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Minnesota Fringe Festival

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Show reviews by Nick Decker

Bard Fiction
Go See? At Least Twice by Nick Decker
Rating: 5 kitties
I've wondered how enjoyable some of the more reference-heavy shows are to those unfamiliar. It's been four or five years since I last saw Pulp Fiction, and I wasn't sure if I needed a brush-up on the film to enjoy performance. But it seems that the writers hit the major touchstones of the film, many of which are culturally ubiquitous and recognizable to even those who have not seen Tarantino's original. I was amazed at the seamless transition of handgun to dagger, cocaine to snuff, "Bad Mother****er" to "Blasted Oedipus." The use of iambic pentameter and an Elizabethan-influenced dialect retained the spirit of the dialogue while remaining easy to follow. Standout performer Clarence Wethern, taking the classic roles of Samuel L. Jackson's "Julius" and Christopher Walken's "Koons," avoids the trap of turning two well-known roles from two oft-parodied actors into caricatures, retaining the essence of the characters. This is a play for lovers of Shakespeare who want a good laugh at the Bard. This is a play for anyone who has ever seen Pulp Fiction, regardless of how they feel about the movie or Quentin Tarantino in general. And for those who have never seen the film, what a great way to test how ingrained into our culture the movie has become. This is a Fringe stand-out.

The Return of LICK!
Go See? Definitely. by Nick Decker
Rating: 5 kitties
Timecodes from lights-down: 41:24 - Bobby Gardner man-ass, Coppertone style! I loved this show. The commitment to pelvic thrusting won-over my black heart.

Comedy Go!
Go See? Go! by Nick Decker
Rating: 5 kitties
The first three sets have been amazing, and if you haven't seen Ferrari McSpeedy's improv, don't miss their fourth set. While 45 minutes seems daunting, the duo does not flag in intensity.

The Traveling Musicians
Go See? Yes. by Nick Decker
Rating: 5 kitties
The Nomad was the perfect setting for this bawdy and hilarious rock show. The band successfully lampooned a variety of musical styles and musicians, my personal favorite song being the Doors/Jim Morrison pastiche. A great show to relax at and have a beer.

An Intimate Evening With Fotis Part III
Go See? Yes. by Nick Decker
Rating: 5 kitties
With his strongest material yet, Mike Fotis regales his audience with stories of mundane tribulations, yet he weaves them together into hilarious epic tragedy. Jen Scott's accompaniment on upright bass compliments Fotis's self-described neurosis, hang-ups, and eventual triumphs.

Axed! (The Rockstars' Remix)
Go See? Yes. by Nick Decker
Rating: 5 kitties
Three mesmerizing short stories from three mesmerizing storytellers. Rik Reppe, Courtney McLean, and Dave Mondy took turns telling one story each in a chapterized format that left me disappointed that I had to wait, yet reminded me that I needed to hear each of the next stories as well. The encore showing at the BLB, beer in my hand, was the perfect way to end the Fringe Festival.

The Harty Boys in The Case of the Limping Platypus
Go See? Yes. by Nick Decker
Rating: 5 kitties
Any show that successfully parodies boy adventure novels with the same quality of The Venture Bros. is a winner in my opinion. While opening relatively slowly, the show picks up frantically yet tightly as the Harty Boys happen upon the crime scene. The script wittily pokes fun at its genres conventions as well as skewers many of the Twin Cities' landmarks. The cast superbly relishes in the absurdity of their characters, and the two child actors in particular give outstanding performances.

Two Bowls of Cereal and Some Bacon
Go See? Yes. by Nick Decker
Rating: 5 kitties
Alternating between two biographical anecdotes, Mahmoud Hakima weaves a heartbreaking tale of domestic abuse and racism, and the way a child justifies them into what he perceives as normality. Hakima's tales evoke vivid detail and authenticity that easily transport the listener into the world of a seven-year-old-boy. MaryLynn Mennicke's sound design provides the perfect companions to Hakima's vignettes.

