2015 Fringe Review – Coffee Tea or Me

Tweet Review – Coffee Tea or Me – a perfectly matched pair of very different traveling storytellers – 5 stars

Even though Les Kurkendaal lives in California, it feels like it wouldn’t be a complete Minnesota Fringe Festival without him on the schedule.  We’re lucky the lottery ping pong balls roll out in his favor, and that he loves our Fringe so much that he just keeps coming back.  He’s also a reliable favorite for my Mom each year. “Lil Wayne, I just want to let you know I love your work.”

But after seeing so many Fringe shows with so many stories from different corners of Les’ life – like the time his white boyfriend took him home to meet the family for Christmas, but didn’t mention ahead of time that Les was black; or the time his boyfriend took Les to his high school reunion, but neglected to inform his classmates ahead of time that he was gay; Les’ coming out story and the difficulties it posed in his relationship with his father; alcoholism; body issues; Les’ mother’s dementia and memory loss – after seeing all that, what other stories could Les have up his sleeve? “I’m a New Yorker.  I can have an orgasm and a minor medical emergency at the same time.”

Seems Les was wondering about that himself – hence, his new show Coffee, Tea or Me, an existential crisis (which as Fringe Executive Director Jeff Larson rightly quipped during the traveling artists preview showcase the night before Fringe opened, would be a horrible title for a show, if it were done by anyone but Les Kurkendaal). “Wow, they’re awfully nice for racists.”

I honestly wasn’t sure going in whether I was going to take to this show.  The premise seemed to be that Les was doing a show about the fact that he didn’t have an idea for a show.  That meta “struggles of the artist” thing normally is the exact opposite of the sort of thing I find entertaining.  Also, to switch things up, Les is sharing the stage with another storyteller with a very different way of telling stories, Marlene Nichols.  Les and Marlene alternate telling their stories and the framework establishes that Les, on a road trip from California to Minnesota, trying to shake off the malaise he’s found himself in, decides to save himself from the endless repetitive drone of Top 40 radio by tuning in to NPR, finding it on the dial as he crosses into each new state.  Marlene is the voice and storytelling of NPR.  Les is, well, Les. “Like La Boheme.  Minus the consumption.  Also the hot boyfriend.”

Les is reminded on his journey of what got him into acting in the first place, of his very first Fringe show (in a country on the other side of the world), of a friend’s near death experience and the party of friends that saved him, and finds himself not the target of prejudice at a questionable truck stop but the one unexpectedly dishing it out to others.  Meanwhile on NPR, Marlene – quite often appearing in a fabulous gown of some sort – regales us with stories tailor-made for the kind of NPR listener that lives on the fortunate side of the white privilege divide (not that there’s anything wrong with that).  There’s a tale of a young woman living on her own for the first time, in Paris, with a limited grasp of the language.  There’s a meditation on how the romantic ideals of a five year old do – and don’t – change as she searches for Prince Charming in a modern day world of ordinary men.  And, going a more familiar, Les Kurkendaal sort of route, there’s a portrait of a colorful mother, and the often exasperated daughter who needs to make her peace with her. Continue Reading

2015 Fringe Review – Confessions of a Butter Princess

Tweet Review – Confessions Of A Butter Princess – People turning into butter, talking cows – I liked it but I’m still not sure why – 3 stars

“You’re overthinking it,” my mother assured me.  We’d both just seen Little Lifeboats’ Fringe show Confessions Of A Butter Princess, or Why The Cow Jumped Over The Moon.  I had them on my Top 10 list this year because I really admire the work this company does, particularly with new plays.  And their in-house playwright (also the playwright here on Confessions) Abby Swafford serves up comedy in mind-bending ways I find fascinating and engaging (see Parhelion or Raise Your Voice (Suzanne Cross), or That F**king Harriet Tubman Play as examples). “That cat and that fiddle were not innocents!”

