Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Minneapolis/St. Paul

Minnesota Fringe Festival

For 11 days in August, theaters throughout Minneapolis turn themselves over to a crazy madhouse of shows. Between August 3 and 13, more than 150 shows and nearly 800 performances are presented throughout the city during the Minnesota Fringe Festival.

Now in its 13th year, the festival is a beast unto itself, providing a mix of established stars presenting new works, companies trying to get a foothold in the local community through a splash at the festival, and others embracing the old maxim of "putting on a show."

The event certainly is popular, with more than 15,000 tickets sold over the first four days (for 340 performances), up about eight percent from 2005. If this holds through the festival, the event will draw more than 45,000 patrons.

With an audience primed for experimentation, the Fringe Festival is a chance for established artists to let their hair down, and for new artists to showcase their skills.

Jon Cole in
Love in a Time of Rinderpest

(photo by Daniel Wiersgalla)
You want crazy? The plot of Love in a Time of Rinderpest (presented by the Impossible Theater Group) involves a high-school drama contest, a song detailing "The Inside Dimensions" of a Black & Decker toaster oven, and a cardboard box who pines for the love of his life. And that really is too straightforward of a description for all the madness on display. The student "acting" - by the underfunded heroes and the dreaded champions, the Minnetonka "Thespinauts" - makes the worst high school experience a trip to Broadway. The cardboard box gets advice from the 1980s-era Bruce Springsteen, who teaches the box the importance of the "huh" in writing love songs. And it ends with an informative drama about the risks of amateur ghostbusting.

Equally crazed is Watching Porn, which is about - well, you know. Presented by the geek friendly Council of Doom Theatre Co. (who presented the Dungeons and Dragons inspired THACO last year), the show is a, ahem, romp through the puzzling rules of pornography and how one young man tries to use that in his relationships, to understandably disastrous results.

The Fringe format - 60 minutes for the show, a short time to set up and tear down - lends itself to simple productions - and one-actor shows. These can be godawful (two that I saw, The Dr.* Matt Show (*not a real doctor) and Alice: A Comic Journey of Tragic Proportions, were painful to watch), but also provide lots of potential, especially if the artist understands how to use the format. In The Rats in the Walls, Tim Uren crafts a spooky reading around H.P. Lovecraft's story. Uren uses a piece written in the first person, and nearly devoid of dialogue, so it works quite well in the format. Though occasionally sloppy, Uren makes the narrator's descent into madness crystal clear, leaving his final ravings to haunt the viewer long after the end of the show.

Sadie Bowman and Marc Gutman in
Calculus: The Musical

Musicals are also a popular piece of the Fringe world. They can be serious (Bitter Boy's Musical Journey from Negative to Positive, a solid if still-in-development show about the show's creator life as a gay man and how he dealt with becoming HIV positive); sophisticated (the always-excellent Nautilus Music-Theater's presentation of Songs From An Unmade Bed); and, of course, absolutely bizarre (Calculus: The Musical, which brings the bane of college freshman everywhere to life).

With so many shows, it's impossible to check out everything that sounds interesting, but I'll give it a try. Check in later this week with a report on some additional shows.

For more information, visit

- Ed Huyck

Be sure to check the current schedule for theatre in the Twin Cities area

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