Thursday, August 19, 2010

Bowling and Running and Writing (Not Necessarily In That Order)

The 2010 Minnesota Fringe Festival is history.

I saw a show in every slot again this year, including the encore. 56 performances, 53 shows (Three I went back for a second look, one of those I even had a very odd cameo appearance in). 29 reviews down, 24 to go.

The day after the Fringe, an epic Fringe Decompression podcast with Josh Humphreys and Nick Decker for Twin Cities Theater Connection, which should be posting in the near future.

Back at the day jobs, a lot of catching up to do.

And of course there's a play to write (the first of a couple, actually, which is nice)

Tomorrow, I head down to Winona with two vanloads of teammates for the Ragnar Relay's Great River Run. It's a 24 hour run from Winona, up along the Mississippi River on the Wisconsin side, and back into Minnesota around Stillwater, running on back to Minneapolis. 192 miles. 12 runners, doing three legs of the relay each. I'm the 6th runner on my team, last in my van (Van 1)to go, handing off to the 2nd half of the team in Van 2 when I'm done. We got a late start time for our team (2pm), so I won't be starting my first leg til around 6pm. 8.3 miles. Then I've got a breather til around 3:30 in the morning Friday/Saturday, when I run another 7.1 miles. Then my last leg will hit around 11:15 in the morning Saturday, only 3.5 miles. That one's rated "Moderate," my first two are both rated "Very Hard" (gulp). 18.9 miles total. Needless to say, I scheduled myself off from pretty much everything on Sunday.

And because that's not quite enough to completely derail the blogging for a few days, how about we throw in a bowling night fundraiser for my new artistic home, Urban Samurai Productions?

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

8pm to closing time

$10 to bowl all night (it includes the shoe and ball rental)

Park Tavern Bowling and Entertainment Center
3401 Louisiana Ave S
St. Louis Park, MN

You can get your tickets online or at the door.

Also, they're raffling off three monster prize packages - $10 per raffle ticket, or you can get 3 for $25. Here, too, you can order raffle tix online now, or grab yourself some the night of the event. Better yet, why not do both?

The prizes...

Grand Prize - Ultimate Jackpot Getaway
A Weekend Stay at Mystic Lake Resort & Casino
Gift card for your choice of activity at Mystic Lake
Centerspace Pilates Gift Certificate
Urban Samurai Season 2011 Tickets (includes a new full-length version of my play "Leave")
Gift Basket from Caldrea
Bottle of Wine from Wine Time
Guthrie Theater Tickets

2nd Place - Theater Lover's Package
Urban Samurai Season 2011 Tickets
Theatre Unbound Tickets
Theatre Pro Rata Tickets
Crave Restaurant Gift Certificate

3rd Place - Comedy Lover's Package
Urban Samurai Season 2011 Tickets
Comedy Sportz Tickets
Brave New Workshop Tickets
Chipotle Restaurant Gift Card

So, you know, bowl, win stuff, support live theater, everybody feels good.

The Samurai website says...

"Urban Samurai Productions is celebrating Season 2010 by knocking down pins! Everyone's invited to the Park Tavern to join us for unlimited bowling, raffles, games, karaoke, and general merriment. Whether you're the King Pin or Gutterball Grand Poobah, it's sure to be a smashing good time, all supporting theater with Urban Samurai!

Bowling on the lanes with karaoke! A raffle with FABULOUS prizes and bowling challenges for awards! HILARIOUS entertainment! Drinks and food available in the restaurant and bar for purchase. Because this is a grown up event, Park Tavern requests that all guests be 21 or older.

What if you can't make it? It can't be true! Well, life happens, (sigh). But don't fret. You can still share in the fun by entering the raffle for fabulous prizes, or making a tax deductible donation to Urban Samurai. That way, you can be a part of making future productions possible."

And the day after all that, I turn 46.

Yikes. Where'd that year go?

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Fringe 2010 - 5 Star Reviews - Life-Altering Experience

Here's a bunch of handy links to all the 5 star reviews of shows in this year's Fringe. 5 stars - Life-Altering Experience, Class of 2010 would be...

Aardvark Fandango - 8/6/2010
Twin Cities Daily Planet
Single White Fringe Geek

Ballad of the Pale Fisherman - 8/8/2010
Twin Cities Daily Planet
Single White Fringe Geek

Can Michael Come Out And Play? - 8/8/2010
Twin Cities Daily Planet
Single White Fringe Geek

Condoleeza's Rites - 8/12/2010
Twin Cities Daily Planet
Single White Fringe Geek

Drink Drank Drunk: Diary of the Life of the Pary - 8/12/2010
Twin Cities Daily Planet
Single White Fringe Geek

The Failed Voyage of the Failed Ororo - 8/14/2010
Twin Cities Daily Planet
Single White Fringe Geek

Indifferent - 8/14/2010
Twin Cities Daily Planet
Single White Fringe Geek

Missing: the fantastical and true story of my father's disappearance and what I found when I looked for him - 8/9/2010
Twin Cities Daily Planet
Single White Fringe Geek

A Nice Guy's Guide To Awkward Sex - 8/7/2010
Twin Cities Daily Planet
Single White Fringe Geek

Pants On Fire! - 8/11/2010
Twin Cities Daily Planet
Single White Fringe Geek

Semidarkness - 8/13/2010
Twin Cities Daily Planet
Single White Fringe Geek

The Squeaky Wheel Squeaks - 8/10/2010
Twin Cities Daily Planet
Single White Fringe Geek

Thinkingaview/CorresponDance - 8/7/2010
Twin Cities Daily Planet
Single White Fringe Geek

Wisdom: Part 1 - 8/9/2010
Twin Cities Daily Planet
Single White Fringe Geek

Yvette - 8/6/2010
Twin Cities Daily Planet
Single White Fringe Geek

Fringe 2010 - 4 Star Reviews - Excellent

Here's a bunch of handy links to all the 4 star reviews of shows in this year's Fringe. 4 stars - Excellent, Class of 2010 would be...

Prince & A Pauper - 8/13/2010
Twin Cities Daily Planet
Single White Fringe Geek

The Tragedy of Icarus - 8/13/2010
Twin Cities Daily Planet
Single White Fringe Geek

Uncle Shelby's Traveling Treasure Trunk - 8/10/2010
Twin Cities Daily Planet
Single White Fringe Geek

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Fringe 2010 - Indifferent - 5 stars

I Expected A Zig, It Zagged (Cool!)

Indifferent - Minneapolis Theatre Garage

The Lovely Boys

“We go as far back as you can remember, which should count for something.”

A friend was looking for a Fringe show recommendation that was more of a surprise for the brain than the heart. Luckily, he asked me right after I'd seen Indifferent, so I had that show as the perfect suggestion for him. When I told him that, even as a playwright and reviewer who had seen a great many new plays in all stages of development, Indifferent continued to surprise me in one moment after another, that was all he needed to hear. Indifferent is a goofy, tricky little script by director/writer/creator Matthew Grathwol (with assistance from writer/creator Jackson Kennedy). It's weird, but a whole lot of fun.

"Death is reliable."

The fact that Grathwol was in the cast of two equally bizarre past Fringe outings, 2009's boy scout trip gone horribly wrong "Thin Mint" and 2008's Monty Python revue "My Hovercraft Is Full Of Eels" will surprise no one. Actually that Fringe resume explains a lot about the comedic, absurd twists and turns of Indifferent. Whenever I thought it was going to zig, it zagged. It's hard to surprise me in a way that still makes sense for the script and thus doesn't tick me off. Indifferent kept confounding all my expectations, and I couldn't be happier. Or happier to recommend it others.

“Eye contact is the leading cause of blindness.”

A pseudo-historical figure from the times of Ancient Greece is plopped down, with no explanation, in the present day. At least, I think it's the present day. No matter, it seems familiar enough, even though the modern day characters are all just a little bit off their rocker. Pheidippides (Ryan Colbert), is the man behind the legend of the marathon, which we still run today. A messenger during a time of war, he ran 150 miles in a day to carry important news back and forth to the front. The next day he ran 26, delivered the news of victory, and dropped dead. After his death, he shows up in Indifferent.

“I forfeit all questions when I’m with you.”

