Wednesday, August 31, 2016

"Bars and Measures" at the Jungle Theater

I've only recently become aware of what an incredible resource we have in The Playwrights' Center, located right here in Minneapolis (even if there are occasional bats in the performance space). PWC fosters new playwrights and supports experienced playwrights, helping them to develop new work through various programs, workshops, and readings. Much of this work ends up on the stage, not just here in the Twin Cities but around the country. This spring saw the local premiere of three plays developed at the Playwrights' Center, The Changlings, Scapegoat, and Le Switch. The latter was at the Jungle Theater, which is following that up with another new play by a Playwrights' Center playwright, Idris Goodwin's Bars and Measures. The Jungle's production is one of four around the country in the National New Play Network's Rolling World Premiere. It's a sharp, intense, lyrical, topical play, and in my completely unbiased opinion, I cannot imagine a better production of it than the Jungle's with this incredible cast, director, and technical team.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

"Passing through Pig's Eye" by Flying Foot Forum at Park Square Theatre

The dance/theater company Flying Foot Forum never disappoints, with it's fast, rhythmic, and yes, flying foot choreography, performed by top-notch dancers with much theatricality and storytelling. But with their newest creation, Passing through Pig's Eye, they're offering all this and more! Starting at Park Square Theatre's Andy Boss Stage in the basement of the historic Hamm building in downtown St. Paul, the cast leads the audience through the building and out onto the streets, where we learn a bit of the history of our fair capital city. It's an exceedingly fun time, watching the incredible dancers/singers/ performers, walking around beautiful downtown St. Paul, and even participating in the music and dancing (if you choose, the audience participation is completely voluntary and without pressure). I highly recommend experiencing Passing through Pig's Eye for yourself for an entertaining, immersive, non-threateningly participatory, uniquely fun night of music, theater, dance, and history.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

"600 Years" by Sandbox Theatre at the Southern Theater

Confession: I, like millions of people, love The Walking Dead. I'm fascinated with the idea of people working together to build a new society out of nothing. But what I don't love, and what I'm becoming increasingly disheartened by, is how in their version of the post apocalyptic world (zombies, natural disaster, it doesn't really matter what caused the end of the world as we know it), people turn on each other instead of working together to combat the very real enemies and dangers in the new world. Sandbox Theatre has envisioned a different version of the post apocalyptic world using their unique ensemble created, devised theater method. This world, where women called Seekers run between villages to create connections (they're kind of like the new internet) and all humanity works towards a common goal, is a much more hopeful world than that of The Walking Dead, and one I would much prefer to live in.

"Donald Giovanni in Cornlandia" by Mixed Precipitation at Loring Park

Opera. Pop music. Delicious food. The beautiful Minnesota summer. What could be better than Mixed Precipitation's annual summer picnic operetta that combines all of these things?! Not much. This year's selection for this wonderful tradition known as the picnic operetta is Donald Giovanni in Cornlandia, a mash-up of Mozart's Don Giovanni, '80s music, and, you guessed it, this bizarre election. A friend recommended that I should read the plot summary of Don Giovanni before the show because it can be hard to follow. But I don't think plot is the point. The point is good music, good food, good fun, and the great outdoors. So head out to the park between now and September 18 (performances in the Twin Cities and outstate Minnesota) and enjoy some delicious food and delicious opera.

"Trust" by Self-Reliant Productions at the Lab Theater

Sometimes theater is escapist entertainment (see The Drowsy Chaperone), and sometimes it's not. Sometimes it deals with difficult real-life issues and gives a voice to people whose stories need to be heard. The new play Trust is an example of the latter. It's intense and difficult to watch, but such an important story, and an all too familiar one. This story about a survivor of clergy abuse was written by John Woehrle and inspired by the real-life experience of his friend Jim Hanson (both of whom act in the play), and it's obviously a labor of love. The creators have worked with survivor networks as they developed the piece, which makes its Twin Cities debut at the Lab Theater. I was truly impressed by this work from a first-time playwright, a first-time director (actor Rich Remedios), and actors who were mostly unfamiliar to me. Trust is a powerful play telling an important story, tough to watch but worth the effort.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

"The Drowsy Chaperone" at Artistry

I hate theatre. Well, it's so disappointing, isn't it? You know what I do when I'm sitting in a darkened theatre waiting for the curtain to rise? I pray. Dear God, please let it be a good show. And let it be short, oh Lord in heaven, please. Two hours is fine, three is too much. And keep the actors out of the audience. God. I didn't pay a hundred dollars to have the fourth wall come crashing down around my ears. I just want a story, and a few good songs that will take me away. I just want to be entertained. I mean, isn't that what it's all about? Amen.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

"Chess" by Second Fiddle Productions at Camp Bar

If you're a fan of musical theater, you need to be aware of Second Fiddle Productions. Now in their third season, Second Fiddle does one-night-only staged readings of rarely produced musicals. Musicals that may be difficult to produce for whatever reason, or maybe the book is problematic. Musicals that musical theater nerds love, with beautiful scores that often aren't heard live, but should be.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

"DAI (enough)" by Minnesota Jewish Theatre Company at Highland Park Center Theater

When I returned from this afternoon's performance of Minnesota Jewish Theatre Company's DAI (enough), I sat down at my computer, opened up the internet, and saw the headline "Palestinian rocket strikes Israel, drawing Israeli reprisal." When will this decades-long conflict be over? When is enough enough? I'm not going to pretend to know enough about this issue to speak intelligently about it, but this new production by MJTC certainly does. Or rather, it tells the very specific stories of ten people gathered in a cafe in Tel Aviv in 2006, as portrayed by one actor. It's a devastating look at the impact of the never-ending violence on human lives, in addition to being a completely engaging and entertaining play.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

