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Minnesota Fringe is back — and so are the kid shows

Twin Cities Pioneer Press logo Twin Cities Pioneer Press 8/10/2022 Frederick Melo, Pioneer Press

Hey, you! Do you Fringe? And perhaps just as important a question: Do your children?

After two grueling pandemic years that saw many a theatrical performance go virtual or even pre-recorded, the annual Minnesota Fringe Festival is finally back live and in person at theater venues scattered this year throughout the Cedar-Riverside and Uptown neighborhoods of Minneapolis.

That’s a total of roughly 1,000 actors in 119 productions, each about 50-minutes in length, playing nightly on nearly a dozen stages. The eclectic and genre-bending fun began last Thursday and runs through this Sunday.

Comedies and musicals? Check. Horror? It’s in there. Kid stuff? Just keep reading. With its grab-bag of amateur and seasoned performers and traditional and experimental theater, the Fringe Festival, which launched in Cedar-Riverside in 1994, has been known to draw some 34,000 to 50,000 attendees over the course of 11 days, or upwards of 3,500 patrons per day.

Stuff to keep in mind: every visitor must buy a $5 pin, good for the entire run of the festival as well as discounts at theater venues year-round. Tickets, which are cashless at the theaters, are $15 for adults and $7 for kids 12 and under (yes, more on that in a second). Online sales carry a $2 surcharge per order, and stop at 11:59 p.m. the night before each show. There are multiple levels of multi-show passes. While masks aren’t required, vaccination cards are, though my experience is it’s hit-or-miss whether you’ll be asked to show proof of a jab.

A full list of venues, performances and schedules is online at minnesotafringe.org. Listings offer brief show and genre descriptions, content warnings and video previews with some behind-the-scenes “making of” highlights. You can even search the Fringe “Full Show List” for a piece by genre, such as “action” or “musical,” and read reviews left by other patrons, which is enormously helpful for those of us with small tots.

A search under “Kid friendly” turns up nine pieces ranging from puppetry to musicals and historical theater.

With the younger set in mind, here are a couple shows that didn’t disappoint. Though there were moments that might push the envelope for an especially sensitive or squeamish kid. Oddly, the audience was mostly full of adults at each performance.

‘BOB AND REGGIE GO TO BED’

“Two idiots,” as the program aptly describes them, “get ready for bed. Complications arise.” With nary a spoken word between them, Comedy Suitcase co-founders Joshua English Scrimshaw and Levi Weinhagen could pass for Bert and Ernie crossed with the characters from “Dumb and Dumber” as they struggle to disrobe and catch a few Zzzs.

It’s a non-verbal physical comedy of errors set to Rhiannon Fiskradatz’s engaging musical accompaniment and slapstick sound effects, which are worthy of a Buster Keaton film, but the real twists and turns come in the second half, when a duel with a surly mythical being — played with aplomb by Sulia Altenberg — sets them on course to break the fourth wall. Be ready to clap along with the music.

Curiously, this family-friendly production led by local veterans of stage comedy debuted at 10 p.m. on Thursday, followed by 8:30 p.m. on Saturday. One hopes the afternoon time slots this week draw more kids. An online note says this show is appropriate for kids ages 7 and up, but this reviewer thinks well-behaved younger ones would find much to enjoy.

Presented by Comedy Suitcase at the Rarig Center Thrust Stage — 5:30 p.m. on Thursday and 5:30 p.m. on Sunday.

‘BELLEROPHON’S SHADOW: VOYAGE OF THE PEGASUS’

A lone space traveler sent to harvest resources for his depleted home planet crash lands on a hostile alien world, only to discover another long-lost voyager’s abandoned space ship — the Pegasus — and a few scrambled audio files logging its past adventures.

What happened to the ambitious Bellerophon, and did his mission to conquer the well-heeled land of Olympus end in divine ascension or a tragedy worthy of the ancient Greeks?

There’s undeniable artistry in this oversized bunraku puppet-driven performance, which combines the creative (and at times athletic) talents of seven on-stage performers and a voice actor playing our hero’s onboard computer. The plot, metaphors and running references to Greek mythology are probably a bit too heady for the younger set, and a limb-severing fight against a Chimera-like Hades monster probably isn’t for every tiny tot. But hey, it’s just a puppet wound.

Despite a somewhat ambiguous finale, patrons of all ages who are fans of puppetry, science fiction and ancient myth should file this space odyssey under “well worth considering.”

Presented by Phantom Chorus Theatre at Augsburg Mainstage — 5:30 p.m., on Tuesday; 7 p.m., on Wednesday; and 4 p.m. on Sunday. The creators dubbed this show appropriate for ages 7 and up. My 5-year-old got a bit squirrely, but even with a front-row seat, he wasn’t scared or scarred.

OTHER KID SHOWS

The MinnesotaFringe.org website does an exemplary job of laying out the who/what/where/when behind each performance, as well as reviews and video sneak peeks. Here’s a few other shows dubbed “kid-friendly” by their creators, as well as age minimums suggested by the creators themselves.

“Beach Play”: Two friends end up washed up on an island, where much goofiness apparently ensues; presented by Virginia Twins at Rarig Center Thrust Stage. Ages 7 and up.

“Cowboy Cat: The Musical!”: A cowgirl searches the old west for long-lost fortune and discovers a cat rancher and other colorful characters; presented by Foxhill Studios at Mixed Blood Theatre. Ages 2 and up.

“Help Me Help You Help Yourself”: Danny Wightkin, a Chicago-based clown and comedian, leads a solo show based on comedy, physical theater and audience participation; presented by Wightkin and director Hannah Baker at Huge Theater. As of Sunday evening, all the online reviews give Wightkin five stars. Ages 7 and up.

“Hope: A Theatrical Dance”: Two potential lovers dance through the years, not quite connecting; presented by Gerry Shannon at CFPA Flex Stage. Ages 16 and up.

“Pajama Stories”: Storyteller Marie G. Cooney mines her personal history, current events and more to engage the audience (and sometimes invite them to participate) through a series of one-woman tales, which vary with each scheduled performance. She opened last week with the kid-friendly “Pajama Stories for All,” focused on pets, but her Monday performance is strictly adults-only and, according to the online description, centers on “workplace harassment, challenging an arrogant male teacher, experiencing excruciating pain; and intimate stories about sex, body image and abuse.” A Friday show is aimed at ages 13 and up, and a Sunday show is audience’s choice. Presented by Marie Cooney Stories at Theatre in the Round.

“People R Ready: The Musical”: College students return to campus and audition for a school musical; presented by James Gutzman/Melody Bay Productions at Rarig Center Thrust Stage. Ages 7 and up.

“WHOOSH! The Civil War Mythology of Michael Hickey and His Perilous Precipitation Over St. Anthony Falls”: Writer-performer Andrew Erskine Wheeler channels civil war soldiers returning to Minnesota in a one-man show that aims to mix history with heart; presented by Wheeler In The Sky at CFPA Black Box Theater. Ages 7 and up.

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