2016 Fringe Reviews: Days 1 & 2
As an artist at the Minnesota Fringe, I know a whole lot of people involved in the festival. It makes it difficult for me to write reviews and because I don’t want to torpedo anyone’s shows, I don’t write reviews on the official Fringe web site. Instead, I blog my thoughts here. If you are an artist and you read my review of your show, here are a few things I want you to know.
First: You made a show happen. I can’t hate you for that because I know how hard it is to make a show happen. Even if I didn’t like your show, I like that you gave it a shot. I like you for being creative and for being excited and for doing something with an idea besides thinking “wouldn’t it be great if…”
Second: Not liking a show is not the same as not liking a person. I know that’s hard. I struggle with it myself every time I read a bad review. I can have fifteen great reviews and one bad review will wreck me. I’m sorry I didn’t like your show. I really am. I want to like every show. I still like you, though. And I want you to try again.
Third: If I didn’t like a show, I’m going to try to explain why because saying “I hated this show” is useless. Saying “I think this would have made the show better” is helpful. Artists may not agree with me and that’s cool. But I know that they would rather hear someone say “I think this would have improved your show,” than “I just didn’t like it.”
Also, this year I am keeping a “Trump Count.” This refers to the number of shows I watch that make a joke about Donald Trump. I am not complaining about these jokes, mind you. I feel that Donald Trump jokes are vital in a world that needs to make it clear that Donald Trump is a joke.
I’ve seen eight shows so far. Trump count: 5
This show was sponsored by Fearless Comedy and I served as a mentor for the producer. I think he had a really powerful tale to tell about addiction and survival. He has an energetic and sometimes frenetic personality that desperately needs direction to be focused. Unfortunately, that was exactly what this show lacked. The script was unfocused and parts of his story got lost because he never really managed to finish what he started. He needed a strong hand to guide his show and he didn’t have one. His story is a good story but I don’t think that good story managed to escape the unfocused presentation. One technical note – he chose to wear some fabulous shoes for the show but they were so loud on the stage floor, they became a major distraction.
Ball: A Musical Tribute to my Lost Testicle
Max Wojantowicz is a talented fucker and I hate him on principle. He just makes theater look easy. I know this isn’t true. I know he works tremendously hard. Ball is a personal work about his battle with testicular cancer. Is it funny, touching, sad, and, beautiful? Yes. It is all those things. I say that as if it is a critique but it isn’t. When you see a show as well done as this one, it is hard to come up with new superlatives. I know that a ton of people will go see this show because Max has an impeccable track record. He did absolutely nothing to harm that track record with this show. If anything, he raised the bar. And holy shit can he sing.
Couple Fight II: Friends and Family
As one might guess from the title, this is a sequel to a previous Fringe show. Here’s what I won’t do: I’m not going to compare it to last year’s show. Instead, I’m going to say that of the fights portrayed in this year’s show, the one featuring John and Lacey Zeiler has made me laugh more than anything else at the Fringe so far this year. The rest of the fights ranged from good to very good but John and Lacey are worth the trip all on their own.
Shannan Custer and Carolyn Pool just make me laugh, all right? It would be hard for me to argue that I have the ability to be impartial when I watch them on stage because I definitely don’t. As expected, this series of sketches that weren’t about wine but certainly featured wine made me laugh a lot. I’m sorry.*
The group producing the Bollywood dance shows has been extremely popular for the last few years and I’ve missed them every time. I made a point to see it this time because dang it, I wanted to see some Bollywood dancing. You know, the thing that makes these shows so fun is the fact everyone on stage seems to be having such a great time. There’s a story that really doesn’t need to be there but in the end, what makes it worth your time is some really energetic dancing and fabulous costumes. You could, I suppose, choose not to enjoy this show. If you did, though, it would be a choice.
Two reasons I went to see this show: I’m pro choice and Ariel Leaf makes good theater. The series of stories about women (and men) who have experienced abortion is very strongly put together and makes a compelling argument. That said, it is an argument with which I already agree. I have no idea if it will reach those who don’t agree. The stories vary widely in presentation and tone because they are by different writers. None of them are bad. All of them are worthwhile.
Either you get Kelvin Hatle’s sense of humor or you are a mindless automaton that lives in a world devoid of joy. OK, that’s a little bit harsh. Thing is Kelvin does some lovely slow burn comedy that requires patience and thought. I love that. This year, he chose to write a show that isn’t a solo show and surrounded himself with a cast that really gets the material. However, I can’t forgive him for finding the worst conceivable version of Folsom Prison Blues. That’s going to stay with me long after all the other far more enjoyable aspects of the show are gone. It was opening night and there were a few moments that felt like they weren’t quite memorized. I feel like this show will get better as those minor hiccoughs disappear. Big shout out to my friend and podcasting partner Nick Glover because he totally nailed his part.
Caucasian Aggressive Pandas and Other Mulatto Tales
Disclosure: This show was produced by Fearless Comedy and I’m the Artistic Director. That said, I was not part of the creative team for this show and it was my first opportunity to watch it. I think it’s a wonderfully comic exploration of race and identity from a perspective often lacking in the dialogue. Duck wrote a funny show and the audience really seemed to enjoy it. I enjoyed it a lot. It made me laugh. It made me think. That’s exactly what it was supposed to do.
*If you see the show, you’ll get that joke.