Sunday, July 29, 2018

Returning Favorite - Fearless Comedy Productions - Deep In The 100 Acre Wood: A “Pooh”-dunnit? - Minnsky Theatre

A film noir, murder mystery set in the nitty gritty 1930's with the loveable characters of Winnie-the-Pooh.

This one’s more in the mashup vein of their Shakespearean spin on Weekend At Bernie’s than Duck Washington’s original sketch comedy on the subject of race that was Caucasian Aggressive Pandas and Other Mulatto Tales.

But hey, who doesn’t love the idea of Winnie the Pooh at the center of a film noir tale of rival club owners like Rabbit and depressed torch singers like Eeyore?

As the press pitch materials say, “Learn all the dirty secrets kept in the Honey Pot and don't forget to keep an eye out for Heffalumps and Woozles.”

Here's some handy links to the full Top 10, Top 11-20 and Returning Favorites lists.

Returning Favorite - Shrieking Harpies - Augsburg Studio

The Shrieking Harpies are a musical improv trio featuring Lizzie Gardner, Taj Ruler, Hannah Wydeven, and with Justin Nellis on the keys.

Mom and I saw The Shrieking Harpies last year at the Fringe.

Improv comedy is impressive enough to me.

To also improvise either on the keyboard or vocally to create songs  out of thin air on the spot, that just seems magical.

As a part of that, also create coherent characters, plots and subplots, and keep all those balls in the air for 45 or 50 minutes.

Then somehow tie it all together in a satisfying and amusing way at the end.

An original, one-act musical that didn’t exist before showtime, and won’t ever exist again.

Five of those.


I’d sit through that again any old time.

Time to find a way to put them on the schedule.

Here's some handy links to the full Top 10, Top 11-20 and Returning Favorites lists.

Returning Favorite - Brad Lawrence - The Idaho Jackson Action Playset - Ritz Studio

The Cold War, The AIDS Crisis, random acts of violence, Satanism, nausea, sunstroke, and The Wonderful World of Disney – also known as childhood. Renowned storyteller Brad Lawrence makes sense of the Reagan era.

This time around Brad Lawrence is under the moniker of Nefarious Laboratory.  Last time he passed through the Minnesota Fringe Festival in 2016, with his one man storytelling show The Gospel of Sherilyn Fenn, it was HT Productions.  What’s in a name, right? 

The Gospel of Sherilyn Fenn was a 5 star Fringe show in my opinion, in a year that was surprisingly stuffed with high quality in shows of all stripes.

Some additional press info on this one says Lawrence “takes on childhood anxiety and the 80s with fast-paced humor” and in a longer synopsis, that litany of items listed above also includes “caged animals.” 

The shorter synopsis above promises that he’ll make sense of the Reagan era.  A longer one doesn’t promise that it’ll all make sense, so much as that he’ll “make comedy out of the shared national tragedy that was the Reagan era.”  So I think I’m sensing the direction the politics are tilting - not that I’m inclined to disagree. 

Sounds like another good solo show to have on the schedule.

Here's some handy links to the full Top 10, Top 11-20 and Returning Favorites lists.

Returning Favorite - The Winding Sheet Outfit - Blood Nocturne - Southern Theater

You may have heard of that Hungarian Countess. Killed 650 virginal girls. Tortured and maimed them. Bathed in their blood. That is the story we know. Because that is the story the world has chosen to hear.

Fringe staffer Amber Bjork can’t help wearing multiple hats this time of year.  Last year, she and her company The Winding Sheet Outfit had a hit show producing and directing The Memory Box of the Sisters Fox.

This year, it’s another deep dive into the story of a misunderstood female historical figure.  This time it’s a brand new musical, and it’s based on “the life and/or myth of 16th century Hungarian Countess Elizabeth Bathory.  She must defend the story of her true life in the midst of a chorus trying to thrill the audience with the legend that was built after her death--in which she tortured and killed 600 virginal girls and bathed in their blood. After all, we are apt to listen to salacious stories over bland truth.”

Another great local actress, Emily Dussault, is taking on the role of the Countess (and she also regularly sings at the Troubadour Wine Bar, so she’s up for the musical part of the story as well).

Sounds like we’re gearing up for another creepy, compelling story (this time with a song in its spooky little heart).

Here's some handy links to the full Top 10, Top 11-20 and Returning Favorites lists.

Returning Favorite - Tom Reed - Gunplay, and Couple Fight: The Musical (as part of Weggel-Reed Productions)

Gun Play - Set in the absurd alternate reality of America in 2018, this satire follows an attempt to stage a gun lobby group’s “hip, fun!” musical active shooter drill with high school theater students. - Mixed Blood

Couple Fight: The Musical - Real couples reenacting their real fights as a fully-fledged musical review. Enjoy new couples and returning favorites perform never-before-seen fights made palatable by clever writing and inspiring music. - Rarig Thrust

Tom Reed and his equally funny and talented wife Anna Weggel-Reed are serving up another round of Couple Fight - this time a musical version - but personally I’m more intrigued this year by Tom’s foray into a different kind of comedic playwriting.

Honestly, if anyone else was associated with a Fringe show that had the word gun in the title, I’d probably just skip on by (in fact, there is another one this year - Gunfighting: An American Story - I had to make myself go look at it just now - doesn’t sound bad - again, just not my thing).  I kept skipping past Gunplay, too.  Same reason.

And I agree with Alyssa DiVirgilio, who hosted the second round of Fringe previews alongside Duck Washington, it’s weird to be laughing about guns.

(Side note: Can we have Alyssa and Duck host everything from now on?  They were hilarious [and ever so slightly shady about some of the content], but never mean.  It was like getting a whole extra show.  Fantastic.)

I should probably have the same attitude to comedy about guns that I do to plays about Bush or Trump - it’s not funny, they’re killing people.  Shows in that category aren’t going to change anyone’s mind.  They’re preaching to the converted.  They’re allowing us to pat ourselves on the back and feel smug that we’re on the right side of an issue - unlike those “other people.”

