Voices from the Fringe

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Actors and audiences congregate at Bedlam Theatre to swap reviews and party after an evening of theater-going.

Ever heard the phrase “everyone’s a critic?” Well I decided to put that theory to the test last night. Rather than give you my reviews, I thought I’d head over to “Fringe Central” (Bedlam Theatre) and cull the wisdom of others.

At about 10pm, I plunked myself down at a table with my laptop and an ice coffee, and before long I had a line of people waiting to share their experiences. Sure enough, a few of them came bearing postcards for their own shows, and many of them knew somebody in the show they were reviewing, but still, on the whole, I think I got some honest, heartfelt critiques. Read on…

Local playwright Dan Pinkerton has seen two shows so far – “An Adult Evening with Shel Silverstein,” and “Superlatives of Excellence.”

First, his take on An Adult Evening with Shel Silverstein:

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These short plays – about six of them, run the gamut from a sweet sort of wit to a biting sort of wit, with a lot of stops with ribaldry along the way. The two performers are terrific. They really are very good and they alternate between who’s the straight man and who’s the comic. It’s a wonderful showcase for the two of them and for the six different directors.

In full disclosure, Pinkerton admitted his daughter Ariel directed one of the stories, but he says he’s completely unbiased about the charm of the other five. As for “Superlatives of Excellence:”

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A very different show: It’s Bedlam Theatre to the Nth degree – everything that is Bedlam is there – non-sequitors, big wigs, a show within a show. The setting is a playwriting festival, so there are four plays within the show. There’s satire of theater, of religion, of Charles Bronson, of the military, and of post apocalyptic settings. Like many Bedlam shows, it’s a shotgun of parody and satire aimed at so many things.

Pinkerton says while he was lucky to see two great shows his first night out, he’s prepared to see some stinkers later in the week.

Fringers-011.jpgCaroline Toll and Nick Vetter are Fringers to the core. They met at a Fringe show four of five years ago, and have seen hundreds of shows together. When they got married this May, they gave out custom-made Fringe buttons to their guests, valid for this year’s festival. They say they’re not normally easy graders, but all the shows they’ve seen so far have earned five stars(FYI: these two often finish each other’s sentences, so I’ve combined their reviews, seperating out their individual comments as appropriate).

The Princeton 7th: This is a remount of a Fringe show from a few years ago, with Ari Hoptman and Alex Cole. One of the actors had to drop out at the last minute due to an injury. Guthrie actor Richard Ooms stepped in and he just seamlessly stepped into the show. Nick: He brings the proper gravity to the whole show – it’s one of the more dramatic, cerebral shows of the Fringe. Caroline: It’s more formal theater, which there’s not a lot of in this year’s Fringe.

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Bite Me Twilight : Caroline: This is a little embarassing… Nick: she made me first watch the first two movies for background and I couldn’t stand them! But Tom Reed, he deconstructs them, reconstructs them and narrates the plot line, and it’s f-ing hilarious. He condenses down 1000 pages to about 30, and it’s everything that’s important. Caroline: Nick dreaded seeing this but we were laughing non-stop.

Mike and Matt: These are two stories told by two brothers – Mike and Matt Fotis. We came to see Mike but Matt kind of stole the show from him, talking about being a dad, and making fun of his family right in front of his brother. It was very earnest and real, but well polished. It shifts seamlessly between the various stages of the story – snortingly funny.

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Thinkingaview/CorresponDance: Caroline: They are so sexy! There are eight dancers and they are so charming, and at one point they’re just this in this charming puppy pile of nubile bodies writhing around. Nick: There was a considerable amount of kissing. At one point they did the same duet to Etta James’ song “At Last” three time, but each time duet changed: two men, two women, and then one man and one woman. Caroline: They were just stunning, and they were the same moves, but the impact was different because of the gender roles, and also the emotions conveyed by the dancers.