Pheidippides is discovered by Duck (Patrick Budde), a man wearing a loud shirt and tie, carrying a ladder labeled "Uncertainty," which provides a portal to another world, and also a gym bag with an extra change of clothes. That last item comes in handy because Pheidippides arrives in the future butt naked, except for a dagger on a belt around his waist. No nudity warning necessary, folks. Colbert's butt (and other dagger) is tucked behind flesh-colored underwear and a pair of pantyhose. (You know Colbert is straight because, bless him, he can't wear a pair of nylons without getting a run, and several toes are exposed as if he were wearing a pair of old gym socks or something.) (Still, those pantyhose do get a workout, and Fringe budgets are slim, perhaps they just have to make do.)

“Magic. It’s all we can count on.”

Duck is clearly smitten with Pheidippides (and who wouldn't be? Zero body fat, that's all I'm saying.) Duck tries his best to help Pheidippides to adapt to non-Ancient Greek life, in part by taking him through the ladder of Uncertainty to the office of the Doctor (Eric Linnes-Bagley) where Truth is dispensed - that is, if you can get by the jittery receptionist Mona (Sadie Lancrete). Pheidippides decides he is in love with Mona, much to Duck's disappointment. The doctor is a grimacing, grunting, convulsing man who is more than happy to insist he knows what everyone else should be thinking and feeling. Just put the doctor in charge of your free will and everything will be OK. (The Python-esque opening scene between the Doctor and Mona lays this intellectual dictatorship out in hilarious fashion, and Lancrete and Linnes-Bagley set the absurd comedic tone for the rest of the play with a vengeance. For example, food is a lie you can eat, so the grocery is a store of lies. Hungry? Best just to lick your arm instead.) Pheidippides and Duck try to buck this trend, but poor Mona isn't quite capable of playing along.

“Goodbye. See you at your next crisis.”

There are a couple of really wild, abrupt shifts in relationships and characters' fates that come not just out of left field but a whole other stadium, and yet, oddly, they seem to make perfect sense. Even the doctor bringing out a cello, and then actually playing it(!) (wow, I think my appreciation for Linnes-Bagley just doubled) made its own kind of sense. Also, that cello playing live was a great, melancholy soundtrack for the end of the play and Pheidippides' big closing speech. In fact, the only thing that didn't make sense was Duck leaving Pheiddipides alone at the end. Their peculiar friendship had such a strong foundation in Duck's infatuation with Pheiddipides, that when Pheidippides called out for Duck at the end, I fully expected Duck to come running. I'm not saying it was a gay love story for the ages or anything, but friendship based in unrequited love is a hard thing to shake.

“It’s almost like we’re finishing each other’s -- “

The Lovely Boys (and Girl) are all indeed lovely. The doctor, for instance, for all his facial tics, is straight out of soap opera central casting. And who needs special effects when you can just cast shadows over certain people's ridiculously fit bodies like some kind of Robert Mapplethorpe exhibit? There are also all indeed boys (and girl) - fresh out of high school, barely in college. (I now feel like I should register as a sex offender.) The next generation's brains must just be wired differently because of all the new stimuli they had to grow up with which the rest of us didn't need to tackle right out of the womb. But whatever is responsible for a script like Indifferent coming into being, bring on more of it. It's making theater fun again. Go ahead, surprise me.

5 stars, Very Highly Recommended

NEXT (and Final) PERFORMANCE - Saturday 8/14 at 2:30pm

Their Fringe page

Fringe show #35 - Thursday, 8/12 5:30pm


And here's a handy index of links for all blog content on the 2010 Fringe!

Fringe 2010 - 3-1/2 Star Reviews - Good Job Plus

Here's a bunch of handy links to all the 3-1/2 star reviews of shows in this year's Fringe. 3-1/2 stars - Good Job Plus, Class of 2010 would be...

I Remember You - 8/12/2010
Twin Cities Daily Planet
Single White Fringe Geek

My Mother Told Me - 8/7/2010
Twin Cities Daily Planet
Single White Fringe Geek

Fringe 2010 - 3 Star Reviews - Good Job

Here's a bunch of handy links to all the 3 star reviews of shows in this year's Fringe. 3 stars - Good Job, Class of 2010 would be...

CSI: Ben McGinley - 8/10/10
Twin Cities Daily Planet
Single White Fringe Geek

ROBO-Homa! - 8/9/10
Twin Cities Daily Planet
Single White Fringe Geek

Sincerity Forever - 8/12/10
Twin Cities Daily Planet
Single White Fringe Geek

A Standing Long Jump - 8/11/10
Twin Cities Daily Planet
Single White Fringe Geek

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Fringe 2010 - Prince & A Pauper - 4 stars

When Prince Makes It Just A Little Easier To Be Gay

Prince & A Pauper - Gremlin Theatre

Andrew Fafoutakis

"Theater is my boyfriend. It's always been there for me in good times and bad. And the sex is amazing."

Anybody who saw Andrew Fafoutakis' Fringe-For-All preview, or caught him the night before the Fringe opened at the Out of Towner Showcase at Bedlam, know that the guy knows how to work a crowd. Seeing Prince & A Pauper in its entirety delivered on the promise seen in previews. The production is largely a "this is the story of my life so far" confessional, but Fafoutakis knows how to keep it fun. Added bonus, Prince provides a killer soundtrack, and Andrew does a mean Prince karaoke whenever the evening needs a little jolt.

"The name Andrew means strong and manly. And I think we can all see how that turned out."

Growing up biracial (Greek-Mexican) and gay, in a military family who moved around a lot, was no picnic. Thankfully, Fafoutakis had his sense of humor to keep him sane, and he uses it very liberally throughout the show. Life with a happy ending is always a comedy. You just have to live through the rough patches to be able to see them later for the humor they can unfold to you. His first hurdle was the obvious one - being a person of mixed heritage in a country where everyone needs to label you in order to feel comfortable. (The one question you get most often? "What ARE you?!") The next hurdle, coming to terms with his sexuality, was a lot trickier. But thankfully, there was Prince.

"I was five feet from God."

Prince, with his own racial heritage, and hypersexual performance style, was a real eye-opener for young Andrew. In Prince, he saw all the possibilities that life might have to offer even someone who looked like himself, and felt the way he did about other boys. Prince has been Fafoutakis' longest, most satisfying relationship, outside of the one he has with theater itself. ("I still buy every album. No matter how terrible.") Prince not only gives him the material he needs to rule karaoke night, but even today Prince's music provides the anthems he needs to keep going - struggling as an actor, fresh out of grad school, trying to make it in New York City. ("The thing they don't tell you in acting school is that there are way to many f**kers trying to be actors.")

"It was like 'The Real World,' with less homophobia and racism."

Fafoutakis says at the top of the show that the production is going to be mostly about his relationship with Prince and his music, with a little bit about himself to provide context. To be honest, it's mostly context. We get a full guided tour of Andrew's entire life up until, well, this show. Each of his boyfriends (all of whom have "white college boy" in common - "Are you sensing a pattern? Don't judge me."), though we don't get to know them as people, we do get to see how powerfully they impacted him as a person. Each, like Prince, was a stepping stone on his path to less fear, and greater self-acceptance. When a boy takes his hand without a second thought to walk through the Mall of America, "I was just scared we'd get stoned to death in front of The Gap. Or Gap Kids. Or Baby Gap. Most likely Baby Gap." Fafoutakis needed to shed just as much fear as he did weight in order to feel really good about himself.

"It didn't help that I was a short fat kid who looked like Al Pacino."

It's Fafoutakis' charming personality that keeps Prince & A Pauper on track. Is this sometimes way too much information? Yeah. Are these encounters with men and tales of theater as meaningful to us in the audience as they are to him? Of course not. But because Andrew Fafoutakis is such a genuine, sweet fellow, and is so obviously grateful for all the milestones in his life that have led him to this point, and even more grateful to have an audience ("braving the long arduous journey to St. Paul"), well, how can you begrudge him an hour of your time. Particularly when it's such an entertaining hour?

"I felt like I found a unicorn."

