MPLS.TV x Fringe: The Shat, The Shakes, The Horror

Hi kids, I’m Nick Decker: Improviser, Actor, former Villain of the Fringe! I’ve been to a lot of Fringe shows, and I’d like to think I know what’s worth seeing.  Please let me know that you disagree. And let me know what you think I should see!


The Complete Works of William Shatner (abridged)

It’s probably fair to refer to William Shatner as a cultural punching-bag, and based on his post-millennial career, he’d likely agree. The Complete Works of William Shatner (abridged) enthusiastically shares the sentiment and relishes lambasting Canada’s premier ex-pat. Though for a premise so clever, it feels so unfair when the show deflates halfway.


Production company Snikt! Bamf! Thwipt! front-loads the show with the most recognizable of Star Trek jokes, with Windy Bowlsby capturing the essence of what makes Shatner’s Captain Kirk a shining example of bravado. Yet once the jokes stray from that familiar nerd touchstone, the show loses track of what it wants to say about the man, as opposed to the clichés that surround him. But Officer T. J. Hooker and the Priceline Negotiator are always going to feel flat compared to Captain Kirk.


Complete Works is unavoidable for any fan of The Shat, and any casual Trek fan will find a lot to love in this show, and a strong, earnest ending helps regain the show’s lost momentum. And ultimately, it reveres the man pop-culture loves to make fun of. William Shatner doesn’t need redemption, but it’s a pleasure to see it offered anyway.



Tales from a Twisted Universe

 A series of five thematically connected one-acts, Tales from a Twisted Universe strains and suffers under an  external factor that writer/director Mic Weinblatt cannot control: the Fringe’s time constraints. While all five pieces are ostensibly comedies, it’s difficult to find a place to laugh as the actors spill out their dialogue as quickly and loudly as possible.


It’s jarring to take in the forced intensity and unrestrained chaos, and the characters never quite click with no room to breathe. It’s all too easy to imagine a director more concerned with a stopwatch. The strongest part of this show, the solo piece “A Lovely Day for a Polar Bear,” succeeds because actor Matt Saxe allows for his character to react to his surroundings rather than run a clockwork routine.


The lack of moderated pacing kills this show. Perhaps cutting the weakest of the five pieces, Gesundheit, would have given the other four one-acts the extra time needed for the jokes to decompress. Without those downbeats, it’s mostly 50 minutes of being shouted at.



Shakespeare Ate My Brain!

Inevitably,  the Minnesota Fringe is destined to have Shakespeare and zombies (and sometimes both in the same production). Audiences never seem to tire of the Bard, but it’s no surprise that zombie fatigue is settling on the fest, and pop-culture at large. So when OAFtrax finds something new to do with the genre, the rotten subject matter gets a fresh take. And the show even manages to get away with being (somewhat) educational.


Cleverly remarking upon and summarily eschewing the traditional zombie tropes, Shakespeare Ate My Brain! revels in the camp of theatrics, stage curses, and horror comedy. Barry Shay and Jeffery Goodson shine as the two greatest (and undead) of history’s Shakespearean actors, Richard Burbage and Edwin Thomas Booth. The chemistry between the two bickering friends/rivals is solid, and the leads clearly have the most fun possible ribbing local theater targets and venues attached to bowling alleys.


This show is unrelenting in its humorous momentum. It’s smarter than it has any right to be. Damnit, I’ll say it: It’s infectious.



Fear and Trembling

phillip low lets the audience know near the beginning of his storyteller show Fear and Trembling that he’s written a love story to Minneapolis. But it’s never directly to Minneapolis, as his vignettes of comedy, horror, and fantasy explore themes that permeate a metropolis: self-imposed exile from the small town, the isolation and cruel objectivity of city life, and the history and myths that influence and arise from a mass of people confined to blocks, looking for significant emotional connection.


low excels at horror, and his two-part story of “The Cable Guy” is his strongest, most resonant piece, but his story of myths influencing the sense of self, “The Girl Who Was Frightened of Nothing,” is as good a summation as any of a love story not about a city but about the individuals who contribute to the stories of a city.