Thursday, July 30, 2015

2015 Fringe - Top 11-20

Because I can't help myself and stop at 10 (the top 10 list is over at the Twin Cities Daily Planet), here's another 10 to make it an even 20 you should consider this year -

11 - Honest Magic – An Honest Magic Show

A lot of magicians would have you believe their "secrets" are the most important part of magic, but are they right? This is a show that tries to redefine magic as something for everyone, not just magicians.

This is that rare show that I saw last year that I’d happily go see again, so I’m glad it’s back this year so more people get a chance to see it.  Nick Lande is a clever and genial performer who really knows how to work a crowd.  It’s the least gimmicky, but most fun, magic show I’ve ever seen.  For me to give 5 stars to something without a script and a plot is pretty rare, but this show earned it.  It’s one of the best reasons to brave downtown traffic and parking to catch a Fringe show at the New Century this year.

12 - Offbeat Productions - Everything You’ve Done That Hurt Me 
(Written by… someone who lost their notebook)

Did you write a spiteful 20 page break-up letter? Did you subsequently lose that notebook in front of my home? Your relationship is now on display with a performance by Jonathan Manchester, music by Brian Ring.

This capped off the night of previews by traveling Fringe artists and it was pretty damn funny.  Every awkward sentence structure, every botched turn of phrase, every hilarious misspelled or misused word by the heartbroken and angry anonymous author is delivered with such conviction by Manchester, and then retooled into equally goofed up but earnest song lyrics for the acoustic guitar by Ring, that it made the whole thing twice as humorous as it might otherwise be.  Sometimes found text is really the best material, in spite of itself.  And if it’s all a gag and they made this up, bravo for making it so convincing.

13 - Pair of Animals – Post Traumatic Super Delightful

The lives of survivors, perpetrators, and bystanders weave together in a wickedly funny and piercingly insightful half-clown/half-monologue/one-woman show about a community trying to heal after sexual assault.

Even after seeing the preview of this, I have NO idea how it’s going to deliver on the premise but performer/writer Antonia Lassar has been working the Fringe circuit for a few years now, and judging by her stage presence, she clearly knows her stuff.  I’m intrigued, and going.  Curious?  Here's a video to help:

14 - Leonard Cruz Tanztheater – Falling Man

A solo performance that responds to the work of Max Beckmann and the famous photo of a man falling from the World Trade Center. Themes of falling and rising through dance and story telling will be explored.

Again, the premise of the show makes me go, “Huh?  Really?” and yet I still find it strangely compelling.  And performer Leonard Cruz isn’t also just the choreographer, he’s got a PhD in this sort of thing.  Dancing since he was four, working with all sorts of big names in the dance world -  locally, nationally, and internationally.  But I didn’t know any of that when I saw his preview last night, I just knew the man could dance.  No music.  Just silently moving through the space of the Ritz stage in the way most regular human beings cannot.  I’m fascinated to see how this idea manifests itself through dance.  Here's a video snippet for you:

15 - Delve Theatre – Two Jokes, One Act: The Boar & The Proposal

Popova mourns her lost lover. Smirnov can't keep his pistol in his pants. Lomov has a heart attack. You've never seen two of Chekhov's hilarious "jokes in one act" spliced into a single farce quite like this!

I’ve already enumerated all the reasons I’m excited about this show - from the performers to the source material to the director to the way they knocked it out of the park during that first round of Fringe previews.  Needless to say, I’m very much looking forward to chuckling through the whole thing.  Some video for you:

16 - Preus Productions – Hank and Jesus (Hay-soos)

Finally sober, Hank is adrift with only his kind heart and bad country songs for navigation. A helpful visitor nudges him on a new path, home for a family Christmas, and closer to the miracle he really needs.

I’ve also already touched on the reasons I’m drawn to this show after reading up on it and seeing their Fringe preview.  You should give it a look.  Some video for you:

17 - Ghostbridge Theatre – Everywhere You Look

Muslims are persecuted in a dystopian future America where fear and freedom walk hand in hand. In the search for truth, a lawyer, a detective, and an imam are driven to a tragically violent confrontation.

