Thursday, July 31, 2014

Fringe Top 10 for 2014 - All The Links

Here's the full list of titles in this year's 2014 Fringe Top 10 list with links to the individual write-ups:

1 - One Arm - Perestroika Theater Project

2 - Native Man, The Musical  - New Native Theate

3 - From Here To Maternity - Shanan Custer and Joshua Scrimshaw

4 - The Miss Longview Texas Drag Pageant - Brazen Theatre

5 - Yama and Kalinda: A Transdimensional Love Story - Hey Rube Productions

6 - The Happy Vagina Puppet Show - Dangerous Productions

7 - Uptown Bank Heist - Siege Perilous Films

8 -  Playne Jayne - Regal Dice

9 - Gray Duck - Wolf's Mouth

10 - (a dance two-fer) Duetted - Monica Rodero, and Connected, Dan Shuchart

Fringe Top 10 - #1 - One Arm - Perestroika Theater Project

One Arm is a stage adaptation of an unproduced Tennessee Williams’ screenplay about a military boxer who loses an arm in a car accident and ends up using the body he has left for prostitution, pornography, and murder.  So, not a comedy.  But for a change, the homosexuals are front and center in this story, not unseen supporting players who end up eaten by cannibals or blowing their brains out.  So, progress.  The adaptation was by Moises Kaufman (of Laramie Project fame).  Director Joe Stodola has assembled a coveted cast of actors including Bryan Daniel Porter as the boxer, Adam Qualls, David Coral, and Paul Rutledge, among others, all of whose work I admire.  While the gays certainly don’t lead a happy life in this play, Stodola promises a feeling of transcendence and redemption arising from the ashes of these tragic circumstances.  Looking at where we’ve been, we can’t help but be thankful for where we are, even as we look at how far we still have to go.

Fringe Top 10 - #2 - Native Man, The Musical - New Native Theatre

First, the insertion of Native American faces into a black and white rendering of members of The Avengers is brilliant and cheeky marketing - Native American Iron Man, Native American Hulk, and Captain Native American.  Playwright Rhiana Yazzie has been a willing volunteer when I wrangle together writers for Theatre Unbound’s 24 Hour Xtreme Theater Smackdown.  It takes a hardy soul to be willing to take on sleep deprivation and instant collaboration with another writer, using element unknown until the night of the writing to create a short play, much less a good one.  Her willingness to pitch in this way is only the beginning of why I like her and want to support her work.  There’s also the whole controversy surrounding a recent local production of the musical Bloody Bloody Andrew JacksonYazzie’s thoughtful and considered objections to the play provided the intellectual foundation for subsequent protests.  Add to that the grace with which she handled the resulting backlash from some quarters of the theater community, and she’s pretty much got me in her corner permanently.  I’m happy to see her work and her perspective as part of this year’s festival with Native Man, The Musical, and I’m excited to attend her opening on Saturday afternoon.

Fringe Top 10 - #3 - From Here To Maternity - Shanan Custer and Joshua Scrimshaw

As I said in tagging From Here To Maternity as one of my Fringe 5 of artists who I inexplicably keep missing at the Fringe, I’ve missed this show in every one of its incarnations.  And though Mom has seen many a Scrimshaw in the Fringe over the years, Joshua included, she’s never seen Shanan.  So I must rectify that glaring omission.  Ever since I saw her in Emilie and 2 Sugars Room For Cream, Shanan can do no wrong in my eyes.  She can be funny without saying a word, and her dramatic work has the ability to break my heart.  This will be a fun end to a very long opening Saturday marathon for Mom, and she’ll finally be able to see what I’ve been going on about.

