Sunday, August 20, 2017

Fringe Festival 2017: Favorites and Wrap-Up

Well friends, the Minnesota Fringe Festival has come and gone once again. As always, it was a crazy, exhausting, exhilarating whirlwind of theater in which I saw 49 shows in 11 days. By all accounts it was a successful festival, with over 46,000 attendees seeing 870 performances of 167 shows. There were many shows that I loved, and I'm sure many great shows that I missed. Most of all I appreciate the variety and diversity of the art that is showcased at the Fringe, much of which I don't have (or take) opportunities to see throughout the year.

You can read all of my Fringe mini-reviews here, and below is a few of my favorites (in alphabetical order). See you next year Fringers, and be sure to follow Cherry and Spoon throughout the year for other #TCTheater opportunities.

Friday, August 18, 2017

"Philemon and Baucis: Planet in Peril" by Mixed Precipitation at Dodge Nature Center

One of my favorite summer #TCTheater traditions is Mixed Precipitation's annual picnic operetta, in which one can enjoy classic opera, pop songs, the great outdoors, and delicious food. For their ninth summer operetta (the fourth I've attended), Mixed Precipitation has chosen Austrian composer Joseph Haydn's Philemon and Baucis, a piece so rare it doesn't even have a Wikipedia page. Written and directed by Scotty Reynolds, this timely treatise on a Planet in Peril is a delightful mash-up of beautiful German-language opera and the songs of Queen, with five delicious courses of small bites passed throughout the 70-minute show. Playing at parks and gardens throughout the Twin Cities and beyond, it's a unique opportunity to enjoy all that late summer in Minnesota has to offer (click here to find a location near you).

Monday, August 14, 2017

Frine Festival 2017: "Live From New York, He's A Prom Date!"

Day: 11

Show: 49

Category: Comedy

By: Side by Side

Created by: Peter Simmons and Jen Maren

Location: U of M Rarig Xperimental

Summary: #TCTheater artist Jen Maren reveals a true story from her past, when her mom put her on the Sally Jessy Rafael show to get a prom date.

Highlights: This was a perfect end to my 2017 Minnesota Fringe Festival. I laughed and winced for an hour, and ended it with tears in my eyes. In what is really a love letter to her mom who "loves her recklessly," Jen tells her story with great drama and flair. Her mom just wanted her to be happy, so in 1992 she responded to a plea from Sally for girls who didn't have a date to prom. Jen (a budding performer who thought this might be her big break) and her mom flew to NYC, signed a contract, and were told what to say, how to act, and what to wear. Photos and clips from the show are displayed on a video screen, as Jen writhes in horror in a robe eating M&Ms and drinking wine from the bottle. She doesn't talk about the inherent misogyny, strict gender roles, and heteronormativity of the prom itself (no I'm not bitter that I never went to prom, it's true, prom is horrible!), that could be an entire show unto itself. Rather this show is a memoir in story and song of what it's like to be a young person growing up in this world, and how, if you're lucky, your parents do what they think will make your life better and happier, even if it does the exact opposite.

Read all of my Fringe mini-reviews here.

Fringe Festival 2017: "Swords & Sorcery: The Improvised Fantasy Campaign"

Day: 11

Show: 48

Category: Comedy

By: Bearded Men Improv

Created by: Bearded Men Improv

Location: Theatre in the Round

Summary: An improvised journey into a fantasy world of knights, dragons, and demons.

Highlights: I've never played it, but I'm pretty sure watching this show is like watching a bunch of guys play Dungeons and Dragons while acting out everything. In the show, the "Dungeon Master" Allen Voigt calls out the action and rolls a 20-sided dice to determine the strength of the blows, as the ensemble (Joe Rapp, Lucas Vonasek, MJ Marsh, Tyler Michaels, and Tyler Mills) fight their way through the fantasy world, going on quests and defending themselves against monsters. It's all pretty silly, but great fun to watch. The performers are the most earnest knights and monsters you've ever seen, especially when they fail. Bearded Men Improv performs regularly at HUGE Theater, and will be doing a Wild West show in the fall.

Read all of my Fringe mini-reviews here.

Fringe Festival 2017: "KnoW WesT"

Day: 11

Show: 47

Title: KnoW WesT

Category: Something Different

By: Gaylord Family Construction Company

Created by: Gaylord Family Construction Company

Location: U of M Rarig Center Arena

Summary: A real-life family of three tells stories from the Wild West in an innovative way incorporating a capella music.