So why am I giving this one a chance?  Reed’s stretching himself.

He’s not doing another musical parody of a pop culture phenomenon (Harry Potter, Twilight, Disney Princesses, Hunger Games, etc.) or doing his crooner improv act Lounge-asaurus Rex.  He’s writing a play with characters actually played by other people (and it’s a great ensemble he’s gathered for this one).

There’s still satire, still laughs, still original music, but there’s also a plot not based on someone else’s story for a change.  So I’m super-curious to see how it plays out.  The whole thing could flame out.  The whole thing could fall into that “aren’t non-liberal people silly?” self-congratulatory theater category.

But Reed chose the subject for a reason.  He’s trying a kind of playwriting I haven’t seen from him before.

He’s up to something.  I want to find out what it is.

Here's some handy links to the full Top 10, Top 11-20 and Returning Favorites lists.

Returning Favorites - Minnesota SkyVault Theatre Company - Night Sets Her Foot In Morocco - Rarig Arena

This farcical noir quickly turns into a Purgatorial comedy hodge-podge carload of misfits, driving across Texas, trying to avoid the law, ruffians, and plumbers.

This is a ridiculously talented cluster of young artists.  They act, they sing, they dance, they play multiple musical instruments - often all at the same time.  They also develop their own material, riffing off of classical texts and well-worn genres to turn them into something new, silly, and charming.

I had a great time at their take on Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing last year called Skirmish of Wit.  I’m expecting no less this year.

In addition to the blurb above, further story info says “Playing with the meta-narrative, Virgil, your radio show host, tells stories of Italian mobsters and Philosophical debates, while Sheriff Hammer and his two deputies do their best to keep order. But the rules of this world get tampered with, broken, and downright confusing.”

They say this time they’re “pulling inspiration from The Marx Brothers, Aristotle, and Pixar” so who knows where we’ll all end up - or how we’ll get there.

Hopefully I can get them on Mom’s schedule this time so she gets a chance to see them for herself.

Here's some handy links to the full Top 10, Top 11-20 and Returning Favorites lists.

Returning Favorite - The Fourth Wall - Fruit Flies Like A Banana - Celtic Junction

3 performers. 20+ pieces. Music, theatre, and dance collide in this madcap variety show, and YOU choose the order. Voted Best Family Show at Orlando Fringe. "Deft choreography" - The Wall Street Journal

This is year four for this trio at our Fringe.  Mom and I enjoyed all three previous outings, so I can’t imagine we wouldn’t enjoy it again.

The premise is simple, but the execution is dazzling.  The three performers of The Fourth Wall all play multiple musical instruments, both serious and silly, as well as sing and dance, and they manage to work in all three, as well as plenty of informational tidbits about the difference pieces they’re playing.

They have 20 short works to play through in just under an hour, and the audience determines the random order in which the pieces are performed.

They’re all very engaging stage performers, regardless of the hat they’re wearing for any given piece of music.  The Fruit Flies experience is always a lot of fun.  If you’re one of the few people who hasn’t seen them yet, you should treat yourself.

They’re part of the Family Fringe, so their schedule isn’t on the same set times as the regular Fringe, but they’re worth the juggling of your time.

Here's some handy links to the full Top 10, Top 11-20 and Returning Favorites lists.

Saturday, July 28, 2018

1 - Now We See It - Michael Rogers - Ritz Mainstage

What would you tell your younger self? In this coming-of-age ghost story, Sam comes face-to-face with the past. But as Sam tries desperately to change it, something sinister is close behind...

I could probably have just lumped this one in alongside Sheep Theater’s latest Fringe show Kaboom, since Michael Rogers is one of Sheep’s regular collaborators, and was part of the writing team for this June’s Sheep Theater production of The Minotaur or: Amelia Earhart is Alive and Traveling Through the Underworld.

But this is Rogers striking out on his own outside the Sheep Theater umbrella, so I thought it deserved special mention.

Artists whose work I like - check.  New play - check.  LGBTQ content - check.  Live score of original music - check.

Plus the promise of “lightsaber fights, gymnasium dances, and frightening visits from a mysterious shadow monster” so, what’s not to like?

The press release described it as part Stranger Things, part It’s A Wonderful Life.  It’s been further described as a “highly physical ensemble focused production is inspired by childhood trauma and nostalgia and a tribute of sorts to mental health when grappling with anxiety, depression, or other psychological illnesses and the process one has to go through to find healing and acceptance of where they are. It'll feature lightsabers, disco dancing, mario kart, spooks, thrills, and a heartfelt message.”

Count me in.

Here's some handy links to the full Top 10, Top 11-20 and Returning Favorites lists.

11 - The Things They Carried - Beardog Productions - Ritz Studio

"The Things They Carried" is a truthful, beautiful and courageous telling of what the war in Vietnam was like day to day for the soldiers who fought it. Memory, imagination, and the power of storytelling.

For this one, it’s the storyteller at the center of the piece. 

My first job as a stage manager when I moved to the Twin Cities after grad school was at the now-defunct Cricket Theater, which specialized in new plays.  And one of those new plays was an original one-man show by Jim Stowell.  We bonded and so I’ve been following Jim’s shows over the years since when I can. 

I saw a longer version of this adaptation with another actor in the role when it was done at the History Theater.  So I’m really interested to see what it’s like when Jim’s inhabiting the character. 

Mom’s never had a chance to meet Jim or see him at work, so that’s a bonus, too. 

One of the pitches for this play is: “Tim O'Brien - author of The Things They Carried - says a true war story makes your stomach believe. Your stomach will believe this play.” 

So, you know, go with your stomach.

Here's some handy links to the full Top 10, Top 11-20 and Returning Favorites lists.

Returning Favorite - Les Kurkendaal - Walking While Black In Moscow - Ritz Studio

Winner of The Sold Out Award at The Rogue Festival in Fresno.  Les has taken a trip to Russia.  There are not many black people in Russia so this is a whole new world for him.

