Explaining the Minnesota Fringe Festival to the uninitiated can be a daunting prospect, largely because of a series of inherent contradictions—earnestness coexisting with irony, the slapdash rubbing shoulders with the polished, moments of brilliance at the same table as the humdrum.
The arrival of SmashHammer serves as a sort of fractal demonstration of everything Fringe. You can isolate any one aspect of it, and it somehow expresses the entirety of the whole—what, really, is more Fringe than a heavy-metal rock opera Orpheus-meets-Spinal Tap shaggy dog production, one that legitimately shreds while its players sporadically indulge in eye-rolling ennui as a means of self-reflectively mocking itself and just about everything?
SmashHammer is a hero’s journey about rescuing a princess from the clutches of the underworld—think Tolkein as rendered by an uncharacteristically ambitious Ozzy Osbourne during a particularly addled recreational episode. There’s a wizard blasting live guitar solos, a demon who complains about how hard it is to obtain decent cheese in Hell, and anonymous villagers whose status is proclaimed by crummy hand-lettered t-shirts.
I laughed out loud from the onset. SmashHammer’s brilliance lies, in part, in its achievement of pivoting between utter parody and straight-faced sincerity at any given moment. Spinal Tap said it with the greatest economy: It’s such a fine line between stupid and clever.
SmashHammer: The Heavy Metal Musical Featuring the Heavy Metal Stylings of the Heavy Metal Band, SmashHammer plays at the Southern Theater as part of the Minnesota Fringe Festival through August 13. Tickets here.