Saturday night I made my way back to this year's "Fringe Central," the Crooked Pint bar in downtown Minneapolis, to find out the latest buzz on shows. Just like many professional theater critics, these folks chose to spend most of their time talking about shows they loved, rather than dish on the ones they found disappointing. Still, there were a few exceptions...
Les Kirkendaal is in a whopping three productions at this year's Fringe (A One Way Ticket to Crazy Town, Men's Room Etiquette, and Fringe Orphans) but he's still managed to check out some of what else is out there.
Les: I saw StarF*cker and I loved it! It's about Jason Schommer's brushes with fame, told in an accessible way. He was doing stand-up but he was vulnerable as well -which made you want to be his friend.
Then there was Fear and Trembling by philip andrew bennett low. I think this is the best work I've ever seen him do. It was all about Minneapolis, his love of the city, its history... Not being from Minneapolis, I got to learn some things as well. The moral of the story was 'learn to love yourself and be yourself,' and that's when I thought wow, he's got me.
Another show I saw completely by accident - I thought I was seeing Fear and Trembling, but I got the time wrong, and it turned out I was in the audience for The Habits of 7 Highly Offensive People. And I wasn't mad - it was actually alright! I was thoroughly entertained and I'd recommend it to people. It's a bunch of different characters portrayed by one woman. My favorite was this female God who is mad at all of us for what we've done to the earth and what we've done to each other. She's dressed as a mom holding a basket of laundry and saying things like "Don't make me come down there!"
Joseph Scrimshaw has been a Fringe Festival favorite for years, and this year's no different based on reviews for his show Nightmare without Pants. In his free time Scrimshaw has been checking out the other comedies, and he's been impressed.
Joseph: Tonight I saw Candide by Four Humors Theater - I've known their work for years but we've only just recently collaborated on a show together. I like how they challenge themselves; they're doing something really different, a legitimate retelling of Candide. The narrative structure of Candide doesn't make sense for modern audiences. It's more about themes than an actual plot- so to see them make that work in an hour, is really wonderful.
I also saw Billy Beechwood and the Mountain of Terror by Ferrari McSpeedy. This was back to their more classic shows, purposefully slapdash. They're taking the show seriously in that they want it to be entertaining, but they also know that what they're doing is ridiculous. Between Candide and Beechwood there were just layers of comic analysis possible.
Oh and then I saw Tom Reed in Mocking the Mockingjay. It was great! I haven't seen any of his other parodies and he really did a great job of showing why it might be absurd and even dangerous to like the Hunger Games. What's really being said in that movie?
Overall it's just really great to see such a variety of comedy shows that are all successful and intelligent.
Trista Schultz has one show to rave about and that's Mary Mack's Anti One-Woman Show: Sh*t makes Flowers Grow.
Trista: It was really good - it was funny, everyone had a good time, she had great stories about her family. She talked to people in the audience, got us involved. We had a wonderful sing-along at the end about skinny jeans. There so many hilarious lines, especially the one about her moving to LA because she was sick of people liking her for what's on the inside!
Josh: The Love Show got a standing o the night I went. It was sweet, charming, a little bawdy... they opened up their hearts and talked about past break-ups and they totally won me over. They're now my Fringe crushes. Plus if you're looking for potential Fringe disaster drama Samantha Baker Harrisis very close to giving birth! It could happen at the next show...
Sneak Thief is a show about diamonds and smuggling; it feels like a late 90s buddy comedy. Tim Hellendrung is just one of those people you want to watch do anything. His performance is just adorable - you want to hug him.
Oh and I almost forgot. I saw Candide by Four Humors Theater and there was a girl that I'd never seen before in it - Christian Bardin - she was just hysterical! I've never seen her before, but she played a number of different characters and she was excellent at each and every one of them. That's one of the joys of the Fringe - seeing new talent.