Les loves the Minnesota Fringe Festival, and the Minnesota Fringe Festival loves him back.  It’s always a treat when the lottery brings Les back for another festival (he touts himself as “the longest returning out of town performer at the Minnesota Fringe” - since 2003)  Mom is one of Les’ biggest fans, and for her it doesn’t feel like a real Fringe if he’s not a part of it.  So we’re both looking forward to hearing about his latest adventures.

And this one sounds like a doozy: “He does not speak or read Russian. He quickly learns that people in Russia are not used to seeing black people.  He is also openly gay and let's just say Russia is not very fond of gays and lesbians. See how Les navigates his way through this new land that is way different to what he is used to dealing with.”

Yay!  More Les!

Here's some handy links to the full Top 10, Top 11-20 and Returning Favorites lists.

Friday, July 27, 2018

2 - Itchy Tingles - Heidi Arneson - Rarig Xperimental

Childhood in the eye of the tornado. Suburban gothic humor and exquisite classical guitar. A long-lost lake filled with secret urges, ardent mermaids, and ...what monsters lurk under the muck?! "BEAUTIFULLY VIVID."

(That’s all caps for emphasis at the end there.  I don’t think the critic was actually screaming when they were quoted.) 

Heidi Arneson was in the very first Minnesota Fringe Festival (and many thereafter) and she’s back for the 25th anniversary.  That all goes by way of saying, Heidi’s been doing this one-person show thing for longer than a lot of current Fringe artists have been alive.  She knows her stuff, and she’s always been pushing the envelope, either as a writer for others, or a performer of her own material.  But she doesn’t try to shock people just for the sake of shocking them.  There’s always a method to the way she offers up her unique point of view on the world.  It’s always struck me as an unexpected blend of worldliness and childlike wonder, even innocence. 

Not surprisingly, Arneson had a deeply weird Fringe preview.  One of the many things I appreciate about her art is that Heidi is not the least bit worried about making people uncomfortable.  If the culture got its act together and was less weirded out by things like sex and sexuality and young girls, Arneson’s work probably wouldn’t seem so out there.  Guess she’ll keep doing her act until the day arrives when it’s no longer necessary.

The press release captures it best, so here’s sampling:

“Music and story overlay in a translucent reveal:  Secrets of a hidden childhood. Fish-heads are nailed to the trees. A killer lurks under the muck. The lips of one girl must never touch the lips of another.

But our heroine falls dangerously in love with the new girl and is cast into a maelstrom of wishes-come-true. A midcentury summer on a midwestern lake embellished with the compositions of Spanish prodigy Isaac Albeniz.

Seen through the eyes of a kid-size strike-anywhere match, the world is full of mystery. Monsters wait around every corner. The secrets of reproduction are in unending lockboxes. The keys are hidden in every crack in the neighborhood. But beware! When you're the baby of ten in a house full of life, you better learn fast how to disappear, for death waits behind every wall, under the murky waters, and in that kitchen oven. 

Here is a land lost, where kids run naked and swim free. Siblings shoot arrows into siblings. Fathers burst with hot lava. Mothers dispense underhand wisdom. And myths of good and evil, sex and suppertime, and love and death multiply unseen in moist lakeside basements like mildew on hidden Playboy magazines.

Here are flowers waiting to be pried open. Here are oversize snapping turtles. Here is the ever-gardening neighbor with a clothesline full of square-dance petticoats.

And here the moon dances, a white snake on black water.

You sit in the dark grass hugging your knees. Your tongue stained with popsicle, your skin covered in mosquito bites, the air full of  popping bratwurst: How much trouble you can make before winter falls?

Childhood's unselfconscious rebelliousness in translucent layers, like shimmering mermaid-tails, of symbolism, celebration, and reverence.”

A world premiere of a new piece by Heidi Arneson is quality Fringe time, so of course she ends up near the top of my Top 10 list.

I’m not sure Mom’ll be a fan, too, but she’s up for watching any Fringer do their thing at least once.  We shall see.

Here's some handy links to the full Top 10, Top 11-20 and Returning Favorites lists.

12 - Gay Hot American Summer - GIRL Theatre - Rarig Arena

It's the last day of summer at Camp Butchbark, and this band of rowdy queer counselors enjoys a final day of missing campers, a horrific talent show, and the culmination of some steamy summer romances.

I saw GIRL Theatre’s Broad Sex in the Twin Cities last year (in the what used to be the encore slot) the final night of the Fringe in their venue, since they drew the biggest crowds out to Strike Theater (they also lay claim to being the most reviewed show on the Fringe site last year).

The show was a really nice capper to the 2017 Fringe year for me.  The show was freewheeling, funny and weird, kind of lewd and very sex-positive.  Put young women in charge, you get good entertainment - what a concept, eh?

They appear to be skewing a bit more queer this year as well with another new play, so, all to the good, in my opinion.

Further info they provide says it’s another “a female-centric original comedy, completely produced and created by youth! We are focusing on queer love stories in college, highlighting the nuances and joys of discovering and celebrating our identities.”  It’s “very very very loosely based on the cult classic Wet Hot American Summer. Gay Hot American Summer reminds you of those parent-free days of youth, following a band of counselors as they romp through the Great Minnesota Outdoors. Under the leadership of one very hysteric 19-year-old lesbian, these 6 young counselors navigate love, nature, and runaway children in one final hot summer day.”

Here's some handy links to the full Top 10, Top 11-20 and Returning Favorites lists.

Returning Favorite - Theatre Unbound - A Gertrude Stein Christmas - Augsburg Mainstage

Devised by the ensemble from Stein’s play "Turkey and Bones and Eating and We Liked It." If you’ve ever felt like an expatriate at your own family holidays, “A Gertrude Stein Christmas” will ring a few bells.

When I think Gertrude Stein, I think Christmas.

And when I think Christmas, I think Gertrude Stein.

Actually no, I totally don’t think either of those things.  Which is what makes this latest outing by the women of Theatre Unbound so delightfully peculiar.

So they’re on the list.  I know Mom’ll probably want to see it, too.