"Paint Your Wagon" at the Ordway Center

I had never even heard of the 1951 Lerner and Loewe musical Paint Your Wagon when the Ordway announced it as part of their season. I guess that's not too surprising; it ran for less than a year on Broadway and has never been revived. The story was significantly rewritten for the 1969 movie adaptation starring Clint Eastwood, which also included a few new songs. Seattle's 5th Avenue Theatre (director David Armstrong and book writer Jon Marans) scrapped both the original and revised book (they're a little bit racist, and sexist) to write a new story set in the Gold Rush era of California, making it more reflective of the many diverse cultures that came together to build the great American West. This production has moved to the Ordway for two weeks, with a few local additions to the cast. This thrilling story of the beginnings of the American West (think Deadwood the musical, only with significantly less cursing) with a beautifully diverse cast has rescued this gorgeous Western and Mexican influenced score from the place where problematic old musicals go to die.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Fringe Festival 2016: "Twice"

Day: 11

Show: 54 (encore)

Title: Twice

Category: Drama

By: Its Time Productions

Written by: Chris Andersen and Lee Lawing

Location: The Playwrights' Center

Summary: Three pairs of plays by two playwrights explore the same situations and themes in different but complementary ways.

Highlights: My 54th and final show of the Minnesota Fringe Festival was the encore performance of Twice, which sold out its entire run at The Playwrights' Center. I can see why. These six short plays, each of which could stand on its own as a fully defined situation and characters, together form a more complete picture around the themes of family, relationships, endings, beginnings, death, and hope. "A customer walks into a record store" becomes two young men (Reid Emmons and Jacob Mierva) flirting, or two older men (Peter Vitale and Dennis Spears) flirting. "People gather in a church during a downpour" becomes three church ladies (Janet Hanson, Annette Cummings, and Jane Zilch) planning a party and gossiping,* or a stranger comforting a grieving mother. "A son sits with his dying father" becomes an imagined last conversation, or an urgent flight home. It's a fascinating idea for a playwriting experiment that turned into one really well-written, -directed (Audrey Stottler), and -acted piece of theater. And an excellent conclusion to an excellent 2016 Minnesota Fringe Festival.

Fringe Festival 2016: "When She Became Me: a pro-choice play about abortion"

Day: 11

Show: 53

Category: Drama

By: Constructed Theatre

Created by: Elizabeth Horab

Location: U of M Rarig Center Thrust

Summary: The daughter of a woman who worked at the only abortion clinic in North Dakota tells stories about abortions from her mom, her friends, and herself.

Highlights: This is one of two pieces about abortion featuring real-life stories in this year's Fringe Festival (see also The Abortion Chronicles). Rather than compete against each other, they compliment each other well as both give voice to women's stories about their experiences with abortion. Elizabeth Horab has written the documentary play as herself (played by Tayce Pearson) speaking to the audience about her process of collecting stories. We hear from her mom (Megan E. Primus), who first volunteered at the clinic when she was pregnant with her first child. We also hear from women served by the clinic, women who answered a questionnaire on Facebook, Elizabeth's friends, and Elizabeth herself. It's incredibly moving to hear these very different yet similar stories. As Elizabeth says at the end of the piece, women want to tell their stories and be heard. When She Became Me gives them a space in which to do so.

Fringe Festival 2016: "Fruit Flies Like a Banana: Alphabetical Disorder"

Day: 11

Show: 52

Category: Something Different

Created by: The Fourth Wall

Location: U of M Rarig Center Thrust

Summary: Three classically trained musicians perform short pieces corresponding to the letters of the alphabet, incorporating dance and movement. 

Highlights: The Fringe festival is a great place to see something you've never seen before. And I've never seen anyone do what Boston's Hilary Abigana, C. Neil Parsons, and Greg Jukes, aka The Fourth Wall, do. Other than last year, when I first saw their show Fruit Flies Like a Banana. They're back this year with some new pieces and a new order - audience members randomly shout out letters corresponding to the different pieces. But no matter how many times I see them do what they do, I'm still amazed and delighted by it and wonder - how did they ever think of doing this? Not only do they play classical and popular music selections on flute, bass trombone, and percussion (a unique combination of instruments), but they also incorporate movement (and other weird instruments like a toy piano and boomwhackers). Hanging upside down, twirling around, lifting each other up in the air, or pulling each other around on chairs or the wheeled vibraphone, they entertain the crowd young and old with their unique antics. This trio is fun and playful with the crowd, and as traveling artists it's wonderful to see them be so involved in and supportive of other artists, encouraging every artist in the audience to plug their show as one of the acts in the show, not just tacked on at the end. If they're back next year (and I hope they are) go see people do something you've never seen anyone do before.

Fringe Festival 2016: "In the Time of Spies"

Day: 11

Show: 51

Category: Comedy

By: Ferrari McSpeedy Theatrical Productions

Created by: Joe Bozic and Mike Fotis

Location: U of M Rarig Center Thrust

Summary: A loving spoof of '50s and '60s spy TV shows, complete with opening credits!

Highlights: In this really funny broad sketch comedy, chock full of physical humor (crazy exaggerated fight scenes) and sight gags (one of those grabber things as a hand), we meet a team of spies working for the CIA. Typical TV show spy tropes like a mole in their midst, long lost mothers, Russian bad guys, and love triangles unfold, as described and introduced by chanteuse narrator (Anna Hickey). The hilarious cast (also including Joe Bozic, Mike Fotis, James Rone, Rita Boersma, and Jason Ballweber, most of whom come from the improv/sketch comedy world) plays every moment to the hilt. Two "episodes" of In the Time of Spies are presented, and as a TV junkie I loved the "previously on" recap and the silly opening credits that they repeat at the beginning of each episode. It's ridiculously good fun.

