While I have no regrets about picking the Fringe’s 10pm timeslot as my focal topic, I must admit it’s been less of a factor than I assumed it would be coming in. Aside from easier parking, slightly smaller crowds and the occasional napper, I don’t think working the late shift has had a major impact on how I’ve viewed most of these shows. I was starting to think my angle was a bust, but then came Saturday night and Ole Olson: Norwegian Boy Wonder.
I didn’t much care for Ole Olson, but then I think I can safely say that I was not part of the play’s target audience. That said, I do think there’s an audience for a play like this. The trouble is that said audience is not likely to attend a 10pm performance in Loring Park. Ole Olson is the story of a lovable, apparently exceptional manchild squaring off against a team of villains who loathe Ole and his family for reasons unexplained. There are some puns, a little dancing and lot of aimless capering. It sometimes brings to mind a live-action Rocky and Bullwinkle, but with less sophistication and polish.
It’s a stupid show, but proudly so. This is a goofy, amiable play full of dumb jokes, over-the-top acting and broad Norwegian accents. It’s the type of thing that would appeal most strongly to smart grade-schoolers, nostalgic seniors and that endearingly large subset of Minnesotans who still crack up over jokes about lutefisk and hot dishes. How many of those folks do you suppose made it down to the Woman’s Club at 10 on a Saturday night?
I know whereof I speak, because I come from just the sort of background that would embrace Ole Olson. I can imagine my grandma and her siblings giving the show an enthusiastic “Oh, for silly!” if it ever played in Forest Lake. Heck, if I’d seen this show when I was 8, I probably would’ve adored it. That was around the time I was first cracking into my grandpa’s Ole and Lena jokebooks, getting confused about the more salacious gags but laughing like hell at all the “dumb Norwegian” punchlines. (Side note: I didn’t know Polish jokes were a thing until I got to junior high. Where I came from, those were Norwegian jokes.) But I think my grandma stopped driving into the city after dark some time in the 1970s, and I certainly was never anywhere near a theater at that hour of night when I was 8.
I don’t know anything about the Fringe’s scheduling practices, but I imagine the whole thing is a logistical nightmare. Still, I’m baffled as to why a show like Ole Olson got relegated to the 10pm slot not once but twice. This is a show that should never have started later than 7pm, and even that would be pushing it. I’m not saying this play is some kind of misunderstood treasure – it really didn’t hold much appeal for me at all, even when I tried to view it as primarily a kids’ show – but I do think it deserved a better chance at finding its audience. I have no doubt that there are kids out there who would take a lot of pleasure in dopey gags about bad wigs and plastic cake, or in Larry Tifft’s impressively all-in, moustache-twirling performance as lead villain Snively McNasty. I wish they could have seen this show in my stead.
Or maybe I’m just being lenient because it seems like a play put together by a nice bunch of people who tried their best and only wanted to give people a little chuckle. That’s the Minnesotan in me talking. I suppose drawing that out of me is another point to Ole Olson’s credit.