Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Fringe 2010 - Top 10 - #s 1 through 5

So, clearing out all the returning favorites from past Top 10 lists which you know I'm going to try and find a way to see, here are the shows that are at the top of my list for Fringe viewing...



Jeffrey Peterson Dance (choreographed by Jeffrey Peterson/Rebecca Katz)

"From whimsical to edgy, this split-bill dance show combines vibrant movement with thoughtful social commentary. Love collides with distance and judgement, engulfed by the music of Etta James and Marty Winkler.

CorresponDance explores how we create and maintain relationships across distances – geographical, cultural, and emotional. The title, a play on the word correspondence, also reflects the process. Created by a company spread from Duluth to Georgia, the piece has taken shape literally across distances, with rehearsals and ideas exchanged via YouTube and email, as well as in person. The ultimate goal of CorresponDance, like correspondence, is human connection. That connection will be musically contributed by the fabulous Marty Winkler, playing live with guitarist Tate Ferguson, and featuring original material, including some specially written for this show.

A reprise of the 2006 Bryant Lake Bowl hit, Thinkingaview disguises social scrutiny as lighthearted cabaret entertainment. Called "fun, poignant, and extremely well orchestrated" by Twin Cities dance writer Linda Shapiro, the work presents equality by manipulating expectation. Through emotionally charged dancing, innuendo-laden partnering, gendered repetitions, public displays of affection, and strong costume choices, Thinkingaview boldly encourages us to love and perceive love without judgment. The goal of Thinkingaview is to raise a mirror to the members of its audience, asking us all to think about how we view our own and others’ relationships, no matter who/what they might be. The work is choreographed to an all-Etta James songbook, and will be performed live by Marty Winkler, Tate Ferguson and Kate Bordeaux."

During the Fringe lottery, the minute I heard their number come up I thought, "OK, that's an easy Top 10 act right there." I saw the earlier incarnation of "Thinkingaview" at the Bryant Lake Bowl and it was a heck of a lot of fun. Mostly because it was so damn romantic, and across the whole spectrum of sexuality. Their Fringe-For-All preview was one of the bouncier, upbeat numbers - where a guy was just as likely to leap into the arms of a gal as the other way around (hey, everyone deserves to be carried once in a while, right?). Part of the previous go-round had a set of dance moves performed to an Etta James ballad in three different pairings - a man and a woman, two women, and two men - and the order was determined by the audience on the night of the show. The world just kind of opened up just a little. It's such a simple idea, but the visual of the same moves in different configurations of gender was really quite powerful. I'm expecting more of the same sort of winking subversive work this time out. It's lovely, and funny, and kinda sexy, and one of the shows I'm looking forward to seeing the most. If "CorresponDance" is just as good (and why shouldn't it be?), this'll be a great show.

Their Fringe page

Mom and I are seeing their opening performance Friday 8/6.


A Sad Carousel


Another show I've been eagerly anticipating since the Fringe Lottery called their number, for all the reasons outlined here.

Their Fringe page

Mom and I are seeing their opening performance Saturday 8/7.



Caseblolt & Smith

Do I really need to post anything other than this video clip?

OK, how about their Fringe show last year Casebolt & Smith - Speaking Out was five star fun start to finish? I was not the only one at the Fringe Lottery happy to hear that they were coming back to visit this year.

How about they recently sent me an email that began... "It's hard to believe it has been almost a year since we were having a beer with you and your mom at Bedlam! We are so excited to be coming back for Fringe." This after a tour of Ireland and the UK. They're just as good company offstage as on.

Their press release declares, "Their 2010 show O(h) promises to be just as comedic and clever, and a little bit more gay."

How gay? Well...

"A highlight of O(h) is the 'Gay Break,' a laugh out loud section of the dance in which Joel prances around the stage removing articles of clothing, while Liz mockingly warns the audience that if they look at his hips they might turn gay! O(h) is a totally original creation that offers a fast paced, complex and hilarious glimpse into the minds and pants of casebolt and smith."

OK, if you need a bit more detail...

"O(h) leads the audience on an unexpected journey, delivering complicated, quirky, virtuosic dance theater rife with thought provoking shifts of perspective and meaning. Speaking directly to the audience while dancing and sometimes singing, casebolt and smith tear apart their process of making dances, offering honest insights into their limitations as a duet company and their fear of becoming unoriginal. The dance evolves from demonstrations of what they can, can’t and won’t do into intricate dance phrases layered with pop culture references and iconic dancing images of the past- from Martha Graham to Tina Turner. They rewrite iconic rock songs, borrow from famous choreographers, use microphones in a variety of ways, sing show tunes and deploy brash, witty, perfectly-timed humor and multiple dance vocabularies, including gyrating hips, hand snaps and a dash of breakin’."