With Prince & A Pauper, Fafoutakis is learning how to build a one-person show, and tell a story. He's got the mechanics of it all down now, and it shows. He's learned how to channel the irrepressible and odd spirit of Prince, and more importantly, he's learned how to be himself. Who knows what other characters and one-person shows lie ahead? Sure, he has the characters of his colorful family, and those mysterious iconic boyfriends to delve into. But if he can capture the unique personality of someone like Prince, I'd wager any number of characters are within his grasp. I had fun, as did the rest of the audience, at his first one-man show, so I'm curious to see what's next. Meanwhile, you still have a chance to see how he got started.

4 stars, Highly Recommended

NEXT PERFORMANCE - Friday 8/13 at 7pm

(Final Performance - Saturday 8/14 at 8:30pm)

His Fringe page

Fringe show #34 - Wednesday, 8/11 10pm


And here's a handy index of links for all blog content on the 2010 Fringe!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Fringe 2010 - Condoleeza's Rites - 5 stars

Time for the Last Black Reagan Conservative To Speak Her Mind

Condoleeza's Rites - Intermedia Arts

Tyehimba Leadership Center

"I'm good at keeping a secret. Ask Uncle Leroy."

Mom had to walk through a thunder and lightning storm (one of her least favorite things) and rivers of water running through the streets in order to get to her last Fringe show for this year, Condoleeza's Rites, and she's mighty glad she did. I now understand a little better what fellow blogger Phillip Low was making all the fuss about. I was right to put this one in my Top 20 list this year, largely due to his enthusiasm for the show. Condoleeza's Rites is easily one of the best Fringe productions I'll see in 2010.

"Utter only the word for which you will not be ashamed."

Getting inside Intermedia Arts didn't exactly shelter us completely from the storm. The roof at Intermedia was no match for the pummeling rain water and a few leaks sprung up in the seating area. During the performance when one actor asked, "What do you see?" and another answered, as scripted, "Water," audience members could be forgiven an extra chuckle. The resourceful Fringe techs shifted chairs and brought in buckets to catch the drops. Sadly, the house wasn't full enough to make this as challenging as it ought to have been. More people should be seeing this show.

"As the words shot out of your mouth, someone shot back."

Why? Condoleeza's Rites is a funny, intelligent, fearless and powerful piece of theater. It explores how the political frequently has very personal roots, and how forgiveness and empathy can go a long way to changing things that look unchangeable.

"We got a half-black president, it still ain't gettin' better."

Condoleeza (writer Ericka Dennis) is a conservative talk show host not shy about taking on what she sees as the failings of the black community. When she is gunned down by a member of her own audience, she must find her way through the maze of obstacles in the afterlife to come to terms with her past (her father [John Robinson], and her younger self [Naajee Dennis]), and be armed for her future, because her spirit needs to go back. ("Oh hell no!" cries Condoleeza; "Heavens, yes," counters one of her spirit guides).

"The mask you wear distorts your true voice."

Condoleeza's Rites explores how the struggles with racism within her own family, and sexual secrets, formed a world from which Condoleeza rightly recoiled. But in striking out on her own, she also lost any sympathy for anyone dealing with the same struggles she encountered. Condoleeza feared to reach back a helping hand, for fear it would drag her back as well. So the conversation between herself and her fellow African-Americans became one-sided. Neither side could hear what the other was saying. They were still talking about the same things, just using a different language, and the barriers between them grew.

"You can't fly with shackles on your feet."

Condoleeza's Rites isn't saying that Condoleeza is wrong, just that she's taking the wrong lesson from her past, and thus returning with the wrong message. A shift in her angle of sight, a better understanding of who she was and who she's become, actually facing rather than fleeing the negative voices in her head, these are the insights she needs to gain.

"Forgiveness is the first great act of love."

Condoleeza's Rites is an incredibly theatrical piece of performance. They use the projection capabilities to present impressive visuals. The production also uses sound and spectacle in inventive ways. Jokers (demons in masks who taunt Condoleeza in the afterlife and confront her with the unpleasant facts of her childhood years) frequently have their voices piped in as recorded sound effects. The actors playing the Jokers (Jaralyn Mcneal, Alan Mure, Denzel Price, and Makil Price) move their heads and mouths to mimic the sound cues but are, deliberately, just a bit off. The effect is unsettling in the best way, making them seem less, or more, than human, and fitting adversaries for the outsized personality that is Condoleeza. On the other end of the supernatural spectrum, the angels clad in bright white clothes have voices as big as their wing spans. Song brings home what words alone cannot. The cast all does well, and even if one or two of them isn't the best actor you'll ever see in your life, they are right for their roles in this context, and that goes a long way.

"What time is it? The black man's time."

There is poetry, there is song, there is rap, there is dance, there is some stage combat, there is efficient clever dialogue. All the elements (no pun intended) come together to make Condoleeza's Rites into an impressive Fringe show. I'm very glad they brought it back again, so I finally had a chance to see if for myself. Even with President Obama in the White House, or perhaps especially because President Obama is in the White House, this Fringe show resonates more powerfully than ever. And probably needs to be heard, now more than ever. It's as good a place as any, for a national dialogue we so desperately need, to get started.

5 stars, Very Highly Recommended

NEXT PERFORMANCE - Thursday 8/12 at 8:30pm

(Final Performance - Saturday 8/14 at 4pm)

Their Fringe page

Fringe show #30 - Tuesday, 8/10 10pm


And here's a handy index of links for all blog content on the 2010 Fringe!

Fringe 2010 - Semidarkness - 5 stars

Yes, Another Twilight Parody. And It's *Also* Mighty Good.

Semidarkness - Ritz Proscenium

Young Artists Council of Youth Performance Company

"Is it creepy? Or am I hot enough that it's OK?"

OK, let's face it. You don't go to a parody of "Twilight" because you want to improve your mind. You go to a parody of "Twilight" because you want to laugh at vampires and moody teenage girls and see at least one werewolf guy with a nice torso. Mom and I had seen Tom Reed's "Bite Me Twilight" earlier in the week, but she was still in the mood for some supernatural giggling, and I can vouch for the quality of pretty much any show Youth Performance Company or their Youth Artists Council puts out, so off we went to the Ritz and Semidarkness delivered everything on the checklist and more. It's not 5 stars because it's Shakespeare or Chekhov. It's 5 stars because it's fun.

"I have some assumptions to make!"

Unlike Tom Reed's "Bite Me Twilight", Semidarkness focuses mostly just on the first book of the series, "Twilight," rather than all four (it does roll a bit of book/movie #2 in as well, because love triangles between werewolves, humans and vampires are too tempting to resist, but the overall structure is "Twilight.") In fact, it's as much about the movie adaptation as the book itself. Much is made of actress Kristen Stewart's rather limited range of emotional express, Taylor Lautner's werewolf workout ethic, and Robert Pattison's "serious actor" needs.

"So, you're a racist alien?"

One of the things that's so much fun about the production is its embracing of the high and low tech side by side. The title card projected pre-show on the back wall is a perfect send-up of the Twilight font of the movie titles. There are some great slides that serve to set the stage for all the locations, but any beds are just the same fold-up cot. And cars are painted cardboard boxes, not even meant to look like a car, which just hang from the actors' shoulders on suspenders. If you have to climb in for a ride in the car, you have to wedge yourself into the box along with the driver. It's ludicrous but amusing. Edward's sparkly skin effect is just a mirror ball and a flashlight wielded by the another actor. On the other side of things, the costumes for the almost 20 person ensemble (by Anna Esposito) were all great. Visually they helped each character establish their own identity in the crowded storyline. Lights and sound were also well handled, and of course they had a big musical production number at the end, just for the hell of it ("Being A Vampire Sucks," of course).

"This is so tense and sexual."

And of course, you have to have the lame, but still funny, jokes when switching all the names around. Bella Swan is instead Stella Dawn (Maddy Fick), and her father (Mike Elder) uses this as an excuse to cry out "STELLA!" repeatedly throughout the show as if he was in a production of "A Streetcar Named Desire." The town of Forks becomes Sporks. The Cullen family of vampire have their last name changed to Sullen. And so on. Throw in some random cameos from Blade and Buffy the Vampire Slayer and you've got quite the pop culture stew going.

"I live with my parents and my insanely attractive brothers and sisters who are all dating each other."

