Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Candide - Four Humors Theater

"Go where glory awaits you!"

A comedy concerning floggings, rape, justifiable homicide, ship travel, Jews, Christians, mass murder, death, desire, and the general joy and suffering one finds within this, the best of all possible worlds.

Playwrighting wunderkind Nick Ryan adapts the Voltaire classic, slimming it down to 45 minutes. Brant Miller surfaces for the second time in the evening, this time as the hapless victim of two newfound drinking buddies who then enlist him in their army. This ends up getting him flogged repeatedly when he's unable to deal with the noise from artillery practice. The comical flogging here took up about as much of the preview time as the gay-bashing in the Steel Kiss preview, prompting host Robin Gillette to remark at the end of the evening, "Thank you for attending this surprisingly violent Fringe-For-All." There's a reason that Fringe hits follow Four Humors around wherever they go. They're good at what they do, and what they do is smart comedy. Bonus points for now insuring that the most unlikely people will be added to the list of those who know the basic plot of Candide.

A few more in the "Not My Thing" category

Room For Cream - Emily Schmidt Productions

"Grace, what's your spirit animal?  It tells about how you threaten when provoked."

How do you like your coffee? Generibou barista Grace prefers a shot of sugar-free romance, a half pump of 5am and no creepy customers. She's not always so lucky. Hey, economy - thanks a latte!

She's so good with the satire of a dead-end service industry job at a coffeehouse chain that it was painful to watch. In the same way the British version of The Office was so deeply painful to watch that I literally let it play on the TV at the other end of the apartment while I did things like cleaning, so I could hear it, but didn't have to sit still and allow it to assault me head-on. Funny? Yes. The last thing I'd willingly make myself sit through. Unfortunately also yes. But if day job comedy is your thing, you probably won't find a funnier one at the Fringe this year.

Behind The Big Top - Travnastic Travesties

"Your breath smells like whiskey and shame."

A funny yet tragic play about an aging clown in the circus struggling to manage both his crumbling life and his insane co-workers.

The name makes you think it might be about transvestites. But it's about clowns. Washed up, alcoholic, manic depressive clowns. Two schlubby clowns taunt a third pretty boy clown. There's some good lines here, but just like the zombies and day job comedy, clowns kind of freak me out. And clowns acting as if theirs is a dead-end profession, like any other day job, depresses me, too. I'm feeling it more than just letting the comedy roll off my back, so enjoyment here escapes me. Again, if day job comedy is your thing, the clowns put a twist on it.

Aesop's Musical Foibles - Laughter Supplement

"I asked you to call me Lightning Jack!"

Poor Aesop can hardly think straight! His mind is crowded with stories and hysterical characters. Accompanied by rock and roll music, Aesop's fables are shared with the world, with a few twists along the way.

Oh dear. The costume bits for the animals are cute. The concept is clever. The small army of young performers in tie-dye T-shirts emblazoned with the show's logo dove in with all the energy and enthusiasm they could muster. But they were relying on a microphone that was either dead, or which they didn't know how to operate, and thus failed to project their voices much at all in the big musical number. Some of them musically were also really flat. All this will doubtless get worked out in the rehearsals they have left. It'll probably turn into a nice little family show when they're done. But I'm not their audience.

Hans The Obscure - Mindless Mirth Productions

"It seems to me like there's an awful lot of doofuses wandering the countryside."

Three little-known tales by Hans Christian Andersen. Witty suitors! Undersea kingdoms! The love that dare not cluck its name! Delightful, devilish, decadent fun!

I like Mahmoud Hakima as a performer a whole lot, so his involvement here makes me inclined to like the show. Also a big Hans Christian Andersen fan. It'll probably make for another fine family show. It got a lot of laughs, particularly when stuffed animal horses were tossed at the actors when it was time to go horseback riding. Personally, though, this style of storytelling isn't my thing.

Sneak Thief - International League of Diamond Thieves

"There's no such thing as two weeks' notice when you're being fired."

Two diamond-hungry thieves plan to steal the big kahuna. Starring Tim Hellendrung (MN Middle Finger 2011, Speech 2010) and Brant Miller (Mortem Capiendum 2008, Traveling Musicians 2009, Bards 2007)

Nothing at all wrong here. Brant Miller, Tim Hellendrung, both extremely funny guys, and both extremely funny here. However, watching a guy get fired, no matter how funny, is still painful for me to watch. Like the "Room for Cream" coffeehouse day job satire earlier in the evening, well-executed comedy of the humiliations of daily life can be enormously entertaining. I'm personally just a little too close to going under myself these days to get much enjoyment out of it. These men deliver the funny, however, so if you're looking for a laugh, this is your duo.

Coach - Charlzik Theatre Company

"Why do we keep having this discussion?"

He wants to coach. She won't let him. A hard-working father of three boys works with a Harvard fry-brain drop-out at a power plant about to close. It's about finding your life's passion at any cost.

A man wants to coach football. His wife won't let him. Gee, did a guy write this? Yup. I have a hard time having patience with a set up like this because it's clearly just convenient for things the writer wants to say, rather than looking like it's based in something like reality or character development. I have even less patience when no one onstage outside of the wife can bother to speak up so I can hear what they're saying. Meet me halfway, people. The problem here is I'm siding with the woman over the schlubs she has to deal with and want it to be her play, but we're supposed to think she's the obstacle. Sigh. Nobody keeps you from doing what you want to do, unless you let them. Pass.

Nightmare Without Pants - Joking Envelope

"All that matters is that you did your taxes wrong, and now scary things have to happen."

You're invited to Tracy's nightmare. She has 45 minutes to fall in love with a stranger in front of a live audience. If she fails, even scarier things will happen. A comedy about fear and pants.

Joseph Scrimshaw. All you need to know, right? This is also on my Top 5 list of returning acts I'm most looking forward to this year. I've been hard on Joseph Scrimshaw (maybe not so much in print, but in my mind) and I've been trying to figure out why.

Certainly some of it must be envy. The guy's ridiculously talented, enormously popular, and ceaselessly funny. All of his friends and family are equally talented and hilarious. He's making his living as an artist while I'm, well, blogging about other people's Fringe shows. But it's not easy, even if he makes it look that way. He is successful because he is relentless and hardworking and never settles for giving the audience less than his best. He's even got popular holiday and children's shows in his repertoire. Every year, every six months, heck, it seems like every other week, he's coming up with something new and entertaining and sharing it with the rest of us. It's exhausting finding new good things to say about him.