All this, plus when interviewed for the print edition of this Fringe profile, the poor guy on the other end of the line trying to keep up with another of my rambling Fringe monologues misheard me say "Casebolt & Smith" as "Kate Fulton Smith." Corrected online, but print is print. So if you can't find that show by Kate Fulton Smith that I recommended in the print edition, why not check out Casebolt & Smith instead? (Because it will make me chuckle for no good reason for the whole damn festival.)

Their facebook page

Their website - caseboltandsmith.com

Their Fringe page

Mom and I are seeing their opening performance Saturday 8/7.


Missing: the fantastical and true story of my father's disappearance and what I found when I looked for him

(Clearly she's hanging out with the same people who come up with titles at Bedlam)

Jessica Ferris

"This magical-realist detective story traces California solo performer Jessica Ferris’s search for her father, who disappeared under mysterious circumstances thirty years ago, and her discovery that he is a con artist on the lam.

Says Ferris, 'In the past couple of years our country has been pretty devastated by huge con jobs: Bernie Madoff’s pyramid scheme, for example, and the shady practices that set off the housing market collapse. Most of us are thinking of these guys as far-away villains: what kind of people would do this? My show addresses that question on an intimate level. I reveal what it’s like to be the daughter, the mother, the wife of one of these guys.'

Throughout the piece, Ferris deftly transforms everyday objects (a folding chair, a metal toolbox, a sheet) into extra-daily entities and beings, and composer Mark Orton's original score compliments the physical theater elements of the show. Orton is a founding member of Tin Hat, a composer collective that blends elements of jazz, folk, and classical chamber music; he’s perhaps best-known in the Twin Cities for having scored the film 'Sweet Land.'"

Here's another one that right out of the gate at the Fringe Lottery I thought, "Excellent! She's coming back!" Why?

Because despite her being a cheerfully relentless promoter of her show "Speechless" in Fringe 2005, I was mighty leery due to the subject matter. But this is what I ended up saying about it when I had the good fortune to see it for myself...

"OK, it's an easy one, but I have to go with it. This show did leave me Speechless.

Well, unless you count my internal monologue at the end, which went something like, "Holy sh**. That's brilliant."

The thing that sets this show apart from the others at the Fringe is Jessica's unerring instinct for knowing when *not* to say something.

For knowing what parts of the story to leave out because we can fill in the blanks.

For knowing when to end the show and leave us wanting so very much more, and yet still leaving her audience completely satisfied.

Speechless is a theater experience I would never have expected from a show about two things that seem very prone to being overdone - drawing comedy from mime, and drawing sentiment from children with special needs.

It is Jessica's restraint, both in characterization and storytelling, that is the most remarkable thing about this show, and why it earns every laugh and every gentle emotion honestly.

It could have taken potshots at mime and gotten easy laughs.

It could have explored the world of children with learning disabilities and elicited easy sighs and tears.

Jessica does neither.

Instead, she builds characters from the smallest building blocks, much like the highly focused and detailed studies in her mime school, or the tiny victories one can achieve over time with the special students in her care.

It would seem that one school has very little to do with the other, that the only thing connecting them is Jessica, the person who experienced both.

But it is through the techniques of mime that Jessica so vividly creates the characters.

And the final image, of a developmentally disabled 17 year old boy releasing an unwanted helium balloon that has been thrust upon him by a well-meaning store clerk, into the air, and laughing for the first time as he watches it disappear - well, it slayed me. It didn't bring me to laughter or tears, but nonetheless, it both deeply moved and amused me. It stunned me into silence.

Trust me. You really need to see Speechless."

Endorsement enough? (What, you were expecting to see a lot of former 2-star shows in my Top Ten?)

Also, the lady has a healthy sense of humor. Emailing me a while back she said,

"Clearly I've still got my knack for choosing subject matter which makes people feel ill-at-ease; FringeFamous has chosen my show as Most Likely To Be The Number One Worst Show in the Fringe! Distinction!"

She actually links to the fact on her website :) Maybe there is no such thing as bad publicity in theater. Plus, imagine what'll happen if they see it and actually like it.

