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2021 Audience Reviews

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The following reviews were submitted by Fringe Member: Derek Miller

Company: Kyle Munshower
Show: The Scribbler
Venue:

Clever and stupid all at once

The fate of the kingdom is at stake: a rival nation has declared war, the king is a narcissistic jerk in jean shorts, the king's top advisor has to compete with the king's therapist to dispense advice on the affairs of state, and, to top it all off, only one person in the kingdom can actually read the declaration of war from their rival, and it's definitely not the one guy whose job it is to actually read. This is a silly play full of silly people doing silly things (in a good way). Kyle Munshower's script is jam-packed with jokes that are both elliptically clever and so dumb that they actually come around again to being clever. Griffin McEnery provides a top-level fiddle score, and the whole cast goes whole hog on committing to the stupid situation that these stupid people find themselves in. There's a fine line between clever and stupid, and this is it. It's one of the funniest things I've seen a the Fringe in a long time. The Scribbler is performed outdoors on the green roof of the Bakken Museum. The only seats are chairs on the flat lawn, there's nothing to bounce sound to the audience, and, as it turns out, the Bakken is directly under the flight paths of many, many airliners going in and out of MSP international, so try to get there early for a front row seat. For the most part, the actors do a decent job of projecting over the din, but it was a bit of a strain from the back row. At any rate, even if you miss a few words, their energy will carry you through until the next bit of complicated wordplay, or at least the next gloriously dumb sight gag.


Company: Les Choreutes
Show: Maternal
Venue:

A lot of promise, but killed by bad tech

Dagnabit, this play is confounding me. The first two thirds are exactly what the show description promises, and that has plenty of harrowing and sorrowful bits. We watch this young woman, her body wracked by pain and the guilt of being unable to live up to either the "beautiful, joyous, radiant mother" archetype of an Instagram feed or the "soldier on and do ANYTHING for your child" militancy of her own domineering mother. Then it takes a few drastic swings in direction and tone that I feel like would be major spoilers if I discussed them here. Suffice it to say, every time the last third suddenly whipsawed in a new direction, I literally had to rewind the recording to see what, exactly, I missed. And it would have been easy to miss something important, because this piece is marred by some sloppy production. Most notably, the subtitles (the piece is in French, with English subs) go horribly out of sync with the spoken dialogue, which renders long exchanges between mother and daughter a frustrating puzzle that you have to pick through, especially since one of the key bits of information that might explain the bizarre transition at the end is buried in these stretches of dialogue. Most of the video is also badly underlit, so several key moments in the more abstract sections are hard to discern, and the sound quality is poor enough that I couldn't tell if a sudden loud noise near the end was some intentional thing, or if a motorcycle just went by the building and they didn't bother to reshoot it. Also (and I know this is a small thing, but it says a lot) you might be able to get away with using a plastic baby doll in place of a real one on stage, but it looks severely less than convincing on camera. These technical issues are disheartening, because I can see how well this play could actually work on a stage (even with the hard, sudden turns in the action) with proper lighting and careful staging and an awareness of how the medium it's being presented in can affect the audience's reception of it.


Company: Perfectly Normal Puppet Cult
Show: Blandville, USA
Venue:

Weird, but it could be weirder

This show is basically just two puppet sketches back-to-back. The puppets are just a little grotesque. They swear a lot. Everyone is nonchalant about insane events (like a giant pink sentient crystal) and over-excited about mundane things (like eating a sandwich or shopping at Michael's). There's a deliberate, slightly off-kilter shoddiness to it; if you saw this on Adult Swim in the middle of the night, you would not be surprised. My biggest complaint is that, while it is a little weird, it could stand to be sooooo much weirder. On top of that, it's only 15 minutes long (so watch out for that if you think your $10 could buy you so much more), and, other than the good build work that went into the puppets, it feels like it was thrown together pretty quickly. It's a decent start toward making something strange and wonderful, but it's not there yet.


Company: Pool Boys
Show: CHEETAHCORP
Venue:

CRUSHING IT

Two sales bros go into the woods to make a documentary about how the teachings of their guru/huckster/boss can help you CRUSH IT in all aspects of life. Things degrade pretty quickly from there. It's over-the-top and ridiculous, but their determined commitment to the bit sells it, and, despite their best intentions, these two deluded pits of toxic masculinity actually accidentally arrive at a few profound moments of awareness. (Which, of course, are quickly erased by the drugs and squirrel attacks.) The crew behind this video are all young recent college grads, but this oldster who's almost two decades out of college has to hand it to them: they made me laugh out loud quite a few times while I was sitting here by myself watching this. I look forward to seeing what they do in the future.


Company: Fridge Door Live Theatre Company
Show: Faded Shorts
Venue:

A handful of average plays

Len Cuthbert's series of short plays are pretty typical short plays: each one features two characters brought together by some odd circumstance and they talk at each other for 10 to 15 minutes. The only thing connecting the pieces together is that they each feature some kind of sci-fi or supernatural bit that sets the proceedings in motion. Unfortunately, nothing about any of them really stands out. There's nothing memorable in the dialogue (I couldn't quote you a single line), the acting is adequate but not much shaped by the direction, the blocking mostly consists of people either standing still or pacing around aimlessly, and there's nothing visually appealing about the stage pictures. (Honestly, you could listen to this as a series of audio plays and not miss much.) Because of this, emotional beats don't land, and whatever philosophical points the playwright was after float off without making an impact. With a good director who had some visual sense and a playwright who was willing to cut down their talky bits and make way for something nonverbal on the stage to sell a moment, these scripts might have had some real weight to them. There's nothing really terrible about any of them, but there's also not much that's going to stick with me.