Fringe Festival 2016: "Becoming Inga"

Day: 11

Show: 50

Title: Becoming Inga

Category: Something Different

By: David Mann

Created by: Colleen Kruse and David Mann

Location: U of M Rarig Center Arena

Summary: A woman takes a job at a "health spa" and through putting on the persona of Inga, discovers her true self.

Highlights: Colleen Kruse begins her solo storytelling show by telling us she's just like us. She looks like a typical Minnesotan in boots, parka, and furry hat. But Colleen's job is a little different than what most of us experience in our 9-to-5 lives. As an unemployed alcoholic empty nester in her '40s, she needed a job, and unable to find anything else, she answered an ad on Craig's list. Her job at this "health spa" or "massage parlor" as it's euphemistically called involves catering to men's fantasies, but in an environment where she makes the rules and has the power. She tells stories about some of her clients, from the young marine, to the busy wealthy man who barely looks up from his phone, to Richard who feels the freedom and support to become Renee in their sessions. Although some of the stories are uncomfortably graphic, Colleen is a wonderful storyteller, and it soon becomes apparent that these sessions are like therapy, not only for her clients but also for her. She stops drinking as she finds a confidence and sense of self-worth in "becoming Inga." This is a show I didn't want to end, and I wanted to know more about how her work life affected her non-work life, if she was ever able to share her work with her friends and family (well I guess they know now!), or bring the newfound confidence and self-worth of Inga into her life as Colleen. Perhaps we'll get a chance to see that sometime.

Fringe Festival 2016: "Itch"

Day: 11

Show: 49

Title: Itch

Category: Something Different

By: Three Knives

Written by: Tyler Olsen

Location: U of M Rarig Center Thrust

Summary: An outbreak of a mysterious illness in a an experimental science facility turns deadly and super creepy,

Highlights: When the floor of the Rarig Cente thrust stage is covered with a blood-stained tarp, you know you're in for something weird and creepy. And when Raw Red Meat does the effects, you know there will be blood, and lots of it. The tension and creep factor slowly build as a scientist coldly reports on the events of the outbreak. The residents are having a party to celebrate a divorce, when one of the researchers realizes there was a tear in his suit. Whether real or only imagined, this virus soon infects everyone on stage (and in the audience). Compulsively scratching, writhing on the floor in agony, spouting blood from various places on the body, even chewing their own flesh, the researchers' illness seems almost too real, especially when they start lumbering into the audience and the lights go out. We eventually find out what (or who) caused the outbreak, but the bottom line is that Itch most definitely gets under your skin. The nine-person cast is incredibly convincing, and I can't help wondering what their post-show laundry routine is like, and if they have a place to shower before going on with their day. Gross in the best possible way.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Fringe Festival 2016: "Game of Thrones: The Musical"

Day: 10

Show: 48

Category: Musical

By: Really Spicy Opera

Created by: Basil Considine

Location: Ritz Theater Proscenium

Summary: The epic HBO show Game of Thrones told in a campy musical style, with puppets.

Highlights: If Game of Thrones: The Musical doesn't scream Minnesota Fringe Festival, I don't know what does. It's a completely ridiculous, totally fringetastic spoof of the beloved series and the people who love it to the point of obsession (it seems to be based more on the TV show than the novels by George R. R. Martin, continuing up through last season's finale). Because it's only an hour and the series is 60 hours (and counting), some characters, places, and storylines are understandably left out, like Daenerys, Tyrion, Theon, Ramsay Bolton, Dorne, the Iron Islands, and there wasn't nearly enough Jaime for my taste (but there never is). But still, writer, music director, and accompanist Basil Considine managed to fit in a lot of stuff in a short time. The songs are funny and clever (including ones set to the tune of "Colors of the Wind" from Pocahontas and "On My Own" from Les Miserables). And the cast completely commits to the over-the-top, campy, Avenue Q-like tone. It's great fringey fun, especially if you love Westeros.

Fringe Festival 2016: "Lazy Eyed Geek"

Day: 10

Show: 47

Category: Drama

By: The Theatre Cosmic

Created by: Brandon Taitt

Location: Strike Theater

Summary: A solo storytelling show by a man born with one blind and "lazy" eye and a love of Star Trek.

Highlights: Perhaps what the Fringe does best is give artists a platform on which to tell their story. In this case the artist is Brandon Taitt, who tells his story with honesty and without artifice. From being born to a teenage mother, his multiple surgeries that failed to correct the strabismus he was born with (a word that reminds me of that line from Spelling Bee, another example of popular culture's unfairly comic portrayal of people with a lazy eye), his many problems with bullies in school, the comfort he found in the world of Star Trek and Spock in particular, the death of his grandmother, and through adulthood and the birth of his own perfectly healthy child. Lazy Eyed Geek is funny, relatable to anyone who's ever felt like an outsider, with a full circle ending of healing.

Fringe Festival 2016: "The Nutcracker and the Mouse King"

Day: 10

Show: 46

Category: Drama

By: Jeremy Terry Productions

Written by: Brendan Jones

Location: Ritz Theater Proscenium

Summary: The familiar Nutcracker tale, but told as a dramatic play.

Highlights: I'm not that familiar with The Nutcracker, either the ballet or the original story, so the story of the girl who dreamed her Nutcracker to life is new to me. Young Marie is frustrated with her life, her parents, and the party they have planned. Her beloved Godfather givers her a Nutcracker along with his story. We then move to the imaginary land of princesses, two young men who are rivals for her affection, and mice that fight and talk. I wish that the creators could have found a different twist on the story than the tired old cliche of two men fighting for the fair princess' hand, and I actually found the "bad guy" to be the more interesting of the two (partly because of Jonathon Dull's compelling performance), he was just given a bad lot in life and made a bad choice. But it's an interesting turn on an old tale, the ensemble cast does a great job playing multiple roles (another standout - Kaitlin Noble as Marie), and there's a nice sprinkling of music and dance that ties it to the original.

