Thursday, October 25, 2012

Two Times 8 For A Good Cause

This is the kind of thing that makes me giddy about the Twin Cities theater community.

We have not one but two readings of Dustin Lance Black's play 8 about California's fight over Proposition 8, which overturned the law allowing same-sex marriage in that state.  The readings are being done to raise money for Minnesotans United for All Families, the organization leading the charge against the marriage amendment on the Minnesota ballot for the election nearly upon us in less than two weeks.  There are numerous readings of this play taking place around the country, under the auspices of the American Foundation for Equal Rights (AFER) and Broadway Impact, during these election year battles over marriage equality - we get two made available to us in less than 48 hours.

Sunday, October 28, 2012 at 4pm at Our Savior's Lutheran Church (2315 Chicago Avenue in Minneapolis)

Prospero Theatre Company has gathered the following local actors for the occasion - Ann Carroll, Matthew Cerar, Rich Davenport, Tina Frederickson, Ankur Garg, Per Halaas, Ashley Halbach, Rebekah Henrickson, Becky Iverson, Jim Larson, Kristen Mathisen, Marylynn Mennicke, Paul Modderman, Jack Neveaux, Donn Saylor, Joel Thingvall, and Franklin Wagner; directed by Mary Wulf.

Admission is FREE, post-show discussion to follow, and all donations collected at the event will benefit Minnesotans United for All Families.

Then, the very next day...

Monday, October 29, 2012 at 7:30pm at the Varsity Theater (1308 4th Street SE in Minneapolis)

Producer Michelle Pett and director Peter Rothstein have assembled: Sasha Andreev, Patrick Bailey, Mark Benninghofen, Jennifer Blagen, Zach Curtis, Bob Davis, Beth Gilleland, Shawn Hamilton, Jeffrey Hatcher, Aditi Kapil, Linda Kelsey, Eli Newell, Tod Petersen, Raul Ramos, Mac Rasmus, Don Shelby, Brian Skellenger, John Skelley, Brian Sostek, and Sally Wingert

Everyone's new favorite football player Chris Kluwe will be in attendance.

You need tickets for this one, and they are, understandably, a little pricier.   Limited on-stage and general admission seating for $25 to $50, premier seating for $100, table seating starting at $400.  Tickets available here.

A little on the play...

"8 is an account of the Federal District Court trial in Perry v. Schwarzenegger (now Perry v. Brown), the case filed by AFER to overturn Proposition 8, which stripped gay and lesbian Californians of the fundamental freedom to marry.

Black, who penned the Academy Award-winning feature film Milk and the film J. Edgar, based 8 on the actual words of the trial transcripts, first-hand observations of the courtroom drama and interviews with the plaintiffs and their families.

Take a seat in the middle of the landmark Prop 8 trial that may decide the constitutionality of marriage equality. Experience both sides of this historic debate with staging that places the actors in the audience, and the audience in the midst of the courtroom."

I just want to take a moment to thank all the artists involved in these two readings, many of them giving up their one night off from other productions in which they are currently performing in order to do this.  It's great that so many are doing so much to put some more positive energy out there in the conversation in these last two weeks when things can get a little testy.  Many thanks to you all.

Days To Come (or, Theater I'm Bummed I'm Missing, part 3)

John Townsend, the critic for Lavender Magazine, has been very supportive of my plays, so I thought I'd return the favor.

Last weekend, a play opened which he directed for Lex-Ham Community Theater (a group which provided Mom and me with a great Fringe experience a couple of years back).

This weekend is their closing weekend - Thursday, Friday, Saturday, October 25 to 27, at 7:30pm.

The play is Lillian Hellman's Days To Come, about a labor strike in the 1930s.  Wow, a hostile environment against union workers - thank God it's just a period piece and all those problems are solved, huh?  Of course, I'm being silly.  There's a reason they're doing this play now.  It is sadly just as timely now as it was when it was first produced.

Performances are, fittingly, at the Wellstone Center in St. Paul (179 Robie Street East).

Lillian Hellman is a playwright best known for her scripts The Little Foxes, The Children's Hour, and Watch on the Rhine.  She was also one of the artists on the right side of history, refusing to name names to the House Un-American Activities Committee and getting blacklisted by Joseph McCarthy.

If you like your political drama served with a side of righteous anger to get you all fired up for the coming election, this is your show.

Thursday, October 25th they also have a post-show discussion on labor in the Twin Cities in the 1930s with Peter Rachleff - a specialist in labor history who has taught at Macalester College for thirty years.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Want to get some of the politics out of your theater...?

Theater isn't all about politics and gay people this month.  I know, shocking, but true.  While I've been tied up in theater over on that end of the spectrum, there's tons of stuff going on in the coming weeks for folks who want their entertainment to have nothing to do with the election, the marriage amendment or the voter ID issue.  For example…

Of the productions currently running, I have to give a special shout-out to the one I've actually managed to see...

Next To Normal, running over at Mixed Blood now through November 11, 2012 - a tricky production of a fantastic Tony and Pulitzer Prize-winning musical that's very much worth your time - and it's free - my review can be found here.

Also going on right now, closing this weekend…

- Shakespeare's drama/comedy (comedy/drama?) of morality and hypocrisy Measure for Measure from Ten Thousand Things now through October 21, 2012
- Bucaneers, a show a friend of mine just raved about, over at the Children's Theater Company now through October 21, 2012
- The Diary of Anne Frank at Yellow Tree Theatre now through October 21, 2012
- Off Leash Area is finishing up their annual garage tour now October 20, 2012
- A Mighty Fortress Is Our Basement at Plymouth Playhouse now through October 21, 2012

Hitting the stage this weekend…

- Sandbox Theatre's latest ensemble-created work, Beatnik Giselle, at the Southern Theater - which I've already gone on at length about here.
- Newly minted Fringe favorite The Complete Works of William Shatner (Abridged) is revived on the Bryant Lake Bowl stage - October 19th to 27th, 2012
- Old time Fringe favorite The Lives of the Most Notorious Highwaymen gets the Six Elements Theatre treatment - October 20th to November 3rd, 2012
- One night only the Encyclopedia Show hits Kierans Irish Pub with The Zodiac Show on October 21st at 7:30pm
- HUGE Theater has the visiting Bassprov this weekend, as well as local improv comedy acts Free Association, The Bearded Men, Splendid Things, the regular Submarine Adventure Show, Saturday Late Night Mix, Improv-A-Go-Go, and Show X
- The Hobbit goes to the Far East thanks to Green T Productions - October 20th to November 4th, 2012
- Open Eye Figure Theatre trots out Episode 2 of The Learning Fairy - October 19th to November 11th, 2012
- The Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize-winning musical Sunday in the Park With George out at Bloomington Civic Theater - October 19th to November 17th, 2012
- SteppingStone Theatre is presenting the Adventures of Tom Sawyer - October 19th to November 4th, 2012
- Skewed Visions has the latest in their ongoing series of Three Principles workshops for those interested in developing the skills they use in their own site-specific works of theater - Saturday October 20th, 10am to noon
- One weekend only Teatro del Pueblo presents Long Island Iced Latina - October 19th to 21st, 2012
- Also coming up Monday and Tuesday October 22 and 23 at 7pm is Pillsbury House Theater's award-winning Chicago Avenue Project - this time around with the young theater artists writing the scripts to be directed and performed by a who's who of local theater professionals.  Always a great time.

Currently running and closing next weekend...

