Minnesota Fringe Festival 2011

My Fringe

Show reviews by Carl Swanson

A Magnificent Menagerie by Carl Swanson
Rating: 5 kitties
FLESH was a breathtaking and sensuous sample of Twin Cities dancers, going far past it's Fringe-friendly elevator speech of "Nudity! And strobelights!" Starting with Ober's utterly surreal evocation of the life cycle of a standing bird and ending with Behm-Thompson's wind-born white owl, this was a muscular, personal and evocative series of dances with sure-footed individual personalities. O'Neill added a dash of sly humor and Virtucio had me rapt as she ricocheted in the spotlight between wild, flailing abandon and total awareness. Lincoln's "Dressage" was a delicate balance between carnality, control and collapse, and gave a whole new meaning to the tern "show horse". A gem of a show, a star for every dancer, and every dancer a star.

The Beasts
The (Beast) Kind of Fringe Show by Carl Swanson
Rating: 5 kitties
"The Beasts" is precisely what I think of when I think of "Fringe show" without cringing- one guy (two, actually, give Ray the SM credit where credit is due) coming out and doing something absurdly silly that takes on new meaning and sincerity because of the way he says it and the time he says it in. Ben Egerman knows how to do this kind of a Fringe show, he's got the accolades to prove it. Even better, he knows haw to bring a Fringe audience along for a ride and keep them intrigued, laughing and involved. The fact that he does this with handmade puppets and bits of cardboard is all part of the magic of theater and makes "The Beasts" a critical, quizzical treat. Way to "foot pu-unch" butt.

Ducklings, Rocks, and Squad Cars
A Life Near Your Own by Carl Swanson
Rating: 5 kitties
This show brought my first tears of the Fringe, even if Ochs would have insisted that they weren't necessary. Ochs' intensely personal and physical presence makes "Ducklings" an incredibly brave work of theater, not a story like a like a fiction, but a catharsis, a purgation of Ochs sometimes terrible and sometimes sweet life. Tightly wound and well crafted by director and collaborators Tom Lloyd and Jeff Shockley, Ochs makes us feel each of his ricocheting emotions and makes the audience a witness, an exchange of trust that is incredibly powerful. If you have experienced these things, you will identify, if not, your world will grow. Afterward, although he was a sweaty mess, I hugged Ochs because it felt good, and right, to share that too.

Losing My Religion: Confessions of a New Age Refugee
Could Have Had a "Buddy Christ" Joke! by Carl Swanson
Rating: 4 kitties
The characters Lepore pulls out are hilarious, a rogues gallery of chakra-opening snake-oil salesmen, internet-based money-making gurus, ego-driven buddhists and self-helplessness addicts. It's a skewering of market-based faith and the ghost of George Carlin bounds gleefully around the stage as Lepore tears out voices and burns up these surface dwellers. Even though the spark of this hysterical and righteous anger may only be intermittently revealed through the cavalcade of caricatures, the button that ends the hour is a deep humanizing note that people of any faith or paths of questioning would do well to hear.

Orange Sunshine Primadonnas by Carl Swanson
Rating: 4 kitties
As Primadonnas struck its final chord & the lights came up, my show companion turned to me with a giddy, hazy grin and roared out, "AM I ON DRUGS?" Which we weren't (to my knowledge) but we had just experienced a hallucinatory, fragmented dose of surrealist theater about the extent to which people will go to create fantastical coping constructs. It was wickedly weird and funny, with campy prison lesbians, songs, drag & the bushily-bearded Garrett Vollmer pulling out wild characterizations in pearls & blond wigs. You won't "get" the show, as any linear narrative is shattered, but if you relax your eyes (which also helps gloss over some of the Fringe-y DIY costuming & sets) to just let your lizard brain take hold, it's a ride worth taking.

Fear Itself
The Fringe Zone by Carl Swanson
Rating: 4 kitties
I saw this show by accident, after being left out of another rush line. Not expecting much, I told my compatriot to smack me if I laughed. I should have told her to hold me when I jumped. Speller adapts these classic literary works with razor precision and times every breath to maximum effect. A bravura piece of storytelling for the brave!

Fletcher & Zenobia Save the Circus (by Edward Gorey)
One-Ring Circus by Carl Swanson
Rating: 2 kitties
It felt like the old Borscht Belt joke about food: The jokes were bad, and I could hardly hear them! Knowing the kind of physicality Live Action Set is capable of, this adaptation felt frenetic and rushed, without the clarity or articulation to let Gorey's dark tongue-in-cheek jabs shine. The Bring-Your-Own Venue didn't particularly help them, as sitting a few rows back, all the action lower to the ground was lost to sight, the rumble of outside noise often drowned out the performers and not to mention, there was a large girder partially blocking the view. Although there were some sharp & funny moments with M. Zut-Alors’ patter and Kimberly Richardson’s tightrope act, I came with high hopes and left with a twee headache.

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