I took a couple of years off from seeing his stuff in Fringe because, honestly, he doesn't need me in the audience to sell more tickets. But just like he's a favorite of mine, he's also a favorite of Mom's, and he's got a cast so chock full of talent it's almost not fair to anyone else - Shana Custer, John Middleton, John Riedlinger, Anna Sundberg, and of course Joseph. Plus, that one thing I tend to carp about, this show actually looks like it's about something other than art or laughs. Taxes, love and fear.

Scrimshaw came out solo to pimp for his show in the preview. His character will be tormenting Custer's character who screwed up her taxes - and now she must pay, by falling in love with a stranger in front of a live audience in only 45 minutes' time. Scrimshaw knows how to work a crowd, even a reluctant audience participant, and he worked it here. I don't know where he gets this stuff, or how he pulls it off, but man, I'm glad he does. The Fringe would be a lot less funny without it. So yeah, see this one.

Steampunk Apocalypse - Far From The Tree

"You put our return address on my evil ultimatum?!"

Vampire Sorority Girls! Zombie Rats! Cat Ladies! NERDS! Captain Jessie and Sparks leap into the 21st Century to save the past and the future from Mad Prof. Zero and his Evil Minions in a wild comedy adventure!

I was going to try and write this one off in my initial scheduling, but the preview was so fun I'm torn. It was the zombie rats that did it. More high-minded insults, too, as the hero and villain traded barbs. It's all completely nonsensical, but that's the point. It's just meant to be fun and based on the preview it looks like it very much will be. Old school melodramatic adventure with a modern sensibility - and leading ladies instead of leading men in the roles of hero and sidekick. The fact that they don't take themselves too seriously is also a bonus. They didn't have a clear end to the scene, just the hoard of zombie rats chanting "Brains! Brains!" After that went on for a while the hero turned to the audience with a shrug stating, "That's all the lines they have." Laughter, the end. Nicely done.

Evil Dicks - Mumble Mumble Productions

"I didn't want to help change society.  I wanted to take it down."

Penetrate the minds of the wicked with this Rockstar Storyteller. Biographical truths about our vile side. Bombers. Killers. Children's literary heroes. Hoarders. Lovers. Can you relate? Are you an evil dick?

I love how I'm now encouraged to type the word "dicks" into the Fringe website search function, and this show is the only one that pops up. Handy. It's Allison Broeren, another storytelling favorite of mine (and mom's), so of course I'm going to be trying to fit this one into my schedule. I love this lady's way with language. She's doing something a little different this year (I know, risk taking as a theme at the Fringe, big surprise). Rather than it being all about Allison this time, she's trying to get inside the minds of some very twisted individuals. In the preview we got a little sampling of the Unabomber. Because it's Allison, and she's naturally very winning and approachable and fun to watch as a performer, it provides us with a way into these characters that we wouldn't otherwise have. It's a little unsettling to actually see things through the eyes of these messed up people, and start to think "Well, that doesn't sound so crazy…"

Jamaica Me Crazy - Tyehimba Leadership Center

"Uh oh, I think I hear a monologue coming."

Diane and Jade are opposites. A vacation in Jamaica seems the perfect way to warm their relationship. Or is it? While Jade waits at the airport, Diane is in bed. Will they make their flight? Or will they fight?

Sisters going at each other as only sisters can. This group was part of my pre-Fringe Top 20 list back in 2010 so it's nice to see them back. Completely different show than their last outing. More family friction than larger issues of faith, race and politics. Each sister does represent a certain type of success (or lack thereof) so there's still an exploration of the society in which they play a part. The thing that stuck out here was the use of music to comic effect. One sister's rant is overdubbed with an opera aria. A final catfight gets the accompaniment of the song "Everybody Was Kung Fu Fighting." So there's a welcome sense of playfulness here. Not sure it's top of my list this time around, but it looks like it might be fun.

The Complete Works of William Shatner (abridged) - Snikt! Bamf! Thwip!

"I've read the script and that is amazing for two reasons - there's a script, and I read it."

The Shat, greatest of all living actors, must reconcile all of his roles as he fights a battle to save the most important man in the universe - himself!

In a Fringe drowning in horrible show titles and theater company names just begging to be used against them in reviews (restraint has been very difficult), here we have a title that makes me giggle every time. Tim Uren, god bless him, never met a Shat joke he didn't like, and he also gets to be the Priceline Negotiator. Windy Bowlsby enjoys playing with her phaser and doing her best Captain Kirk impression. Plus, not in this preview, they have Brandon Ewald as Young William Shatner, and Duck Washington gets to be TJ Hooker.  I was looking for a reason to rule this one out and I just can't do it. I grew up with re-runs of the original Star Trek on TV, before all the movies and next generations (yes, I'm horribly old). So my resistance to a concept like this is pitiably low. This will provide the kind of silliness I'm looking for to recharge my batteries after seeing more serious fare. I'm looking forward to it.

Their Century - Lucky Break Productions

"Being the youngest, I got everything hand-me-down.  If there was anything to hand down."

In 1906, a Russian teen left his home and settled in North Dakota, where he later got married and raised 11 children. David Schlosser brings you the story of this family's journey through 20th century America.

I'm torn here because David Schlosser, the writer/performer, is a friend of mine, and I've read the script in earlier drafts. I'm not sure I can be entirely objective about this three minute excerpt. The death of David's father got him thinking about family history, and all the things he never talked about with his father. Thankfully, his father had almost a dozen siblings (farm families were mighty big in those days), and so there were all kinds of brothers and sisters to speak with and try and reconstruct the family story. Any family spanning several generations is bound to bump up against the major currents of history, and this family is no different. David is playing all the roles here so part of the challenge is to make the characters distinct. Here in the preview we meet one of them. I'm planning to see the show, but I'm still wondering what it all adds up to. David's done his homework. The details are all there. It's the final shaping of the details into a larger narrative with a payoff that I'm looking for. But that's part of what Fringe is for, working through material in front of an audience and making it better. I'm rooting for this one.

