Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Review - Fool For Love - Dark and Stormy Productions - Still Crazy After All These Years - 5 stars

I’m dating myself by saying this (actually carbon-dating myself) but when I was in college, Sam Shepard was all the rage.  All my fellow playwrights wanted to be him and write like him (and many floundered about in the trying).  And of course there were countless, endless, earnest attempts in acting and directing classes at scenes from Fool For Love and True West and Buried Child and Curse of the Starving Class.  But we were kids.  What the hell did we know?  Consequently, I saw a lot of bad Sam Shepard.  You have enough bad experiences, you start to incorrectly blame the playwright.  So what a relief to run across a production like Dark and Stormy’s Fool For Love, where you’re reminded why the heck Sam Shepard was a big deal in the first place.  Fool For Love can be great theater, and here, it is.

“I’m not letting you go this time, May.”
“You never had ahold of me to begin with.”

It also helps a lot, I think, to not have Shepard’s play held at a remove from the audience behind a proscenium arch and a clearly located fourth wall between performers and spectators.  The Dark and Stormy Productions space for Fool For Love is very intimate, with the audience surrounding the action on three sides.  You are warned in a pre-show announcement, “We will get very close to you, but don’t worry.”  The actors never end up in anybody’s lap, despite the close proximity.  The cluster of audience around the actors helps reinforce the claustrophobia of that imaginary motel room where the action of the play takes place, on the edge of the Mojave Desert somewhere around the border between southern California and Nevada.

“Lyin’s when you believe it’s true.  If you already know it’s a lie, you’re not lying.”

Here May (Sara Marsh) and Eddie (James Rodriguez) square off in a relationship dance they’ve done many times.  They’re bad for each other for a whole host of reasons, many of which unfold before us during the story’s 65 minute run time. But they can’t seem to shake one another.  And it’s never entirely clear that they even want to.  Watching this intense duet - there and yet not there - is an old man (Patrick Coyle).  The old man has ties to both Eddie and May which ultimately help explain things, a little.  Also pulled into May’s orbit is another potential suitor, Martin (Antonio Duke), who quickly realizes he’s in the middle of something he has no hope of controlling.  Unseen but regularly lurking in the dark outside, making her presence felt, is another woman who has some issues with Eddie, and May.  Love’s a messy thing, rarely messier than it is in a Sam Shepard play.

“She knew she was trespassing.  She knew she was traveling this forbidden zone.  But she didn’t care.”

Director Mel Day gets great performances from the whole cast, and her design team does just enough to help augment the story without getting in the way (Mary Shabatura, lights; Lisa Jones, costumes; Aaron Newman, sound; Michael James, tech/design consultant; Annie Enneking, fight director; and stage manager Megan West, also listed as lasso expert - always good to have one of those on hand).

“It’s my tequila, Martin.  I don’t mind if you drink it.  I just want you to know where it comes from.”

To say much more would be to give the game away.  Part of the experience of Fool For Love is uncovering all the different ways these hapless characters are connected to one another - and watching just how intense and screwy things can get between them.  An audience can easily swing back and forth between wanting characters to get closer together, and then wanting them to get as far away from one another as possible (for their own good).  Everyone has secrets in a Shepard play, so most of the business to be accomplished is centered around all those secrets unraveling.

“That’s the woman of my dreams.  That’s who that is.  And she’s mine.  She’s all mine.  Forever.”

A hearty thank you to Dark and Stormy for putting Fool For Love and Sam Shepard right up in my face again.  Good plays can remain just as urgent with time as when they were new.  Apparently I sometimes need reminding of that.  Dark and Stormy Productions does a great job reminding me. (runs through September 16, 2017)

5 stars - Very Highly Recommended

(James Rodriguez and Sara Marsh in Fool For Love, photography: Melissa Hesse)

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Review - Ballast - 20% Theatre Company - Too Much of a Good Idea? - 2.5 stars

I hate writing reviews like this.  I really wanted to like this play a whole lot more than I did.  Ballast, currently in production with 20% Theatre Company in the Mixed Blood Theater space, is a brand new play (my favorite kind) - this is only its second production, and its first was May 2017.  The female playwright Georgette Kelly is based out of both New York and Chicago and has quite the resume.  Artistic Director Claire Avitabile has assembled a cast almost entirely female and prominently featuring both trans artists and actors of color.  And then there’s the story, which has all kinds of potential to be incredibly compelling…

“When I roll over in bed I smell a stranger in the sheets.”

Grace (Eileen Noonan) is a minister who recently transitioned from life as a man to life as a woman.  She’s now trying to find a new church that will accept her for who she is.  A remnant of Grace’s past life as a man is her marriage to Zoe (Olivia Wilusz), a social worker who is struggling to adjust to the change in their lives together.  An added wrinkle is that their “traditional marriage” is now a marriage between two partners of the same sex, which makes it that much harder for the church community to find a place for Grace in a new pulpit.

“You’re getting everything you want.  What are you grieving?”

Zoe tries to take refuge and comfort in her mother (Katherine Engel, who plays multiple roles), who is a little too willing to take sides against her former son/now daughter-in-law.  Dreams of flying provide Zoe with another form of escape.

“It’s not like I’m lying.  It’s not like I’m abandoning you.  It’s not like I’m the first.  It’s not like I’m the only.”

Meanwhile, high schooler Xavier (Jayden Simmons) is trying to get his mother (Marcel Michelle, who plays multiple roles) to accept Xavier as the son Xavier knows he is, not the daughter his mother thinks she gave birth to.  Xavier is also being undermined by a taunting presence in the back of his mind (Zealot Hamm, who plays multiple roles) who insists Xavier will never be quite right.  More accepting is Xavier’s childhood friend Savannah (Piper Quinn), who is quite comfortable with the idea of her newfound boyfriend.

“Give me your hands.  Give me your arms.  Give me your skin.  They’ll grow back.”

When Xavier feels the need to run away from home, with Savannah in tow, he finds temporary shelter under Grace’s roof, after Xavier and Grace met online in a trans chat room.  This provides one more source of friction between Grace and Zoe.

“These two have so many issues of their own, they won’t even notice.”

If it sounds like this is way too much plot for a 90 minute script, you’d be right.  It is.  Any one of these plot threads could easily justify its own full-length, two act play.  Imagine falling in love with and marrying someone, who later discovers they are someone completely different.  When that person you loved changes to become truer to who they are, they’re still the person you loved, right?  They still love you, right?  Or has everything changed - and how, and why, and is there a way for the relationship to change and grow, too?

“It has to die.  It can’t tap dance.”

Or imagine being called to minister to God’s flock?  Then to be true to who you are, God seems to be calling you to be a new person, but the church isn’t willing to accept that new person?  What is your call then?  What is your ministry then?  Imagine being a bishop who needs to counsel that trans minister.

“This is my calling.”
“To be a woman, or to be a pastor?”
“To be what God wants me to be.”

Or imagine being childhood friends with someone, and then they change, to be truer to who they really are.  And that new person is someone who you find yourself falling in love with.  Were you always in love with them, or just this new aspect of who they are?  If they used to be a girl but are now living as a boy, does that mean one or both of you is straight or gay, or do any of those labels even mean anything anymore?

“Do you ever miss your old name?”