The story remains the same. Stella falls for vampire stud Edwin (Jacob Krech) but he's emotionally distant because he keeps having to resist the urge to kill her rather than kiss her. When he takes off, leaving her heartbroken, young werewolf about town Paco (Brandon Cobb) tries to give her a hand with the whole "rebound relationship" thing. Evil vampires (no really, their last name is Evil - Peyton Dixon, Catie Odde, Jesse Villareal) kidnap Bella, and everyone in Edwin's entire family (Mary Katherine Fiala, Daniel Flohr, Sara Jensen, Sam Tank [also a co-director], Laura Titus, and Myles Wendt) must swoop in and save her. Except they keep getting distracted, so more and more of them keep having to show up. The (deliberately) inept rescue sequence eventually brings closure (and dancing) for all.

"I'm just going to go upstairs and cry about how dismal my life is."

The script, by Maddy Heyman (also one of the co-directors) and Steven Lewer, is full of clever touches and playful satire. One of my favorite throwaway moments is when everyone flutters around Stella at the hospital over a minor scratch while someone else lies convulsing and dying in a bed nearby. Then, of course, on a detour to the morgue, the Sullen family snacks on the body. It's nice for dad to have a job at the hospital so fast food is always handy.

Sure, Semidarkness probably isn't going to change your life. But it helps you take all the "Twilight" mania with a big grain of salt. It's also a hell of a lot of fun while it lasts. And you can't say that about every Fringe show, can you?

5 stars, Very Highly Recommended

NEXT PERFORMANCE - Friday 8/13 at 4pm

(Final Performance - Saturday 8/14 at 5:30pm)

Their Fringe page

Fringe show #29 - Tuesday, 8/10 8:30pm


And here's a handy index of links for all blog content on the 2010 Fringe!

Fringe 2010 - The Failed Voyage of The Failed Ororo - 5 stars

The First Show I Want To See Twice

The Failed Voyage of the Failed Ororo - Ritz Proscenium

Nicholas Clark, Sophie Gori, & Larry Sass-Ainsworth

“Love and remembering are two very different things.”

The Failed Voyage of the Failed Ororo is the first show in the Fringe that I've stumbled across that I feel like I have to go and see again (and I actually am catching their final performance). There's just so much going on in this play, so much weird stuff flying through the air and colliding, words and music and puppets and shadow and video and slides and cartoons and cue cards and emotion and complex intellectual constructs, there's no way I caught it all the first time around. It's that rare show that rewards repeat viewings because you're bound to see something new. Plus, the first time through, you're just grasping to get hold of the storyline. It's funny and heartfelt and more than a little bizarre. I couldn't help getting sucked in by it. The promise that landed them on my Top 20 list was fully realized and then some. In fact, if I'd only known then what I know now, they would have been in my Top 10. When I was talking about how delightfully weird this show was, a friend asked me, "So is it just weird, or is it 5 kitty weird?" Oh, it's 5 kitty/5 star weird.

“Don’t let non-existing get you down.”

A young man named Ororo (Larry Sass-Ainsworth) has been forgotten by everyone in his life who's supposed to remember him, including his parents. Worst of all, they have forgotten him during that family-focused time of year, Thanksgiving. Thus, in the middle of the Thanksgiving pageant at school, he drops out of existence into an alternate dimension. The timing is unfortunate, since he takes his costume with him - Indian war paint on his face, a feather in his hair, a bow with a quiver of arrows, and his underwear (tighty whities) which were serving as his Native American loincloth. Ororo meets up with a cowboy named Jean-Luc (Nicholas Clark), a young man forgotten by others and dropped into this dimension many years before. After the requisite "cowboys and indians" chasing about, they bond and seek to escape to the real world again - or perhaps the manipulative Jean-Luc has a larger plan afoot...

“How were you forgotten?”

Creator/Designer/Performers Nicholas Clark, Sophie Gori, & Larry Sass-Ainsworth have created a Fringe show that is mind-boggling in its complexity, but is a real hoot to watch. The production clearly wants you to come along for the ride and enjoy yourself, but it's not planning on slowing down. No worries, however. If you miss latching onto it at one hairpin turn, it always circles back around and throws you a line. There are so many different strategies and sections of the performance within the larger story that I filled up two pages with hastily scribbled notes where most shows only require one.

“We need to go back in time and stop myself from doing this.”

One of the things I admire most is that, with only two people and next to no props onstage in that vast Ritz Proscenium space (and let's not forget that, just like every other show, they only had one three-hour block of tech time to play with in the space to prepare), Clark and Sass-Ainsworth utilize nearly every corner of the theater. Jean-Luc frequently ventures out into the audience area, the stadium seating and side viewing platforms included. These two performers are often dwarfed by the size of the projections on the back wall, and the Ritz's vast space, but the effect is used to their advantage, two lost souls adrift in an unforgiving void. The loneliness of the characters which occasionally surfaces is accentuated by all that space.

“I’ll be damned. I guess we really are alone.”

The playfulness with which these performers toss around the different styles of conveying information is infectious. Jean-Luc's tale of being forgotten is told with shadow puppets. When the girl he loves decides to marry God and become a nun, Jean-Luc becomes determined to make God angry enough to smite him so that he can see the deity face to face and do battle with him. His strategy of offenses (hitting children, slapping old women on the behind) is hilarious in shadow puppetry. Later, as Jean-Luc and Ororo are sucked into a black hole, they also get sucked into a haphazard 2-D cartoon film with subtitles. At another point, as Ororo furiously rides a hobby-horse while being chased by a large black hand emerging from a cheesy brightly colored old-style music video treatment of common images, the loud rock music of the soundtrack makes him hard to hear. So the actors mouth the words, as Jean-Luc helpfully holds up cue cards, which take on their own comedy routine of cycling back in on each other as the conversation progresses. Some scenes are played out in front of a video screen of black and white Twilight Zone-style images slowly drifting through a field of stars. Other times, it's just two guys and a couple of powerful flashlights cutting through the darkness, throwing illumination across large distances, or casting evocative shadows close up. Random radio signals piercing their veil of nothingness means we get a soundtrack that includes the Andrews Sisters & Bing Crosby singing, "Mele Kalikimaka," the 10cc hit "I’m Not In Love," and "Tiny Dancer" from Elton John among many others. (How do a bunch of 17-year-olds come up with this stuff? Hell, how does anyone?)

“How do I know that’s not just some floating mustache?”

A prime example of the low-tech scrappy wonder of this show is the scene where Jean-Luc teaches Ororo how to become invisible. First, with much effort, Jean-Luc becomes invisible. This is represented by cheeky blackout, and the actor stepping aside and holding out a mustache on a stick where his body used to be. Next, Ororo has a heck of a time clearing his head of disturbing (to him) images we see on the video screen behind him, but finally he, too, becomes invisible. This time, it's underwear on a stick. The sticks sometimes don't cooperate, but the actors improv with the props as needed to keep things moving. While invisible, the two men collide and become entangled - mustache and underwear on sticks sharing the same space only one person would. Jean-Luc struggles to disengage, while Ororo admits "it feels kind of good." After they pull apart and then become visible again, Jean-Luc needs to head off to another part of the dimension to spend the night, "I’m going to go. You were just inside of me, and I need to cry for a little bit."

“Us causing nothing will mean something to everything.”

All of the theater tricks in the world wouldn't work if the story weren't compelling. The Failed Voyage of the Failed Ororo works because at its heart, it's a story of two lost souls who have latched onto one another, finding it hard to ever be alone again, unable to tear themselves away. That's why, at the end, when Ororo (maybe?) makes it home, but without Jean-Luc, he seems more alone than ever, even though he can reconnect with the real world and all the people who forgot him in the first place. It's a great metaphor writ large for pretty much anything an audience member wants to decide that it's "about." Sci-fi puzzlers work best when at their root they're about human beings. The Failed Voyage of the Failed Ororo is both the most peculiar, and the most beautifully human, of almost any show I've seen in the Fringe this year.

“From the bottom of my non-existent heart.”