An Answer For The Unknown - New Plastic Theatre

"Those dreams are not for you."

Dane, a man in mourning, accepts an online ad for a tour of hell. With the help and direction of a guide, he meets famous ghosts who make him understand important truths about death, dying, and the afterlife.

I suppose we should get all the "theater is hell" jokes out of the way now, right? You go ahead and think 'em up, get 'em out of your system. I'll wait. OK, on we go. The thing that was distinctive about this preview is the use of shadow work. Quick simple set-up with a sheet hung in front of lights, and then the use of body parts and cardboard cut-outs and even changes in color of light to play with our sense of perspective and reality. Considering all the ways this could have gone off the rails, this was a really impressive preview. Also, the skeleton face makeup on most of the actors was damn creepy. It's too bad we didn't get to see more of it now. But there's 45 more minutes in the show for that to happen. If you like your Fringe with a couple of shades of dark to it, this might be your ticket. I'm intrigued.

A Comedy of Edits - Callahan and Lingo

"I'm sorry, I thought I'd heard you say you've written a play."

Two writers enter the arena, but only one will emerge as the real artist. Rockstar Storyteller Allegra Lingo and Fringe newcomer Taylor Brorby battle it out in a game of wits and literary one-upsmanship.

Actually this time it's Brorby and Lingo. Taylor Brorby is stepping into Rob Callahan's half of the storytelling/comedy duo this time out, and Allegra Lingo wrote a play for them to perform. So everyone's stepping way outside their comfort zone on this one. Mom's a devoted Allegra fan, as am I, so of course we're going. But artists writing about art has never been a huge favorite of mine as a genre. Still, if anyone can make it work, it's Allegra. And Taylor looks like he's going to provide able backup. We'll see how this scripted battle of wits plays out.

All's Fair - Synapse Theater

"He's pretty harmless, really."
"She's not."

Find love at the Fringe! After her husband's death, Carol returns to the carnival where it all began, where past and present commingle to help her find her future. A heartwarming and touching world premiere.

This was sweet. A couple later in life looks back on the time they met while a younger couple reenacts that meeting. The whole "if we knew then what we know now" idea is in full effect here. It's funny and romantic. The only danger, of course, is since we know (or think we know) how the whole thing's going to turn out, it kind of sucks any suspense out of the proceedings. Of course, it's possible for a good script to still do that, and I don't see any evidence of this being a bad script. You're reading the blog of someone who always gets worried halfway through the musical 1776 because he's just not sure these guys will ever get that Declaration of Independence thing signed - even though he's clearly watching the musical in the country that was formed from the signing of that document. So I can be bamboozled even though I know better. And time spent with a pleasant romantic comedy has its charms. (And on further research, it turns out I know both the playwright and the director [some people are so shy], so that makes me even more inclined to trust the preview.)

Fruit Fly: The Musical - Jansonowicz Players

(Because Fag Hag: The Musical is so 1970s. And Queer Peer, let's face, was never going to catch on.)

"An autobiographical tale about a gay man and a straight woman."
"Can you tell which one is which?"

Can a gay guy and a straight girl - a fruit and a fly - "quit each other" to find true love? Find out in this brand-new musical filled with laughter, Sondheim references, and enough boxed wine to kill us all!

The performers here, Sheena Janson and Max Wojtanowicz (there he is again), are so relentlessly cute I find it hard to resist either them or their show. So I won't try. The "Two Peas In A Pod" number should have made me more than a little crazy (but see note above on cuteness). Also, the lyrics here are pretty darn clever. Cole Porter would feel right at home. You might even make Sondheim smile. Is this autobiographical musical pastiche going to amount to much? Hard to say. But I'd give them an hour to make their case, and try not to overthink it too much.

Going Down On The Queen of Minneapolis - Freshwater Theatre

"How's your cat?"

Or: The Final Voyage of Nokomis Construction. The employees of a failing construction company are trapped on a party boat. Forced to face their ridiculous demons, together they decide whether to sink or swim.

The Queen of Minneapolis is a charter ship. A ship going down, that can be figurative as well as literal. A forced company outing to foster "togetherness" quickly devolves into the usual office politics. A large number of characters are swiftly introduced in this preview.  I enjoy the work of a lot of people in the cast, and also like Ruth Virkus' work as a playwright. In addition, I'm fond of Freshwater Theatre's mission in general, nurturing new work of all stripes.  So while this kind of thing normally might not be my cup of tea, I trust the artists involved to put an original spin on it. They're not even asking for "a three hour tour" just one hour. What could go wrong?

Monday, July 30, 2012

Ms. Luisa Eats - Sunset Gun Productions

"Do you think he'd like some of my banana?"

Ms. Luisa—chanteuse, gourmand and globetrotter—is on a hilarious quest to discover the world's most delightful songs, delicacies and beefcake. Come taste her saucy mélange of romance, cabaret and pasta.

This one was a lot more oddly charming than I thought it would be. The performer's look was unsettling - the makeup (especially the lips) reminiscent of a blow-up sex doll, the cleavage ample, and the banana eating was, well, a reminder that sometimes a banana is not just a banana. Yet her affect was more the innocent sexpot. She knows she's cute, but she also knows she doesn't have to work to flaunt it. She flaunts it by just being present. Her wandering into the audience and her rendition of "Home On The Range" as she tried to figure out how to get the guitarist to notice her were both cute, but still kind of bizarre. I'm wondering where the idea goes from here. Guess there's only one way to find out.

Happy Hour - Sara Stevenson Scrimshaw

"I have whiskey, and my ukulele."

Join us at the bar for five dances, each inspired by a different drink. See whiskey swirl, watch an absinthe striptease, raise a glass to marriage equality and more in a show full of booze and celebration.

She not only dances, she sings, jokes and plays the ukulele as well. Another fun, accessible and easygoing dance showcase from the dancing member of the Scrimshaw tribe. This time, it's dances inspired by alcoholic beverages - that also somehow manages to loop in gay marriage for one segment (told ya).

A different kind of girl on girl action

Casual Encounters - Golden Ork Productions

A woman places an ad on Craigslist because she has a unique desire: to be in a fight, the ultimate loss of control. Another woman replies and agrees, begging the question: can violence be used as therapy?