Fringe Festival 2016: "Darlings"

Day: 10

Show: 45

Title: Darlings

Category: Drama

Created by: Carrie Brown and Karim Muasher

Location: Ritz Theater Proscenium

Summary: In this new take on Peter Pan, the parents of the missing children Wendy, John, and Michael imagine where their children have gone.

Highlights: What if the story of Peter Pan is just something that grieving parents made up to work through and come to terms with their loss? Such is the premise in this new work by devised physical theater duo Animal Engine out of New York. Margaret Darling (Carrie Brown) hasn't left the window in a year, and George (Karim Muasher) doesn't know how to help her, until she suggests, insists, that she is Peter Pan and he is Wendy. The familiar story then plays out with the two actors as the parents playing all the roles, and creating the entire world with just six square wooden tables, a frame of a window, a trunk, and an umbrella. It's playful and charming, with an undercurrent of loss when we're suddenly reminded who is acting out the story and why. Carrie and Karim are so inventive in their storytelling (see also last year's Petunia and Chicken, based on the writings of Willa Cather) that they're just a delight to watch, and I hope they come back every year. You wouldn't think anything new could be said about or done with Peter Pan, a story that's been adapted a million times, but they managed to find a completely new story to tell. And now I'll never think of Peter Pan the same way again.

Fringe Festival 2016: "Hazard"

Day: 10

Show: 44

Title: Hazard

Category: Drama

By: Presence

Written by: Megan Burns

Location: Strike Theater

Summary: A young woman living in the mountains of Kentucky is kicked out of her home and must make a new life for herself on her own.

Highlights: Local actor/playwright Megan Burns has written a really beautiful play, with sharply drawn characters, a place so specific it feels like you're there, and a full and complete story. U of M/Guthrie BFA student Sophina Saggau gives a fantastic performance as Dottie, strong and spirited and natural. Also excellent are Katherine Kupiecki as fellow outcast Dana, and Bowen Cochran as a couple of men who come into the women's life. But this is really Dottie's story, as she speaks it plainly to the audience, seamlessly blended with scenes with other characters. A couple of tough women trying to make it on their own in a tough environment, almost outside of time and place. Really well done, intense, and a bit depressing, with a massive set by Fringe standards that includes a front porch, work bench, and several chairs (set design by Katie McCarthey). Hazard is another show that wasn't originally on my schedule that I added based on what I was hearing, and I'm glad I did.

Fringe Festival 2016: "Apple Picking"

Day: 10

Show: 43

Title: Apple Picking

Category: Comedy

By: Ben San Del Presents

Created by: Ben San Del

Location: Ritz Theater Proscenium

Summary: A pleasant afternoon of apple picking turns sinister when the two couples turn out to be on opposite sides of the law

Highlights: In this hilarious dark comedy, mobster's daughter and hitwoman Candy (Mo Perry) brings her boyfriend Johnny (Jason Ballweber) to the family orchard to dispose of him. Red (Natalie Rae Wass) and Robert (Christopher Kehoe) appear to be on a date, but are actually undercover FBI agents. A mad chasee ensues, observed by a pair of trees (Rachel Petrie and Joshua English Scrimshaw, the funniest trees you've ever seen whether silent or speaking in a drug-induced halucination). It's really funny and the cast is fantastic, thoroughly enjoyable start to finish. Which is probably why it won the encore slot at 8:30 pm today.

Fringe Festival 2016: "The Gun Show"

Day: 10

Show: 42

Title: The Gun Show

Category: Drama

By: IDIC Theatre Works

Directed by: Kevin T. Houle 

Location: Strike Theater

Summary: A series of stories about guns, and a plea for more conversations in the middle.

Highlights: Playwright E.M. Lewis speaks very plainly, directly, and conversationally about her experiences with guns, both the good and the bad. Growing up in rural Oregon, her family always had guns and she herself learned to shoot from her soon-to-be husband. She also tells a story about when she was held up at gunpoint while working in a book store, as well as a personally devastating experience that forever changed her life. "She" is played by Aaron Konigsmark, who, even though he's telling someone else's story, imbues the stories with emotion and humor. There are some statistics, visual aids in the form of political cartoons, and framed family photos and memorabilia packed away in a cardboard box. It's a powerfully written play, well executed by the cast and creative team, one that hopes to start a real conversation that isn't just two opposing sides yelling at each other, a conversation to work towards our common goal of ending gun violence. (The creators recommend Everytown For Gun Safety as a resource.)

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Fringe Festival 2016: "The Chair-Builders"

Day: 9

Show: 41

Category: Drama

By: Catalog Models

Created by: Gemma Irish and Mark Sweeney

Location: Phoenix Theater

Summary: A couple is building chairs for a dinner party, but really they're figuring out how to build a life together.

Highlights: It's another quirky and delightful musical from Catalog Models* (book by Gemma Irish, music by Mark Sweeney). This one veers into the realm of the fantastical, as a couple meets a woman (Megan Kelly Hubbell) who, in exchange for the two chairs they're attempting to build, will make all their fears disappear. They agree to the exchange, and without fears, their jobs in insurance seem a little unnecessary. He decides to quit and become a lounge singer. She decides to stay, but learn to juggle in her spare time. It's a silly diversion but brings up some important questions. How many of our life decisions are based on fear? Would we make different decisions if we didn't have any fear of the result? Or does our fear serve us in some way? The songs are interesting, well-written, and well-placed within the story (although I would have preferred more live music and less recorded tracks). The Chair-Builders is an oddly sweet little musical journey through life and relationships.