But here in Ballast, everything feels crammed together in one great rush of tumbling interconnected plot lines and characters, none of which feel fully explored.  This isn’t for lack of the actors trying.  They’re all clearly doing their best.  They just don’t have a lot of raw material to work with.  All of the characters are only sketchily defined.  So is Grace’s church denomination, and Zoe’s career, and the community, school, and family that Xavier and Savannah live in.  The lack of specificity keeps compounding until the whole story is hopelessly fuzzy and unspecific.  You don’t know as an audience member what the stakes of the story are, or who to root for.  Scenes repeatedly end just as they’re starting to get interesting.  Major arguments and plot points are referred to but only take place offstage.  No one ever really seems to talk to anyone else.

“You’re a woman.  So however you talk, whatever you say, that’s what a woman sounds like.”

And the script also seems to be sending all kinds of messages which (I hope) are unintentional such as: To take flight into your own future, you have to jettison the ballast of who you were; more specifically, you have to cut your trans spouse loose and look after yourself.  For a play with so many trans characters, much of the time those trans characters are seen as a problem or a burden for the cisgender characters and society to bare, rather than a situation with mutual growth toward a shared future.

“Do you ever look in the mirror and think a stranger’s looking back at you?”

Unfortunately the staging of Ballast as a production also isn’t helping.  The script has a fair number of scenes that take place in a sort of dream reality, and the language of the script in many places is heightened to make that clear.  Rather than take the fluidity of the reality of the script as permission to just move from one scene to the next - focusing on characters and words and situations - the production is anchored to props and pieces of furniture (a table, a bed, some chairs) that are ultimately not all that helpful in giving the scenes a sense of place.  Or the set pieces become confusing - Grace doesn’t have a pulpit in her living room, so why are characters leaning against it? 

“When you got married, I thought we were in the clear.”

There’s a welcome attempt at using the whole of the Mixed Blood space to give scenes, entrances and exits some variety, but there doesn’t seem to be much rhyme or reason to it.  Costume changes that don’t feel entirely necessary also slow down a lot of the momentum between scenes.  The story never really flows in part because the production gets bogged down in its own logistics.

“Do you remember the time we drove through the redwoods into the sky?”

And the sound design isn’t doing anyone any favors either.  A choice seems to have been made to layer a soundtrack over the top of all of the many dream scenes.  By itself, that’s not a bad choice.  But the music intrudes on the scenes rather than supporting them.  The music seems intent on setting a particular mood for a scene, whether that’s the mood the scene, the characters and the actors would find useful or not.  It frequently feels oppressive and smothering, hemming in the actors’ choices, and the audience’s ability to make their own decisions how to feel or interpret what’s happening in front of them.

“You’re different.  You’re suffering, too.  Around the eyes.  So you see us.”

If you choose a play that has a musical way with language, and a playful relationship with reality, why don’t you trust the script to do most of the work for you?  Why get in its way?  Just let the actors take the words and, if you really need something, add it (like a tether ball set-up hidden in a suitcase).  In this production, it feels like the designers are all trying to tell a very literal story based on the script, when the script and the acting doesn’t necessarily warrant it, so the two are constantly fighting rather than helping each other.  The script for Ballast has its problems, but the production isn’t even playing to its strengths.

“The excommunicated make their own rules.”

Both the script Ballast, and the production from 20% Theatre Company, are incredibly well-intentioned.  And I do want to see more queer and trans stories out there.  But those stories need better scripts, and those scripts need better platforms to reach an audience.  Ballast is a valiant attempt, but it keeps missing its target. (runs through September 10, 2017)

2.5 stars - Recommended

(photo by Nadia Honary; Grace (Eileen Noonan) and her friend Tilly (Zealot Hamm) in a scene from 20% Theatre Company's production of Ballast)

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Fringe 2017 - Review - It’s About Love Again This Year - RE | dance - 5 stars

tweet review - #mnfringe show 7 - It's About Love Again This Year, RE|dance - delightful, whimsical, dance to smile and sigh to, lovely - 5 stars

The thing Mom kept returning to when discussing the dance show It’s About Love Again This Year with others was, “They almost made you feel like you could do those moves yourself.  Of course, I can’t do any of those moves, but they did it all so simply and easily that it seemed like you could.”  That accessibility is one of the chief charms of RE | dance’s Fringe show.  And it’s accessible emotionally as well as physically.

“I loved his laugh ever before I knew I loved him.”

Choreographer Michael Estanich’s program note actually describes the show most succinctly: “It’s About Love Again This Year continues to explore my interest in how love (its desires and its pain) shapes our human experiences.  Romantic romps of luscious dancing, tender moments and soulful performances capture the sweet, delicate newness of first love and the nostalgic memory of love since passed.  Structured like a collage, the work is a series of vignettes seamlessly woven together to navigate the tricky intersecting terrain of emotion, memory, desire, and joy.  It’s About Love Again This Year is an expression of the nuances and textures of love.”

“I wish I could leave without hurting everyone’s feelings.”

Estanich, on stage along with eight other RE | dance members (Daiva Bhandari, Stacy DeMorow, Erika Farkvam, Danielle Gilmore, Corinne Imberski, Amy Larson, Melanie Rockwell, and Lucy Vurusic Riner) delivers on that description, even the “seamlessly” part, which is often the hardest thing for a dance show to pull off - moving smoothly from one dance sequence and piece of music right into the next.  One of the things that helps with this, of course, is there aren’t really any costume changes to speak of.  Estanich is in slacks, shirt and jacket while all the ladies are in some form of prom or bridesmaid’s dress.  These gowns allow everyone to move easily and and help make an additional visual impression as the dancers move through the space.

“I love watching other people’s children throw tantrums.”

Love takes many forms of course.  This isn’t strictly about romantic love.  It’s more about that giddy, sigh-inducing feeling that the first blush of love can leave you with.  It’s also about that other more melancholy, sigh-inducing state when you find yourself alone and bereft of your love.  There’s a love of food on display as an assembly line of her fellow dancers load one dancer’s mouth with cupcakes one after another, and Estanich stands dutifully by with a spit bucket and cleans up afterward.  There’s a love between a dog and its owner (with Estanich embodying the dog).  There’s the power of touch.  There’s the joy of being held up and carried.  There’s the need to spread love to the wider world.

“I love it when I dream about you.”

The stage frequently has more than one thing going on.  Different pockets of activity tend to fill the Southern stage in this Fringe show.  Even when dancers aren’t directly involved in the action, they’re often sitting in full view, watching the others from the sidelines.  There’s an assortment of simple, not entirely matching, well-worn chairs which have their own choreography, coming and going as needed.  Like the dancers, no one of the chairs is ever out of sight for too long.  They're stood on as often as they're sat in.  It amazes me how much can happen with just some bodies and chairs moving through space.

“I wish I could wake up to you every day.”

I missed RE | dance on their previous visit to the Fringe.  After seeing It’s About Love Again This Year, I’ll make sure that oversight never happens again.  Dance this enjoyable to watch, and this emotionally available, is a rare thing, and very easy to love.

5 Stars - Very Highly Recommended

Fringe 2017 - Review - Not Quite: Asian American by Law, Asian Woman by Desire - Renegade Ada Cheng - 5 stars

tweet review - #mnfringe show 26 - Not Quite - incisive, urgent, funny, unsettling solo show about the fluid notion of home, and being alien - 5 stars

I used to think a solo show for the 10pm slot at the end of a long Fringe day was a good test of my stamina.  After all, if I’m tired, the one thing that’s probably going to challenge my attention span is a single voice telling me a story.  My brain might just as easily consider it a bedtime story and, if it’s a pleasant voice, as many human voices are, I might start to be lulled to sleep.  No reflection on the storyteller, just the hazards of childhood programming.