Fringe Top 10 - #4 - Brazen Theatre - The Miss Longview Texas Drag Pageant

I didn’t get the decorating gene, I didn’t get the fashion gene, and I didn’t get the drag gene - I missed a lot when they were putting together my gay portfolio as a fetus apparently.  Thankfully, my fellow homos have been very patient and generous in making up for the gaps in my education.  I still may not “get” drag, but I no longer look at it in complete befuddlement, and that’s progress.  Fringe time helps move my consciousness forward, even in the guise of comedy - and thus, The Miss Longview Texas Drag Pageant.  I appreciate the good work Mark Hooker is doing with Brazen Theatre, embracing camp and holding it up as its own particular form of art.  Plus, this has the added bonus in the cast of Erica Fields (who did an amazing job as the Duchess in the recent production of my play But Not For Love), and her wife Patience.  We’re not getting to this one until Monday, but Mom and I are very much looking forward to it.

Fringe Top 10 - #5 - Yama and Kalinda: A Transdimensional Love Story - Hey Rube Productions

Yama and Kalinda is another one from my Fringe 5 of artists I continue missing at the Fringe that I want to finally catch this year.  They had a preview that impressed me, which I wrote about here.  Not getting to this one until Sunday, but again, Mom and I are looking forward to it.

Fringe Top 10 - #6 - The Happy Vagina Puppet Show - Dangerous Productions

How is it that when you type the word Vagina into the Fringe website search engine The Happy Vagina Puppet Show is the only show that comes up?  Is the Fringe getting soft or less edgy?  We seem to be vagina deficient, how is that possible?  At any rate, that’s a side issue.  Dangerous Productions creeped me the heck out with their offering in the Twin Cities Horror Festival last fall, Hear No Evil.  I have no idea how they do happy, puppets or vaginas, but these are theater artists impressive enough to make we want to find out.  Added bonus, Shannon Leach in this cast was one half of my sexy robot in Love Bot in Gadfly’s sci fi short play festival earlier this year, so I’m always happy to see her on stage again.

Fringe Top 10 - #7 - Uptown Bank Heist - Siege Perilous Films

The brains behind Siege Perilous Films were the folks who did the animation for the Flowershop Project’s production of my dark comedy Medea and Jason: Rubicon Waltz a couple of years back.  They were also incredibly supportive of my efforts self-producing How To Date A Werewolf in last year’s Fringe.  They had an amusing Fringe preview which did the “wrong scene” focusing on a couple of bank customers, one of whom was dumping the other and using the surprise meeting with a banker to separate their assets as the excuse to finally tell them, much to the delight of the bank teller who secretly pines for the soon to be single boyfriend.  Oops, they forgot to do the heist part of the play for a more exciting preview.  The bank robber actors were very put out by this.  A goofy meta preview, with the added bonus of Renee Werbowski in the cast - who has done numerous plays of mine over the years and recently kicked serious butt in 20% Theatre’s Rapture Blister Burn.  All kinds of reasons for me to love and look forward to this one.  Mom and I are seeing it Sunday.

Fringe Top 10 - #8 - Playne Jane - Regal Dice

Playne Jayne is another play I’m very interested in because of personal and artistic connections.  Jayne Deis has a quirky sense of humor and a great personality.  Before I most recently saw her in the ensemble of Nightpath Theatre’s production of Our Town, I’d last seen her on stage as a singing, dancing cactus, so there’s a wide range of performing experience here.  Fellow performer and co-writer Sheila Regan is also one of my co-contributors at the Twin Cities Daily Planet.  I’m very curious, and likely to be most amused, by what happens when Jayne and Sheila put their heads together to perform a Fringe show.  I’m looking forward to getting myself over to HUGE Theater to see the results.

Fringe Top 10 - #9 - Gray Duck - Wolf’s Mouth

Director Lucas Skjaret is the main reason I’m seeing Gray Duck.  He did a great job directing an excerpt of my musical The Hopes and Fears of All The Years in the TEASE new play showcase this year, and he’s been bouncing around the Twin Cities theater scene at a blistering pace with his name popping up in what seemed like pretty much every theater program I opened when I sat down to a show - directing and costume design work primarily but he’s been tireless in trying to work with as many different theaters, on as many different types of productions, as he possibly can.  So I’m looking forward to see him working on something that’s a full play and not just a scene out of context.  Plus, it’s a new play by a writer I know, Amy Seham, and it has GLBT content.  On the design side, we have Theresa Akers doing the set - and her set was one of the major strengths in an extremely weird and uneven production of Crazyface which I recently attended.  I’m curious to see what she does on a Fringe scale.

