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

Fringe Review - Sin Eater - Present State Movement - 5 stars

Tweet review - Sin Eater - OK, my mind is officially blown; the things Tamara Ober does with her body, shadow and light... Damn, 5 stars #mnfringe

"The way through the darkness is to become one of the animals.  Then they can't get you."

There are words in Sin Eater, but Sin Eater itself is almost beyond words.  Like a joke, you fear that in trying to explain it or describe it to someone else you take something away from it, make it less somehow than it truly is.  Words like amazing, mesmerizing, hypnotic, mind-blowing, overwhelming, well, they aren't really helpful, though any of them could easily be applied to Sin Eater.  Choreographer/performer Tamara Ober of Present State Movement has created a compelling dance work in Sin Eater, one that is very easy to submit to, and lose yourself in for an hour.  This is the dance show to see at the Fringe this year.

"My father named me [Grace].  He's a believer."

Ober takes on the role of Grace, a steely young woman called home to her dying father's bedside.  She is told to go into the mountains and bring back a Sin Eater.  The Sin Eater is a shaman who, for a fee, will eat another person's sins, take them upon himself, allowing the other person's soul to rise unfettered to the afterlife.  Of course, the Sin Eater continues to carry all those other sins with them the rest of their life.  What happens when they die?

"It's not my war, but I've carried it with me all my life."

Sin Eater is Grace's journey into the wilderness, and into a darkness just as metaphorical and spiritual as it is literal.  When she comes out on the other end of her journey, and back to her father's bedside, she is a very different person.

"In all that darkness I had no idea what I was fighting, or what I killed."

Tamara Ober is in such complete control of her body that is almost doesn't seem human.  Or perhaps the rest of us humans are just way too careless with the way we swing our bodies around.  Time and again I look a my notes and instead of just jotting down a description of what she did, there are exclamations like, "She can be so still!"  The smallest movement or twitch can convey volumes of information about her state of mind or relation to her surroundings.  When she ripped a strip off a bed sheet, the violence of it in relation to the stillness that came before made an audience member next to me actually gasp.  On the opposite end of the movement spectrum, Ober is just as evocative when crossing the stage in big sweeping movements of her arms and legs and torso.  The way her body moves and contorts itself implies all we need to know about her surroundings - thick underbrush, low branches, tight spaces, treacherous crossings.  Though there is no set, only a bench she turns over in different configurations for different locales, the empty space around her isn't truly empty.  The open air takes on the specifics of the environment Ober indicates with her movement through the space.

"I didn't know my father before the war.  So maybe I didn't know him."

Another key element is the bold use of light, shadow and color in relation to Ober's body.  The lush green of the forest gives way to the soothing blue of the river, where Grace allows herself to rest and revel in the water.  The red of the campfire playing across the planes and chords of muscle in Ober's back seem to create a kind of monster.  An extended sequence using a strobe light, along with percussive music, is powerful and unsettling.  Grace's battle with and surrender to the darkness of the night takes things to still another level before the dawn returns.  Her hair unbound at last and swinging wildly, it eventually obscures her face entirely.  In fact, come morning, Grace's tentative hand movements imply she is perhaps relieved to still have a face under all that hair as it is slowly pulled back into a ponytail once more.

An eclectic selection of music, too, fills the space and envelops the audience as much as the performer.  Sin Eater is an immersive experience on several levels.

"It turns out all you need to do is go home, set down your load, and stop fighting."

The climax of the performance, conveying the vastness of the night sky, includes some of the most unreal shadow work in an evening full of precise and evocative shadow work.  As the conclusion draws near, Ober's contortions made her shadow seem like a completely separate person, perhaps a parent keeping watch over a child.  You almost can't believe your eyes.  How Tamara Ober does it, I don't know.  But what a gift!

And what a gift to audiences Sin Eater is.  I keep telling people, if you can only get to a couple of Fringe shows, Ash Land should be one, and Sin Eater should most definitely be the other.  Sin Eater is the kind of rich, risk-taking, logic-defying work that you rarely get to see the rest of the year.  Take advantage while the Fringe is making it so easy to find.

5 stars - Very Highly Recommended

Saturday, August 04, 2012

Fringe Review - Ash Land - Transatlantic Love Affair - 5 stars

Tweet review - Ash Land - well deserved standing ovation. Friggin' brilliant. So detailed, human, simple and lovely. This is why I love theater #mnfringe

"If you need anything, I'll always be here."

