Minnesota Fringe Festival
A general Fringe rule-of-thumb says attend three random shows and one will be ho-hum, one will be good and the third will be excellent. That held more or less true for my two nights of fringing. Reviewed with up to five stars in the order I saw them:
The Adventures of Swash and Buckle
The best thing about Symmonie Preston's Swash and Buckle is its likeable cast of ten. Led by Preston as able Swash and Elise Anderson as book-reading seductress Buckle, the cast has such a bouncy good time on stage that their sheer verve lends the piece a certain charm in a confusing story of pirates, seduction, disguise, kidnapping, quaffing and lots of sword fighting. Set in England, possibly around the time of Elizabeth 1, its jolly high-school humor amuses, but mildly. **½ * (Theatre de la Jeune Lune, Wed, Aug. 8 at 7:30 p.m., Fri. Aug. 10 at 8:30 p.m., Sun. Aug. 12, at 2:30 p.m.)
Nor Did the Atomic Bomb Drop Itself
In one quick hour, Gone Today Productions features five shorts that include story telling, performance poetry and a playlet. By turns, the performances are funny, poignant and quiet good. The funniest by far is The Luckiest People and Any Idiot, written and delivered by performance poet Tom Cassidy. His narrator is an angry, anti-gun nutter who lusts after guns. The delivery is quick, dry, passionate and funny. Cassidy's Stephanie Sells Mary Kay on the Side works less well but entertains. Richard Rousseau is a skilled storyteller who uses timing and back-and-forth story teasers to seed audience interest. His opening piece, Strike Up the Band, is more affecting than Smoke Rings that closes the show. Playwright Erica Christ presents a 10-minute play fragment, Speak Like This, set around a kitchen table in a war-torn, European village where loose talk has cost lives. It feels like a work in progress, promising but incomplete. ***½ * (Interact Theater, Wed. Aug.8 t !0:00 p.m., Fri. Aug. 8:30 p.m., Sat. 11 at 4:00 p.m.)
Our Space is up there, nudging excellence. Playwright Glenn Morehouse took Thornton Wilder's Our Town and plugged it into 2007. The result is very funny and thought-provoking satire. The play starts with the stage manager introducing early 1900s America, but his young players rebel; they change the script and the century, grab their cell phones and we're deep into present day, teenage 24-7 connectedness. Or is it disconnectedness? Morehouse directs a talented young cast with lovely creative touches. The stage manager changes scenes with a TV remote. Two guitars, being played in two different houses with different expressiveness, morph into one song. A video shows the stereotypes that each kid (and one mom) projects to the world on MySpace, even as we see their inner isolation and despair. These kids might be plugged in and blocked out, but don't fail to plug yourself into Mo Productions' Our Space. **** (Interact Theater, Sat. Aug 11 at 1:00 p.m., Sun. Aug. 12 at 4:00 p.m.)
Twisted Roots' ensemble production of Heiner Mueller's most famous play, a sort of vivisection of Shakespeare's Hamlet feels like a face-smash of broken glass. It opens to the overwhelming sound of grinding industrial machinery, or is it tanks, crushing what it means to be human. I sat in appalled fascination at systematic rape of women, Hamlet's rape of his mother, the routine cruelty of unchecked tyranny and the anger, numbness and despair of those at the receiving end of unfettered power, finely expressed by three different Ophelias. Might claims right in this play's unabashed violence towards women. Die Hamletmaschine dehumanizes both the perpetrators and the victims and feels wrenchingly relevant in light of Darfur and Iraq. Twisted Root's six players use compelling physicality and images to plumb Mueller's brutal text, but you need strong guts to watch it. **** (Theatre de la Jeune Lune, Fri. Aug. 10 at 7:00 p.m.)
A Slice of Life
Star Players' teenage angst show, A Slice of Life, tries hard, but the production feels slow, with multiple clunky prop changes and a predictable script by Jenny Pollock. Attractive Lizzie Larson (Samantha Coady) has to deal with the confines of a small town, an absent dad, a needy little sister, and all the same friends doing all the same things everyday, and that is pretty much how it felt to this audience member. There are all the teenage types - the nerd, the geek, the jock, the nice girl, the bad girl, the lost girl and the lumpy girl. For high school students, this production might hit the spot, but it didn't hit mine. ** (Southern Theater, Fri. Aug. 10 at 10:00 p.m.)
The Honeymoon Period Is Officially Over
In a one-woman tour-de-force performance, English Gemma Wilcox plays multiple characters and tells, through first-rate dialogue, the evolution of Sandra's relationship with Michael. Wilcox is a master (mistress?) of accents, body language and patterns of speech, so even in a quick-fire conversation between Sandra and Michael, I felt like a fly on the wall, watching two people clash. Class is defined by accent in England, and Sandra is a bright, lower class young woman from the Midlands who is living with upper class Michael. None of this is told; it's simply there in the choice of language, attitudes and accents. Sandra has earthy farming relatives, Uncle Tone and Auntie Crystal, a lower-class ex-boyfriend and an anxious-to-please hamster. She becomes them all, not to mention a svelte cat and, would you believe, a peacock! Clearly, Michael is a step up for Sandra, but how much does happiness count in a relationship? The subtle class nuances that underpin this remarkable piece might not be obvious to American audiences, yet even without full insight, Wilcox's performance is right-on and very funny. For my vote, this could be Best in Fringe. ***** (Pillsbury House Theater, 8:30 p.m. Sat. Aug. 11 at 8:30 p.m.)
This saucy short comes in three parts; the first, Beyond Therapy, is hilarious. Written by Christopher Durang, it brings two nervous middle-aged people together as they meet for the first time in response to a personal ad. The man, Mathew Feeney, smells his own breath and checks his fly and armpits as he waits for her. She, ample Julie Scott, sails in, her generous bosoms as inviting as ripe melons. He is wonderfully inappropriate and almost tips into her breasts as he admires them; she's disconcerted but pleased. Even more disconcerting to her is Bob (I say no more!), but she's hot on the path for romance, and he is a possibility. Cathy Celesia's Anything for You lacks the same oomph. Two married women friends meet for lunch. One, Amy Matilla, throbs for a same-sex affaire and has her hot eye on her friend, Katie Batchelder. In Joe De Pietro's zany Executive Dance, the set-up is a corporate dance for executives only. Too few execs are women, so two successful businessmen, who probably know each other in the Biblical sense, foxtrot, waltz and samba together, bitching about how many office windows each has and how much furniture, all the while sucking up to unseen CEOs. It's great fun and very happy. ***½ * (Patrick's Cabaret, Thurs. Aug 9 at 7:00 p.m.)
In a series of stories titled Bawdy to Bizarre, four accomplished storytellers spin yarns from the supernatural to the demonic. Richard Rousseau tells of predicting the date of a death; with under-stated humor, Pat Coffie relates being an ageing grandmother at a rock concert, focused on violent disaffection; Mike Speller's nightmarish tech story held me spellbound and Nancy Donovan surprises in a funny tale of pasties, and she ain't talking about meat pies. If you are susceptible to a story well told, then this is for you. *** (Playwrights' Center, Sat. Aug. 11, 2:30 p.m. and Sun. Aug. 12 at 5:30 p.m.
Go to www.fringefestival.org or pick up City Pages to get the low-down on venues, prices and plays.