Every year Fringe offers a healthy selection of shows with LGBTQIA content but, with limited media coverage, it can be hard to know which ones are the must-sees, or the gayest, or the most depressing (let’s face it, dead lesbian storylines are unavoidable). I decided to fit as many LGBTQIA-themed shows as I could into opening weekend, trying to choose those with high-level queer content over those with minor queer storylines. (See the full listing of queer Fringe shows here). I laughed, I (almost) cried, I was sometimes confused, but most importantly, I got to celebrate Fringe with my people.
W.A.R. Theater’s Beat attempts to make sense of the actions of various members of the Beat Generation leading up to the murder of David Kammerer (Jayme Godding) by the young Lucien Carr (Laura Berger). Knowing some additional historical context not shown in the play is helpful prior to viewing, so read your program! Most important to note is Carr’s use of the so-called gay panic defense: when an allegedly heterosexual man claims killing was his only defense against a homosexual man’s advances. The play calls into question the exact nature of the relationship between the two men, the morality of both men’s treatment of each other, and the degree to which the other Beats enabled Carr. The show is augmented by original live music, devised movement, and dance, all of which is a bit chaotic at first, but hauntingly effective once you get used to it. Alternately masked and unmasked, the dancers embody Kammerer’s silencing and erasure from history. An especially powerful moment sees all of the Beats lined up behind Carr as he stabs Kammerer, suggesting their complicity in the murder and its aftermath. In a strong cast, Laura Berger stands out as a petulant, troubled Carr.
The Bisexual Unicorn and Other Mythical Creatures
A storytelling show styled as a circus, Bisexual Unicorn features Brian Watson-Jones as a lively ringmaster, with four other acts interspersed. The opening monologue stands out as a highlight, with Watson-Jones personally and cleverly welcoming nearly every letter of the LGBTQIAP2S+ alphabet soup. In between Watson-Jones’s sometimes overlong and lecture-like exposition on queerness, performers of various identities come out to speak about their personal experiences using circus tricks as metaphors to varying degrees of success. Some acts are more dynamic and polished than others, giving the show an uneven feeling.
First Comes Love
While I have too much of a conflict of interest to objectively review this show (my partner plays Angel), a list of queer Fringe shows seems incomplete without mentioning this tribute to the victims of the 2016 Pulse Nightclub shooting by first-time playwright Stephanie M. Hipple. The show follows the lives of members of a (largely Latinx) LGBTQ softball team and their loved ones leading up to the shooting, as well as showing the team captain’s journey in the ethereal plane between life and death. A loving tribute based on the lives of real victims, the show feels a little like a first draft but has heart and the potential to evolve as a larger piece.
Written by recent recent University of Minnesota Morris graduate Paige Quinlivan, Ducdame Theatre’s Moon River follows the courtship of two teenage girls born into an alternate 1950’s universe in which the moon has disappeared from the sky. The play initially paints girly Georgia (Katie Rowles-Perich) as a meek square and tomboy Frankie (Bailey Soika) as a cool rebel. The script quickly subverts traditional butch-femme stereotypes when Georgia begins to take the lead in pursuing a nervous Frankie. Despite depicting Frankie being ridiculed and beat up for her gender nonconformity, there is a refreshingly rare acceptance for the time period from Frankie’s brother. A scene in which Frankie spectacularly fails in testing out her brother’s flirting advice is especially funny. While the fantastical elements of the show are forgotten for a while, they return when the girls first touch, feeling drawn together by an electrifying force that culminates in a significant cosmic event at the show’s climax. Be warned that the thoroughly charming romance that makes up the majority of the play is offset as the ending takes a dark turn.
In tribute to the 50th anniversary of Stonewall, Mighty Real features five actors from ages 23 to 61 telling their own true stories about the gay experience. Set in a gay piano bar at closing time, the cast swaps stories and reflects on the last fifty years of gay history. While the historical content is undoubtedly important, the dialogue sometimes feels less like a natural conversation and more like an educational skit. The show should be commended for its efforts to bridge generational divides in the community, but it does not reflect the diversity of experiences that make up our community. The experiences of those at Stonewall included those of trans people, people of color, and women, whose voices are noticeably absent in this tribute.
Xena and Gabrielle Smash the Patriarchy
Despite tackling a serious subject (sexism and misogyny in the nerd subculture), Xena and Gabrielle is above all a fun show. The audience buzzed with excitement, whooping and cheering at the first sight of Xena (Ariel Leaf) and Gabrielle (Nissa Nordland Morgan), who look like they stepped right out of the TV show. Transported by a magical goblet to a present-day cosplay convention, Xena and Gabrielle are surprised to learn that not only are they instantly recognizable but that everyone thinks they are entering the couples’ costume contest. (Accused of sharing longing glances and and steamy baths, Xena replies, “What’s wrong with sharing a bath with your closest friend?”). After encountering a group of nerdy men demeaning women at the convention, the duo team up to give the fanboys a taste of their own medicine. The message is empowering but does feel a bit heavy-handed at times, as if the audience is being given a lesson in Feminism 101. However, fans of the show will appreciate the weight given to Xena and Gabrielle’s relationship, which gets a satisfying conclusion.