“Do you define home by where you were born? By the duration of your stay?  By the length of your absence?  By the intensity of emotion?”

Lately, however, I’ve had something else proven to me by theater.  If the show is good, it doesn’t matter how tired I am.  If I’m engaged, I’ll stay awake and alert.  If the show isn’t grabbing my attention with any kind of urgency, then, hey, I’m in a comfortable, dark, climate controlled room, you may have to wake me at intermission or when it’s over.  Now there’s exceptions for extreme sleep deprivation or exhaustion but honestly, the first test of any piece of theater these days is - does it keep me awake?  So a solo show in the 10pm slot at the end of a long Fringe day isn’t so much a test for me these days as it is for the show.

“I know this man would harm us if he thought he could get away with it.  He just needed one reason.  We gave him several.”

Not Quite: Asian American By Law, Asian Woman By Desire passes the “keep me awake” test and then some.  I was anxious not to drift off and miss any of Ada Cheng’s insights in her one woman show about becoming an American citizen and all that entails - but it turns out I didn’t need to worry.  Not Quite is an extremely compelling piece of theater, and it shows off the skills that make Cheng a good professor in her offstage career.  She knows how to get and keep her audience’s attention.

“This country is never going to forget that I am an alien.”

Cheng gives a first hand look at the United States’ naturalization process for new citizens.  She admits to feeling trepidation turning over her green card just before the ceremony, because for the period of time between that and the end of the process, she’s essentially undocumented.  What if it’s a trap?  Even after receiving her certification of citizenship, she’s still set apart.  There’s an alien registration number of the form.  She’s a citizen, but remains part of a registry of people not born in the country. 

“If I screw up, I don’t screw up for myself.  I screw up for other people.”

One of her guests for the ceremony was the head of her department on campus.  She came to regret inviting him, because of the content of the ceremony.  New citizens-to-be sit through a documentary of American history.  Of course, that history is written largely by white people, and her supervisor was African-American.  He encounters American history, and the dream of American society, in a very different way than materials map it out for those going through naturalization.  She felt badly subjecting him to that.

“This country has entrusted immigrants with some of her most important jobs.”

Even after she became a citizen, Cheng remained aware she continued to look foreign.  Part of Not Quite addresses the relationship between Cheng and her students in sociology classes.  She gets them to break down the way they respond to her, and from whence that behavior comes.  Is it because she’s a woman?  A foreigner?  Short?  It’s not an exercise in punishment or self-pity.  She’s trying to raise everyone’s awareness.  She was born in a country where you bowed to your teacher before class began, then continued to respect them by giving them your full attention.  Some people even feared their teachers.  Sadly no danger of that on an American college campus these days.

“Nothing that is happening in this country right now is new.”

Another way Cheng continues to be set apart in America is her sexuality.  She recalls an encounter when out walking hand in hand with a previous lesbian partner.  An older white man walked by the two of them, looking both foreign and not heteronormative, and his reaction was to spit on the ground and throw in a Nazi salute for good measure.  Cheng kept them moving, but the thought of the man followed her even after they leave him behind.  Again, where do these reactions come from and why?  America in recent months has become a scary and less welcoming place for those who look and act different.  And the country was never a picnic for women to begin with.  Cheng remembers she is already on a registry for aliens.  For some people these days, it’s waiting for a phone call or a knock at the door.  Cheng urges us all: “Don’t wait to stand with people until they’re under attack.”  But she also remains resolved: “This is a thing I have to carry.  But hate is a thing I refuse to carry.”

“We all carry that history when we interact with each other.”

It’s a helpful thing to be able to see your country, and your society, through another person’s eyes.  Not Quite: Asian American by Law, Asian Woman by Desire is a compelling tale that kept me wide awake despite the hour.  And it still has me thinking...

5 Stars - Very Highly Recommended

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Fringe 2017 - Review - Good Kids - Neo Productions - 5 stars

tweet review - #MNFringe show 29 - Good Kids - powerful play; unbelievably talented young ensemble; intense exploration of rape culture - 5 stars

This is going to sound like a very back-handed kind of compliment, but I really didn’t expect Good Kids to be as good as it is.  Sure, Naomi Iizuka is a fantastic playwright and the script would no doubt be great.  But the cast is, well, kids.  According to the program, half of them aren’t even out of high school yet and the other half have barely started college, and the play Good Kids is about rape culture. 

“I don’t care if she was drunk and naked and walking down the middle of Main Street.  That does not give you a free pass to rape her.”

The cast is tackling the difficult subject not just from the perspective of the students themselves but also channeling the voices of the adult community as well - parents, teachers and community leaders.  And the play requires them to stage the incident at the heart of the story. 

“We like to think that things have changed, but they haven’t.  Things never change.  They just don’t.”

A high school girl gets drunk at a party and ends up being gang-raped by members of the football team - who post pictures and video of the incident, not just after the fact but while it’s still taking place.  All of that would be tough enough for a group of actors with several years of acting training under their belts.  I was expecting a well-intentioned but adequate production.  Good Kids was a lot more than that.  It was great.

“It’s amazing what happens when your life is destroyed.  You have nothing but time.”

Now, saying I enjoyed this production is a bit weird, so let’s just say I appreciated the honesty with which the cast approached the play under the direction of Nancy Owzarek, and the care they took with one another when staging it.  They didn’t pull any punches.  But they also were clearly doing this as a group, watching out for each other, telling a difficult story but doing it from a place of knowing that it was an important thing they were all doing together.  They all were concerned with getting it right, and it shows in the finished product.

“There’s a story people tell about you, and the story you tell about yourself.”

Chloe (Dexieng Yang) crashes a high school party with a friend and gets so drunk and insulting that the other girls quickly turn against her.  The guys at the party are another story.  Depending on who’s faulty memory we’re being presented with, either Chloe came on to football star Connor (Caleb Rotman) or it was the other way around.  Either way, she wakes up the next morning at the home of Tanner (Joshua Drucker), who gives her a ride home but awkwardly avoids telling her anything. 

“Every night like this is a fork in the road.”

Turns out he doesn’t have to.  Chloe may have been passed out, but Connor and his teammates Landon (Ben Kozemzak) and Ty (Nathan Lopresto) were not.  They not only took turns passing her around for sex, they posted photos and video evidence online that also quickly gets passed around.  Tanner didn’t participate, but he also didn’t put a stop to it.

“We’re all good kids.  Every single one of us.”

And so begins the discussion of responsibility, consent, and consequences among these characters and the rest of the ensemble (Emily Albert-Stuaning, Jenna Herbrand, Cameron Marsh, Claire Nelson, Julia Sexton, Rachel Standal, and Meg Swanson).  That discussion even continues in the bios of the cast in the program, and in the post-show speech at curtain call.

“For the rest of my life, this will be part of the story I tell.”

This isn’t easy stuff, but the script tackles rape culture from a number of different angles, and wisely offers more complexity than easy answers.  Good Kids leaves you with a lot to think on.  The cast rises to the occasion of the script in a way I wasn’t expecting but was really impressed by.  I guess by now, with many Fringes in my history, I should know better than to underestimate artists because of their youth.  This production of Good Kids helps set me straight on that score once again.

