Word came in early on that this year’s Minnesota Fringe Festival was off to a great start attendance-wise, up 19 percent from last year. Now, with just three days left, we’ve got a pretty good idea why: The shows are more uniformly terrific.
I haven’t seen every show, not hardly, but unless the naysayers are holding back the bile (unlikely), or savvy showmen are stacking the decks with friends’ friendly reviews (doesn’t that always happen?), I’ve never seen such strong favorable reviews across the board. So if you’re looking to hit the best of the Fringe before it fades to black, here are some suggestions from among the most favorably reviewed shows
2 Sugars, Room for Cream — The talent is top-shelf (Jungle Theater mainstay Carolyn Pool along with Brave New Workshop comic genius Shanan Wexler and smooth veteran Peter Moore directing). Good to the last laugh.
Untitled Duet with Houseplant — Noah Bremer, dancer/actor from Live Action Set, goes solo here in a physical theater piece that channels the gracefulness and humanity of the great clowns (Chaplin, Keaton, etc.).
Sideways Stories from Wayside School — Four Humors Theater scores the highest-rated show with the most reviews (batting close to 1.000) with this ostensible kids’ show (though it’s scheduled at 8 and 10 p.m.) with a comic romp through the imagined adventures of the characters from the Wayside School books. Why does Four Humors rarely miss? Because it knows its strengths, and limits, and when it goes Fringe it goes short and sweet and funny. Few troupes are doing that better.
AfterLife — Solo shows come in all sizes, shapes, and watchability at the Fringe, and this one fits just right, both its performer and the text. Brooklyn actress Candy Simmons takes three women from different times and places in the 20th century and weaves their needs and desires together.
Harold Pinter’s The Dumb Waiter — Every once in a while someone tries to tackle an honest-to-God important work in an hour’s time with minimal production at the Fringe, and these guys pull it off fantastically.
Was my brother in the battle? Songs of war — When Ben Krywosz, the wizened head of Nautilus Music-Theater, visits your show (and recommends it as “fabulous,” “intriguing,” and a “sobering antidote to the typical Fringe zaniness”) you’re doing something right. This program of songs about war by well-known artists, from Charles Ives to Bob Dylan, may be the festival’s hidden gem.
Schrödinger’s Cat Must Die — This is the show I most still want to see, largely because I can’t imagine we’ve had too many Ph.D’s take to the Fringe stage, other than Ari Hoptman, of course, and Ari’s set a pretty good precedent. If you want to feel smart and cool at the same time it’s hard to beat the promise of a mad scientist show on quantum mechanics.