- The classic ghost story Turn of the Screw from Torch Theater now through October 27, 2012
- The Kurt Vonnegut play Happy Birthday, Wanda June - Nimbus now through October 28, 2012 (can't go wrong with Vonnegut)
- A memory play, or a play about memory colliding with modern technology, Meronymy at Red Eye now through October 28, 2012
- Embers, the third play in the Guthrie Theater's Christopher Hampton celebration now through October 27, 2012

Opening next weekend…

- We Are Theatre (and So Can You) - a 24-hour letter reading extravaganza from the minds of George McConnell and Samantha Johns, the folks who brought us Snowf*ck - in the garage at 2209 East 33rd Street. Minneapolis MN - from 11pm on October 26th all the way to 11pm on October 27th, 2012 (stop by for a little or a lot)
- Just for the scary season - the Twin Cities Horror Fest at the Southern Theater - October 25th to November 3rd, 2012
- HUGE Theater has the improv comedy acts Theater of Public Policy, Space Jam, Free Association, The Bearded Men, Splendid Things, and the regular HUGE Wednesdays, Submarine Adventure Show, Saturday Late Night Mix, Improv-A-Go-Go, and Show X
- The Stephen Sondheim 70s classic Company gets a Theatre Latte Da makeover - October 25th to November 18th, 2012
- Open Eye Figure Theatre presents another Full Moon Puppet Show - October 27th at 9pm

For Halloween...
- Blacula: Young, Black and Undead at the Bryant Lake Bowl - October 31st, 2012
- HUGE Theater's Halloween Double Feature - October 31st, 2012

Special event for the following weekend…

- Public readings and feedback sessions for Savage Umbrella's new work in development, Rapture at Interact Center for Visual and Performing Arts on November 2 and 3, 2012 only

And three more currently running shows draw to a close…
- Photograph 51, about the woman who helped discover the structure of DNA (and the reasons we don't know that), at Minnesota Jewish Theatre now through November 4, 2012
- Tennessee Williams' Summer and Smoke at Theatre in the Round Players now through November 4, 2012
- Lombardi at the History Theatre now through November 4, 2012

- HUGE Theater has the improv comedy acts Theater of Public Policy, Space Jam, The Bearded Men, and the regular Submarine Adventure Show, Saturday Late Night Mix, Improv-A-Go-Go, and Show X

******* Please remember to VOTE on Tuesday, November 6, 2012 *********

And one more Fringe favorite currently enjoying a popular revival in the heart of the downtown Minneapolis theater district…

2 Sugars Room For Cream at the New Century Theater now through November 11th, 2012


Things I've already missed during this election season…

Lovers and Executioners - Theatre Pro Rata
Mean - Youth Performance Company

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Indefinite Articles - Debate Night Entertainment, one night only (tonight, 10/16/12)

It's the night of the 2nd big Presidential debate, but I think I might just allow the machine to record the debate for me, and enjoy a warm-up act from my favorite Libertarian first (no, not Ron Paul - *shudder*) before diving into the campaign spin cycle again.

One night only, tonight, Tuesday, October 16, 2012 at 8pm

$12, $10 with a Fringe button discount

It's phillip andrew bennett low so it takes place in, where else?, a bar

Kieran's Irish Pub in the heart of downtown Minneapolis, to be exact (601 North 1st Avenue)


"Use your aggressive feelings, boy.
Let the hate flow through you!"
-Emperor Palpatine, Return of the Jedi

It's a Federal election year -- just the time for a collection of classic jokes, stories, and rants by libertarian activist and internationally touring storyteller phillip andrew bennett low! Pull up a chair, down some whiskey, laugh, get angry, and tip your servers*. He'll be here one night.

*not necessarily in this order

WARNING: This show contains profanity, graphic language, and other reckless exploitation of the First Amendment.


"Angry common sense was never dripping with such tasty snake oil. This guy's got his tricorne hat on sideways, and he's menacingly waving his fife at you!"
-Lee Brennise, State Chair of the Libertarian Party

"...a scream (sometimes literally) for critical thought and intellectual clarity...surely not lacking in original, brainy tones."
-Quinton Skinner, City Pages

"Writer phillip low is a talented man with a gift for caustic monologues. But he also has a crazed sense of humor... "
-Kansas City Star

Beatnik Giselle - Oct 19-21 only (or, Theater I'm Bummed I'm Missing, part 2)

Mom's in town this weekend, visiting to see my play But Not For Love, so my time this weekend is spoken for.

Sadly this is the very same (and only) weekend that Sandbox Theatre is unveiling their lucky 13th ensemble-created production - Beatnik Giselle (Friday, October 19 to Sunday, October 21, 2012).

Now, with pretty much anyone else, the words Beatnik and Giselle side by side would have me rolling my eyes so strenuously they'd be in danger of popping out of my head.  But when you put the name Sandbox Theatre in front of the title, I immediately assume they know what the heck they're doing, and I'm gonna love the thing.  (After all, I worried about the same "pretentious theater" red flags with .faust - and I needn't have worried there either.  And The Mad Trapper Of Rat River was so much fun it easily earned a berth on my list of top 10 theater experiences in 2011.)

Then you hit me with a cast of characters including:

Kate Guentzel as Giselle
Ryan Hill as Allen Ginsberg
Derek Meyer as Neal Cassady
Derek Lee Miller as Jack Kerouac

and I'm well beyond being fully onboard with the idea.

(This is likely about 75 percent the actors involved, and 25 percent a happy gay love hangover from seeing the movie Howl but most theatergoing decisions are based on such strange equations.)

Also, live music conceived by designer Tim Donahue - which was a huge part of the fun in Mad Trapper; music created and performed by Greg Schutte, and Jacqueline Ultan

The ensemble also includes Katie Bradley, Nicole Devereaux, Evelyn Digirolamo, Erika Hansen, Theo Langason, Zainab Musa, and of course Heather Stone (what would a Sandbox piece be without Heather Stone?)

Sandbox's website further says the following...

Sandbox Theatre brings its highly stylized brand of movement-based storytelling to the uneasy, shifting America of the 1950s with Beatnik Giselle. Intersecting worlds of the Beats and the classic romantic ballet Giselle will dance and clash through issues of gender, sexuality, race and entitlement. A powerful, provocative piece, Beatnik Giselle features live music, dance, and Sandbox’s signature transformative set design, guaranteeing a Southern Theater like you’ve never seen.

Beatnik Giselle is currently in its creation process, and is proving to be Sandbox’s most provocative production to date. Gritty, stark and heavy; Beatnik Giselle is sizzling with sex, drug use and the raw language of the Beats. This show is intended for mature audiences.

Beatnik Giselle is Sandbox Theatre's first production at Minneapolis' historic Southern Theater, and runs just four performances.

(Arrggh!  Have I mentioned enough times how much I hate missing this one?  Thankfully, you don't have to...)

Southern Theater - 1420 Washington Avenue South in Minneapolis

Friday, October 19th 8:00pm – Post Show Reception
Saturday, October 20th 2:00pm
Saturday, October 20th 8:00pm
Sunday, October 21st 2:00pm

Tickets: $15-$30

Photo by Richard Fleischman Photography - Ryan Hill as Allen Ginsberg, Kate Guentzel as Giselle in Beatnik Giselle

Engaged (or, Theater I'm Bummed I'm Missing, part 1)

With so many theater companies addressing the issue of the marriage amendment, a few of us were bound to overlap, in some cases completely.  Since I can't be there myself because my own play But Not For Love is going on at the same time, I wanted to help spread the word about another new play by a local playwright (and a new theater company) diving into similar territory.

Playwright Gemma Irish wrote Engaged.  Mom and I still recall her Fringe show Yvette quite fondly.

Christine Karki, who was such much fun in The Gay Banditos in this summer's Fringe, is directing.

I even know five of the six actors in the cast, all of whom I love watching ply their craft onstage - Joe Bombard, Jaime Kleiman, Patrick Kozicky (also in Gay Banditos), Amy Schweickhardt, and Mark Sweeney (along with Song Kim, who I'm sure is equally good).

Hence I am kicking myself for having to miss it because of my own play.  But the rest of you don't have this conflict, so by all means, you should go.  It's going to be good theater.  Sight unseen, because of all the great people involved, this comes highly recommended.

Here's the basics from their website...

BOOM! Theater makes its debut with the play Engaged, a world premiere drama by local playwright Gemma Irish.

Over dinner with friends, longtime couple Ben and Josh agree to help raise awareness about an upcoming marriage amendment. But they become entangled in more than just a political issue. Misunderstandings and insecurities surface, friends new and old are pulled into the fray, insults and food get thrown, and the very institution of marriage is called into question as these two men fight for the right to love who they love.

Actor and BOOM! Theater co-founder Patrick Kozicky says “My personal hope is that someday, my partner and I can have a discussion about why we should get married, instead of why we should be allowed to get married.  This play takes on both conversations which, in turn, become a discussion around the immediate fact that, legally and emotionally, marriage is not for everyone.” 

