10 solid bets for the Minnesota Fringe Festival

Face it – it’s impossible to see every show in the Fringe Festival, so you’re going to have to make some choices. Here’s a selection of shows (in no particular order) which, based on previews, past performances and word of mouth, are worth your precious time and money (click on the links for show times and locations):

1. Ash Land

From the creators of Red Resurrected and Ballad of the Pale Fisherman (two previous bit hits at the Fringe) comes this Cinderella tale of a girl growing up in the Dust Bowl. Check out this preview to get a sense of how the cast uses nothing more than their own bodies to create a landscape, lighting, and to indicate the passage of time.

2. The Naked I: Wide Open

This already acclaimed 20% Theatre Twin Cities production of stories by transgender and gender non-conforming individuals is being reduced to an even more intense 45 minutes for the Fringe.

3. Nightmare Without Pants

Combine the witty writing of Joseph Scrimshaw (author of past Fringe hits “The Worst Show in the Fringe”, “The Damn Audition” and “Brain Fighters”) with the comedic talents of Shanan Custer, John Middleton, John Riedlinger and Anna Sundberg, and well, you’ve got a fringe hit. There is audience interaction, however, so if the show is less than stellar… well, it’s your fault.

4. Mary Mack’s Anti One-Woman Show: Sh*t Makes Flowers Grow

Um, have you SEEN Mary Mack? Those big eyes, that sweet smile, and that high, fairy-like voice that delivers killing one-liners. Her sense of humor is quirky, lovable and oh-so spot on. If you love stand-up, this show is for you.

5. Sin Eater

Tamara Ober infuses her storytelling with a physicality that only a trained dancer could manage. The creator of last year’s “Flesh” is back with a dark tale, in which Glory is sent on a mission to find a Sin Eater in an attempt to save her father’s soul. Here’s a preview:

6. The Complete Works of William Shatner (abridged) – Snikt! Bamf! Thwip!

Okay, so I admit I’m a sci-fi geek, so I may be a little biased on this one. But the reputation of the cast, and the constant laugh lines in this short preview make me believe it’s about more than Star Trek, or the very VERY strange man who played Captain Kirk.

7. The Gentlemen’s Pratfall Club

Josh Scrimshaw and Levi Weinhagen, the dynamic duo behind Comedy Suitcase, have earned rave reviews for their past Fringe exploits Smothers Brothers Grimm and The Harty Boys in The Case of the Limping Platypus. Now they’re back with an uplifting comedy about falling down as a struggling actor and a cruel French clown battle for the most coveted role in children’s TV: Captain Clumsy.

8. The Hungry Games: Mocking the Mockingjay

I must admit, I have yet to see a performance by Tom Reed, but I do know about his reputation for creating fast-paced send-ups of popular epic storylines. The creator of Bite Me Twilight, Parry Hotter & the Half-Drunk Twins and Disney Dethroned is back with the first of what could easily end up being a multi-part series on The Hunger Games.

9. Big Thinkers, Serious Issues, Improv Comedy

The Theater of Public Policy uses improv theater to help illuminate issues that would normally make your eyes cross. In full disclosure, my colleague Chris Farrell will be their guest for one of the Fringe shows, and I myself am scheduled to be interviewed by T2P2 at the MIA in August. And at first I wasn’t going to recommend them for those very reasons. But the fact is that they are smart, funny, and trying to make the world a better place through improv theater. See for yourself:

10. Not Dead Yet! The Return of Mr. Elk and Mr. Seal

Dean J. Seal, a former director of the Fringe Festival, and his comedic partner Rob Elk have reunited to bring their particular brand of comedy – and oral hygiene – to a whole new generation.

Alright – those are my top ten. What are yours?