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
Fringe Festival – Day 11
I came nowhere close to seeing a show in every slot of the festival this year. While I know some people have such a goal, I try to strike a balance between watching theater and doing – you know – other things.
My choices are driven a little by who I know but also what I know I’ll like. For instance, everyone loves Transatlantic Love Affair. They produce really good dramatic theater. I think their theater is fine but I’m a comedian. I like to laugh. A really good drama is still a little bit of a waste of time for me.
It may seem strange that I’d rather watch a bad comedy than a good drama but the great thing about the Fringe is I can make that choice. It is the theatrical equivalent of a really good brunch buffet. Everyone is going to find something they like.
I find the Fringe one of the most enriching experiences of my theatrical career. It has made me a better writer. It has connected me with other artists I would never have known. It has taught me how to be a better producer.
The Fringe is over but connections I’ve made this year will bear fruit over the next several. And that’s while I’ll be back.
I saw four shows on the final day of the Fringe. Here’s what I thought!
Friend a Day – Kelvin Hatle
I met Kelvin during the early years of CONvergence when he was performing as a member of Soylent Theater.
Kelvin is a very quiet person when he is hanging out in a group of people. He’s a lot more likely to listen to a conversation at a party than to join in with one. You really need to spend some one on one time with him to have any real chance to know him.
He is a gifted improviser, which comes as a surprise if you know him only as the guy who is quiet at parties. When he gets on stage for an improv, he becomes a different person. Which is sort of the point, I guess.
Over the last few years, he has taken to producing one man shows at the Minnesota Fringe. So far, each one has been a little bit better than the last. He’s really grown as a writer and a performer through those solo shows.
I’d put him in everything I wrote if I could. He always finds a way to make what I do funnier than it was on the page.
He’s also very good at trivia. He worked with us on the GPS team trivia contest and he had the ability to write questions that were both challenging and interesting. When he moved on from the contest, we lost one of our best writers.
When he joined the cast of Vilification Tennis, he brought an entirely different personality to the stage. His dry delivery and his clever writing take a little while to catch on with the audience at times but with a little time to warm up, he gets them on his side.
There are several performers in the Twin Cities of whom I never tire. Kelvin is one of them. I will cheerfully go to anything in which he takes part because I know he will always be a lot of fun to watch.
I look forward to many more opportunities to work with Kelvin because he makes everyone around him look better.
Fringe Festival – Day 2
I’m opening two shows today so there won’t be much extracurricular Fringing for me this afternoon. Yesterday, however, I got in a good run of shows that crossed the spectrum from very good to very awful.
How to Date a Werewolf (or Lonesome, Wild and Blue)
I make fun of Matthew A Everett because we’ve never actually met in person. I’m actually pretty sure I saw him in the lobby before the show but I was with my wife and I didn’t want to abandon her to introduce myself to someone who may or may not have been him.
I may not have met him in person but I do follow him on Twitter so I know he’s been working on this script for quite some time. His work is evident in a very tight and funny script that isn’t so much about monsters as it is about love, loss and life.
There is a lot to like in the script but one thing I’ll highlight is the way Everett makes his characters lesbians without ever saying “hey look everyone! I wrote a play about lesbians!” The characters in the play are homosexuals but they don’t talk about homosexuality. They talk about dating and life and love and being werewolves (or zombies). Because being a homosexual shouldn’t be different. A relationship between two men or two women or a man and a woman should be normal.
I don’t know if he thought about that while writing the script. I noticed it and in a festival filled with people talking about their sexual identity (which is fine), it is nice to see a show where the characters are just living their sexual identity.
The actors in this show do a great job but Joy Dolo steals every scene she’s in. In fairness to the other actresses in the show, Joy’s part is easily the meatiest and the most fun. She executes every part she is asked to play with remarkable versatility.
So I don’t know if I’ll ever actually meet Matthew. But he writes a really good show.
This very short (less than 40 minute) show is a serious of comic vignettes of varying quality.
The cast is decidedly a-list and therin lies the problem. They are better than the material. The material isn’t awful, mind you. I was never bored. But I was always left feeling like the show should have been better. It was missing a spark that would have made it brilliant.
There was a languid pace to the proceedings that seemed to undercut the comedy. Ari Hoptman did a really good piece about memory that felt too slow because he had to wait for the audience to see multi-media elements. The multi-media elements were funny but did they all need to be there?
As a side note: we went to this show as a replacement for Once Upon a Chalkboard, which sold out. Selling out a show that early in the run means if you want to see the show, reserving your tickets in advance would be a very good idea.
The Press Conference at the End of the World
Kelvin Hatle is a friend of mine and this is his third year producing a one man show at the Fringe. He’s getting better each year.
Kelvin has a dry sense of humor that has a tendency to ambush an audience. You think you know where he’s going but his punch lines tend to catch you completely off guard.
In this case, Kelvin plays a Presidential Press Secretary dealing with the press in what could be a doomsday scenario. He also plays several other characters commenting on the situation. He gives us the information in frustratingly short sound bites that ensure that all we really know is that we want to know more.
My one critique of the show (and it isn’t really a critique) is that I was particularly fond of one character in the show and was disappointed he didn’t show up more often. I think that is more a testament to Kelvin’s ability to create interesting characters than it is to any failure in writing on his part.
So yeah, Kelvin is a friend. He’s also writes really good comedy. Go see this show.
Don’t go see this show.
This one man clown show managed to do something pretty extraordinary. It managed to offend me.
At first, I felt the show was merely boring. The character that was at the core of this one man show simply didn’t appeal to me. He was a clown character with a series of affectations and vocal tics that I was tired of after five minutes.
My issues with his character are my problem. I wouldn’t rip on a show just because of that.
But when he got to a rather lengthy section of the show where he was talking about vaginas and how you needed to give someone something if they let you see vaginas, all I could think was that he was basically suggesting that all women were prostitutes. You give money to some of them. You give flowers or chocolates to others. But basically, you need to pay women to have sex with you.
I don’t know if he even realized that’s what he was saying and that made it even more horrifying.
Later, he said the problem with the world was that nobody loved any babies except their own. I have a feeling that anyone who has an adopted child (or is an adopted child) might have a real problem with that statement. I kept hoping he’d clarify, but he never did.
As someone who creates theatre, I recognize that every show at the fringe, good or bad, is a risk by the artist. I don’t want to see any show fail. I certainly don’t want to hate a show.
But I really hated this show.
I don’t go to a lot of dance shows because they aren’t really my thing.
I go see dance shows that feature Sara Stevenson Scrimshaw because she brings a whimsical sensibility to her dancing that I really enjoy.
HEATWAVE featured seven different dances by a number of choreographers. A couple of them went on quite a bit longer than I felt was needed but I really enjoyed most of the performances. Sara’s two brief dances could have easily been longer. It was clearly pretty tough to dance in red rubber boots but I wish she had.
Sara also did a dance with frequent partner Danielle Robinson-Prater that was beautiful. Any time I see the two of them on stage, I know that I’m really going to enjoy the work that they create.
My favorite piece of the night, however, was the first one. LQ Hustle was a vibrant, energetic dance work powered by a great song. It was just a joy to watch.
So that’s five more shows. Today I’ll be watching my own show from the audience, which is a little strange for me. If you are Fringing, please come see Schrodinger’s Apocalypse at the New Century Theatre at 7:00 tonight and let me know what you think! The script is a rather dramatic departure for me and I’m definitely interested to see how it will be received.