BOOM! Theater was created by four friends, Gemma Irish, Patrick Kozicky, David Ahlvers, and Shane Raatz. They wanted to create original shows with social relevancy, and work with artists who inspire them.   BOOM! Theater also wants to make theater approachable and accessible for everyone. 

Irish and Kozicky knew they wanted to create a show around the upcoming marriage amendment, and enlisted their friend and fellow actor Joe Bombard to play one half of the couple, opposite Kozicky, whose story is at the center of Engaged.

Bombard says of the play, “At its heart, Engaged is a relationship play, not just an amendment play. We dispel any myths that same-sex relationships are any different than heterosexual relationships; both have ups and downs, triumphs and struggles, consensus and dissent. The difference is in the politics.”

Director Christine Karki agrees: “Although it uses the marriage amendment as a talking point, a springboard for conversation, the play itself is not about the marriage amendment. This is a play about relationships. It just so happens that the three couples in the story are all in 'non-traditional' relationships, which adds yet another layer of complication.”

Playwright and BOOM! Theater co-founder Gemma Irish explains: “I wanted to explore the internal vs. the external. What does it mean that the government has an opinion on who I'm in love with? How do I reconcile my private life with my civic life?”

Engaged plays October 19 – 27 at the Cedar Riverside Peoples' Center - 425 20th Avenue South in Minneapolis.

Production Team:

Writer – Gemma Irish

Director – Christine Karki

Stage Manager – Callie Meiners


Joe Bombard

Song Kim

Jaime Kleiman

Patrick Kozicky

Amy Schweickhardt

Mark Sweeney

Show Dates/Times:

Friday 10/19 – 7:30pm

Saturday 10/20 – 7:30pm

Sunday 10/21 – 2:00pm

Monday 10/22 – 7:30pm (Pay What You Can Night)

Friday 10/26 – 7:30pm

Saturday 10/27 – 7:30pm

photo by Kim Pettengill - Patrick Kozicky and Joe Bombard in Engaged

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Is Your Theater Not Gay Enough? - Theater For a Month Before Election Day

If you just want to see the list of theater offerings you should consider seeing the rest of this week and in the weeks to come, skip down to the line of asterisks.  If you want to know the reasons behind my suggestions, read on...

It's strange how sanguine I'm feeling about the whole marriage amendment nonsense.  Not confident, not by any means.  Just ready.  There's going to be a vote.  It's coming. What are we doing in the meantime?

Part of the reason, of course, is that gay marriage is already illegal and unrecognized in Minnesota so… it's not like if we manage to vote the amendment down, gay marriage will suddenly become legal, or we'll recognize the gay marriages from other states.  We already have laws on the books.  They won't change.  There will still be 515-plus laws in Minnesota that treat gay and lesbian couples and their families different from other families.  There will still be over 1,100 laws and benefits that married couples have access to from the federal government that will be out of reach of lesbian and gay people in committed relationships. 

If the amendment passes, we get all this ridiculata inscribed in the state constitution, which will of course make it harder to undo, which is the point.  Laws can be overturned by courts or the legislature.  To undo an amendment to the constitution, we'd need to do this whole thing again in the opposite direction.  I need to do more research because some people have even told me there would be a waiting period to hold a vote to remove the amendment, if such a campaign were launched.  Someone also told me the vote to undo would need to clear a higher threshold than 51 percent of the vote.  (Feel free to correct me, I'd love those two data points to be wrong.)  Whatever way you look at it, the whole thing just calcifies if we put it in the state constitution, whether for a little or a long while.

Polls show the whole thing is really close, the people evenly split.  Tensions run high, opposing opinions are bandied about in public with regularity, from letters to the editor to blogs to lawn signs.

Theater probably needs to take the credit (or blame) for me not freaking out more.  Currently I have things I can do.  I scripted a touring production for Project 515 that traveled around the state this spring, trying to put a human face on the issue of those 515 Minnesota laws.  Right now, we're in the home stretch of rehearsals of my play But Not For Love, which The Flower Shop Project and Workhouse Theatre teamed up to co-produce.  There's characters in this play on both sides of the issue and they do battle it out, but at least everyone is talking to one another.  There's a double wedding and the possibility of a third romance blossoming.  Laughter and a happy ending.  My mom's even flying in for the second weekend to see the show.  Director Richard Jackson and our cast are so committed to telling this story, to digging into every little word of the text and mining out new information on the characters and plot that it's breathtaking to watch sometimes.

But there's so much theater going on right now dealing with this subject, I feel incredibly blessed to be in the middle of it all.

Unfortunately I've already missed Freshwater Theater's compendium of short works around the subject, Better (or) Worse, which was on stage last month.

But coming right up there are all kinds of offerings.  Just follow the links...


I've missed the opening performance of the latest offering from Thirst Theater, the No Round, but there are two more chances - Monday, October 8 and 15.

Tomorrow, Wednesday, October 3rd, there's the Amend This cabaret coordinated by Box Wine Theatre at the Southern Theater.  There's a little bit of comedy scripted by me that Box Wine co-founder and executive director Adam Sharp is performing alongside Kyler Chase, directed by co-founder and artistic director Bethany Simmons (phew, my little sketch is in very good hands).  In addition there's work on tap from, among others, Bedlam Theatre, Silver Slipper Productions, Table Salt Productions, improv duo Ferrari McSpeedy, comedian Ben San Del and storyteller Phillip Andrew Bennet LowTickets here.

Also tomorrow (10/3), John Munger and Third Rabbit Dance offers another edition of their monthly dance showcase The Rabbit Show at the Bryant Lake Bowl.  This month, women dancing with women, and men dancing with men in "Same Sex Duets."

Also continuing its run tomorrow (10/3) is Theatre Unbound's The Good Fight, a world premiere production of Anne Bertram's latest play, about suffragettes who learn jujitsu in order to defend themselves in the fight for the right to vote.  That plays at the Lowry Lab through October 14th. 

Related on the subject of voting - Appomattox at the Guthrie, spending Act One at the end of the Civil War in 1865, Act Two in the thick of the voting rights fight in 1965.  Harry Groener in particular kicks butt as both Lincoln and LBJ, and Shawn Hamilton is positively spooky as Martin Luther King, Jr.  Considering all the voter ID aka voter suppression aka "voter fraud" nonsense also going on this political season, recommended viewing.

Fringe favorites Shanan Custer and Carolyn Pool of 2 Sugars Room for Cream fame are offering their talents to a fundraiser at the Ritz on Thursday, October 4th - 10 Reasons To Go, 1 Reason To Give.  (And 2 Sugars runs again from October 11 to November 11 in New Century Theater in the Hennepin Theatre District in downtown Minneapolis.)

Next week, October 6 and 7, Bedlam Theatre is offering Making Amends - some theater and some useful information if you want to get out there and do something in the weeks that remain.

The Illusion Theater is offering their own compendium of marriage-related shorts called Love and Marriage, running October 10 to October 27.

Then my own play But Not For Love hits the stage at the Warren, Workhouse Theatre's home base, from October 12 to 28.

BOOM! Theater also weighs in on the subject with Gemma Irish's new play Engaged, at the Cedar Riverside People's Center, October 19 to 27.

And to throw a little more politic theater on the pile, there's also Gadfly Theatre's production of Mitzi's Abortion: A Saint's Guide to Late Term Politics and Medicine in America (following The Good Fight's run) at the Lowry Lab, October 19 to 28.

Is it any wonder I'm not pulling my hair out, fretting as I wait for November 6th to arrive?  There's too much to do.  So much to see.

And each offering is like a steady drum beat saying, "Vote, Vote, Vote, Vote, Vote…"

There's also something else I'm hearing, "You are not alone."

Which is a nice thing to feel in an uncertain time.

See some theater.  Lend what aid you can to a good cause.  Talk to your friends and family.  Get out there and vote.

And thanks, my extended theater family, for being as invested in this issue as you are.

Regardless of the outcome, the support is appreciated.