It is hard for me to write about the work of the theater company Transatlantic Love Affair, and their new Fringe production Ash Land, without sounding like a lovesick teenager.  If you've seen either of their previous two Fringe shows - Ballad of the Pale Fisherman, and Red Resurrected - you know they put on a great show, and you should go and see Ash Land right away.  If you haven't seen them yet but have heard all sorts of wonderful things said about them, let me reassure you that the wonderful things are all true.  If you haven't seen them, or heard about them, let me simply say - Go.  See Ash Land.

"In these dry times, some men see nothing but dust and despair."

Ash Land reminds me why I love theater.  Ash Land reminds me why I do theater.  Any audience member or theater artist who needs to be reminded, go see Ash Land.  It will renew your faith in live performance.

"There isn't any work.  The rain has stopped."

How?  For starters Ash Land takes eight barefoot actors and one man playing a slide guitar (Harper Zwicky) and creates an entire world.  No set, no props, everyone gets a single simple costume (kudos to Anna Reichert), and that's it.  I touched on this in my commentary on their Fringe-For-All preview.  The work of Transatlantic Love Affair fully engages the audience's imagination.  It's ensemble created work of the highest order, guided here by co-artistic director Diogo Lopes.

"Every time you walk through that door, you bring a piece of your mother with you.  And it's killing me."

Just like Ballad and Red, Ash Land takes an old story as a foundation and opens it up making it new again.  Here, it's Cinderella.  No glass slippers (though there is a rich people's party which a young farm girl invades and later escapes, followed by the good-hearted son of the powerful owner of the local bank).  No talking animals, no pumpkin coach (though the cast does create an old model car onstage with their bodies, complete with windshield wipers).  No fairy godmother (though the spirit of the farm girl's dead mother reappears in various guises just when the girl needs her most).  If you know Cinderella (Disney or French fairy tale version), the resonances are there.  If you don't, the story is completely enchanting on its own terms.

"I buried my wife here.  My daughter was born here.  I don't care if I don't own it.  This is my land."

When Ellie (Adelin Phelps) and her father (Derek Lee Miller) are bereft with grief at the loss of their mother and wife (Isabel Nelson), the wife's sister Abigail (Heather Bunch) comes to help run the drought-plagued family farm to keep it from going under.  Times are bad, and though the banker's son James (Willie Gambucci) makes a case for the downtrodden farmers to keep their land till the rains come again and times get better, James' father the bank owner (Eric Nelson) sees another opportunity.  If the rich folk of the area buy up the farmers' land at rock bottom prices now, when the rains come again, the rich will reap the real harvest and massive profits.  Abigail plans to sell the family farm out from under Ellie and her father, but Ellie intercepts the invitation to the banker's party, and goes in her aunt's place.

"Farming.  It's more than just work to us.  It's everything we are."

A simple plot synopsis can never convey the simple joys of watching this story unfold before your eyes.  You don't just get to know the characters, you get to know the land, their home, and so much more.  Even though there isn't a stick of furniture in sight, you always know exactly where you are.  The cast creates a field of wheat that flourishes, dies and is reborn.  The cast creates a dust storm, and later the first drops of a long awaited rain that turns into a storm of a different kind.  The cast creates the porch and creaking screen door of the farmhouse, and the wrought iron gate and tree-lined drive of the wealthy banker's estate.

"You think you're building something?!"

Sometimes you don't realize where you are at first, and then slowly have it revealed to you.  For instance, Ellie goes up into what turns out to be the attic, looking for one of her mother's old dresses to dress up for the banker's party.  Two actors turn out to be a big trunk, and a blanket resting on top of it.  The spirit of Ellie's mother is beside her the whole time, helping her into the dress.  Two other actors stand nearby, and when their locked arms turn, it becomes clear they are a mirror.  Ellie stands on one side, and sees her smiling mother wearing the same dress in the reflection.  It's a magical and very touching moment.

"Ellie, I ever tell you how much I hate potatoes?"

Ash Land is filled with many such moments.  The actors are in a constant state of transformation, building a story around the central characters.  Each of the characters is complex and rich, so that by the time the story draws to its close, it is enormously satisfying to see second chances and budding young love spring from the dry soil of a community's grief.  That standing ovation they got opening night is well-deserved, and the first of many.  (Blogger note - I'm crying as I write this.  Moments from the show just crept up into my consciousness again along with some of these lines of dialogue and the singing and it still wrecks me.  I didn't cry when I watched it, but I'm crying now.  Weird.  It's really beautiful work.  This one's going to follow me around for a while.  The best ones always do.)

