Their websites -


Their Fringe page

Fringe 2010 - FFA1 - An Actor I've Seen Pretty Much Everywhere BUT the Fringe

Another unexpectedly charming Fringe-For-All preview that got my attention...

St. Christopher of Financial Aid

The Peanut Butter Factory

"At Zenith University, the nation's fourth leading online campus, our students come first. That's why our Financial Aid Associates are available during normal business hours, five days a week. Call us anytime, and we'll hold your hand as you borrow hundreds of thousands of dollars from the United States Department of Education, while we patiently listen to your vindictive screaming about things over which we have absolutely no control. We're here for you."

This is not the story of one actor's foray into the corporate world.

This is the story of a friendship, and the modern miracle of a legitimate human connection.

See, *this* is how to do a preview. This is what I was talking about before when I said that one's who had their sh*t together really stood out next to the ones who obviously needed a few more weeks of rehearsal, or just chose their excerpt poorly.

One person shows can be deadly. One person shows based entirely on phone calls can be even more deadly. But Christopher Kehoe knows what he's doing. He knows how to work with a microphone (which you think wouldn't be hard, but you'd be wrong - there were plenty of examples of people, with and without microphones, who couldn't enunciate or project their voices to save their lives. And I know it's an unfamiliar space. And it's big, but it's not that big. This will not be the last time I type this during Fringe season, I'm sure but - always err on the side of talking too slowly, and always err on the side of being too loud. You may think you're talking slowly, you may think you're talking loudly. Most of the time, on stage, you're wrong. Nerves take over and you become the verbal equivalent Speedy Gonzales - fast and mouse-like. Take your time, and speak up!) Kehoe doesn't have that problem.

Kehoe also knows how to manifest completely different characters with his voice. So he's carrying on a totally believable conversation - with himself. And then layering in an internal monologue on top of the external phone call, berating himself for going too easy on an internet-phobic caller. Internet-phobic, and attending an online university. The operator at the college resists the urge to tell the guy, "maybe this place isn't the right fit for you." It's quick, it's funny, both the characters are clearly drawn and vocally distinct. Just really sharp work. It made me want to see the show, which, of course, is the whole point.

Plus, bonus points for inclusion of a Katharine Hepburn quote I hadn't heard before. The legendary film actress was once quoted as saying, "Life is hard. After all, it kills you."

And I've seen a lot of Christopher Kehoe sort of by accident in the past couple of years. There was Frank Theatre's By The Bog of Cats which visiting my second day job at the Guthrie up in the Dowling Studio. There was 20% Theatre Company's Teach Me Tonight which I saw as an Ivey evaluator. And then there was Sandbox Theatre's .faust late last year which I saw for the Twin Cities Daily Planet. His bio says right after the Fringe he's off to Denmark to study commedia dell'arte at The Commedia School in Copenhagen. He's certainly not letting any grass grow under his feet.

In fact, probably the only significant thing he's done lately that I haven't seen was, oddly enough, a Fringe show. Last year's offering from Theatre Pro Rata - Monster. I have to admit this was partly deliberate. The subject matter kind of squicked me out. I'm a pussy, I admit it. But damn, they got some great reviews for it. While financial aid and customer service may be a different kind of horror story for some, it's a horror story I can handle.

His press release elaborated a bit...

"St. Christopher is based on a true story, set in the financial aid office of an online university. Unlike a brick-and-mortar school, this staff will never meet any students; everything is done online or over the telephone. So in a society infatuated with online social media, and in a corporate structure plagued by rituals and regulations, the modern miracle of a legitimate human connection between Financial Aid Associate and student becomes all the more sacred."

Random interesting gimmick...

"Publicly-available onstage coffee is generously donated by Black Sheep Coffee Cafe."

Lyric junkie alert...

"Paul Simon fanatics will also enjoy numerous allusions to some of his most popular music."

We bounced a couple of emails back and forth and he said...

"It's a solo show that I created based on my time temping in a financial aid office for an online university. The 'thing' that I want to get dirty in is a reality check of where human relationships are in 2010; you can now receive a college education online and manage your social life on a networking website, but is an actual human connection so rare that it could be seen as a miracle? Could it be any more bizarre when the thing keeping a 23-yr-old white Minneapolis actor sane is an old black dude from Cincinnati, with whom, when we finally do say goodbye, there is a twinge of sentimentality? (He actually did call me a saint, which started this whole mess.) So it's that, nestled in a corporate satire that'll appeal to anyone who's ever had to dance the HR Dance."

Heck, I think I even remember his stage manager, who's also a playwright, from my days running a weekly new play reading series at the Playwrights' Center in one of my previous lives.

Just another accumulation of reasons, along with that preview, that I'm finding St. Christopher of Financial Aid creeping up the list of things I need to work into my Fringe schedule this year.

His website -

His Fringe page