Tales ... Of the Expected!
Go See? Yes, for some amazing schtick! by Nick Decker
Rating: 5 kitties
Like many children, I grew up to bedtime stories and parables; unlike some children, I was also raised to appreciate corny, cheeseball humor and irreverent parody. Tales reminded me of why I loved Fractured Fairy Tales: the dialogue was cheesy yet snappy and the humour was as socially scathing as it was self-deprecating. Each performance showcases three of five tales "repurposed" Ari Hoptman. I was lucky to have caught the fantastic retellings of "Sleeping Beauty," "Jack & the Beanstalk," and my personal favorite, the classic fairy tale Das Boot (I'll leave you to figure out the wonderful pun, should you see the show). I expect some people won't appreciate this show; I refer to those people, in a more polite fashion, as "joyless schmucks." The performers relished their roles, punctuated their punchlines, and sated the satirist-fanboy in me.

Sideways Stories from Wayside School
Go See? Emphatic Yes. by Nick Decker
Rating: 5 kitties
I probably owe Louis Sachar for the development of my sense of humor; I adored his Wayside series in middle school. Four Humours has done him justice with their stage version of his stories, reminding me about what I loved about the series: the wonderful absurdity of Sachar's universe. The Humours' adaptation to the stage uses some inventive techniques to portray such oddities as Ms. Jewls' blackboard, talking pigtails, dead rats, the ethereal Miss Zarves, and students transmogrified into apples, and the adult cast made me quickly forget that they were adults; they portray the comically traumatized children of the 30th-floor classroom with juvenile frenzy. This is one of the best kid shows of the year, if not the Fringe, serving justice to my fond memories of the series.

June of Arc
Go See? Oh, yes. by Nick Decker
Rating: 5 kitties
From the bowels of the Rarig, Sandbox Theatre presents a show equally beautiful and painful. Heather Stone captures the transfiguration of June Cleaver's icon/cypher of 1950's maternity into a real woman, teeming with frustration, dreams deferred. It's heartbreaking to watch her veneer crack further after each commercial break, commercial breaks that only illustrate the forced fabrication of a time in American history that never existed. Her chains, pearls they may be, are no less dehumanizing.

Monster
Go See? Yes. by Nick Decker
Rating: 5 kitties
In my four-year Fringe experience, I've noticed that the one-man, multi-character drama tends to be the more successful format; perhaps the brief run times are more tailored to the format. Daniel MacIvor's Monster follows suit, cramming an erratic and enjoyable experience into its given slot. The grisley subject matter of murder/dismemberment draws curiosity to the show, but actor Chris Kehoe's charisma drives the experience. He exudes a Bruce-Campbell-for-the-stage attitude as overconfident-yet-tense narrater Adam, but has no problem shifting into the distinct characters that color the story's moebius-strip plot. This is a play that always asks why, and it's refreshing to get an unexpected response.

Drinking Stories
Go See? Yes. by Nick Decker
Rating: 4 kitties
Comedienne Jen Zalaar excels as a monologist; she confidently delivers her scripted material, and her off-the-cuff stories share the same meticulous detail. Her series of stories are tied together by the motif of drinking, be it coffee, tea, water, or beer. Bring in a drink, as she'll be raising a glass in toast throughout her set.

Comedy of Errors
Go See? Weather permitting, sure. by Nick Decker
Rating: 4 kitties
I was initially skeptical of the gimmick "Shakespeare in the Parking Lot," and the performance felt rushed, yet both aspects gave the show a charming appeal. Director Jason Ballweber successfully creates a "garbage-chic" atmosphere to match the Bedlam's parking lot, and makes excellent use of the challenging performance space. I didn't mind watching the cast trip over iambic pentameter at 80 kph, as they clearly conveyed the emotions of their roles in an over-the-top fashion befitting the show's set.

Hogg and the Humors
Go See? Yes for dance party! by Nick Decker
Rating: 4 kitties
I always look forward to what the Four Humours boys bring to Fringe, and this year they've brought a sideshow distraction that was hectic, chaotic, novel, and engaging. Following the mold of a late-night variety show, Jimmy Hogg hosts an interview show with the Humours as his "house band," performing improv in between interviews and musical guests. I loved how natural this idea felt; sure, it seems a bit commercial, interviewing actors, directors, and musicians from other Fringe Shows (in my case, Mike Fotis, who stuck around for the improv set), but good, honest variety show is appreciated by me.

The Morning After the Summer of Love
Go See? Aye. by Nick Decker
Rating: 4 kitties
Scream Blue Murmur's exploration of the tumultuous issues surrounding the year 1968 and its repercussions forty years later provides the Irish poets with a broad range of emotions and imagery for poetic material. Their works, while powerful, never connected with me emotionally, though that may be due to my lack of connection to the era of the '60s. The grasp they had on the audience was unmistakable, though, as they are still master storytellers with distinct voices.