*Listen to Gemma and Mark talk about the process of writing the piece on Mark's podcast Twin Cities Song Story.

Fringe Festival 2016: "It Always Rained in Paris"

Day: 9

Show: 40

Category: Drama

By: Theatre Corrobora

Written by: Hailey Colwell

Location: Phoenix Theater

Summary: A woman on the verge of divorcing her French husband invites the girl she nannied for 15 years ago in Paris to come to America to be a nanny for her children.

Highlights: Playwright Hailey Colwell was inspired to write this play after spending the last year working as a nanny in a wealthy neighborhood in Paris. I don't know how a 20-something writes so well about the feelings of nostalgia and regret that come with a few more years of life experience. This is a story tinged with nostalgia, as Ellie (Anna Olson) remembers her year in Paris, where she met her husband Nic (Bill Williamson). After realizing they love the idea of each other and the time they spent together in Paris more than the person they each have become, they're in the process of divorcing. Ellie invites the now grown-up Michele (Dani Pazurek) to America look after her children Gabriele (Louisa Schirmacher) and Bastien (Huxley Westemeier) in hopes that the connection to Paris will somehow help. In a way it does, as Ellie confronts her reasons for being so obsessed with Paris, yet never wanting to go back, and finally begins to get unstuck. The cast beautifully brings this story and these very human characters to life, and live music by John Hilsen on keyboard perfectly sets the tone of nostalgic melancholy.

Fringe Festival 2016: "Theatre Forever's The Accident Book"

Day: 9

Show: 39

Category: Comedy

By: 7 Hornets Theatre

Directed by: Jon Ferguson

Location: Ritz Theater Proscenium

Summary: At a conference to help businesses and business people better themselves, weird and wonderful things happen.

Highlights: This show is truly wonderful, as in full of wonder. In typical Theatre Forever style, it's strange and perplexing, but also lovely and profound at times. Upon entering the Ritz theater, we're all given nametags, but not with our own names. There's a bit of audience participation as the conference starts and we're asked to share in the activities (but don't worry, it's nothing too scary). We get a few weird inspirational-type talks. Then things take an odd turn as someone "splits his reality wide open" and we all enter a new reality, a hyper reality, where chairs are mountains and the sky can be seen through the ceiling. The cast (Elizabeth Hawkinson, Jamie Jablonski, Sam Kruger, Jahsiah Mussig, Abishek Nair, Eric Weiman)  is wonderfully open and expressive as they lead us on this strange and unexpected journey. The Accident Book is odd, haunting, funny, and magical.

Fringe Festival 2016: "An Accidental Organist"

Day: 9

Show: 38

Category: Something Different

By: David Boyle

Written by: David Boyle

Location: Ritz Theater Studio

Summary: A solo storytelling show about faith, family, community, and the wonderful accidentals of life.

Highlights: In music, an accidental takes you someplace you didn't expect to go, but you're really glad you went there. That's exactly what this show was for me. It wasn't on my original schedule, but I heard a few people mention it so decided to shift some things around so I could see it. I wasn't expecting to go there, but I'm really glad I did. Chicagoan David Boyle is a wonderful storyteller, and since his job as a church organist and choir director means he attends many weddings and funerals, he has a lot of stories. Stories like a little girl in glasses spontaneously dancing at a wedding, or an old man who died shoveling snow for his neighbors. David's New Year's resolution a few years was to expect nothing, and then be grateful for what happens. It's a perfect attitude for Fringe, and for life in general. I was raised Catholic so the stories and songs from the Catholic tradition felt familiar to me, but whatever your tradition, these well-told stories will move you, tickle your funny bone, and make you wonder at the accidentals of this thing called life.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Fringe Festival 2016: "For Worse"

Day: 8

Show: 37

Title: For Worse

Category: Comedy

By: Theatre Unbound

Written by: Anne Bertram

Location: Mixed Blood Theatre

Summary: Two interrelated monologues by a husband and a wife, pondering marriage and life.

Highlights: Written by Theatre Unbound's Executive Director Anne Bertram and co-starring Theatre Unbound's Aristic Director Stacey Poirier, For Worse is a funny and poignant look at two sides of a marriage. But don't worry, my fellow singletons, it's not really about marriage, but more about life. And what happens when you realize your life isn't what you thought it would be. Greg (Edward Linder) begins to feel guilty about his job, which is to figure out the "best" people to lay off, and is reminded of his father. Michelle (Stacey Poirier) turns her substitute teaching gig about The Lord of the Flies into a therapy session in which she comes to the decision that she needs to leave her husband. With excellent performances by both actors (and a few audience recruits who threatened to steal the show), this is a funny and insightful portrait of two complicated people.

Fringe Festival 2016: "Sometimes There's Wine"

Day: 8

Show: 36

Category: Comedy

By: Shanan Custer and Carolyn Pool

Created by: Shanan Custer and Carolyn Pool

Location: Theatre in the Round

Summary: A follow-up to the Ivey-winning 2 Sugars, Room for Cream, but this time with wine.

Highlights: I love 2 Sugars, Room for Cream so much that I saw it three times. This show is more of the same, which is funny, smart, observational comedy by two of the funniest women in the Twin Cities. Much like coffee, wine is something that people drink to help get them through social occasions. Like weddings, work functions you don't really want to go to, or a long layover at the airport. Toting a glass of wine around the stage, Shanan and Carolyn are funny, natural, charming, and very personable as they portray several different women, with a few recurring characters. I could watch these two every day, so I hope they continue to develop Sometimes There's Wine and that we'll see it again.