Fringe Top 10 - #10 - (a dance two-fer) - Duetted - Monica Rodero, and Connected - Dan Schuchart

Monica and Dan are teaming up on Duetted, and then Dan has his own solo show, Connected.  I’ve enjoyed the spirit of whimsy that runs through a lot of their dance work when I’ve seen them in the past at the Fringe, so that’s what bumps them up closer to the top of the list of things I really want to see this year.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Fringe WTF Preview - Night 2

“A motherfudgin’ ninja if ever I met one.”

Don’t Let Them See You Cry: The Failures and Successes (But Mostly Failures) of Daisy Kay McChubbins - If you’re looking for verbally abusive white female clowns who rap, have we got a Fringe show for you!  First up, I think being a clown onstage might be one of the bravest things a performer can do.  You are practically begging people to laugh AT you rather than WITH you, and then you’re trying to control and somehow ride that response to get the audience where you want them to go.  The clown Daisy Kay McChubbins is sporting bright pink hair with a nose, stockings and sneakers to match, in glaring opposition to her bright yellow shirt.  Fringe Executive Director Jeff Larson does an admirable job of rolling with whatever oddities appear behind him as he’s making introductions during previews.  Just going off audience reaction, he can tell, “OK, something strange just appeared upstage of me.”  When he turned around this time to behold Daisy Kay, I wondered “Is he thinking, Oh God, this is my life now?”

Daisy Kay and her clown cousin both seem quite friendly, even bubbly, as they introduce themselves and tell a little of their story.  The F word is replaced with “fudge,” and other things that might lull you into thinking this was a family friendly kind of clown show.  But that would be a mistaken impression.  The last part of their preview is a rap performance culminating in the repeated admonishment, “If you don’t think so, you can s*ck the d*ck.  S*ck the d*ck, s*ck the d*ck. If you don’t think so, you can s*ck the d*ck.”  Complete with hand gestures, of course.

Now I’m sure clowns are just like the rest of the general population.  9 out of 10 clowns (performers and/or personas) probably identify as straight.  And I don’t mean to, as Allegra Lingo referenced in her preview, “play the gay card” getting all huffy about things being reflexively hetero-normative.  Especially since the Fringe is the one time of year I actually have too many options for shows with GLBT content to try and squeeze into only a week and a half’s time.  But…

If only in jest, probably because I’m feeling punchy from too much blogging right now, I feel the need to point out that telling someone to “s*ck the d*ck” isn’t as universal an insult as some people think it is.  Just like someone calling out “Faggot!” in my general direction is just as likely to make me respond, “Yes, and - ?” as it is to make me fear for my life (it’s most certainly not the insult anymore that they’d like to imagine it to be) - in my younger days, if someone said I should “s*ck the d*ck,” my reply would probably have been along the lines of “Sure, name the time and place.”  (These days, the response would probably be “Don’t tease.  It’s not polite.”) Now, to my knowledge, I have never s*cked clown d*ck, so perhaps that’s a different experience, like those flowers in a clown’s lapel that squirt water in your face, or a joy buzzer.

