Fringe Day 1: Exercise is easy, comedy is hard

Categories: Theater
ComedyCalorieFight.jpeg
Image courtesy Comedy Suitcase
Levi Weinhagen, Joshua English Scrimshaw, and Andy Craft.
While sleeping last night after the first evening of the Minnesota Fringe Festival, I dreamed I had been asked to give the pre-curtain speech (no photography; you only have 30 minutes to get to your next show; see lots of other shows) before a performance. Which I did, in a thick Scottish accent that would have made James Doohan blush.

What does it mean? A desire to play to Macbeth? A reaction to the taped introductions the festival uses these days in place of the old appearance by the stage manager to deliver the same message? 

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I'll let people with more degrees (or just a desire to analyze me from a small piece of evidence; I did ask) work out the meaning of that. The immediate answer is that after just one day I'm all in for the 2013 Fringe.

I caught a trio of shows Thursday evening (bad traffic scuttled the fourth) that embraced a wide swath of what the Fringe is about. At Intermedia, Adventure Press worked through a rough Cosmic Equation, but found some of the potential in Stephen Brooks's piece. At the Rarig Thrust, New York's Shelby Company returned with a polished, accomplished, and meditative piece about new beginnings, Fallsway. And the evening ended with the folks from Comedy Suitcase burning away the fat with high-impact humor in Comedy vs. Calories: Fight!

For the last one, Joshua English Scrimshaw, Levi Weinhagen, and Andy Kraft each devoured a McDonald's Happy Meal and then tried to burn off the calories over the hour with constant exercise and comedy. It was a show with plenty of rough edges, but those edges fit in pretty well with the whole vibe of the performance, which managed to get in some good points about body image amid the moments of the guys getting hit in the crotch with various bits of exercise equipment.

Brooks's piece has its rough edges as well, though the author's imagination carries the show a long way, as does the company of actors and Jon Ferguson's direction. The show's subtitle, 2 Wives + 2 Husbands divided by Adventure, tells the basic story (though to be mathematically accurate, there should be parenthesis around the first part, or you are saying just the two husbands are being divided by adventure... anyway).

The two men are obsessed with numbers in their office. Their wives escape the humdrum by building a rocket and going through a string of wild times far away, including meeting a giant and being transformed into buttons and pennies. There are lots and lots of ideas running throughout the piece, but the connections are often too obscure for it to really sing.

Like past efforts (such as Souspaw and last year's Font of Knowledge), the Shelby Company's piece is polished and accomplished, building up a quiet story about the long hours after New Year's when time feels fresh and the shackles of the past can be thrown away. As the connections between the various characters become clear, we get a sense of the ties that haunt each of them. At times absurd and at times heartbreaking, Fallsway packs a haunting emotional punch.

And there's no rest for the wicked. I have another trio of shows on tap for this evening, and then the madness of the first weekend, when endurance plays a key role. Bring it on.

The Fringe runs through Aug. 11. For more information about the 2013 Minnesota Fringe Festival, visit online.

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