Jewish artists fill the bill at Tzitzit (Fringe) Festival

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Minnesota’s annual contribution to the worldwide Fringe Festival movement always has something to interest, entertain, challenge, offend or titillate every sensibility, and that includes the Jewish sensibility. For readers seeking the avant-garde, plus opportunities to experience something new and to support Jewish artists at the same time, there is a wide variety of genres and performances that should give no one an excuse not to participate.

Here are some shows with Jewish artists and themes:

• Fans of Rimon Foundation grant-winning songwriter Elisa Korenne will be excited to learn that her show The Tenth Muse will be showing at the University of Minnesota Rarig Center Arena from July 30-Aug. 9.

Korenne is a New Yorker via New York Mills, Minn., where she has lived for the past two and a half years. She specializes in writing songs about “unique individuals, uncommon people left out of history who add to the fabric of society.” In this show, some of the Jewish people whom Korenne brings to life in song include Mendel Sheretz, a victim of Munchausen syndrome who seeks to draw attention to himself by feigning illnesses and, in Sheretz’s case, has various internal organs excised. On the other end of the mental illness scale is Dr. Emanuel Bronner, who escaped a mental institution to form a highly successful soap company that is still in business.

• Chicagoan Zoe Schwartz is testing whether she wants to move to the Twin Cities, depending on the audience’s reaction to her show Auntie Dorris’ You May Not Wanna Know but I’m Gonna Tell You Anyway A-thon (Intermedia Arts, Minneapolis; Aug. 1-8). Yes, Auntie Dorris, played by Schwartz herself, is Jewish but finds herself torn between her natural intellectualism, her life experience as a vaudevillian, and the remnants of a secular Jewish upbringing.
Auntie Dorris tells the story of her life, which has been an ongoing development by Schwartz as a playwright since giving birth to Auntie Dorris at the Gorilla Tango Theater in Wicker Park, Ill., last year. As the playwright has added to her lifetime résumé, she sheds the parts of “who I don’t want to be at 80” into Dorris’ personality.

But as a good auntie, this show is rated appropriate for ages 16 and up; so if you have teenagers, this should be an acceptable family experience that will prove that you are not totally uncool.

Ari Hoptman has made Minnesota his home for many years after his early life in the Detroit area, and we are lucky for this. Over time, he has delighted Twin Cities audiences with entertaining and edgy educational theater pieces both as a playwright and an actor. In Tales… of the Expected! Hoptman draws on his expertise in German language and folklore to give the audience a new twist (including some Yiddish references) to some old, familiar fairy tales by the Brothers Grimm and some new fairy tales by Hoptman himself, e.g. “The Little Engineer That Couldn’t.”

Despite the double entendre of the title, Hoptman assures the audience that aside from some slightly bawdy parts, “most of the stories are a PG affair.” The performances will be at the Rarig Center from July 31-Aug. 8.

• Howard Lieberman’s peripatetic professional career, from Chicago to New York to the Twin Cities, and from a Marlboro College dance major to attorney to corporate headhunter, has still given him time and freedom to create numerous artistic productions, most of them starring himself. This is Lieberman’s seventh year as a Fringe Festival performer.

Death Camp Diaries, scheduled at the Rarig Center Experimental Stage from July 30-Aug. 8, is truly a work in progress. Lieberman will return within days of the show’s premiere from a trip to World War II Nazi death camps led by Rabbi Dov Klein, director of the Chabad house at Northwestern University.

Using his diaries from the trip, Lieberman intends not only to entertain his audience, but to engage them in some fundamental Jewish questions from a secular Jewish perspective, such as: “Had there been no Holocaust, would there be an Israel today?” The show is promoted as appropriate for audiences aged 15 and older, and for those with teens seeking an explanation to the questions “why be Jewish” or “why support Israel,” this show should provide options that might not arise at a dinner table discussion.

• On the other end of the family-friendly scale is Needs, Wants, Desires, written and directed by Mic Weinblatt, and running from July 31-Aug. 8. The Festival organizers warn that this show, at the Augsburg College Main Stage, has adult situations, language and nudity. For those who’ve seen Weinblatt’s Julie Harris Award-winning World Enough and Time, about Jewish senior citizens, this will be a real change of pace.

Weinblatt gives the audience triple their money’s worth with three plays presented in three different comedic styles that examine and poke fun at today’s society’s obsession with physical appearance, materialism and gay relationships. Gay or straight, how many of us have not asked, “Do I look fat in this?” Weinblatt’s plays give you the answer you may or may not want to hear.

• An anonymous-pseudonymous St. Paulite calling himself “Dr. Damon Rudman” gives those seeking the humorous X-rated material for which the Fringe Festival is famous a shocker of a show, The Problem of the Body: Why Is Our Society Ashamed of Bodily Urges? at Intermedia Arts, July 30-Aug. 9. The Jewish content may be questionable, but it’s clear that “Dr. Rudman” intends to use the famous, uncircumcised statue of David to illustrate his show.

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Complete information about the shows described above and other performances can be found at: www.fringefestival.org. Most shows do not run continuously on the dates listed above.

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