Yes, yes, I know, I’m overthinking it.  But if you can’t have some fun with a d*ck joke, what’s the point of the Fringe (or for that matter, Shakespeare), am I right? The fact that being confronted with a metaphorical penis isn’t a stinging indictment of my own manhood is probably a good thing to realize about one’s self.  In the context of the Fringe, however, this may be a joke that’s passed its expiration date as something you can fling around without any nuance anymore.  That said, like a song you can’t get out of your mind, that little rap chorus has been stuck in my head for almost a week now.  So congrats on a very effective mind worm, Daisy Kay.  You get down with your motherfudgin’ self and have a lovely Fringe.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Fringe Previews - Battle of the Acoustic Guitars

There were also a whole lot of guitars being plucked and strummed over both nights of previews.  One showed up in the previously mentioned Tales At Twilight to add a little musical color to the storytelling.  Struggling as I am personally to coax some music out of my own guitar, my appreciation for the level of difficulty involved in being a good guitar player has only grown in the past couple of years.  I always knew it took nerve to get up on stage and act.  Music feels like even greater act of bravery these days.  I know I’m not up to it, so my hat’s off to those that are.  If you’re looking for some music with a folksy feel, you could take a look at the following:

John’s Divine Comedy

“Waiting for the cue at the bottom of the page.”

I saw Suburban Cowboy Productions’ last Fringe offering, where the writer/performer twined together the legend of Icarus and the story of his own brother’s unexpected flameout, dying young.  The guy puts it all out there for the audience to see.  He’s remarkably earnest and genuine.  I’m curious to see what story he wants to tell next.  His mission to bring his two loves - music and theater - together, is admirable one, one that I hope succeeds.

Self-Fulfilling Prophecy

“A heart so free it needs no place to lodge.”

The music here is complex and interesting.  Sometimes it’s a little outside the comfort zone of the performers, but they push through all the same.  Staging just for a preview out of context is sometimes hard for shows.  A chorus of four waited patiently through nearly the whole preview before they got a chance to join in and sing out.  It was worth the wait.  The play appears to be mixing modern personal journeys and ancient mythology, and I’m never against that kind of mash-up, so I’m curious.
Into The Unreal City

“This is not our twilight, it’s just the end of the day.”

Hard to tell from this preview.  The song was a little on the vague and generic side.   Pretty, and pleasant to listen to, but I’m not sure I knew anything more about the people singing it when it was over vs. before it started.  The hook for this show, of course, is that it’s one of the genuinely site-specific shows being offered by the Fringe this year.  It’s a mini-walking tour of the West Bank area.  There are apparently some stairs involved.  But they promise to have you back to the Rarig again (where you started) in plenty of time to catch another show.  Mom and I planning to give this a go on opening night and see how it works.  We were charmed by Mark Sweeney’s original musical last year, and I’ve been intrigued by Gemma Irish’s work as a playwright in past Fringes, so the combo of the two behind this offering is enough to put it on my list.  Plus, you know, guitars.

The Whole World Is Here: Pandora Retold

“Sickness, disease and envy flew past on fairy wings.”

A musical retelling of the Pandora’s Box fiasco of ancient mythology, the event which released evil and pestilence into the world.  Not exactly happy go lucky musical fare, but a compelling potential narrative.  The song sampled and the singer’s voice in the preview were both pluses, and I liked the way it wove spoken narration into the song as well.  Not sure exactly how they’re planning to treat the material, but the elements of a potentially good show are there.  Worth keeping an eye on, and if, like me, you enjoy the retelling of old tales with modern theatrical tools, then this might be a show for you.

The Zeitgeist Got Stuck on Hillbilly

There was a recurring vein of southern accented, kentucky fried, redneck style comedy popping up in the previews this year.  For example, both from Night 1 of the Previews, we have

Tales At Twilight

“He lived all by himself.  His first mistake.”


Stuck On A Truck: A Hooch Crixby Mystery

“No disrespect, Mr. Bags, but water never cured death.”

Tales is campfire ghost story material with a hillbilly twang.  Stuck is your standard murder mystery in the context of one of those “hands on a truck” competitions, sort of Murder She Wrote, Y’all.  The two ensembles of actors are both very game and seem to work well together.  Hard to tell just how funny or terrifying they’ll ultimately be based on these previews, but they had their act enough together to be able to get full scenes out there for people to see.  So if this sounds like your kind of entertainment, check them out.

