Theater folk of all stripes showed up at The Crooked Pint in Minneapolis Thursday night to swap reviews, work off their opening night jitters and just generally celebrate the Minnesota Fringe Festival. It was a festive occasion, and spirits were high.
I grabbed myself a booth, opened up my lap-top, and typed furiously as people talked about the productions they saw. Some of the stand outs? Class of '98 and Ash Land were both big hits. Read on for the details...
Heather Meyer is in the show Merblades, but that doesn't open until tonight so she had Thursday free to check out some other work. Her favorite of the evening? Class of '98:
Heather: I saw three shows, but this was definitely the best of the three I've seen so far. I thought it was just a delight. Its was relentlessly spirited; as soon as it started we were on a ride. It was smart and hilarious. It has these amazingly talented teenagers in it who were just going for it. I was really impressed with the teenagers . Everyone was really committed to the show. It was fast, and with a great soundtrack full of 1998 hits.
Debra Berger and Madde Gibba are also in Merblades, and had lots to share on all three shows they saw, including Class of'98, Billy Beechwood and the Mountain of Terror, and Gay Banditos.
Debra: I thought Billy Beachwood was clever - I loved the pacing. They have a very minimalist style, with well-crafted, heartwarming characters.
Madde Gibba: It's a typical Ferrari McSpeedy show: high energy, fast-paced goofiness for the sake of goofiness.
Gay Banditos is probably going to be the best satire of the Fringe. It made some really thoughtful points in a way that made us uncomfortable, but made us think and laugh at the same time. Hysterical. You should just go for Ben Thietje's walkie-talkie voice-over scene.
As for Class of '98, you should go now because it's going to sell out. It's one of the best crafted Fringe shows I've ever seen. Fast paced, hilarious - this show has so much heart. It's a real joy to see two people so enjoying each others creativity and being tickled by that.
Friendship and honesty and just pure joy - those were really the themes of the evening. Everybody was having a blast tonight, and the audiences were, too.
Clarence Wethern has performed in previous Fringe festivals, but this year he's sticking to the audience. Wethern reports that tonight the big surprise came at the 5:30 showing of The Gentlemen's Pratfall Club:
Clarence: Co-star Levi Weinhagen busted his chin open at the end of the show, doing a pratfall. But despite this it was a really funny. His character is learning how to fall down, and the first time he actually makes a pratfall it's "an accident" but in truth he actually hit his chin. But he's totally fine, he's okay. I'm looking forward to seeing what other damage he incurs in the run of the show. Josh Scrimshaw falls down the entire show - that man is made of rubber. It's a family friendly show, but not a kids show.
Class of 98 was hysterical. I saw these guys in "Freaky Kids Show" last year and it was one of the funniest shows I saw all year, not just in the Fringe. This show has just an amazing abundance of heart. It's a time travel nostalgia comedy, and 1998 happens to be my graduating year - I'm the target demographic! Plus I'm a fan of Back to the Future and other sci-fi comedies - so it was really the perfect fringe show.
Carin Bratlie adds that Class of 98 is a production that "understands the Fringe."
Carin: It has all the elements: scrappy, balls to the wall, just cramming it in time-wise. The stakes are very high, and the performers use the high stakes in a "bringing us along for the ride" way. Everyone was so committed to what they were doing and just having a lot of fun, and the energy was infectious. I was having a lot of fun, I was rooting for them, the characters as well as the actors. It's simple in a good way. They don't try to do too much, they do the best that you can do at the Fringe.
I also saw Nucleus and other cell bodies - a modern dance piece at the Southern. It was like "Rite of Spring" for Amoebas! It was as if I was watching one of those 1950s film strips of what you see through a microscope. I didn't get it all, but I didn't need to, because their physicality was so engaging - viscous and visceral at the same time. I could really see the interaction of single cell organisms in a petrie dish being played out on the stage. I was not disappointed - the Fringe is a great place to see modern dance.
Caroline Toll and Nick Vetter met at the Fringe, fell in love, and have been devoted hard-core Fringers ever since. They saw a number of shows on opening night, but the one that really stood out for them was Ash Land:
Caroline: It was tremendous! They are one of the things you come to the Fringe for. They're so unique; they regularly get standing ovations. This company, whatever they do has this magical component because the actors are the scenery, the props...
Nick: ...a squeaky screen door or a rocking chair... It's visual and movement based storytelling about people trying to survive in the Dust Bowl.
Caroline: It's a story about a way of life that's dying out. It's also about foreclosure, so even though it dates to the depression, it's also a modern saga. I'm not a big fan of dance in general, but their shows are so compelling.
Nick: This show also had the longest artists line I've ever seen - that's the rush line for other Fringe artists - which tells you that this is one of the shows that theater people are really talking about.
Scott Pakudaitis is another hard-core Fringer. He plans to make it to all 56 time slots in this year's Fringe Festival, and in fact he hasn't missed an opportunity to see a Fringe show since 2006. His two favorites of the evening? Nucleus and Other Cell Bodies, and Ash Land.
Scott: Ash Land was a piece of beautiful physical theater, and the topic of foreclosure and profiteering is as timely now as it was during the dustbowl. With Nucleus and other cell bodies my brain went places I had no idea it was going. It was hypnotic and yet accurate. It was just beautiful to watch, a really remarkable dance piece.
Tim Wick - who co-wrote The Complete Works of William Shatner (abridged) was not nearly as pleased with Nucleus and Other Bodies, a reaction he knows is partly due to the presence of his two boys, aged seven and 12:
Tim: The show was advertised as appropriate for ages and 7 and up, and technically that's true - but the problem is this is 50 minutes of hard core modern dance, and my kids were practically chewing off their limbs to get out of the theater, but we were sitting in the front row... I did not like their show - I felt it was long, the music was repetitive and dull, and there weren't a lot of moments where I was caught up in the movement. But I can't separate whether it was just the show, or because my kids were freaking out. It was billed as a silly dance show, but it just wasn't accessible show at all, which made it hard to watch. Would I have like the show if my kids weren't there? No, but I would have disliked it less probably. So don't take the age rating seriously.
Wick also took his boys to Gentleman's Pratfall Club, which they loved, despite the chin-splitting incident.
Tim: He hurt himself for his art and I think that's important! They were giggling throughout the show. Levi and Josh are really good at figuring what's going to make kids laugh and entertain adults as well.
I also took the kids to see BOOGIEography, which is directed by a friend of mine. The kids, who had just come from Nucleus, were horrified that they were headed to another dance show, but they loved it. There was an F-bomb dropped a few times at the end, so as a parent you have to decide whether or not you're okay with that.
After that I went on to see Ash Land. I'm a comedian, so I tend to prefer comedy, and I'm really picky about seeing a serious show. But this company's reputation sold me on seeing it. It's a choreographed play, excellently constructed, very well acted. I absolutely recommend it.
That's it for opening night... Tune in later this weekend for another round of reviews for shows that opened Friday and Saturday.