Violence against women? Try violence between women instead. This isn't the only female fight club scenario in the Fringe this year. This spin is a modern take. Two women find each other when searching for another soul to fight. Don't know where exactly it goes from here, but the preview was kind of fun. A matter of fact entry into an escalating slap fight that ends with someone getting socked in the nose, all to comic effect. Nice work by both ladies.

On The Difference Between Two Ladies and the Resolution Thereof - Fell Down The Stairs

Two women of nobility use courtesy as shields and wit as swords until a dispute over flowers incites them to defend their honor with steel. An original comedy based on the first emancipated duel between women.

Here's another variation on female fight club. The first two ladies to challenge one another to a duel. It was kind of fun watching ladies in period costume insult each other while never stooping to coarse language. Of course, those were the standards of the time. But there's something satisfying about people insulting each other using complete sentences that don't include the words "F*** you." It's part of the reason Shakespeare's insults are so much fun. I wasn't sure this was going to be interesting to me, but the preview got me thinking otherwise. And we haven't even seen the duel yet.

The Gay Banditos - The Mechanical Division

"We don't usually get gay things here."

Based on actual events: The Miller family shares the shocking details of how their lives were destroyed forever by extreme gayness. Educational and haunting. A story you can't un-see.

All the net proceeds from this one go to Minnesotans United For All Families, fighting the marriage amendment on the ballot this fall (Vote No In November, people). Would a good cause alone be enough to lure me into a show? Maybe. (It's going to be challenging this year, since you can't swing a dead cat in the 2012 Fringe without hitting someone whose show has some material dealing with the gay marriage issue.) Thankfully, here I don't need to worry. Mechanical Division's tale of a simple suburban family terrorized by "the gays" is hilariously obscene, and deliciously politically incorrect. The danger, of course, is that someone might take this satire seriously, but most Fringe audiences can be counted on to know the difference. Still, if excerpts from this thing show up on Fox News, we'll have only ourselves to blame. Naturally, I look forward to taking mom to see this one.

Prophecy - New West Productions

"The three bitter truths that are left to us - sacrifice, slavery, submission."

A woman proclaiming the Second Coming becomes the subject of an intense government interrogation. But as riots in the street rage, protocols quickly crumble, ushering in a new God, a God of Chaos.

This is the reverse of the high stakes gambit Moonshine Madness and Murder has going on. It, too, tackles religion but goes for the full-on drama, perhaps melodrama. A woman's prophecy of the end times lights the match that starts to make modern civilization come unglued. An intriguing premise. Unfortunately, it feels in this preview like it's a gimmick. Just an excuse to get a bunch of people talking about things like belief and reality and the end of the world, but not really showing us anything. It's probably not fair to put so much pressure on three minutes in this instance, but I was hoping for more. Maybe the tyranny of high expectations at the Fringe is a good thing, but it's just as likely to make me overlook something with potential, and I hate thinking I might psych myself out that way.

Moonshine Madness and Murder - Christy Marie Kent

"I've done a lot of things in my life.  Writing vampire non-porn isn't one of them."

In Quacker Holler, Tennessee, the Lake Wobegon of the south, erotica-writing nun Sister Candace is murdered. Emily must use her investigative skills, fainting goats, and mental illness to solve the crime.

More "Minnesota stereotype" humor, which can get on my nerves. Here, though, it's in the context of a story with an intriguing bent to it. A detective listens to the voices in her head that could be mental illness just as well as they could be angels and devils. Will they steer her right (to solve the case) or wrong (and who knows what the consequences will be)? The interesting thing is the concept isn't being played for drama, but for laughs, while still respecting the legitimacy of belief. The delivery in the preview was so laid back and humorous, it was easy to forget (in a good way) just how extreme the stakes were. This is a sneaky one.

Even Yours - BOOM! Theater

"She introduced us, like it's the most normal thing in the world that she's married to a f**king Adonis."

An intimate portrait of what it takes to rebuild a life destroyed by betrayal. It's about what drives us to follow through on our darker impulses, but also about choosing light over darkness.

This one nearly snuck by me, and I'd kick myself if it did. (Thanks for the email, Gemma!) It's written (and this time also performed) by Gemma Irish, who was behind Fringe 2010's Yvette, which Mom and I enjoyed a whole lot and was in my pre-Fringe Top 10 that year. This script is a very different thing. More drama than comedy (though Gemma can't help herself, there's a lot of welcome humor here). It's about personal betrayal, which isn't always my thing. But if Gemma's exploring the topic, then I'm interested. Also, John Bennett, the man in this love triangle, was really great in the production of Naomi Wallace's The Inland Sea at Macalester last year, so he's more than just another pretty face. This one's definitely finding its way onto my schedule.

Steel Kiss - Segue Productions

"In 1985, there was no internet.  Sometimes you had to go to the park to meet guys."

In 1986 four teenage boys encountered a gay man in a Toronto park. The results were not pretty. Neither is this story. It is about the influence that a community has on the development of the next generation.

If I tell you the preview involved three guys kicking the crap out of another guy, then some unrestrained guy-on-guy kissing, a simulated blow job, and the special guest appearance of a young man's bare butt, would that be enough of an enticement to get you to show up (or perhaps repel you entirely)? Well, done, done, done and done. I wasn't the only one who was a little worried that the entire preview here would consist of those three guys wailing on the other guy for the full three minutes. As it was, it felt like it gobbled up the first two minutes. But that was probably just because the longer it went on, the more uncomfortable the audience got. Still, I think that's the point. I was already curious about this one, given the subject matter (gay-bashing) and the concept (all four actors take turns trading roles, as both the victim and his assailants, giving us multiple perspectives, and no easy hero or villain to follow all the way through). My reservations about how the violence would be handled (very convincingly) and the male intimacy would be handled (also very convincingly) are both rendered moot by this preview. I'm more intrigued to see it now than I was before (and I was pretty intrigued before). Plus, it's fun to watch how much more nudity throws people for a loop than foul language. (That might have been a Fringe For All first - I'm wracking my brain and coming up with no previous instances of nudity - feel free to chime in, remind us and prove me wrong.) Congrats on having the balls to do this preview right, guys (no pun intended). I'm there.

Vote! - Savaali

"We weren't introduced.  We're the labor."