5 Stars - Very Highly Recommended

Fringe 2017 - Review - A Resister’s Handbook (for holding onto optimism in sh*tty times) - minnerican productions - 5 stars

tweet review - #mnfringe show 22 - Resister's Handbook (for holding onto optimism in sh*tty times): indeed it is; "we are called to greatness" - 5 stars

The thing that makes Javier Morillo’s one man show so great is that it really does live up to its title - A Resister's Handbook (for holding onto optimism in sh*tty times).  More than any set of specific moments, what I remember most about this show is how it made me feel - hopeful. 

“Organizing is a vocation of optimists.”

No, it’s not actually a handbook.  He admits that apart from “How To Take A Hot Arrest Picture” he doesn’t have a lot of step by step instructions that would apply to everyone.  (For the curious, it’s the Three Ss - Scowl, Smolder, and Suck It In - your gut, that is.)  It’s in sharing his experiences and his own personal example as a union organizer that Javier reminds us that there is hope, even in what seem like the darkest of times. 

“Yes, the members agreed to this.  But it was where I led.  And I was wrong.”

Morillo has had some big wins and some big losses, and he shares them both.  Honestly, unions have gotten a bad rap in recent decades, but they’re the one way that workers can exercise real power - by standing together.  It’s why business owners resist the formation of unions in the first place so strenuously. 

“I love to argue.  I hate to lose.  Two qualities you want in a contract negotiator.”

But sometimes even a union can only postpone the inevitable.  Even under a friendlier Obama administration, deportation of undocumented workers and the failure to achieve any real immigration reform left Morillo’s union with few ways to help protect their members and their families who were undocumented.

“Fine!  You can go.  But we are getting married before that monster is inaugurated.”

The thing Morillo does so well, and I imagine what makes him such a good organizer, is stating the case for continuing to push the cause forward.  Because it’s a just cause.  And it’s worth fighting for.  The larger cause of helping our nation to remain free, and open, and welcoming to all types of people - there’s no more important work than that.  And that work is more important still when we have leaders who seem to be opposed to those values.  They need reminding they work for us.  If you’ve got to fight, it’s a comfort to know you have something worth fighting for. 

“This grown man, arrested three times, never told his mother.”

Morillo reminds us we’re in a moment like that right now.  Leaders of movements for social justice and change in the past who’ve inspired us saw what needed to be done, and they got it done.  They had no guarantee it was going to work, but that didn’t stop them from trying.  Now it’s our turn. 

“The work of social justice is to breathe in pain and breathe out light.”

Can’t think of a more uplifting way to end a long day of Fringing than a show like A Resister’s Handbook.  I’m grateful that Morillo and his director Levi Weinhagen shared it with us just when we needed it.

5 Stars - Very Highly Recommended

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Fringe 2017 - Review - A Pickle - Really Spicy Opera - 5 stars

tweet review - #MNFringe show 31 - A Pickle - great script, great performance, recreating the story of an MN original (and those pickles) - 5 stars

A Pickle was a weird Fringe show to tweet about because I found myself hesitating.  Sharp, smart, funny script by Deborah Yarchun, beautifully acted by Angela Timberman under the direction of Basil Considine for Really Spicy Opera (not that it was an opera, or even a musical, that’s just the company’s name).  There was absolutely nothing wrong with it, so that’s a 5 star show, right?  So why was I hesitating and thinking, “Oh, that can’t be a five, really, can it - it must only a four and a half”?  Where’s my bias coming from?

“You do not go up against the Minnesota State Fair.”

A Pickle is about a real life woman named Doris who came to be known as The Pickle Lady when she took on the Minnesota State Fair for rejecting the pickles she submitted for the food competition.  Turns out the judges at the Minnesota State Fair weren’t familiar with kosher pickles and thought they looked spoiled.  In fact, they thought that about every one of the jars of kosher pickles submitted.  So where does tradition end and anti-Semitism begin?

“When you love something, you put your love into that thing.”

That makes things sound darker than they are here.  Doris is a bright and bubbly woman.  She cares about justice and fairness, but she doesn’t see prejudice around every corner.  She’s experienced it from a young age but she doesn’t let it sour her life.  And she doesn’t want to spoil things for anybody else.  So how far do you take this battle?  Turns out, pretty far.  Doris is an unlikely crusader, but when the cause and the other people it affects present themselves to her, she doesn’t shrink from the task.

“Giving away food makes your soul fuller and your belly lighter.”

One person shows are hard.  Good single character stories, and good actors to tell them, are rare.  Here, with A Pickle, we have both.  Maybe it was the scale of the story that made me hesitate.  Maybe it was the local flavor - I tend to resist a Minnesota story being presented to me as important simply because it’s set in Minnesota and I live now in Minnesota.  It’s good to take pride in your adopted home, but I tend to be more incredulous than the average audience member when someone breaks out the tried and true “Minnesota humor.”  But that’s not what’s going on here.  Yarchun’s humor comes from its source, Doris, and is truthfully rendered by Timberman in her performance.  It’s not a cliche.

“He grew up to be a very talented door knob salesman.”

Also, my transplant status in Minnesota probably doesn’t allow me to fully comprehend the enormity of what Doris was attempting here - she was going up against the Minnesota State Fair.  It wasn’t just a local Twin Cities thing, it was the entire state of Minnesota.  A lifelong Minnesotan probably gets the true scale of this story more than I ever will.  Even so, her dogged pursuit of fairness is impressive.

“I’m not sure there’s an end to this story.  It keeps going.”

I also need to be careful that my training to think “drama serious/comedy light and fluffy” is a false choice, as evidenced by the many, many powerful pieces of very funny I’ve seen both in and out of the Fringe over the years.  Plus, the really good stuff, as A Pickle is here, is never all one or the other.  They’re always a mix of both.  (This is especially true of the other great scripts of Deborah Yarchun with which I'm familiar.  A Pickle is different than those plays, given that it's a solo show rather than a play with multiple characters, but it still fits comfortably side by side with the rest of her body of work.  Doris is a lot happier and more mentally stable than a number of Yarchun's other characters, but just like the rest of them, she has a battle to fight.)

“I didn’t get a single hate letter, just calls from the rejected.”

So that’s why I shook off my knee-jerk prejudices and gave A Pickle and those involved the rating they deserve.  Audiences certainly responded.  The entire run was almost completely sold out, and the encore performance was sold out before it was even officially announced.  Once again, a good story finds its people.  It’s why we all do Fringe, in the hopes it will happen to us, on both sides of the stage lights.

5 Stars - Very Highly Recommended

Fringe 2017 - Review - The Wright Stuff, or You’ll Believe They Can Fly - Outlandish Productions - 5 stars

tweet review - #MnFringe show 13, Wright Stuff - mom says, "I haven't laughed like that in a long time!" Me neither - 5 stars

Whenever Mom talked to other people about Josh Carson and Andy Rocco Kraft’s show The Wright Stuff, or You’ll Believe They Can Fly, it was always some variation on “I haven’t laughed that hard or that much in a really long time.”  In fact, all I needed to do was quote some random line out of context from the show for days afterward and she would start laughing again.  So what exactly is it about Carson and Kraft’s brand of humor that never fails to amuse us?

“I hit my head and now I control time.”

This time, we have the story of brothers Wilbur (Carson) and Orville (Kraft) Wright, hapless bicycle repair shop owners.  Their minister father Bishop Milton Wright (Jim Robinson) is not just disappointed in them, he may lose his job in the church because of the harm his children keep doing to the family name.  Their long-suffering, smarter sister Katharine (Sulia Altenberg) has little patience with them and is additionally frustrated with her place in society as a woman in the early 20th cenutry (when the family reports in at dinner, one piece of news is “And I still can’t vote”). 

