Fuck Your Honeymoon

Just had an article about the Fringe published over at mnartists. My contract prevents me from cross-posting it here, but I’m totally kosher to link to it — here you go!

Minnesota Fringe Festival: Craigslist: Not a Musical! at Intermedia Arts

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SHOW TITLE: Craigslist: Not a Musical!
PRODUCER: Yeah No Sketch Show Players
HAILING FROM: Minneapolis
SHOW DESCRIPTION: Scripted scenes based on actual zany Craigslist ads. Don’t have a Missed Connection with this rocking revamp featuring a new cast and new scenes by Sam L. Landman (Pretty Girls Make Graves, Theater People).

I expressed in my capsule review of their preview my bewilderment at the fact that this kind of parody has become a genre. I found the marketing to be a bit misleading, however: what this ultimately is is sketch comedy, in which every sketch uses a Craigslist ad as its jumping-off point. The ad in question is projected on the rear wall, but really, this whole element could be cut and it wouldn’t affect the show in any meaningful way.

So how did the comedy itself hold up? Didn’t hit me, I’m disappointed to say – and when it comes to comedy, what more is there to say than that?

Well, more than that, I suppose. The underlying joke of most of the sketches seemed to hinge on taking an absurd premise, and playing it as dramatically as possible. It is literally melodramatic, with most of the scenes being underscored by a synthesizer that reminded me (fondly) of nothing so much as nineties Sierra game soundtracks.

The company, however, plays their business broadly – wacky voices and accents ahoy – and the overall effect is one of neediness, and one that causes me to pull back, despite their talents. Here’s hoping they find their audience, and wishing I could be a part of it.

Questions? Comments? Enraged invective? Check out my answers to occasionally asked questions in Notes on Notes, or the contact info linked from that page!

Minnesota Fringe Festival: The OzFather at Intermedia Arts

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SHOW TITLE: The OzFather
PRODUCER: Locally Grown Theatre
HAILING FROM: Cottage Grove
SHOW DESCRIPTION: In this movie mashup parody the Wizard of Oz is the Godfather while Johnny Cash can’t find courage to sing and a Newsie doesn’t have brains to write while helping Dottie get home from the land of MinneappleOz.

“So what am I seeing?” I asked, approaching the box office.

“The OzFather.”

I paused. “Ah. I’m guessing that that would be a cross between The Wizard of Oz and The Godfather?”

Which, y’know, danger, danger, Will Robinson. I know The Wizard of Oz fairly well, but The Godfather is one of those cultural touchstones that I – cringe – have never actually seen from beginning to end. I’m familiar with the premise and its tropes, but there was a real danger that I’d be batting zero for fifty percent of the jokes.

This didn’t turn out to be a problem – the references were all over the place, leaning heavily on Minneapolis history, which I know enough of to nod in recognition when they appear.

Beyond that, wow, was this a mixed bag. The production values were notable, with original music and multimedia underscoring the elaborate transitions. The cast was – all over the place; a few with a spark of inspiration, others whose performances were clumsy and stiff (as well as the most placid dog that I have ever seen on a stage). In a sprawling cast of this size (about twenty, I think, which can not have been fun to manage with Fringe restrictions) this was a noticeable, and distracting, issue.

The underlying problem, however, is the script. Much of it was clever. But being clever isn’t the same thing as being funny, and making a reference isn’t the same thing as writing a joke. And watching a writer free-associate pop-culture references…isn’t really comedy, as such.

The show clocked in at about forty minutes, and still felt as though its thin premise was being padded. It’s never pleasurable to be unable to respond to this level of enthusiasm, but I would reluctantly have to advise giving this one a miss.

Questions? Comments? Enraged invective? Check out my answers to occasionally asked questions in Notes on Notes, or the contact info linked from that page!

Minnesota Fringe Festival: #SummthinsGonnaHappen at Intermedia Arts

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SHOW TITLE: #SummthinsGonnaHappen
PRODUCER: Red Carpet Burlesque
HAILING FROM: Minneapolis
SHOW DESCRIPTION: Comedy? Burlesque? Dance? Drag? Maybe, We’re calling all our fabulous MN heavy hitter friends to make summthins happen! So… Who knows? You may be able to cross summthins off your bucket list!