"I'm not leaving if you're not leaving."

I've said it before and I'll say it again, if you see only two Fringe shows this year, one of them should be Ash Land.

"This world will lose its motion, love, should I prove false to thee."

Also, if you didn't catch the expanded version of Ballad of the Pale Fisherman at Illusion earlier this year, it's being remounted at the Jon Hassler Theater in late August.  An expanded version of Red Resurrected will be debuting at Illusion Theater again early next year.  See them if you need a good theater fix until next Fringe.

5 Stars - Very Highly Recommended

Fringe Invitation - Want To Tag Along With Mom For Free?

Hey there, theater people on a budget...  (You know who you are, but as of yet, I don't, hence the post)

Since Mom is the proud owner of an Ultra Pass, this year she has a free pass to bring a guest to each of the Fringe shows she's going to see on Monday and Tuesday this week.

We hate to let free theater tickets go to waste so...

If any of these shows are of interest to you and you want to join us, just let us know.  We even already have a spare Fringe button to hand around so your admission is fully covered.

Monday, August 6, 2012

5:30 - A Comedy of Edits - Callahan and Lingo - Rarig Arena (here's a preview)

7:00 - Class of 98 - Mainly Me Productions - Theatre In The Round (They're on my Top 10 list this year - here's a preview)

8:30 - Font of Knowledge - Shelby Company - Mixed Blood (here's a preview)

10:00 - Birds of Passage - The Winding Sheet Outfit - Rarig Xperimental (They're on my Top 10 list this year)

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

5:30 - Storms Beneath Her Skin - Rebecca Kling - Patrick's Cabaret (She's on my Top 20 list this year - here's a preview)

7:00 - Ms. Luisa Eats - Sunset Gun Productions - Patrick's Cabaret (here's a preview)

8:30 - A One Way Ticket To Crazy Town - Les Kurkendaal - Patrick's Cabaret (here's a preview)

10:00 - Dead Wrong - Katherine Glover - Patrick's Cabaret (She's on top of my Top 10 list this year - here's a preview)

If any of these interest you and you'd like to join us, either tweet me @MatthewAEverett, or email me at mail AT matthewaeverett DOT com (and bcc to browder268 AT yahoo DOT com just to be on the safe side, since my spam filter's a little wonky).  We'll arrange the logistics and meet you there.

Free Fringe for the taking, compliments of the Ultra Pass and my Ultra Mom.

Backdoor blog

Sometimes the internet is cranky.

With all the traffic the Twin Cities Daily Planet receives, particularly at Fringe time (and quite a lot around lunch time), sometimes the interface I use to post material is, shall we say, less than cooperative.

In order not to lose my work, and thus feel compelled to scream and throw things, I draft my work up first and save it on Blogger, at

It will appear there, hopefully not all that long before I can get it posted to the Daily Planet.

So if it seems like forever since I've posted something (and it's not a time I would otherwise be running around actually seeing Fringe shows), and you're wondering what I might be up to, you can look over there and see if there's some content in the pipeline.  Sometimes the internet just isn't cooperating on the final step of publication, and I have to let something languish while I run off and see a show, and will come back and give the posting another try later in the day.

I doubt there are Fringe obsessive-compulsives out there with my same degree of "need to know" but in case there are, that's my posting secret for you.

Fringe Review - The Gay Banditos - Mechanical Division - 5 stars

Tweet review - Gay Banditos - a Laramie Project for homophobes, and I mean that as a compliment; deeply wrong, deeply hilarious - 5 stars #mnfringe

"This [rainbow] was some sort of signal.  Some sort of gay signal."

How the cast of The Mechanical Division's Fringe production of The Gay Banditos all kept a straight face throughout the performance I will never know.  We in the audience were all howling with laughter.  The Gay Banditos is a razor sharp satire, so good one could be forgiven for worrying that someone would bootleg a video of it to Fox News who would not get the joke.  "See," they'd intone ominously, "the gay agenda really is destroying the social fabric of small town America."

"I don't think about fabric or go around telling people their shoes are nice or putting dresses on my dog."