I was apparently psyching myself out on Butter Princess.  Mom had no such problem.  “You’re looking for more here when there probably isn’t any.  It’s just a goofy Fringe show about a queen (Erin Denman) on another planet who’s being pursued by three young butter princesses (Alana Horton, Briana Patnode, and Madelyne Riley) who actually turn into butter, and there’s a talking cow (Hector Edwardo Chavarria) she helps to set free.  That’s it.  Just enjoy it for the strange little thing that it is.”

“Hide me, please!”
“We’re in the round.”

Good advice.  Since, as a non-native Minnesota transplant, I have trouble understanding the whole butter princess tradition at the state fair anyway, it might as well be some alien ritual set on another planet (though, it does seem as if there is at least a suggested relationship to the Minnesota origins of the whole thing – it’s just that when these young ladies win the crown, they also win a one way trip into space.)

“Of course I’m going to help her.  I’m not an animal.”

Chavarria is a real scene stealer as the flamboyant cow (and I’m not just saying that because he flirted with me – and so many others – in the audience).  (In a nod to the whole “Cecil the Lion” controversy, the cow also wondered aloud if a less friendly looking man in the audience liked to hunt – “Are you a dentist?”)

“You tried to kill me once.”
“Trust is a fickle thing.”

Director Chris Garza and his cast embrace the weirdness of the script and create this strange little world of butter princess revolution.  The final transformation of the princesses into butter was a delightfully creepy bit of costuming magic from producer Victoria Pyan.  The princesses just get more progressively yellow until finally we have them all in blond wigs, creamy bright yellow suit jackets, gloves, and unnerving blank masks, also in bright yellow.  It’s a very vivid final image for them. “Dearest cow, does the unending blackness scare you?”

So I’ll take mom’s advice and just relax.  Confessions of a Butter Princess was just supposed to be a lark.  And so it is. 3 stars – Recommended Continue Reading

True stories can be powerful: Trans Families show at the Fringe compels

Tweet Review – Trans Families – compelling readers theater about shifting identities fraying couples at the edges – 4.5 stars

Seems I’ve just been seeing the wrong Christy Marie Kent Fringe shows until now.  Though Kent is an award winning storyteller, her performance style back in 2012 when I was intrigued enough by her preview for Moonshine, Madness and Murder to drop in and see the full show, left me a little underwhelmed. To be fair, each of her first Fringe shows (both dealing with moonshine and cloistered monks and nuns) were test-driving material for her upcoming novel, so they weren’t meant to be either strictly theatrical in nature, or even ideal presentations as storytelling or spoken word.  Kent decided to use the Fringe as a laboratory to fine-tune her material, and if that’s how she wanted to spend her money, good for her.  For whatever reason, be it subject matter or presentation, it wasn’t really grabbing me, so I sat the next couple of Kent shows out. “Few people carry around as much baggage as trans folks with wives and kids.”

As luck would have it, I got out just as things probably got interesting.  Kent’s next two Fringe shows began to deal with her own story of transitioning as a transgender woman.  While this year’s low-key Fringe preview of her latest offering, Trans Families, still didn’t grab me, the subject matter of the show did – families in which the father reveals to the family that from birth they’d always felt as if they’d been placed in the wrong body, and so began their transition to living new lives as women.  These weren’t Kent’s own stories, but were nonetheless true stories of other transgender people and their families transforming as identities shifted.  Kent is collecting these tales for a non-fiction book about transitioning parents with children. “I’ve been a trucker for 20 years, but a woman for less than 10.”

The thing that got me in the door to see Trans Families was the addition to the cast of Erica Fields reading the role of Danielle, a trucker and father who risks losing everything, including his marriage and family, in order to be true to she really was.  (In the interests of full disclosure, Fields performed the role of the transgender minister in the Minnesota premiere of my play But Not For Love a few years back.  That’s how I know what a good actress she is, and she brought that same vitality and talent to liven up Trans Families.)

“Relationships are like diesel engines.”

Kent read the role of Jamie, formerly Jimmy, who adopted a child prior to transitioning, and also found herself on the verge of losing her wife and family on the journey to finding herself.  Kent’s soft-spoken delivery works in the context of the larger show in a way it didn’t quite land in the preview.  Her acting chops, though still a work in progress, have improved since I saw her last. “You might have been Daniel at one time, but all I see is Danielle.”