I’m back to my Fringe-viewing pattern of traveling randomly between shows – which means I usually find myself sauntering up to a box office with no idea of what I’m obtaining a ticket for. This was – a bit bewildering, in this case. The show title told me nothing. There was no programme. When I poked at the Fringe site on my phone, there was no cast list. And the description? Comedy, burlesque, dance, and drag? I like all four of those things. But this looked to be taking the shape of a carelessly thrown-together variety show, and while I love variety shows, they’re often a tough sell for me at the Festival.

They got off to a rocky start. Pre-curtain, performers wandered in and out in various states of undress to check on props. The MC didn’t initially seem to be aware of the pre-recorded curtain speech. She occasionally stumbled through her notes on introductions.

That said, I don’t believe that she’s wholly – or even mostly – responsible for the general shakiness. She attempted to banter, and the audience…was reticent.

I think I know why. These kinds of shows thrive in their native venues – pubs ‘n’ clubs – when it’s late at night, the lights are low, and the alcohol is flowing. Intermedia is – a weirdly formal venue for this kind of show, where we file in, take our seats, and patiently watch from a darkened house. It’s challenging, very challenging, to coax the kind of licentious playfulness that this kind of show lives and dies on.

That said, I mostly enjoyed myself. And I’m at a loss as to how to review it, particularly as I have no idea if there will even be the same lineup from show to show. Some performers were excellent – others were okay. The general experience averaged out to good. (Though I will cheerfully single out Diva Rose’s highway patrolwoman striptease as the standout, and one of the more hilariously inventive that I’ve seen.)

I had a good time. I chuckled more than I didn’t. Variety shows are just a tough sell, in Festivals featuring as much sprawling ambition as this one.

Questions? Comments? Enraged invective? Check out my answers to occasionally asked questions in Notes on Notes, or the contact info linked from that page!

Minnesota Fringe Festival: FRANKENSTEIN at Intermedia Arts

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SHOW TITLE: FRANKENSTEIN
PRODUCER: Raw Red Meat Productions
HAILING FROM: Minneapolis
SHOW DESCRIPTION: Ride this rollercoaster mindf**k as it peels back the skin of the story you think you know, to reveal the true nightmares underneath. Blood, terror, and darkness await. Do not bring children. Do not come alone.

I didn’t realize until I sat down with the programme that I’d reviewed a show by this company before – Hear No Evil at the Twin Cities Horror Festival in 2013. It was, in my view, the show that effortlessly stood out amongst some very stiff competition.

I’m someone who is very interested in the problem of creating horror onstage. There’s something just too unreal about the medium – it’s difficult to generate a sense of genuine terror. And while I wouldn’t say that I was ever actively frightened, I definitely spent the better part of the hour being unsettled.

(I should also mention that I’m a tremendous fan of the novel that the show is at least nominally based on, and I was curious to see how they would marry their often surreal inventiveness to a text. I found the result fascinating, though as the show gradually reveals its connection to the text isn’t quite what it appears to be. Nevertheless, while the short, clipped dialogue served the image-driven production well, I often found myself missing Shelley’s flowery Victorian verbosity.)

So how did they generate that sense of consistent unease? Simply put, by being the show that makes the most extensive use of diegetic lighting I’ve ever seen. The vast bulk of the action is lit by a series of hand-held flashlights. Their movement seems casual, but it is expertly choreographed. We hear grunting and shuffling in the darkness, and we actively peer into it to see the dark shapes twitching. One of the actors turns towards us and we’re momentarily blinded – in the moment it takes our eyes to adjust, the scene has shifted. Someone turns away in mid-conversation, then turns back to find that they’re speaking to someone else. The effect is that we’re often not certain if we’re seeing actual scenes taking place between characters, or Victor’s confused, stream-of-consciousness recollection of them. It is masterful.

I’ll confess that, despite some performances of great intensity, I was rarely emotionally engaged by the production – rather, I found myself watching with a kind of detached fascination. I wanted to come back, and take careful notes on what they were doing and how they were doing it.