Company: Off-Leash Area
Show: i want to change the subject, again
Venue:

Warhol (Herwig re-mix)

Paul Herwig takes the video of just one of Andy Warhol's many strange, frustrating and elusive interviews and endlessly remixes it into a sensory-assaulting multi-media collage. Dressed as Warhol, but not necessarily trying to do any kind of impression of the man, Herwig manipulates the video feed live on stage, cavorting in the visual and aural chaos and, at many times, being wholly swallowed up by it. If you don't know anything about Andy Warhol, you won't learn anything about him from this show. If you do know something about Andy Warhol, you still won't learn anything about him from this show, but you might FEEL like you did, which might just be exactly what Andy would have wanted. If Warhol had had access to the video technology that Herwig does in our modern day, I have the sneaking suspicion that this is the kind of stuff he would turn out (when he was done with shooting an 8-hour locked down shot out of the window of a slow-moving train, that is). This show is definitely not for everybody--it's as deliberately obtuse and avant-garde as its subject matter, and there are moments where you might be tempted to call bullshit on the whole endeavor--but when the music is pumping and your eyeballs start refusing to process the layers of overlapping digital projection, you might find yourself wishing you could climb up on stage and dance with Warhol, just to feel like, for a moment, you were part of the scene.


Company: Belville Productions
Show: Qaddafi's Cook
Venue:

You must eat like a dictator.

This is a fascinating look at the actual ground-level inner workings of a dictatorship. Two Mexican cooks (Sergio, whose voice is brought to life through a CIA agent reading his found journal, and Fredy, who narrates counterpoints to the written account) are drafted to serve in Qaddafi's international coterie of chefs. What seems like a high-class dream job quickly descends into the vortex of fear and paranoia that petty dictators cloak themselves in. Belville's script is good at calling out all the dirty little secrets behind Qaddafi's shaky rule of Libya, as detailed through the bits and pieces of gossip that filter down into the kitchen. Alvaro Flores is fantastic as Fredy, and pulls double and triple duty playing other members of the cooking staff (my particular favorite was Peo, the laconic Catalan, the only one capable of calling Qaddafi exactly what he was). I really wish that I could see the stage version of this show, not just for the live cooking that Alvaro Flores does in character, but for the chance to see him play off an audience. Flores is blessed with large amounts of charisma and charm, and though it does show through the camera, the Zoom format doesn't let his full talent shine. And there are some annoying moments of lag between the two actors, entirely due to the technical limitations of Zoom. I'm sure that, on the stage, this piece really sings.


Company: Paper Soul
Show: Rewind-A-Buddy
Venue:

Is anyone really your Buddy?

I've been thinking about this show a lot since I watched it, and, in doing so, I have been reflecting on all the previous shows from Motz I have seen over the years. At this point, I'm crafting a Masters-level thesis on the Motz-verse in my head, and I think the central theme is perfectly summed up in "Rewind-A-Buddy": we're all desperately alone in this universe and violently thrashing around pretending that we're not. Motz's shows typically revolve around some highly-animated persona: the kind of guy who you might have 15 minutes of interaction with at a party and walk away thinking "Wow, now that guy was a trip!"; but, as you're forced to spend a whole hour with him, peeling away layers, you later start to think, "Wow, that guy is fucked up." (Or, "Wow, that guy is a monster," depending on which Motz show you've seen.) In this case, "Buddy" is working overtime trying to be your "best friend" for a commercial videotape that can only have been marketed to the limited pool of people who were even more isolated and lonesome than himself. His failures are entirely self-inflicted, but his dogged determination to continue on requires that he starts attributing them to other people in his life or entirely rewinding and rewriting his memories to fit to his narrow and bizarre goal. Buddy is basically the prequel to every confounding internet troll you've ever encountered. My only quibble with the show is that it was originally written for the stage with the express purpose of aping the outdated technology of VHS tapes, and some of the archaic fussiness of both of those mediums could have been sanded down or replaced with the hip, modern fussiness of the digital streaming technology that it's being presented on. That's a small complaint, though. Once again, Motz is winning in his delivery, even as he makes you squirm uncomfortably. You may be tempted to open up your old high school yearbook after this show, and, if you do, you may find out that, you, too are Buddy.


Company: Donna Kay Yarborough
Show: Rosegold
Venue:

Absolutely riveting and horrifying

I just finished watching this, and the first thing I said after the screen went black was, "Holy shit. Holy shit, that was good." It's such a simple show: one person in one static shot, but every damn moment of this piece is spellbinding. I know it was written for the stage, but Donna Kay Yarborough does such an incredible job adapting it for video that I can't imagine it working better in a theater. There's such an intense closeness and intimacy with the performer that even the small act of her turning her eyes away from the camera has the weight of a cement truck crashing through your front door. It's so well written and performed, that I'm having trouble finding words to describe my experience. If you're reading these reviews trying to decide whether or not to watch this show, just stop debating now and watch it.


Company: 2B Deeter Meant
Show: TBD
Venue:

Still undetermined after all these years

I have experienced several previous iterations of "TBD" here at the Fringe Festival, and I was really just expecting it to be a retread of past things that have never been determined. TBD has already presented us with so many indeterminate things, that I thought it would have to start repeating itself by now. Still, the nostalgia should be at least kind of entertaining, right? Just taking a walk down memory lane of all those old things that were never determined. I have to say, though, this is the most yet-to-be-determined of them all. It's amazing, after all these years, that there are still so many things that have NOT been determined. In fact, a bunch things that I could have sworn were definitely decided upon years ago have suddenly been rendered undetermined. I left TBD this time wondering if, in fact, anything at all had ever been determined. How the heck does TBD keep doing it?


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