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Review: IndyFringe 2010, pt. 2

August 23, 2010

Another day, another trio of IndyFringe shows.

But first, I should note that the Mass Ave. street life on Saturday was more lively than I've ever seen it. That, in part, had to do with the biggie sizing of the Fringe tent and surrounding area and the buskers performing up and down the street (Kudos to the person or people who came up with the slow-motion and moustache zones on a stretch of the sidewalk).

As important as what Indy Fringe brought to the street, however, is what Indy audiences are bringing to it. There was a palpable sense of adventure--an enthusiastic what-the-heckness about the attendees. Young families, teens, hipster daters, retirees, gangs of grown-ups, and just about anyone who is anyone in local theater were all making the rounds. 

I'm guessing record crowds this year, but it's still earlier.

Anyway, on to the shows. On Saturday, I caught three.

1. "Blizzard Rewind"

Reason for picking it: I wanted to see what the Bloomington Playwrights Project would bring to the Fringe table. In case you aren't aware, BPP is solely dedicated to presenting new work. And as far as I know it's the only theater that guarantees that you enjoy the work during its mainstage season (which begins in October). If you see something that you don't like, you can turn your ticket in at the end for one for another show. More info on BPP here.

Reaction: The gimmick here is that the six-member ensemble has a short-short play for every one of the 30 years BPP has existed. The years and titles are written on dry erase boards on stage and are presented in random order, based on the shouted-out whims of the audience. A countdown timer for the whole show is projected onto the back of the stage. The device gives participatory fun to the proceedings, with sketches covering such once-hot topics as Bill Clinton's indiscretions, Y2K, and the downgrading of the planet Pluto. What is, by definition, dated material gets new life, though, thanks to and the playfulness of the theatrical device imposed on it. It wouldn't work, though, without the spirited and talented cast (better than other sketch companies I've seen in previous Fringe years) that keeps the energy high. And with scenes rarely lasting more than a minute or two, the duds fly by quickly, the hits generating big bursts of laughs..

2. "Grind: The Musical"

Reason for picking it: I'm a sucker for new musicals, as difficult as they are to create and pull off effectively.

Reaction: This earnestly performed coffee-shop-set cliche fest comes across as a "Rent"-wannabee where the characters all have a few extra bucks for lattes. Younger brother plays keyboards at the shop while going to college. Older sister runs the joint. There's a street preacher, a secret blogger, a closet rapper from New Orleans and, of course, an eviction notice. Promising use of shadow puppetry in the beginning--as well as mock noir narration--is largely dropped once conventional story begins and the songs (including one with what seems like a clear lift from Harry Chapin) kick in. Still, it's nice to know that young people in Minneapolis hate their town, too.

For the record, this isn't to be confused at all with the Ben Vereen musical "Grind."

3. "Screw You Revue."

Reason for picking it: Fun sample at Thursday's preview. Plus the fact that it was co-created by the head of Orlando Fringe, someone who should know a little something about the genre.

Reaction: Blissfully outrageous fun, "Screw You Review" has one foot in the offend-everyone tradition of Don Rickles and Lisa Lapanelli and another in the world of drag review. The result is a unexpected marriage made in a very tolerant comedic heaven. Dewey Chafee plays Wayburn Sassy, an 89-year-old true-to-his-name guy with no filter between brain and mouth. His partner is Didi Panache (played by Douglas McGeoch) a sweet songstress with great gams. Together they brought down a sell-out house with did-they-really-say-that? jokes, knowing-when-to-quit audience participation, and a couple of really fun songs. While Sassy, if real, would be terribly offensive, the show itself isn't because of the commitment to the character and to the best comic timing you are likely to see at this or any other Fringe.

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