What does it take to win a seat? The candidate is committed but is he enticing enough? Are the sexy volunteers interested in the platform or the candidate? Politics and romance collide to generate a win.

Student know-it-alls try to hijack a man's political campaign away from his actual campaign manager. The strange thing is, the whole time I was watching it I was thinking, "Why is it three women being bitchy and fighting over a male candidate?" I like that they all treat him like a know-nothing piece of meat on the one hand, but on the other hand, why isn't it a woman candidate with men and women fighting over her. Why doesn't the candidate have more of a voice? It feels like the silences of certain characters are more for the convenience of the writer than the realistic playing out of story and human nature. I'm torn, because I want to like the new plays, particularly the ones that aren't just about who's sleeping with who. But from the preview, I'm not sure how deep this political satire is going to dig. I needed the preview to dig a little deeper and surprise me a little more to get me to want to go see the full show.

Professor Martin's Museum of Eccentric Entertainments - Flamdazzle and Associates

"On the mezzanine, there was a nook by the elevator where a grumpy old man sold magic tricks."

A sampler of offbeat and strangely connected magic, juggling, and music, spanning a lifetime in show-biz and served up with extra-dry wit and semi-sweet memories.

A perfect example of how you can wow them without looking like you're trying too hard. The man is a genial storyteller. The magic tricks are simple but impressive (here, ropes that appeared to be knotted kept growing and changing and passing in and out of one another. No idea how he does it but it's a lot of fun to watch). The pacing of making the story work alongside the magic tricks still has some kinks (pardon the pun) but the guy delivers. A quiet little show that deserves an audience.

Everything And Nothing - Inconstant Hat Theatre


Ethan and Connie want to share their story -- a perfect moment amid the chaotic silliness and seemingly epic catastrophes of falling in love - they just can't agree on how that story will be told. 

Male and female narrators, each trying to tell their love story in their own way. The spin they put on this was to layer on a whole host of other genres, from western to fantasy, so standard lines took on a different feel in a random alternate context. Plus, they kept it all moving along at a rapid clip, and were quite charming doing it. Still not sure if it's enough to draw me into the whole show, but they got dang close. I'm curious, and will remember them.

A handful of shows in the "Not My Thing" category

Paved With Good Intentions - Smiling Lune 

"This is my perfection - the erection of this."

Dance your demons. Shake them out. We all want to deny our darker side, but even this act of denial gives it power. So integrate, accept, embrace. If we're on the road to hell, we might as well enjoy the ride.

Belly dancing with voiceovers by God and the Devil. Belly dancing's not really my thing, but if it's yours this might be worth checking out.

Not Dead Yet! The Return of Mr. Elk and Mr. Seal! - Modern Entertainment Music 

"Mr. Elk is in LA.  Hence, I will be doing both melody and harmony."

The A Capella Animals with snappy patter, funny songs, goofy moves and sweet harmonies. Seen on MTV, Comedy Central, Garrison Keillor's radio show. Some whistling- no dogs allowed. Kids love it; they are tough!

Dean Seal sang a little ditty about eating in Chinatown. Clever patter song. A little footwork. Again, not my thing, but looks like it'll be a funny, variety show style production.

The Computer Wore Semiotics - Story, Ink 

"I think you blew a seal."
"No, that's mayonnaise."

Tales of academia's unrequited love for the computer, from Paula Nancarrow and Loren Niemi, with punctuation by John Devine. (Yes, there will be nerd sax.) You can leave your phone on, but Siri buys a ticket.

I feel bad saying this, but it was fine. Not great, not awful, just fine. An amusing anecdote with a dirty joke tucked inside it that seems to be part of a larger narrative about, well… computers. And unfortunately I didn't find it all that compelling. The preview was plenty. I don't really feel the need to see more. Again, just not my thing.

What About Little PD - PD Pi Productions

"The greatest dog park stories you'll ever hear."

Explore a comedic, insightful look into couples who have chosen to be childfree yet have pets. Nadine and Mike share a decade of wisdom on life with their dogs Little PD and Mr. Pi.

Uh, no. Sorry. The couple seems perfectly pleasant but the idea of watching a show where two people talk about how they treat their pets like children is right up there with… well, a real production of Romeo and Juliet for me. I'll pass.

Pretentious Conversations - Upward Spiral Productions 

"You can gender identify any way you want but you are going to play the violin."

Sophisticates will relish this high-end fictional talk show featuring rarefied virtual guests engaged in dialogues of consequence. Moderated by the thoughtful probings of Patricia Skylar Van Humphries, Host.

Points for trying. It's smart, arch satire certainly. But my first response to the title was "no" and the preview didn't really change my mind. While it's a lot smarter and funnier than I expected, it's still about the kind of people that make my teeth itch. So just like comedy about George Bush, I think I'll spare myself spending time in the company of characters I'd just as soon avoid in real life.

Comedy, Magic and Neurosis - Southern Comfort 

"Hey man, you wanna get stable tonight?  We're gonna get so normal."

An autobiographical standup comedy and magic show centering around the Midwest Emmy Award-winning performer's life as he covers the relatable topics of work, family, relationships and anxiety.

My reaction to this preview was weird. The guy's got his routine down. Solid stage presence. Well-worn material. I guess I just have to be in the mood for stand-up comedy, and in this context, I found I wasn't. Nothing inherently wrong with it. It had some genuinely funny lines. But I'm not feeling compelled to see it.

Shakespeare Ate My Brain - OAFtrax

"I work in dinner theater."
"Don't worry.  One day you'll be a real actor."

In order to become the world's most celebrated Shakespearean scholar, Dr. Gwen Marlowe-Thomas must prove that the Bard employed actual zombies in his most famous works. How? Hold auditions.

In case you were wondering if Shakespeare combined with zombies was turning into a new Fringe genre, I guess the answer is yes. A zombie and a living actor walk into an audition. Make up your own jokes to that scenario, they were probably here. I was more interested in the set-up for the show - a researcher trying to prove her zombie thesis, and what the examples might be - than this preview bit. Zombies in general tend to squick me out so I need a really good reason to attend and play along. But able as the actors were here, the material wasn't selling me.

The Hungry Games: Mocking The Mockingjay - Tom Reed

"His special skills are throwing bags of flour, and gullibility."

