Fringe Festival reviews

  • Updated: August 5, 2008 - 7:48 AM
The Dawn of Tusk

What would the Fringe be without some ill-conceived blob of performance art masquerading as improvisation? Chicagoan Lenny Zieben is either a genius in the Adam Sandler/Andy Kaufman school of uncomfortable stupidity or just bad. Either way, you'll squirm. To be fair, Zieben's show -- which relies on audience participation -- might work better when there are more than five people in the 200-seat theater. And he has some musical talent, sings a few songs and thumps the electric bass. But the prop-comic stuff? Yikes. (10 p.m. Wed., 5:30 p.m. Sat. Southern Theater, 1420 Washington Av. S.)


Brilliant Traces

A hysterical bride bursts into a recluse's cabin in the frozen wilderness. Initially, their conversation is a monologue on her part, but eventually, he opens up and genuine communication ensues. The husband-and-wife team of Edward Linder and Stacey Poirier effectively portrays these two damaged people. While the play is a tad overwrought and Poirier's frequently shrill performance exacerbates that weakness, the chemistry between the two wins out, making the characters' ultimate connection deeply touching. (2 p.m. Sat., 6 p.m. Sun. Bryant-Lake Bowl, 810 W. Lake St.)


One Missed Step

Let's see, which is better? Being famous, or being true to yourself? In this lively mini-musical, teenage choreographer John Mark Hostetler tells the tale of a bookish ballerina's transformation into a celebrity-seeking backup dancer -- and back again. The performers sing and dance with a youthful gawkiness that's endearing. Their acting is much better and keeps the story moving. Mix "Fame" and "Flashdance," "American Idol" and "Celebrity Exposé" with the sensibility of a teenager, and you get the picture. (8:30 p.m. today, 7 p.m. Fri. Mixed Blood, 1501 S. 4th St.)


Beowulf or Gilgamesh

Charlie Bethel enters the arena and asks his crowd which story they wish to hear. On this night it was "Gilgamesh," the ancient Sumerian myth that has fed so much of Western civilization. Bethel is an outstanding storyteller, and the archetypes ring with fresh realization in this tale of a king and his wild-man companion. It is an amazing collection of details that drive home the truth that "the world is for the living" and that "everything mortal dies; the gods have made it so." If you choose "Beowulf," the story will be different, but the experience just as rich. (5:30 p.m. today, 7 p.m. Wed, 10 p.m. Thu. Rarig Arena, 330 21st Av. S.)


Leaving Normal

Melissa McNamara inhabits her body with total physical awareness. She exudes kinetic intensity. She creates arresting stage images, such as mourning her character's life from the inside of a suitcase. Regrettably, although McNamara plays three clearly different characters, just what she's trying to say on a gut level is anyone's guess. There's little effort toward tightening the narrative or homing in on a specific theme. She also lacks vocal clarity in parts. (5:30 Thu., 2:30 p.m. Sat. Rarig Xperimental, 330 21st Av. S.)


Meet the MacBeths

Yet another tweaking of the Bard's nose, with Shakespeare's bloody tale of murderous ambition set in 1950s suburban Inverness Heights. Mac and Betty MacBeth have their pink flamingoes and garden gnome but want more, as the ad exec pursues his bloody course to the top. The show doesn't quite know what to be, as humorous parody moves into the pathos of Shakespeare's carnage-fest and dialog. It's a one-note joke that leaves you wondering whether to laugh or shudder. Clever and well-acted, but not an entirely successful experiment. (8:30 p.m. Thu., 5:30 p.m. Sat. Lab Theater, 700 N. 1st St.)


The Street of Crocodiles

This show adapts Polish writer Bruno Schulz's justly treasured short novel about life between the world wars in a provincial town. Director Sarah Wash and her 11-member cast deserve cheers for tackling such great source material with passion and inventiveness. To a plonky, minor-key piano score, the story of a boy and his increasingly mad shopkeeper father is told in vignettes that seek the alchemical in the everyday. Origami birds flutter in an airless attic, a tailor's dummy lives and a secret room is explored. While the acting is a bit on the reverentially over-serious side, the speeches that simply give us Schulz's remarkable language and worldview are mesmerizing. (5:30 p.m. Fri., 7 p.m. Sat. Theater Garage, 711 W. Franklin Av.)


Suitcase Cabaret

The best part about Claire Simonson's take on politics and religion is not the witty commentary itself, but the unexpectedly elegant way she presents it. Simonson projects a larger-than-life puppet-style show on the back wall, acting as master puppeteer, voice-over artist and technical crew for the show within the show. But even the many layers of multimedia cannot hide the pedantic tone of "Suitcase Cabaret," which exudes a sense of jaded exhaustion with the world at large. (10 p.m. Tue., 4 p.m. Sun. Intermedia Arts, 2822 Lyndale Av. S.)



    What: 156 shows with 800 performances. See more reviews, plus a map and searchable schedule at

    When: Ends Sun.

    Where: 18 Mpls. venues.

    Tickets: $12 adults, $5 under 12. $3 button needed for admission. $150 for ultra pass; $90 for 10-show card; $50 for five-show card. Available at each venue. 651-209-6799.


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