The church, the law and extended family all apply pressure in the stories of Danielle and Jamie, fueling intolerance that drives both women to the brink of suicide.  But since they’re alive to tell the tale, you know that some twist of fortune reels them back in again.  Life is persistent, and full of surprises. Continue Reading

2015 Minnesota Fringe Festival – Top Ten

Every year I clear out the past year’s top 10 to make room for ten more promising acts I’m excited to see.  For the 2015 Minnesota Fringe Festival, they are:

1 – FurTrader Productions – Confessions of a Delinquent Cheerleader

Who were you in High School? Hear true stories of a reformed cheerleader/bad girl at a private school back in the late 1980s. At times hilarious, at times tragic, she shares her “glory days” for all to judge. I was already fairly sure this was going to be one great comedic solo show, just by virtue of the fact that Mame Pelletier is involved.  That fact that it’s her script and her story only reinforced that instinct.  Her Fringe preview made it clear I would not be allowed to even entertain doubts about this one.  It’s going to be a heck of a lot of fun.  Can’t wait. 2 – Little Lifeboats – Confessions of a Butter Princess or Why The Cow Jumped Over The Moon

On the planet Ceres, Alex, a Cow, and a Queen are trying to escape the wrath of the Princess Kay Chorus. Continue Reading

Silent Mary Pickford Classic Brings Thrills to Heights Theater

In the mood for some good old-fashioned melodrama, with snapping alligators, quicksand, and the kind of villains you can’t help but boo and hiss? Then be sure to head to the Heights Theater on Sunday, June 14, at 7:30 pm, when the theater will screen Mary Pickford’s 1926 silent classic Sparrows from a Library of Congress 35mm print. The film tells the story of a young girl named Molly trapped at a backwoods Louisiana “baby farm,” where orphans are held captive by the merciless Mr. and Mrs. Grimes, played by Gustav von Seyffertitz and Charlotte Mineau. After Molly stands up to Mr. Grimes and threatens to run him through with a pitchfork, he drives her and the other children into the swamp, assuming they’ll die there. But led by Molly, the orphans embark on a harrowing quest for survival and maybe, if they ever make it out of the swamp, a better life. Continue Reading

Hey Minnesota House: there are privacy concerns with license plate readers

On average, less than one percent of plates paired up with a hotlist/watchlist, and even fewer lead to an arrest, according to the data I have received in data requests. So the question is why should we be keeping data on innocent and law-abiding people for any length of time 30 days, 60 days, three months. I oppose collection of license plate reader data on innocent people. Continue Reading

High rates of teen pregnancy among Minnesota’s Asian girls

[Chart from Department of Health and Human Services.]

Compared to American overall teen pregnancy rates, Asian girls have much higher teen pregnancy rate. Here are facts which may contribute to higher teen pregnancy rate among Asian girls in Minnesota. Here are some facts which may contribute to higher teen pregnancy among sian girls in Minnesota:

According to the report from CDC, Minnesota teens have a higher rate of LARC use than the national average. Also, the access to go to health care provider, and the use of effective birth control methods, including IUDs, and the implants, these may affect the teen pregnancy rate among Asian girls in Minnesota. All adolescents, but especially youth of color, need comprehensive and culturally competent sexual and reproductive health care. Continue Reading

A Bemidji statue reveals uncomfortable Native history

We grew up hearing the story of local trader and store owner Andrew Myrick, who told starving Dakota people to “eat grass or their own dung” if they were hungry. He was one of the early fatalities of the 1862 US-Dakota War, a figure our very conservative father offered as a cautionary figure to encourage us to use civil discourse Continue Reading

Colliding Currents

Sometimes my expressed views might be perceived as liberal and sometimes they could be perceived as conservative. Sometimes my opinions might be technical and sometimes they might be artsy. It is a collision of ideas and opinions that get swirled around in cyberspace through wires and through the air. Continue Reading