Saturday, August 1, 2015

Fringe Festival 2015: "We Do Every Show in the Fringe"

Day: 2

Show: 8

Category: Comedy

By: Fat Bottom Jones

Created by: The Performers of Fat Bottom Jones

Location: New Century Theatre

Summary: Local improv comedy experts choose one of the 174 Fringe shows at random and perform it based on the photo and description.

Highlights: Last year it was called Four Humors Does Every Show in the Fringe, but despite the name change, it's the same performers and concept, which is a combination made for hilarity. Last night the ball chosen was Really Spicy Opera's The Clever Artifice of Harriet and Margaret, described as "Opera by women, about women, featuring nothing but women! Harriet and Margaret meet for tea... or do they? Hidden agendas and secrets lurk behind the rivals' smiles, while their inner voices reveal the truth." This all-male cast riffed on the idea of inner voices and the phrase "or do they," under the leadership of "director" Jason Ballweber who would occasionally interject to steer the show in a new direction. Brant Miller was Harriet and guest performer Andy Kraft was Margaret (or vice versa, they kept getting the names confused), while Nick Ryan and Matt Spring were the inner voices, standing just behind them and voicing their inner monologues (which, let's face it, we all have running at all times). Ryan Lear filled in all the other roles. At one point even the inner monologue had an inner monologue, and that inner monologue had an inner monologue, and that inner monologue had an inner monologue, which perhaps says something profound about the inner psyche, or else it's just silliness. This being an opera, there wasn't as much singing as I (or keyboard accompanist/sound effects man Nic Delcambre) would like, but at least we got a big closing number "Inside Paul's Brain" - yes, they eventually broke down and introduced a male character in this story about women. If you go you will not see this show, but something just as surprising and clever and laugh out loud funny.

Fringe Festival 2015: "Petunia and Chicken"

Day: 2

Show: 7

Category: Drama

Created by: Animal Engine

Location: Illusion Theater

Summary: This husband and wife physical theater duo from New York tells a story of an immigrant girl and a boy with big dreams, inspired by the writing of Willa Cather.

Highlights: The story is similar to My Ántonia, but with a few twists. Petuna (Ántonia) meets Chicken (Jim Burden) when they're children on the Nebraska prairie, with dreams of their future that may or may not come true. Carrie Brown and Karim Mausher play all of the roles in the story (both human and inanimate), with only a scarf and a hat as props (Minnesota Fringe regulars might recognize them as a two-person Transatlantic Love Affair). Willa Cather's writing is so evocative of a certain time and place in our country's history, filled with wistful nostalgia for a world that no longer exists (see also Illusion Theater's production of My Ántonia). This show captures that feeling, but with a bit more humor and light mixed in with the drama. Carrie and Karim are just delightful to watch as they transform from old people to children to animals to the waving wheat, and and to listen to as they sing old-timey songs. A beautiful story beautifully and inventively told with physicality, music, heart, and humor.

Fringe Festival 2015: "Manners and Misconduct: Improvised Jane Austen"

Day: 2

Show: 6

Category: Comedy

By: Burnt Nightingale Productions

Created by: Burnt Nightingale Productions

Location: Illusion Theater

Summary: A nine-woman cast improvises a Jane Austen-esque story based on a title suggested on Facebook or Twitter and names suggested by the audience.

Highlights: The play I saw was titled Vanity and Virtue - it sounds like a book Jane Austen would have written, doesn't it? The story of the Pembletons and the Sethwaites (there was some confusion about this suggested name) includes all of the requirements of a Jane Austen novel - cousins, a flighty sister, a bookish sister, visits to the country, a scandal, an eccentric aunt, a hidden fortune, sudden proposals, walks in the garden, and witty dialogue. All of the women in the cast (half of whom play men) are fantastic improvisors and play off of each other well. And they speak in (slightly modernized) 19th Century language. What else is there to say - it's fresh, funny, and very Jane Austen.

Fringe Festival 2015: "To The Moon"

Day: 2

Show: 5

Title: To The Moon

Category: Something Different

By: Sunday Night Fold

Written by: Tyler Mills

Location: Illusion Theater

Summary: A lovely and inventive telling of a fairy tale about a childless mother and father who go to the moon in search of a child, or whatever adventure they might find.

