General 8-11-2004

Daily Fringe: Kim Surkan

Kim Surkan adds her voice to the Daily Fringe, going from Illusion to Everything and Nothing. She'll continue to file reviews, so keep checking.

Day Two

Saturday arrived, and I found myself back in the general vicinity of Loring
Park for another day of the Fringe Festival. I was intrigued by the
description of “The Story of Temple Street” at the Red Eye; I had never seen
an Asian-American musical before. Unfortunately, the show was not all I had
hoped it would be – although Asian Media Access has enlisted an
extraordinarily large cast for this production, most of those involved are
clearly not professional actors or singers.

The plot goes from a contemporary scene in a Chinese restaurant threatened
with closure over a failed health inspection back to 1940s Shanghai in a
nightclub scene remembered by an old man, and then forward to a series of
present-day rap numbers by Asian-American youth. The middle section of the
piece is by far the most interesting, particularly since several of the
dancers perform beautifully. I left with mixed feelings.

Hoofing it over to the Whitney, I stopped in at “My Life as a Telephone
Psychic,” a show that once again demonstrates that truth is stranger than
fiction. The content of this piece is based on the real-life adventures of
an unemployed actress searching for work, and finding it on a 1-900 line.
Erin Muir is very funny in this self-authored play, and she has a great
supporting cast, among them Christina Sedlecek as her mother, Garron Haubner
as her would-be boyfriend, David Talarico as her boss, and Shawn Hoffman as
a creepy psychic phone line client.

“Scrawl: Second Draft” was the next must-see on my list. I consulted my
Fringe program and discovered that Janelle Ranek’s one-woman show was being
staged at Pillsbury House in South Minneapolis this year. Pillsbury House is
a lesser-known venue to most, but I think it has been sadly overlooked –
I’ve seen some tremendous theater in the little house at 35th and Chicago
over the years. “Scrawl,” anyway, is definitely worth the trip away from
Loring – Ranek brings back that infamous old lush, advice columnist Gloria again this year, among other hilarious characters.

Another secret venue Fringe-goers should know about is CalibanCo Theatre, if
only because “23 Across” is playing there and it should not be missed. The
address is 610 28th Street W (on 28th at Lyndale), but the important thing
to know is that the entrance is around the back on Garfield. It’s a small,
intimate performance space and what a treat to see Richard Ooms and Vera
Mariner perform there for the price of a Fringe ticket! The play, written by
a Gustavus professor, takes audiences inside a family coping with
Parkinson’s disease. The title comes from the crossword puzzles Mariner’s
character is incessantly doing throughout the show.

My day ended back at the Illusion Theater for another dose of Fresh Ink,
which is what the Illusion calls the series of newly-authored plays in its
annual summer season. The play in question was “Famous Amos,” by local
playwright Sha Cage, a story based on the real life of an African-American
bisexual crossdresser who became legendary in the small town of Natchez,
Mississippi. Written for a cast of three, the show was powerful and intense,
beautifully directed by Kim Hines.

Hines had a lot to work with – the script is well-written and the three
members of the cast (Signe Harriday, Brandon Lacy Campo, and Angie Haigh) do
a stellar job with the sobering theme of hate crime. What saves this show
from being polemic is its exploration of memory and different versions of
the truth that persist in our various accounts of history. Cage has a
wonderful command of dramatic language, and Harriday is an amazing orator in
her role as preacher. My advice? Go and be stunned by this show.

Opening Nights

Ah, the Fringe!! The Minneapolis Fringe Festival is back again this year, and bigger than ever with 176 different shows in 24 different venues. It’s an event I look forward to all year – the chance to sample so much staged performance in so little time at such a dirt cheap price just doesn’t exist at any other time.

Like other veteran Ultra Pass ticketholders I’ve encountered, my sole objective is to see as many shows as I can, traffic/weather/life permitting. I bought a new pair of sneakers, all the better to sprint between venues, raided the pile of laundry quarters for quick parking options, and put my Fringe schedule along with some highlighters, a pen, a notebook, and some bottled water into my backpack.

Friday rolled around, and I was off and running. . .

Day One
I began at the Illusion Theater, which probably isn’t the best place to try to go at 4 p.m. on a Friday, given that it is in the heart of downtown on the 8th floor of the Hennepin Center for the Arts (6th & Hennepin). I was trying to see Tod Petersen’s “Boldly Going Nowhere,” which is exactly how I felt trying to drive (and park!) in rush hour traffic. (Hint for the driving public: Rapid Park is your cheapest and closest option for the Illusion, no matter what hour).

Part of the Fresh Ink series, Petersen’s one-man show is really worth the elevator ride – it’s exactly the kind of work best suited to the Fringe: polished text, good acting, low overhead. “Boldly Going Nowhere” opens with Petersen belting an off-key version of the theme to “Gilligan’s Island, but that turns out to be in keeping with the character, a TV sit-com addict who has been living in his parents’ basement for seven years. Think urban, think funny, think queer – you’ll have a handle on this show.

After a tedious hour of “DIX” at the Women’s Club, I opted for something political and dashed over to the MCTC Whitney for “12 Lies.” An election tale of two politicians racing for a Senate seat, what makes this one work best is the spontaneity created by audience-generated debate questions for Democrat Phil Pillman and Republican Ed Dwarfman. Both men have hired the same political consultant Kelli Stauffer, and each seems to have difficulty differentiating himself and his platform from his opponent. This is a play that becomes funnier as it goes along; the early scenes involve a bit too much screaming from the consultant, which keeps it superficial.

Crossing Loring Park to the Loring Playhouse, I tried another gay-themed show, “The Valets,” produced by Outward Spiral. Again, mixed results – the cross-historical premise of Matt Di Cintio’s script was interesting, but not dramatically successful. Each of the four gay men in the play was born in a different year and a different era of gay history (1922, 1939, 1948, and 1983), yet they interact as if they were in the same time and place. Intellectually promising, but there just isn’t enough character development to hold audience interest.

One last try – back to Hennepin to Fringe Central at Hennepin Stages, and then upstairs to “Everything and Nothing All at the Same Time.” By this time, I had resigned myself to the likelihood that this would be the close of a mediocre Fringe day. Fortunately, fate was smiling, as was I throughout this performance by Jon Ferguson and his company of four hilarious fellow aliens. “Everything and Nothing” is great fun, a wacky play about what happens when five creatures from outer space come down to Earth to find out what it means to be human. I laughed out loud and didn’t even mind paying the exorbitant night parking rate in a nearby lot to rescue my car for the trip home.