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Fringe File #13: Mini-Reviews #2

A collage of promotional images for shows reviewed in this article.

Saturday saw the first officially sold out performance of the 2019 Minnesota Fringe Festival, The Winding Sheet Outfit’s You Are Cordially Invited to the Life and Death of Edward Lear. Hot on its heels was Devious Mechanics’ Edith Gets High, which sold out its second show later in the day, and Chocolate Covered Chicken Wings, which sold out its opening show. Advance reservations are now strongly recommended for all remaining performances of these shows.

Hello Mother

A promotional image for Haunt Armada’s horror piece Hello Mother.

Horror theatre is often hit or miss, rather like how many operas are billed as comedies despite only having a few jokes or vaguely funny gags. Haunt Armada’s Hello Mother, however, is a genuinely spooky horror play. The staging and script play on horror movie tropes just enough to have you looking at every development and line from a potentially malicious angle, creating a taught and engrossing experience throughout. The Rarig Center’s Xperimental Space is used to full effect in the excellent staging by Jacob Mullan and filled with a talented cast.

R Culture

A promotional image for EnCompass Theatre’s production of R Culture.

One of nine shows co-advertised as the “#FeministFringe”, EnCompass Theatre’s R Culture is an important and timely piece commenting on several issues in contemporary American society. Written by Cecilia Copeland, this play unfolds in a series of vignettes that examine how different aspects of stereotyping, objectification, and dehumanization manifest. The audience is guided through the experience as a Ringmaster, with the Fourth Wall frequently breached to for battling commentaries as the “actor” characters rebel. Sometimes satirical and other times deadly serious, R Culture is incisive throughout.

Mature content.

Xena and Gabrielle Smash the Patriarchy

Ariel Leaf (right) and Nissa Nordland Morgan (left) play the titular leads in Mermaid Productions’ Xena and Gabrielle Smash the Patriarchy.

One of the staples (and highlights) of the TV series Xena: Warrior Princess and Hercules: The Legendary Journies were the periodic “future incarnation” episodes. In these episodes, the descendants or reincarnations of the main characters have wandered far from the family tree, only to find themselves entangled in the same divine-driven problems as their ancestors. They were fan service of a sort, to be true, but also highly enjoyable ways of up-ending familiar characters and actors. This is a tradition in which Mermaid Productions’ Xena and Gabrielle Smash the Patriarchy feels right at home – which is a good thing. In this specific twist, Xena (Ariel Leaf) and Gabrielle (Nissa Nordland Morgan) find themselves at a sci-fi/fantasy fan convention, where they find ample opportunities to bring justice to a land crying out for a hero.

While there is ample comedy made and much laughter had, the main throughlines of the script by Nissa Nordland Morgan trace some serious threads. One is the smoldering-under-the-eyelashes “are they/aren’t they” romance of the titular leads, and the other is an incisive spotlight on negative aspects of cosplay and other fandom cultures. The combination is a winning one, well-adapted to the environs of Theatre in the Round, and strongly paced throughout. One of the most fun pieces of social commentary on the Fringe 2019 stages. Also part of the #FeministFringe.

The Zoo Story

A promotional image for Jackdonkey Productions’ staging of The Zoo Story.

A rarely performed 1-act play by Edward Albee, this two-person show makes a compelling hour of absurdist theatre. This isn’t the first time that The Zoo Story has been done in recent years – a production played at the 2017 Fringe – but Jackdonkey Productions’ staging and energetic young cast have a strong and different take. The show leaves you with a strong appreciation for Albee’s writing and wondering what other early career gems he wrote.

Twin Cities Arts Reader