Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Minnesota Fringe Festival: Five-Fifths of Titanic at Illusion Theater

Hey theater friends, did you know that the Minnesota Fringe Festival is less than three months away? I don't know about you, but I'm excited for 11 days of theater binging, standing in lines, eating trail mix for every meal, and little sleep, especially after attending the annual Fringe fundraiser Five-Fifths. The subject of this year's show, in which a popular movie is split into five parts and re-imagined by five different theater companies, is the 1997 blockbuster movie Titanic. Confession: when it came out I was in my early 20s, so pretty much the target audience, and I unironically loved it. I bought the soundtrack and may even still have the VHS tapes (kids - VHS tapes are how we used to watch movies at home before DVDs or Netflix were invented). Now of course I can see that Titanic is an overblown melodramatic mess, but a part of me will always have a soft spot for this make-believe doomed romance set admidst a real disaster. Last night's Fringey interpretation of the movie represented everything we love about the Fringe, and set the stage for another great festival to come!

All five of the fifths were absolutely delightful in their own way, and represented some of the things you can see at the Fringe. In general, if you see any of these names attached to a Fringe show, it's a must-see.
  • Ethel-Ready Productions: this company came together last year for the intense and brilliant new play Consolation about a Nazi war criminal, written by Ari Hoptman (who I suspect also had a hand in writing this). This bit was considerably less intense, but just as well-written, a pretty faithful adaptation with some clever jokes thrown in as they took us through much of the exposition portion of the movie. And Ari makes for an adorably nebbishy, slightly older Jack than the one we're used to.
  • Sparkle Theatricals: the company that brought us the utterly delightful Parent Observation Day applied that same sense of playfulness to Jack and Rose getting to know one another. The below-deck Irish dancing became a hip hop dance party, and the segment was interrupted by a tap-dancing janitor kicking them out of the space.
  • Landmanland: Here's where we diverged from the narrative of the movie. Sam Landman's creation, which he called "Sispey in Repose," had little to do with Titanic (a love story with a woman named Rose, a vague mention of being on a boat) and even less to do with the specific segment of the story. But what he did was kinda brilliant, creating a character and story that was bizarre and funny, while still feeling real and somehow beautiful and touching. I'm not sure what it was, but I would gladly watch 60 minutes of it.
  • Comedy Suitcase: Joshua English Scrimshaw and Levi Weinhagen brought us back from intermission by squirting water at us, simulating the sinking of the ship! They frantically ran around the entire theater with the house lights up as they acted out scenes on stage or in various parts of the audience, until things got awkward, quickly moving on with a "next scene!" It was loose, playful, and somewhat improvised; at one point Joshua picked up an audience member and carried her on stage, which made me wonder what sort of insurance the Fringe has. Anything this company does is hilarious, and this segment definitely generated the most laughs.
  • Ben San Del Presents: The story concluded by considering the sinking of the Titanic from the perspective of the lobsters in the ship's kitchen. i.e., it's a miracle! But can lobsters survive at such ocean depths? And can positivity really change the outcome of events? Such were the existential questions pondered by Ben and his small cast of lobsters and stage ninjas.

The show was a fundraiser for the Fringe, and the money will be used to help support the artists in producing their work. If you'd like to contribute, you can do so at the Fringe website. Mark your calendar for the Fringe Previews on July 18 and 25 (each of which presents three minutes of 30 shows, helping narrow down the choices from 170-some to a number a little more manageable), the Touring Artists Showcase on August 3, and of course the festival itself August 4-14. Watch the Fringe website for more info on scheduling and shows.

See you at the Fringe!