Cherry Cherry Lemon
Go See? Above All Other Sex Comedies by Nick Decker
Rating: 4 kitties
Someone should tally the percentage of Fringe shows devoted to sex; I imagine they make up a sizable chunk of the Festival's subject matter (aside from musicals, perhaps). Most are rote sketch-comedy shows that use sex to shock, yet say nothing of gender politics or the act itself. Cherry Cherry Lemon, by contrast, creates an air of honest discussion by laughing at sex, not as a punchline, but as an undeniable urge of human nature. Keira McDonald and Meghan Hill introduce two characters who appear as little more than the cliché female roles prevalent in so many sex-themed comedies, yet patience reveals deeper levels of complexity. And while the ending remains unsatisfying, it's clear that these women have traveled their full developmental arcs.

Parry Hotter and the Half-Drunk Twins
Go See? Fan or Not, Yeah. by Nick Decker
Rating: 4 kitties
When reviewing Bard Fiction, I pondered what the experience would be like watching a parody of a show without prior experience of the source material. I was able to test the theory, though, as I have never read any of J. K. Rowling's signature series, and I have only seen the first three movies. Tom Reed doesn't let familiarity hinder his show, though. Pop culture prepared me enough for the cursory level of Harry Potter knowledge I needed to follow the series' plot, and perhaps the lack of fondness for her novels allowed me to enjoy Reed as he highlighted the plot holes and thinly-veiled morality lessons/religion-building.

Sarah, Your Ovaries Are Drying Up: The Musical
Go See? Yes. by Nick Decker
Rating: 4 kitties
Skeptical of anything with the word "musical" in it's title, I cautiously approached this show, and was pleasantly surprised at the excellent quality in the script and the musical performances. Musicians Molly Dworsky and Nate Rowan provide an excellent thematic through-line the show, and the cast has fun with the witty script.

Citation Needed
Go See? Yes. by Nick Decker
Rating: 4 kitties
A short-yet concise sketch show, Citation Needed playful abuses the ability to twist the facts of the popular online encyclopedia. The sketches never dragged due comediennes Lisa and Mary Kate's unflagging energy and enthusiasm.

Buyer's Remorse
Go See? Yes. by Nick Decker
Rating: 4 kitties
Attention must be paid to Sam Landman and Ian Miller's conflicting yet complimenting performances, serving as foils to the ridiculous relationship of assassins Parker and "Man of Few Words" Johnson. That they feel sidelined as secondary characters to a less interesting A-story is my sole complaint with this show.

Squawk
Go See? Yes. by Nick Decker
Rating: 4 kitties
I have a soft spot for penguins thanks to Berke Breathed\'s creation, Opus from Bloom County and its spinoffs. Walking Shadow\'s creation, Lt. Andrew Falkland, won me over with amazing puppetry that gave him (yes, I know it\'s an inanimate object) a unique, lovable personality. I never questioned his interaction with his human counterparts, his determination, his motivation, and his integration into the much-touted \"Post-Racial America.\" The only qualm I have with the story is that it crams in too many social issues, when it would benefit a tighter plot by focusing on one. Squawk does juggle the ethical points it raises well, though, and I applaud it for adding intelligent discussion to the issue of race in America.

Tragedy of You
Go See? For the Scrimshaw-y Goodness. by Nick Decker
Rating: 4 kitties
Joseph Scrimshaw works wonders with his scripted shows, so I was curious to check out his Mad Lib-esque Tragedy of You. While not as tightly constructed, his improvised drama entertained nonetheless. Scrimshaw invites an audience volunteer to provide personal details about his/her life, and as they answer questions for his fill-in-the-blank whiteboard, Scrimshaw studies the mannerisms of his subject. When he's gotten all the details he needs, he begins a loosely described five-act Shakespearean tragedy, humorously skewering the Bard along with his audience volunteer. Don't expect iambic pentameter throughout, but do appreciate the jokes made of the literary devices. Dennis Curley accompanies Scrimshaw on the piano, providing amusing interludes between acts. And the inclusion of a bear was nice.

Full Frontal: A Tale of Love & Lobotomies
Go See? Only the first 3 minutes. by Nick Decker
Rating: 4 kitties
Timecodes from lights-down: 1:35 - Boobs. Bouncing around as the actress ran across the stage. And after the first three minutes you can leave, because this play is essentially "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" minus McMurphy.

