The pace is getting faster and furiouser and I’ve fallen behind. I’m seeing shows, but I’ll be damned if I didn’t miss a day of writing about it. Herewith, then, a summary of 48 hours of Fringe.
At Intermedia Arts English Scrimshaw Novelties is putting up a little charmer called To Mars With Tesla or The Interplanetary Machinations of Evil Thomas Edison. In the program I see the word “steampunk” mentioned, and I involuntarily wince. Like when someone says hippie.
I regret my unthinking prejudice almost immediately. To Mars with Tesla is an entirely wordless comedy in the style of silent movies, complete with a tinkly piano accompaniment and a lot of crackerjack physical comedy. The company pulls it off beautifully, reminding me yet again how infinite an instrument the actor’s body can be.
Not for the first time I consider changing my last name to Scrimshaw. For the good of my career.
Then I mini-camp at the Red Eye for the next two shows. Transportation and parking have become major factors in my show choices and I begin to appreciate the planning genius behind Joshua Humphrey’s column. Why traipse about the city battling traffic and all things automotive when you can stay put and take in the scene? Smart, smart man.
Dear Madde is another show right in the sweet spot of the Fringe. A Twin Cities comedy fixture gets to spread her wings and take the stage, in this case as a fictional advice columnist alter-ego. She has scripted letters, spoken and sung, and also improvises responses to audience submissions. It is a clever device that pulls us into the comedy and vulnerability of the lovelorn and lost.
And then a show that pulled at my native Texan heart. Rachel Austin’s How To Become a Complete (Southern) Woman takes us through a warm hearted reminiscence of both Austin’s grandmother life and her mother’s health problems. Somehow this is framed by her desire to be a top 5 finalist for the Miss Totally Texan Pageant. The sound of her grandmother’s voice mail made me homesick. And a lip synch to Whitney Houston’s version of “I’m Every Woman” had me grinning from El Paso to Beaumont.
I resisted going to Fashion Risk or the Accidental Nudist for a couple of reasons. First it’s been selling out, and me and large crowds don’t get along too well. Second it’s a large crowd of people who are there, at least in part, to see actors get naked. Not my kind of crowd.
But here’s what: Come for the nudity, stay for the pink fur gorilla suit.
Yes there’s a lot of skin and at first it’s shocking, but it quickly becomes not such a big deal. And Natalie Wass’ story is more than worth a listen. Growing up in England with iconoclast parents who model the kind of free thinking behavior that many of us cheer in theory and have difficulty with in practice, Wass navigates the challenges of adolescence, expatriate-ism and familial nudity with understandable awkwardness and finally aplomb.
And those naked senior citizens on stage? I’m 99.9% sure those are Wass’ real parents. In the flesh. Fully. You’re a stronger woman than I am Natalie Wass.
Elysium Blues is a music driven spin on the Orpheus and Eurydice story. I don’t really care for musicals but this one got me. The music occurs organically within the (under)world of the play and so no one just bursts into song. There’s an entirely appealing cast at work here led by, again, Rachel Austin and Eric Mayson who walks in with quiet movie star charisma. He steals the show but not the girl.
Last show of the night. Usually what draws me to a Fringe show is an actor or director I know. Maybe a clever conceit that piques my interest. In the case of Promiscuous Fiction: The Runaway Stories of Jonathan Lethem it was the name of a favorite novelist. Lethem’s Motherless Brooklyn and especially his Fortress of Solitude are knockout books and I wanted to see what would happen when a young company brought his words to the theatrical context.
Here’s what happened: I kind of loved it. The stories are little slices of relatively ordinary life – a home break in, a tv pitch meeting, a crumbling marriage – that are each touched by something fantastic. In the best segment, for instance, the pitch meeting is for a reality show featuring a disgraced former television star. Who’s a human crab. Don’t ask, just go check it out.
Finally, if you have any interest in mingling with some of the folks who make the plays you see, consider going to the Crooked Pint (like I did last night with my awesome colleague Dawn Brodey) after the shows are done for the day. Have a drink, some food (the tater tots have bacon in them, bacon!), and work up the courage to tell someone you admire their work. It’s totally worth it.