"The Hunger Games" gets skewered in this one-man musical romp through hilarious kid-on-kid mayhem from the creator of Fringe hit parody "Bite Me Twilight". Come hungry, leave dead. Let The Games begin!

It's Tom Reed. I'm going. Now that he's done Harry Potter, Twilight, and Disney Princesses, the Hunger Games franchise was inevitable. Like Curt and Laura before him, you either dig Tom's schtick or you don't. I most certainly do. Mostly because he makes it look so easy that it's easy to forget the degree of difficulty here. He has to condense reams of material into a 45-minute time slot, create all the characters in a way that makes the plot easy to follow even though he's essentially just talking to himself for an hour. Then compose and perform songs in this context. And make sure it's funny, both for the rabid fan and the uninitiated. Oh, and as a friend and I were discussing, if Tom found a way to take off his shirt doing Disney princesses, the Hunger Games is a slam dunk for more disrobing. Nothing wrong with a little beefcake to go with your comedy. Plus, Tom's a big sweaty mess by the time it's over. Guy leaves it all onstage, even in a three minute preview. Am I a fan of the Hunger Games? No. Will I let Tom Reed tell me that story with jokes, physical antics and songs? You bet.

BOOGIEography - Blue Umbrella Productions

"I don't think you're ready for this jelly."

The skill and style of Broadway PLUS the bass beat of the dance floor PLUS the pizzazz of flashy jazz (dancing, that is). It's Fosse to LMFAO, Robbins to MC Hammer: wiggle-making boogie plus artistry and skill.

Host Robin Gillette's assessment that the venue for this show would now be moved to her office is in line with my level of enjoyment. A bunch of guys and folding chairs, thrust "unexpectedly" into having to perform to Beyonce's song "Bootylicious" was all kinds of silly and funny (and oddly sexy). Plus, John Zeiler is thrown by nothing. His chair collapsed, he kept right on dancing, pretending the sheer force of his own personal magnitude upended his prop. He even made a bit out of righting it again during the routine. Meanwhile, his cohorts kept displaying their bootylicious moves. And now I have yet another dance show I thought I might pass on suddenly trying to shoehorn its way into my crowded schedule. Hey, a little fun in a preview goes a long way.

Portrait of the Artist As A Yo-Yo Man - David Harris

"If you own over 300 yo-yos, you've got some explaining to do."

At 14, David Harris wanted to be a yo-yo pro. This dream led him on a hilariously embarrassing journey of doing stunts with yo-yos, paddleballs, folding chairs, shopping bags and, eventually, a wedding ring.

I found this unexpectedly charming. Again, a geek embracing his geekiness and wearing it as a badge of pride. In this case, an obsession with yo-yos which grew into a lifelong love affair. His yo-yo skills, and willingness to poke fun at himself while not apologizing for his hobby, were enormously winning. The gimmicks and the jokes played off each other well. A smart, simple enticement to come and see more, which I just might do.

Curt And Laura Used To Be Good At Gymnastics And Stuff - What Happened Productions

"I once got fired from being a sperm donor."

Rockstar Storytellers with a gold (okay, bronze) medal in comedy, Curt Lund and Laura Bidgood are all chalked up with nowhere to go. Tumble along through tales of victory, defeat, and Olympic-sized awkwardness.

You either adore these two already (or suspect you do) or you don't. As they said, "Curt is still a big homo, Laura is still a big fag hag."  Personally I'm a big fan and so is mom. This is a show she'll definitely want to see. Plus, any two skilled storytellers willing to revel in the power of just how awkward, ungainly and geeky they are can't help but win you over, given time. We've all been there (and if you haven't been there, lucky you). Comedy with the message that you're not alone, and laughing it off is the best cure.

Bohemian RAPPsody - De-Taming of the Shrew - Shift Happens

"The train wreck ride of your life."

WARNING: GODDESSES UNLEASHED! Unabashedly Wyld Womyn undulate groova-licious jubilation at redemption and release. Resounding beats drum, voices lift, spirits move-and worse, thoughts evoked! BEWARE YE! RUN!

Yes, shift happens. This was another one where the singers got off the rhythm of their pre-recorded accompaniment and things just kind of snowballed. There was also rapping, hence the title. It means well, female empowerment and all (and when done well, I'm a big fan) but I'm not sure how entertaining this particular Fringe offering might turn out to be. The preview didn't do them any favors. But kudos for going big. Lot of performers, high degree of difficulty, likely their first audience. We at least know the sort of thing they're shooting for now.

Joe Dowling's William Shakespeare's R and J etc - Peanut Butter Factory

"Zounds.  God's wounds.  You hack!"

"Two space households - both alike in space dignity - in fair Verona, where we lay our space scene, from ancient space grudge break to new space mutiny where civil space blood makes civil space hands unclean."

full title
Joe Dowling's William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet on the Moon, featuring Kate Capshaw as Lady Capulet

I have to be honest. I thought this title was a joke at the Fringe Lottery in February, like "An Intimate Evening With Joe Dowling" clearly was. When it became clear this was the actual title, I have to admit it sounded like a horrible idea.  Just to start with there are about 12 different kinds of inside joke geekiness in that title.  Then what you imagine the concept is going to be... But this is Christopher Kehoe and the Peanut Butter Factory we're talking about, so I should have known better. I really enjoyed Kehoe's one man St. Christopher of Financial Aid, and I was bummed to have missed his Fringe show in 2011. As I have said many times before, Romeo and Juliet is one of my least favorite Shakespeare plays. The script, for all its beautiful poetry, drives me crazy. But here, they're playing it for laughs, so I'm on board. I'm also on board because the concept in this preview was damn funny. Paul Rutledge and Max Wojtanowicz are involved, and they're among my favorite actors lately. They picked a Shakespearean fight from the top of the play with an increasingly more befuddled guy speaking to them in modern English. The misunderstandings and insults were delightful. I actually can't wait to see more, which is a most welcome surprise in this case.

(Sadly, there is no video of the preview.  Perhaps Joe Dowling's representatives are still clearing it for the public.  There is, however, a little video blurb from Kehoe himself to tide you over...)

The Love Show! - ORL Productions

"You just farted all over my junk."

Soul-crushing, sky-opening, fart-inducing LOVE. Embarrassing stories and hilarious original songs about love to make you feel all squishy inside. Love, Samantha Baker Harris, Courtney McLean and Anna Weggel.