Livelihood
Go See? Yes, If You Have an Open Spot. by Nick Decker
Rating: 3 kitties
Livelihood feels much like a sketch comedy piece, with elements borrowed from Monty Python, Kids in the Hall, and Mr. Show. What benefited those troupes was the ability to tell such a story in four minutes; Livelihood suffers when stretched to 50. The story of a job interview gone awry fits right into the Kids in the Hall-world of "Danny" and "A T & Love," and the rising absurdity of the interviewer's demands cleverly borrows from Monty Python sketches such as "Dead Parrot," "Argument Clinic," and "Cheese Shop," waiting for the payoff taxes the patience. It's a dark show with witty dialogue (Matt Greseth relishes in the insanity of hiring manager "Mike"), and I love this setup, but the climax feels forced, and a touch predictable. For social satire, it never delivers a clear, original message on the discussion of the failing U.S. economy, save that perhaps nihilistic abandonment is the only option.

Needs, Wants, Desires!
Go See? If You Like Man-Ass by Nick Decker
Rating: 2 kitties
Timecodes from lights-down: 25:57 - Copious man-ass and package stuffed into briefs. 51:21 - Man-ass reprise. It was a pretty boring sit-through, and I wasn't exactly titillated. Your mileage (probably due to sexual orientation) may vary.

Full Frontal Improv
Go See? Not when there's better improv. by Nick Decker
Rating: 1 kitty
While actual quality improv at this year's Fringe plays with plenty of seats left to fill (*cough*Comedy Go!*cough*), bad improv like this show pack in the audience. Swandive plays it safe, sticking to recognizable short-form games recognizable to anyone whose sole exposure to improv are a couple episodes of Whose Line is it Anyway?. Character work was rarely solid, chemistry was never sparked, and cheap laughs were quickly grabbed in favor of a more meaningful joke. When other long-running short-form venues like ComedySportz and Stevie Ray's perform better and cheaper, there's no reason to see this poorly rehearsed improv show. Improv pro-tip for the actors: wear closed-toed shoes for your safety.

The Nightmare Man
Go See? YES, even for a 1-kitty! by Nick Decker
Rating: 1 kitty
To quote writer/director/misogynist/actor Tommy Wiseau, "Do you understand life?! Do you?!" With brazen confidence, writer/director/misogynist/actor Matt Kelly answers, "Yes, Tommy, I do. I do." Like the auteur Wiseau, Matt Kelly's dream persona, referred to as "Killer," grapples with the she-demon haunting him. Yet in his film The Room, "Johnny," Mr. Wiseau's role, is crippled to inaction by the cheating machinations of fiancée Lisa, while Kelly's nightmare version of Killer (portrayed by Max Besner) proactively murders his true love Meghan, as well as every other female character in the production (all played with various accents by Katy McGrath), as they all represent her nature of betrayal due to their having of vaginae. Despite their differences in methodology, their denouement remains similar: Johnny, too perfect and pure for this world, removes himself from it, while Killer, filled with peace of mind, concludes to remove everyone else. Killer, though, may have the edge on Johnny, as he has realized that women are for copulation, but murder is his one true lady. Kelly's monologues, while brief and arresting, are saddled with in-between "Nightmare" segments acting out his murders, riddled with dialogue that sounds false compared to his tight solo scenes. Also perplexing are the costume designs for the "Nightmare" scenes, which evoke the character designs of Capcom's Super Street Fighter II: Turbo Edition. The triumph of a film like The Room lies in its bizarre cultural impact and the invitation it gives the audience to freely laugh and cringe at a man's self-unrecognized flaw. The Nightmare Man succeeds in the latter, but in the ephemerality of the Fringe Festival it is doomed to be forgotten. But not by me. Kudos.

The Problem of the Body: Why is our society ashamed of bodily urges?
Go See? Yes, for a great lecture. by Nick Decker
Rating: 1 kitty
Timecodes from lights-down: 00:43 - Nude images presented in a slideshow, including artwork, photography, pornography, and paparazzi-shots of certain celebrities. A lack of live nudity was sorely disappointing. The lecture was fascinating, though. I enjoyed this show.

Storm Still
Go See? There's No Reason ANYONE Should by Nick Decker
Rating: 0 kitties
There was no instance of nudity in the one-hundred-plus minutes of this "play." It was also awful, and abject torture to sit through.