Here's some handy links to the full Top 10, Top 11-20 and Returning Favorites lists.

3 - The Flashlight Zone: 20 Science Fiction Plays in One Hour - Flash Grenade Productions - TRP

20 Science Fiction plays performed rapid-fire in under an hour. Aliens, robots, time travel and more - all at the speed of light!

I was bummed when I missed this show’s first outing at the Phoenix this past spring, so I was happy to see it pop up on the list of shows in the Fringe this summer.

Their recent Fringe preview was a real standout, too - a high energy, very funny scene in which a mime invades an office and slowly takes over another person’s job just by pretending.

Also, in my notes, I notice I scribbled “Artists of color!” - I should add, a majority of artists of color in the ensemble. (No offense intended to anyone, but the first round of Fringe previews were a pretty lily white night until Flash Grenade showed up.  It’s another way the company stood out from the crowd.)

I like a generous dollop of scifi as part of my entertainment diet, and Flashlight Zone should do nicely.

Here’s some more context: “The Flashlight Zone: 20 Science Fiction Plays in One Hour is a fast-paced sprint through the world of Science Fiction. Over the span of one hour, twenty short plays will explore space aliens, time travel, and artificial intelligence. Inspired by Chicago's Neo-Futurists and a century of Futurist writers, this show puts the audience in control as they choose the order of the plays while the performers race against the clock!”

And some more: “Alone, a robot toils in an underground room. A soldier receives a mysterious message from their future self. A self driving car becomes self-aware. And that's just the beginning… Space Aliens and strange technologies abound alongside deep questions about what it means to be human in a rapidly changing world.”

Here's some handy links to the full Top 10, Top 11-20 and Returning Favorites lists.

13 - Abeyance - Tyler West - Strike Theater

Tyler waits in the lobby for an important job interview and everything goes wrong! He traps himself in a vending machine, falls asleep, farts bubbles and more! The show is entirely mimed with live sound effects.

I know, I know.  Mime.  And audience participation.  The horror!

But it’s not completely silent mime performance, the man’s doing his own sound effects (he calls it microphoned mime).

And check out the performance clips in the video he put together for the Indiegogo campaign to help fund his Fringe tour this year - the audience participation looks un-intimidating, even for Minnesotans.  (He’ll even tell you what Abeyance means, so you don’t even have to look it up.)

He’s another visiting artist, who debuted this show last year in Tucson.  This year he’s headed here as well as the San Diego Fringe.  We’re only his third Fringe.

In addition to the mishaps with vending machines and the farting of bubbles, there are also dreams of being a knight, or going on a date with a mermaid.

All that, plus the show image, makes me feel like it might be a lot of fun.  So, on the list it goes.

Here's some handy links to the full Top 10, Top 11-20 and Returning Favorites lists.

Returning Favorite - Neal Skoy (as part of Neptune) - A Farewell To Armadillos - Strike Theater

Clowns come in. Clowns do some stuff. Clowns go out. Now, there might be some Hemingway allegories along the way, but don't hold your breath. Seriously, don't. Have you ever seen a clown do CPR? Just...don't.

Neal Skoy’s 2016 Fringe show The Disillusionist was neart the top of my top 10 list of shows I was anticipating that year, and also in the top 10 of shows I most enjoyed once the dust on that festival had settled.

So if Skoy’s involved, I’ll be there.

Even if you think you don’t like clowns, give this one a try.  You might be pleasantly surprised.

Here's some handy links to the full Top 10, Top 11-20 and Returning Favorites lists.

4 - Saint Ex - Spaceheater - Rarig Arena

A physical poem. This wild, fervent, and tender tale unravels the life and love of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, confronting the relationship between artist and muse.

I know Nathan Gebhard’s work first through collaboration with his brother Kris.  Now he’s back from New York with a show of his own.  That was really I needed to know to sign on for this one.

But that instinct is reinforced when I read things like this from the Fringe show’s director Jeesun Choi: “Saint Ex embodies what it’s like to be human.  To love and to love something so much that it breaks. And then to love it back to life and transformation. Saint Ex uses the lives of Consuelo and Antoine as a springboard to show how people want to be inspired and be inspirational. How we want to gift each other with the life-giving energy.”

And I’m also the kind of theater geek that gets excited when a theater company talks about itself like this: “Co-founded in 2016 by Jon Dahl and Nathan Gebhard, Spaceheater is an (a)venue for collaboration in the levees between dance and theatre. Growing from roots in Minnesota, the budding company is currently based between New York and Hamburg, Germany. Spaceheater is a process, a venue to share, an avenue to explore, an arena to greet challenges in, and most vitally an artery to transmit questions from the heart. Creating together across the ocean definitely poses challenges, but they discover the work through the process of art as a collaborative conversation, held together by trust.”

So, I’m there.

Here's some handy links to the full Top 10, Top 11-20 and Returning Favorites lists.

14 - Sfanta (Holy One) - D Lobontiu - Strike Theater

This solo show set in a 1680's Moldovan convent follows Teodora, who yearns to be a Saint only for the glory. Her path is barred by her betrothed Gheorghe, a romance with Iosefina, and a looming Ottoman attack.

This has new play, queer content, religious content, comedy, and visiting artist all going for it.

The first-time writer/producer/performer Diana Lobontiu is fresh out of Wellesley College and taking her act on the road - the act being her senior thesis project.

Lobontiu says it “takes an absurdist, comedic dive into the lengths to which we go to replace love with recognition and respect,” and “represents a crossroads of many of my identities: queer, Romanian, ex-Catholic.”

She’s been regularly showing up in my email box and her last email sold me because it made me laugh.  “Whenever a character feels the need to swear, they do so in Romanian, and there are some interesting Romanian swear words out there.”  The one she shared in her email translates roughly as “I’ll hang my underwear on your mother’s cross.”  I’m just wondering what other colorful turns of phrase are in there.

There’s a show trailer, and for the curious, another video posting of more excerpts you can check out.

Here's some handy links to the full Top 10, Top 11-20 and Returning Favorites lists.