Yet another thing that pleasantly surprised me about The Failed Voyage of the Failed Ororo was that every time I started to get ready to take offense (Is this misogyny appearing? Is this homophobia rearing its head? Is this just a bunch of hopeless existential twaddle?), the production would come back to the two characters and their relationship to one another. Grounded in character, potential misogyny was just boys being afraid of girls being different (and how they feel about them, and their lack of control when they think about how they feel about them). Grounded in character, potential homophobia is again two guys being afraid of feelings they sense when they're left alone together, literally each other's only friend and comfort. Grounded in character, no matter how much the characters go on about nothingness, there is still an underpinning of hope that refuses to dissipate and keeps them striving to escape. The bond between the two performers and two characters is the most seductive thing about the show. All the crazy whirlwind of things around them is just an epic way to tell their simple and powerful story.

“To be invisible:
Step 1 - Close your eyes
Step 2 - Clear your mind
Step 3 - Cease to exist.”

The Failed Voyage of the Failed Ororo is one of those Fringe productions that everyone will interpret differently. And everyone will be right, and everyone will be wrong. I like a show that refuses to be pinned down, while still offering answers to everyone. (Trying and failing to explain what I thought it was about to Mom after we saw it the first time was half the fun.) Is it perfect? No. (The sketchy sound quality of the opening and closing narration was particularly frustrating, for instance.) Not perfect, but damn, it's good. Really, really good. And that's why I'm going back to see it again.

5 stars, Very Highly Recommended

NEXT (and Final) PERFORMANCE - Saturday 8/14 at 4pm

Their Fringe page

Fringe show #28 - Tuesday, 8/10 7pm


And here's a handy index of links for all blog content on the 2010 Fringe!

Fringe 2010 - Drink Drank Drunk - 5 stars

Are Drinking Puns Appropriate In A Headline For A Show About An Alcoholic? (I'll Resist)

Drink Drank Drunk: Diary of the Life of the Party - Ritz Studio

The Adventures of Les Kurkendaal

"When alcohol touched my lips, I knew I had found my new best friend."

Yes, I know I'm starting to sound like a broken record when it comes to Les Kurkendaal. He's become one of Mom's returning favorites as well so of course we had to see his show before her Fringe visit came to a close. Once again, we were not disappointed. And once again, we learned something new about Les - he's a recovering alcoholic.

"I decided to treat my sobriety like it was a superhero's secret identity."

Les admits that in his drinking days, he was definitely the life of the party ("terrorizing Fringe Festivals across the country!") These days he's trying to learn how to be the life beyond the party, engaging the party in a whole new way. One of the things that always amazes me about Les is the way he can turn nearly any facet of his life into a coherent story. That's no mean feat. It's as much about knowing what to leave out as it is knowing which details to focus on. Les is never afraid to look foolish. His stories are always about the absurdities of life, and finding humor in even the most unusual places. Sometimes that means the joke's on you.

"I was convinced I was adopted and my real mom was Joan Collins."

Drink Drank Drunk: Diary of the Life of the Party alternates between the narrative of the early days of Les' newfound sobriety, and the origins of his drinking, and how it ultimately lead him to AA. Things always start innocently enough - watching other people serve up drinks on "Bewitched" and "The Love Boat" on TV. Drinking becomes a way to relax, and fit in (for a young man who always felt like the odd person out), and even take the lead in the middle of the social whirl. But when you're so drunk you can't remember the second joke in your stand-up routine and you tank on the biggest gig in your career, well, maybe it's time to get some help.

"You're actually going to deal with them sober? Good luck. I can't."

It's always a struggle to reinvent yourself, particularly when everybody liked you just fine the way you were. Les didn't want his life to change either, even though he knew it needed to. The amazing thing about Drink Drank Drunk: Diary of the Life of the Party is that it isn't assigning blame anywhere else but Les himself. Les knows that if he's going to be the one to turn things around, he needs to take responsibility for how things are. The fact that he can create a story out of something so personal, and yet make it about more than just himself, is the thing that helps raise Drink Drank Drunk a cut above most other one-person shows. It's all very well and good to get insight into a particular life, but it's even more enlightening if it can somehow touch on the universal - the things we all feel, the ways in which we all struggle, and the things we all need to learn to laugh at before they devour us. Whether its weight loss, racial relations, sexuality, or addiction, Les is always tackling some larger issue seen through the comedic lens of his own existence.

"What the hell was I thinking going sober before the holidays?"

Stories are the way Les processes his life. Stories are the tools he uses to get through life, to mark the milestones along the way. They're also a way to telegraph to the world who he is and where he's headed. So if you see him out drinking, you don't have to be like his mom and doublecheck to see what he's got in his glass. Les knows where he stands, and he's going to be just fine. Meantime, we all get a hell of a fun Fringe show out of it. A fun show about alcoholism and recovery. The world's a weird place.

5 stars, Very Highly Recommended

NEXT PERFORMANCE - Thursday 8/12 at 7pm

(Then Saturday 8/14 at 10pm, and Sunday 8/15 at 1pm)

His Fringe page

Les is also a guest performer with Pants On Fire! on Saturday 8/14 at 5:30pm

Fringe show #27 - Tuesday, 8/10 5:30pm


And here's a handy index of links for all blog content on the 2010 Fringe!

Fringe 2010 - 4-1/2 Star Reviews - Damn Near Perfect

Here's a bunch of handy links to all the 4-1/2 star reviews of shows in this year's Fringe. 4-1/2 stars - Damn Near Perfect, Class of 2010 would be...

The Damn Audition - 8/11/2010
Twin Cities Daily Planet
Single White Fringe Geek

Grind: The Musical - 8/10/2010
Twin Cities Daily Planet
Single White Fringe Geek

Open & Affirming Fairy Tales - 8/6/2010
Twin Cities Daily Planet
Single White Fringe Geek

Rachel Teagle Believes In Ghosts - 8/6/2010
Twin Cities Daily Planet
Single White Fringe Geek

A Sad Carousel - 8/9/2010
Twin Cities Daily Planet
Single White Fringe Geek

Monday, August 09, 2010

Fringe 2010 - The Tragedy of Icarus - 4 stars

An Uplifting (and Brief) Private Concert

The Tragedy of Icarus - Bryant Lake Bowl

Joshua Caleb Larson, Suburban Cowboy Productions

"It might be too late to dedicate a song to you."

The Tragedy of Icarus landed on my Top 20 list this year on the strength of the premise. Try as I might I couldn't get any additional information to make me a little more sure of my decision to see it. Still, I figured that a show mixing original songs and text, as a tribute to a lost brother who died too young, was bound to be at the very least heartfelt on the part of the performer, and could likely be moving for the audience as well. Good thing I trusted my instincts. The Tragedy of Icarus was exactly what I expected, which is to say that it was quite good.

"Your lives will still be the same, and I'll be dead."

The Tragedy of Icarus is short, just barely over a half hour long, but the time is very full. Often, you get the feeling that the play is teetering on edge of being just a bit too raw. The performer, Joshua Caleb Larson, takes on several personas, but one is clearly a stand-in for himself. During those sequences channeling his onstage alter ego, when he cries out to his brother in song, you almost feel like you shouldn't be watching. It's not out of control, but it's just barely in control. When I experienced a moment like this in another recent production, I likened it to "emotional porn." The Tragedy of Icarus flirts with that boundary line but doesn't cross it. It's partly that potential that the actor might completely lose it in front of you which makes it so compelling. It's mildly unsettling, but it keeps you from getting too comfortable, and thus keeps you engaged, which is a good thing. It's that live wire running between an actor and audience that you can't get anywhere else, with the voltage turned up very high.

"I didn't want to figure it out. I would rather remain in doubt."

If the whole show were only that one character, the production might be in trouble. After all, there's only so much of that a performer can handle, and only so much of it an audience can take. Wisely, Joshua Caleb Larson slides into the skins of several other musicians quite unlike himself - a country crooner, an old-school British rocker, and a folk singer. The folk singer, clearly a stand-in for Bob Dylan - raspy voice, harmonica and all, cranks out a song about Hamlet, "Hard Times Down In Denmark," which is a lot of fun (probably even more fun for fans of Shakespeare, but the ditty itself is quite enjoyable without the dramaturgy homework). A young man, a little mad, dying young, ties right into the theme for the evening. The British rocker - probably a reclusive Beatle - talks, as did the Dylan character, about his troubled relationship with his audience. It's hard to reach out and try something new, when the audience is more comfortable keeping you in the same place. We don't get a song from the Brit, he's on an artistic hiatus.