Warning: the performance I attended sold out, so you might want to make reservations in advance or get to the theater early.

Fringe Festival 2016: "Happenstanced"

Day: 8

Show: 35

Title: Happenstanced

Category: Something Different

By: Pipermonkey

Written by: Allegra J. Lingo

Location: U of M Rarig Center Xperimental

Summary: A series of essays about parenthood by the Fringe's favorite "essayist."

Highlights: In 2014 Allegro did a show called The Genealogy of Happenstance about her and her wife's journey to parenthood. Fast forward two years, and Matilda is now 19 months old (and the cutest performer in the Fringe - she waves on cue, and can find her nose, hair, and belly button!). This is Allegra's first foray back into writing and performing after spending the last 19 months as a stay at home mom. The six essays read are funny, well-written, and insightful, with topics ranging from childbirth to Disney to how to answer inappropriate questions from strangers. Very human stories, told from the heart, with thoughtfulness about the world at large.

Warning: this show is a high sell-out risk so be sure to make reservations or get to the theater early.

Fringe Festival 2016: "Kicking It Irish"

Day: 8

Show: 34

Category: Dance

By: O'Shea Productions

Created by: O'Shea Productions

Location: Ritz Theater Proscenium

Summary: Traditional Irish music and dancing, choreographed by one of the original cast members of Riverdance.

Highlights: Presented by St. Paul's O'Shea Irish Dance and The Center for Irish Music, this is a thrilling display of authentic Irish music and dance. Choreographer Cormac Ó Sé (co-founder of O'Shea Irish Dance and original cast member of Riverdance) shows his stuff in one dance number, but then lets his students shine as he watches proudly from the band, which includes flutes, whistles, guitars, mandolin, and accordion. The lovely authentic music ranges from mournful ballads to lively jigs. The dancing is varied too, not all the high flying feet and stiff arms, but also rhythmic step dancing and a few modern numbers in which the dancers get to loosen move their arms. The talented young dancers include regional and national champions, and it's truly a thrill to watch them dance individually or as one synchronized group.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Fringe Festival 2016: "Take Talkback"

Day: 7

Show: 33

Title: Take Talkback

Category: Comedy

By: Six Four Six One Productions

Directed by: Brad Erickson

Location: Ritz Theater Proscenium

Summary: The post-show talkback of a community theater's production of an edgy play takes a darkly funny turn.

Highlights: I always stay for a post-show talkback, so I couldn't resist a talkback that IS the show! After a performance of the edgy two-person drama Take at Beulah Community Theatre (abbreviated BCT - is that an intentional or inadvertent reference to the theater now called Artistry?), artistic director Becky (a hilarious Christine Karki) introduces the talkback and tells us about BCT's new season (the whole show is performed with house lights up). She's joined onstage by the director (Ben Thietje), the actors (Bobby Gardner and Anna Weggel-Reed), and the writer (Patrick Kozicky), who traveled from NYC just for this event (or did he?!). The play (written by Adam Hummel) pokes gentle fun at talkbacks and theater in general (the actor sipping tea, the grumpy audience member using the talkback as an opportunity to complain he couldn't hear the dialogue). But then disgruntled actors (Joe Bombard and Angie Martin) bust in and demand to be heard. The tame talkback turns into a mess of a situation as secrets come out. Although making a joke out of people with guns attacking a public gathering is a little uncomfortable in light of recent events, Take Talkback is a darkly funny spoof of all things theater.

Fringe Festival 2016: "Circus McGurkus"

Day: 7

Show: 32

Category: Dance

By: Mike's Brass

Choreographed by: Erinn Liebhard

Location: U of M Barker Center for Dance

Summary: Dr. Seuss' If I Ran the Circus, told through music, clowning, acrobatics, and dance.

Highlights: Circus McGurkus is a delight for children of all ages, even us grown-up children. Andrew Chambers reads excepts from the book about a fantastical circus, while the dancers and musicians interpret the words through movement and music. The brass quintet Mike's Brass plays a variety of circus-sounding songs (with a little Lady Gaga thrown in as an encore). Dancers Lori Ledoux, Derek Meyer, Rachael Schlee, and Sydney Swanson perform playful and charming dances with wonder and joy (choreographed by Erinn Liebhard), and acrobats Michelle de Joya and Brandon Wharton perform some thrilling Circque du Soleil-style acrobatics. It's great fun to watch Dr. Seuss' silly words and creations come to life before your eyes in such imaginative and joyful ways.

Fringe Festival 2016: "Mother's Milk"

Day: 7

Show: 31

Title: Mother's Milk

Category: Something Different

By: Inner Voice

Created by: Katherine Engel

Location: U of M Rarig Center Xperimental

Summary: A series of short vignettes about mothers, including storytelling, scenes, and songs.

Highlights: This feels like a companion piece to The Abortion Chronicles, which tells women's real-life stories about abortion. But in this case, the focus is on the women who chose to become mothers, and the children who remember and honor them. Some pieces were written by the cast (Jody Bee, Chari Eckmann, Shea Roberts, Delinda "Oogie" Pushetonequa, and Katherine Engel), some are from other sources, all are performed with great emotion. Most of the singing takes the form of chanting and feels ancient, as do these specific and universal stories. Mother's Milk is moving and beautiful way to honor our mothers, and will most likely strike a chord with anyone who sees it.

Fringe Festival 2016: "SmashHammer: The Heavy Metal Musical Featuring the Heavy Metal Stylings of the Heavy Metal Band, SmashHammer"

Day: 7

Show: 30

Category: Something Different


Directed by: Joe Johnson

Location: Southern Theater

Summary: A crazy and campy heavy metal musical about a classic hero story.

