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Minnesota Fringe Festival

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Show reviews by Sharon Kahn

Brilliant by Sharon Kahn
Rating: 5 kitties
I decided to see this one after chatting with the performer as she handed out flyers for her show. She had such an expressive face that I thought she'd be a good solo performer. She was. My husband and I also have a fondness for the "3 short pieces" Fringe show format. In this case, the writing was extraordinarily strong, the production values were unobtrusively excellent, and Candy Simmons is just a brilliant actress. Don't miss this one if you like well-written, well-performed character drama with a comic edge.

Cherry Cherry Lemon
Cherry cherry cherry! by Sharon Kahn
Rating: 5 kitties
A wonderful surprise in an otherwise disappointing evening. Honestly, we only attended this one because it filled in the time between two other shows we wanted to see, but "Cherry, Cherry, Lemon" turned out to be the hit of the evening. I'm not sure I have much to add to what other reviewers have said, but wanted to add my 5-kitty vote for one of the best shows of the Fringe so far. A few reviewers felt it lost energy towards the end, but it was the opposite for me; I thought it got better and better as I got to know the women better. There was no big ending, but that was fine - it was more a slice of life than a drama arc. Highly recommended with one small caveat - be aware that there is some very frank (and funny) discussion of the women's sex lives in fairly graphic terms. Might or might not be your cup of tea.

This Show Will Change Your Life!
Way Funnier than Expected by Sharon Kahn
Rating: 5 kitties
Motivational seminars seem like such an easy target that I was expecting a show full of mugging and cheap shots (we just stopped in on a whim because the time and place were convenient). Surprise! It was hilarious! The two performers are so skilled that they don't have to overact to make their point; they have the exact body language,timing and gimmicks of the professional salesman. The catch phrases and bullet points are familiar enough to sound momentarily plausible at the beginning of each new pitch before the whole thing collapses into nonsense. Great chemistry between the two as they reminisce about their long friendship ("What a stroke of luck that we ended up sharing the same cell that night!") and subtly jockey for control of the stage.

Bard Fiction
I wish I'd rewatched the movie first by Sharon Kahn
Rating: 5 kitties
I've only seen Pulp Fiction one time several years ago, so a lot of the spoof went over my head. However, I caught enough of the references to see how brilliantly the source material was adapted to the Elizabethan style. If there's a remount of this play I think I'd rewatch the movie and then see the play again. The dialogue flew so thick and fast that it would take several viewings to pick it all up.

Surprisingly thoughtful by Sharon Kahn
Rating: 5 kitties
Surprisingly thoughtful examination of the nature of friendship wrapped in an absurdist comedy about a penguin in the military. The acting was excellent and the penguin puppet was wonderful. It must have been a difficult decision deciding how to handle the penguin's dialogue. The decision to have him speak only in squeaks and squawks but be instantly understood by everyone on stage was the perfect solution. This technique not only preserves the "otherness" of the penguin, it engages the audience by forcing them to fill in for themselves what Falkland must have just said.

Jurassic Dork
Unspeakably hilarious by Sharon Kahn
Rating: 5 kitties
Really really funny (assuming you are familiar with the movie - it would be pretty baffling if you were not). Like all shows of this nature, success is completely dependent on the talents of the solo actor, and John Skelley rises to the occasion with rubber-faced mimicry and frenetic athleticism. Inspired use of mood music and ridiculously silly props pushes it over the top into brilliance. The first dinosaur sighting is recreated by a swim noodle with a balloon on top poking around from behind a curtain, followed shortly by Skelley lumbering around the corner with the assemblage attached to a bike helmet on his head. The use of toy cars and other small size props allows sudden changes of scale that are inherently funny, especially juxtaposed against the memory of just how scary that part of the movie really was. Not only did this show make me laugh myself silly, it reminded of just what a good movie Jurassic Park really was. I think I'll add it to my Netflix queue.

Tragedy of You
That's why they call him the king by Sharon Kahn
Rating: 5 kitties
Of comedy, as well as Baseballtopia. Joe Scrimshaw is brilliant, as always. We saw "The Tragedy of Steve" (every performance is a different show, of course). We laughed and laughed, and marveled at his ability to even REMEMBER all of Steve's interview answers, much less weave them into the play's complicated structure on the fly. Get in line early - this one's gonna be another sell-out. FYI, the 12+ rating is for the occasional casual f-word and a few of the clown's jokes (which would probably fly over the heads of younger kids anyway). I wouldn't hesitate to bring tweens. They might not get the Shakespeare and theatrical in-jokes, but they'll love it for the physical comedy, mocking wit, and Joe's amazing ability to perform leaps, double-takes and somersaults while talking non-stop.