Favorite Dance Show Fringe Preview with Actual Dancers - Night 2

“You talk just like an American.”
“I AM an American.”

Hi!  Hello!  Namaste? - This one gets extra points for sheer size.  They wisely decided, why not get right to the big Bollywood dance number?  Who else has one of those this year, right? (If you’ve got one, speak up and I’ll stand corrected.)  First, send out the two cute kids.  Then clear the way and hang on tight as 11 more dancers burst onto the stage.  Oh, and then partway through the routine we get two MORE dancers.  Now, this isn’t the finely tuned dancing of professionals in perfect synchronization.  They do try.  But some of these dancers are extremely white (not that there’s anything wrong with that).  However, what they may sometimes lack in precision, they more than make up for in enthusiasm.  Few previews were composed of people looking like they were having this much fun.  And that spirit of playfulness was infectious and quickly transmitted to the audience.  I was even smiling in spite of myself.  And then after the big finish, four MORE people came out on stage to do a snippet of an introductory scene, and it fit.  These folks crammed a whole lot into their three minutes, so they have my attention.  I’ll be looking to see if there’s a way I can squeeze this one into our overcrowded schedule.

Another Fringe Preview Helping of Absurdity - Night 2

“I see some of you writing already.  That’s terrifying.”

Fiddlestick Conundrum - Ben San Del’s another Fringe regular that probably doesn’t need any help from me.  He’s been writing and/or performing in Fringe hits for years now.  Mom and I saw his very first Fringe outing - Mittens For Fat Kids - and we’ve tried not to miss one since.  Doesn’t always work out on Mom’s compressed Fringe schedule but we do our best.  In fact, Ben’s the reason for our first 2014 foray into the downtown collection of Fringe venues on opening weekend.  We’ll put in a show or two as a buffer beforehand, to make sure we’re in the neighborhood and not going to get locked out by the “no late seating” policy (‘cause they don’t joke around about that at Fringe time).  This year, rather than a scripted comedy acted by others (like Fringe Encore winners Minnesota Middle Finger or A Nice Guy’s Guide To Awkward Sex), he’s penned some new stand-up material (ala Mittens, or Agony of Fools, or Animal Cracker Genocide).  Ben’s actually got more than enough material to fill his slot.  He’s in the enviable position of having to trim down for time at the moment.  So he could afford to burn through some additional material he’s only using for previews and his video trailer.  The content of Fiddlestick remains a mystery.  Life’s absurd sometimes, and if you need help remembering how to laugh at it, Ben’s your man.

Close Second for Funniest Fringe Preview - Night 2

“Call me Daddy.  I saw that on television.  I thought it would be erotic.”

Kitty Kitty Kitty - For starters, you’ve got Sam Landman and Katie Willer walking around in cat ears.  That visual’s pretty much all I need to sell me on this one.  The plot involves a suicidal cat, and cat cloning, and cats pretending they know how to talk dirty to one another.  And yes, it’s weird as heck.  But that’s kind of why I like it.  Again, it helps that the performers are so good.  To sell a concept like this, they almost have to be.  If they don’t take it “seriously,” how could we invest in such an oddball story.  Love is apparently just as much a mystery to cats as it is to us human beings.  Which I guess is comforting.  Fringe Preview host Jeff Larson returned to the stage after the scene to say, "That was a strange thing to only be able to hear."  Hey, Jeff, we saw it, and it was still mighty strange.  But I'd like to see more.

Funniest Fringe Preview - Night 2

“Damn you!  This gift was meant for joy!”