"Is this one of those existential plays that don't make any sense?"

The country singer gives us the most direct insight into the performer's fallen brother, Derek Larson, and even that's a bit sparse. Now matter how easily you fall into conversation with someone, how well can you know the stranger who comes to paint your house. And the dead brother himself, in the guise of Icarus, can't be of much more help. The brother's death was unexpected, and didn't provide a lot of answers for the family left behind. The play isn't about solving the mystery so much as it's about coming to terms with not knowing. Larson is a reserved presence onstage, but then so are all his characters, so it's a good fit.

"I got older, you got younger. Life is short of breath."

The songs are all well-crafted and entertaining. Larson's voice is strong and easy to listen to, plus he funnels it into the different characters he plays with ease. When he dips down inside the music, Larson lights up a little, even though the wall is still there. Productions like this can run the risk of going overboard, of sharing too much and thus becoming muddied in a welter of unrelated details. Larson is treading more lightly here. It's probably a two-fold thing - he seems like a private person, and he really doesn't know what happened to his brother so he refuses to create a legend out of fragments that may be unreliable. This likely accounts for the brevity of the show. The program note states that in developing the piece, the performer came to the realization that how his brother died wasn't as important as how he lived.

"You died before the sun could change your mind."

Right now, The Tragedy of Icarus is a bit chained down by the reality that spawned it. Given Larson's ability to juggle multiple characters and sing as well as speak in their voices, it would be a shame if it didn't go further. Taking the whole thing one more fictional step away from the real brother might set loose all sorts of things. The universality of loss of a loved one, and the way music can bond widely different people seems like rich territory to continue exploring. It needn't lose its mystery. After all, there's always something about each of us that remains unknowable, even by those who love us best. The Tragedy of Icarus is powerful now, but just imagine...

4 stars, Highly Recommended

NEXT PERFORMANCE - Friday 8/13 at 8:30pm

(Final Performance - Saturday 8/14 at 10pm)

His Fringe page

Fringe show #26 - Monday, 8/9 10pm


And here's a handy index of links for all blog content on the 2010 Fringe!

Fringe 2010 - Pants On Fire - 5 stars

As Advertised, Horrible Truths and Lovely Lies

Pants On Fire! - Bryant Lake Bowl

Allison Broeren & Mumble Mumble Productions

"We had lost a few hours due to the lemon debacle."

Pants On Fire! is a great sampler of storytelling and spoken word all by itself, but there's an added twist. Each of your storytellers - hosts Allison Broeren and Wonder Dave Crady, and their rotating roster of guest storytellers Les Kurkendaal, Courtney McLean, and Khary Jackson - will be telling two true stories and one that is a lie. And at the end, the audience gets to guess who was lying about what. In addition to the three stories, there's a smattering of other random poetry and mini-stories, plus segments where the trio will each attest to the same basic premise (and once again, you get to guess who is telling the truth, and who is lying - sometimes they tell you, sometimes they don't and just launch into the next story instead).

"Marilyn Monroe said that. What could possibly go wrong?"

These folks are all returning favorite with a great preview at Fringe-For-All this year that I was very much looking forward to seeing again. The night Mom and I attended, Les was the guest liar. Mom and I had a lot of fun, largely because Les and Wonder Dave and Allison were all having so much fun, with each other and with the audience. Plus, they just love telling stories, and they do it well. We were all sworn to secrecy about which stories were true and which were lies, but I can report on the amusing results of the audience polls without giving anything away. Suffice it to say, they're great liars.

"I was once very close friends with a cucumber who loved Jesus."

Wonder Dave told tales of:
- almost joining the army, if he could just put on 8-1/2 pounds in less than a day. The strategies are not pretty.
- working as a mascot, in particular a zebra for the zoo, and befriending a young girl with cancer.
- his estrangement from his religious father, and his aching desire to bridge the distance between them.

[I don't know why I'm surprised that Wonder Dave is often such a sentimental kind of guy, but damn...]

Allison spun stories of:
- being humped by an overexcited dolphin
- an epic and ill-fated journey to the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake
- prostituting herself for a camera while visiting Japan

Les shared how:
- his allegiance to Chris Klein prompted a sound bite that went viral on the news when Tom Cruise stole the heart of Katie Holmes
- being mistaken for Lil' Wayne got his friends into a swanky afterparty at the Golden Globes
- he almost got his picture taken with Christina Aguilera

Two interesting moments occurred in the audience voting by applause at the end of the show. For Wonder Dave, silence greeted the mention of the story about his father. No one applauded because we all believed it was all too likely that he and his dad had a troubled relationship. Secretly, I'm sure we all wanted that to be the lie. But we doubted it.

For Allison, there was no applause for the Japan story. So we all totally believed she might have considered prostituting herself for the money to get a really nice digital camera. Wonder Dave cried out, "Her parents are in the audience tonight! You people are terrible." Well, her parents didn't clap either. Hee hee.

Pants On Fire! is a simple show, but done very, very well. I look forward to the Fringe every year in part so I can catch up on my spoken word and storytelling artists. Once again, they did not disappoint. It's a prime example of how sometimes you just can't beat live performance, and a person telling a good story, for great entertainment. Even if they're lying to your face.

5 stars, Very Highly Recommended

NEXT PERFORMANCE - Wednesday 8/11 at 10pm (guest - Courtney)

(Then Thursday 8/12 at 10pm (guest - Courtney), Saturday 8/14 at 5:30pm (guest - Les), and Sunday 8/15 at 7pm (guest - Khary))

Their Fringe page

Fringe show #25 - Monday, 8/9 8:30pm


And here's a handy index of links for all blog content on the 2010 Fringe!

Fringe 2010 - Sincerity Forever - 3 stars

A Foul-Mouthed Hour of Jesus, Space Furballs and KKK Teenagers

Sincerity Forever - Theatre In The Round Players (TRP)

Arbor Heavy Theatre

"The door opens from your side."

Mac Wellman, the author of Sincerity Forever, is a poet. But he tries very hard to hide it. Mac Wellman agrees with some of the most basic tenets of Christianity. But he tries very hard to hide it. Mac Wellman believes in the power of love and romance and friendship and education. But he tries very hard to hide it. In Sincerity Forever, Arbor Heavy Theatre's production in the 2010 Minnesota Fringe Festival, Mac Wellman hides all this quite effectively behind a veil of profanity that streams, almost without ceasing from the mouths of nearly all his characters, including Jesus H. Christ (Ci Ci Cooper) who here is both black, and a woman.

"You're looking for the wrong event."

Teens of the town of Hillsbottom, USA (Billy Bronson, John DeFrance, Megan Dowd, Jake Gustine, Ryan Howley, Peter Ingles, and Taylor Misiak), wear the white button down shirts and pointy white hats that make them nattily dressed for any cross-burning that might become necessary offstage. We're meant to believe they're a bunch of ignorant airheads but they have a self-awareness and vocabulary which present them as some of most well-spoken morons I've met in a while. This is a good thing. Because if there's one thing Sincerity Forever is in love with, aside from the potential of humankind, it's language.

"This world is not one of my father's happier creations."

Two enormous (and I mean *enormous*) intergalactic furrballs (Ryan Newton Harris and Gus Lynch) descend upon Hillsbottom, and infect the teens' language with rivers of profanity. Jesus H. Christ steps in with a swearing fit of her own to help save the day.

"In here is the quietest poem that's ever been written, and it's heavy."

Mac Wellman's scripts are meant as much (perhaps more) to be read than performed. It's what makes his texts irresistible to actors and directors on the page, but makes them extremely difficult to realize in production. After all, the reader gets to pick over the words at whatever rate of speed, and as many times, as they like. An audience member in a performance only gets the experience of Wellman's language once, and is dependent on the performers for the rate of speed at which the words impact them. This is the main stumbling block of this Fringe production, and might prompt many an audience member to throw up their hands in despair and give up (like Mom).

"Except for Pokey the Cat. Pokey the Cat knows."