The Traveling Musicians
Bring a lighter! by Sharon Kahn
Rating: 5 kitties
I wanted to see these guys because I was so impressed by their inventive, athletic dance performance last year: The Gypsy and the General. I had no idea what to expect of this year's performance, but this wasn't it: 4 oddly clothed musicians on a tiny stage at the back of a neighborhood bar. WTF, I thought they were a dance troupe? By the end of the hour they were, in fact gyrating on the stage, cavorting around the room and dancing on the bar. Yep, they're dancers. They are also awesomely eclectic musical performers and just a hell of a lot of fun. It's difficult to describe the show without giving away too much - just go see them! Buy a Magic Hat beer at the bar and don't sit too close to the stage unless you want to be blown away by the oversized sound system. And bring a lighter! All I can say is that when they swing into their last number, everybody in the bar should be holding a lighter aloft. And watch for their CD, rumored to be available sometime later during Fringe week. I know I'll buy one!

The Harty Boys in The Case of the Limping Platypus
Now THAT's how to do it! by Sharon Kahn
Rating: 5 kitties
This is how you do a high-quality children's show that satisfies audiences of all ages. This play operates on so many levels at once, and succeeds on all of them. For the youngsters you have lots of physical humor and silly wordplay, plus a plot that turns on the two little kids turning out to be smarter than anybody else in the show. For the adults you have more sophisticated wordplay and all those layers of meta-humor and irony: the narrator answering the phone for all the minor characters he also plays, the little girl sleuth who always has her nose in a famous piece of feminist literature, Mom turning out to be a CSI investigator while Dad keeps coming up with 19th century suggestions like "I've found that the operation of the criminal mind is always related to the balance of the four humors in the body." On top of all that, the acting is uniformly superb. Great show for any age.

Sideways Stories from Wayside School
Hey, Fringe, what's with the timeslot?? by Sharon Kahn
Rating: 5 kitties
This is, as all the other reviewers commented, an absolutely fantastic children's show. It's meant to be enjoyed by all ages, and the ENTIRELY ADULT AUDIENCE in attendance when I saw it did indeed roar with laughter. But why weren't there any kids there? Because it was 10:00 o'clock at night, that's why! It's sad to see such a great family show mis-scheduled so badly. Parents, this is a great show! Please bring the kids even if it does keep them up past their bedtime just this once.

The Curse of Yig
Terrifyingly effective by Sharon Kahn
Rating: 5 kitties
HP Lovecraft is best when read aloud. There is something about his hypnotic cadence and plummy verbosity that needs to be heard with the ear to work its awful magic. But this performance is much more than a simple reading (like last year's "Rats in the Walls.") At the start of the show it is essentially two narrators taking turns reading the introductory exposition, but after a while Tim and Amy slip into the characters of Walker and Audrey Davis and lead the audience into the ultimate "there's something under the bed" nightmare. Beautifully done, despite the occasional slips of the tongue.

Parry Hotter and the Half-Drunk Twins
Very funny, even for non-fans by Sharon Kahn
Rating: 4 kitties
Extremely hilarious show wherein one man recaps all 7 books, doing all the characters, and punctuating it all with a few songs. Tom Reed is incredibly talented - watch for him in the future. Show requires basic familiarity with the Harry Potter Phenomenon to appreciate properly, but I am living proof that one book, two movies and everybody you know talking about it ad nauseum is enough familiarity to enjoy the show thoroughly. Marked down from 5 stars for overly loud musical accompaniment that drowned out the words to the songs and the fact that the room was at about 90 degrees (not the performers' fault of course, but the A/C in that room has been non-functional for 3 days now and I wouldn't count on it getting better any time. Just be prepared).

Tales ... Of the Expected!
Maybe a little too... expected by Sharon Kahn
Rating: 4 kitties
Stellar cast, but the material was pretty thin. Maybe I've just seen a few too many variations on the fractured fairy tale, and the genre just isn't as funny as it was back when I was watching Rocky and Bullwinkle. It would have been a great kid's show if it weren't for the astonishingly foul-mouthed Mom in the first play. Don't get me wrong - she was hilarious - but she pretty much takes the play off the table as a kids' matinee.

Buyer's Remorse
Perfectly executed, but... by Sharon Kahn
Rating: 4 kitties
It certainly didn't sound appealing in the show description (what - ANOTHER show about cold-blooded murder? Is that the secret theme of the Fringe this year?) but we added it to our schedule after numerous recommendations from passing strangers in line at other shows. Sure enough, it was well done and I'm glad we saw it. The actors were excellent, especially Sam Landman as Parker the hitman and Matt Rein as Matt. Tone was a bit of a problem, though. Matt's character reacts to events like a normal human being, whereas the others are all caricatures of one type or another. Rachel is particularly disturbing, coming off as a borderline sociopath. It left me unsure whether I should be treating it all as a silly spoof and laughing at the clever lines or if it was supposed to be a nightmare scenario from the point of view of Matt.