Returning Favorites - Shanan Custer, Joshua English Scrimshaw, and Tim Uren

One person, connected to five Fringe shows:

Not Fair, My Lady - Colleen Somerville Productions - Mixed Blood Theater

Not Fair, My Lady! is an all-woman, company-created musical theatre parody review! It's 2018 and misogyny is alive and well on Broadway. And in the world. Everywhere. Let's...sing about it! Shit.

The Mysterious Old Radio Listening Society vs. the Nazis - Rarig Thrust

 Join the Society for two classic World War II era thrillers from the golden age of radio, performed in the style of an old-time radio broadcast, including original announcements, commercials and sound effects.

Our Best Life - Custer and Schmidt - Rarig Thrust

Despite global and personal chaos, Shanan & Emily are living their best lives! I mean, really trying! Do you believe them yet?! Through delightfully funny sketches, they prove everything's fine. (Nothing's fine.)

Right, Wrong or Bomb! A Dating Musical - Backyard to Broadway Productions - Mixed Blood

Right, Wrong or Bomb! A Dating Musical is a musical comedy that celebrates the trials, tribulations and joys of online dating. The story follows three gal pals, one mother and those they meet along the way.

Couple Fight: The Musical - Weggel-Reed Productions - Rarig Thrust

Real couples reenacting their real fights as a fully-fledged musical review. Enjoy new couples and returning favorites perform never-before-seen fights made palatable by clever writing and inspiring music. (I'll touch on that one in another post, as it's tied to another returning favorite.)

and by extension, also

The Screaming Skull - Ghoulish Delights - Rarig Thrust

In this one-man adaptation of F. Marion Crawford's classic ghost story, a sailor spends a stormy night descending into drink and madness, haunted by the cries of a woman he may have inadvertently helped murder.

Speaking of merry bands of co-conspirators, and artists who regularly crank out quality Fringe entertainment, I have the usual multi-show overlap I do every year when discussing Shanan Custer, Joshua English Scrimshaw, and Tim Uren.  Shanan’s involved in (unless I missed one) at least five Fringe shows this year.  She directed the dating musical Right, Wrong or Bomb (video of their Fringe preview here); she’s performing in the Mysterious Old Radio Listening Society vs. the Nazis, Couple Fight: The Musical, and Our Best Life; and she was also writer on Our Best Life, and Not Fair, My Lady.  (How is she still standing?  I'm tired just typing all that.)  Tim Uren and Joshua English Scrimshaw are also part of The Mysterious Old Radio Listening Society vs. the Nazis; and Tim is also the brains behind Ghoulish Delights’ horror offering The Screaming Skull.  (oh, and Joshua and his artistic collaborator Levi Weinhagen got pulled up off the wait list at the last minute for another offering from their physical comedy duo Comedy Suitcase, called...)

Slapdash Panic: Comedy Suitcase Ended Up In The Fringe Festival With 3 Weeks Notice and No Show! - at Strike Theater

On July 10th, a last minute spot opened up. Suddenly Comedy Suitcase was in the Fringe! Now, Levi and Joshua give audiences a peak behind the curtain and show them how they build a show from nothing to finished.

Not Fair, My Lady had one of the best Fringe previews - great singing, great attitude, with bonus swearing, so I’m very much looking forward to seeing that one.  I think Mom’ll be on board, too. (Oh, and their official show trailer is also scathing and hilarious, too.  Check that out.)

I loved the first Fringe iteration of the Mysterious Old Radio Listening Society last year.  It was like stepping back in time into a classic radio broadcast.  That one was a horror story.  WWII radio broadcast recreations should be just as fun, because Nazis are firmly in the rearview mirror for our society and not at all relevant to the present day.  Ah, nostalgia.

Comedy Suitcase always does great work, so that'll be worth seeing for a laugh - whatever they come up with :) 

I’m not much for horror, personally, but I do like the smart, often mischievous way that Tim Uren serves it up through his company Ghoulish Delights, so I’ll probably steel my spine and see The Screaming Skull, too.

Here's some handy links to the full Top 10, Top 11-20 and Returning Favorites lists.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

5 - Hit The Lights! Theater Co.'s two-fer - Horsetale - Whales

Horsetale - Hit The Lights! Theater Co. - Celtic Junction

Using handmade shadow puppetry, three vintage overhead projectors, original folk music, and American iconography, a Horse and it's Tail become separated and, in their search for each other, find themselves.


Whales - Hit the Lights! Theater Co. - Ritz Mainstage

Inspired by punk rock, game shows, puppetry and Herman Melville’s masterpiece Moby-Dick, HTL! invites you to catch a glimpse of the dark world that brought us a legendary white whale and the men that hunt him.

Every year on this list there are a couple of super easy calls.  This is one of them.

Hit The Lights! Theater Co. wowed the Fringe community here last year with packed houses for their shadow puppetry and physical theater work in Dungeon.

They’re back again with a two-fer - which I’m doubly ambivalent about to be honest, two shows for one company, for starters; then the fact that one of them is in a mini-festival that’s curated in the midst of our famously and proudly non-curated festival - but that’s a whole other set of conversations.

Setting that other stuff aside for a sec, Hit The Lights does great work.  While I wasn’t quite as transported as a lot of theater folk I knew were (spoiler alert: wait, you mean, after all that, they both die at the end?), I couldn’t deny that Dungeon was a hell of a fun ride while it lasted.  So I’m really looking forward to catching at least one, hopefully both, of these offerings (another weird wrinkle, those off-cycle start times for the Family Fringe shows where Horsetale is.  Oh well.)

Both of the preview videos look like a lot of fun, too, in Hit the Lights’ signature style, which they describe this way: “Using found materials, flashlights, vintage overhead projectors and cardboard, HTL! specializes in the transformation of the ordinary into the extraordinary. HTL! also focuses on the interplay between darkness and light, utilizing shadow puppetry as the lifeblood of their storytelling. The company is comprised of six experienced multidisciplinary artists: puppeteers, actors, musicians, vocalists, artisans, and everything in between.”

