Wednesday, August 16, 2023

Minnesota Fringe Festival 2023: Wrap-Up and Favorites

One of the highlights of my theater year is the Minnesota Fringe Festival. This year was the 30th MN Fringe, and my 13th, and it feels like those 11 days went by in a flash. I've seen over 400 Fringe shows in the last 13 years (counting several dozen virtual shows in 2020 and 2021), including 41 this year. That's only my 4th highest yearly total (and 9 short of my friend Rob at The Stages of Minnesota in only his second year at the Fringe), but it was only one short of my max (I took Tuesday off to see the Broadway tour of Jagged Little Pill, and I can't do 10pm shows anymore, especially not while training for a marathon). So basically I spent most of my weeknights and weekends seeing, writing about, and planning for theater for 11 days. It's a thrilling and inspiring experience, but also exhausting. I'm glad the Fringe only comes around once a year. 

I saw some incredible shows this year - comedy, drama, musical, satire, magic, dance, and more. I survived on trail mix and crackers and sandwiches I carried around in my bag all day. I got soaked to the skin in a sudden downpour (and that was day one!), and I narrowly avoided a hail storm. I chatted with artists and fellow bloggers, and recorded several podcast episodes about the Fringe (if you miss Fringe, you can listen to our four Fringe episodes here, and then keep listening for eight non-Fringe episodes). I even took over the @mnfringe Instagram account for a day. I really didn't see a bad show, but some will stick with me longer than others. Here's a list of my favorite shows, in alphabetical order (click the show title for full review and link to show page):

5-Step Guide to Being German - possibly the most I laughed in any Fringe show this year (maybe because I related to it so well); German comedian Paco Erhard proves that yes, we Germans can be funny!

Breakneck Midsummer Night's Dream - once again Timothy Mooney (here with five friends) makes a case for why Shakespeare should always be 60 minutes long, in this really fun and faithful adaptation of the Bard's most popular comedy.

Boy Crazy - horrifyingly hilarious stories and scenes about dating and relationships, with lovely original songs, all by the incomparable Madde Gibba.

Fargo Allegro - the beloved Coen Brothers movie Fargo that gently spoofs all things Minnesotan was ripe for a Fringe parody, and this brisk but thorough romp through the story, with a live soundtrack and charming set design, more than lived up to expectations.

Fire in My Veins: Blazing through Life with Invisible Illness - a compelling, engaging, and enlightening personal storytelling show about living with an unseen chronic illness from Allision Broeren, one of the founders of Strike Theater.

Funny, Like an Abortion
- definitely the best social and political commentary this year, this smartly written and well performed play by EnCompass theater is exactly the kind of art we need right now.

Gilda: A Tribute to the Beloved Comedienne Gilda Radner - I'm not even that familiar with Gilda's work, but traveling artist Helena K Cosentino made me fall in love with her in this sweet, funny, and touching show.

A Girl Scout’s Guide to Exorcism
- the very last show I saw this year, and one of the best. Melancholics Anonymous brings their usual attention to detail, committed performances, unique stories, and slightly dark viewpoint to this utterly delightful story of tween girls who accidentally invoke the spirit of a famed environmentalist, with terrifying results.

Ha Ha Da Vinci - in a show that could only exist at a Fringe Festival, traveling artist Phina Pipia used magic, music, math, and more to tell a charming story filled with wonder and surprise.

H.G. Well's THE INVISIBLE MAN - a delightful adaptation of the novel about the scientist who becomes invisible and attempts to evade the law, told in a charming 39 Steps like physical theater style.

My Only Hope for a Hero - Duck Washington's first solo show that starts out with '80s pop culture and turns into something deeper, a call to action for us all to be heroes in our own lives and for those around us.

Pearl and Eugene: One Last Shtick - Robert Dorfman and Nancy Marvy performing shtick, puns, and songs. Enough said.

Romeo and Juliet - a continuation of the famous story of star-crossed lovers that starts out sounding like lots Shakespeare scenes, and turns into a more modern exploration of love and commitment.

Stabby Stab Stab - a dark and lovely retelling of the true story of two Wisconsin tweens who stab their friend to appease Slenderman, by Fringe favorites Special When Lit and The Winding Sheet Outfit.

The Very Model of a Modern Monster Scientist - Fringe favorite Reverand Matt steps out from behind the podium with his monster deep dive and interacts with an actual human - his new assistant. (I also loved his Muppets show as part of Monster Science's Greatest Hits.)

What if We Hugged - a funny, relatable, and entertaining first storytelling show from Levi Weinhagen, using the TV sitcome structure to tell stories of medical dramas, fatherhood, and being human.

The Windblown Cheeks of Lovers - a multi-media mocumentary spoof of '80s miniseries, just the kind of delightful ridiculousness you would expect from the team of Fotis/Boersma/Hellendrung.

Click here for this year's Golden Lanyard Awards, which includes the highest ticket sellers in each venue, awards voted on by the audience, and staff and artists picks.

Thanks for reading and following along. Please continue to follow Minnesota Fringe Festival on social media for events and activities throughout the year. Enjoy the next few weeks of quiet before the 2023-2024 #TCTheater season begins in earnest after Labor Day. Watch for a season preview episode of Twin Cities Theater Chat coming soon, and follow Cherry and Spoon on Facebook for weekly show opening posts every Monday morning.