Minnesota Fringe Festival 2011

My Fringe

Show reviews by Patrick Pfundstein

Lot O' Shakespeare
The Words and the Man by Patrick Pfundstein
Rating: 5 kitties
Lot O' Shakespeare is not one of those slapped together shows. Timothy Mooney knows major speeches from 38 different Shakespeare plays, and 6 more from the Sonnets, and he proves it by performing an hour's worth chosen at random (20 speeches and one sonnet on Opening Night). Moreover, he performs them with a range, nuance, and especially energy that pulls the audience into each speech despite the sometimes wrenching change in subject and tone. Two things I know for sure about theater: that Shakespeare dude can write, and you should never miss a chance to see Tim Mooney!

Xmas Fireworks
Craziness Centered on Theater by Patrick Pfundstein
Rating: 5 kitties
Why do I consider Richard Rousseau the best storyteller I've ever seen? His ability to craft a story line is a big part; even with expectation, it is a joy to watch a fun and random story suddenly become anything but random and something more than fun. Another part is performance skills; anyone who wonders why I whine a lot about script-stands (and I do) need only watch Richard Rousseau. Only by directly engaging the audience do you get that kind of pop, and impeccable timing. But best of all, Richard's stories are imbued with a simple humanity that quietly carries far more power than seemingly grander topics. Xmas Fireworks is about a guy standing around in the snow outside an old building, and about all of the stuff written above, and in case I was vague, I kinda liked the show!

Knit One, Purl the Other
Choose to Go! by Patrick Pfundstein
Rating: 5 kitties
Knit One/Purl the Other is all about choices. The ones that turn out good, or bad, or haunting, or are just too much. I chose to interpret the play as quirky fun, quirky sad, very well acted, and nicely paced by the director (the show also seemed to work very well in the Round). I also chose to love the way the show ended leaving this viewer satisfied while confidently failing to resolve most of the questions raised by the play. Knit One is a quiet little theatrical gem; the type of show that continues to make me choose to love the Fringe!

Taiko Blast!
No Worries! by Patrick Pfundstein
Rating: 5 kitties
Okay, I had a few. Could a Mu specific set of performers match last year's international all-star cast? Could any show be as good as last year's Bam? Did everything work out with the baby? All of my questions resolved positively on Monday night. While the Mu cast (Susan Tanabe is the only hold-over I remember from last year's stage performers) lacked the overall polish, and extremely high-level of last year's musicians, they were still very, very good, and they brought a very special group chemistry of their own. Evident all evening, that chemistry lit the stage on fire during Craig Schultz's Katsugi Pop. And yes, Blast was awesome, just like Bam. And yes, everything worked out fine with the baby (who made a special guest appearance)!

Highlander: The Musical!
Provisional Five by Patrick Pfundstein
Rating: 5 kitties
I generally avoid shows with "The Musical" tacked on the end, but I'm glad I broke that rule with "Highlander." This epic is filled with cheesy goodness from its colorful chorus to its talented cast to its 'hastily written but catchy songs.' (Songs are usually the downfall of ":The Musical"s, but it this case they were fantastic right down to a parting song bidding us to write reviews on fringefestival.org.) I do think, however, that if you haven't seen the movie, you will miss out on most of the humor here (a thought reinforced from other reviews). Fortunately I saw the film, and absolutely loved this show!

John Munger was Right! by Patrick Pfundstein
Rating: 5 kitties
With some of my Fringe dance stalwarts languishing at the very bottom of the waiting list, I turned to John Munger for a five kitty show (didn't read the review, just followed the felines). I didn't get much illumination from the Indignorance voice-overs that were intelligible, but I also didn't really care. At least for me, the dances told the story better than words, most powerfully in a dance of almost impossible sensuality that leaves reality in its dust, and another dance of dark primal emotions fed by our wired connections. The dancers, especially the primary duo, were very, very good, and for me at any rate, the show carried a big punch!

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll & Dr. Jekyll
Who Goes to the Theater... by Patrick Pfundstein
Rating: 5 kitties
...on a Wednesday? Lucky people if they made their way into Theater in the Round at 5:30. Those people saw a bright concept turned into a sharply written script, brought to life by a talented cast of four. (Each of those four create at least one or two special moments of their own; Ben San Del's scarred me!) Some nice social commentary is mixed in with the laughter, and I have to admit I have never seen the punching of a customer loyalty card played with such tenderness!

Brain Fighters
A Perry, Reyes, Scrimshaw by any... by Patrick Pfundstein
Rating: 5 kitties
...other names (such as Baggage, Cupcake, and Tool) would play just as sweet on the stage. Add in a clever script from a former (and possibly a touch bitter) former photocopy shop employee, and you have a great show that works well across the age spectrum, and gives each of its talented cast plenty of chances to shine. (Some classic Scrimshaw physical humor when Joseph is run head-first into a wall, and when Mo Perry drops the "sharing" line with pitch perfect delivery and timing, and you can actually see it hit Randy Reyes in his endlessly expressive face, you realize this isn't your average kid show cast.) I (and the packed house at Thrust) really loved this show!

Mary Sunshine, Take a Hike! by Patrick Pfundstein
Rating: 5 kitties
Abyss has beautiful imagery, incredible and inventive athleticism, and stark contrasts of motion and stillness, but there is nary a ray of light to be found in this exploration of personal isolation. Not that that in any way made me regret seeing 'Abyss.' From its desperate opening to its haunting finish, the show is a riveting ride down the bleak side of life.