Ben Thietje and Bobby Gardner's script follows the structure and presentational style of The Laramie Project so precisely you could line them up next to each other and swear they were written by the same people.  The direction and acting of all involved reinforce this in tightly controlled fashion that I found most impressive.  It's the reason the satire cuts as deep as it does.  It's also the reason the laughs are as plentiful and hearty as they are from beginning to end. 

"When did you guys start listening to Kelly Clarkson?"

The Narrator (Gardner again) introduces us to the story of the Miller family - Hank (Tom Karki), Deborah (Christine Karki) and their son Cody (Patrick Kozicky) - terrorized by an (unseen) marauding group of Gay Banditos.  In exposing them (literally) to acts of gay sex, the Gay Banditos undermine the Miller family's rock solid heterosexual lifestyle forever.  Deputy James Barnes (Thietje again) investigates the Millers' plight, though he has his own personal reason for pursuing the Gay Banditos.  The tale is reconstructed after the fact from hilariously deadpan interviews, transcripts and journal entries.

"You've gone too far this time, boner."

The discomfiting thing about the comedy, of course, is that most of the things the Millers say aren't all that exaggerated.  People actually think and talk this way.  As a gay audience member, I was laughing just as much as anyone (which is to say a hell of a lot), but I also realized the joke is partly on me.  The fact that 100% of the net profits from the production are being donated to Minnesotans United For All Families and their fight to defeat the marriage amendment on the November ballot this year goes a long way to reassuring my fractured viewing mind.  The fact that most of the cast is straight and was ticked off enough to do a piece of theater like this to raise money for this cause gives me enormous comfort (i.e., it's not just gay people who are fighting back; if you piss off our friends, they'll fight for us, too, with every weapon at their disposal).  And the comfort isn't just for me as an audience member watching satire that veers very close to reality.  It's comfort that, damn, maybe I'm not in this alone after all.

"I wouldn't be surprised if some of them are in this dark theater, watching us right now."

So thanks, Mechanical Division.  You guys are the best.  Thanks for weirding me out.  Thanks for making me laugh.  Thanks for having my back (in a completely hetero kinda way).

"They were hugging, but not in a Christian way."

If you need a lot of good laughs, which you can even feel a little guilty about, and then feel great about immediately afterward - The Gay Banditos is your ticket.  Laugh it up, and support a worthy cause. (And just like their program notes say, Vote No in November)

5 stars - Very Highly Recommended

Thursday, August 02, 2012

Out of Towners - Rebecca Kling - Storms Beneath Her Skin

Are you a boy or a girl? Are you sure? I am transgender, which complicates things. This show is about my experience, as well as apologies, surgery, the equations of sex, the weather, boobs, and more. 

"The first time I had to lift something heavy [after acquiring breasts], a girl friend said to me, 'Yeah, suck it up.  It's much harder now.'"

Rebecca Kling knows how to work a room.

After seeing this preview at the Out of Towner showcase, I feel a little bad for slotting her into my Top 20 at 13.  While it's not a scientific ranking of merit or anything, after this preview, I'm thinking she surely should be up in the Top 10.  She's that good.  In fact, if I ever have the pleasure of meeting her, I'll probably make the mistake of saying something silly for which there is no polite response like, "You're fantastic."  (Update: before posting this, I did meet her out and about handing out her postcards and managed to tell her how much I liked her preview and was looking forward to the show without embarrassing myself.  Score one for improving social skills around talented people.)

The lady takes no prisoners and makes no apologies.  She's not confrontational.  She's just interested in spreading truth and having an honest conversation.  The topic of sexuality and gender identity is a slippery one, and it might make some folks uncomfortable.  But they probably aren't the Fringers who'd go to her show anyway.  And that's a minority of Fringe audience members.  We come to the Fringe to experience something different, and saying Kling has a different kind of show is probably an understatement.

But this isn't a dry infomercial or documentary presentation about the transgender experience.  Kling has the verbal dexterity of a storyteller, and the wit and adaptability to gauge and perform to her audience like the best stand-up comics.  She's entertaining, and she has something to say.  It's a great combination of messenger and message.  She also seems infinitely patient (a skill I'm sure she had to acquire over the years).  She wants to bring her audience with her on the journey and she's willing to meet them more than halfway.  At the same time, she's not going to dumb anything down, or sugarcoat any discomfiting bit of reality.  It makes for a bracing preview, and I'm sure an equally eye-opening show.  Both Mom and I are really looking forward to this one.

Plus it was fun to have Robin reading the introductory show blurb from the website and need to say, "I'm transgender."  Robin is thrown by nothing.