Our American Assassin; or You Can’t Handle The Booth! - This apparently is the untold story of the  real tragedy behind the assassination of President Lincoln - how it affected the actors who were performing on stage at the time the president was killed.  And yes, that’s ridiculous.  That’s why it’s a comedy.  That’s why it’s a meta piece of theater I don’t mind watching.  That’s why it’s a play about artists that won’t make my teeth hurt.  Josh Carson, Andy Kraft, Shanan Custer and company are seldom funnier than when they’re ruthlessly making fun of themselves, and their art, and artists, and theater, and the Fringe.  They’re normally firing their rapid fire machine gun of jokes in all directions at once.  And the uncanny thing is that they hit their target every time.  I’m expecting this to be no different.  You almost don’t want to laugh too loud or long for fear you’ll miss the next five jokes that are coming right behind the one that just landed, but you can’t help yourself.  And that’s what repeated viewings are for.  Mom enjoys Mainly Me Productions’ shows because they’re stuffed with so much comedy, you can’t catch it all the first time.  That’s a perfect problem to have with a Fringe show.  So naturally, she demands it be on the schedule as early as possible.

Fringe New Play Preview I’m Most Interested In - Night 2

“This is the holiday where we sacrifice a chicken to the giant bunny god, right?”

Yama and Kalinda: a Transdimensional Love Story - Just like always, there’s a lot of dysfunctional family stories in the Fringe, and there’s a lot of love stories, but this one seems to be one of the better written ones.  Character isn’t sacrificed for one-liners.  Everyone seems like a human being rather than a stereotype.  Of course, it helps to have good actors, and they have that here as well.  Mostly I appreciated that the uncomfortable situation of bringing someone new home to meet the family - for a big holiday meal, no less - was treated adeptly from all angles.  The family dynamics were economically laid out.  Same for the romantic relationships.  Watching those tensions come into contact with each, and then mix and produce something even more awkward and amusing, was a really nice surprise.  New scripts in the Fringe are often lucky if they function well just on a single level.  This one’s operating well on several.  And I only got to see three minutes.  Impressive.

Fringe New Play Preview I’m Most Interested In - Night 1

“It’s 1928 in Chicago, and all three Fail sisters are soon to die.”

Failure: A Love Story - Local playwright Philip Dawkins, and local actor/director Joshua Campbell (currently onstage at the Guthrie as Spike in Christopher Durang’s Vanya and Sonya and Masha and Spike) have teamed up with a large and lively cast in period clothing to tell this quirky tale.  The preview gives a sampling of the inventive staging - a desk on wheels that doubles as a car, a large bolt of blue cloth that represents the water than drowns the girls’ parents in a bizarre auto accident, a perky narrator saying all kinds of really sad things, and actors that are quick with a smile and pose, and surprised by their unfortunate fates.  If I’m honest, I’m a little uncomfortable with the premise that leaves the men standing while the women all die, but the artistic team all seems good-natured enough.  I’m willing to give the premise a shot.  After all, it’s not like they’re hiding the ending.  It’s the mystery of how we get there that’s supposed to be the point.  I’m up for the journey.

Two Fringe Preview Helpings of Absurdity, part 2 - Night 1 (and Night 2)

“I will not use third party donor sperm as an instrument of vengeance.”

The Genealogy of Happenstance - Allegro Lingo is another one of those artists that, when she has a show in the Fringe, Mom is immediately on board.  Doesn’t matter what it is, she just likes to hear Allegra spin her humorous stories.  This Fringe will be no different.  First night of previews, Allegra wasn’t originally scheduled to present.  But somebody else dropped out at the last minute, so, being the game and ever ready promoter she is, Allegra stepped into that spot on the program.  She was already scheduled to do a preview on the second night, one she had more time to plan for, and she did that as well.  So audiences around for both previews got a double dose of the new show.  Allegra’s stories have always been personal on some level - even when they were largely focused on the craft of storytelling itself.  But this year, she’s mining the absurdity of navigating our health care system when you’re two women trying to have a baby together, a journey she and her wife Amy have been experiencing as they endeavor to expand their family.  The unplanned preview was looser but just as funny, if not funnier, than the one she’d planned for the following week.  It must be comforting to know that no matter what situation Allegra finds herself in, she’s full capable of just winging it.  (That’s a skill set that’s going to come in handy in this new world of parenting she’s about to enter.)  Come watch Allegra perform one last time before she has to do it completely sleep-deprived.

