Hamlet, but Hamlet’s a Chicken

Its opening was sold out, it’s weird, smart and funny as heck, so this show has “sensation of the Fringe Fest” written all over it. A pared-down version of Shakespeare’s classic, it sounds like a one-joke premise — and, yes, Hamlet is played by a hen (at my performance, it was Tilly, who is gray, very fluffy and excellent at sitting silently in a basket). But there’s a new joke, and a new acting exercise, for each scene: Everyone’s in a kiddie pool, or everyone speaks like they’re Valley Girls, or Claudius is struggling to open a big jar of pickles, etc. It’s endlessly inventive, and the 400-year-old play proves such a blank slate that “Chicken” could be about many things: questioning its relevance, demonstrating its sturdiness, or simply saying that the modern world is ridiculous, so “Hamlet” might as well be, too.

(8:30 p.m. Sun. & Wed., 10 p.m. Thu., 4 p.m. Aug. 11, Minnsky Theatre, 1517 Central Av. NE., Mpls.)

CHRIS HEWITT

 

Far Away

British playwright Caryl Churchill’s dystopian 2000 play gets an intriguing, must-see production. The most haunting scene is when hooded, handcuffed figures with fancy headgear are paraded on their way to execution as an onstage audience applauds, seeing only the fashion and oblivious to their roles in a world order that benefits them but is built on horror. Sarah Nargang’s absorbing production, with a live band led by Tim McVean and a strong cast featuring Hannah Steblay as a possible rebel against a system moving inexorably toward destruction.

(10 p.m. Sun., 8:30 p.m. Wed., 7 p.m. Aug. 10, 1 p.m. Aug. 12, Rarig Center Arena, 330 21st Av. S., Mpls.)

ROHAN PRESTON

 

BurnOut County

This affectionate sendup of northern Wisconsin is filled with knowing cultural references. Donning Packers shirts and flannel, husband-and-wife comedians Mary Mack and Tim Harmston pack their show with bug zappers, bait shops and children hanging around bars. Yes, there’s a meth joke — it’s hilariously inappropriate. The formula is part stand-up, part sketch, served with thick regional accents and a softness for small-town strivers. The humor itself is hit or miss, but the sharpest observations are pure delight for anyone who ever lived or owned a cabin near towns such as Siren, Spooner or Hayward.

(2:30 p.m. Sun., 7 p.m. Mon. & Fri., 8:30 p.m. Aug. 12, Minnsky Theatre.)

CHRISTY DeSMITH

 

Shrieking Harpies

Lizzie Gardner, Taj Ruler and Hannah Wydeven take just one suggestion from the audience and turn it into a full-blown comedy musical through the wonders of long-form improv. The first performance of this silly romp featured squirrels, evil forest princesses and trolls, but there’s no telling what future audience suggestions will instigate with this clever troupe. It’s a riot to watch these three comics, accompanied by Justin Nellis on keyboard, get their story in a twisted knot and find their way out of it in surprising, hilarious ways. Even at the inevitable choppy moments, the trio sails through with ebullient charm.

(10 p.m. Mon., 7 p.m. Tue., 5:30 p.m. Aug. 10, 2:30 p.m. Aug. 11, Augsburg Studio, 625 22nd Av. S., Mpls.)

SHEILA REGAN

 

Boobilicious

Watching this show feels like eavesdropping. Advertised as a musical comedy about the troupe’s “experiences as breasted humans,” it’s more like a party of friends cracking up over each other’s jokes. Is the audience privy to that humor? Not always. But the intentions here are unquestionable, with an admirable determination to assess (and spoof) America’s mammary obsession. With direction by Amanda Joy Hauman, Mankato performers Christina Dyrland Smith, Jill Fischer, Jane Laskey and Michelle Parsneau deliver original songs and sketches — on the “miracle” of pregnancy sizing and postpartum milk production, on our universal struggle with ill-fitting bras. They even haul out a pair of giant breast puppets.