So, I’m afraid that all this show really has to recommend it is technical invention and intellectual bravado. That is absolutely more than enough for me. I give it high praise – it made me want to go home and write. If you’ve got the slightest interest in the subject or the genre, you won’t be disappointed.

Questions? Comments? Enraged invective? Check out my answers to occasionally asked questions in Notes on Notes, or the contact info linked from that page!

2015 Minnesota Fringe Touring Artist Showcase

This is definitely the showcase that I look forward to every year – both because those who have committed to touring tend to have a significantly more polished body of material; and because as someone who does the circuit myself, I usually have some knowledge of the performers. As this is often a point of contention, I draw your attention to the **, which indicates that I have a pre-existing relationship of some kind with the performer(s).

I will say that I was a bit disappointed by the Festival’s abandonment of strictly enforced time limits for this preview – presumably because they had well under the typical thirty acts. I’m fond of the lightning round, and watching how artists respond to the limitation.

A Series of Absurdities presented by Lisandrist Productions

Appears to be a sketch comedy collection, which in this instance actually makes me more favorable towards it: sketch consisted of a pair of blow-up dolls, one trying to get laid, one trying to engage in a philosophical argument. Dialogue was funny. Wished that the performers engaged the dolls as more than props, but I can endure it as a one-off gag, and the writing’s strong enough to pique my interest.

Post Traumatic Super Delightful presented by Pair of Animals

A series of tongue-in-cheek placards about sexual assault that actually succeeded in drawing laughter from me, particularly in its poking fun at the media conception of the problem (that a white female constitutes the “perfect survivor”). It’s a tricky subject, but one that engaged me for three minutes, which is three more minutes than it typically engages me for.

A Mind Full of Dopamine presented by Rory Ledbetter

I am shamefaced, and feel a traitor to my favored genre. This act may have suffered by being sandwiched between a number of visually dynamic ones, but I had a hard time focusing – I’d be listening to what he was saying and then I would hear the audience around me laughing and then I would realize that I missed the punchline because I was thinking about the last act. Based on their response, he was doing quite well – shame on me.

Growing Into My Beard presented by I’ve Seen The Future

The performer was charming and charismatic – but I often find love stories a slog, gay or straight.

Tales of the Lamp presented by The Fourth Wall

This plants itself squarely in the middle of one of my personal obsessions – I discovered Sir Richard Francis Burton’s translation of the Thousand and One Nights as an adolescent, and masturbated furiously to it (risky click) – so I bring both a familiarity and a fondness for the source material. Formally, the presentation relied on a series of tried-and-true theatre tricks that some might refer to as tired, but that I regard with hearty nostalgia as traditional. An hour of this nonsense? Yes, please.

Fruit Flies Like a Banana** presented by The Fourth Wall

As someone who spent an embarrassing amount of his early years as a playwright attempting to imitate Groucho, I’m inclined to warmly regard a show that takes one of his one-liners as a title. It’s more than just the joke that they use, however – their physical comedy embraces the same casual, nonchalant silliness that the Marx Brothers made their bread-and-butter. I am the target audience for this.

Teacher in the House presented by Watson Arts

I alluded to the fact – in my review of her trailer – that I’m resistant to this particular technique of physically embodying a story as it’s being told: she talks about walking down a street, and looks around as though she’s actually doing it. She pops into impressions of the people she encounters. These are techniques designed to draw an audience in, but I have the disease that means that they have the opposite effect on me – I find the devices artificial and weirdly distancing. She’s a fine actress, but for my part, I would prefer that she tell her stories, rather than show them.

Petunia and Chicken** presented by Animal Engine

I actually saw this full show in Indianapolis last year, thought I didn’t write a review of it. My brief thoughts? They are a duo with extraordinary physical skill, which they place at the service of a story that I wish I enjoyed more. I’m a city boy; the poetry of the rural world is often lost on me. I get that the fact that they play every cliché and trope of country life isn’t a bug, it’s a feature – it’s just a feature that makes me squirm.

Breakneck Hamlet** presented by Timothy Mooney Repertory Theatre

I have published a full review of the show at this link.

