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

Minnesota Fringe Festival: School of Rhythm at the Rarig Proscenium

SHOW TITLE: School of Rhythm

PRODUCER: Elephant Games Productions

HAILING FROM: Minneapolis

SHOW DESCRIPTION: A few ground rules: don’t be late, keep your pencil sharp, most importantly, don’t lose the beat! Experience food fights, secret handshakes, and other topics not covered on the exam in School of Rhythm! Reviewing youth shows is always a perilous endeavor: as someone with extensive background in youth theater, I’m a great believer in holding it to a critical standard. There are many who are inclined to shower any youth production with praise, and view criticism of it as being in poor taste, and I’m one of those inclined to view this attitude as one the Things That Are Destroying America and Art (TM). Which is why a youth show like this one is such a relief, because it’s both effortlessly impressive and enjoyable. Continue Reading

Minnesota Fringe Festival: STANDING ON CEREMONY: The Gay Marriage Plays at the Ritz Proscenium


PRODUCER: The Ensemble Theatre Company

HAILING FROM: Minneapolis

SHOW DESCRIPTION: Join us as we explore the practicalities of gay marriage through four weddings, one funeral, and one nervous breakdown as six couples discuss family, sex, politics, and religion before saying “I do.” I’ll confess my prejudice up front – I was dismayed to realize that this script was yet another New York import, as opposed to something with a more local bent. This is an anthology of six plays, the vast bulk of which are – very, very light. Which was also disappointing, as someone hoping for something with a bit more meat to it. But that, I suspect, is the point – the very fact that these are generally light, comic, sitcom-y sketches. Continue Reading

Minnesota Fringe Festival: The Bunker

SHOW TITLE: The Bunker

PRODUCER: BERW Productions

HAILING FROM: Minneapolis

SHOW DESCRIPTION: A Marine brings the Gulf War home with him and finds relief in prescription drugs, denial and contemplating suicide. With the aid of his doctor he realizes the deepest scars are those not seen. So this is a military drama, which is one of my favored genres. Moreover, the programme mentions that the playwright is a vet himself, which further piques my interest. I can’t get enough of these stories, the stories of ordinary men being measured against intense (or often interminably dull) scenarios. Continue Reading

Ferguson, USA, a serious issue teamed with excellent talent

Maxwell Collyard, author of “Ferguson, USA” at the MN Fringe Festival, quotes James Baldwin, “Ask any Mexican, any Puerto Rican, any black man, any poor person — ask the wretched how they fare in the halls of justice, and then you will know, not whether or not the country is just, but whether or not it has any love for justice, or any concept of it. It is certain, in any case, that ignorance, allied with power, is the most ferocious enemy justice can have.”

Richard Pryor said the same thing more succinctly, “You come down to the jail looking for justice and that’s what you’ll find. Just us.” Whether you adhere to eloquent articulation or go in for a shoot from the hip quip, there’s no arguing against the significance of Collyard’s voice, a contemporary theater artist dramatizing the tragedy that resonated across the nation. It’s billed as what he calls, “a collage of voices and spoken word inspired by witness interviews, media coverage, and the Department of Justice report [on] Ferguson, Missouri. In this story, a tragedy in the neighborhood incites residents to expose and fight a broken justice system funded by poverty.” Hardly a new story in American society. Continue Reading

FRINGE REVIEW: Rajib Bahar’s “Hey Bangladesh” promises “wild and crazy” evening

You don’t get a great deal of music or theater from South Asia in the Twin Cities. There have, however, been noteworthy productions, among them Zaraawar Mistry performing his original solo piece “Indian Cowboy.” Rajib Bahar makes a promising bid to join said select company, staging “Hey Bangladesh,” a wryly intriguing premise, at the MN Fringe Festival for his fledgling Serendipity Productions. Hey Bangladesh centers on the fairly addlebrained yet happily fortuitous exploits of a fellow named Boltu, who, after accidentally head-butting a cow, comes up with the bright idea of launching his very own music show to go against the hit program “Bangladesh Idol.” It kind of sounds like a dyed-in-the-wool send-up on the order of, oh, Jack and the Beanstalk come “American Idol”. The quality of free-wheeling wild ideas area stages saw with Lonnie Carter’s “The Lost Boyz” and Marcie Rendon’s “Free Fry Bread.” Theater of the absurd isn’t for everyone. 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

Ordway Takes Damn Yankees into Extra Innings

From the doorman welcoming patrons to “Griffen Stadium,” to the hotdogs and beer for sale, Ordway Center blends baseball and Broadway in its revival of the 1955 smash musical show Damn Yankees. Though a bit dated, the Richard Adler and Jerry Ross musical, under the direction and choreography of James A. Rocco and Sharon Halley, shows one does not need to be a baseball fan to have an enjoyable summer evening at the ballpark. The musical is a re-telling of the Faustian story with Joe Boyd, a middle-age real estate agent, who is a die-hard fan of the Washington Senators (the team that later became the Minnesota Twins) in the 1950’s. The Senators can’t seem to beat the New York Yankees. Upset with the Senators’ latest loss, Joe cries out that if the team had a “long ball hitter” they could beat the “damn Yankees.”   He then seals his fate uttering: “I’d sell my soul for a long ball hitter.” On the spot pops in “Mr. Applegate” who takes Joe up on his offer. Continue Reading

Queer art is anything but a drag

In the lobby of Intermedia Arts on Lyndale Avenue, chalkboards almost as tall as the high ceiling display vast maps of written pleas and assertions from its patrons. They resound with many handwritten hashtags relating to Black Lives Matter, such as #ICANTBREATHE and #HIREDONTFIRE. Sharing the same chalkboard space is #TRANSLIVESMATTER. These chalkboards are the living wallpaper of activists, and this lobby and the space to which it leads are better because of them. The acts of terrorism against African Americans like the Charleston shooting and the high rate of attempted suicide among transgender people are remembered at the same time. Continue Reading