Also in Whales’ favor, it was nominated for three NYC Innovative Theatre Awards - Outstanding Design (puppets), Music and Premiere of a Play.  Regardless of the circumstances, I’m very glad they're back so I can share their work with Mom this year.

Here's some handy links to the full Top 10, Top 11-20 and Returning Favorites lists.

15 - Cyrano on the Moon - Red Dice Collective - Ritz Studio

Cyrano awakens in the afterlife to engage in one last battle against the Vices and Corruption of Man, as Roxanne struggles to reconcile his tumultuous legacy and her love.

A new play sequel to Cyrano de Bergerac.  Not a whole lot of information here, either.  I’m drawn in by the concept and the title.

And the thing that sold me on it is the director, Mason Tyer,  is another actor who also just worked on that scene from a new play of mine in the T.E.A.S.E. new play showcase.  So I want to see what happens when he puts on his director’s hat.

Here's some handy links to the full Top 10, Top 11-20 and Returning Favorites lists.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Returning Favorite - Mainly Me Productions - A Justice League of Their Own - TRP

When the male superheroes are called away to fight an intergalactic war, the female superheroes rise up to protect their city by forming: A Justice League of Their Own. Who save the world?

I don’t really have to sell Josh Carson and his band of merry co-conspirators, do I?  They’re so good at selling their own shows.  And they’re better than nearly every other Fringe show on delivering quality comedy year after year.

Mom always insists on seeing Mainly Me’s production each year, and I’m in full agreement.  Once again, last year’s The Wright Stuff was up there in the top 10 of my favorite Fringe shows I saw in 2017.  Whatever they’re offering, I’m looking forward to seeing it.  God knows we could use the laughs these days.

This year, a team of female superheroes - who had an (unsurprisingly) fun Fringe preview, a promise of good things to come.

Here's some handy links to full Top 10, Top 11-20 and Returning Favorites lists.

6 - The Immaculate Big Bang - Bill Santiago - Strike Theater

Sparked by the death of his father and birth of his daughter, Comedy Central Comedian Bill Santiago goes in search of answers and laughs at the border of science and religion.

Life, death, comedy, religion and science.  Pretty much all I need to know.

If you check his Fringe page, the guy’s got quite the resume and all sorts of glowing reviews.

And if you want a quick preview, there’s a page devoted to the show on his website.

This is one Mom will appreciate, too, and I’m sure it’ll spark quite a conversation one way or the other for us when it’s done.  Looking forward to it.

Here's some handy links to full Top 10, Top 11-20 and Returning Favorites lists.

16 - Bits and Bobs: An Evening of Short Plays - Trompe L'Oeil - TRP

SOMETHING FOR EVERYONE: Five actors perform five shows for five times the fun. Join us for an evening of short plays presented by TROMPE L'OEIL featuring a potpourri of comedy, drama and a dollop of surrealism.

I was honestly surprised that I hadn’t already put local theater company Trompe L’Oeil on any of my lists prior to this year.  I’ve seen several of their previous shows and quite liked The Red Tureen and The Forger’s Apprentice.

They’re always doing new work, which I’m a fan of at the Fringe.  This little sampler platter of short plays looks like a great way to introduce yourself to their work, if you’re not already familiar with it. 

It also has an actor in the cast, Andrew Rosdail, who just did a scene from a play of mine in the recent T.E.A.S.E. new play showcase from Little Lifeboats earlier this July, so I’m inclined to be supportive for that reason as well.

Bonus points for a truly weird preview featuring a bunch of butter sculptures (one of whom had an amusing block head made out of foam).

Also, they have someone listed on their cast and crew page as an Intimacy Choreographer - so there’s that.

Here's some handy links to full Top 10, Top 11-20 and Returning Favorites lists.

Returning Favorite - Sheep Theater - Kaboom - Rarig Thrust

A nuclear missile is mistakenly armed and nothing is able to prevent it from launching. Kaboom. A new play presented by Sheep Theater (2018 Best of City Pages).

Even though Sheep Theater’s twisted take on Pinocchio didn’t top my list of favorites last year, it was still quite good, and fun to to share with Mom.

Sheep did, however, make my top 10 list for theater in 2017 which I saw outside the Fringe, not once, but twice with The Assassination of the Archduke of Austria-Hungary Franz Ferdinand, and The Good Boy and The Kid.  So of course, they’re high on my list of shows to check out once again this year.

And again, so nice that they’re doing a show that’s a complete fantasy which could never happen in real life, right?  A fuller synopsis says: “Mistakenly thinking nuclear destruction is at hand, the President arms a nuclear missile in blind retaliation and then he and the Vice President go missing, leaving no one able to stop the launch. Kaboom.”  Yeah, total fantasy.  Yikes.

It’s often hard for theater companies to talk about the work they do simply.  Sheep doesn’t have that problem.  They describe themselves, quite accurately, as a group that “writes and performs their own original stories of both epic and intimate proportions. Sometimes strange, sometimes insane, sometimes dark, sometimes silly. The plays created by Sheep Theater are all produced with simplicity, scrappiness, and honesty.”  I can’t think of a better or more succinct way to describe them.  These are theater people who know who they are and what they’re doing.

There are many reasons this group of artists got tagged as the City Pages’ best theater troupe for 2018.  If you haven’t seen why for yourself yet, you really should.

Here's some handy links to full Top 10, Top 11-20 and Returning Favorites lists.

7 - (a) Normal Theatre Play - Goof Goof - Strike Theater

Goof Goof tests the boundaries of theatre with their adaptation of a classic loved by many generations. (a) Normal Theatre Play is inspired by the Absurdist theatre movement, Dadaism, and Pixar.

One half of the duo known as Goof Goof is Liv Augusta, and that’s pretty much all I need to know.  She’s a very talented and funny woman.

I know this first hand because she played the role of a lesbian astronaut negotiating with a sex robot to figure out how to repopulate the galaxy with the human race after Earth is destroyed.  That weird little script is one I wrote and she and her fellow cast members made it work, for which I remain ever grateful.

