Mad King Thomas, and the other four-fifths of the Brothers Grimm


by Matthew A. Everett | 7/1/09 • “Actually, it’s my Marxist-feminist dialectic that brings all the boys to the yard.”

And with that, I fell in love with Mad King Thomas.

Their re-telling, or rather vivisecting, of the tale of Rapunzel, was the best part of the Minnesota Fringe Festival fundraiser “Five Fifths of the Brothers Grimm” last month.

single white fringe geek is the blog of matthew a. everett. in addition to being one of six bloggers covering the minnesota fringe festival for the daily planet, he blogs throughout the year about theater and culture.

A communist/socialist fairy tale in the middle of the evening, this Rapunzel was born because her parents felt it only right to produce another wage slave for the good of the collective. She becomes MacPunzel, because of course she worked for the Golden Arches, making shakes in particular. Naturally, this led to a dance number to the tune of that song with the refrain “My milkshake brings all the boys to the yard.” Because, well, it’s required. In one of those moments that’s extremely awkward, because there’s no way to rehearse it and you can only do it once, MacPunzel cut off her long dark ponytail as a bit of liberation. But hair is not always cooperative enough to come off with just a couple of snips with a pair of scissors. So the performer stood there and kept sawing away with the scissors until the ponytail was at last set free. Then a big production number of interpretive dance to Karl Marx’s Communist Manifesto. How can you not love something that relentlessly weird and cheeky?

Host of the festivities and Executive Director of the Fringe Robin Gillette hit the nail on the head when she noted partway through the evening, “You might in fact not have even known what Grimm fairy tales [the five groups] were interpreting.”

You ain’t kiddin’. There is such a thing as too much artistic license. The reason previous years of Five Fifths worked and this one, well, kinda didn’t, is the presence or absence of a spine to the evening. That spine in the past was always the story. There was one story – A Streetcar Named Desire, Romeo and Juliet, The Godfather, Casablanca, The Wizard of Oz. Each of the five groups involved got a chunk of the story they needed to cover. They could cover it however they liked, but in the end, all five parts together should (ideally) take the audience from the beginning to the end of a recognizable story.

This time out, every group got to pick a fairy tale to reinterpret, or pretend to reinterpret. What we ended up with were a couple of extended commercials (for Fringe shows, a website, etc.), a couple of presentations that actually interpreted a fairy tale you could guess at, and one that straddled the space between those two extremes.

The other tale that got something like a Five Fifths treatment was Rumpelstiltskin – courtesy of the always wry Ari Hoptman and friends (Leslie Ball as his frigid wife, Carolyn Pool as “the finest of their surviving children,” Joshua Scrimshaw as the lecherous young king, Peter Moore as his long-suffering servant, and Zach Curtis as the world’s tallest dwarf).

The prize for the most tenuous connection to the Brothers Grimm is a toss-up between the mysterious snarkmeisters of and the improv comedy machine that is Ferrari McSpeedy. revisited some of its more amusing and infamous commentaries of the past year, and scrolled some images from various fairy tales through their projections as they did so. Then, rather than reveal their “secret identities,” they decided to treat us to a viewing of Rick Astley’s music video for “Never Gonna Give You Up.” All of it. We sat there – for the entire, uninterrupted, unedited, music video. And… scene.

Joe Bozic and Mike Fotis (Ferrari McSpeedy) pretended to begin the process of improvising a fairy tale from an audience suggestion, but quickly descended into a litany of in-jokes about the Fringe community and improv, many of which were very amusing. For example…

“Improv is magic, and one out of every ten times, people enjoy it.”

Matthew Foster sh*ts ideas that are smarter than us.”

“Hey, did you notice how last year about 80 percent of Matthew Everett’s blog was all about Nick Ryan? That was kind of creepy.”
“Not kind of creepy. REALLY creepy.”

“They’re not paying attention. They’re still trying to figure out that 3 Sticks thing.”

That 3 Sticks thing was the fairy tale which landed somewhere between reinterpretation and commercial. The Rooster, The Donkey, The Cat and The Dog set off on a musical adventure together, escaping their murderous master who was done putting up with them because they didn’t do their jobs. The rooster was too shy to crow. The donkey was often too busy daydreaming about philosophy to get the plowing done (oops, unfortunate word choice, read on…) The cat had some kind of social anxiety disorder. And the dog was way too friendly to serve as a guard dog against anyone. So of course, they did what any gang of misfits does, they started a band. But Rooster Donkey Cat Dog is a lousy name for a band. So some random guy who decides to be their agent, gives them a makeover. They then belted out the naughty theme song to their new name – Cock Ass Pussy Bitch (a catchy little ditty, I have to admit.) Hey, any artistic endeavor that gets Sasha Andreev to sing an ode to anal sex is OK by me (“you know my grip is tight when I receive” – seriously? not your everyday fairy tale, but I’d imagine a very happy ending). The rock quartet will be playing nightly at the Nomad World Pub during the Fringe – billed in the Bring Your Own Venue category as The Traveling Musicians. Because, I guess, Cock Ass Pussy Bitch seems like a little too much truth in advertising.

If I can make a plea for next year, could we go back to one story, chopped up? It’s more fun, at least for this audience member, and it gives the artists something to fall back on if they’re just fresh out of ideas – which it seemed like a couple of them were this time around. There’s plenty of cultural touchstones out there. Off the top of my head, if I were grabbing a movie title at random, how about Five Fifths Gone With The Wind?
Five Fifths of The Fast & The Furious?
Five Fifths of All About Eve?
Five Fifths of Rocky (hell, Rocky V)?
Five Fifths of Bonnie & Clyde?
Five Fifths of Citizen Kane (why do I feel like we’ve done that already)?
Five Fifths of Network?
As for theater, perhaps Five Fifths of Our Town?
Five Fifths of Henry V?
Five Fifths of The Wild Duck?
Five Fifths of Oedipus?
Or, heck, just look at the Guthrie’s library of classic titles from past seasons – I’d even settle for Five Fifths of Coriolanus or Titus Andronicus. There’s something about the degree of difficulty involved in five very different sets of theater artists all congealing somehow around the same storyline that makes for a more electric and interesting evening. Even if they don’t pull it off, there’s a notion that they’re still somehow all in it together that makes it more fun to watch them try.

Matthew A. Everett is a local playwright and three-time recipient of grant support from the Minnesota State Arts Board. Information on Matthew and his plays can be found at

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