Two Fringe Preview Helpings of Absurdity, part 1 - Night 1

“Why not vote for someone you actually want to get f**ked by?”

Indefinite Articles - A Libertarian Rage - There’s a handful of artists that Mom’s gotten to know over her years of Fringing that always worth repeat viewing.  Whatever they’re doing, she’s interested.  If I bring up their name, she doesn’t ask “What are they doing?”  She just says “Add it to the schedule.”  One of those performers is phillip andrew bennett low (she loves saying all four names, if she could say it in lower case somehow, she would).  This year Phillip’s railing against the absurdity of politics in a rewritten remount of Indefinite Articles: A Libertarian Rage.  Mom missed the original a few years back due to scheduling difficulties (she’s only here for the first five days), so she’s very happy to be able to catch this new version.  Of all the intriguing options the schedule offers up in the very first slot on the very first night, Thursday 7/31 at 5:30pm, this is the one she wanted to see the most.  Phillip’s been a relentlessly touring Fringe artist for a while know, and he knows how to work a preview.  He got some help from a friend - flash card rapid fire question and answer session to pack in as many clever jokes as possible, so you know you’ll be properly entertained.  Always interested to see what he’s got up his sleeve this time.  A great way to kick off this year’s Fringe.

Favorite Dance Show Fringe Preview with Actual Dancers - Night 1

There Is No Myth - Writing about dance, and dance previews, is something I still struggle with.  Here it was just a feeling that the choreographer and the dancers knew what they were doing.  The moves were very precise and controlled.  The pace was deliberate and unhurried.  The point of this particular excerpt was the watch them go through the moves, not to catch them on the fly as they zipped past.  The moments, the distance between, and then contact between the dancers, all added up to something that felt like a story you could tell yourself, even in just three minutes.  The ensembles they wore were coordinated.  The music, a combination of piano and stringed instruments, was engaging.  I’m sure different pieces within the show will do different things in different ways but this individual offering convinced me that I’d like to watch whatever these artists have to offer.

Favorite Fringe Meta Preview - Night 1

“Barren fields that produce little - except wolves.”

Marie-Jeanne Valet Who Defeated La Bete du Geyaudan - Like Jeff Larson, I won’t even pretend to be able to pronounce the title of this show.  Whenever I talk to Mom about it, I try and then give up and refer to it as “the French one with the wolf in it.”  Not that the company is French, it’s our own local Sandbox Theatre.  Not that the show is spoken entirely in French, just fake French accents with the occasional phrase or “Bonjour!”  No, this is Sandbox, so they like to tweak us and pretend they’re a pretentious theater company when in actuality they just want to tell a good story, and part of that for them is dressing the story up as something else that it isn’t. 

When I say Meta Preview, I mean a preview of a show that’s aware that it’s a piece of theater telling a story to an audience it acknowledges is there, using tricks that it isn’t trying to hide, blatantly engaging the audience’s imagination to play along.  (I suppose I could also mean a preview of a Fringe show that is fully aware it is a preview of a Fringe show and not at all trying to just be an out of context excerpt of the show itself - and we had plenty of those, but now thinking about that, my head hurts.) 

Basically they just set up the premise of the show, a poor French town out of the past (frilly shirts and peasant dresses) suffering from a rash of wolf attacks - a banging tambourine to signal the oncoming wolf, and a flourish of a big red piece of cloth to indicate blood spurting out of the body, my favorite being the actor who laid down and covered her face while the other actors lamented “The third one was missing her head.”  Not sure what the point of the story is, you rarely know with Sandbox until you’re in the middle of it, but it certainly looks like fun.  Mom agreed and slotted it into our opening weekend schedule.

(Intentionally) Creepiest Fringe Preview - Night 1

“Are you sure there are no lost souls in the house tonight?"