“Give me back my prayer!”

The brothers also can’t seem to shake their overeager assistant Charlie (Tucker Garborg) or tormenting by the more successful Jack Langley (Mike Fotis).  And, because this an inspirational story, there’s a trio of female singers called the Wright Aides (Olivia Hedeman, Karissa Lade, and Leslie Vincent) who repeatedly pop up in the story to help with transitions or key breakthrough moments.  The Wright Brothers, of course, are credited with advancing the idea of manned flight and the invention of the airplane.  Here we wonder, like everyone else, how they’ll ever amount to anything.

“It’s the only part of my character that’s historically accurate.”

Carson, Kraft, Altenberg and Garborg have worked together on so many Fringe shows now that they’re a smooth running comedy machine.  Anyone else they collaborate with tends to get in the spirit and catch up pretty quickly, offering their own lunacy to the mix, and that holds true here in The Wright Stuff.

“Knock, knock.”
“But you’re already inside.”

If you try too hard to explain a joke, you’re likely to take all the fun out of it, so I don’t want to overthink Carson and Kraft’s show, but what makes them so reliably funny?  A big part of it, no doubt, is that they’re just gifted with the ability to see the world in a way that makes people laugh.  Some people know how to tell a joke, others don’t.  But Carson and Kraft shows aren’t just soulless laugh factories.  Neither are they the products of historians or documentarians.  This isn’t even pretending to the be true story of the Wright Brothers.  Of course they researched the idea, so they could get the raw material to put their on spin on it.  Half the fun of a Carson/Kraft Fringe show with a historical bent to it is the way they revel in the absurdities and anachronisms of looking at the past through a 21st century lens.

“Go to hell!”
“I’d love a vacation!”

So what is it?  I think it’s partly generosity.  Carson and Kraft don’t hog all the jokes.  In fact they not only give each and every person a spotlight moment or two, or six, or twelve, they are more than happy to let someone steal a scene right out from under them if it means the audience is enjoying themselves.  It’s a comedy of equals on stage, getting equal time.  So the funny just keeps going.

“Orville’s next to useless.”
“He’ll be with you, so he still will be.”

Also, there’s the tendency to tell stories of people who are in over their head, struggling to do something more with their lives.  The Wright Brothers have common cause with the protagonists in many another Carson/Kraft show.  They just want their lives to mean something.  In and around all the laughs, I think people respond to that.  I know Mom and I do.  These Fringe comedians could write hopelessly sentimental tales, but the thing that makes it all work is they’re constantly using humor to undercut things, so nothing gets too maudlin or self-important.  Whatever they choose to tackle next, I’m sure we’ll all be just as surprised and amused.  Meanwhile, The Wright Stuff is another one in the win column for these artists.

5 Stars - Very Highly Recommended

Monday, August 14, 2017

Fringe 2017 - Review - Out of the Shadows - Gabriel Mata/Movements - 5 stars

tweet review(s)
#mnfringe show 24 - holy hell, that was... fringe crush absolutely, I may be in love; funny, sexy, vulnerable, powerful, perfect - 5 stars
Addendum #mnfringe show 24 - I have had it pointed out to me that I left out the title (oops); Out of the Shadows, my new Fringe love
#mnfringe show 49 - a return visit to @GabrielMata91's Out Of The Shadows; closing weekend, need to treat myself again to shows I like
#mnfringe show 52 - Out of the Shadows: yeah, yeah, I know, 3rd time; it's one of my favorites this year and it's the last day

I see a Fringe show more than once only very, very rarely.  Even if a person saw a show in every single slot on the Minnesota Fringe Festival schedule, including the encore slot at the end on closing Sunday night, they could only see 56 shows.  The festival had 167 shows this year.  So at best, with no breaks for food (or adequate sleep) you could attend roughly a third of the festival.  Two-thirds of it would remain beyond your grasp.  If you go back to the same show more than once, that’s one less show somewhere else you could be seeing.  Even most of the shows I enjoy a lot, I only see once.  Normally, though, as each new Fringe year rolls around, I run across a show I break the “rules” for and I’ll go see it twice.

This year, I saw Gabriel Mata's Out of the Shadows three times.

Why?  Because it’s a dance show that revealed a lot about both dance and the dancer to me, and as an audience member I wanted to get to know both of them better.  The first time you see a story presented to you, your brain’s just trying to wrap itself around understanding something new.  You don’t know where it’s going yet, what you’re going to learn, where you’ll end up when it’s over.  The second time you see something, the suspense of “will I understand it?” is taken care of, so now you can relax and let more of your brain just examine the story and presentation from other angles.  You catch details maybe you missed the first time.  The third time you see something, well I suppose at that point it feels more like you’re visiting an old friend, a safe harbor.  But it’s a little weird to feel like I know dancer/choreographer Gabriel Mata any better after watching Out of the Shadows.  Because the more I think about it, he spent an awful lot of it lying to me.

“All this because a friend told me I didn’t know how to dance.  She really saved my life.”

Now, lying onstage is common.  Another name for it is acting.  Actors pretend to be people they’re not all the time.  They’re not actually in a given situation on stage.  They’re a character in a story, not themselves in real life.  Out of the Shadows plays with that fluid notion of reality in incredibly effective ways.  But it does leave me wondering if I spent a lot of time hanging out with someone who’s still essentially a stranger.

“Ricardo calls this move ‘Descending from the Heavens,’ I call it ‘You Stole This From Martha Graham.’”

Out of the Shadows begins with an announcement.  That announcement is that we won’t be seeing Out of the Shadows after all, but instead Gabriel Mata will be dancing a piece called Burning Dark Sky, choreographed by someone named Ricardo Martinez.  The first time I saw it, the audience members around me sounded genuinely disappointed.  Being a naturally gullible person, I wondered where this change in plans would lead us.  The lights come up on Mata in place, but then nothing happens.  No music starts.  Mata even looks up at the booth for a second, incredulous.  But then the music kicks in and he’s off.  It’s a beautiful, graceful piece of modern dance and Mata seems to be sailing through it, doing astonishing things with his body that those non-dancers among us will never be flexible or coordinated enough to do.

“This is the most painful part of the routine, having to pick myself up from a very deep lunge.  You should try it sometime.”

But Mata stops several minutes in, and asks for the music to be cut off.  He apologizes to the audience.  He’s forgotten the choreography.  Also he’s not feeling well (possibly something he ate).  And he admits he’s not being paid to perform, which leaves him wondering how he’s going to pay for rent, insurance, food, etc.  Then he turns around and admits with a big, winning smile “I’m kidding.”  Audience laugh.  “I don’t have insurance.”  Even bigger audience laugh.

“We need some happy thoughts.  What makes you happy?”

Mata then walks us through his rituals - pre-show push-ups (a couple of them with claps in the middle because, well, if you can, why not?), and tapping himself on the chest to calm himself down; placing a kiss on the center of the stage for good luck, assuming the starting position, confirming the music was “late” (though in post-show, he makes sure to tell the audience to applaud the tech in the booth because he’s actually great - and in on the whole set-up.)  Mata admits that on rising to the first position his mental checklist had him noticing one foot out of place, one leg not high enough, and when his arm was outstretched, he realized he forgot to remove his watch.  He goes through each sequence of moves, speaking as he goes, noting the difference between what should have happened and what did happen.  He opens up about the contentious working relationship with the choreographer.  And all of this breaks down the barrier between dancer and audience.  The performer is human.  The dance demystified but no less impressive.  In fact, pointing out the strains that certain positions place on the body makes the dance that much more impressive as a physical feat.

