Out-of-Towners Showcase: Part Two of Two

The Pumpkin Pie Show

These guys definitely get the medal for being the friendliest out-of-towners: they’re the only ones who approached me, rather than the other way around.

So I was relieved to find that I really enjoyed their preview. They’re a storytelling group, and at first I was sort of annoyed at how theatrical the storyteller’s performance was: then I thought, no. I’m being stupid. That’s just me getting really foolish and dogmatic about some silly concept of what storytelling is supposed to be. What I do know is that his theatricality was totally engaging, very funny and very controlled.

Ophelia

While, this is a piece that might have been brilliant. Or it might have been terrible. Unfortunately, I’ll never know — it was crippled by poor staging decisions that made the preview impossible for me to either see or hear; the performers were on the floor, wrapped in a sheet, and they seemed to be doing — something worth watching: but even standing up and moving around the space, I wasn’t able to follow it. Simple problems, simply fixed — but unfortunately, not leaving me much to comment on about their performance.

Roofies in the Mochaccino

Comedy’s a funny thing, and I was just thinking about exactly what makes things funny for me. One thought is that a lot of it revolves around taking stupid, trivial things, and making them impossibly elaborate. Hell, Monty Python pretty much built their career on that one gag — and it’s the same thing that I love about so much of Dean Hatton‘s work.

So. Fozzie Bear fucking Miss Piggy? Mildly funny, I guess. But taking that concept, and then examining the process in minute detail — building the environment, the landscape of both bodies, the complications that evolve from both interspecies and, er, inter-puppetry intercourse? In the context of beautifully, carefully crafted poetry? That’s fucking funny, and it has to be seen to be believed.

Homecoming

So apparently I have a huge thing for the whole virginal white gown look, because watching an attractive girl, clad in a restrictive bridal gown, executing a sequence of carefully choreographed movements through space, was really breathtaking for me. I’m sure someone could come up with all kinds of analyses for this.

But maybe it is worth examining more closely — because I was into her performance until she began speaking. So. Two possibilities: one, that she really effectively crafted a world with her body and with gesture, and introducing language violated that; or, two, that the whole bridal-dance thing played into some sort of submissive fantasy that fell apart once she opened her mouth and began to speak for herself. I don’t know that the two possibilities are mutually exclusive: in fact, I think that it’s likely that they’re related.

I don’t think this is some sort of fetish that I’m imposing on the performance, I think it’s an inherent part of it: a dancer doesn’t enter the space in something as evocative as a bridal gown (particularly in a show that seems interested in dealing with gender) without that influencing audience perception of what she does.

So. Interesting.

Gone, Gone, Gone

Cute and amusing, but not much more: a couple comes out, binds their hands together with duct tape, and begins a dance that progresses into a desperate need to get away from each other. I found myself wishing for more physical engagement, from a piece that seemed to break down into a series of spins: not something I feel compelled to rush out and see, but it was amusing enough for long enough.

The Thinnest Woman Wins

More body-image angst, which continues to be a tough sell for me. Punctuated with baton-twirling, although I do have to observe that the baton was dropped twice; and the content of what she was saying wasn’t…really something I’m inclined to sit through, for an hour. I’m sure that her show contains much more than this, but I’m afraid I can’t tell what that might be from the preview.

Leaving Normal

Normally I’m not a real big fan of audience interaction, but the performer had a real sweetness and a vulnerability that made me eager to play along with her: an eagerness that, I think, was shared by the two members she pulled to play with her. Part of the strength of this, too, is that she really did play with her participants, rather than simply using them as human props — she was attentive to them, and worked closely with what they had to offer.

Plus, she gives out treats in her show. And I get hungry at Fringe.

Boom

A solo piece by one of the Cody Rivers dudes, which is a pretty hefty recommendation in and of itself. The piece was brief — he played a pair of characters, a teacher and a student, having an absurd conversation about bombs. Entertaining but brief.