Highlights: I loved Christian Gaylord's 2015 Fringe show Brother Ulysses, created and performed with his brother Andrew, so I was all in for this new creation. KnoW WesT, like Brother Ulysses, is an indescribable mix of history, music, and literature. Christian, his daughter Adrienne, and his girlfriend Karen Howard tell several stories and portray several characters, some true historical figures and some made up (and they're kind enough to tell us which is which). The start with Cormac McCarthey's novel The Crossing, and then wander off into stories and people I can't even begin to remember (I should have been taking notes for later research). It's odd and perplexing and intriguing and delightful, and the trio sings beautiful harmonies on songs traditional and new (including one lovely Civil Wars duet).

Read all of my Fringe mini-reviews here.

Fringe Festival 2017: "Couple Fight 3: Weddings!"

Day: 11

Show: 46

Category: Comedy

By: Weggel-Reed Productions

Created by: Anna Weggel-Reed and Tom Reed

Location: U of M Rarig Center Thrust

Summary: The third is a series of shows in which some of the Twin Cities' funniest people reenact a fight with a loved one, this time around the subject of weddings.

Highlights: I hope the Weggel-Reeds continue to do this show every year. Because nothing is funnier than watching funny people fight with someone they love about something ridiculous. In this hilarious installment, married couples reenact a fight before, during, or after their wedding. Andy Rocco Kraft and Rachael Davies fight about food sampling for the reception caterer. Laura Zabel and Levin Weinhagen fight about the wedding playlist. Nicholas Leeman and Colleen Somerville Leeman fight about getting the wedding invitations done on time. Rita Boersma and Justin Hartke (played by Richie McLarn) fight about her Pinterest project gone wrong. John and Lacey Zeiler fight about the decision to get married at all. And in the one non-couple fight, Heather Meyer explains to her friend Jim Robinson, who is constantly trying to set her up, that she's just fine on her own. I'm sure these fights were traumatic at the moment, but it's the kind of thing you look back on and laugh. And fortunately they do it in front of an audience so we can all laugh with them, and get a little peek into some of our #TCTheater faves' lives and relationships.

Read all of my Fringe mini-reviews here.

Fringe Festival 2017: "A Pickle"

Day: 11

Show: 45

Title: A Pickle

Category: Comedy

By: Really Spicy Opera

Written by: Deborah Yarchun

Location: Ritz Theater Studio

Summary: The true story of a woman who petitions the Minnesota State Fair to add a category for Kosher salt brine pickles.

Highlights: Sometimes a pickle is more than just a pickle. Sometimes it's a symbol of one's cultural heritage, a symbol of inclusion. Such is the true story of Doris Rubenstein's pickles. In a nearly perfect hour of theater, playwright Deborah Yarchun has written the story as an engaging one-woman show with direct address to the audience, bouncing back and forth between "the pickle story" and other significant moments in Doris' life. She describes herself as possessing a series of jars that hold the important things in her life - baking, her upbringing, social justice, and of course, pickles. When Doris entered her pickles in the "other" category at the State Fair, the judges disqualified them because they didn't understand the traditional Kosher salt brine pickles, because they're different than the pickles they usually see. Which is when pickles become a symbol for a whole lot more, and Doris becomes a bit of a local hero. This is a great story, well written, and personified brilliantly by Angela Timberman, so personable and funny and real. It's no wonder this show sold out all (or nearly all) of its performances and won the encore slot.

"It's chutzpah that puts the cherry on the spoon."

Read all of my Fringe mini-reviews here.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Fringe Festival 2017: "MANIFESTO: An American Play"

Day: 10

Show: 44

Category: Drama

By: MAD Theatre Co.

Created by: Tim Beeckman Davis

Location: Mixed Blood Theatre

Summary: A sobering look at gun violence.

Highlights: This powerful piece speaks to the epidemic of gun violence by focusing on the stories of three young people, all tangentially connected. One has mental health issues that were never properly treated, one lashes out after being bullied for years and then raped, and one feels belittled by parents and excluded by former friends. The cast (Calli Kunz, Callie Schroer, Riley McNutt, and Tim Beeckman Davis) is fully committed to telling this difficult story, with portrayals that engender empathy for these young people who did horrible things. The three stories are told in pieces mixed together, but it's never unclear where we are in the narrative thanks to the lighting, sound, and movement of the cast. Beautifully done, painful to watch, and an important story to tell to spark thought and conversations about an increasingly frightening issue.

Read all of my Fringe mini-reviews here.

Fringe Festival 2017: "Pope Joan"

Day: 10

Show: 43

Title: Pope Joan

Category: Drama

By: Featherstone Creation

Created by: Featherstone Creation

Location: U of M Rarig Center Xperimental

Summary: The story of the legend of a female pope (Pope Joan) re-imagined as a transgender pope (Pope John).

