These last two weekends have been nothing short of a trip. Though I have spent most of Fringe on the West Bank, seeing all these shows and trying to string one of my own together makes me feel like, in the words of Johnny Cash, I’ve been everywhere, man. Even on such a small spot on the map, all of these different stories told by so many people have made for a whole lot of emotional roller coasters. It’s been a journey.
For the Fringe's final Saturday, I stopped riding the figurative emotional tour bus to take a more literal trip (that includes an actual tour bus). And, like a good tourist, I decided to pack my schedule so full that I could not possibly slow down and enjoy anything. All six of the shows I saw were set in or were about a certain place. Though I stayed once again within a small area, my Fringing took me on a tour around the state and across the pond — and even to some places I had no idea I would go.
The First Stop
The first stop on my tour was Melancholy London at Mixed Blood Theatre. Ghoulish Delights’ pleasantly gloomy show brought on the feel of the faraway city like a good episode of Sherlock. The mystery unfolds as two estranged friends (or more than that, we learn) discuss a doctor’s murder of his possibly demonic wife. To solve this mystery, our main character uncovers parts of London that were unknowable before: “In order to find the places of which I am speaking, you have to be lost,” he tells his friend.
Told through this man’s interactions with supporting characters and their various English accents, this mystery—and the sub-plot of the two men’s relationship—had access to only so much detail in 45 minutes. But his words stuck: Even if you’re exploring a city you have known for your whole life, getting lost will let you find things you otherwise never would.
Following London’s advice, I got lost. On my bike. On the way to Nimbus. Thank goodness that show was short. After figuring out Sociable Cider Werks is not a theater and settling in for Dirt Road Daughter’s A Woman in Berlin, I started on a trip back in time as well as to a new place.
A green table. A stack of paper. Eva Barr with a paper bag over her head. The action was simple enough: Barr reading from a typed journal of a woman who lived through the Soviet occupation of Berlin in 1945. Turning the pages and smoking cigarette after cigarette, she recounted the woman’s survival through a time when enduring sexual assault from invading soldiers became a means of staying alive. Despite the heavy material, it was an uplifting show about the fortitude of the human spirit. It would be an injustice to say that Barr was just reading. She lived in this role while allowing us to live in our imaginations, keeping her performance expertly dialed back so both her storytelling and our inner storytelling could work together.
As per Fringe’s strict regiment, the house lights came on before Barr could finish her story. She had gone over time. With how long our cheers went on after she left the stage, it was tough to believe the show would have taken any more time than the applause.
A Change of Plans
No longer lost, I traveled to the Rarig Center. I had planned on seeing Kabam! Comedy’s So You Think You Know Minneapolis? Ha! later in the evening, but when the show I had planned for my next slot sold out, I climbed into the yellow school bus. Like the diligent tourist I was trying to be, exploring Northeast via shuttle seemed lazy and oh so attractive.
Holding bedazzled loudspeakers and speaking in mock-Minnesotan accents, mother-daughter tour guides Donna and Betsy poked fun at every possible thing on our tour of downtown and Northeast. Most of the jokes were sexual — from “the naked statue” in front of the Depot to how Seven Corners got its name (let’s just say someone got lucky seven times and on seven different corners). They also ripped my beloved hometown of St. Paul apart in a little game called “Not St. Paul!” After spending a whole festival trapped on a bus with their audience, the performers seemed to know how to keep their energy up no matter what. I imagine this is true for actual bus tours, but there was often a feeling of, “we’re having fun, right?!” The duo countered this by not backing down, and by the end, it was pretty delightful to have taken this spin with them.
It was a relief to slink back into a dark theater for Everywhere You Look, a show I had picked to fill my now-empty next spot (the title sounded like it could maybe have a travel aspect to it. Maybe.) Ghostbridge Theatre’s play followed a Minneapolis man whose detective son accuses him of harboring ex-terrorists. This show moved, and the cast was dedicated. The fast dialogue asked a lot of questions about Islamophobia but mostly about the father’s search for truth between him and his son. Their differences came to a head in an intense final face-off, and the action did not disappoint.
I only read this show’s description after I saw it, and learned that it was set in a “dystopian future America” plus a whole lot of details about the setting I would not have guessed from the stuff I heard and saw onstage. The dialogue did not leave much room for futuristic world-building, but also, did the show need that? While watching, I had been convinced that it took place here and now following a few invented events, and that had made enough sense.
Still going, and going
Next, I went back across the 10th Avenue Bridge for Inga & Dimitri’s From Russia With Love. Lisa Hu’s recap goes into more detail than I will, but basically, the pair had a great chemistry that gave this weird show a heart. Inga’s crazy skirt-swishing energy paired with Dimitri’s music chops took us on a trip the audience seemed to feel special to be part of, even if we were at risk of getting an eye poke from the candy Inga flung at our faces. I did not feel like I was in Russia, but I found a hidden gem in From Russia With Love — the kind of thing that makes all the travelling worth it.
Before heading home to St. Paul, I made a final stop at Rarig for Leaving St. Paul by Babo Works. It looked like a good bon voyage to the day because it offered some informative hometown history. Based on the true story of Arnold Weigel, Leaving St. Paul retells his fight to integrate the Twin Cities housing market in the 1960s by selling homes in white neighborhoods to families of color.
I appreciated the effort to talk about this part of Minnesota history when many of its issues are still relevant. There’s no doubt this man is a local hero. But he is also a white guy who had a good deal of privileges. Though he sacrificed a lot to help people of color, their greater struggle was oddly glanced over in the show. Rather, it painted Weigel as yet another white savior and only scratched at the underlying problems that continue today. The show clocked in at around 43 minutes before switching to a musical set — why not use that time to give the story the creative nuance it probably deserved?
The Virtue of Getting Lost
After six shows in eight hours, I felt like I had traveled a lot farther than I really had. Like an ornery tourist, I had seen too many sights and I was burnt out. But I kept coming back to London’s quote about getting lost. If anything, I had gotten lost in good ways and bad at Fringe, and that seemed like exactly the right thing to do. Water bottle empty, bike locked up for the night, and walking shoes kicked aside, I was happy to have let myself get lost at the Fringe Festival.