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Middle Fringe

8 Aug

Alright, so the Fringe Festival and I haven’t always had the best of relationships. Suspicious as I am of large organizations of wildly enthused people and competitive art-making (which, with the time-limits and winner’s encore slot, the Fringe is) I’ve generally avoided the event, or at least, only gotten into it when I need to. This is pretty well documented with the “Fringe Negative” post I put up last year and still, when wide-eyed thespians wish me “Happy Fringe!” I feel like an athiest at Christmas-time.

That said, my own company, Savage Umbrella, was offered a last minute spot in the Fringe after another company dropped and as we were in the middle of our run of Ex-Gays and felt this was an important conversation to have in as many venues as possible, we took it. So now here I am doing a show that only comes with a Fringe-y title and subject matter (Camp! Satire! Politics! Hijinks! Heartbreak!) but I am also armed with an artist pass to get into shows on the rush line, which, if you are broke and looking to see theater, is not a bad deal. So here are a few notes from a weekend of Fringe-ing, rounded out by the official reviews I wrote of the shows I saw for the Fringe website. Because if you’re going to start going to shows and throwing around kitties, you should do it with intention.

Savage Umbrella’s EX-GAYS at the MN FRINGE! from Savage Umbrella on Vimeo.

After opening Ex-Gays and talking with Adam Whisner of Minnesota Playlist (which resulted in this very favorable review/interview/article) it was time for Live Action Set‘s Fletcher & Zenobia Save the Circus (by Edward Gorey). LAS is again an organization I have conflicted feelings about- I loved, loved, loved this year’s 7-Shot Symphony but was unhappy about The Happy Show. This year’s Fringe offering falls into the latter:

One-Ring Circus
Rating: 2 kitties
It felt like the old Borscht Belt joke about food: The jokes were bad, and I could hardly hear them! Knowing the kind of physicality Live Action Set is capable of, this adaptation felt frenetic and rushed, without the clarity or articulation to let Gorey’s dark tongue-in-cheek jabs shine. The Bring-Your-Own Venue didn’t particularly help them, as sitting a few rows back, all the action lower to the ground was lost to sight, the rumble of outside noise often drowned out the performers and not to mention, there was a large girder partially blocking the view. Although there were some sharp & funny moments with M. Zut-Alors’ patter and Kimberly Richardson’s tightrope act, I came with high hopes and left with a twee headache.

So a swing and a miss for me for show number 1, but the spirit of Fringe is to keep on Fringe-ing, so next up was an attmept to see out-of-towners The Donovan Ensemble and their camp spectacle Super Spectacular!: To Opera with Love. After standing in a rush line for twenty minutes- behind Fringe Executive Director Robin Gillette, no less- it was not to be. I did get a chance to chat with Gillette, who was very calm and optimistic about the turnout thus far and who joked about needing a ninja suit to get around incognito, as well as hiring gypsy pickpocket children as a new source of Fringe revenue, which the cynical part of me wanted to mention something about the increasing price of buttons, but the actor part of me just picthed an ninja-gypsy dance number.

So even though my companion and I were numbers 5 and 6 on a rush line that took 4 (Gillette, for her part, stepped aside to let others get into the show) all was not lost. Determined to see something, we veered over to the smaller studio stage and joined about 6 other people for another out-of-towner show, Mike Speller’s storytelling session, Fear Itself:

The Fringe Zone
Rating: 4 kitties

I saw this show by accident, after being left out of another rush line. Not expecting much, I told my compatriot to smack me if I laughed. I should have told her to hold me when I jumped. Speller adapts these classic literary works with razor precision and times every breath to maximum effect. A bravura piece of storytelling for the brave!

Speller was a really wonderful actor with impeccable timimg and deserves a bigger crowd then the one he had. Sure, it’s not big or in your face or even something that I would regularly go see, but it was his own thing, really wonderfully executed and if he lived here I would be eager to cast him. So, Mr. Speller, any thoughts of moving here?

Next on the list of shows was FLESH, a series of 5 dances by five different local dancers who work with the Zenon Dance Company and James Sewell Ballet. I’m a sucker for modern dance, at it’s best with a physical obsession and emotional core and the loose theme of mythic animalism just hammered this show home for me:

A Magnificent Menagerie
Rating: 5 kitties

FLESH was a breathtaking and sensuous sample of Twin Cities dancers, going far past it’s Fringe-friendly elevator speech of “Nudity! And strobelights!” Starting with Ober’s utterly surreal evocation of the life cycle of a standing bird and ending with Behm-Thompson’s wind-born white owl, this was a muscular, personal and evocative series of dances with sure-footed individual personalities. O’Neill added a dash of sly humor and Virtucio had me rapt as she ricocheted in the spotlight between wild, flailing abandon and total awareness. Lincoln’s “Dressage” was a delicate balance between carnality, control and collapse, and gave a whole new meaning to the term “show horse”. A gem of a show, a star for every dancer, and every dancer a star.

Seriously. Go see it, and then go see these dancers as they live and work here year-round. Another local with animal insticts was last on the list, Ben Egerman‘s The Beasts, which had already been racking up praise at the Capital City Fringe in Washington D.C. and is the darker, more serious follow up to last year’s smash, Do Not Kill Me, Killer Robots. Ben has said some nice things about me in the past and I have liked his work from back in the Romping days at the old Bedlam, so it was no surprise to me that late at night, I was taken by a “dark comedy with puppets” about fear and control. Plus, you get a graph of time vs. shit piling up and the archaeology of comic strips and it’s my kind of geek heaven:

The (Beast) Kind of Fringe Show
5 kitties

The Beasts is precisely what I think of when I think of “Fringe show” without cringing- one guy (two, actually, give Ray the SM credit where credit is due) coming out and doing something absurdly silly that takes on new meaning and sincerity because of the way he says it and the time he says it in. Ben Egerman knows how to do this kind of a Fringe show, he’s got the accolades to prove it. Even better, he knows haw to bring a Fringe audience along for a ride and keep them intrigued, laughing and involved. The fact that he does this with handmade puppets and bits of cardboard is all part of the magic of theater and makes The Beasts a critical, quizzical treat. Way to “foot pu-unch” butt.

So there you have it. No acolyte I yet, but at the same time, that last run was some damn fine theater. Plus, chatting with Seth Lepore in the rush line for The Beasts was one of those ridiculous conversations where riffing just flies and each one tops the other, making me excited for his Fringe show, Losing My Religion: Confessions of a New Age Refugee. The lines keep growing, Ex-Gays keeps playing and even if you do have to buy a goddam button to get into the shows, there are some well worthwhile ones out there.

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