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?)