Storms Beneath Her Skin's first performance is Saturday 8/4 at 4pm at Patrick's Cabaret.

Out of Towners - Dance

We got three dance shows in the mix at the Out of Towners showcase last night.  Well, two full-on dance shows, and a third that just had dance as a big part of its preview snippet.

They were...

Nucleus... and other Cell Bodies - Kelly Rademacher - Southern Theater

Two hydrogen atoms bond with one oxygen atom to make-dance! Get silly and scientific inside our peculiar kinetic bio-textbook for the stage, a bizarre and compelling movement world as seen through a microscope!

The dance groups were pretty innovative in the way they dealt with the preview opportunity.  In the case of Nucleus, they took a show choreographed for the vast proscenium of the Southern and nimbly adapted it to the far less spacious stage (and multiple levels of risers, and odd shape) of the Brave New Workshop.  Points for ingenuity.  The four dancers in long colorful dresses, with brightly colored footstools at the ready, worked together and in opposition to one another's undulating movements accompanied by electronic music.

They have the 7pm slot tonight, Thursday, 8/2, at the Southern, then more shows this Friday and Saturday 8/3 and 8/4, closing up in the middle of the week on Tuesday and Wednesday 8/7 and 8/8.

The Dust - Core Project Chicago - Patrick's Cabaret

Explore contemporary myth and belief through the archetypes of Death, Fate, Memory and Man. Using dance, poetry, experimental music and visual art, we'll confront the heaviest of thoughts: our own mortality.

Whoever thought to tap the dry comedic talents of Core Project Chicago's company manager is a great judge of how to do a preview.  Unable to fit your dance on the small stage?  No problem, put your company manager in one of the costumes, have her simulate some of the moves all the while talking to the audience with a tone of voice that has "eyeroll" built-in.  While she ran through the moves of her non-dance routine, the company manager entertainingly fed us all the information we would need to come and see the show.  She also sardonically assessed the content of the show when she shared that she had been instructed to come out, roll around on the stage, "and rub fake dust on myself."  "We... and by we I don't mean me, because this is ridiculous."  The thing was perfectly constructed.  She warned us her limited repertoire included a cartwheel, a pelvic thrust and a couple of jokes.  We got the laughs, the pelvic thrust generated more, and then she cartwheeled off stage.  Preview complete.  Their company manager was a great ambassador.  I now know the company as a whole has a great sense of humor, and that's a good thing to know about a Fringe show.

Their first performance is Friday 8/3 at 5:30 at Patrick's Cabaret

The Habit - Wilson Loria - HUGE Improv Theater

In a daring look at a religious woman facing the crossroads of her life, The Habit guides its audience from the familiar images of docile convent life to a path sprinkled with hints of a more profane one.

"Vapor poured from the nostrils of the gigantic machines"

This is more solo show than dance piece but movement is a big part of what Loria does here.  Transformation is another big part of what he's up to, as he starts the preview in full nun regalia and then ditches that outfit for a white linen suit and hat combo, culminating in an energetic soft shoe routine.  While it didn't necessarily share a lot in terms of plot, the preview definitely gives you the sense of the kind of performer Loria is, and that identity is going to be among the major concerns of his Fringe offering.  Those two very different character looks make for intriguing possibilities.

His first performance is Friday 8/3 at 10pm at HUGE.

Out of Towners - Shelby Company - Font of Knowledge

A washed-up word jockey and a sexy librarian team up to stop the world's deadliest font from falling into the clutches of the Commies in this mash-up of 1950s genres, from noir to sci-fi.

"The time for mustaches is over."

Anybody reading this blog the last three years knows I love me some Shelby Company.  They blew my mind on their first visit with Winnemucca: Three Days In The Belly, and followed up with a goofy assortment of shorts in Uncle Shelby's Traveling Treasure Trunk, then won over a whole new group of fans with their baseball drama Sousepaw last year.  This year, they're back to goofy, with another completely different script from Sousepaw scribe Jonathan A. Goldberg.  And judging by the preview they did last night, it's gonna be a hoot.

The jokes were flying fast and furious in this send-up of old film noir hard-boiled detective stories.  The cast is having a ball doing this script, you can tell.  Nice thing is, we get to share the fun, too.  The costume design is largely stark shades of black and white, with some red accents thrown in for good measure.  The characters are not just cynical (and funny) but oversexed as well (sample line - "I think better on my back with my mouth full." - and it was a guy saying it to a woman for a change), so proceed with a little caution.  But if you like your humor smart and ballsy, this one looks like a lot of fun.