So even if the concept for (a) Normal Theatre Play sounds pretentious, if Liv’s involved, I know it has a very healthy sense of humor.  The Fringe preview for Goof Goof only confirmed that.  I am ready to be entertained.

The press pitch says that Liv and comedy partner Phillip Schramm “met in 2014 doing a show they don't talk about. Goof Goof started as a joke backstage, trying to see if they could do improv replacing any dialogue with the word ‘goof.’  What started as a joke has transformed into a constantly evolving experiment, testing boundaries of theater. They have done improv shows, site-specific interactive experiences, and semi-scripted interactive shows. This show is a new experiment, adapting, and hopefully not ruining, a beloved classic.”

One of the script consultants is Denzel Belin, another multi-talented person who once directed another short play of mine, so if he’s involved, that’s added reason to give the show a look.

Here's some handy links to full Top 10, Top 11-20 and Returning Favorites lists.

17 - Illinois Boy Blues - Deacon Gamzee Productions - Augsburg Studio

Part historical, part stand up, part drama, Illinois Boy Blues is the story of an abandoned boy, turned bluesman, Romaine Ri’chard. He recalls his journey in life as a foster child, musician, sex addict and life-long resident of Illinois. We see that Romaine has all the qualities of a seasoned entertainer, but what’s preventing him from reaching his fullest potential? No one can tell it better than the man that knows him best, Raydius. This fallen star’s unraveling story will shine a light on racism, prostitution, fame and a little boy’s infatuation with the “Land of Lincoln.”

Not a whole lot more information to go on here.

He’s another visiting artist from out of town and had a previous one-man show that garnered a lot of positive attention and some awards elsewhere on the Fringe circuit.

The subject matter piqued my interest so I figured it was worth a look.

I'm not entirely sure how improv and audience participation figure into subject matter like this, but hey, live dangerously, right?

Here's some handy links to full Top 10, Top 11-20 and Returning Favorites lists.

Returning Favorite - Minnerican Productions - Broken English, Mother Tongue - Mixed Blood

Stories of growing up between languages and cultures of Puerto Rico and the US. This post-hurricane update of a 2016 Fringe favorite will have its east coast premiere at the juried 2018 NYC Fringe Festival.

Javier Morillo was a favorite of both mine and Mom’s last year with his one-man storytelling show A Resister's Handbook (for holding onto optimism in shitty times).  He was in the top 10 shows I was anticipating before the Fringe, and among the top 10 shows I enjoyed the most actually seeing in the Fringe.

I missed Broken English, Mother Tongue the first time around, so I’m glad it’s back with a post-hurricane Puerto Rico update this year.  I’m sure Mom will be, too.

Some additional press info I received says: “Javier Morillo weaves personal stories of growing on a US Army base in Puerto Rico with the history of the island’s complex relationship to the United States. Note: The audience may be quizzed on its knowledge of Puerto Rican history—but don’t worry—like Puerto Rico, all answers are, well, complicated. Morillo is a Minnesota labor leader, storyteller, writer, and noted political commentator.”

For a little sample, you can check out the video of his Fringe preview.

Here's some handy links to the full Top 10, Top 11-20 and Returning Favorites lists.

8 - Dangerous When Wet: Booze, Sex, and My Mother - Jamie Brickhouse - Augsburg Studio

A sodomite's wickedly intoxicating odyssey from small-town sissy to louche Manhattanite as he hits alcoholic bottom and discovers he can’t escape the all-consuming love of his Texas tornado of a mother Mama Jean.

When someone sends you a press release saying, “I’m bringing my sodomite solo show to the Minnesota Fringe Festival,” you can bet it’s probably one of the gayest things you’ll see this year.  And after looking at the teaser video for the show, I’m sold.

He also says “mothers LOVE my show” so I probably have to bring Mom to see it as well.

The show’s gotten all kinds of positive critical notice in New York.  This excerpt from his Fringe page will give you a taste of this stage adaptation of his memoir:

“From the age of five stuck in Beaumont, Texas, all Jamie wanted was to be at a cocktail party with a martini in one hand and a cigarette in the other. All Mama Jean wanted was to keep him at that age, her Jamie doll forever. A Texan Elizabeth Taylor with the split personality of Auntie Mame and Mama Rose, she never had a thought she didn’t speak. Mama Jean cast a long shadow throughout Jamie’s life, no matter how deep in booze he swam or how far away from her amid New York’s drinking set he strayed. She unwittingly saves him as he discovers the meaning of love—Mama Jean’s kind of love.”

I don’t need it to be much gayer than that to entice me to go, but if you do, the show was directed by David Drake, who got an Obie Award back in the day for writing and performing his own one-man show The Night Larry Kramer Kissed Me.

Here's some handy links to full Top 10, Top 11-20 and Returning Favorites lists.

18 - Delightfully Rude - Elaine Orion - Ritz Studio

She’s been called “the female Doug Stanhope” by a heckler in a blackout and “brave” for performing in Trump-friendly bars. Elaine’s stand-up comedy is most enjoyed by those accepting the end of the world.

Honestly, there is precious little information on this one.

I think she’s a visiting artist from out of town.

I found a fairly dormant website for a comedian named Elaine Orion but I’m not 100 percent sure it’s hers.

Really, it was the press pitch in the materials I was sent by the Fringe that amused me enough to put her on the list:

“Elaine would call the show ‘unapologetically feminist’ but she wants people to actually show up.”

Sometimes that’s all I need.

(oh, and if, like me, you were wondering, "who's Doug Stanhope?"  He has a website.)

Here's some handy links to full Top 10, Top 11-20 and Returning Favorites lists.

Returning Favorite - Grand Island Theatre - Hamlet, but Hamlet's a Chicken - Minnsky Theatre

It’s a production of Hamlet, but Hamlet is played by a chicken. “Like a person in a chicken suit?” No, an actual chicken. “’s Hamlet, but Hamlet’s a chicken?” Yes.