Super Spectacular!: To Opera with Love
Super Snort-acular! by Patrick Pfundstein
Rating: 5 kitties
'Spectacular' romps through several 7-minute operas (including Carmen, Aida, and Madame Butterfly) as well as a subplot creating tensions in the two man troupe.The actors behind the actors share great chemistry with both each other and the audience (if you are shy, don't sit in the front row!). The singing is pretty good, and where English exposition sung to famous aria tunes don't cut it, Merril and Emmet break into Bread or Guns 'N' Roses to serve the Muse. I started laughing near the top, and didn't really stop until it was all over, while the dude across the aisle spent half the show if full snort mode.

Red Resurrected
Red Rover, Red Rover... by Patrick Pfundstein
Rating: 5 kitties
...send 5 Kitties on over! Not that it is a much of a secret any more, but 'Red' is justifiably one of the hottest things going in Fringe 2011! This show combines incredibly creative movement with solid acting, and very good a cappella singing to create a whole much greater than the sum of its amazing parts. If you haven't seen 'Red' yet, I highly recommend getting tickets to the encore; it is very likely this is going to be one of those shows I remember seeing years after most others have faded into the background.

Ballet Amore
I Loved Amore! by Patrick Pfundstein
Rating: 5 kitties
I had a few quibbles with this show (some of the dancers loosened up from the classical a little better than others during the jazz numbers), but the key word there is 'few'. I loved this show from the classic tutu dancing at the top to the vibrant Prometheus to the live viola and cello to the cute kid dance to the stunning athleticism of the Tucker and Smirnov duet. The talent throughout the cast is outstanding, and so is their show!

Longing for Qeej
A Feast for the Eyes! by Patrick Pfundstein
Rating: 4 kitties
"Longing for Qeej" purports to tell the story of Sinsay, a great warrior, but mostly (until the end when the pieces literally come together) this is just a chance to put on several dance numbers in spectacular costumes. I enjoyed most of the numbers, but the festival in particular concluded in pure magic (and from the smiles on the kids faces, they knew it)! My main gripes are that the recorded music is played too loud (by about 25%), and that not enough people were there to see a great show. Hopefully "Longing" finds the audience it deserves over the rest of the Fringe!

How Do You See It?
I See That It is Good! by Patrick Pfundstein
Rating: 4 kitties
"How Do You See It" is a split bill of two dance companies with some overlap in dancers. The first half featured the Christopher Watson Dance Co. in a program that was very well done with some fun moments, but which also didn't get its hooks into me much. The second half with the Jeffrey Peterson Dance piece Stand Up was different in that it struck pretty strong likes and dislikes. The Sarah Palin stuff seems really dated at this point, and repetition in the choreography that might fit with repeated themes in music seemed to just annoy me with spoken backdrop. On the upside I really liked the flag dance, and the duet of Bryan Gerber and Sarah Jabar was nothing short of electric!

Callahan and Lingo presents: The Last Ditch
Make a Show in 3 Weeks!!!! by Patrick Pfundstein
Rating: 4 kitties
Callahan and Lingo open with a nice bit of repartee describing their process while setting things up for the four stories to come. Given these are talented language-heavy writers on short notice I'm definitely ready to cut some slack for the script-stand set center-stage. I will say, though, that Rob Callahan's moody and dark second story suffered quite a bit from being read rather than performed; this was a tale where the audience's strings needed to be actively pulled, and it is tough to do that with minimal eye contact. I'll also add that the script-standless and Crescendo-like (man, I loved that show) Duncan Lingo finale was an electric combination of the word and the performer, and my personal highlight of a strong show!

7 (x1) Samurai
Magnificent 7 (1) by Patrick Pfundstein
Rating: 4 kitties
David Gaines pours his tremendous energy, creativity, and talents into recreating the 7 Samurai as a solo show. His ability to conjure character and scenery (and almost graphic death scenes) mostly through mime, two masks, and minimal vocal sounds was amazing, and the ending was wrought in pure emotional technicolor. The only hold back for me was that pacing sagged for extended periods in the middle of the show (disclosure, that could be more the reviewer's energy at the end of a long day).

Robot Lincoln: The Revengeance (The Musical)
Love and Hate by Patrick Pfundstein
Rating: 3 kitties
"Robot Lincoln" rode a quality roller-coaster with a funny concept, an earnest cast putting out full effort, and some very funny moments (Mary Todd Lincoln was generally good, and Lincoln and Boothe extending hands of friendship and more was absolutely golden). On the other hand the script was pretty thin (the show clocked in at 45 minutes, and it took at least two instances of gratuitous padding to get that far), the ending was less than strong, and some of the songs weren't worth the effort the cast gave them. In the old days this would have gotten 2.5 stars, but forced to deal in whole numbers, I'll bump it up a bit for effort.

More Smiles than Laughs by Patrick Pfundstein
Rating: 3 kitties
The opening of Cat hooked me in, but the show leaked steam with the third character (Chancellor Starlight) coming out of the audience, and never really got back up to speed for me. There was good writing here, but also a habit of overworking some of the material. (For example, we nerds got the Star Wars reference pretty quick, there was no need to milk that for several extra lines. And the cancer joke was fine once, but got much less funny with each repetition.) The Chancellor was energetically played, but he also led the show to a place I didn't care much about. As it is, Cat is a solid show, but I'd have liked to see much more of Alex and Tad working through their issues.

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