It was a pleasure to discover, between 5:30 and 9:30 p.m. on Thursday, that the theme I thought I’d selected to unify the shows I was seeing for Day One of Playlist’s coverage of the 2015 Minnesota Fringe Festival was not, as it turns out, the theme that I encountered at all. This bait-and-switch is—or can be—Fringe’s greatest genius: you think you know what you’re getting yourself into until it’s all over. When this happens, Fringe is part serendipity, part dumb luck, part Zeitgeist, part raw human honesty. And I got it on the first day of the festival because, this year, I am a fortunate bastard.
I saw three shows, and each was deeply thoughtful to the point of sincerely ambitious. This is a quality that can be, in some years, rather hard to come by at the festival. In other years, it can be a widespread trait, but generally poorly executed.
But this year, on this night, as I bounced between the Phoenix Theater and Theatre Garage, I found three companies who wished to engage their audiences to spark a conversation, a thought process--a deeper, more political, more philosophical, more intense exchange--people who were using a stage as a forum for solidarity. I saw a whole lot of people in their 20s with a fuck-ton of grit and, if this is any indication what Millennials have in mind for theater, I welcome their ascent.
Of course, I might have just been in the right places at the right times. I shall always and forever claim my right to be a sullen Gen Xer.
Post Traumatic Super Delightful, presented by Pair of Animals at the Phoenix Theater, is an exquisitely well-written, well-directed and well-performed solo show about the complexities of dealing with sexual assault on college campuses. The most important part of Antonia Lassar’s script is perhaps the least overt: to a large degree, rape culture is more about individuals unthinkingly acting within a system that is culpable than we often care to acknowledge. The script deftly makes delicate observations about guilt and sympathy with outstandingly skillful juxtapositions. Both the story and the performance deserve a wide audience, and I’m glad Lassar has joined us in Minneapolis for our Fringe. She’s on her way to Edmonton’s Fringe after this and college campuses after that, and I hope she kicks all the ass.
If this seems too heady a subject, it’s not. Although it is never frivolous—and I say this about a show that has fart jokes and clown noses, which Lassar amazingly makes not frivolous—Post Traumatic Super Delightful is never somber, either. That something can be so complex and so light concurrently is a little mind-boggling to me.
As a side note, Lassar plays a number of characters with finesse, not least of which is Lena, the campus’s Title IX coordinator and Russian émigré. The performance is worthy of the most accomplished of drag queens among us. Of course, I say this as someone who feels the slightly egocentric, smart, tough, Slavic woman who is a touch disdainful of what she sees as America’s soft feeble-mindedness is a tragically underutilized archetype in the modern theater. Lassar’s Russian accent—“I loff brahntch” for “I love brunch”—nourishes my soul in a way that little else can. Отлично!
Arrest Me: A Musical Drama bills itself as “A #BlackLivesMatter Play” and that is a very good explanation in and of itself. Presented by World Tree Theatre at Minneapolis Theatre Garage, this is less a play as it is a single, 60-minute-long song that uses text and music to cerate discrete polyphonic tableaux that easily make a coherent whole. The topic is racism in modern America—and the show is meant (it seems to me) for a white audience. The messages here are ones that not all but certainly a whole lot of white liberals/progressives desperately need to hear. (For example, if you’ve ever said, “Well, all lives matter to me. I don’t see color,” I will personally buy you a ticket to the show.)
And, yes, I know that everyone likes to think of lefty-ish politics at the Fringe as “preaching to the choir.” But it’s really important for the choir to hear some good preaching from time to time, dammit, and this is some good preaching at the right moment. There is a lot of food for thought in this show and it’s time, oh my fellow white people, for us to break bread at this particular table.
While the ensemble cast is strong as a whole, let me offer individual praise to Roland Hawkins, Jesse McCormick and Katie Carney, whose magnificent voices and commitment to character propel many of the best scenes. Like Post Traumatic Super Delightful, I hope that this show has legs after the Fringe. Director Ricardo Beaird and producer K.D. Howells have distilled very complex messages into a package bursting with inventive verbal and visual metaphors—at times, it practically becomes the 21st century’s wholesale reinvention of the protest song. Long story short, the final note I scribbled in my notebook: “I. LOVE. THIS.”
Finally, Judge Me. Hate Me. Love Me. presented by La Gringa Danza at the Phoenix ranks high on my list of my favorite Fringe dance shows ever. I don’t really understand dance all that well, which is why I’ve always sort of sequestered it to Fringe. I mean, that’s what happens when the barriers to entry are low: you explore things that otherwise seem impenetrably, unaffordably strange. But Fringe has a long and glorious history of its participating dancers understanding this and accommodating it with great enthusiasm. La Gringa Danza—i.e., Jordan Klitzke and Joe Crook, joined by Megan Mullowney—are no different and, in Judge Me. Hate Me. Love Me., they isolate and present six facets of modern dance for the audience’s review.
Their “this show is really a scientific experiment” felt like lightweight shtick at first—if you go, you’ll be given a clipboard and a lecture on the difference between subjective and objective ratings—but it became clear pretty quickly that Klitzke, Crook and Mullowney are indeed interested in seeing the aggregate data they collect from the audience. It’s dance but, you know, for social scientists! Combined with the utter sincerity and candidness of their explanations for why they loved the six criteria by which they told us to judge them—aesthetics, emotionality, musicality, physicality, improvisation and spoken word—I think I learned more about modern dance in that 60 minutes than I have in the last 10 years.
And that was what I discovered tonight at Fringe. I saw three dissimilar groups sharing—really sharing, like, the kind of sharing that makes people emotionally vulnerable—their visions and souls. They were all, in assorted ways and for numerous reasons, trying to satiate a hunger for a wider connection with other people, to bring the outside inwards. In my view, each accomplished the task. It was, in my 16 years at 21 different Fringe Festivals in three countries and three languages, probably the best first Fringe night I’ve ever had.
I mean, I had a really great time tonight.