Minnesota Fringe Festival 2011

My Fringe

Show reviews by Jon Skaalen

Sousepaw: A Baseball Story
A Classic Rube by Jon Skaalen
Rating: 5 kitties
I saw three great shows in a row at HUGE on opening night, including this presumably fictional story by two gifted actors who transformed the tiny stage into a cheap hotel room 98 years ago. What do we see? The great baseball player Rube Waddell, at the end of a career shortened by carousing, a temperamental, possessed, hurting, simple man in a captivating performance by James B. Kennedy. Matching him was the visiting Reptile Girl, whose multiple scaly skins were donned, shed, repaired, inhabited by Ariana Venturi. They are both trying to find their way to the next step of their lives; will it be a match made in baseball heaven or circus world, or will they destroy each other in the process? Totally gripping â€" a far more real story, with far more heart, than anything the Twins have to offer this year. The beer is cheaper and better, too. See it.

Dodging Bullets
An Acting & Storytelling Feat! by Jon Skaalen
Rating: 5 kitties
Possibly my favorite one-man Fringe show was maybe 10 years ago â€" a tour de force about Sergei Diaghilev (1872-1929), one of the world's great cultural impresarios. The visiting actor became the man through his art -- absolutely enrapturing the few of us who saw him at the Mpls. Community College Studio. Tonight I saw another feat of performance art by David Barker, who used every skill of mime, voice, posture, intensity, pace, motivation, to tell a story, in this case a real one he experienced (or at least that’s what he made me believe). I had just seen in the previous hour another totally-engaging solo character, with a totally-different acting style in which the script and the actor disappeared into the character (“No Change of Address”). Now, also in the intimate space of the HUGE), I thought the “award-winning” performer was going to be too much for me. But he showed what wonders the skills of acting can achieve. Humor, fear, tension, repetition, evolution, questioning â€" and caring â€" how it will end were all woven together like an amazingly complex invention. Choices were wonderful and simple â€" his mother’s eyeglasses and pursing lips (Richard Ooms-like), his father’s white cap pulled down over his eyes, his therapist’s slouching “Now David….” And the creepy brother-in-law â€" absolutely brilliantly staged and instantly transitioned one to the other as the story clamps down on us. This is not a Fringe show of cheap laughs; this is one of the joyful discoveries, so quit wasting time and go discover “Dodging Bullets.”

No Change of Address
Clearly in the Cuckoo’s Nest by Jon Skaalen
Rating: 5 kitties
From “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” we know a psych ward experience can be very funny and very serious â€" not something we may want to witness every time out at the theatre but in doing so we feel more aware of what happens at the edge, how friends or we ourselves fare there, and we become more humane, and human. Mike Price’s “No Change of Address” gives another view, his view, yes, his experience, including his route, sometimes evasive, of addressing why he is there. Of the two one-man shows I’ve seen at the Fringe thus far, both superb, Mike’s brings us a character that emerges from the instant the lights go up, and who takes us and keeps us with him until the lights go down and we all go off to our next round of meds. I witnessed a wonderfully literate, compassionate, intensely felt story in which the script was in his bones, in his haunted eyes, in the instantaneous connections and tangents of his acutely-aware mind. The journey, the key moments, the wondering of what might be next, and yes, even the Groucho, I will not forget. See it.

Domino's Pizza Saved My Life
Seeing Elders and Pizza Servers by Jon Skaalen
Rating: 5 kitties
Weaving sparkling, ebullient storytelling with balladeering that’s both romantic and silly â€" Dylan Fresco (I presumed a stage name, but it’s his REAL name) reminds me of the lovely butterflies outside my window â€" enchanting to watch in the present, yet also making it possible for future fruits, flowers and beauty to emerge from the plants (audience) he touches. His outlook is to find, through interaction and a Minnesotan’s version of “plunging in,” the importance and inter-connectedness of a Russian grandparent, a Domino’s pizza server, a riot policeman, each and every living thing. You will feel better, remember good and bad, and feel our prospects are possible, after listening to this bard of our times.