Tourist Trap - Tim Uren and his company Ghoulish Delights know horror, and serve it up right.  If you find yourself nervous when they carry out a large wooden chair with leather restraints on the arms, this is the right instinct.  Follow that up with Charlie Hubbell onstage to deliver the chilling tale of a man who sweeps up the homeless, the wandering and the forgotten, and tortures them before killing them, and you know the kind of evening you’re in for.  The thing I admire about Tim Uren’s work is he earns the terror he inflicts on his audiences.  It’s not about sudden shocks or overwhelming rivers of gore (though, let’s be honest, we’re not ruling those out).  Uren crafts his stories in basic human psychology and reality.  You can see the horrific only one step removed from the every day.  And that makes it that much more unsettling.  Plus, he’s got a really great cast to help him tell the tale.  Hubbell is the first of many.  Ghoulish Delights serves up the kind of stories that get under your skin and stay there.  You’ve been warned.  Mom and I, however, are still going.

Close Second for Funniest Fringe Preview - Night 1

“Weasels, a poem by Joshua Scrimshaw, age 15”

Amateur Hour - Producer Joshua Scrimshaw has gathered together another group of comedy Fringe veterans (many of whom, including Joshua himself, you will see pop up in other Fringe outings).  These artists have developed enough of a thick skin over the years to be able to not only laugh at themselves, but are confident enough to let everyone else laugh at them, too.  They’ve gathered together a sampling of their first attempts at performance when they were much younger - and doing things like writing poetry (unironically) and are now presenting them through the clear-eyed and unforgiving eye of their adult selves.  Mocking their younger selves is bound to yield comedy gold.

The publicity is an assortment of pictures of the artists when they were teenagers, which Jeff Larson proclaimed “the most horrifying show image this year.”  Larson is also a really good sport, not letting it phase him (too much) when Scrimshaw gave him a playful pat on the ass.  Boundaries, people, boundaries.

Funniest Fringe Preview - Night 1

“They’re actually not that bad.”

Jumping Jack Kerouac - Producer/choreographer Windy Bowlsby took a challenge posed to her in a bar to create a dance show with a bunch of writers as the dancers, and this is the result.  Rather than actually have any of them dance and spoil the surprise, she instead trotted out most of her cast - Katherine Glover, Kelvin Hatle, John Heimbuch, phillip low, Ben San Del, Tim Uren and Tim Wick - all of them Fringe veterans as writers and non-dancing performers, many of whom also have other shows in the Fringe this year themselves (gotta get an extra plug in where you can - just run their names through the search function on the Fringe site or watch the video record of their preview to get the details - chances are they’ve already stuck a postcard in your hand anyway).  This eight car pile-up of quirky artistic personalities all crammed onstage together makes you wonder what you could come up with if they had to just shut up and move.  As one of them said, “I could stand to be more scared in my life.”  As another of them said, “One way or another, it will be epic.”

I feel a little bad that the dance show I’m now most looking forward to doesn’t have any people who regularly define themselves as dancers in it.  But this being the Fringe, there’s a lot of “regular”(?) “normal” (?) dance shows that will no doubt find their way onto my schedule as well.  I’ve piled them all into the queue.  We’ll see how the scheduling shakes out.

Fringe Previews - Night 1

A friend who sat with me at the second set of Fringe Previews who had missed the first asked, “What shows looked good last week?”  And in having to narrow it down on the fly for him, skimming my notes, it became clear which shows had made a (good) lasting first impression.  So I figured that’d be a good way to finally get this Fringe blog jump started for the summer.

First of all, I’ve been missing out on Fringe Executive Director Jeff Larson’s sense of humor until now.  He was a most amusing host both nights.  Very proud of the mobile nature of the new Fringe website he encouraged us all to keep our phones ON during the previews, so we could just tag shows we liked online, rather than “take notes on paper like a savage.”  While he clearly didn’t want to be in danger of talking too much, a lot of his throwaway lines right after previews were quite delightful.  I’ll liberally quote him whenever possible.  On to the evals (culled from my prehistoric note taking)…