Sex, Love & Vomit

A pair of storytelling pieces that really suffered from being placed at the end of the night. Seemed to be offering the first part of their respective stories as teasers, but neither offered quite enough to pique my interest. (It’s possible that the second one may have been cut off by a tech error.) Truthfully, I was struggling to stay alert; they would most likely have fared much differently at the other end of the evening. Unfair, perhaps, but I can only report on the experience I had.

Advertisements

Out-of-Towners Showcase: Part One of Two

Systems: A Literal Interpretation of the Fourth Wall

I can’t say that the text did much for me: it all seemed to be very clever and very quick and very cerebral, deconstructing all kinds of aspects of theatre and blah blah blah. It’s certainly possible that there’s more going on in the full show than was apparent during a brief preview, but the intellectual exercise ultimately feels kind of hollow to me.

Karaoke Knights – A One Man Rock Opera

Tim Mooney is something of a controversial figure locally — there’s camps that absolutely love and camps that absolutely hate his stuff — and I’m definitely part of the former.

That said, I’ll confess that this is a weaker piece he chose to do tonight — one that I suspect is effective within the overall context of the show, but doesn’t communicate much as an excerpt. Regardless, he’s on my “must-see” list, if only because of his work in previous years.

Red Tide

I’m not usually a visual person when it comes to theatre — I’m interested primarily in text, and in performances by actors.

This is a piece, however, that hinges heavily on creating a visual world — and they didn’t really have the tools to do that in the preview. This is a piece that’s almost all style, all aesthetic, all about creating a cool world — and I’m struggling to visualize the performance, good or bad, on the basis of what we saw tonight.

Get It OFF YOUR CHEST!!!

This is one that was very popular with the audience, and well-played by the performer — she waddles out as a cheerful, elderly homeless lady, sharing her homespun insights with the audience.

And yet, the whole exercise feels somewhat manipulative to me — she comes across like a bit of a stock character, and the sudden emotional shifts seem calculated. Well-played, and probably very popular with the right audience — but I have a hard time visualizing spending much more time with this woman.

How Does a Drug Deal Become a Decent 3rd Date?

This pleased me — a solid little comedy scene, featuring a girl being accosted by the classic seedy, sleazy date. Not really much of anything to it beyond that, but superbly played by both of them, and I was laughing pretty much from beginning to end.

Beowulf or Gilgamesh ? You Decide!

Gah, this requires no selling from me: he’s a Fringe hit, and deservedly so. I’m actually kind of fascinated to see which piece ends up becoming more heavily requested (I’m a “Gilgamesh” fan, myself). No matter: I’ve seen both pieces, both are brilliant, and I would happily sit through either again. And at Fringe, that’s not nothing.

Oens

So guy comes out in a weird costume, weird music starts playing, and he moves through the space in a weird way. I can’t say that I have any real idea exactly what was going in the little movement sequence I witnessed, and I seemed to have every reason to hate it — but I loved it. I found it funny and engaging and consistently interesting throughout. Moreover, he demonstrated a physical discipline and control that suggests to me that he’s more than capable of sustaining an hour show: the brief piece I saw was the work of an artist I’m prepared to trust.

FOOL FOR A CLIENT

So, usually I’m happy to use this space to just sort of talk about my impressions, work through them, let people read and draw their own conclusions.

Not so with this one. I want you to see this show. You, reading this. That’s right: go ahead, click on the link above, go to his show page, and schedule one of his performances. Yes, it’s funny. Yes, it’s smart. But beyond that, I think it captures something important: I think that it captures some important truths about humanity, and government, and all those kinds of things that I’m constantly struggling to find a way to communicate to people. When I complain about cheap, stupid, obvious political comedy? This is the antithesis of that.

I could go on and on. But really. Schedule it now. Go.

The Attack of the Big Angry Booty

Les Kurkendaal is something of a beloved figure locally. I’ve never seen any of his shows, and I’ll confess that his previews have never really done much for me: I find his stage character to be somewhat needy in a way that really turns me off. I’ll also throw out that the subject matter of this show — more body-image angst — isn’t really something that excites me.

