On the Fringes

Lee Henderson is director, producer and self-described “man of all hats” for “Circumference of a Squirrel,” one of 162 shows scheduled for the 2007 Minnesota Fringe Festival.

Did he mean “jack of all trades?” A man who wears many hats? ¶ Forgive Henderson if he seems a bit frazzled. When he made the comment in mid-July, the Aug. 2 opening night at Bryant-Lake Bowl was fast approaching.

“The closer you get to the show, it seems like the days go by faster,” Henderson said. “You start with a 24-hour day and it seems like now we’re down to 12 (hour days).”

It was crunch time when the Southwest Journal checked in on the progress of several Fringe shows with a Southwest connection.

As usual, the Fringe, which runs Aug. 2–12 this year, will take over several Southwest venues. It will also feature some great local stage talent, like Fringe veteran and Lowry Hills resident Joseph Scrimshaw.

But more on him later in this, a (very) small sampling of this year’s Fringe offerings.

‘Circumference of a Squirrel’
Bryant-Lake Bowl

The on-stage half of this two-man production is a friend of Henderson’s since the 6th grade, Brent Teclaw.

Teclaw, a Minnetonka native, returns from New York to play Chester, the rodentophobe at the center of this play by John Walch. The play examines the relationship between Chester and his father, who was once bitten by a squirrel.

Whether or not Chester’s father actually contracted rabies, something seems to infect their relationship like a virus. Chester’s marriage to a Jewish woman is threatened by his father’s rabid anti-Semitism.

Henderson described the show as a “weird, quirky” play tinged with darker themes.

“It’s a funny show, but it definitely has its serious moments,” Henderson said.


‘Macbeth’s Awesome Scottish Castle Party’
Black Forest Inn

Joseph Scrimshaw is no stranger to interactive theater.

Scrimshaw’s interactive blind-date play, “Adventures in Mating,” was born at the Fringe Festival and now has productions mounted in New York City, Seattle, England and even Bulgaria (not to mention the weekly performances at Bryant-Lake Bowl).

But he is quick to acknowledge the format can make some people feel uncomfortable.

“I feel the frustration a lot of the audience members do of having the responsibility of the show foisted on them,” he said.

Other theatergoers believe the only good theater is the kind with the imaginary fourth wall firmly in place.

Is interactive theatre necessarily lowbrow? That’s one of the questions Scrimshaw intends to explore in his fast-paced version of the classic Shakespeare play, in which the audience members are guests at Macbeth’s castle.

(As Scrimshaw noted, Shakespeare liked to mix highbrow and lowbrow, leavening the drama with audience-pleasing bathroom humor.)

Scrimshaw’s audience can ruminate on the highbrow-lowbrow question over bratwurst and beer. One of several site-specific productions in this year’s Fringe, “Macbeth” takes over the Black Forest Inn banquet hall for 26 performances.

If you’ve had a bad experience with interactive theatre in the past, maybe it’s time to give it another chance.

“The room can just become electric when people feel like they’re really involved,” Scrimshaw said. “The trick is how to do that without pandering, without going for the easy joke.”


‘the limitation of sight’
Bryant-Lake Bowl

Minneapolis playwright Matt Weerts saw something in Joshua Paro that Paro may not have seen in himself.

“I met Matt like a year and a half ago, and … maybe two months after he met me he asked if I wanted to be in his next play,” Paro recalled.

Paro, who is now roommates with Weerts, was untested onstage, to say the least.

“This is actually my first acting experience, unless you count theater class in high school,” he said.

Paro plays Kyle, who one day up and leaves his life and girlfriend in Minneapolis. The play opens with his girlfriend, Maria, finding him in Omaha, Neb.

“(Kyle is) trying to figure out what’s going on with them, what’s going on with him,” Paro explained. “… He’s trying to run away, thinking that would fix things, and it doesn’t work.”

So, how was the first-time actor feeling just three weeks prior to opening night?

“Nervous, excited, scared,” Paro said. “Kind of everything.”

Picks from a ‘Fringe geek’
If you decide to check out any of the above shows, keep an eye out for self-described “Fringe geek” Matthew Everett, a Loring Park resident who blogs about the festival on the Fringe website.

When asked for some recommendations, Everett highlighted a few more shows playing at Southwest venues. (For his other Fringe picks and reviews, check out www.fringefestival.org/blogs.cfm.)

Everett will definitely spend “An Intimate Evening with Fotis; The Taller Side of Ferarri McSpeedy” at the Minneapolis Theatre Garage. Mike Fotis is one half of the Ferarri McSpeedy comedy duo, well known around town for their shows at Brave New Workshop.

“They’re incredibly funny, funny guys,” Everett said. “Very inventive and original.”

Also visiting Minneapolis Theatre Garage is The Cody Rivers Show, from Bellingham, Wash. Judging from the rave reviews, expect the acting troupe’s show “Flammable People” to wild, funny and intelligent.

“When you look at their website, it’s kind of mind boggling the number of people who have used the word ‘genius’ when describing them,” Everett said.

Everett also plans to catch Ministry of Cultural Warfare’s “The Tyranny of God’s Love” over at Intermedia Arts.

He said the “sharp-witted, satirical” troupe isn’t afraid to take on religion and politics. Intermedia Arts, he added, is the perfect venue for a show that will mix live acting with video.

So, you’re reading this and thinking your taste doesn’t quite mesh with Everett’s. Well, there’s plenty more out there.

This very small Fringe preview didn’t even touch on all the dance, musical theatre, puppetry, repertory theater, historical drama, and shows for children and teens that will fill the 11 days of Fringe. So, get out there and see some theatre!

Reach Dylan Thomas at dthomas@mnpubs.com or 436-4391.