“I call this the future hip and knee replacement move, possibly some ankle surgery.”

This playful relationship with the fourth wall felt familiar to me, and when Mata later runs down a roll call of his dance instructors, I learned why.  One of his teachers was Joel Smith, of Casebolt and Smith, who charmed their way to box office success at the Fringe here in 2009 and 2010 as touring artists.  Their cheeky brand of comedy, speaking while dancing, to break all the moves down for us, got audiences appreciating them both as dancers and actors.  Mata employs similar strategies here.  But he’s got another less funny subject woven through the second half of the performance, even as the connection to the audience is strengthened, and the larger work of the dance is assembled piece by piece.

“Those words describe me, they really do.  They were just said with such hate, I didn’t know what to do.”

Here’s where it either gets autobiographical, or the acting reaches another level.  Mata talks about the racism he fears he sees in the eyes of the audience, judging him for his dark skin.  Mata says he and his family are undocumented immigrants from Mexico.  He talks about being the target of hate for being both that, and gay.  He talks about trying to forget Spanish, lose the accent, Americanize his own name.  He also talks about the struggles of being an artist, always needing the backup plan of a friend with a couch who’s willing to take him in as a houseguest.  “This isn’t a hobby for me.  An artist shouldn’t have to live like that.”

“My worst nightmare is forgetting the dance, and being naked.  This is pretty close.”

Normally the trials and tribulations of artists don’t interest me.  After all, I live with them, too.  Boo hoo, nobody asked us to do this.  Suck it up and do the work.  But Mata isn’t asking for pity.  Despite the hate, he wants to remain a good person.  Despite the challenges, he believes what his mentors believe, that dance has the power to change the world for the better.  And he’s trying to do that.  Out of the Shadows is part of that mission.

“I should have kept improvising - maybe not for 30 minutes.”

So, the unseen choreographer Ricardo is a fiction, right?  This is all the work of Mata.  Problem is, I start pulling on that thread and I start to doubt everything else, too.  But at some point, I have to stop overthinking it and just accept the piece for what it is.  Out of the Shadows presents a dance, and a dancer - whether that dancer is entirely real or not.

“I should have done more Mexican things, sacrificed a chicken…”

In a clever move, for part of the show Mata is engaged in discussion by a disembodied but friendly voice over the sound system in the theater.  (It sounds like it’s Mata’s voice but regardless…)  This voice encourages him to stay and continue dancing.  Because this voice is engaging him in discussion, when Mata responds at one point that, “A person isn’t illegal.  A person can be undocumented, but a person is never illegal” - he’s not lecturing the audience, he’s talking to another character.  The audience hears, and often cheers, but the redirection of those words means we can hear them, and not try to reject them (“Wait, I’m not racist, why are you saying that to me?”)

“This part I pretend I’m flipping a giant tortilla.”

After some dancing improvisation to several different kinds of music, Mata enters that section I mentioned before, where he takes us through the evolution of his education in dance.  It starts with a friend telling him he can’t dance (she was right, then).  The first teacher reveals to him the wonder of the simple step/touch move.  And it proceeds from there, adding one step, one school of movement, one technique after another, until he’s told us about all his teachers and assembled a whole vocabulary of moves right in front of us, in just a couple of minutes.  He has also shifted from small basic moves to ones that encompass the whole of the stage.

“Modern dance isn’t boring.  Golf is boring.”

Then he sheds his layer of civilian clothes (and his watch), all without stopping his body’s impulse to dance.  He returns his unitard to its original state, when we first saw him.  And he eases out of his current dance and back into the starting position for that dance he never quite finished.  Only now, as he performs it, flawlessly, in full, and in silence, we know him, we know the moves, we know the dance.  And somehow, because we understand things better now, both he and it are even more dazzling to watch in action.

“At first I was afraid, I was petrified…”

Out of the Shadows is a really great Fringe show, in part because it allows us to see behind the curtain, just a bit.  We appreciate it more, because we know what it costs.  The art, even as it gives up some of its secrets, isn’t diminished, but enhanced.  It plays on the mind and the heart in more indelible ways because it’s not afraid to be real, even when it’s fake.  Theater can really screw with my head sometimes.  But when it’s a show like Out of the Shadows, from an artist like Gabriel Mata, for some reason I don’t mind.

5 Stars - Very Highly Recommended

Fringe 2017 - Review - Fruit Flies Like A Banana: World Tour - The Fourth Wall - 5 stars

tweet review - #mnfringe show 12 - Fruit Flies Like a Banana: World Tour; I see and hear music and dance in a new way every time I see them - 5 stars

Being just a few years into playing the guitar myself, I still remember the hurdle of just being able to play something all the way through without stopping or screwing up too much.  I remember the additional hurdle of just getting my brain to allow me to sing one thing while playing another.  So the things that the trio of musician/singer/physical theater performers who make up The Fourth Wall and tour with their show Fruit Flies Like A Banana do never ceases to astonish me.  And I suppose most audience members. 

“That was The Minute Waltz, which we played in two minutes.  Because fast things are scary.”

It’s why we delight in these three different permutations of the same concept - a couple dozen short music pieces performed at random, order determined by audience participation, and the music never stands still.  There’s a whimsy running through the whole thing, an enjoyment of a music and a desire to share it in as many varied ways as possible.  The World Tour aspect of Fruit Flies Like A Banana this time had the audience choosing from starred locations on a large inflatable globe tossed into the house at the end of each piece of music.  In total, we end up visiting Poland, Argentina, Japan, Antarctica, North Pole, Mexico, Congo, Ocean, Scotland, France, Australia, Canada, Tuva, and of course the USA, all in just an hour.

“I will pull the star off, I will pull the star off, I will pull the star off - the Winnipeg Fringe audience wasn’t so good with instructions.”

As they introduce the location, composer and some brief history of the piece of music, Hilary Abigana, Greg Jukes, and C. Neil Parsons pull out whatever instrument is going to get spotlighted this time.  There’s accordion, bass trombone, boomwackers, crotales, didgeridoo, flute, euphonium, piccolo, toy piano, vibraphone, whistle, wood block and yes, even a flower pot. There’s also their own human voices, and dancing, contorting bodies.  And in their traditional segment spotlighting shows of other Fringe artists in the audience that’s always in the mix, there’s the added fun of our own local storyteller Allegra Lingo joining in for a musical bit. 

“We need two volunteers over the age of nine who are comfortable with sitting on the floor.”

To give you an indication of just how fun and endearing these three performers are, they come out for the opening number zipping around on hoverboards, and your first thought isn’t “Wow, what *ssholes.” (Am I the only one who has that aversion to human beings on hoverboards?  Just me?  OK then.) 

“It’s proactively optimistic music, meant to reawaken the forest and bring back prosperity.”

Fruit Flies is at Theater In The Round this time and they seemed to take a particular delight in addressing this added challenge: constantly turning and whipping around the space, creating a great stage picture no matter what corner of the 360 degree audience expanse you were situated in.  Like the bar they set themselves isn’t already high enough and they just wanted that extra bit of difficulty to tackle and overcome - always with a smile on their faces and a twinkle in their eye. 