But I was thoroughly entertained by his performance tonight: he was more relaxed and genuinely playful than I’ve seen him before, and his subject matter — how bar crawls while touring have basically destroyed his physique — well, they were pretty inside jokes, but, hey, I’m inside and I enjoyed them, found myself laughing along — yes, yes, those are all things that I recognize. I don’t know if that recommends it to anybody else, but I certainly had a good time.

The Cody Rivers Show Presents: Stick to Glue

This is another group that I hear about constantly, but whose shows I’ve never managed to catch. Not for any lack of desire — everything I’ve seen has impressed me, and this was no exception.

Trying to describe what they did is next to impossible: it was, well, kind of a nonsense song, kind of a kid’s song, acted out through extremely physical, extremely ludicrous, brilliantly timed gestures. And that was it. A simple gag, elegantly executed: but one that had the full house in stitches from beginning to end.

Ten Artists I haven’t seen before

…but whose work sure sounds interesting. Once again, the Rarig is a well-represented venue: you’ve got Adam Sharp putting on 10.10 Post 9.11: Laughter in the Aftermath and Top Hat Theatre doing Robin Hood The Musical!, both of which have caught my attention in previews. I haven’t seen any of Courtney Roche in Stupid Face, or of Rampleseed in Reincarnation: Another Chance at Failure, but both have fans who just plain won’t shut the fuck up about them to me.

Over at Intermedia Arts, Jared Reise is producing a show called Among the Oats. I worked with him briefly last year, in a role in which he really didn’t get the chance to spread his wings: but he impressed me in the few conversations we had backstage, and I’m curious to see what he’ll produce when he’s given a blank canvas. I have a similar sense of the intellect of Katherine Glover, who’ll be producing her first show No Stranger Than Home in the same venue.

At Mixed Blood, you have puppet show JACK by Eric van Wyk and political comedy Orange by Questionable Company Theatre, two shows that have been ridiculously – and admirably – aggressive in pimping themselves to a new audience.

For those who are into faery tales, Atomic Lotus & Invocatio is doing a Gothic ballet based on “Hansel and Gretel” (and that’s something I’m curious to see, successful or otherwise) call HafenGeist. A more thoughtful storytelling experience can be had from Klatch Productions, doing My War: From Bismarck to Britain and Back, an epistolary performance based on WWII records. And last but not least, newcomer Mother/Destroyer seems to have a notable flair for language in their maiden voyage, Skunkape Sexkult.

Whew! That’s it, until the Festival proper starts — but these last three entries cover most of the shows that have caught my attention. As for everything else — well, I’m looking forward to being surprised.

Fifteen Returning Champions

No less than five can be found at the Rarig Center: Chopping Block and Charlie Bethel (the team that brought you last year’s “Tom Thumb”) is teaming to produce Beowulf or Gilgamesh? You Decide! at which audiences will be able to pick which of Charlie’s hit one-man epics they get to see that evening. He also did some of the initial script work on Sun Tzu’s The Art of War, by No Refunds Theatre Company. Fringe favorite Joe Scrimshaw presents a children’s show called An Inconvenient Squirrel. Four Humors (of “Bards”, “Deviled Eggs” and “Inspector Rex”) brings a traveling medicine show called Mortem Capiendum. And Walking Shadow is putting on Shakespeare’s Land of the Dead, in which the Globe Theatre finds itself under attack by a zombie plague.

Two great movement shows can be found right her in the Minneapolis Theatre Garage: Jon Ferguson has been collaborating with Chain Coffee Productions to create BULL “An American Story of Bullheadedness”, a twisted adaptation of Ionesco. Noah Bremer of Live Action Set has also contributed to Fools for Love by The Hastings High School Drama Club. Live Action Set itself is putting on Deviants, an adaptation of a remarkable show they did earlier this year, at the Soap Factory.

There’s at least two brilliant 90-minute productions taking place at the Bryant-Lake Bowl: out-of-towner Mark Whitney is doing his one-man show FOOL FOR A CLIENT, which easily made my top ten last year, and Vanderpan Enterprises (whose show “Three Days in Hell” made my top five) is doing Paul Bunyan Runs for President.

