by Matthew A. Everett • July 18, 2008 • After seeing Culture Mesh Collective‘s first preview of “Trying Guilt” at Fringe-For-All, I was still on the fence, but having seen a followup preview at one of the libraries in St. Paul, I’m sold, and there’s two primary reasons why – the writing of Anton Jones, and the acting of Christina Frank. Which is good, since that’s pretty much all Trying Guilt consists of – these two artists who started a theater together, putting on a very different sort of Fringe production.
There are other solo shows, yes. There are other shows that play with language in unusual and compelling ways, certainly. Those two, in combination with the territory Culture Mesh is treading, I don’t think you’re going to find it anywhere else in the Fringe this year…
One woman, multiple characters, and her guilty pleasure: shoes. Fusing Hip-Hop, Mime, and Monologue Christina Frank puts herself in the shoes of everybody from murders on deathrow to well meaning liberals to four-year-old children as she explores the funny, confining, and confusing phenomenon of guilt.”
At Fringe-For-All, I think we got one of the well-meaning liberals. All alone, Christina Frank used the entire Ritz stage to create the sense of a crowded nightclub. Frank’s character was there to meet up with her (perhaps only) black friend, and mistakes a stranger for her friend instead. The mime work then gives way to an increasingly awkward conversation as white liberal guilt seems to completely undo the poor woman’s internal censor. Everything out of her mouth is unintentionally more offensive than the thing that preceeded it.
While I admired the work in the preview, I wasn’t sure I wanted to spend an hour at the Fringe having my own white liberal guilt reflex poked at, no matter how skillfully.
Then came the library preview, where Frank again created a whole world around her, this time in the cramped playing space of a basement library meeting room. The character this time was a self-styled homeless preacher guiding her flock in the ways of how best to take advantage of other people’s guilt to get the money and means on which to survive. This largely rode the wave of Anton Jones’ rhyming words and it was a great ride.
So, clearly, while dealing with uncomfortable topics – race relations, capital punishment, and homelessness being just three I can glean from what I know now – “Trying Guilt” does so skillfully, and in a variety of styles and approaches, both on the page and in performance.
After her brazen turn behind a mask in last year’s The FUNeral, it’s nice to see Frank tackling a host of more recognizably human characters in equally daring ways.
I also really like the philosophy of the company and the way they approach developing new work.
Plus, the Fringe-For-All preview of “The FUNeral” last year is still one of the weirdest things I’ve ever seen out of context – and in context seeing the whole show, it was still mighty weird. But darned interesting.
And I’ve got a soft spot for companies that take risks. Culture Mesh Collective is clearly one of those companies.
You can learn more about them and follow their exploits at culturemesh.org
U of M Rarig Center Xperimental Theater
330 – 21st Avenue South, Minneapolis
Friday, August 1, 7pm
Saturday, August 2, 1pm
Sunday, August 3, 7pm
Wednesday, August 6, 10pm
Sunday, August 10, 5:30pm
Entering his sixth year of blogging about the Minnesota Fringe Festival (and bringing Mom along for the ride as a guest reviewer), Matthew A. Everett is also 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 matthewaeverett.com.