“When he’s not bellowing on the accordion, he hits things.”

Fruit Flies Like A Banana seems to be a perfect distillation of the wonderful oddities that bloom in this festival once a year.  Where else could something like this live and find a home?  Just describing Fruit Flies to strangers, it seems a great way to define the Fringe to the uninitiated.  “Fringe is the place where crazy, beautiful stuff like this happens.”  I hope The Fourth Wall never gets tired of us and keeps coming back as often as the lottery gods and laws of chance will allow.

5 Stars - Very Highly Recommended

Fringe 2017 - 2-1/2 Star Shows

Here's a running list (and links to reviews as I post them) of the 2-1/2 star shows I've seen in the Minnesota Fringe Festival this year:

Finding Mohamed
tweet review - #mnfringe show 9 - Finding Mohamed; hmm... part technical issues, part staging issues, completely baffled by this one (sorry) 2.5 stars

And here's some handy links to the full list of pre-Fringe top 10, and 11-20, the rest of the returning favorites, and all the random shout outs in these Top 10/Top 20 posts - links all gathered in a single list to take you to fuller posts and Fringe pages.  Enjoy!

Fringe 2017 - 3 Star Shows

Here's a running list (and links to reviews as I post them) of the 3 star shows I've seen in the Minnesota Fringe Festival this year:

A Bollywood Twistery
tweet review - #mnfringe show 19 - Bollywood Twistery - dance a high point, rest of it charming, a little uneven, ghost/costume changes hilarious - 3 stars

Repertoire Dogs
tweet review - #mnfringe show 37 - Repertoire Dogs - funny, but now depressingly clear to me impression comedy is generational, and I am OLD - 3 stars

tweet review -  #mnfringe show 41 - Rumpus - Where The Wild Things Are, poetry, brass band, general silliness, exactly as it means to be - 3 stars

So Goshdarn Warm and Fuzzy
tweet review - #mnfringe show 16 - So Goshdarn Warm And Funny - I had the weirdest adverse reaction to this one; gonna have to ruminate a while - 3 stars

And here's some handy links to the full list of pre-Fringe top 10, and 11-20, the rest of the returning favorites, and all the random shout outs in these Top 10/Top 20 posts - links all gathered in a single list to take you to fuller posts and Fringe pages.  Enjoy!

Fringe 2017 - 3-1/2 Star Shows

Here's a running list (and links to reviews as I post them) of the 3-1/2 star shows I've seen in the Minnesota Fringe Festival this year:

KnoW WesT
tweet review - #mnfringe show 27 - KnoW WesT - actual family offers up disjointed bits and pieces of American West both real and imagined - 3.5 stars

Passing The Poison
tweet review - #mnfringe show 40 - Agent Orange and dance an odd mix, moments click now and then, 1 dancer really makes the show - 3.5 stars

35 Different Angles From Which To Hate Yourself
tweet review - #mnfringe show 55 - 35 Different Angles...: assortment of random amusing dance bits; maybe fewer angles, greater focus? - 3.5 stars

The Tragedy of Obi-Wan Kenobi
tweet review - #mnfringe show 15 - Tragedy of Obi-Wan Kenobi - enthusiastically rendered fan theory to fix holes in Star Wars mythology - 3.5 stars

Wait...didn't Patrick's Cabaret close?
tweet review - #mnfringe show 23 - Patrick's Cabaret - cat video; seniors doing horny improv; kickass monologue plus butter sculpture - 3.5 stars

And here's some handy links to the full list of pre-Fringe top 10, and 11-20, the rest of the returning favorites, and all the random shout outs in these Top 10/Top 20 posts - links all gathered in a single list to take you to fuller posts and Fringe pages.  Enjoy!

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Fringe 2017 - Day 11 - Sunday Schedule - One Last Day of Fringe

Surprisingly, I managed to stay not just alert and awake for all seven shows yesterday, I actually was really engaged by all the shows, even the ones I wasn’t all that sure about going in.  Well done, everybody.

Today, I’m starting with three Fringe favorites of mine, both old and new, which make me very happy heading into the home stretch of the final day. 

After that, I’m taking more of a chance on the final three, including the encore, but I’m still looking forward to the kind of surprises I had yesterday. 

It’s been a pretty great Fringe this year.  Mom said the same thing.  For all the great shows I’ve seen, there are still more out there that I didn’t get to see but others were raving about.  That’s a great place for the Fringe to be. 

Meanwhile, one last day to cram in more theater goodness before the festival comes to a close -

1pm - Stranger-er Things: Netflix and Kill - Turd Spout Productions - Phoenix Theater

I don’t really need to explain why I’m going to see returning favorite Tom Reed anymore, do I?  I also have Tom to thank for finally nudging me to sit down and watch Stranger Things.  People tell me that sort of pop culture homework isn’t necessary to enjoy this musical satire, but it was nice to have the excuse to watch that show.  Can’t wait to see what fun Tom has with it.  Closing weekend, last show, naturally I have a reservation to be sure I get into this one.

2:30pm - Out of the Shadows - Gabriel Mata/Movements - Intermedia Arts

Yes, I’m going back to see this 5-star show for a third time.  Gabriel Mata is a joy to watch in motion, and his comedic and acting gifts are an added bonus in this context.  He got a well-deserved standing ovation from a very full house last night.  I’m treating myself in the middle of the afternoon on my last day of Fringe.  Made a reservation for this one, too.

4pm - Themselves They Made Immaculate: Clara Barton at Andersonville - American Civic Forum - Bryant Lake Bowl

Finally I get to see American Civic Forum, another returning favorite.  Took the full 11 days of the festival for schedules to finally align but I’ve got myself a reservation.

5:30pm - Swords and Sorcery: The Improvised Fantasy Campaign - Bearded Men Improv - TRP

Another returning favorite.  I’m not much into the Game of Thrones genre, but I do enjoy good improv, so spending some time with Bearded Men Improv is a safe bet for entertainment.

7pm - 35 Different Angles From Which To Hate Yourself - Rogue and Rabble Dance - Southern Theater

Here’s an entry from my list of random shout-outs, with queer content and dance, so I thought that’d be a good show to take a chance on as my Fringe draws to a close.

8:30pm - ENCORE Slot - Broad Sex in the Twin Cities - GIRL Theatre - Strike Theater

As I said in my rundown of the Encore slot winners for the final 8:30pm performances of the festival today, this entry from the random shout-out list seems like the perfect female-centered comedy to cap off my festival for the year.

Then I’ll be heading over to hang out at the Fringe Closing Night Party at Triple Rock for a bit to see some of my favorite artists one last time before we all say goodbye to the Fringe until next August.