Broken Bone Bathtub** presented by Siobhan O’Loughlin

I am fond of Siobhan, and fonder still of this concept (in which she invades the bathtub of a local resident and delivers a one-woman show from it). The nature of that concept means that a preview that captures the weirdness of it is hard to create. I don’t believe that she did (coming out in a robe and babbling about personal troubles doesn’t quite do that), but I both trust her and am interested enough in the concept that the preview is hardly relevant.

The Famous Haydell Sisters Comeback Tour presented by The Famous Haydell Sisters

I have a soft spot for both dirty novelty songs and country music (I’ve unironically enjoyed Hank Williams, both Sr. and Jr.) – but still, that would only place me in the “mildly interested” camp for a Fringe show. But the performers opened by mentioning that they would be performing at 5:30pm every night of the Festival – in a bar on the West Bank, just beginning its happy hour – and I thought, yeah. I’m almost certainly going to sit through this. If only because it gives me an opportunity to grab a drink and a bite to eat while still fulfilling my compulsive desire to see something in every slot.

(YAR, HERE THERE BE INTERMISSION)

The Surprise presented by Martin Dockery

Jeff introduced him as a well-known figure on the circuit – I’ve heard his name but hadn’t officially met him. His polish shows – while I didn’t find his material too compelling (artist problems, natch), he was incredibly animated, fast-moving without babbling, engaging audience response closely while barely stopping for breath. I found him impressive.

Falling Man presented by Leonard Cruz Tanztheater

As someone without an extensive dance background, I’m often grateful for any context that the artist is inclined to give – I appreciate the beauty of abstract physical movement, but it can quickly blend together into something impenetrable to my eye. Here, one of the jumping-off points is the infamous image of a man falling from the World Trade Center, and that’s really all that it took to hook me – I have a fondness for (and a small collection of) artistic responses to 9-11. Would I have found the performer’s looping, tumbling movements as compelling without that context? Perhaps, perhaps not, but the dance was graceful and controlled, and I definitely wanted to see more.

Don’t Move To Toronto presented by Fresh Hell
My Shrink Says I Need This presented by Brian Schiller

Two competent comedians, about whom I have roughly the same observation. Zoe Daniels touches on what seems to have been a uniquely disastrous year, while Brian Schiller touched on a tale of childhood bullying – both were smooth, confident performers, but I didn’t walk away with much of a sense of what the shows were about, or if they could sustain an hour.

Moonlight After Midnight presented by Concrete Drops
Terra Incognita presented by Soma Acrobatic Theatre

Two more acts that blended in my perception, but in a very positive manner. The subject matter of the first was light and airy, barely there, but – it’s rare to find a playwright with a solid ear for patter. It’s rarer still to find an actor who knows to play it. Two actors? Forget about it. These guys hit the trifecta. I enjoyed listening to the lyrical dialogue, setups and punchlines flowing smoothly into one another.

Likewise, the latter show featured dance and dancelike movements, acrobatic feats that drew appreciative gasps – but the action didn’t stop for them. The shapes they made flowed naturally from one to another, impressive leaps that were all the more impressive for not drawing attention to themselves.

Edgar Allan** presented by the Coldharts

I have published a full review of the show at this link.

Mom?: A Comedy of Mourners presented by Box of Clowns

I have published a full review of the show at this link.

Coffee, Tea or Me, an existential crisis** presented by The Adventures of Les Kurkendaal

Les is one of those performers who I have a long enough history with that I should probably recuse myself from writing too much (we’ve done the circuit together for years – hell, I slept on the guy’s couch for a month in LA) – so I’ll limit myself to observing that his appeal lies in his easy, relaxed charm. I’m particularly intrigued by his use of another performer. Was the story she performed based on one from NPR, or on Les’ recollection of it?

Everything You’ve Done That Hurt Me presented by Offbeat Productions

Well, this is a show whose premise sells itself – the writer found an abandoned notebook filled with lovelorn scribblings, and using all manner of theatrical devices (song, poetry, storytelling, etc.) does his best to animated a stranger’s ramblings. It’s a feat of voyeuristic imagination, and I found both the performers playful enough to sell it.

Questions? Comments? Enraged invective? Check out my answers to occasionally asked questions in Notes on Notes, or the contact info linked from that page!

** I have a friendship/acquaintanceship/working relationship with someone involved in this production.

Pre-Fringe Profiles: 2015 Edition