Which is a shame, because underneath all the swearing, there's a sweet, hopeful, sentimental heart beating in Sincerity Forever. First of all, the different couples, two female friends, two male friends, a male and female couple, and two young men in love, often get a lot of the same lines to say, sometimes even the same entire scene. The message the play is sending is that love and friendship may look different, but the impulse is the same.

"Hold my hand, Tom."

I found myself wishing most for a script in front of me when toward the end, two, then three, then still more of the teens each started rattling through their own individual monologue of pain and anger. If you focused on one near you, you could follow their train of thought and words, but each and every one of these teens had something to say, and I felt cheated that I didn't get to hear it all. Again, that's the script. And it's deliberate. Perhaps I'm meant to be frustrated. But Wellman writes such interesting dialogue, I'm loathe to miss any of it. Could the message be that we don't really hear each other, and even when we try, there's a lot of other conversation getting in the way? Perhaps. But I'd rather get the message of the words, than a meta-commentary in this case.

"It's really hard not to know anything, unless you're really sincere about it."

Though the actor playing Jesus stumbles a bit, she's got some of the best lines. It's clear that Wellman likes puncturing people's self-satisfied notions of themselves as good and sincere (in the absence of virtue). He also thinks perhaps ignorance (rather than simplicity) is not something of which to be proud.

"Hell looks a lot like Hillsbottom."

Sincerity Forever isn't the easiest show to sit through, or sift through. But it may be among the most well-written shows in the Fringe. It's just a challenge to hear it sometimes when it's coming at you from all sides, and distracting you with all the cursing. Just like their Fringe-For-All preview, it's purposefully odd, and thus intriguing. It's not for everyone. But maybe something Mac Wellman's driving at is that maybe theater shouldn't always be easy. Maybe we should have to dig a little deeper, and look a little harder, and listen for something different.

We were told if we liked the show to post a review online, and if we didn't like the show, "F**k you!" (the full cast bellowed from offstage). This must be very liberating for the cast. I just hope it's not one more thing that's off-putting for the audience. Because even though I didn't love Sincerity Forever, I still really liked it. (Even if I'll never be able to make Mom quite understand why.)

3 stars, Recommended

NEXT PERFORMANCE - Thursday 8/12 at 10pm

(Then Friday 8/13 at 8:30pm, and Sunday 8/15 at 1pm)

Their Fringe page

Fringe show #23 - Monday, 8/9 5:30pm


And here's a handy index of links for all blog content on the 2010 Fringe!

Sunday, August 08, 2010

Fringe 2010 - Wisdom: Part 1 - 5 stars

A Cheeky Tour of Religion, from Highlander to Heaven and back

Wisdom: Part 1 - Rarig Thrust

Jimmy Hogg

"Don't put too much pressure on yourselves. It's just a show. No one's going to lose an eye."

As we approached our date with Jimmy Hogg's show yesterday, both Mom and I were receiving somewhat ominous signs from fellow Fringers we knew along the way. One said, "For some reason, he's been getting terrible reviews." Another said, "I won't say a thing about it to you beforehand. I don't want to prejudice you one way or the other, so you can make up your own mind." Which I appreciate. But... hmmmm....

Frankly, though I enjoyed Hogg & The Humors with Mom quite a lot last year, I wasn't a huge fan of Jimmy's 2009 solo show Like A Virgin. He was his usual great at working the crowd, but the thing went off on so many tangents and then got derailed so often by the crowd-engaging antics that it didn't hold together as well as some of his previous shows with stronger narrative spines keeping them on track. So I really wasn't sure what to expect. But Mom really needed her Jimmy Hogg fix, and I am all about giving Mom the Fringe she wants. Turns out we couldn't have chosen a better outing than Wisdom: Part 1

"A part of me wants to talk about religion, and the fact that it's poisonous nonsense."

I'm mighty tempted to read some of the other posted reviews but I'm going to resist the urge and give you my opinion rather than a response to any one person's reaction. I can see why some people might get their dander up. Jimmy Hogg is talking about religion. For some people, that just won't do. (Heck, part of the audience for Tom Reed's Twilight parody nearly turned on him for a passing joke about Jesus. Really? It's a Twilight parody. It's a joke. He's not serious. He's not dunking a crucifix in a jar of urine. It's a Fringe show. No one's burning your church. Relax.)

"If you get to The Veil of Forgetfulness, you've gone too far."

And here's the thing I really don't get about the supposed "uproar" and people taking offense - Jimmy Hogg isn't making fun of anyone's beliefs. And he's certainly not singling out any one religion for gentle ribbing. He's pointing out some of the absurdities of multiple religions. He wisely avoids the easy target of religious fundamentalism, because 1) it's been done, overdone, and then redone; 2) it's too easy; and 3) it's the third rail of entertainment - one can't hold a conversation with the irrational because everyone's brain shuts down and their ears seize up, even though their mouths keep running. But he's talking to a Fringe crowd here, right? We can handle it, right?

"It would be racist, if they actually existed."

Plus, Jimmy is the most genial of Fringe performers I have ever run across. I stand in awe of the way he can work a crowd. He thinks on his feet better than almost anyone I've ever known. He is nimble and quick-witted and genuinely likes and appreciates his audience. The intention of Wisdom: Part 1 is not to offend. The intention of Wisdom: Part 1 is to start a conversation. A conversation well worth having. When it comes to matters of faith nobody is going to change anybody's mind, but that's not what we're after here. We need, desperately need, to start having a dialogue about these things again. And if there's one thing that Jimmy Hogg is good at, it's conversation. Seeing one of Jimmy's shows is like hanging out at a party with someone who has a great story to tell and is wonderfully skilled at telling it. And his intention is never to make you feel dumb, like he's better and smarter and more clever than you (though often, of course, he is). You end up feeling a little smarter and better and more clever for having listened to him. He raises the tenor of the conversation in a non-confrontational way, but he's still not going to let silliness go unchallenged or unremarked.

"Mormonism - Christianity, with an extra dollop of nonsense, mixed with space aliens."

Give the man some credit. As Mom said, "He wore a suit. I've never seen him wear a suit before." My mother's an ordained minister in the American Baptist church. So's my father. Mom's also studying Islam, and holding workshops with a Muslim friend of hers back east in conservative Pennsylvania - going to churches and mosques and speaking about the similarities and differences between the Bible and the Koran (or Qur'an) and their respective faiths. If anyone's going to take offense, it's gonna be one of us. But there was nothing to offend us here. In fact, I was reveling in the fact that despite his protestations to the contrary, Jimmy actually was going to spend the bulk of his Fringe time, after discussions of the Highlander (complete with Sean Connery impression) and the Sandman, who apparently sold him out to Santa Claus at Christmas when he was a kid and imperiled his holiday present quota, discussing things (intelligently and humorously discussing things) like the levels of Heaven as different kinds of parties with quite unexpected guest lists (Hitler?) through which you could come and go as you pleased until you found a party you liked.

"My family was sort of vaguely Christian - people who don't think about religion much, but are scared of death."

Honestly, I'm more offended by bad theater than I am by intelligent discussions of religion. Faith isn't about having incontrovertible proof. It's about having doubts, and hope, and believing anyway. If my faith can't handle the occasional poking and prodding of an honest question now and again, I think *I've* got some work to do - not the person who asked the question.

The title Wisdom: Part 1 holds the promise of more to come. Bring it on, Jimmy. I shall happily listen (and perhaps sputter in disbelief on the sidelines, but enjoy every minute of it.)

5 stars, Very Highly Recommended

NEXT PERFORMANCE - Monday 8/9 at 10pm

(Then Thursday 8/12 at 8:30pm, Saturday 8/14 at 1pm)

His Fringe page

Also, Jimmy co-wrote and directed Oneymoon over at the Southern, so check that out, too.

Fringe show #22 - Sunday, 8/8 10pm


And here's a handy index of links for all blog content on the 2010 Fringe!

Fringe 2010 - The Squeaky Wheel Squeaks - 5 stars

Accidental Quadriplegia As Comedy

The Squeaky Wheel Squeaks - Rarig Arena

Squeaky Wheel, Inc.

"If you want a happy ending, leave now."