Highlights: This is a pretty outrageous musical, with rockin' original music and a fairly conventional hero story told in an maniacally overdrawn, fourth-wall breaking sort of way. In some faraway kingdom, a poor knight Nicodemus (played by a woman, Madison Olimb, with serious pipes) is in love with the princess (Ali Daniels) who is kidnapped by the evil Secundus (book writer Sam Landman, with wild eyes and a great rock scream). Nicodemus goes on an impossible quest to rescue the princess, defeat the monster, and restore order to the world. Just your typical hero cycle. But it's told in a fun, campy way which the cast gleefully jumps into with both feet. The songs (introduced by a shirtless greased gladiator holding a sign) are fantastic and well-sung, with appropriately loud recorded music, plus one live guitarist, Eli Stone (who wrote the songs along with director Joe Johnson*). SmashHammer is one fun, crazy, fringey musical.

*The original album is available for purchase at HiFi Hair Salon and Records.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Fringe Festival 2016: Mid-Fringe Favorites

Well friends, we've made it through the halfway point of the 11-day, 168(167?)-show Minnesota Fringe Festival. I've seen 29 shows in the last 6 days, with 20+ more scheduled for the final 5 days of the fest. If you have not yet indulged, there's still time to get your Fringe on! Below is a list of my favorite shows so far (in alphabetical order). Five of the below listed shows I saw on one glorious mind-spinning day, after which I tweeted: "Friends, after just 3 days & 14 shows I'm so full up w/ humanity I'm not sure how much more I can take before my heart explodes." That's the beauty of this thing we call Fringe.

Fringe Festival 2016: "Mead Hall"

Day: 6

Show: 29

Title: Mead Hall

Category: Comedy

Created by: Greer, Tallen, and Watson-Jones

Location: U of M Rarig Center Thrust

Summary: A meta-Fringe mash-up of the oldest story in Western literature, Beowulf, and the 1989 Patrick Swayze movie Roadhouse.

Highlights: This isn't your ordinary mash-up, in which two seemingly different stories are combined into one. This one is told in a very meta-Fringe way, with actors playing versions of themselves doing a Fringe show. Or rather shows, as due to a mix-up, two different productions show up in the same place at the same time - a very literary and nerdy one-man show/lecture about Beowulf, and a musical adaptation of Roadhouse (on roller skates!). At first the two groups argue and take turns telling their story, but eventually they come to realize that their stories have several parallels (thanks, Joseph Campbell and the hero cycle) and work together to conclude the two stories that have now become one. The cast is great as both heightened versions of themselves, and the overblown characters (Clarence Wethern as the Beowulf guy, the Roadhouse cast consisting of Kayla Dvorak, Brandon Ewald, Delta Rae Giordano, David Schlosser, Noë Tallen, and a late and shirtless Derek Meyer as the Patrick Swayze character). The structure of the show allows the creators (director Carin Bratlie Wethern, writers Aaron Greer, Ben Tallen, and Brian Watson-Jones) to poke fun at the Fringe itself (including a list of ridiculous Fringe titles that are no more ridiculous than real Fringe titles), while still producing a very fringey show. To be enjoyed by lovers of classical literature, bad '80s movies, and the Fringe. I can't wait for the sequel next year!

Fringe Festival 2016: "Couple Fight II: Friends and Family"

Day: 6

Show: 28

Category: Comedy

By: Weggel-Reed Productions

Created by: Anna Weggel-Reed

Location: Theatre in the Round

Summary: A return of last year's hilarious Couple Fight, with all new real-life fights between funny people who love each other.

Highlights: This is another simple premise that works. Fringe favorites reenact a real-life fight they had with a loved one - spouse, parent, friend, sister. Created by Anna Weggel-Reed, directed by Tom Reed, and written by the cast, it's the first Fringe show that brought me to tears of laughter. Sisters Angie Martin and Casey Haeg fight about nothing and everything, the way sisters do. Improv buddies Andy Hilbrands and Katy Kessler fight about (what else) the election. Lacey Zeiler fights with her 3-year-old daughter Lila (hilariously played by her husband John Zeiler) about bedtime. Married couple Rachael Davies and Andy Kraft fight about football, and who's more of a man. BFFs Sulia Altenberg and BriAnna M. Daniels fight about race (awkward!). Friends Anna Weggel-Reed and Richie McLarn fight about smoking on the U of M campus. And last but perhaps best, Emily Schmidt and her mother Pat reenact a scene at Target when Emily was a precocious 7-year-old. It's nicely put together with intro and ending scenes that include a snippet of all fights, and each scene is introduced like a boxing match (perfect for the in-the-round setting). And then little Lila shows up for the curtain call and steals the show.

Fringe Festival 2016: "The Lounge-asaurus Rex Show with Lounge-asaurus Rex! (featuring Lounge-asaurus Rex)"

Day: 6

Show: 27

Category: Comedy

By: Tom Reed

Created by: Tom Reed

Location: Theatre in the Round

Summary: The master of Fringe comedy/music improv Tom Reed returns with his character Lounge-asaurus Rex, the loungiest singer of them all.

Highlights: I first encountered Lounge-asaurus Rex (and Tom Reed) at Sample Night Live several years ago. It's a great character, a great shtick, one deserving of a whole show, which he finally gets here. Dressed in '70s-style leisure suits, chunky gold rings, and big dark glasses, with a drink in one hand and a corded microphone in the other, Lounge-asaurus Rex talks, and he sings (the difference: singing takes longer to convey information). He chats with audience members (avoid aisle seats if you don't want to be chatted to) and then makes up a song about the conversation, e.g., songs about Duke Ellington, world peace, Tom Sawyer, a Fringe show promotion, or dietitians. Loungey (as I like to call him) loves the sound of his own voice so much (and he should, it's a great one) that sometimes he sings questions or statements instead of merely speaking them. Accompanied by Justin Nellis on keyboard, the songs are really funny and clever, and Tom is incredibly quick in coming up with lyrics and rhymes. It's obvious he's been performing as this character for a number of years because he's extremely comfortable and confident as Loungey, yet the act never gets old or stale no matter how often I see it. Louge-asaurus Rex is a super entertaining, funny, quick-witted, well-sung show, and in typical Tom Reed fashion, there is shirtlessness (and pantlessness)!

