Thursday, November 11, 2021

"Fruit Flies Like a Banana" by the Fourth Wall Ensemble at the Southern Theater

Oh happy day - my favorite traveling fringe show is in town, and it's not even fringe season! With all fringe festivals cancelled (or virtual) in 2020, and limited in 2021, the Boston-based Fourth Wall Ensemble is embarking on a mini-tour of their own. And since they love Minnesota (or that's what they tell us, and we believe them), the Southern Theater in Minnesota is one of their stops. But hurry, they're only here for one more show - tonight! If you've never seen them before, now is your chance to see multi-disciplinary artists do what I have literally never seen anyone else do. This trio of classically trained instrumentalists performs short pieces of music combined with storytelling, theater, dance, movement, acrobatics, and just generally wildly creative silliness. It's a guaranteed hour (or so) of pure joy and wonder. And who doesn't need that right now?! Click here to purchase tickets for tonight's 6:30pm show (great for kids and morning people struggling with the recent time change).

After seeing the Fourth Wall's show Fruit Flies Like a Banana in the 2015 Minnesota Fringe Festival, I was hooked, and now see them every chance I get. Featuring Hilary Abigana on flute, C. Neil Parsons on trombone, and Greg Jukes on various percussive instruments, the show is a compilation of short pieces related to the letters of the alphabet, with the order determined by the audience. At the Fringe they do this in an hour, but without the ticking clock they're allowed to give things a little more time to breathe into an 80-minute show of non-stop music, movement, and entertainment. On a rare few pieces they just stand there and play (gorgeous), but most often they're playing their instruments while dancing, hover-boarding, hanging upside down, jumping rope, or gliding around on chairs or on top of the vibraphone (which is not a xylophone). For this show they've traded their usual wardrobe of basic black and primary colors athleisure for fun, colorful, and quirky fancy attire (that still allows for all the movement).

Each of the 26 alphabetical pieces comes with a little story about the composer or musical style, told briefly in words and then in music. Pieces range from a few seconds to more than five minutes long, from ridiculous (Greg playing the toy piano upside down, Hilary playing the Superman theme while flying like Superman on Neil's feet) to quiet and beautiful, with some gorgeous shapes created musically and physically. An audience favorite is when they play a song using boomwhackers (plastic tubes of varying lengths), and a new favorite is a long medley of songs from the '70s, complete with dance moves and singalongs. The audience is included in the show, but not in a scary participation way, rather in a non-threatening way that creates a warm community feel.

Many of the pieces are classical selections that may sound familiar, but they also perform original pieces they commissioned from composers around the world (because there aren't may pieces written for flute, trombone, and percussion), and other new works by living composers. While entertaining the young, the old, and the in-between, they're also educating the audience about lesser-known composers, and expanding the boundaries of what classical music can do and be. As a former self-described band geek, I've always thought playing instruments was cool, but these cats make it look super cool. If you have a young musician in your life, this show can only inspire them to continue their studies and take them places they didn't know they could go.

Hilary, Neil, and Greg are always so positively joyous and playful in their performances, and seemed especially so last night. Maybe because they're freed from the strict fringe time limits, or maybe because we can be together again after so long of being apart. And it feels good.

Catch the final performance of Fruit Flies Like a Banana tonight at 6:30 at the Southern Theater.