(1 p.m. Sun., 10 p.m. Tue., 8:30 p.m. Thu., 5:30 p.m. Aug. 11, Augsburg Studio.)

CHRISTY DeSMITH

 

Hard-Core Corn

Kelly Haramis’ one woman show opens with an orgiastic paean to popcorn. Buttered, salted, caramel-coated, air popped, oil popped — she just loves those airy little kernels every which way. Then she learns that she’s corn intolerant. What follows are a series of vignettes and cleverly reworded pop songs that illustrate the challenges of living corn-free in a cornfed world. Goofy props, broad impersonations, fun facts (who knew that condoms, ibuprofen and iodized salt all contain corn products!) and Haramis’ own sunny and engaging stage presence buoy her fairly slender and completely corny material.

(7 p.m. Sat., 8:30 p.m. Mon., 5:30 p.m. Thu., 2:30 p.m. Aug. 11, Strike Theater, 824 18th Av. NE., Mpls.)

LISA BROCK

 

Gay Hot American Summer

An exuberant trip to a place where queer is the baseline and straight seems peculiar, “Gay Hot” is set among a group of camp counselors who are wrestling with identity as they prepare for the closing-night talent show. The cast hits just the right note of exaggeration in a comedy that riffs cleverly on Minnesota theater (there are jokes about Joes Dowling and Chvala), the MPR raccoon and what our ringtones say about us.

(5:30 p.m. Sun., 10 p.m. Mon., 7 p.m. Thu., 5:30 p.m. Aug. 11, Rarig Center Arena.)

CHRIS HEWITT

 

The Complete Works of William Shatner (Abridged)

This show is dorky but you’ll find yourself laughing your way through it. It’s built around one joke (the way Shatner pauses … every few … words) but there are plenty of loving jabs at the actor’s career, from his days as a two-bit Shakespearean to his years on the Starship Enterprise and “TJ Hooker” (the most clichéd cop show ever) and his later career as Priceline spokesperson (Edwin Strout is great as the Priceline-era Shatner). While riffing on one bad actor’s limited body of work, the play ultimately is about accepting the choices we make in life with humility and a sense of humor.

(8:30 p.m. Mon., 5:30 p.m. Tue. & Thu., 2:30 p.m. Aug. 12, Mixed Blood Theatre, 1501 S. 4th St., Mpls.)

SHEILA REGAN

 

The Moirologist

Think of him as a funeral gigolo. “The Moirologist” is a professional mourner, hired to dole out advice to — and sometimes seduce — the loved ones at underpopulated funerals. It’s a tangy premise that writer/star Andy Rakerd can’t capitalize on in a play that takes a perilous journey from jokey to lecturey. The cast is quite good, especially Katie Consamus as a pair of grieving women, but the script presents realistic settings in which the people’s behavior makes no sense (who invites loved ones to lunch to tell them terrible news?) and the play takes too long to get to the point.

(2:30 p.m. Sat., 5:30 p.m. Mon., 8:30 p.m. Thu., 7 p.m. Aug. 11, Ritz Theater Mainstage, 345 13th Av. NE., Mpls.)

CHRIS HEWITT

 

Vert-o-graph

Set in the early 1960s, writer/director Dennis LeFebvre’s sci-fi fantasy has some fertile material going for it. The piece employs a minimalistic performance style that encompasses mime, live sound effects and sharp, visually interesting blocking as it follows the journey of uptight housewife Barbara (Kelly Gilpatrick) from laundry duty to other dimensions. It’s a tight production, but LeFebvre might have gone a bit farther, in terms of stylistic choices and social critique. He seems to lay the responsibility of undoing patriarchal structures on his lead character, as if it’s simply a matter of her own empowerment that prevents Barbara from achieving true freedom, rather than a need for systemic upheaval.

(4 p.m. Sun., 5:30 p.m. Mon., 8:30 p.m. Thu., 5:30 p.m. Aug. 11, Rarig Center Thrust, 330 21st Av. S., Mpls.)

SHEILA REGAN