Monday, August 12, 2019

MN Fringe 2019: IN SUMMARY

My final Fringo card. Not too bad!
Well, that's it. Pretty freaking fantastic 2019 Minnesota Fringe, we have to say. 

We saw 18 shows at 10 different venues over 8 days. For the most part, the shows were outstanding. And if not outstanding, all had something to recommend them. Either we're choosing skillfully, or we've been blessed by the Fringe gods.

Here's what we saw:

A Cult Classic by Sheep Theater
Xena and Gabrielle Smash the Patriarchy By Mermaid Productions
Measure4Measure By Rough Magic Performance Company 
Reverend Matt's Monster Science Presents How to Come Back from the Dead by Monster Science Productions

The Tale of The Bloody Benders By The Feral Theatre Company
#FirstDate By Scammers, Thieves, and The Like

Minneapolis Human Rhythm Project By Keane Sense of Rhythm
Chisago: The Musical By Haute Dish Productions 
Mad as Nell, or How to Lose a Bly in Ten Days By Rinky Dink Operations

Edith Gets High By Devious Mechanics 
Frankenstein: Two Centuries By Mysterious Old Radio Listening Society
Hello Mother By Haunt Armada

Escape This - TheatreX
Size - Somerville Productions 
A Confederate Widow in Hell - Breaker Fixer 
Swan Song - Third Floor Flat Productions

Days Seven and Eight: The Home Stretch
Visitation - DangerVision Productions
Stoopidity - By Ian McCarthy, Michael McKitt, Domino D'Lorion

Shows we especially regret missing:

You Are Cordially Invited to the Life and Death of Edward Lear - The Winding Sheet Outfit
The Lunch Bunch - Snikt! Bamf! Thwip!
A Man's Guide for Appropriate Behavior in the 21st Century - One T Productions

Final thoughts:
  • Loved the multi-show passes. Wish we had bought them online in advance, but they made ticket purchasing go very speedily.
  • Great management of lines. Well-marked lines for ticketing and entering the theater, as well as special Artist Rush Lines. 
  • The volunteers were excellent. Occasionally slightly over-zealous, but for the most part, helpful and friendly.
  • Parking was easy and inexpensive. We didn't pay more than five dollars per Fringe day or night out.
  • Loved the convenience of all the shows at the Rarig, but really enjoyed the hospitality at the Southern, the Ritz and Mixed Blood. (Okay, they had bars, but those theater nights got long!)
  • Wish everyone had printed programs, especially if they haven't shared much info on the MN Fringe website, as it helps the audience member (and blogger) note particularly strong performers and creative artists.
All in all, this was a kickass Minnesota Fringe Festival and our thanks and appreciation go to all the artists, volunteers, and staff who worked so hard to provide an amazing theater experience.

Sunday, August 11, 2019

MN Fringe 2019: Days Seven and Eight: The Home Stretch

Wrapping up the 2019 Minnesota Fringe Festival with two amazing shows.

Visitation - DangerVision Productions (Crane Theater)
Mad props to this show for tackling subjects that people don't often want to discuss: death and grief. A beautifully written collection of stories and scenes, performed by Clarence Wethern, Sophie Javna, Karen Bair, Ben Tallen, Victoria Pyan, and Charles Numrich covered a variety of alternately funny and heart-rending stories about death and grief, accompanied by video projection. The writers include Heather Meyer, Laura Buchholz, Gemma Irish, Rachel Teagle, Sam L. Landman, and Tyler Mills. I hope this show has a longer life than just the Fringe--I'd love to revisit some of these moving stories again.

We had hopes of staying for the one of the hottest shows in the 2019 Minnesota Fringe Festival: Winding Sheet Outfit's You Are Cordially Invited to the Life and Death of Edward Lear. Alas, the show was very sold out.

I have to shout out the volunteer/staff member with the cute short haircut who did such a fantastic job of letting people know that was absolutely, definitely sold out. She stood on the steps outside the Crane and as people approached the theater, called out to them, asking if they had reservations. If they didn't, she politely let them know that the show was full and indicated that they definitely had time to make it over to Strike Theater. Just outstanding customer service.

Stoopidity - By Ian McCarthy, Michael McKitt, Domino D'Lorion (Rarig Center Xperimental)
This was the last show we saw at the Fringe, and what a way to go out. The show is described as "3 blackboys sit on the front stoop of their apartment building, trying to navigate & understand what it means to love deeply. To question tradition. To be queer. To be unapologetically black in the world today." This show was a gorgeous verbal cavalcade of honesty, humor, love and strength. The talent of these (young!) men is staggering. We can't wait to see what they do next.

And that's it! It's all over for another year! Sigh.

MN Fringe 2019: Day Six (and Five) - Locked Rooms, Parlors, and Body Positivity

The Minnesota Fringe rolls on and the shows continue!