(Photo by Mark Webb, Workhouse Theatre - left to right, Paul Rutledge, Jen Rand, Erica Fields, Jeremiah Stich, Foster Johns)

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Fringe Review - Happy Hour - Sara Stevenson Scrimshaw - 5 stars

Tweet review - Happy Hour - as Mom says, "Happy Hour indeed! That was wonderful!" Joyous sexy all female dance - 5 stars #mnfringe

Mom and I both agreed on the high point of this performance.  Each of the five dance works that make up Sara Stevenson Scrimshaw's Happy Hour are, as the subtitle on the program says, Dances of Booze and Celebration.  Drink #3 of the Happy Hour specials was choreographed by Danielle Robinson-Prater, of DRP Dance.  Sara dances with Danielle's company frequently, and this long-time collaboration shows in their two person dance together here.  Can't say I know what an Argentinian Malbec is, but the title of the piece is "Opulent" and the dance certainly lives up to the name.  One lady has the bottle, the other the glasses they'll need to drink from later.  Both Sara and Danielle have long slinky dark dresses on, and the fabric moves as gracefully as the dancers do.  Both women are perfectly in sync with one another, and the resulting dance is hypnotic and sensual as you watch it unfold.  It's a great piece of work by two people who know one another's moves very well.  It's a treat to watch.  Mom kept bringing it up over and over again throughout the rest of the day after we saw it.

Another high point is the rousing closing number choreographed by Jeffrey Peterson for Champagne, entitled "11.6.2012" (the date of the upcoming election in which we're voting on an amendment to the Minnesota state constitution limiting the definition of marriage to one man and one woman - even though we already have laws on the books to this effect here in Minnesota.  The effect of the amendment would be to double down on making gay marriage illegal, the constitution being harder to undo than a law in the court system).  And what better way to negate all that constitutional silliness than with seven female dancers (Katherine Arndt, Hollie Edlund, Renee Guittar, Crystal Pelletier, Krista Ripperton, Erin Simon, and Rebecca Stuart) joyously coupling and uncoupling in purple outfits to the tune of George Michael's anthem "Somebody to Love," culminating in a pair of brides coming together at the end.  This being a Jeffrey Peterson piece, there was also much kissing.

We also get two comedic interludes from Sara herself, one a hymn to Whiskey played on a ukelele, with dance moves that became increasingly slurred the more whiskey she imbibed.  The other was for Beer, in the guise of a janitor forced to clean up after the striptease artist.

The striptease was called "Green Tease," in honor of Absinthe, and danced by choreographer Gina Louise.  There was also a whacked out, disjointed celebration of Vodka, entitled "Plunging Sirens, starring Happy, Sappy, Goofy and Grumpy."  These inebriated hobos (Stephanie Fellner, Heidi Kalweit, Christine Maginnis - also the choreographer, and Stephanie Narlock) were literally all over the place, as was their musical accompaniment - an assortment of songs from rap to Judy Garland to Alanis Morissette to Whitney Houston.  It was entertaining, if a bit confusing.

Overall, though, a really impressive gathering of different styles of music and dance under a surprisingly effective unifying theme.  This is one of Scrimshaw's best dance offerings yet.

5 stars - Very Highly Recommended

Fringe Review - Nightmare Without Pants - Joking Envelope - 4-1/2 stars

Tweet review - Nightmare W/out Pants - I'll blog anything you ask, just please don't send Anger Pony after me! - 4.5 stars ‪#mnfringe‬

"Release the Anger Pony."

Not to go all Jerry Maguire on Joseph Scrimshaw, but you had me at Anger Pony.

"You wanna make some paper, you gotta murder some trees."

Mom liked Nightmare Without Pants but not as much as I did for a reason we couldn't put our finger on, aside perhaps from the fact that it was unrepentantly weird.  The weirdness is half of what I loved about it, but made it a little hard for Mom to love like she has a lot of previous shows from Joking Envelope.  (Still, even Mom loved the Anger Pony.)  The other half of what I loved about Nightmare Without Pants is that it's *about* something.  Joking Envelope productions are always funny.  That's a given.  And it may be unfair to look like one is taking the laughs for granted.  I'm certainly not.  I realize, as they say, dying is easy but comedy is hard.  Comedy that provides laughs is rare.  Comedy that provides intelligent laughs even rarer.  Joseph Scrimshaw's work lives in this intelligent comedy realm.  It's just how scripts come out of his brain.  It's how he processes the world.  Scripts come out funny.  And thank God for that.  Then there's that blasted "tyranny of high expectations" thing.  Of course everyone who goes to a Scrimshaw show goes for the entertainment, and the vast majority aren't troubled with anything beyond that.  It's just us people who insist on writing about theater that start to poke and prod and ask, "But what does it MEAN?"  F**kers.

"Raise your hand if you're married and/or gay.  Great, all the responsible looking ones with hair."

This is the Joking Envelope production I've been waiting for at the Fringe since Die, Clowns! Die! (And it reminds me that I need to see more Joking Envelope stuff between Fringes when they offer it.  Other scripts like Nightmare may be cranking out of Joking Envelope all the time and I'm just missing them.)  This time, the crafty Mr. Scrimshaw has generated a production that seems like pure entertainment, and can be digested as such, but is also about a lot of really big things.  Why are people alone?  Why do some people live life perpetually happy, while others can't seem to allow themselves to be happy?  Why does love seem even more elusive the more painfully aware you are of time ticking by?  Now, none of these questions is ever stated that baldly.  But they're tucked away behind the characters' predicament.

"Welcome to Two Chairs and a Table from IKEA Arranged to Look like a Restaurant"

Special Agent Bob Jackass (Scrimshaw) has cornered Tracy (Shanan Custer) in a theater and brings her up on stage to do penance for having screwed up her taxes.  The price - she must fall in love with someone in 45 minutes or less, onstage, in front of an audience, or be confronted with… The Anger Pony.  After polling the audience for potential suitors, a Dream Man (John Riedlinger) appears.  Their relentlessly happy waitress (Anna Sundberg) is accidentally unhelpful in several ways.  Beer Can Mouth Man (John Middleton), a man with a beer can affixed to his mouth, keeps wandering through the proceedings, and has an unexpected connection to Tracy.  Tracy's bumbling quest for love on a deadline takes a number of peculiar twists and turns, including a full-cast game of Truth or Dare which ends up just getting poor Tracy further off track.

"Why can't you just have sex with me in front of all these people so I won't get in trouble for doing my taxes wrong?"

Everyone is going for broke here and are enormously funny doing it.  There are also several elements of recurring improv that everyone involved handles so deftly you could be forgiven for forgetting how easily something like even well-meaning audience participation can go off the rails.  Scrimshaw is a master at this sort of thing and it's pleasure to watch him at work.  The cast he's assembled matches him at every turn.  (How strange and wonderful - and exhausting - those rehearsals must have been.)

"He said I was a pinata full of candy and hate."

My only quibble is that, of course, I wanted to know more, to dig deeper.  In a 45 minute Fringe slot, that may not be possible.  There's a lot of balls in the air here and further character development may just not be in the cards.  Don't get me wrong, we get everything we need for both laughs and a satisfying ending with just a touch of sentiment - all well-earned.  As usual, this is top notch writing, directing and acting.  My mind kept wondering, "How did Tracy end up this way?"  I could understand the other characters getting painted with broader strokes.  But because Tracy is our central character and we're seeing her more than anyone else throughout the show, I felt like I wanted to know why she was so lonely and negative about love and life in general.  Whatever personal disasters befell her, she seems like more than a garden-variety neurotic who just *is* this way.  Both Scrimshaw's writing and Custer's performance lead me to believe there's more going on here.  Perhaps it's an entirely different play.  Dating disasters are things Scrimshaw has mined repeatedly for comedy gold before.  Tracy's hopeful moment of personal vulnerability at the end made me want more (again, this is a good thing).  I'm not asking for a happy ending.  Far from it.  One of the many things I appreciate about this production is its refusal to just lob a happy ending into our laps at the end that isn't justified.  There is hope, but not resolution, and that's as it should be.  I guess I'm just lobbying for seeing more of the complexity of Tracy's pre-Anger Pony journey revealed somehow.  Given how fast the jokes were flying, it's entirely possible I missed something.  But another thing I admired about the production was how it took the time to pause and reflect when it felt it was necessary.  It wasn't a relentless pace from beginning to end.  The story ebbed and flowed while always moving forward.  There was room for such moments.