John Dingley and the Biggest Pack of Lies You Ever Heard
Bring on the Pints & Lies by Jon Skaalen
Rating: 4 kitties
Welshman John Dingley shares a night in the pub with the lads â€" and a wonderfully jolly and convivial pack of lies it is! His singing and storytelling voice transports one willingly across the ocean (or the St. Croix). More eye contact and perhaps even more of a pub setting would make this even better, but regardless, you will enjoy these winking tales â€" and the charmin’ props â€" and be glad to join in the celebrating!

Tapsized: A Journey of the Bastard Child
Terrific Tapping by Jon Skaalen
Rating: 4 kitties
I love watching and listening to good tap dancing â€" and this cast’s tap chops (or whatever the word) are really good, as is the musical quartet (arrive early for pre-show music). What’s weak is the story (and acting) of someone being downsized, discovering tap at a Ballet Bar, thinking that performing isn’t “real” work, etc. But it’s easy to forgive the story and praise that attempt, which I hope will continue to evolve, because the dance is so much fun. My favorites were the guys dancing in the shower (forgetting for a moment the impracticality of putting tap shoes on in a shower), Ellen & Cathy’s dancing on suitcoats, and the ensemble scenes, including full use of the band members in percussive office work (and the keyboardist dancing!). I’m ready to go again!

Losing My Religion: Confessions of a New Age Refugee
Questioning the Sales Pitch by Jon Skaalen
Rating: 4 kitties
This actor’s face and body come alive in creating characters who supposedly want to find their place in the world â€" and products or classes or mantras or exercises that will help them find nirvana. Attracted by the title, I wasn’t sold any solutions (after all people have devoted their entire lives to pursuing understanding), and a hectic Fringe schedule isn’t the likeliest way to find it. But questions and comparisons are raised in a very entertaining 50 minutes.

Power Lunch
Tempting to Lunch Like This by Jon Skaalen
Rating: 4 kitties
Alan Ball’s comedy is a great example of fantastical “what-iffing” for four actors, two tables and four chairs. Urban Samurai’s cast unleashes their inner “oh-what-the-heck-let’s-go-for-it” spirit to find the funnybone of these absurd escapades. I felt the nearness to truth or serious underlying ideas may have been a hair off, but the satire was spot-on. Ah, if we could only give ourselves leave to forego our business demeanor and adopt this vibrant throw-caution-to-the-winds approach to the art of meeting people. Bring on the ethereal music, the magical mirror ball and the waitstaff in touch with their chest hairs who are ready to minister to our innermost needs!

The Crock Pot II: A Second Helping
Saucy, Needs Seasoning by Jon Skaalen
Rating: 4 kitties
Seven sparkling character portrayals and witty dialogue made me enjoy this show. I had fun watching the actors have a great deal of fun with their characters, and thus we did, too. What was less successful for me at the first performance was the ensemble work, the timing, the many black-out set changes, the soft volume of a couple actors. Had they pursued more of the manic pace of the opening narrated soundtrack, which was exceptional, it would have been more effective. Maybe by the end of the run. What was it about ? Like a crockpot, a bunch of mixed spices thrown in and while you don’t know exactly what you’re tasting, it’s fun while you’re there.

Dripping in Spit: The Resurrection of Father Louis Hennepin
Gaps in Father Hennepin Lore by Jon Skaalen
Rating: 3 kitties
I wish this production could have been placed in one of the Fringe’s smaller venues, where the fine costumes, authentic sounds of centuries-old North America and campfires surrounded by hundreds of miles of darkness may have had a better chance to succeed. Father Louis Hennepin was respectably performed by Ryan Claussen, and we could note the struggles of finding one’s way with companions of varying dependability and understanding of this unfamiliar wilderness, but the essence and importance escaped me. With much dialogue and narration sounding like lines being read, and long, same-paced entrances and exits, the play dragged for me. I think there was more to fear and more to gain from this history than I saw, and I’d like to see it reworked, with a different title, perhaps on a riverbank or in a state historical setting â€" if any of them are still open.

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