Highlights: I love history, and the history of religions is particularly fascinating (and sometimes scary) to me. I don't think I've ever heard of Pope Joan (or John) so this show was enlightening. Playwright Christy Marie Kent has the characters speak in modern language, making the story feel current. We follow John (Kjertina Whiting) as he decides to dress as a man, not just because he wants to be a monk* but because that's who he authentically is. His secret is discovered by fellow monk Einhart (Jen Arzayus), who becomes a friend and confident as John rises through the ranks because of his dedication and scholarliness. When a rival to the papacy finds out, however, he is not so understanding, leading to what eventually is Pope John's downfall. This is a fascinating, thought-provoking show that explores history, gender identity, and the role of women in the Church (including the removal of the feminine divine from Christianity, Sophia the goddess of Wisdom).

Read all of my Fringe mini-reviews here.


*Kind of like that episode of Northern Exposure where Chris lives in a monastery and finds himself attracted to a silent monk, who turns out to be a woman. Except not like that at all.

Fringe Festival 2017: "A Mermaid Abroad & A Fish Out of Water"

Day: 10

Show: 42

Category: Something Different

By: Mermaid Productions

Created by: Ariel Leaf, Scot Moore, and Ben Layne

Location: U of M Rarig Center Xperimental

Summary: A series of travel stories, from funny to profound and everything in between.

Highlights: This show is like listening to your friends tell travel stories, if your friends were good storytellers with great life experiences to pull from. The storytellers are Ariel Leaf, best known for her Mermaid show (which I sadly have never seen), and Scot Moore, who shared his beautifully tragic (or tragically beautiful) travel story in last year's Break Your Heart (one of my faves of the 2016 Fringe). They take turns telling stories and interacting in a conversational, natural way. We hear about Ariel's travel fling gone wrong, Scot's one perfect night of connection, Ariel's struggle with finding a place to pee (my greatest travel fear), Scot getting high in a shopping mall in Canada, and that glorious feeling of returning home. I could have listened to Ariel and Scot tell their travel stories for another hour or two. And now I want to plan my next trip and have a few adventures of my own.

Read all of my Fringe mini-reviews here.

Fringe Festival 2017: "Repertoire Dogs"

Day: 10

Show: 41

Title: Repertoire Dogs

Category: Comedy

By: Ideal Productions

Created by: Dana's Boys

Location: Mixed Blood Theatre

Summary: Impressions of celebrities in unlikely situations, performed by a cast of seven.

Highlights: This show is just plain fun. Who doesn't love impressions? If they're good it's fun to appreciate the skill, if they're bad it's fun to laugh at how bad they are (and there's a bit of both in this show). Josh Carson hosts a panel which, when I saw the show, included Allison Witham, Ben Tallen, Brad Erickson, Kelsey Cramer, Ryan Nelson, and Thomas Matthes. The first segment is celebrities or fictional characters in movies they weren't in, like Tim Gunn reading the rules from Fight Club, Gollum in The Goonies, and George Bush doing the Independance Day speech. There's a bit of audience participation when someone picks a card of a stock impression every impressionist should have (Jerry Seinfeld) and a competition ensues to see who does it best, while reading from Fifty Shades of Grey. And one (un)lucky audience member gets to go onstage and try to guess the impression. After a lot of laughter (including from the stage, it's also fun to watch the panelists crack each other and Josh up) and Simpsons characters, the show wraps up with a motley crew singing "Piano Man."

Read all of my Fringe mini-reviews here.

Fringe Festival 2017: "The Mysterious Old Radio Listening Society"

Day: 10

Show: 40

Category: Something Different

By: Goulish Delights

Created by: Joshua English Scrimshaw, Tim Uren, Eric Webster, Shanan Custer, and Joe Weismann

Location: U of M Rarig Center Thrust

Summary: A reenactment of two radio broadcasts from the '40s and '50s, complete with commercials and sound effects.

Highlights: Pairing a 1952 episode of Hall of Fantasy with a 1943 episode of The Shadow, this show is an entertaining and creepy homage to an era gone by, that of the radio drama. The creators of this show have a podcast of the same name (you can find it here, along with future live performances), and their love for and knowledge of the genre is evident. I closed my eyes a few times during the show, not just because I'm super sleep deprived after ten days of Fringing, but also because it's almost more chilling and thrilling to just listen and let your imagination create the picture of what's happening. And what's happening in these two programs is a lot of mysterious creatures and mad scientists and smart sleuths and the like. But it's also fun to watch the performers (see creator list above, plus Marc Doty filling in for Joe Weissman on keyboard when I saw the show), who all have such great retro radio voices (and smart retro wardrobe to match) with inventive sound effect implements. There's a reason these radio horror shows were so popular, and happily they continue to exist in some form today thanks to Goulish Delights.

Read all of my Fringe mini-reviews here.