Finally, this was in her press release...

"Creating the show has been a life-changing process for Ferris. “Not only did I find my father,” she says, “but I found my husband. He was one of five people in the audience of a work in progress showing, and he was the only one I didn’t already know. In retrospect I’m really glad that’s how we met. It took care of the problem of how to break the news about my strange family.”

I mean, c'mon. Even if I didn't already know she was great, I'm a total sucker for a romantic/funny story like that. Artists as human beings rather than neurotics. Always such a refreshing thing to encounter. And another thing I love about Fringe time.

Video clip of the work in progress...

Her website www.jessicaferris.com

Her Fringe page

Mom and I are seeing her opening performance Saturday 8/7.


Can Michael Come Out And Play?

Mahmoud Hakima

"For those struggling to find themselves in a society where individuality is often blurred, for those who have ever been weighted down by a label, for those who want to step outside the world of normalcy and have an interaction that is purely human."

A one-man search for self-identity, through mispronunciations, assumptions and suspicions of terrorism. After last year's hit Two Bowls of Cereal and Some Bacon, Mahmoud returns to the Minnesota Fringe to answer the following questions: Is he from Africa? Is he intelligent? How do you spell his name? How do you pronounce it? Did he have access to chocolate where he came from? Was he named after a terrorist? And who the heck is Michael?

Mahmoud's 2009 Fringe show Two Bowls of Cereal and Some Bacon was show #47 out of my 56-show marathon last year. I didn't get a review typed up and now I'm kicking myself. Why? Because I have very few specifics for you. I just know that have a very vivid recollection of liking it a whole lot. But it wasn't one of those shows where individual lines or moments popped out one after the other and lodged in your brain. I scribbled a few in my notebook that nabbed me...

"When he looks at me like that, I feel like I'm his real son."

"I was seven years old and up to my ankles in bullshit."

"He will break the kids. She will repair them."

It was more the accumulation of details in each story, and each story building on the next, unfolding key incidents in his childhood that grabbed and then held my attention.

I know it sounds like it could be one of those "this was my screwed up childhood, and that's why I'm an artist, thank you all for coming" sort of shows, but it was the opposite of that. You felt after it was done that you understood a childhood that was very different from your own (or perhaps very much the same, depending on where you were sitting.) But it was still a childhood. There was no self-pity here, and there was no blame. It was the kind of storytelling that trusted the audience to make its own evaluations of good and evil. And it was a sliding scale. Every human has some monster in them, and vice versa. We're all cowards and heroes. We're all alone and connected.

Here's a sample...

I could have sworn I shared this with Mom last year, and thus had a review handy (seeing that many shows in 11 days tends to make time collapse in on itself, I guess.) So now I'm doubly glad it's up there on my list so Mom gets to see Mahmoud in action this year, too.

The Fringe-For-All preview this year didn't do him any favors unfortunately. Because he was too good at what he was trying to do - which was convince the audience he was haltingly performing a poem he had just scribbled on a piece of paper. If you've only got three minutes, don't use your good performing skills to convince me you're a bad performer. Show me how good you are. It is possible to be too ironic when previewing your show. Don't give me any reason to doubt. Based on my experience of his show last year, I have no doubts, but not everyone has that frame of reference. He has a less goofy title and a slightly downbeat look to his materials this year, so a great preview would have helped him stand out more. Oh well. I'm still talking him up.

Prior to the Fringe-For-All marathon, Mahmoud emailed me to say the show "tells of the bizarre situations I've run into due to having the name 'Mahmoud'."

An alternate synopsis from him...

"The writer/performer of last year's Fringe hit Two Bowls of Cereal and Some Bacon returns to tell tales from his life in which the following questions are answered: no he's not a terrorist, yes he's intelligent and not 'all Africans are dumb,' no he isn't Muslim, yes he used to call himself Michael to fit in, no he's not from another country, and yes, lady, even though his name is Mahmoud, he did grow up with access to chocolate."

From the show postcard:

"A one-man search for self-identity, through assumptions, mispronunciations and suspicions of terrorism."

Like his show last year, and Jessica's shows listed above, the short version doesn't necessarily give you an idea of the richness you're in for. It sounds basic. It isn't. That's why they're at the front of the pack for my scheduling this year. Check 'em out.

His Fringe page

Mom and I are seeing his opening performance Saturday 8/7.

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