Strange Weather
Serious s.f. drama - well worth seeing by Sharon Kahn
Rating: 4 kitties
As science fiction fans, my husband and I try to attend at least one s.f. show each year. This one is not the usual wacky sci-fi costume comedy that we've seen at past Fringes. Instead it is a very intense, sensitively performed, well-produced family drama set in a dystopian post-apocalyptic future. Highly recommended, but don't expect a Hollywood ending. I'm afraid the performers didn't get the enthusiastic applause they truly deserved because the audience was kind of shell-shocked by the rather abrupt ending.

Where Egos Dare: The Musical!
Great fun, but not exactly high risk by Sharon Kahn
Rating: 4 kitties
I gave this one 4 kitties instead of 5 because crowd-pleaser musicals like this are getting to be a dime a dozen at the Fringe. But damn, it's a lot of fun. If you enjoy show tunes, don't miss it. Excellent all ages show, especially for kids with an interest in the theater. You'll walk out of the theater humming, guaranteed.

Anansi, Brer Rabbit and Other Wily Characters
Oops, my adjectives are gone! by Sharon Kahn
Rating: 4 kitties
Other reviewers have already used the most appropriate title adjectives for this performance: engaging, charming and captivating cover it pretty well. The performers really throw themselves into their stories and warmly engage the audience. I found the stories themselves moved a bit slowly, however; maybe that's just the nature of the folk tale. I particularly enjoyed the monkey story where the audience got to join in with a finger-snapping refrain.

Blue Ribbon Burlesque
Good clean fun ... to a fault by Sharon Kahn
Rating: 4 kitties
The performers were flawless, but somehow this production lacked the locomotive energy of last year's show. The state fair schtick was funny at first, but after a while it got old. The running joke of Minnesota Wholesome colliding with inner naughtiness had the effect of killing the momentum on too many acts. I would have liked to see naughty win out a little more often. Ultimately, the show seemed a little too cleaned up - all talk and no twirling tassels (until the last act, anyway). And the lady in the cow costume with the sequined udders? That was just plain disturbing. The best part of the show was the music. The female vocalists were incredible, especially in the numbers where they were all singing together in harmony. Left me wishing the show had a soundtrack album!

WTF in the Garden of Eden
Sophomoric but fun by Sharon Kahn
Rating: 3 kitties
The concept is funny (God creates a mate for Adam because he's tired of being Adam's BFF), but the execution is severely lacking in subtlety. The jokes are broad and obvious and the acting is ... well, broad and obvious. Oliver Sharp is a real scene-stealer as Ug-Ug and the Creeping Thing. I assume he must be a skilled dancer, although I'm not sure you could call what he does here "dancing." Whatever it is, it's awesome to watch.

The Flickering Wall
Gets better as it goes along by Sharon Kahn
Rating: 3 kitties
Audience traipses around the back stairs and hallways of the century-old repurposed Masonic Temple, interacting with bits of theater. Biggest downside: group is too large to even fit in some of the spaces, and the A/C cannot keep up. As the tour moves from dismal little hallways into the larger and more interesting backstage areas it gets better and better, and I was really enjoying it by the end. The skits are simply written and broadly played, but if you go with the flow it's a lot of fun. The stories themselves are pretty trivial; the ones that work are the ones that highlight the space and involve the audience.

June of Arc
The best part is the commercials by Sharon Kahn
Rating: 3 kitties
June Cleaver (Beaver's mom) weaves a wistful tale of unrealized possibilities as she recalls her hopes and dreams from before she married Ward, waves her arms around mechanically, rationalizes her present empty existence, and fails to notice that the men in her family are doing nothing in each scene but grunting like zombies and falling over. Every few minutes there is a commercial break. The 3 male performers hold up black-and-white 2-dimensional versions of the products they are touting and do a verbatim reconstruction of vintage 1950's commercials. I'm not sure quite what the point of this show was. I think it was supposed to be incisive irony of some sort. But for me it was just a trip down memory lane. The actress who played June was perfect - she had the same little string of pearls, wide brittle smile and that finishing school accent that all actors used to affect when they weren't playing criminals or low-class women (in which case they used broad Brooklyn accents). Yet, she somehow managed to bring some emotional resonance to the role and was really rather touching, provided one overlooked the incongruous zombie grunting in the background and the peculiar bits of physical business where she tried to sit down on the stove and kept sliding onto the floor. But the star of the show was the commercials, every one of which I recognized. If you had asked me to describe a Salem cigarette commercial from 1956 I wouldn't have been able to, but when the jingle started, I found myself singing along ("For smoother taste smoke Sa-lem cig-a-rettes.") I'm not sure what the younger generation is getting out of its current fascination with the 50's, but I'm getting a nostalgic kick out of it all. I can't in all good conscience rate this show higher than 3 stars, but I got at least 4 stars of enjoyment out of it

Rumspringa the Musical
good dumb fun by Sharon Kahn
Rating: 3 kitties
The songs are clever, the performances are energetic and the robot is great. If you expect any more than that (like, for instance, consistent characterization or a plot that makes even a tiny bit of sense) you will be disappointed. But, hey, it's a musical. If you're Amish you'll probably be insulted. But if you're Amish you probably won't be attending the Fringe (although I'll bet you HAVE heard of electricity).