Fringe 2017 - Encores - Overview of the 8:30pm Crowd on Closing Night

Closing day of the Fringe, and it turns out that a lot of the audience favorites with high attendance that landed the encore slots at 8:30pm tonight (Sunday 8/13) are shows that I've seen.  Here's the rundown of what I know:

On the West Bank:

Mixed Blood:
The Wright Stuff, or You'll Believe They Can Fly - link to full review
tweet review -  #MnFringe show 13, Wright Stuff - mom says, "I haven't laughed like that in a long time!" Me neither - 5 stars

Theater In The Round:
Fruit Flies Like A Banana: World Tour - link to full review
tweet review - #mnfringe show 12 - Fruit Flies Like a Banana: World Tour; I see and hear music and dance in a new way every time I see them - 5 stars

Rarig Center - Arena:
The Memory Box of the Sisters Fox (2 shows today, 5:30pm and the 8:30pm Encore)
tweet review - #mnfringe show 36 - Memory Box/Sisters Fox - story of Spiritualist Fox sisters lovingly rendered; exquisite - 5 stars

Rarig Center - Thrust:
Intermediate Physical Comedy for Advanced Beginners (2 shows today, 1pm and the 8:30pm Encore)
tweet review - #MnFringe show 10 - Intermediate Physical Comedy for Advanced Beginners: skillful silent pratfalls, prop comedy, audience bits - 4.5 stars

Rarig Center - Xperimental:
Hot Air (2 shows today, 1pm and the 8:30pm Encore)
tweet review - #mnfringe show 28 - Hot Air - manic, wonderfully silly improv film noir; great black/white look, plus shadow play, live piano - 4.5 stars

Also in the 8:30pm Encore slot on the West Bank, the Southern Theater, with a show I didn't get a chance to see:
De Hjerteløse [The Heartless]

In Uptown:

Phoenix Theater:
Blackout Improv - link to full review
tweet review - For #mnfringe show 2, @blackoutimprov gives us a musical guest followed by 45 minutes of swag hat conversation and improv comedy - 5 stars

Bryant Lake Bowl:
Boombox - link to full review
tweet review - Boombox (#mnfringe show 3) from @heyohannahstarr - "Now THAT was a 5" says Mom - comedy, song, audience interaction, amazing - 5 stars

Jungle Theater:
#mnfringe show 50 - Dungeon - mind-blowing combination of shadow puppets, live action, light/dark, brother/sister rescue mission - 5 stars

Also in the 8:30pm Encore slot in Uptown, two other shows I didn't get a chance to see:
HUGE Theater - The Zoo Story
Intermedia Arts - Mayor Lear of Townsville

In The Northeast

Only seen one of these:

Ritz Theater - Studio:
A Pickle (2 shows today, 1pm and the 8:30pm Encore - but both already sold out) - link to full review
tweet review - #MNFringe show 31 - A Pickle - great script, great performance, recreating the story of an MN original (and those pickles) - 5 stars

Of the others I haven't seen, I think I'm going to try and hit the Encore at

Strike Theater - Broad Sex in the Twin Cities
(I get to see plenty of straight white male theater the rest of the year.  Fringe, especially this year, I've been trying to see as much theater by women, queers and people of color as I can.  This'll be another entry in that roster.  They are also on my list of random shout-outs, so they seem like the most likely option at 8:30pm if I want to see something new.)

Also in the 8:30pm Encore slot in Northeast, two other shows I didn't get a chance to see:
Ritz Theater - Mainstage - RomCom-Con
Crane Theater - Absurd Advice

Something for everyone, so get out there and enjoy one last day of Fringing, right to the end.  Thanks to all the Fringe staff, volunteers, techs, and artists for another great festival.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Fringe 2017 - Day 10 - Saturday Schedule - Batting clean-up

I finally get a chance to see some shows today that were on the Top 10 list that I hadn’t been able to see yet.  Also slotting in a show that hadn’t been on my radar but others have been raving about, and doing a return trip to a show I liked quite a lot the first time around.  Thankfully they’re all clustered in Uptown so not so much running around as the past two days.

The big ticket items on the list today that I’m scheduling the rest of my day around are:

4pm - Spy In The House of Men: A One-Woman Show With Balls - Penny: For Your Thoughts - Bryant Lake Bowl

Finally!  This show was on my Top 10 list (at #10), so I’ve written about it before.  She also had a great preview in the Touring Artists Showcase.  But the schedule just wasn’t lining up before.  Today.  At last.  Very much looking forward to it.  She’s got over a dozen audience reviews and an average 5 star rating and I am not at all surprised.

5:30pm - Skirmish of Wit: Your Imaginary Forces - Minnesota SkyVault Theatre Company - Jungle Theater

This young folks were also on the Top 10 list this year (at #6) so I’ve written about them before as well.  They also had a totally charming preview in the Touring Artists Showcase and people have been talking them up whenever I mention them if they’ve seen the show before me.  Nearly 20 audience reviews, an average 4 star rating.  Also very much looking forward to this one.  Just down the block and around the corner from Penny’s show.

Also Consider at 5:30 - There Ain't No More - Crane Theater

(The above, sadly, means that the one show that was on my Top 10 list (at #9) that I’m not going to get a chance to see is There Ain’t No More.  One of their last two shows was 10pm last night, when I was recruited to play my guitar on one song with Scream Blue Murmur at the Southern; their final show? today 5:30pm out at Crane Theater, opposite this show and across town at the same time. Sigh.  Everyone I’ve met and talked with who’ve seen There Ain’t No More are raving about it (also 2 dozen audience reviews averaging out to 5 stars).  Saddest thing about the Fringe, you can’t see all the good stuff, no matter how you try.  If you’re closing to NE than Uptown and looking for a 5:30 show, see There Ain’t No More.)

and later…

8:30pm - Out of the Shadows - Gabriel Mata/Movements - Intermedia Arts

Yes, I’m seeing this one again.  Now that I’ve seen it once, I want to revisit it and watch it, knowing the broader outline of how it progresses, seeing different details this time.  It’s a graceful, funny and really winning performance.  This show (along with Boombox and Odd Man Out) are still my top 3 favorites of the festival this year.  So I’m also just doing something nice for myself in the home stretch and seeing a show that I know is going to entertain me.  Nearly 50 audience reviews, still averaging out to 5 stars.  Not at all surprised, since I gave it 5 stars myself.

10pm - Dungeon - Hit The Lights! Theater Company - Jungle Theater

Actually DUNGEON but I find all caps titles kind of annoying, or I worry that I’m screaming at blog readers.  The preview in the Touring Artists Showcase by these folks was such wonderfully inventive and fun shadow work that I was totally intrigued.  Fellow artists I know and trust have been raving about it, practically giddy.  They’ve also got nearly 70 audience reviews and are holding steady with an average 5 star rating.  So a lot of people like it and aren’t shy about saying so.  Hope I’m also one of them.

Since 4, 5:30, 8:30 and 10 are all in Uptown, it seemed silly not to try other shows at nearby venues, to see if I could keep today’s carbon footprint and traffic stress to a minimum.

So here’s the rest of the line-up

1pm - Fool’s Paradise - Desolate Maude - Bryant Lake Bowl

I like a good show about heartache.  This dance/storytelling hybrid might be just the thing.  They were on my list of random shout-outs anyway, and their dozen audience reviews are averaging out to 4 stars, so it’s worth a look.

2:30pm - His Name Doesn’t Matter - Power Clashing Productions - HUGE Theater

Haven’t heard much about this one, but they’ve got 30 audience reviews and an average 5 star rating, so the people who are seeing it are liking it.  Bonus points for GLBT content, so that tips me in their favor.  On the schedule they go.

and later…

7pm - The Migraine Room (Photophobia) - Public Displays of Affection - Jungle Theater

Regular Fringers who’ve seen and described this one to me basically say it’s an oddity that was built to happen in something like the Fringe Festival.  Not to everyone’s taste (only five reviews and they average out to 3 stars), but that isn’t necessarily an indicator of anything one way or the other.  I could be its audience, or not.  Only one way to know for sure.  The only tricky thing is it apparently takes place in near darkness, so if I’m not careful, I may end up taking a power nap before the 8:30 show.  We shall see…