Fringe Day 8: 'Let me light the conversation candle'

Categories: Theater
Pretentious Conversations.jpg
Image courtesy Minnesota Fringe Festival
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Fringe Festival 2012: 165 shows packed into 15 days

Earlier this week, I was chatting with a fellow Fringer before a show, when she mentioned that she had come to the wrong play. This certainly isn't unique. I hazard to guess that just about any longtime goer to the Minnesota Fringe Festival has misread the handy-dandy chart, taken the bus/bike/car, and then once they got through the line, discovered that the show up next wasn't exactly what they wanted.

I know it has happened to me in the past, with both good and bad results. It's an impromptu way to take in something completely at random. It's also hard to replicate.

So I asked myself, "What would Gary Gygax do?" and rolled some dice (a d-4 and d-20 if you are curious). The random number generator took me to see Pretentious Conversations at the Brave New Workshop Student Union.

It wasn't a show that had been on my radar, making it a perfect fit for my experiment. What I found is typical of a lot of Fringe shows: some things were good, some weren't, and there was a healthy, "let's have some fun" energy about the whole production.

The piece satirizes both talk shows and the pretentious end of the entertainment spectrum. Led by a name-dropping host Patricia Skylar Van Humphries (Laura Buchholz) and sad-sack stage manager (Nick Sahli), the show takes us into a place where the borders of the world end at the borders of New York City and the artists are required to be explorers.

Both of the "guests" bring this pretentiousness home, be it Chuck, an electronic keyboardist with 73 albums to his credit and who doesn't believe in things like melody or rhythm, and Michigan Grey, a nine-year-old who was written a memoir. Chuck (Mahmoud Hakima) shows up wearing a carrot costume and plays music that sound like the banging of a child who has just discovered dad's Casio (though if you put a drum beat behind it and added some disinterested vocals, it probably could get played on The Current). Michigan shows up with her controlling mother in tow, with a segment that threatens to break down at any moment.

All of this is fairly entertaining, but I couldn't shake the feeling that the piece would benefit from a bit more focus and bite. After all, making fun of pretentious TV hosts and pretentious artists has been a part of the comedy landscape for decades, and this isn't the first time around for the piece (it has been presented at the Bryant-Lake Bowl in the past).

Still, as a random pick I had a light, fairly entertaining piece to watch. I think you can typically find that at the Fringe (well, not always light, but you get the idea). Going into the final weekend, there is still three days and 19 slots to watch shows, so if you are feeling like a bit of an adventure, take a plunge.

If you want to check out the most popular shows, watch for the announcement late Saturday evening of the Audience Picks. These will be the top selling shows at each of the 15 venues of the festival, and will get an encore presentation in the final slot of the Fringe: 8:30 p.m. Sunday.

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