FRINGE SHORTS: “Professor Hotrail and the Travelling Meth Lab” by MTBL

Brought to you by the same people who staged ROBOT LINCOLN at the 2011 Fringe, this show is tighter, more polished and funny on paper but also inexplicably less actual fun than the previous work.


PROFESSOR HOTRAIL AND THE TIME-TRAVELLING METH LAB! has much of the same creative team as 2011’s Robot Lincoln: The Revengeance (which I also reviewed for mnartists here). Beyond that, it has much of the same sensibility: a chaotic, kitchen-sink collection of goofy ideas and buffoonery, built around a revered historical figure. Robot Lincoln was a divisive show, and I recall a few raised eyebrows at my unapologetically giggly delight with it.

Why, then, was I so checked out of this one? Was it because I was tired? Because the audience was less responsive? Because I’ve evolved into a stern, humorless critic? I hope not — God knows, I’m still writing as many dick jokes as I ever have. And I laughed at a handful of points in the show – for one, watching my lord and savior being senselessly beaten to death by lead pipes had me giggling helplessly again.

But I found myself rolling my eyes and checking my watch more often than not. I’ve spent some time now glowering at my screen in frustration, groping after what the distinction might be between these two shows. Hell, if anything, this one is exponentially tighter, more polished.

My best guess — and, yes, I’m aware that this is almost uselessly vague — is that this production just seemed much too self-aware for my particular tastes. The opening monologue, to pick one example among many, I’m convinced was funny on paper, a Groucho-style collection of one-liners. But the pompous, jokey voice affected by the performer just sucked the damn life out of the thing for me. The monologue was mugging at me — after every punch line. I didn’t know it was possible to mug vocally, but there you have it.

I think if you handed this script to me, I’d find it funny — and I’d be actively excited at the prospect of watching this particular team bring it to the stage. But the performers just seem to be a little too aware of how clever they’re being. Oddly, considering the zany script, I found myself longing for a bit of understatement.


Event links and information:

Professor Hotrail and the Time-Travelling Meth Lab! Is on stage at the Music Box Theatre Thursday (8/1), Friday (8/2), Saturday (8/3), Friday (8/9), Saturday (8/10) and Sunday (8/11) during the Fringe Festival. For more details and specific show times:

Check back on the homepage regularly throughout the Fringe Festival, August 1 – 11, for more short reviews on, sent in from our intrepid performance critics on the scene.


About the author: phillip andrew bennett low is a Chinese-American playwright and poet, storyteller and mime, theatre critic and libertarian activist. His performances have won acclaim at such varied venues as the Minnesota Renaissance Festival, Spirit in the House, FoolFest, CONvergence, and the Chicago, DC, Indianapolis, Iowa, and Kansas City Fringe Festivals — even as far as Melbourne, Australia. At the 2007 Minnesota Fringe, his hit one-man show Descendant of Dragons was the bestselling show in its venue and awarded a coveted Fringe Encore slot, while his storytelling performances have been nominated for awards by local website FringeFamous for three years running. He is the co-founder of the Rockstar Storytellers (for which he served as Chair for the two years that position existed) and was founder and producer of the touring theatre troupe Maximum Verbosity.

He can be seen at this year’s Minnesota Fringe Festival in his own show The Concept of Anxiety. Also at the Festival, he has written Launcelot and Guenever for Six Elements Theatre, written and directed a sketch for Fringe Orphans 2: Orphan Harder by Navel Gaze Productions, and will be performing in The Diamond Lens by Hardcover Theater.