These folks almost ended up on this year’s Top 20 list, until I realized that they were already on last year’s Top 20, listed under a completely different name (Jammed Desk Productions).  They did last year’s What You Will, Shakepeare’s Twelfth Night with a trans twist, which I quite liked.

This year, it’s Hamlet, with a chicken twist.  Part of me thinks, after all the Shakespeare I’ve seen (and all the many Hamlets I’ve seen), that I should be able to resist this gimmick.  But I find myself strangely defenseless against it.  I just have to see how this works (or doesn’t).

Originally the cast list had Hamlet being played by Attila the Hen, but now three chickens from the University of Minnesota’s Pet Away Worry and Stress program (or PAWS) are sharing the role.  I’m honestly kind of glad that I don’t have to possibly rank a chicken higher than human artists on this year’s list, so, phew.

Here's some handy links to the full Top 10, Top 11-20 and Returning Favorites lists.

9 - A Part of Me - Imagined Theatre - Southern Theater

A musical drama about two chronically ill patients: Sean, a musician, and young Jimmy. Over guitar lessons and with those that care for them, they explore life, hope, and the ever-present specter of death.

I’m partial to plays that include guitar music these days, since I’m writing a few myself, so I’m always interested in seeing the way other people tackle the fusion of the two.

This is also a theater company I got to know at first, oddly enough, not here, but down in Kansas, when we both had scripts being read last year at the William Inge Theatre Festival.  Their play down there was also in last year’s Fringe here in Minneapolis.

In addition, I’m curious to see Dan Piering (who was one of the sailor chorus in the Guthrie’s South Pacific a couple of years ago) headlining a play of his own.

Not sure I want to dwell on “the ever present specter of death” all that much, but if there’s good music - as featured in their clever show image - I might not mind quite so much.

The extended synopsis fleshes out the concept a bit more: “One guitar, two patients, five lives at the intersection of life and death. A Part of Me is an original musical drama about hospital patients with chronic illness, and their relationships with their family and caregivers. The story focuses on two patients: Sean, a travelling musician, and Jimmy, a boy who shares the same illness. Over guitar lessons and their interactions with those that care for them, life and death are explored in story and song.”  Their Fringe preview was also promising, so I’m looking forward to seeing the whole thing.

Here's some handy links to full Top 10, Top 11-20 and Returning Favorites lists.

19 - TITUS: Sweet Water, Silent Walks - The BAND Group - Rarig Thrust

Beginning as a "traditional" Shakespeare play, the story devolves into a dynamic physical staging told through the POV of Lavinia; to echo the plight she and other assault victims have with no one to turn to.

I was intrigued by the concept but unsure exactly how it might work.  Their Fringe preview sold me on the idea, howeverTitus Andronicus is one of Shakespeare’s nuttier plays but you have to admit it has a real kick to it.  Combination spoiler alert and trigger warning here, I guess (though if you can’t talk openly about a 400 year old play at this point, we can’t have a conversation): Among many, many other plot points, there’s the following - The sons of Titus’ enemy rape his daughter Lavinia, and then cut out her tongue and cut off her hands to prevent her from telling anyone who did it (among other secrets she’s also witnessed).  In the end, Titus ends up killing those sons, baking them up in a pie, and serving them to his enemy - their mother - for dinner.

Going from play with words to silent representative dance piece is a really clever way to riff off of the Lavinia character’s plight, and the ensemble on display in the Fringe preview looks like they can deliver on the premise so I’m really interested to see the full production.

Also The BAND Group interests me as a company.  Like similarly community-minded Uprising Theater, BAND (Beyond Acceptance, No Discrimination) partners with non-profit organizations whose mission connects with the subject matter in their productions.  For the Fringe show, it’s Cornerstone in Bloomington, whose goal is to reduce the prevalence of domestic violence, sexual violence, and human trafficking.

Here's some handy links to full Top 10, Top 11-20 and Returning Favorites lists.

Returning Favorite - Gabriel Mata/Movements - Dreaming - Southern Theater

With wit, leaps, kicks, and unpredictability, the dance shuffles through episodes that expose the psychology of dreams. Desire, experiences, turns, and movement make up this dance work.

Gabriel Mata was high on last year’s Top 10 list for me (at #5), and my instinct wasn’t wrong, just too low.

His solo dance show, Out of the Shadows, was my favorite Fringe show last year.  I saw it three times, and I hardly ever see a Fringe show twice.

So even though he moved away from the Twin Cities, I was very happy to see he’s back again this year as a visiting artist.  I’m very much looking forward to Dreaming.  You should be, too.  Here’s a video preview if you need more convincing.

(Bonus points: Gabriel addressed his undocumented status in passing in last year’s show.  This year’s show will be dealing with it as primary subject matter.  Some added press info I received describes the show as “a 50 minute talking dance solo on the theme of sleeping and dreams. The works dives deep beyond the living experiences of being a Dreamer/DACA status and being an immigrant, it exposes the psychological and mental trauma that accompanies the situation.” If you wanted to see a show that was sure to freak Attorney General Jeff Sessions out the most, this’d be it.)

Here's some handy links to the full Top 10, Top 11-20 and Returning Favorites lists.

10 - There Goes the Gayborhood - Libra Moon Productions - Strike Theater

A close-knit group of friends disbands after a disastrous reunion episode of their reality show. Five years later, their apartment building and favorite bar will be destroyed unless they can reunite to save it.

I saw Jakey Emmert’s previous Fringe show back in 2013 (They Shoot 25-Year-Old Gay Men, Don't They?) and was most amused, so I was happy to see he’s back again (second from the left in this picture) with more as writer/director/performer in this new ensemble comedy.

Further press info says it’s “a comedy influenced by the themes of growing out of your friend group, the strange and magical time of your late twenties and early thirties, and good old-fashioned gentrification -- all presented as a Bravo-inspired reality show.”

New play, gay, funny, proven track record.  All I need to hear.

Here's some handy links to the full Top 10, Top 11-20 and Returning Favorites lists.