Highlights: So much loveliness it's hard to describe. Let's start with Tyler Mill's lyrical and poignant and funny words (see also Jonah and the Whale). Then add in Derek Trost's evocative musical soundtrack to the story. All of it creating a picture in the mind's eye, made real by the cast which includes the playwright (as the father), Debra Berger (as the mother), Emily King (as the narrator), and Tyler Michaels (as everyone else - children, women, men). It's a sweet and simple story, but the joy is in the telling. Tyler Michaels is a master at creating a character from the inside out, and it's a pleasure to watch him do it multiple times in the space of an hour. The other Tyler and Debra are so warm and sweet and funny as this comfortably loving couple (they've had practice - they're married in real life.). Last but not least, Emily presides over the story like Alanis Morisette in that movie where she played God. The only props onstage are two stools, which are used almost as inventively as the props of movement and physicality. To the Moon is my favorite kind of Fringe show - genuine and beautiful and whimsical and dreamy.

Friday, July 31, 2015

Fringe Festival 2015: "Pretty Girls Make Graves"

Day: 1

Show: 4

Category: Something Different

Written by: Sam Landman

Location: Phoenix Theater

Summary: Two women meet after a man they both loved died, and bond over '80s bands, boxed wine, and vintage exercise equipment.

Highlights: I never miss a Loudmouth Collective show. They specialize in smart, well-written, intense, small-cast shows that are funny or heartbreaking or both. Written by Artist in Residence Sam Landman (also check out his One-Act-A-Week project) and directed by Artistic Director Natalie Novacek, this new play falls neatly in Loudmouth's wheelhouse. It's one of those two-people-sitting-in-a-room-talking plays, which I love, especially when the talk is this smart and funny and real. After she finds out her boyfriend died, Carla (Emily Dussault) goes to his apartment and meets his sister BMX (Katie Willer). They discuss his love of Jethro Tull, Carla's love of The Smiths, and Carla's love of Duran Duran. But even if you, like me, don't get a single one of the music references (I spent the '80s watching sitcoms, not listening to music), you can still enjoy this little slice of life and exploration of two characters that feels very real, until it takes a surreal turn. See this show for sharp writing, directing, and acting - one of the more professional shows you'll see at the Fringe.

Fringe Festival 2015: "The OzFather"

Day: 1

Show: 3

Title: The OzFather

Category: Comedy

Created by: Peter Potyondy

Location: Intermedia Arts

Summary: A mash-up of the iconic movies The Wizard of Oz and The Godfather, set in Minnesota, with a little Johnny Cash thrown in.

Highlights: It's the first time in the Fringe for this community theater from Cottage Grove, presenting an original play that finds teenage Dottie living with her aunt and uncle after her parents are killed. She, along with her dog Toto (played by an adorably sweet real live dog), wakes up in a place called Comoland populated with small children, meets friends along the way, helps to solve the mystery of a mill fire, and visits a powerful man searching for help to go home. This feels like an amateur production, but in a good way, and really that's one of the beautiful things about this unjuried festival. It gives theater non-professionals a chance to come together out of the love of theater and tell a story to a willing and eager audience. The result may be a bit scattered (mill fire?), but I smiled, laughed, and was entertained. Highlights in the large and enthusiastic cast include a likeable Samantha Smith as Dottie, playwright Pet Potyondy as her adorkable brother and scarecrow reporter, Jeff Heutmaker as the lion figure who for some reason sings like Johnny Cash, and Matthew Thompson with a great Godfather impression (coming from someone who's never seen the movie). It's cute, fun, and short, the kids and dog are adorable, and you get to hear some Johnny Cash!

Fringe Festival 2015: "Arrest Me: A Musical Drama"

Day: 1

Show: 2

Category: Musical Theater

Directed by: Ricardo Beaird

Location: Minneapolis Theatre Garage

Summary: A series of vignettes (including music, dramatic scenes, comedy, and spoken word) centered around the theme of Black Lives Matter.

Highlights: Written by K.D. Howells and featuring a cast of six singer/actors and four musicians, Arrest Me doesn't provide a single narrative, but rather several short narratives or explorations of themes around racism and what it means to be black in America today. Some scenes are better than others, highlighted by the gorgeous vocals of Katie Carney and Roland Hawkins (and a stirring spoken word performance by the latter), as well as some thoughtful monologues and scenes from different perspectives. The piece doesn't attempt to offer easy answers (because there are none), but does stress the need to listen to each other, truly see each other, and work together towards peace and equality. Despite some unevenness, overall it's a very powerful and moving experience.