Escape This - TheatreX (Ritz Theater Mainstage)
Playwright Rob Matsushita puts a modern spin on the traditional locked room mystery by setting it in an escape room. Two couples (Hannah Bakke, Kyle Doherty and Christy C. Johnson, Ryan Vanasse) are introduced to their escape room experience by staff member Braylee (Ankita Ashrit).In case you haven't been, an escape room is an interactive experience where the players have to solve puzzles and find clues in order to unlock the room. But, as in the traditional locked room mystery, not everything is as it seems and secrets are revealed! It's an interesting twist on a traditional mystery, but could use a little more development. The back page of the program reads: "We promise that most escape rooms are actually pretty cool. Check these ones out," and provides a list of local escape rooms.

Size - Somerville Productions (Theatre in the Round)
Having heard nothing but love for Colleen Somerville's Not Fair, My Lady, we could not miss her show this year in the Fringe. As the show's description reads: "Nothing tastes as good as rejecting bullshit societal standards feels." This is a lovely, inclusive and personal show with semi-staged stories about body shape, weight, diets, and eating disorders performed by fantastic cast. Standouts include Lauren Anderson (of course) sharing a story of being heckled onstage and Linda Sue Anderson, barely containing her outrage--but hilariously--about a gym class from her youth. Skits include a date between two people who've brought along their worst food-shaming critic selves. Funny and truthful, we're complete converts to the cult of Colleen Somerville.

A Confederate Widow in Hell - Breaker Fixer (Southern Theater)
We saw this show at last year's Twin Cities Horror Festival but were persuaded to see it again by the charmingly persuasive actor and co-creator Joseph Fletcher, who promised that at least two-thirds of the show was new. In this atmospheric, funny, and inventive dramedy, a widow from the "War of Northern Aggression" (the brilliant Willi Carlisle) regales the audience with her memories about her life and the South, as well as some pretty fascinating reflections on the legacy of the South on present-day America. Fletcher also stars as her headless accompanist (you have to see it! It so works!).

Swan Song - Third Floor Flat Productions (Southern Theater)
Hey! It's another twist on the traditional locked room mystery. In this show, five actors and one stage manager meet at an isolated country house for a play rehearsal. But it turns out that someone has a nefarious plan and the cast is speedily dispatched. An engaging premise with some solid performances made this a lovely show to end a late night of Fringing.

Thursday, August 8, 2019

MN Fringe 2019: Day Four - Hovis, Old Radio and SCARES

Day Four was another amazing day at the Minnesota Fringe Festival. It doesn't hurt that every show we saw was at Rarig. (Now if they only had a bar....) And such a good line-up!

Edith Gets High By Devious Mechanics (Rarig Center Arena)
What can we say about Keith Hovis that we haven't already said? You know, like this: "Keith Hovis, playwright and composer, is a master of mixing the macabre and the funny with clever, melodic songs" (TCHF VI: A Morbid History of Sons and Daughters). Or perhaps "Go see this. Keith Hovis is a young genius, and this show is just as dark and delightful as his Teenage Misery. The music is fun and the lyrics are hilarious." (Fringe 2017: Jefferson Township Sparkling Junior Beauty Pageant).  "The lyrics are marvelously clever, the music is tuneful, the melodies are memorable, the arrangements are beautifully done." (Teenage Misery) We could GO ON. So go see it already!

You're still here? Fine. Debra Berger is endlessly engaging as Edith, Ryan Lear is wildly hilarious, and the entire ensemble (Lizzie Gardner, Kiko Laureano, Cameron Reeves, and Colleen Somerville Leeman) brings humor and harmonies for days. Director Allison Witham creates a video game world with minimal props and inventive movement, and her work makes the most of the challenging Rarig Arena space. So go!

Frankenstein: Two Centuries By Mysterious Old Radio Listening Society (Rarig Center Thrust)
The Mysterious Old Radio Listening Society celebrates the 200th anniversary of the publication of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein with two original radio scripts, performed with live music and sound effects. The first script, by Tim Uren, is in the style of the radio show Escape! and is a dramatic depiction of a scenario after the end of the novel. The second script, by Joshua English Scrimshaw, is sillier and lighter, incorporating other monsters from the Universal horror movies. This script is in the style of Inner Sanctum, a show that (according to MORLS--check out the podcast!) was extremely popular. The punny banter between The Host and the Lipton Tea Lady is kind of bonkers in a delightful way, and Scrimshaw and Shanan Custer make the most of it. All of the cast, including Eric Webster, Uren, and Joe Weismann are excellent, and the music and sound effects complete the picture. Even thinking about the effective breaking neck sound effect makes me cringe a day later. Also, Shanan Custer as Elsa Lanchester is genius and we'd happily watch that performance for days.