Fringe Festival 2016: "The Final Tubby Bye-Bye"

Day: 6

Show: 26

Category: Something Different

By: Play-dot

Created by: Play-dot

Location: U of M Rarig Center Thrust

Summary: A series of delightfully silly skits based on the children's TV show Teletubbies, along with more sobering monologues pondering the deeper things in life.

Highlights: I'm not quite sure how to write about this one (I heard another audience member say "It's Fringe as f**k). It's definitely unlike anything else you'll see at the Fringe this year. The Teletubbies (played by Bre'Elle Erickon, Paris Kelvakis, Hillary Olson, and Zack Roberts) are a delight as they act out the various silly things that Teletubbies do, with a childlike look of wonder or surprise or confusion on their faces. But there's also a deeper darker undercurrent, as the Tubbies begin to express resentment at the narrator (Eric Siegel) and his rules and schedules. Each of the Tubbies has a monologue in which they muse on happiness, beauty, or human connection, in a surprisingly poignant way. Even the narrator has his moment of reflection, as he realizes maybe it's time for the final Tubby bye-bye, and then what? There's also an oddly moving modern dance number. It's an extremely unique, surprisingly thoughtful, sweetly charming show.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Fringe Festival 2016: "Gilligan: A Tropical Musical"

Day: 5

Show: 25

Category: Musical

By: Literally Entertainment Productions

Created by: Literally Entertainment Productions

Location: Mixed Blood Theatre

Summary: A musical based on the iconic 1960s TV show Gilligan's Island, told in the style of Hamilton.

Highlights: The team behind last year's smash hit Fringe show Oregon Trail: The Musical returns with a takeoff on the current Broadway smash hit Hamilton. You can watch the opening number here, in which First Mate Gilligan is introduced by the other castaways a la Alexander Hamilton's introduction. What follows is sitcom-like scenes interspersed with Hamilton parodies, including Gilligan singing "I'm not very good at knots" ("I'm not giving away my spot") and Mr. Howell singing "She'll be back" (my personal favorite song, "You'll be back"). The songs are incredibly clever (composed, er... maybe adapted, by Kyle DeGoey, with lyrics by Kyle and Travis Carpenter) and I wanted more of them! "The island sisters" are mentioned ("Marianne, Ginger, ... and Lovey") and I was really hoping we'd get to see that number (nope). There's a Wizard of Oz diversion that doesn't seem necessary when  you have source material as rich as Gilligan's Island and Hamilton to mine. But I'm being nitpicky. The show is incredibly clever and fun, with super fast lyrics well-delivered by the cast (Aleksandra Sobie, Chris Laumann, Erin Kennedy, Justin L. Rios, Kyle DeGoey, Matthew Englund, Roxanne Britz, Travis Carpenter). It's a must for the Hamilton-obsessed.

Warning: the first two performances sold out and the remaining three are at high risk to sell out, so you might want to make advance reservations or show up at the theater early to ensure a spot.

Fringe Festival 2016: "Orpheus and Eurydice"

Day: 5

Show: 24

Category: Musical

By: Garden of Song Opera

Written by: Christoph Willibald Gluck

Location: Mixed Blood Theatre

Summary: A condensed version of the 1762 opera performed in English by three women.

Highlights: Garden of Song Opera is a new opera company focused on providing more jobs for women in opera (because apparently like most other fields, opera is dominated by men). In that spirit, they're presenting this three-person opera, with all roles played by women. It's the traditional mythical story of Orpheus, who follows his departed wife Eurydice into the Underworld and attempts to bring her back, while the Goddess of Love watches and laughs, as Gods do. It's beautifully sung by the cast (Sara Fanucchi, Carmelita Guse, and Betsie Feldkamp) with pathos and occasional humor. There's not much opera in the Fringe, so if you're looking for an opera fix - this is the show for you.

Fringe Festival 2016: "And To Think That I Saw It At 221B Baker's Street"

Day: 5

Show: 23

Category: Comedy

By: Rooftop Theatre Company

Created by: John Newstrom and Tim Wick

Location: Southern Theater

Summary: A brilliantly funny mash-up of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Seuss.

Highlights: I know, it sounds weird. Everyone's favorite rhyming children's author combined with one of the most beloved literary characters of all time? But it works beautifully well. And in a fun twist - Sherlock Holmes is a woman (it's about time)! In typical Holmsian style, Dr. Watson (Samuel Poppen) narrates a case as the brilliant Ms. Holmes (Dawn Krosnowski) solves it effortlessly. Their client in this particular case is none other than The Cat in the Hat, who is searching for his missing Things. A trip to Whoville is in order, where Holmes and Watson meet several other Dr. Seuss characters, from a Lorax to Cindy Lou Who (hilariously protrayed by Lana Rosario, Jason Kruger, Roseah Germ, and Tim Jopek with multiple costume changes). Of course Ms. Holmes' nemesis Moriarty (Edwin Strout) is behind the disappearance of the Things, and of course she saves the day. Creators John Newstrom (director) and Tim Wick (writer) have managed to successfully combine these two beloved franchises in a way that's sure to please fans of either one, as well as people who enjoy clever comedy.