You/Provoke/Me: Another dance performance, this time by a group from Chicago. Caroline: I wish some of the dancers from this area would go see this show, because the bar they set is so freakin’ high! Nick: There are some dancers in this town whose talents are underutilized. Caroline: Its basically about the modern world, and how dehumanizing it is. At one point a woman in a business suit is dancing with a cinder block.

Compared to Nick and Caroline, Ben Mattson is a Fringe newbie, having only been to one Fringe show in his life before this year’s festival. Mattson says he likes the fact that the festival really caters to independent artists; these aren’t the sort of shows you can see on any given weekend in a local theater.

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Speech: Really really good – I laughed a lot. I like the way they sprinkled a lot of pop culture references that even I got. It was a very sweet and endearing show, not insipid but clever. Somebody said it was “Glee-like” – It has a lot of geek appeal, so if you’re geeky about anything you’ll probably like it.

Idiosyncronicity: This show just reeled me in. It was a combination of stories and poetry with music, all with a geeky twist. Some of the poetry was about the main character’s misadventures in love, and many of the stories were sci-fi-esque. It was filled with little facts like “horns don’t work in outer space” Some stories were humorous, some sad, but all captivating.

It just so happens that the “main character” of Idiosyncronicity is Rob Callahan, who was also in line to give his reviews. In addition to performing, he’s checked out “My Mother Told Me” by Phillip Andrew Bennet Low.

This is his thing – what he does is epic fantasy quest stories. He dresses them up as something else, but that’s what they are. Audiences sometimes have a hard time with his work, because he has these densely packed, philosophy filled sentences; he packs three hours into one hour. This year, he broke it up with dancers performing ballet to blue grass music; it was not ironic at all, and it worked. They would do a dance that forwarded the story and give the audiences a “brain break.” I think he’s found a format that really works.

Callahan also saw Low in another piece, “A Nice Guy’s Guide to Awkward Sex

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It was hilarious, it was them really just telling true stories of their awkward romances, just changing the names. But actress Natalie Rae Wass stole the show – which is hard to do, with those two. Every time she came on stage, everyone focused on her.

Fringers-003.jpgPat Divine is an out-of-towner, here from Los Angeles to perform his show “Breaking Down in America.” He also checked out Nice Guys Guide to Awkward Sex, because he was curious about the show, but also because Natalie Rae Wass is letting him crash at her place while he’s in town.

Divine says he’s impressed with how established and organized the Minnesota Fringe Festival is. He says he enjoys getting to perform for a completely new audience.

I did two other Fringes in Canada; I’ve gotten such widely different reactions to my show depending on the location – certain aspects of my show are more “coastal” if you will. For instance, when I watched the show tonight, there was a part where someone said something that was sort of down, and literally the whole audience went “aaawwhh” – that would never happen in an LA audience.

Fringers-010.jpgAlison Bergblom Johnson is performing her show “Other Than Tragedy” in this year’s Fringe. It’s a story about dealing with mental illness, and so she was inspired to check out Code 21:

Code 21 brought up some interesting issues, it’s about the psych ward, Code 21 is the code for a psychiatric emergency. I liked how he handled certain issues, I was uncomfortable about others, such as how the nurses talked to the patients. I never had that sort of experience, but maybe that’s just artistic license.

Johnson also got out to see Aardvark Fandango and Rachel Teagle Believes in Ghosts.

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Aardvark Fandango: This consisted of some fabulous dance solos and one ensemble piece that John Minger choreographed for the students of Zenon. His solos were mostly about aging. The coolest one was about tray-ology. He was sitting, with a tray on a stand in front of him, and he danced from that position, but it was fabulous dance.

Rachel Tiegle believes in Ghosts: It’s kind of a guilty pleasure – sort of like a warm toasted marshmallow. She really inhabits her space and the characters she’s playing well.

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At this point in the evening, Fringe Prom was well underway, and folks in their tuxes and taffeta were getting down on the dance floor to the likes of Prince and Neil Diamond. It was time for me to make my way home. By the looks of it, the 2010 Fringe Festival has had an excellent opening, and according to these reviewers, there are lots of great shows to choose from.

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