Hello Mother By Haunt Armada (Rarig Center Xperimental)
Hello Mother was created by Haunt Armada, a group that knows from scaring people. What starts as an urban legend/ghost story told during a power outage becomes frighteningly real for two stepbrothers (Phillip Zawieruszynski and Zane Perren) who don’t get along. The group finds ways to use the entire Rarig Xperimental space, so there might be a figure appearing from a hidden space, or another breathing creepily behind you. They also use light–and the lack of light–very effectively, and perform the simple scene changes with a speed that keeps the tension high. The story itself isn’t terribly original, but a ghost story doesn’t have to be if it’s as scary as this one. Not for the faint of heart, but if you enjoy a good scare, it’s a winner! Also, there's skittering. SKITTERING!

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

MN Fringe 2019: Day Three - Dance, Musical Parody, and Historical Hilarity

Day three of our Minnesota Fringe Festival adventure--a pretty kick-ass day at the theater(s). We started our day by catching one of the Family Fringe shows.

Minneapolis Human Rhythm Project By Keane Sense of Rhythm (Barker Center for Dance)
We brought our favorite five-year-old and the rest of the family to this Family Fringe show. Created by Cathy Keane Wind of Keane Sense of Rhythm and Edna Stevens of Universal Dance Destiny, this show is "a celebration of dance by and for all ages, abilities and ethnicities," and it's a treat. This show was a jam-packed 50 minutes of tap, African, K-Pop, and break dancing with live drumming and ended with a dance jam (with the audience ) on stage. Inclusive, accessible, and utterly delightful, I wish more families could see these wonderful Family Fringe shows.

Chisago: The Musical By Haute Dish Productions (Rarig Center Thrust)
We have to be honest: although this Chicago musical parody was a strong contender for our must-see list, we were a little worried about it being cheesy or pandery. No worries, though. Written and directed by Kendra Braunger and Carissa Christenson, who also star as Roxie and Velma respectively, this Minnesota-focused parody of Kander & Ebb's classic musical is witty and sharp. In this version, Roxie moves from Orlando to Chisago County with her husband, his hometown where they'll be close to his mother. Cue the very clever references to hot dish, long good-byes, passive-aggressiveness and Minnesota Nice. The show affectionately and skillfully parodies Minnesota quirks ("Ope! I'm just gonna squeeze by you here") while still providing an appreciation for the original musical. Most of the excellent cast is from Mankato; we're definitely adding Mankato's Merely Players Theater to our greater Minnesota theater must-sees. BTW, if you, like us, were left appreciating what a great musical Chicago is, Theater Latte Da is presenting the show this fall.

So.... this show is written by Josh Carson, Kelsey Cramer, Shanan Custer and Allison Witham. It's directed by Josh Carson. It stars Kelsey Cramer, Shanan Custer, Addie Phelps, Allison Witham, Aisha Ragheb, Josh Carson, Tim Hellendrung, James Detmar, and Sue Scott.

Are you good? Do you need any more info?

All I can say is I was watching this show and just marveling at how much amazing freaking talent we have here in the Twin Cities. It's absolutely astonishing. Mad as Nell tells the true story of Nellie Bly's undercover investigation into the Women's Lunatic Asylum on Blackwell's Island and I just don't understand how a show that is so hilarious can have so much actual heart and relevance. (I mean, I understand it--I'm just incredibly, incredibly impressed by it.) And in case you weren't won over enough, the producers are dedicating this show to the memory of Beverlee Everett, the mother of Matthew Everett (aka Single White Fringe Geek), who passed on earlier this year. And they write: "Though we'll miss your laugh today, we know that you're still watching." All the hearts.

MN Fringe 2019: Day Two - Dating and Killers

Taking it easy on day two, we spent our time at Strike Theater in beautiful Northeast with gorgeously ample street parking. We were a little sad that their weird Laffy Taffy and Skittles-rich concession stand wasn't open, but we got over it.

The Tale of The Bloody Benders By The Feral Theatre Company (Strike Theater)
A notorious family of serial killers in 1870s Kansas, the Benders makes a fascinating subject for a true crime-inspired Fringe show. Braden Joseph, playwright and director, begins the show with a campfire storytelling session that leads into an interesting depiction of the Bender family and their unique murdering style. Although short, this is a show with a lot of promise.

Plus, since it was short, we had some time to walk over to Indeed Brewing for a quick drink. (Tattersall Distilling is right in the building, but it's prohibitively crowded and loud for a good post-theater discussion fest.)