Mike McAneney is a carpenter and handyman who's "baching it" this weekend while his wife and kids are out of town. But he really wished his kids were along when he saw The Gentlemen's Pratfall Club
Mike: They do a great job with slapstick that can have a full story in 45 minutes. It was really amusing, Josh's pratfalls are just amazing. It's great physical comedy, plus it's really well written.
My only disappointment was As the Stomach Turns - I've seen Cirque Rouge perform before at the 331 Club and really enjoyed their shows in the past, but this didn't do it for me.
My two favorites were both shows I saw on a whim. I got a review in line for Scarborough Fair, a send up of Simon & Garfunkel It was great!A complete win.
And then, based on someone else's recommendation I went to see Pop Up Musical and it was REALLY COOL. It was similar to Scarborough Fair in that people performing songs everybody knows - in this case Broadway musical tunes - but in this case they had these cue cards giving sidebar information about the original performers, how they hated each other, etc. This cross between reverence for the material and yet making fun of it at the same time was just pure Fringe.
Greg Giles is the playwright behind All's Fair, and he's over the moon reading rave reviews for his show by people he doesn't even know. He's also got a few raves - and a rant - of his own to share.
Greg: John Grady's Fear Factor Canine Edition was one of those shows where I figured with that kind of title it was going to be really bad and cheesy, and it's the most beautiful thing I've seen in years. It's a valentine to his dog. It's funny, insightful, it is heart-wrenching and it's universal. After seeing the show last night, instead of coming here to Fringe Central, I went home to be with my dog. There was no way I was going to spend 30 more seconds away from my dog after that.
I also saw Carol and Cotton . It's a really lovely historical drama that boils down to two actors portraying six different characters. They're fabulous. It's about a prominent attorney who murders his wife back in the 1960s in St. Paul. I'm a history nut so I was all over it.
Then there's Mr. Elk and Mr.Seal. They're twenty years older but god dang, they're wonderful! They're smart, they're funny, they're goofy as heck. It's the same show as they did twenty years ago and that's exactly what I wanted.
As for disappointments, The Font of Knowledge was sloppy and if you're going to do satire and spoof you can't be sloppy. There were some good moments, and all sorts of inside jokes for graphic design people; at least that's what I'm guessing because small groups of people were laughing hysterically while the rest of us just sat there. But they were dropping props, smashing into the set, stepping on each others lines - you do that and you lose me. They obviously don't care enough to pay attention to the details, and I feel like I wasted an hour.
Marilyn Kales has been enjoying some really physical theater.
Marilyn: I just came from Ash Land - Oh my god! It's beautiful. It's unique, engaging and it's a beautiful story. Just the physicality of it - the players are the set - I've never seen anything like that.
Just before that I saw Sin Eater - it was intense and glorious. It's dark, with strobe light, she's on a mountain, in the woods, fighting for her life - just wonderfully intense. The story was clear, which is not always easy to do with dance and then afterward she explained the inspiration. Tonight's show was particularly special because her father was there.
Then there was BOOGIEography - that was the biggest grin! They were all just having such a wonderful time doing their many dances. At the end, people got up and danced with them.
Pretentious Conversations was my least favorite so far. It was dry.
Comedy of Edits I liked a lot. It was very intelligent, literary, and surprising, It was different for Allegra Lingo - she's actually acting instead of storytelling.
My last reviewer of the evening was Danielle Caddell from Montreal, a producer who's in town scouting for talent.
Danielle: This is my fifth fringe here and I love the shows. I really want to keep an open door between Montreal and the Twin Cities. I saw Billy Beechwood and the Mountain of Terror and I loved it. I thought it was very funny, very good. I laughed a lot,and to me that's really important. Drama is really hard to sell to people.
I saw Ben San Del and I really like his show - it was a lot of fun.
And then there was Font of Knowledge. I absolutely loved it. I actually know something about fonts, but it was just a really good genre play. It used lots of media - shadow puppets, costume changes - and that's a big effort for an out of town show at the Fringe.
And there you have it. Know a show these folks missed that you'd like to review? Just add it to the comments section. Happy Fringe-ing!