Fringe Day 1: The dark side of the font

Categories: Theater
Gay Banditos.jpg
Photo courtesy Minnesota Fringe Festival
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Minnesota Fringe Festival 2012 is ready to roll

Around 5:30 p.m. Thursday afternoon, across the 15 venues of the Minnesota Fringe Festival, the house lights went down, the new curtain speech -- taped! -- was broadcast, and then the 2012 edition finally got under way.

By the third show of the evening, I was getting that familiar Fringe daze, where moving from venue to venue and line to line with little down time (and certainly not enough for dinner) put me into an altered state where there was no clock but the schedule and no world except that of the festival. Of course, it will only get stronger from here on out.

Onto the shows:

The highlight of the first night was Shelby Company's Font of Knowledge. That isn't a surprise, considering the troupe's 2011 entry, Sousepaw: A Baseball Story, was one of the festival's highlights. This time around, we get a noir-ish thriller full of double crosses, commies, and enough grammar talk to make an English teacher swoon.

The plot revolves around a down-on-his-heels font creator, who has sunk into the bottle following the end of his beloved project to create the most dangerous typeface on Earth, Helvetica. Then it gets really, really weird, tossing in mutant werewolves, aliens from Neptune, and a Howard-Hughes-like character who takes his fear of germs to the ultimate stage.

The writing is deft, the acting is spot-on and the staging is clever in a decidedly low-tech Fringe fashion. This is a definite must see.

Coming a day after the Chick-fil-A totally hetero love-in, The Gay Banditos seems torn from today's headlines, as a small North Carolina town is tormented and then haunted by the dreaded banditos of the title, who bring their throbbing dance music and free and easy sex to town in an effort to convert the town's folks.

The satire is pretty much on the nose, but the script from Ben Thietje and Boby Gardner does have its sharp edges, which are brought out by the five-actor cast. They play the horrified denizens of the town, so we never see the specters that haunt them. Their biggest fear is that this exposure (or the loss of some beloved Nickleback albums) will turn them totally gay.

You can see where it is going, but the script and the players are willing to go all in with the concept, which brings out that needed edge. In a way, you can apply these lessons to any witch hunt, be it Muslims or fans of the Insane Clown Posse.

Ferrari McSpeedy head back to the adventurers of the 1930s with Billy Beechwood and the Mountain of Terror, a wild tale of climbing the dreaded titular peak, complete with hillbilly mustard makers,  a mad scientist, an eccentric "thousand-aire," and his airship, and a Yeti. They even manage to pack in a growing up kind of story -- one that gets totally subverted in the end, but still, it is there. 

The trio of Mike Fotis, Joe Bozic, and Aric McKweon have a grand time with the bevy of crazy characters and situations in the story, often madly dashing off stage to take on another character (or just finding a different hat to take on the next role). The show is a bit rough around the edges, but that works in well with its mad charm.

Finally, Not Dead Yet! brings back Mr. (Rob) Elk and Mr. (Dean) Seal to the Fringe for a fresh evening of a cappella tunes and gentle joke telling. Among the shows this first night, this is the only one without any cursing, as the pair shared tales of flossing, eating a nice dinner in New York City and sharing their deft dance skills in a 1970s-style battle rap. It's a lot of fun.

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