#FirstDate By Scammers, Thieves, and The Like (Strike Theater)
We headed back to Strike, suitably fortified and ready for some online dating-based comedy. #FirstDate is a long-form improv show, directed by Molly Ritchie, who created the hilarious improv show Family Dinner, which can be seen at Huge Theater, as well as a number of other improv shows. Advertised special guests include Breanna Cecile, John Gebretatose, and, at our performance: Allison Lonigro. A game cast of improvisers (Nicole Fende, Jackson Melius, Ed Timek and Allison Lonigro) tries to persuade online dater (Patience Nallick) to swipe right on them. An incomplete bio in the program made us wonder about Nallick's background in improv comedy. Or perhaps the intention was for her to play it straight as to set off the improvisation, but it actually tended to take the energy out of the comedy, despite the daters best attempts to engage. That said, Allison Lonigro's farmer girl dater was an absolute treat and a delight to watch.

Sunday, August 4, 2019

MN Fringe 2019: Day ONE - Cults, Cons, Shakespeare, and DEATH

We leapt into the 2019 Minnesota Fringe Festival on Friday with a full line-up in Seven Corners/West Bank under the guidance of our friend Cherry and Spoon (who will see seventeen thousand shows--check her blog!).

A Cult Classic By Sheep Theater (Southern Theater)
"The world is really really loud and complicated" read the flyer we were handed as we entered the Southern Theater for Sheep Theater's tale of a doomsday cult. Despite focusing on Mindful Actualizationalism, members of the cult are lost when their leader is missing. They attempt their ultimate ascension (thanks to a foul Cosmic Elixir), but alas, things are not working out so well. A simple set, endearing and funny cast (well-loved by the wildly enthusiastic audience), and an interesting premise made this a great start to our Fringe.

Xena and Gabrielle Smash the Patriarchy By Mermaid Productions (Theatre in the Round)
That title! That promo picture! How could any fan of syndicated action dramas of the 1990s miss this show? We sure couldn't. The perfectly dressed and coiffed Ariel Leaf (as Xena) and Nissa Nordland Morgan (as Gabrielle) are going about their warrior princess and companion business, fighting off bad guys and whatnot, when they come into possession of Circe's magic cup. The cup transports them to a present-day SF/fantasy convention, where they are mistaken for really dedicated cosplayers. Suffice it to say, Xena and Gabrielle kick some ass. Whether it's con staff member Alpha (a hilarious Heather Meyer), unenlightened Ted (Matthew Kessen) who needs a little Xena schooling in his interactions with Leah (Elora Riley), and Coraline (Katie Starks), who is less than happy with Leah's slave girl ensemble, plus Richard "Doc" Woods and Nicholas Nelson, the cast is outstanding.

The script (by Nissa Nordland Morgan) includes plenty of deep show references, tons of fandom jokes, thoughtful exploration of issues, and even song and dance. Director Katy McEwen makes excellent use of the Theater in the Round space and the timing was tight, even at the first show. Whether you're a fan of Xena or not, this show is an utter delight with some excellent substance as well. (And if you are a fan, you will be DELIGHTED with a certain reveal halfway through the show.) Seriously, don't miss this. It's a treat and let's be honest: the patriarchy could use some serious smashing.

Measure4Measure By Rough Magic Performance Company (Southern Theater)
A six-woman cast performs this perfectly trimmed adaptation of William Shakespeare's Measure For Measure--as they call it, the original #MeToo play. Having just seen an excellent full production last season at American Players Theatre, we can say that this version covers all the important parts of the story while emphasizing the powerlessness of a woman against a powerful man. "Who would believe you?" is a chilling line every time it's uttered. Under Sarah Agnew's direction, the terrific cast includes Ashawnti Sakina Ford, Alayne Hopkins, Catherine Johnson Justice, and Mo Perry carrying the heavy drama, with welcome moments of levity from Elise Langer and Taj Ruler. It's a great production, whether you're familiar with the play, or need an introduction to this story. Also, we'd like to see this amazing cast perform all of the Shakespeare, please and thank you.

Reverend Matt's Monster Science Presents How to Come Back from the Dead by Monster Science Productions (Mixed Blood Theater)
If you follow our blog at all, you know we are big fans of Reverend Matt's Monster Science and his blend of well-researched monster lore, well-chosen images (in Powerpoint!), and crack comic timing. This time around, Rev. Matt gets in depth on how to achieve immortality, whether as a vampire, zombie, mummy or a variety of other obscure (but well-explained) creatures from a variety of cultures. Despite being billed (at the Fringe website) as a solo show, Rev. Matt (Matthew Kessen) has a new addition, junior Monster Scientist/graduate student/wannabe vampire (?) Elora Riley (Elora Riley). Although the idea of adding someone to play off of is an intriguing one for this often solo performer, to be honest, we felt that it reduced the amazing connection that Rev. Matt has with his audience and his fantastic solo timing. But that's a small quibble, as Rev. Matt's shows are always hilarious. (And when you see it, can we talk about a certain vampiric Mayberry-denizen joke that is GENIUS?)

And that is IT for Fringe: Day One (since they just REFUSE to do shows 24 hours a day--I guess artists need to sleep?)