Ah, see, this is what I think the Vaginal Home Companion ladies were actually trying to accomplish. It's almost not fair. Again, three ladies, two of the three I know as Courtney McLean and Anna Weggel. Each very funny in their own right. Together, still more so. They played their own instruments, they say well together, they sang clearly and at good volume. Yes, that sounds like it should be a low bar to clear, but let's face it , a lot of acts don't, and these ladies more than cleared the bar, they raised it. Even if they were singing a song about a woman farting on a guy while they were cuddling, suitably entitled "Love Explosion." It's the juxtaposition of lilting melody and lovely voices and a "naughty" subject that makes the comedy work. For everyone, no. For me, most definitely yes.

Ash Land - Transatlantic Love Affair

"I'm going there to see my mother."

The creators of Red Resurrected and Ballad of the Pale Fisherman present a desert Cinderella, scored by a slide guitar. Where bones bake in the sun and water is precious, a motherless child finds her identity.

Yet another of my five most anticipated returns of previous pre-Fringe Top Ten artists. Isobel Nelson and company just make me happy to watch theater. It's so ridiculously simple, how do we keep forgetting it? All you need are actors and a good story. No set, no props, no special effects. In less than three minutes, with a little bluegrass musical accompaniment, these people sewed seed in a field. Then they laid down in that field and pointed up at the stars. Then their pointing arms and hands became the waving wheat full grown. Then certain actors became the farmers threshing the wheat for harvest. Then a mother, father and daughter gather for a family portrait. Then the mother withdraws and the father and daughter are tossing dirt into the mother's grave. Then the girl is visiting the mother's grave and her flinty stepmother appears nearby and tells the girl to cut it out. (She's smoking an imaginary cigarette, so you know she's evil.) Each stage image like turning the page in a live action photograph album. Each stage image evoking the passage of time. The combined images creating a place and a community and the beginning of a story. All in under three minutes. Ballad of the Pale Fisherman, Red Resurrected, now to that list, we add Ash Land. Can't wait.

The Jesus Chair - Front Porch Theatre

"Maybe someday you'll be an artist and you'll understand."

Based on Han Nolan's "Send Me Down a Miracle," this work follows Charity Pittman, who is set to follow in her preacher father's footsteps until an eccentric artist comes to town claiming to have seen Jesus.

The scene chosen out of context unfortunately didn't do them any favors here. It was so much about an artist being selfish, and not at all about the central concerns of faith used to describe the story, that I don't think it represented the full show very well. Unless the show is about a selfish artist, in which case I was in doubt whether we were supposed to see the artist as selfish, or to see this behavior as justified in the service of one's art. Which is bullsh**, so I can't believe that's what they were peddling. The young heroine clearly needs to find another mentor if she means to be a decent human being as well as an artist. At one point, in referring to the chair which displayed the image of Jesus, the artist justified the chair's removal because it wasn't a healthy thing on which to fixate. "You can't idolize people like that." Wait, you can't idolize Jesus? Oh-kay… The play probably means you shouldn't worship things, like objects in which the faces of religious figures appear. But I have to admit, the whole preview left me confused. Plus, ever since the "Grilled Cheesus" episode of Glee, I have a hard time taking the face of Jesus appearing in everyday objects as seriously as I should. My bad.

Serif Punglasses - Raven Timberlake

"Our version of cuddling, sitting on opposite ends of the couch."

Carol Burnett goes down the modern comedic rabbit hole. This duo troupe uses theatrical storytelling, sketches and simple wordplay for a variety hour that makes you wonder which screen you're viewing through.

This is the first preview at Fringe-For-All that caught me by surprise. The fact that the title's impenetrable and thus I knew nothing about the show made surprising me a little easier. Sometimes comedy about gay stereotypes can be lame or offensive or both. But the two performers were so likable and their attitude so winning that I found them hard to resist. And let's face it, we're all looking for reasons *not* to see a show to narrow down our impossible list of choices, right? Well, this preview would not allow me to write them off. In fact, it may have me writing them in after they started out not even being on my radar. Now that's an effective preview. Riffing on the whole "Pray Away The Gay" ex-gay ministry thing (yes, there was a Marcus Bachmann joke), they had a product with which you could spray away the gay, new Gay B Gone. It even had jokes like "Is your favorite color 'sparkle'?" and "Lesbi-honest" and I still couldn't help giggling. The stereotypical behavior examples still not resolved by Gay B Gone were piled so high that each time they said, "Can you believe we used to be gay?" I was more amused. Bonus points for spraying so much of that stuff in the air that when our host Robin reappeared she had to retreat because the anti-gay mist was still settling. I have no idea whether the rest of the show is as effective as the preview, but based on Fringe-For-All, I'm really tempted to find out.

Class of 98 - Mainly Me Productions

"Somewhere there is a sixty year old me who is pissed."

They say there's no such thing as second chances. Well, "they" forgot about time-travel. Mike and Lloyd are going back to school. Literally.

Just like Dovetail, I'd follow Mainly Me Productions just about anywhere, too. Josh Carson and company had me and my mother laughing so hard and so often with Our Freaking Kids Show last year that we probably missed half the jokes. Highly inappropriate, rapid fire comedy is what they do best. This preview promised more of the same with Josh somehow using time travel to go back and speak to his younger self in high school. Unfortunately his younger self doesn't agree with any of the advice from the future on how to cash in on the next big thing that hasn't happened yet. So Josh has to blow his cover as a guidance counselor to browbeat his younger self into getting with the program. Just like Dovetail, Tamara, and phillip, can't wait for more. (Oh, and bonus points to Josh and his hetero lifemate Andy for flirting with my mom at last year's Fringe. She remains charmed by you both.)

A Vaginal Home Companion - Riot Crrricket Productions

"This show is a squealer."

Ever wonder what would happen if Eve Ensler wrote a down-home radio show? Here's a best guess at the results, complete with fiddles, folksy harmonies, and lots of TMI.