Brian Shaughnessy would probably hate my calling his Fringe show The Squeaky Wheel Squeaks inspirational, but if you forced me to choose one word to describe it, inspirational would have to be first in line.

"This was the warm-up preacher. The faith fluffer."

A close second in line for a one-word description would be funny.

Yes, I'll grant you, the true story of a man who walked into a hospital for surgery, and emerged from that surgery a quadriplegic does not exactly scream "comedy gold" to most people.

Brian Shaughnessy is not most people.

"How much does one person have to go through?"
"It's more than one now."

This show is about as low tech as they come. Most of the time the lights are up full and Brian is tooling around the Rarig Arena space in his motorized wheelchair, with an inflatable pink flamingo, blue seahorse, and palm tree strapped on the back. He had a small but appreciative crowd on all sides and he made sure to face us all throughout his astonishing story.

"'Children of a Lesser God,' the first, and only disability play of any significance until..."
(he gives us a knowing glance with a twinkle in his eye, as if to say, "You're sitting through it right now.")

The story is astonishing not just because of his tussles with the medical establishment, not just because of his battles with the body that no longer works the way it once did, not just because of what he accomplished after landing in that chair (a theater degree, law school, teaching, a book, a play, this performance, getting married, adopting a son [who we get to meet], being widowed and raising a child on his own), but mostly because this isn't a "pity poor me" style of theatrical experience. And honestly, if anyone had a right to a little self-pity, it'd be Brian. But the guy's just as hardy and prickly as the cactus he admires.

"They're the rodeo clowns of the plant world. All the other plants are just mimes."

Shaughnessy creates the characters of his family and other loved ones who went through this experience with him in simple vignettes. He isn't looking for easy sentiment or cheap sympathy. He gets you to care about both him and those around him mostly because they just refuse to give up. Sure, hope is hard to come by, and a lot of the humor is of the gallows variety, but the man's alive. And if you're alive, then you should do as much as you can with the time and abilities you have. Oh, and for god's sake, have some fun while you're at it. Have fun with people who ask stupid questions. Have fun with people in general. And he does, and we get to be privy to some mighty inventive leg-pulling.

You can buy his book, by the way. He has it with him. ("If you don't like to read, I have T-shirts.") He couldn't resist tweaking "the Fringe fascists" who wouldn't let him sell his stuff, and tried to go ahead and sell it anyway. (Did he know Robin Gillette, the Executive Director of the Fringe, was in the audience for that performance? I'm not sure if it's more amusing if he did or didn't know. Lord knows I wouldn't have the stones to say it in public either way.)

Though he spent a fair amount of his life in Minnesota, Brian is based in Hawaii now. So, as so often applies to the Fringe, this isn't the kind of thing you get to see any other time of year. You should see The Squeaky Wheel Squeaks while you can. It's a man who knows how to tell a story, and oh what a story he has to tell.

5 stars, Very Highly Recommended

NEXT PERFORMANCE - Tuesday 8/10 at 10pm

(Then Friday 8/13 at 10pm, and Sunday 8/15 at 7pm)

His Fringe page

Fringe show #21 - Sunday, 8/8 8:30pm


And here's a handy index of links for all blog content on the 2010 Fringe!

Fringe 2010 - The Damn Audition - 4-1/2 stars

Incredibly Smart and Wickedly Funny, But...

The Damn Audition - Rarig Thrust

Joking Envelope

"(on cell phones) I just do this weird thing where I exercise my free will and choose not to answer it."

Every now and again, more often than I care to admit, I have a moment where I say something and then think, "Oh, dammit. That was my 'out loud' voice, wasn't it? I meant to keep that one in my head." Chatting with fellow Fringers right after leaving a performance of The Damn Audition, we were asked our opinion of the show. Mom and I both agreed it was incredibly smart and wickedly funny, then I blurted out, "and it was almost *about* something." The raised eyebrows of one of my friends clued me into the fact that, yes, I had just said that last thing out loud. But then he gestured to his theatergoing companion next to him and said, "She had the same reaction."

"I want you to remove my socks from my body with your acting."

Three actors, a tabloid-crazy former child actor (John Middleton), a B-list perennial TV guest star (David Mann), and an up and coming actor straight out of community theater in Minnesota (Randy Reyes), are all up for the part of the Devil in the new TV comedy "What's Up Satan?" ("a comedy with moments of dramatic relief.") They must perform at the whims of an edgy film director (Joseph Scrimshaw) slumming in TV to create his own infinite revenue stream, aided by his long-suffering jaded assistant (Maggie Chestovich).

"There are a limited number of laughs in the world."

Well, you couldn't prove that last quote by writer/director Joseph Scrimshaw's output. The man is a seemingly endless font of jokes. And not just any jokes. Jokes that are well-constructed, based in character, and - wait for it - actually funny. The audience at the performance Mom and I attended were howling with laughter. We were among the many in the crowd enjoying ourselves thoroughly. This, despite the fact that plays about actors, writers and directors normally bore me to tears. Any tears here would be tears of laughter. I was scribbling madly the whole hour trying to get down on paper just a few of the really great laugh lines that had people rolling.

"Fucking Nazis have ruined evil for everyone!"

But here's the thing. I found myself wishing for a couple of moments of that "dramatic relief." It's the same reason I prefer Neil Simon's earlier plays like "The Sunshine Boys" to later ones like "Rumors." "Rumors" is funny. It's so well-crafted it's frightening. You laugh while reading it, and seeing it just makes it funnier. But you forget it the second it's over. "The Sunshine Boys" sticks in my gut because underneath all the laughs, and there are a whole lot of laughs, there is a vein of pain and heartache that runs very, very deep. It makes these characters real people, and causes us to care about them, and remember them.

"I find myself wondering, 'Could you shut the fuck up?!'"

Mom keeps steering me back to the play at hand. "You can't review it or fault it because it's not the play you wish it was. You have to review the play for what it is." What The Damn Audition is, is an extremely intelligent, funny play, acted by a who's who of great Twin Cities actors with an impeccable sense of comic timing, directed by someone who never lets the pace flag, and never lets the audience get too far ahead of the script. It's full of surprises, and lots and lots of humor.

"I'm in between religions right now."

But nobody's getting their heart broken, because everyone in this play, without exception, is essentially heartless. You can't hurt them. They won't bleed. TV is an easy mark. People living in LA, particularly people in show business are a big juicy target. Because the Randy Reyes' character - Hugh Johnson (don't have to spell that one out, do I?) is from Minnesota, you also get your Midwestern hick jokes. I'm not saying it's not funny. It's criminally funny. I laughed almost as much as anyone else in the audience.

"Did you know that bad acting actually leaves a smell?"

But I also kept waiting for the bigger punchline that never landed. What if the script wasn't bad? What if this was that blessed rarity, good television? What if they were really invoking the spirit of Satan? What if this play were really about the evil that people do to one another - not genocide, but the little cuts and shocks that make genocide that much more possible, because we see it on the news, and war on the news, and starvation on the news, and poverty on the news, and we just change the channel because we just don't care? And yes, people desperate for fame and fortune are far more likely to make a Faustian bargain and let their humanity slip away little by little. But doesn't that make them "those people over there." We're not like them. We're basic decent ordinary folk. We don't inflict any kind of evil on one another. Do we? Maybe the problem is with the definition of evil. We get away with the little things because evil these days is always spelled with a capital E, and someone else is always doing something worse than any one of us might let ourselves do.

I guess the director character in the play is right, f**king Nazis really have ruined evil for everyone.

I can feel Mom looking over my shoulder again (even though she's on the highway to Indianapolis right now), so I'll stop.

The Damn Audition is everything you've learned to expect from Joseph Scrimshaw - hilarious script, sharp production values all the way around, and some of the best actors you're likely to see on a Fringe stage. For all those reasons, despite my random tangents, that makes this Fringe show...

4-1/2 stars, Very Highly Recommended

NEXT PERFORMANCE - Wednesday 8/11 at 10pm

(Then Saturday 8/14 at 2:30pm, and Sunday 8/15 at 4pm)

Their Fringe page

Fringe show #20 - Sunday, 8/8 7pm


And here's a handy index of links for all blog content on the 2010 Fringe!