If it’s movement you’re interested in, there’s an embarrassment of riches scattered throughout the Festival: Sara Stevenson Scrimshaw (whose comic dancing I’ve the pleasure of witnessing in the past) is doing Dance of the Whisky Faerie, while physical theatre ensemble 3 Sticks is just bringing The Gypsy and the General back from Kansas City. Marceau-trained mime Dean Hatton – one of the best-kept secrets in the Twin Cities – is performing a tribute to his (now unfortunately late) teacher, titled Silent Poetry.

Rounding out the list, I’ll throw on two more solo performers: Tim Mooney will be presenting his third one-man show in Minneapolis, this one called Karaoke Knights. And hit stand-up comic Ben Sandell is taking a crack at storytelling in Strawberry Fields Temporarily.

But that’s not all!

Needless Nepotism

I’m one of the founders of the Rockstar Storytellers, so I won’t be talking about that show in this space. However, since the group is composed of hit solo performers — a kind of “Fringe All-Stars,” as it were — many members of the group are also producing shows in the Fringe that I’m looking forward too. I don’t know if the fact that I work with these guys disqualifies me from recommending their work — but the shows I’d like to plug are ones that I’ve had nothing to do with.

ROCKSTAR: Allison Broeren
COMPANY: Mumble Mumble, Ink Productions
SHOW TITLE: I’ll Marry You for Health Insurance and other shocking revelations
LOCATION: Rarig Xperimental

ROCKSTAR: Allegra Lingo
COMPANY: Allegra J. Lingo
SHOW TITLE: Tipping the Bucket
LOCATION: Rarig Arena

ROCKSTARS: Curt Lund and Laura Bidgood
COMPANY: True Enough Theatre
SHOW TITLE: Boys Don’t Make Passes at Girls Who Wear Glasses
LOCATION: Rarig Arena

ROCKSTAR: Mike Fotis
COMPANY: Mike Fotis
SHOW TITLE: An Intimate Evening with Fotis: Part Two
LOCATION: Minneapolis Theatre Garage

And a brief shout-out to another performer I’m working with, who also has his own show in the Festival:

PERFOMER: Michael Shaeffer
COMPANY: Empty S Productions
SHOW TITLE: Roofies in the Mochaccino
LOCATION: Interact Center

Onward to more recommendations!

The Gypsy and the General

Here’s a production that absolutely delivers on the promise of its show description – a “physically daring ensemble-created show” – in spades. It has singing and dancing. It has falls and leaps and rolls. It has a catchy soundtrack and countless object manipulations.

Some of these are very cool, and very tightly-plotted: others feel aimless, emerging from nothing and dissolving into nothing. There were at least a few sequences where I was watching objects moving through space and had no sense what was going on. They’re all unquestionably physically impressive, and it feels a bit churlish to pick apart a performance that’s working so aggressively to entertain you.

Some people are going to call this a masterpiece, and I don’t think that it is: there’s really not much more to it than a kind of generalized ridicule of militarism, a sort of live-action political cartoon. But it has the frenetic, kinetic energy of a cartoon; it turns around and continually surprises you; there are several moments that merited gasps and applause. It’s very possibly the most consistently entertaining hour in the Fringe, and that’s not nothing.

JACK, Orange, and Roofies: Previews from the Rockstar Storytellers Show

JACK by Eric van Wyk

His preview during the Fringe-For-All, I’ll confess, left me cold. This still wasn’t his crowd, and the pacing still felt awkward – but this time around, I was much more impressed with the *visual* inventiveness of the show – the piece he chose to do was largely a rapid-fire catalogue of different puppets, puppets being transformed into other things, packed with lots of visual surprises. I still can’t say that I have a clear sense of exactly what I’ll be watching during the show, but I’m now reasonably certain that it’ll sustain my attention.

Orange by Questionable Company Productions

This was like a Saturday Night Live sketch, but the old, good Saturday Night Live. The premise is a funny one – people in a building are watching the television, and trying to figure out if the hostage situation they’re watching is the building that they’re in – and it’s played in a very deadpan, tongue-in-cheek style.

Roofies in the Mochaccino by Michael Shaeffer

Talking up this guy anymore would be nothing short of nepotism. But you should see his show.