"I won't be doing an improv scene, I just wanted to know what you have in your bedroom."

But honestly, the fact that I'm noodling like this over the character in a comedy script is a sign that Scrimshaw knows what he's doing.  He doesn't write disposable scripts.  Everything's got nuggets in it that are worth reconsidering, revisiting, and remounting.  Joking Envelope is always trying something new, even as they consistently give audiences what they want - a go-to destination to be entertained, whatever shape that entertainment takes.  They've earned our trust as an audience.  So leave it to me to say, you've earned our trust, now f**k with it.  We'll follow you anywhere.

4-1/2 stars - Very Highly Recommended

Friday, August 10, 2012

Fringe Review - Their Century - Lucky Break Productions - 5 stars

Tweet Review - Their Century - solid piece of storytelling; a valentine to family/U.S. history; great use of multimedia; impressive, 5 stars #mnfringe

"To ask all the questions, to hear all those stories just one more time."

This one snuck up on me.  Mom got a chance to read the program before the show and I did not, but that made her say "This sounds like it's going to be good."  Then after it was over she couldn't stop saying, "I'm really impressed."  I have to agree.  The weird thing is I saw this script at a couple of different stages of its development and it's potential was lost on me.  David's multimedia vision of this show could not be effectively conveyed to the reader on the page.  When I read it, gave him some comments and it came back to me again virtually unchanged, I thought, "He's after something.  He sees it very clearly even though I'm not getting it.  I have to trust him and see what happens."  I was crossing my fingers, even after seeing a snippet out of context in a Fringe-For-All preview, and it seems my worries were completely unfounded.  Their Century is a solid, delightful, even moving piece of solo storytelling. 

"They started spraying.  That took care of the grasshoppers… and the birds.  Took many years for the birds to come back."

The death of David's father got him thinking about family history.  Even though his father was gone, most of his father's many brothers and sisters (David's aunts and uncles) were still alive, and full of stories of how his father, and their family, grew up.  Their Century moves between three narrative threads - David's life and memories of growing up; the story of David's grandfather and his journey from Russia to build a home in America; and tales of David's father's generation of the family, mostly through the eyes of David's uncle Val and aunt Alice.

"When he was 16, my grandfather traveled halfway around the world and made a new home in America.  Hell, when I was 16 I was working at McDonald's."

David has a distinctive physical and vocal take on both his aunt and uncle that makes their characters clear whenever they appear.  After a few appearances, Val and Alice need no more introduction.  David also channels his father in a poignant moment late in the play.  It was a moment of personal, private communication between father and son, where a son learned a lot about his father, but still so much went left unsaid.

"Takes me half the day to figure out something to do, and the other half to figure out a how to put it off till tomorrow"

It is obvious David cares very deeply for this story.  But he doesn't take it for granted that you will automatically care about it, too.  He puts all his family stories in the context of the larger story of our nation, giving a window into the past through the specifics of one tenacious family.  David also turns the story back out again into the audience.  After all, we all have photo albums.  We all have relatives we only see or write to on birthdays or at Christmas.  We take it for granted that the people and the stories will always be there.  And we sometimes fail to remember that all our stories, even the most personal ones, are somehow still part of the larger history of our country.  For everything lost, there is still something to be gained - if we just find a way to keep going, and stay connected.  David gives a lot of credit to his director David Tufford for help in shaping the overall production, so I'll pass on that credit here as well.  The two of them took a script that in some ways eluded me and presented me as an audience member with something that seems so obvious and simple and effective that I don't know how I missed it.

"I'm not saying they didn't love us as much as we love our kids.  They just did things different."

The thing I could never see in my head, but David clearly did, was the multimedia aspect.  An accumulation of generations of family photos and historical documents all were fed into a computer and out pops a very lively bit of visual time travel.  Even though it skips back and forth over decades, just like David's story, it never loses me, and more importantly it never distracts from what David's doing as a performer but only reinforces it.  The original music from Michael Herrera-Markwald is used sparingly, so it never seems too manipulative.  A production like this always walks a fine line between earned sentiment and cheap sentimentality.  Even when David's eyes threaten to well-up with tears, the first time he dwells on the memory of his father, he walks that fine line and lets us follow him, rather than dragging us where he wants us to end up.

"All that I am is because of all that they were."

Their Century isn't flashy, despite all the multimedia.  It's just a good solid piece of work.  A good story, well told.

5 stars - Very Highly Recommended

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Fringe Review - Serif Punglasses - Raven Timberlake - 3 stars

Tweet review - Serif Punglasses - quirky little ramshackle sketch comedy show; ode to friendship stronger than Fringe deadline pressure; 3 stars #mnfringe

"All those months of dedication, determination and potty training are about to pay off."

Only at the Minnesota Fringe Festival could this odd little duckling be born and take flight.  Serif Punglasses caught my (and I'd wager many other people's) attention during the first Fringe-For-All preview this year.  Their Gay-B-Gone "spray away the gay" live commercial was just weird and funny enough to make us all think, "Hey, that show might be a lot of fun."  Turns out, yes, it is a lot of fun.

"If your heterosexuality lasts longer than four hours, please see a doctor."

Artistic partners in crime playwright Maggie Danger and slam poet Spencer Retelle have assembled a goofy little assortment of sketches and stories that work well.  Some are based in life experience, some are in the "where the heck did they dream that up" category, but all are enjoyable.  Color commentary on the new Baby Olympics.  Tales of humiliation and rebellion working in a costume as Spongebob Squarepants.  Special photo paper that tears neatly when you need to cut an ex-lover out of the picture.  A cross-species human/space alien couple getting hooked on that ancient phenomenon known as YouTube.

"A grown up Christopher Robin stoned out of his mind and wandering through the Hundred Acre Wood."

The show is also a tribute to their friendship - how they met one bleary morning after in the apartment shared by their respective new dating partners, how their friendship grew, and then how they managed to pull together a Fringe show in time for August.  It's both sweet and funny, instead of seeming conceited.  They're entertaining, so we don't mind hearing about the particulars of their personal lives.  They know how to tell a story, and how to land a joke.

"I'm just a creepy adult in a box who wants to hug you."

The production itself has all kinds of rough edges showing but that's part of its charm.  They're maybe a little more in love with prop and costume gags than they need to be.  The comedy speaks for itself without a lot of window dressing.  And there's a bewildering abundance of light cues, particularly when they're in a "back and forth" talking sequence deconstructing how they met and became friends.  If one person's talking and the other isn't - we'll look at the person who's talking.  You don't need to flipping lights up on one and down on the other.  You can trust us to follow along.  The stage isn't that big.

"Alfred Hitchcock with a smart phone - Really Angry Birds."

All in all, Serif Punglasses is a pleasant way to while away a Fringey hour.  Now that they've been through it all once, imagine what they'll come up with next time.

3 stars - Recommended

Fringe Review - Christopher Street - Silver Slipper Productions - 3 stars

Tweet review - Christopher Street - wildly uneven but the parts that are good are *really* good; messy but a heart as big as the whole Rarig #mnfringe

"Who is this new slice of pie?"

Sometimes less is more.  The new Fringe musical Christopher Street  has its big heart in the right place.  The challenge is that it has an equally big cast and I'm not entirely sure why.  There are only a handful of characters who really register on this sprawling epic canvas plucked out of late 1970s gay history.  I found myself desperately wanting the focus to be more exclusively on them and saving the production the trouble of so much extra human clutter onstage.  This is not to disparage any of the performers in the ensemble.  They were all up there trying their very best.  But precious few of them had anything to do, which kept repeatedly raising the question for me of "Why are they there?"

"There's bound to be a place I can afford to feel alive."

Seth Gabriel and Martino Mayotte's script seems to want us to focus on three friends bound for the big city of New York.  The friends are: Tim (Evan Boyce), a young religious man who wants to escape small town life and the insular world of his father's church to spread the gospel in the Big Apple; Ricky (Tim Mulhair) a fresh-faced naive jock eager to explore his sexuality as a gay man; and James (Riley McNutt), a small-time drug dealer (and token straight boy in the story) who wants to go big-time.  Along the way they meet, Tina (Mayotte again), a fabulous gender bending diva, and her trusty companion Louie (Jesse Fankson), a preacher starting his own small church.  There's also Tad (Gabriel again), an oversexed young fellow more than happy to help initiate Ricky into the joys and heartaches of gay single life; and Simeon (Carter Roeske) - a guy who roller skates through most of his life, and is more than happy to pick up the pieces of Ricky's broken heart that Tad leaves behind.

