The incredible variety of the Minnesota Fringe Festival was aptly illustrated by the pair of shows I saw at Gremlin Theatre on Wednesday. Among all the satire and schtick that Fringe audiences love, the festival includes productions like the Gonzo Group’s presentation of Edward Albee’s tough modernist work Box and Quotations from Chairman Mao Tse-Tung and the Phoenix Theater Project’s production of Tennessee Williams’s Green Eyes—a production that, believe it or not, represents the regional premiere of the late writer’s one-act play.
It’s a short show—less than a half-hour—but it’s worth your 12 bucks to see this intense drama. The setting is a New Orleans hotel room, the morning after the first night of a young couple’s honeymoon. But this is no sweet torpor: on the previous night the couple went out, he (Matt Rein) got drunk, she (Jaimi Paige) came home before he did, and now there’s a condom in the toilet that he swears isn’t his. Exactly whose member that condom sheathed, and for what purpose, quickly becomes a subject of intense debate.
A play this short needs to get your attention right away, and opening with the eye-poppingly gorgeous Paige—a Minnesota native who’s been living in L.A., doing stage and screen work—lying naked on the bed is certainly one way to accomplish that. Paige then dons her clothes like armor for the battle to come, with the stubborn and suspicious Rein giving her no quarter.
It’s an effective play—though it’s perhaps of necessity a one-trick pony, the trick is a good one—and Paige and Rein, under the direction of Jeff Hall-Flavin, are focused and watchable. The whole thing feels a little rushed and hesitant, though: Williams’s dialogue could be luxuriated in, but Paige and Rein sometimes spit it out in a manner perhaps meant to feel offhand and natural but that comes across as uncertain. A slower, steadier take could also have allowed for a rise in erotic heat; as is, it’s all too easy to believe that Paige just really wants to go sight-seeing and Rein would just as soon kiss his bourbon bottle as his sexy new wife.
All that said, this is an essential show in this year’s Fringe. Regional comedy and storytelling slams will be here every year, but this hot little number by one of America’s master playwrights has never been here before and is unlikely to be back any time soon. Paige and Rein give the piece a strong reading that you won’t soon forget.