Moby Dick Tonight
I miss the half-kitties so much by Sharon Kahn
Rating: 3 kitties
I give this one a 3.5. I would have rounded up to be nice if the performer hadn't lost his place during the performance we saw, briefly mixing up Ahab and Queequeg and (I think) dropping a chunk out of his narrative. So I'm rounding down to 3 instead. I'm sure it was a momentary lapse, as Loren Niemi is an excellent story teller with an almost hypnotic delivery. Interesting concept, mixing bits of narration from _Moby Dick_ with personal reminiscence and reflections on the nature of obsession. Some parts worked very well, some parts not so well. The props didn't do much to enhance the show; in fact they were distracting. Definitely worth seeing if you're looking for something both entertaining and thought-provoking.

Bedroom Stories
YMMV by Sharon Kahn
Rating: 3 kitties
Lots of slow, angular solo dance with short, baffling story interludes. On the plus side, he's a good dancer with an extremely expressive face and body. On the minus side, the only thing he seems to be interested in expressing is disappointment, anguish and death. He writhes around on the floor in front of a bright light, reciting death poetry to the large shadow on the wall. He changes clothes. He fiddles endlessly with his tie. He impersonates a chef presenting a gourmet dinner. He plays the accordion and tells a story about his dead dog. He does a very impressive dance where he shows his ability to mimic dead animals (I liked the bug on the windshield). He tells a long, excruciating story about breaking up with his girl friend and does more depressing dance. He tells a story about a cow, and then the show ends abruptly. WTF? I'm pretty sure I'm not the target audience for this show, but I liked some of the dancing enough to give it 3 stars. However, this isn't a mediocre performance. If you get what he's trying to do it might be 5 stars for you. The theater space (a deep pit with bleachers) does not work well for a dancer who is on the floor half the time. Try to get a seat in the first row or in the odd row of seats at the very back, up above the pit, where you can actually see the floor of the stage.

The Frog Prince: A Splashy New Musical!
Great until the singing stopped by Sharon Kahn
Rating: 3 kitties
Adapting a Brothers Grimm fairytale for modern audiences is tricky. First you have the story itself, which sometimes comes with a pretty dubious moral attached. Then there's the problem of stretching a slim premise to fill a preset block of time. This show suffers from both problems. The question of why the princess is rewarded for her bratty behavior is addressed by adding a second, nicer princess for the prince to marry. Well, ok. But the solution to how to fill the time is to add dozens of extraneous characters that are just in the way. The Princess Club, the witch(?) that tosses the prince in the well and then seems to want him back, the newscaster and her retinue, and the two inexplicable funny animals that turn out to be lawyers... it's all too much. It's not bad as long as the extra characters are just excuses for more singing and dancing, but the show bogs down badly in the courtroom scene. On the plus side, the girl that plays the pouty princess is a terrific performer, as is the frog. The feline lawyer is fun to watch and the frog chorus is a delight. Young kids will probably enjoy the show more than I did, and I had a pretty good time.

Murder on the Mighty Mississippi
Mostly misfires by Sharon Kahn
Rating: 2 kitties
The concept sounded promising, but it just didn't work. Mystery was not believable, should have been played lightly and quickly so the audience didn't have time to think it through. Unfortunately, the cast was simply too big to keep track of and the acting was, to put it charitably, uneven. There were many opening-night gaffes, such as the perplexing moment where a character appeared to be felled by an unexpected phone call (oops, wrong sound effect!). The production mistakes and muffed lines may smooth out as the run continues, but I don't think this production is going to rise above mediocre. I did like the actors that played the murder victim, the murderer, and the giggling ingenue (the CHARACTER was extremely irritating, but the actress had a lot of sparkle).

The Problem of the Body: Why is our society ashamed of bodily urges?
Presentation needs work by Sharon Kahn
Rating: 2 kitties
Interesting set of slides and boldly different idea for a Fringe show, but the presentation was lacking. I saw the show Monday, which I believe was the 3rd performance. But the professor was still having trouble reading his own notes - stumbling over words, pausing awkwardly in the middle of sentences to turn pages, and getting out of sync with his slides. He also tried to cover way too much ground for a 1-hour presentation. I would like to see a reworked version of this material with tighter focus (fewer slides, more discussion). And practice practice practice until he can read his own material without stumbling.