"Nobody gets me."

That's the core of the script, and the ensemble (which also includes Mikko Bonilla, Lindsey Brown, Garek Bushnell, Hector Chavarria, Tim Colby, Ted Coonradt, Brityn Creutz, Ali Daniels, Kris Felix, Stephen Horner, Patience Hughes, Megan Kedrowski, Jennifer Kudelka, Shannon McCarville, Loretta Miller, Rachel Neilsen, Jesse Seigal, Tom Swanson, and Angela Wahlberg - yes, 26 people total, according to their cast list on the Fringe website.  There was no program but at the time I attended I counted at least two dozen actors on stage for the big closing number and curtain call so that sounds about right).

"You're cute but you've got such a big mouth"

The women don't seem to have any function which moves the plot forward, so I'm not entirely sure why they're present apart from gender diversity.  Like much of the rest of the cast, they can't sing loud enough to be heard over the three piece band of keyboard, drums and electric guitar - and this is with or without a microphone.  The three buddies hitting the big city can all hold their own vocally, which is, no doubt, along with their acting chops, why they landed their roles.

"The story goes on.  It plays over and over again in my head."

The big voice in this musical, however, belongs to Mayotte as Tina.  Tina is such a big fabulous creation that she threatens to take over the story (and I'd be willing to argue that she should).  Tina's outsized presence as a character is more than matched by Mayotte's singing voice.  When Tina opens her mouth for her big number "The Story Goes On," the synapses in my brain started dancing, saying "Now that's what I'm talkin' about!"  In addition to being the one big musical theater voice in the ensemble, Tina is also more interesting to watch because we don't know exactly where her story is going.  (Unfortunately, it disappears.)  Tina's relationship with man of the cloth Louie is fascinating.  How did these two get together?  What keeps them together?  They seem like a great couple.  They're just the sort of positive, non-mainstream example of love and commitment that these young men need to see and appreciate.  I could spend a whole evening watching Tina and Louie.  I like watching a well-told coming out story as much as the next gay guy, but Tina and Louie are something different altogether.

"I'm rolling out of this drama."

Also, this isn't three coming out stories.  James is straight, and while it's amusing from a dramaturgical standpoint that here, rather than a token gay couple, we have a token straight couple, because James doesn't reinforce or provide real contrast to either of his two friends' personal journeys, I wonder why he and his girlfriend are in the play.  Ricky is our coming out story, and it's very sweet if a bit predictable.  Because we like the actors playing Ricky and Tad and Simeon, we're willing to watch their story play out.  Perhaps the most intriguing of the three, though, is Tim.  At first, given the kind of play this is, the audience could be forgiven for thinking that young Tim's just fooling himself and repressing his true nature.  But Tim isn't coming out as gay, at least not yet. He's coming into his own as a preacher's kid getting out from under this father's shadow and figuring out his own calling in the faith.  His two best friends are a drug dealer and a gay guy.  Tim has made his peace with this, and that by itself is very interesting.  Even more interesting to me is that he remains so focused on his mission, and that Tina's beau Louie seems to be taking Tim under his wing and teaching him how to reach out to a much more diverse community than these boys ever saw growing up.  I could also watch Tim all evening.

"I guess I missed that day of gay training."

About that gay orgy that's been mentioned, it's more interpretive dance with assless chaps (although I guess that phrase is redundant).  I'm not sure what the play is driving at here.  For something that unapologetically celebrates the gay identity, the (perhaps unintended) effect of this sequence is to make gay sex seem dirty, dehumanizing and disgusting.  This, while the bulk of physical affection between characters that genuinely care for each other elsewhere in the play is relegated to staying unseen off-stage.  This may be a moment of epiphany for Tad ("I want sex to mean something, right after this is over"), but since he's a secondary character and not one of our lead threesome, I'm not sure why the focus of the play lands here in this way.  If the sequence were a joyous celebration of hedonism and free love, and there was a lot of that going on in the gay community in New York post-Stonewall, pre-AIDS, I might understand it better in the context of the rest of the play.  Right now it's more "See, this is everything they warned you about!" (Of course, I may be overly sensitized to this issue because I saw Christopher Street right after The Gay Banditos - now that's a double feature.)

"Say one more prayer for something new."

The things that work in Christopher Street, really work.  The rest of the play is just lacking in focus.  You don't need to try and tell the whole story of the gay rights movement, or even a whole community in a single decade.  The right handful of vibrant characters, given room to breathe, can do that work for you.  And I think the right handful is already in there.  You just need to clear a little space for them.

3 stars - Recommended

Fringe Review - An Agony of Fools - Ben San Del - 5 stars

Tweet review - Agony of Fools - watching Fringe artists evolve over time is exciting; Ben San Del's become a really great comedian - 5 stars ‪#mnfringe‬

"Not all cat people are crazy.  Some of them are alcoholics."

"I was diagnosed with ADD, just like everyone else born after 1980."

One of the many joys of the Minnesota Fringe Festival is the chance to watch an artist evolve over time.  I had the pleasure of seeing Ben San Del's very first Fringe show back in 2006.  At the time he was just starting off as a comedian, and admitted that his Fringe slot of nearly an hour of time to fill was the most time he'd ever had to hold a stage on his own, or come up with more than five to ten minutes of material for an open mic night.  Shortly after that Fringe he won the competition to be crowned the Funniest Person in the Twin Cities.  Every Fringe since then in which Ben has appeared, his skill as a performer and a writer have grown and changed.  He's become a gifted comic playwright, penning scripts like A Nice Guy's Guide To Awkward Sex and Minnesota Middle Finger which in addition to being funny, were full of the yearning and pain of human existence and its desire for connection to others.  Thankfully he keeps offering up stand-up Fringe shows as well, such as the recent Animal Cracker Genocide.  Here he takes that route again with An Agony of Fools.

"Cut to me, eating a jar of peanut butter, alone."

"They told us about the dangers of marijuana, the most dangerous of drugs.  Yes, marijuana, the heroin of drugs."

"Dance like you don't care.  Whoa!  Care a little."

As Ben said, it's basically 45 minutes of him talking about stuff, and then he'll stop, and you can join him for a drink over at Fringe Central to finish off the night, and you can talk to him for a while.  Six years on, Ben is an amazing stand-up comedian.  He makes it look like it's the easiest thing in the world to do even though, of course, his whole set is carefully crafted and meticulously paced.  His poise on stage, his ability to work a crowd, to time a joke so it lands just so, to keep the whole thing moving at a steady clip - not rushed, but not full of awkward pauses and clumsy segues.  It's real pleasure to watch, over and above the jokes themselves.

"I got a degree in English, a language I already spoke."

"Any morning people in the audience, I don't hate you.  You're here, so you're obviously night person supportive.  Because there's no such thing as a comedian who's a morning person."

There's an extended riff about being a night person vs. the world which is run by morning people.  There's talk of job hunting and the benefits and drawbacks of a college education.  There's discussion of family trips to strange roadside attractions.  There's an great sequence about the disturbing nature of cats as pets, and the people who own them.  Dating life and relationships also get a spin, as do physical and psychological torture inflicted by older brothers, and some random items from his own personal bucket list.  You can't really convey the full effect of Ben San Del's act in random quotes, or by trying to describe it in general terms.  It's as much about hanging out with Ben the person, as it is the content of what he's discussing.

"Wall Drug - it's like an antique store had sex with a Chuck E Cheese."

"Quick!  Flush the Sudafed!  You can make meth from that!  Oh, and flush the meth!"

That 45 minutes just flew right by.  I could have listened to Ben talk a lot longer.  But it's always best to leave the audience wanting more.  If you want a good laugh from a guy who knows what he's doing, and has a great off-beat sensibility about life, Ben San Del's your man, and An Agony of Fools is your show.