Though it doesn’t sound like a happy-go-lucky kind of Fringe show, I know the playwright and have been meaning to see a Ghostbridge production for a little while now.  This seems like a perfect opportunity.  Hard but important subject matter, so I’m more than a little curious to see how it plays out.

18 - The Fourth Wall - Fruit Flies Like A Banana

Working at break-neck speed, 3 performers combine music, theatre, & dance in this madcap variety hour. YOU choose the show order! "This show made me weep, it was so beautiful and fun." 5 Stars, IndyFringe 2014

One of two shows in the top 20 this year that sold me purely on the strength of their previews in the traveling artist showcase the other night.  Enjoyed them so much they bumped two other shows out of their place on the list.  But also one of two shows with a horrible title that gives no hint at how great they are or what the heck the show’s about.  The giddy energy of the performers of Fourth Wall is crystallized in their preview when they grab a flute, a slide trombone and a rolling xylophone and start playing the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairies, while also bouncing and twirling all over the stage at the same time.  Honestly, the lungs on these people.  This video gives you a taste.  Mom was so enchanted by them we had to change our previously planned schedule to fit them in.

19 - Soma Acrobatic Theatre - Terra Incognita

A heart-pumping acrobatic expedition into the unmapped terrain of the heart. Join us as we climb mountains of longing, dive into oceans of loss, and find wellsprings of joy in this surprisingly intimate play.

The second of the “what the heck were they thinking with this generic title?” traveling Fringe shows that captivated the audience, myself included.  (Seriously, someone who’s good with titles, help these people.) This time, rather than music, it’s dance, or rather acrobatics, sort of a combo platter of the two.  The female performer took her place rather emphatically in the middle of Fringe Executive Director Jeff Larson’s introduction and kind of intimidated him, which was very amusing.  Then once she and her movement partner got going, wow.  Things the human body is apparently capable of doing that most of us mere mortals can’t come close to accomplishing.  Even though they had the grace and athleticism to make it look easy, the audible gasps from the audience throughout reaffirmed that no, it’s not easy.  They’re just that good.  This video will serve as a sampler:

20 - Bollywood Dance Scene – Spicy Masala Chai

Creators of 2014's best-selling MN Fringe show return with a stirring Bollywood dance drama of original storytelling and choreography. Love, wisdom, and comedy are the perfect recipe for a hot cuppa...romance?

This show doesn’t need any praise from me.  It probably doesn’t even need me in the audience.  This is the group that came out of nowhere last year and because of their enormous cast size and joyful way of erupting into a sort of flash mob Bollywood dance number outside of various venues racked up all kinds of impressive audience totals and nabbed the encore slot for their theater.  They may even be partially responsible for the mini-wave of Indian/Bollywood-style Fringe offerings this year - introducing a new crowd to the Fringe who watched the show and thought, “Hey, I can do that!”  (Those other shows are Hey Bangladesh, and Best Bollywood Inn.)

So does it matter that the writing and plot are a little creaky and the acting might be a little wobbly?  Nope.  Because these artists are having so much fun dancing on stage that the happiness just emanates off them in waves and can’t help but be contagious.  I couldn’t help smiling myself during their Fringe preview earlier this month, and I am slow to grin when I’m watching these previews. 

The wonky CD player at the Rarig Center was acting up during their night of previews, and so the big cue to launch them into the dance number midway into the preview was held up, the actor frozen in place, waiting with a smile on his face.  The army of dancers poised to burst in.  The audience finally starting to chant “Mu-sic! Mu-sic! MU-SIC! MU-SIC!”  We wanted our dance and were not going to be denied due to technical difficulties.  It was worth the wait.  The dance was super fun to watch.  (This video isn't that preview, but you'll get the idea.)

And, as if they were baiting me, they presented the bones of the plot as three potential romantic couples - a couple of color, an interracial couple, and a gay couple.  Seriously.  A gay couple.  In the middle of all this family friendly merriment.  Good on them!  If you were trolling me, you succeeded.  I’m probably going to try and get a ticket, even though you don’t need me.  They’ve got another hit on their hands.

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