I'm glad Shelby Company picked up some of Les Kurkendaal's good Fringe Lottery karma and they just keep coming back.  Not only do I like their shows, but I like them.  They're a fun bunch to hang out with, so be sure to look for them at Fringe Central.  If I'm lucky, they'll adopt me as one of their Fringe mascots again this year.

If you want to kick off your Fringe with a little Shelby Company, they have the closing slot at 10 at Mixed Blood tonight, Thursday 8/2.  They also have the 10pm slot on Saturday, 8/4, then they have shows on Monday, 8/6 and next Friday and Saturday, 8/10 and 8/11.

Out of Towners - Hazy Shade Productions - Scarborough Fair

This musical comedy features the sassy melodies (and harmonies) of Simon and Garfunkel. With little more than a guitar and an egg shaker, these spiritually-driven travelers warm hearts and melt faces.

"You might see us bathing in your fountains, dancing with your homeless people, riding on the backs of your Vikings."

It's a one-joke premise, but it's a funny joke, and there's music.

The two men, Scarborough (Matthew Frazier-Smith) and Fair (Brendan Johnson), are your typical hippie acoustic guitar folk music types.  They clearly have issues with each other, which keep bubbling to the surface.  And they're extremely earnest in their song delivery, complete with "meaningful" gestures and facial expressions for emphasis. Plus they're actually quite good at the whole Simon & Garfunkel cover band thing.  Nice harmonies.  And you can only clown around with something like this if you've got your act down to begin with.

If you need a break from the rock musicals and the show tunes and you wouldn't mind a laugh at the expense of characters who take themselves way too seriously, Scarborough Fair would be a nice pause in the mad rush and spectacle of the Fringe.

They've got the closing slot at 10 at Theatre In The Round tonight, Thursday 8/2 (right after the raucous - and highly recommended - Class of 98 - so you could make it a twofer).  They've also got shows this Saturday, 8/4, then Tuesday 8/7, and next Friday and Saturday, 8/10 and 8/11.

Out of Towners - Left Right TIM - Summerpocalypse: Colorado Improv

Fast-paced, high-energy improv comedy using audience suggestions. LRT brings its patented brand of improv to Minnesota for the first time. Relationships are explored, worlds discovered, and fun had by all. 

 If you want to kick off your Fringing with some improv in the very first slot, I think these are your guys. Left Right TIM are here from Boulder, Colorado, at the Minneapolis Theatre Garage. They've got the Thursday, 8/2 kickoff slot at 5:30 and based on what I saw the Out of Towner showcase last night, their show Summerpocalypse: Colorado Improv promises to be a lot of fun.

Of course, since it's improv, it'll be a completely different show every time, but these guys all know what they're doing. They came out and took one word called out by an audience member - "monkey" - and they were off to the races. There were cops and mad scientists and monkeys, of course. And then, most delightfully, there was a giraffe onstage driving a car getting pulled over because, well, he was a giraffe driving a car.

How to make a giraffe - One guy pushed the guy in front of him to bend over and he hopped on his back and then another guy walked up behind them both with arm extended in the air to provide the rest of the long neck and pivoting head. And even though it was clearly still just three guys piled on top of one another, their movement set off this memory in my head of all those documentaries with a giraffe running across the open plains of Africa.  Uncanny.

And they just did this. Instinctively. They all just work as a seamless team and then we're left with a monkey and a giraffe sharing a jail cell together and the monkey asking, "So, what are you in for?" Along the way there was all kinds of cheeky references to gene splicing and genetic mutations and animal/human racism and... these guys think so fast on their feet it's kind of scary. But damn funny.  (Frankly I'm envious.  How fun must it be to be able to create art with your friends like that, to be that in sync with other human beings you like hanging out with?)

Now I'm going to have to find a way to work them into my schedule. I enjoyed the goofiness of their publicity picture. Having spent a couple of summers in Boulder working for the Colorado Shakespeare Festival back in my grad school days, I have fond memories (and also family) in Colorado. And I love me some improv. So I was already leaning their way. Their quick-witted showcase presentation sealed the deal.

They have shows this Friday and Saturday, 8/3 and 8/4, as well. Then Tuesday 8/7 and Friday 8/10, too. Definitely worth checking out if you need a good laugh, and some good improv comedy.