5 stars - Very Highly Recommended

Monday, August 06, 2012

Fringe Review - The Love Show! - ORL Productions - 4 stars

Love Show - gorgeous harmonies, ruthlessly funny, hilariously foul, yet sweet; how can you not love these ladies? 4 stars #mnfringe

"Love is a poisonous selfish emotion that leads to baked goods."

If you're looking for a show with both beautiful singing and an off-kilter sense of humor, look no further than The Love Show! (the exclamation point is actually part of their title but I'll back up their punctuation-related excitement on this one)!

"This girl was practically peeing in my dirty laundry, she wanted to dominate so badly."

Samantha Harris, Courtney McLean, and Anna Weggel put on a hell of a fun show.  I'd say the show isn't for the easily offended, but it seems silly to call their music group The Dirty Curls potentially offensive.  Do they sing an upbeat ditty in praise of women's pubic hair (from whence they get their band name)?  Sure.  Is there a prolonged comedic story that involves boogers and body hair?  Yup.  Do they reprise the song "Love Explosion" they used in their Fringe-For-All preview, which recounts the tale of an ill-timed fart while cuddling (and includes the rhyming phrase, boner erosion)? Absolutely.  How about an ode to pet cat that just can't stop pooping on its owner?  Why, yes. 

"I can't tell if I want to be you, or do you."

So forewarned with all that, why should any of that PG-13 content put anyone off?  I can't think of a reason.  This show is just brimming over with love, just like the title says.  Love between performer and audience, love between performers, love between friends, love between mother and child, love between owner and pet or bedding, learning to love yourself of course, and yes, even a little romantic love, awkward and fraught with comedic peril though it may be.

"She can poop on me till the end of time and I will never leave her."

We get live banjo, ukelele and guitar music.  We get a hilarious rap song about a pregnant woman craving maple donuts.  We get a lot of really lovely three part harmony between the ladies.  It's hard to top how sublime that sound can get, whether or not the lyrics might be considered naughty or gross.  The pace never flags, but it's an easygoing pace to begin with.  The ladies don't really repeat themselves, so there's a lot of variety to keep an audience on their toes.  At the end it cycles back around to where it began, with a couple of funny reprises of opening bits to sum up the show before tying it all up in a bow.  So it has the advantage of seeming random and keeping the element of surprise, while also existing in a very comforting and familiar structure.  It's a nicely crafted, slightly off-color, laughter-filled musical evening.

"I bet she has more existential crises than I do."

The Love Show! was a perfect way to cap off our long Fringing day on Saturday.  It was like doing a lap to cool down after running a theater marathon.

4 stars - Highly Recommended

Fringe Review - TROY! The Musical - Burnt Nightingale Productions - 5 stars

Tweet review - Troy - sold out, so Mom got in, I didn't; she enjoyed it thoroughly; funny, smart and fast-moving #mnfringe

This is a special "Mom only" review of TROY! The Musical as she had a reservation (but as press I did not), and the show was sold out, so I had to high-tail it on over to Intermedia Arts to catch their show instead.  Even without me to share it with, Mom had a very good time.  In fact, they ran out of programs for the sold out house, and she was hoping to find one that someone had left behind after the show.  However, the crowd must have liked the show as much as she did.  Everyone took their programs with them.  Thankfully we have the Fringe website to help her put names with characters.

For instance, check out their amusing video trailer...

Overall, Mom was very impressed.  Someone asked her the other day if it was campy and she told them no, there was humor but the cast pretty much played the story straight.  As you might imagine, the story of the Trojan War (Helen of Troy, the Trojan Horse, etc.) is about as epic as they come.  Still, even though they had a cast of ten, and they were all crammed into the small Bryant Lake Bowl stage, Mom says the play never seemed cramped for space.  People weren't tripping over one another trying to find a place to stand.  It was well choreographed in all senses of the word and ran very smoothly.  The big story seemed to expand the space around it.

Paris (Ben Kolis) and Helen (Molly Dworsky) are arguing on how this whole Trojan War mess got started, until Aphrodite (Megan Bren), goddess of love and beauty, interrupts and takes us back in time to where the story began.  There are great warriors on both sides - Achilles (Andrea Gullixson) and Hector (Marissa Schon) - and of course the cunning Odysseus (of Odyssey fame) (TROY! The Musical creator Maggie K. Sotos) who came up with the whole Trojan Horse idea to help end the war.  There's also Paris' father Priam, ruler of Troy (Sean Hansberry); Menelaus (Jason Vogen), Helen's cuckolded husband who takes Greece to war with Troy to get his unfaithful wife back; plus Hecuba (Elizabeth Clouse), Clytemnestra (Gullixson again), and a musician, Joseph Ye (can't have a musical without a musician).

Mom was particularly impressed with how the cast all worked together with their bodies to create the Trojan Horse, and the soldiers continually emerging from it.  She also thought the costumes were very clever.  There were, naturally, the inevitable togas, but depending on which side of the war you were on, characters would don a dark blue or dark red sash.  When actors weren't portraying a primary role, the sash would come off and they would blend in with the rest of the ensemble (gotta have a Greek chorus, right?).  Unlike some musicals we've seen at the Fringe, here everyone in the cast could sing loudly and clearly enough to be heard (and on key).

Mom recognized Maggie Sotos from when we saw her, just three hours previously that same day, in the improv ensemble of the Theater of Public Policy's show Big Thinkers, Serious Issues, Improv Comedy.  We'd commented at the time that she was one of the stand-outs in that group, and here she is helming a completely different Fringe show of her own creation.  Kudos.  Mom was impressed with Sotos' script - it wasn't just funny, it was well-researched.  Mom thinks she could go back and see the show again just to try and catch all the many references to mythology that went flying around fast and furious as the show barreled forward.  The songs, too, were clever and they fit the action of the play, often providing the bridge across big gaps in time.  The Trojan War lasted many years, after all, and the Fringe only gives you 45 minutes or so to get the story told.  Still, it didn't seem rushed, or like important pieces of the story were somehow missing.

Unlike some musicals that can be more music than dialogue, this was more of a standard book musical out of the American musical theater tradition.  Scenes took place, characters burst into song.  The songs all seemed to fit both the situation and the characters singing.  The songs didn't all sound the same.  There was a lot of variety in tone as well as structure - solos, duets, big group numbers.

So even though we didn't get to see the show together, Mom still had a great time.  In her opinion, TROY! The Musical is a solid piece of musical theater storytelling.

5 Stars - Very Highly Recommended

Fringe Review - Evil Dicks - Mumble Mumble Productions - 4 stars

Tweet review - Evil Dicks (my sold out Troy fallback) - new spin for Allison Broeren; well done pieces that don't quite add up, yet - 4 stars #mnfringe

"There was only one solution to my problem and it had to include violence."

The sold-out house for TROY! The Musical turned out to be a win-win.  Mom still got to see the show, and really enjoyed it.  And though I did not get to see it with her, being turned away from one show meant that fortunately nearby was another show I wanted to see anyway, Evil Dicks from Allison Broeren's Mumble Mumble Productions.  I've enjoyed several of Allison's Fringe offerings in the past, and though this one was a departure from her usual autobiographical storytelling route, I expected to like it all the same.

"I started life as a disappointment."

A great title can be a double-edged sword.  Marketing is a breeze with a catchy and/or provocative title.  You capture people's attention, you stick in their minds.  Every time they see your title, particularly in the mad crush of Fringe saturation marketing, you stand out.  The flipside, of course, is that you then have the pressure to deliver on the title.

"Sometimes I loved them so much it hurt.  Sometimes it just hurt."

The concept for Evil Dicks is a solid one.  This time around Allison is digging into the minds of those society considers disturbed, and even dangerous.  As I said in my commentary on her Fringe-For-All preview, because Allison has such a friendly and winning stage presence, she can suck you into the mind of someone quite unpleasant and before you know it, you're thinking, "Well, hey, that sounds rational enough" - even though the person you're thinking this about is the Unabomber.  It's a tricky conceit that Allison pulls off nicely, and it gets the audience to think about things they'd rather easily dismiss.

"Sex is about the money."