(no my R key didn't get stuck, that's their name) - Oh my. I felt kind of sorry for these three ladies. They were trying very hard, but their live singing got out of sync with their pre-recorded background track of music and they didn't seem to know how to get fully back on track (no pun intended). They grinned gamely and kept plowing ahead but the whole thing never really clicked. Now if all that was deliberate, they certainly had me fooled. The scenario - three well-dressed country gals singing lilting songs with naughty lyrics - has potential, but I'm not sure it's actually as edgy as they mean it to be.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Fear and Trembling - Maximum Verbosity

"She let him kiss her because she was afraid it was all she had to give."

Strange beasts. Bleeding statues. Songs of death. Explore the hidden worlds beneath Minneapolis in these twisted tales from founding Rockstar Storyteller phillip low.

Speaking of epic, phillip andrew bennett low is another of the five returning acts from a previous Top Ten list that I'm most looking forward to this year. I envy phillip's seemingly limitless ability to bend language to his will. He also speaks it so fluidly, and relentlessly, often without seeming to stop and take a breath as often as us normal human beings do, that I'm doubly envious. It's a kick just to listen to him spin another story, or several, over the course of an hour. Always Fringe time well spent.

Sin Eater - Present State Movement

"My name is Glory, and I am going to get me a Sin Eater.  Watch me."

Glory is called home to her estranged father's deathbed and is sent on a mission to find a Sin Eater. She pursues this dark beast through a haunted forest in an attempt to save her father's soul.

After Tamara Ober's offering of Flesh in last year's Fringe, her next Fringe show is something I've been waiting on with great expectation. I'd say she's one of the five returning acts this year from previous berths on my pre-Fringe Top Ten list that I'm most looking forward to. Very different from last year's showcase of multiple artists, but still featuring Tamara's controlled use of her body which is enormously compelling to watch, often downright hypnotic. Plus, the story of an epic quest that's literally life and death. Can't wait to see more.  (Word from the Canadian Fringe circuit, where she took the show first this year, has been very praiseworthy, not that I'm a bit surprised.)

Ivory Tower Burning - Jay Gabler

"Most people have the advantage of not being educated in Wisconsin."

As the Cold War rages, the idealistic young C. Wright Mills invades the Harvard office of vastly influential sociologist Talcott Parsons for a fiery debate about what is to come of our fast-rising superpower.

Jay's my editor at the Twin Cities Daily Planet so of course I'm going to support his show. Thankfully, this should be easy to do. Since I know nothing about sociology, and he wrote the book Sociology for Dummies, the subject matter should be most accessible. Two warring ideologies makes good fodder for conflict. Plus, in a casting twist, it's the two Gabler brothers on stage together. I spoke with Jay about his script back when he was first gearing up for production after his number was called in the Fringe lottery in February, so I know he knows his stuff. The preview wasn't as good a calling card as it might be, but I'm still intrigued by the whole idea of the thing and how he's tackling the challenge of making the subject theatrical. (On a related note, since Jay's my editor, is it wrong for me to mention I think his brother's cute? Seems awkward. Ah well…)

Betty Anderson Live - Max Life Productions

"It's hard to do improv in front of Minnesotans."

Mix a cup of audience suggestions, some fun characters and a dash of opera for a rare blend of small-town urban comedy. Betty and friends will share their views on anything you ask. Oh geez, it will be a hoot!

Betty's mix of stand-up comedy and improv riffing off her interaction with the audience. Minnesota humor, Wilmar style. Again, not my thing, but you've gotta admire her unflagging commitment to her schtick. Just charming enough to make even a resistant audience member like me smile.

Tales From A Twisted Universe - Seldom Scene Productions

"Billy the Kid wouldn't have been late.  John Dillinger wouldn't have been late.  The Hillside Strangler wouldn't have been late.  But you..."

Five hysterically twisted plays, including one national award-winning work. Among the selection: a sneezing fit ignites a friendship, a man liberates frozen meat, and a polar bear gets an unexpected treat.

Playwright/director Mic Weinblatt is a friend of mine (he was on my blog's very first pre-Fringe Top Ten list back in the day) and he's mixing in some old reliable material with some new stuff, including a new name for his producing company. (Used to be Rhino Productions but maybe the abbreviation for Republican In Name Only was ruining the word rhino for him in an election year.) It's big, broad, over the top comedy on the page and in performance - such as this preview where an overbearing Jewish mother inserts herself into her son's work as a hitman at a funeral parlor. There will also be a family of cockroaches and the soap opera that is their short, eventful lives. If you're in the mood for sketch comedy, this could be for you.

Merblades! Memoir of a James Cameron - Black Market Doctor

"I'm king of the world!"

An epic oceanic adventure featuring Titanic filmmaker James Cameron as he explores the ocean floor and becomes entangled in a feud between two ancient metal mermaids - Merblades. Based on real and fake facts.

There was a whole lot of screaming and catfighting - wait, can mermaids catfight, or is that a cross-species no-no? Anyway, the true part of the story was that film director James Cameron cleaned up at the Oscars with his multiple wins for the movie Titanic, and then promptly fell off the grid, spending the next several years exploring ever deeper and remote parts of the world's oceans. The made-up part of the story is he encountered a couple of battling metal mermaids and got caught up in their interpersonal issues. The preview ended with the narrator and the James Cameron stand-in being dragged away at knife point by the mermaids. Since this is Heather Meyer and she had a big comedy hit in the Fringe last year, I fully expect her to deliver again, so strange as this preview was, I'm still going to try and fit this one on my schedule. I could use a laugh.

Topic of Cancer - Miss Penny Productions

"I swear you have the hardest time keeping your clothes on."

Meet the McVeys. Mom's dead. Dad's turning 70, Mary's got her own cooking show and "Trish, the dish" from LA has just dropped the C bomb. A fast, fierce farce that will have you thinking the unforgivable.

Oh, the drama! Oh, the comedy! This one was a little schizophrenic and overwrought, but I suppose any attempt at wacky comedy about cancer would be. The thing I found fascinating was I'm sure completely unintentional. Someone who wasn't an actor wandered out on stage with a little handheld camcorder and was recording the preview as it was being performed for us. I thought it might be some weird commentary on reality television for a second (and frankly, that might have been more interesting). But I think they might have been actually trying to record a view trailer for their show at the same time they were doing a Fringe-For-All preview. Now that's multitasking. I was particularly fond of the enthusiastic thumbs up the camera person gave them when they reached the end. Again, not my thing, but points for weirdness.