The opening for Evil Dicks is the strongest portion of the program.  The opening crawl of text (Star Wars style) recounting the evolution of evil dicks in our society is hilarious, and sets a tone of irreverence that is immediately turned on its head (in a good way) by Allison's turn as the Unabomber.  Following the Unabomber example, Allison also performed a great turn as Belle Gunness, America's most prolific female serial killer, back in the late 1800s/early 1900s.  40 victims, that we know of, and depending on what version of the tale you believe, she was never caught.  This lady literally got away with murder, repeatedly.  Again, as with the Unabomber, Allison takes us inside the mind of Belle Gunness and her efficient method of working.

"Time to go see if that ultimate forest exists."

The challenge with Evil Dicks is that I don't think Allison has been working long enough with this conceit yet to have developed a Fringe show's worth of material that fits the title.  The two other stories are approached in the same vein first person character study.  Allison takes on the mantle of Christopher Robin, son of A.A. Milne, the author who turned his son's namesake character and beloved sidekick teddy bear Winnie The Pooh into a children's literature powerhouse.  Here, we have the real life Christopher Robin confiding on his deathbed to Pooh.  It's a charming character study, and a setup fraught with genuinely earned sentiment.  But who's the Evil Dick here?  Pooh?  Nope.  Christopher Robin?  Nope.  A.A. Milne?  Well, it turns out dad was none too happy to be stuck in the very lucrative ghetto of children's literature his whole life, hijacked by one of his own characters.  Dad may have blamed Christopher Robin just a little bit but it hardly seems to be Unabomber or Bell Gunness-grade dickishness.  Now Walt Disney, that's a more complicated story.  But we don't touch on that here.

"It was time that everyone took notice."

The other non-dickish residents of this Fringe show gallery are the characters of the Collyer Brothers - Homer and Langley, found dead amongst tons of junk they'd collected and boarded up with them in their booby-trapped brownstone in New York City back in the early to mid 1900s.  Agoraphobes?  Probably.  Anti-social?  Sure.  Evil Dicks?  More sad and pathetic than menacing.  Misunderstood like the others, perhaps, but not any more evil than Christopher Robin.

"I shut my eyes and I think of the woods.  The forest.  The mountains."

There are also a number of video interludes with a who's who of local storytellers and comedians from Allison's circle of friends - Mike Fotis, Katherine Glover, Allegra Lingo, phillip andrew bennet low, Tom Reed, and Ben San Del, just to name a few.  Spliced together were tales of bad behavior done by them and/or to them that were most amusing.  The audio and video quality, as we were warned in the program, was uneven.  Sometimes the soundtrack that accompanied the interviews overpowered the subjects a bit and you had to lean forward and read lips to be sure you were getting what they meant to convey.  In a production full of disturbing evil dicks, these interludes would have provided welcome comic relief.  Here in the current mix the relief wasn't quite as needed, and the confusion of tone intensified.  There was so much cheeky attitude, or non-dickish character study, here that it was hard to keep the focus on the dark side.

The only reason I return to the dark side is that the show did.  At the end, there was a final video crawl of questions.  Unlike the beginning, these questions about the nature of evil, and whether anything justifies it, seemed to be quite serious.  Undercutting that tone was the same (deliberately) overly bombastic soundtrack that accompanied the opening crawl and the video interludes.  And here's the thing - if you ended with either Allison's take on the Unabomber or Belle Gunness, I wouldn't need that final crawl of questions about evil.  Allison's very effective storytelling and character presentation of those figures implies each and every one of those questions in my mind.  Fade to black on Belle or the Unabomber or someone else like them, and you've done your job, you've planted the unsettling seed in my brain to take out of the theater with me.

As an experiment in a different style of storytelling, I think this was a success for Allison.  The only failing was a lack of material which fit the title to fill a whole Fringe show with this conceit.  I look forward to more of this kind of character study from Allison, in addition to her always engaging personal work.  Perhaps she'll accumulate enough sketchy dudes and gals in the near future to present us with Still More Evil Dicks or You Thought Those Dicks Were Evil, Check Out These Sick Puppies.  In the meantime, time spent with Allison is always time well spent.

4 Stars - Highly Recommeded

Sunday, August 05, 2012

Fringe Review - Rip - Dovetail Theatre Co. - 5 stars

Tweet review - Rip - fresh retelling of old tale; music, script, performances - damn; 1 of 3 best things I've seen in Fringe so far, 5 stars #rip #mnfringe

"Come down over the meadow
I'll be waiting
Home and waiting
I'll be waiting for you."

The best shows I've seen the Fringe so far have left me amazed (Sin Eater) and enchanted (Ash Land), and now there's Rip, from Dovetail Theatre CompanyRip is the most pure fun I've had at a Fringe show this year.  In fact, I'm already plotting how I can go to see it again.

"Still I burn like some Promethean fire,
Glowing ever stronger for the tears."

Rip is Dovetail's musical re-imagining of the Washington Irving folk tale of Rip Van Winkle, the man who got his wish to escape every day life by accidentally sleeping away twenty years of it and awakening to a strange new world, bereft of most of the people he used to know.  The elements of Irving's story have been reshuffled in writer/director Kara Davidson's clever comedic script, and reset to the 1950s, with a 60 year nap that lands Rip in our present day.  The story is told just as much through music as through dialogue.  In fact, it often feels like Rip is a concert with scenes included, rather than a play with songs included.  But the two are knit together so tightly and seamlessly, you can't imagine the one without the other.  The songs enrich the scenes, just as the scenes enrich the songs.  Davidson's partner in crime (aka co-artistic director) David Darrow has provided music and lyrics for a variety of catchy tunes spanning rock, folk, ballads and more.  The music gives the production a jolt of energy and a steady heartbeat that keeps Rip's story driving forward - even as it morphs from one reality to the next.  (It's some of the first music at the Fringe that I wished I could walk right out and buy after the show was over.  Cast album, please?)

"You're as plain and run of the mill as they come and I like that.  I trust that."

Rip Van Winkle (Billy Balmer) feels trapped in both his dead end job and his marriage.  He secretly pines for one of his co-workers, Donna (Davidson again) or perhaps he just pines for the youth and freedom she represents.  Rip's boss Mr. Moneyfarmer (Foster Johns) is very efficient at making other people feel small and insignificant.  Rip's wife (Anna Sutheim) is at her wit's end caring for their numerous children.  Rip's only uncomplicated relationship is with is dog Wolf (also Davidson).  When Rip falls asleep, Wolf's ballad of philosophy and a dog's love for his master is one of the unexpected emotional high points of the show, at the same time it's inducing giggles.

"If the door didn't open, and I were alone.
So wake up.  Please wake up."

Rip's transition into the world of sleep finds him hanging out with a sea explorer named Hudson (Darrow) and his crew, all of whom are not only played by the other actors in the ensemble but remind Rip of the people (and pet) he left in the world behind him.  He awakens to a young girl in the park (Davidson again) and two young dudes (Ben Yela and Jonas Yela) who quickly make Rip realize how much the world has changed since he fell asleep.

"The hard thing's already done."

The two Yelas and Darrow spend most of their time among the assortment of musical instruments the band puts to such good use through the production - by my count, three electric guitars, two acoustic, a mandolin, a trumpet, a drum set and a fiddle (or is it a violin?  When music is serious or sad, I think violin; when it's fun and lively, I think fiddle).  Most of the cast gets its turn at the microphone, and the voices are right up there in skill with the easygoing musicianship on the instruments.  (Struggling as I am just to learn the guitar right now myself, it gave me a deeper appreciation and admiration for the high level of work going on in both the composition and performance of the music.  I think it also made the whole show that much more fun for me as well.)

"Some coffee-stained opinion…"

Davidson's staging is simple and effective, no set to speak of, very few props - a couple of wooden cubes, some flashlights, a stuffed animal here, an orange there, a blanket.  Physical business and actor-provided sound effects give us everything from a typewriter to an evening meal to a sailing ship to the sound of a dog lifting its leg and taking care of business.  The actors are having a ball playing with these characters and this story and that enthusiasm carries over to the audience.

"Were our mothers ever young?"

With Rip, I now have a top three if anyone asks me for a Fringe suggestion.  If you want to be transported, see Ash Land.  If you want to be amazed, see Sin Eater.  And if you want to have a heck of a good time, see Rip.  I can think of no higher set of compliments, or a better trio of Fringe shows.

5 stars - Very Highly Recommended