The ‘Fringe’ benefits of living in Twin Town

The play’s the thing, Hamlet once said, and the lad’s got a point. There’s plenty of interesting theater to go around.

Adri Mehra

Welcome back, you finely defined battalions of preppies and nerds, to this nightmare on Oak Street we sometimes not-so-ironically refer to as a – laugh track followed by a Full House-quality “aww” here – state institution.

I’m here to tell you, to let you know, that the towels look a little different in the shared bathroom of your souls this fall.

Your mission – should you choose to accept it – is brief, concise and straight to the point:

People, if you don’t go to see at least three plays this year, y’all asses gon’ get smacked.

Consider yourselves warned.

Of course, I mean this in the best possible way. That is to say, if you go without treating your pablum-fed, Gerber-grown, stage-starved ids and superegos to some dern tootin’, clapboard-traversin’ thee-ay-terr this term, I will personally e-mail the computer science T.A. listserv your Facebook password, and if half an hour later any recognizable pixels remain from your shamelessly Photo-shopped senior high school pic, consider your dignity relatively spared.

There is really no longer any excuse not to be partaking in what is clearly the richest and fastest-growing reservoir of new dramatic talent in North America – and points beyond.

Yes, Minnesota’s annual Fringe Festival – that decade-old summer bastion of amateur art and madness that floods theater houses and bohemian districts in our fair city for 10 days every August – is second in popularity only to the face-melting international melee held in Edinburgh, Scotland for three weeks late in every summer since 1947.

Someone call Nobel – there’s got to be a high-chair at the table for this little baby feat.

Hey, that sounds great for the thespian geek squad, but what’s in it for you, you ask? Nothing

but the best seat in the house for what increasingly seen as the nation’s best place to see as well as develop plays and performances – maybe even yours.

Need proof that someone not willingly head-first into Bertolt Brecht’s sexual taboos can do theatre?

Look no further than the most unlikely of stage stars former Minnesota Vikings defensive tackle Esera Tuaolo.

After a decade dedicated to obliterating running backs with his 300-plus frame, Tuaolo told Oprah he was gay and proceeded to tackle his first loves – raising his two young children and singing his big little heart out.

Last year the lovable lineman made his solo writing and performing debut in his highly anticipated hourlong piece, “For the Rest of My Life,” at the Illusion Theater in downtown Minneapolis for the 2005 Fringe. In the show, he took the audience on a journey into his past, from his early years in the Hawaiian Islands to the fragile machismo of professional sports and up to his newfound domestic bliss.

So why the tale of Tuaolo, himself the purple Prince of postpartum pride?

Only to blitz your current constructions of who and what constitutes theater. It doesn’t take a born-again Beckett bozo to be brave and truthful in front of an audience. And if Tuaolo could survive nine years working out of Denny Green’s playbook, telling his life story probably ain’t no thang.

The point is, to embrace the opportunity to catch live theater in the Twin Cities. Whether you’re a spectator, a costume designer or Laughing Guard number three, you are a part of the dynamism and electricity that is powering the engine of creativity that is presently outrunning New York, Los Angeles and Chicago in its consistency and quality of output. Did you know that as a result of this recent but long-simmering phenomenon, Minnesota has more theaters (and theater seats) per capita than anywhere outside of Broadway in New York?

That’s OK, neither did Denny Green. (Know how to coach a football team? That’s OK, too – neither did Denny Green, long known to Metrodome visitors as the Badyear Blimp.)

Hey, maybe football is nothing more than bad physical improv theater – similar to boxing’s misnomered-tag as “ballet with violence.”

Put it this way: For local theater, the stakes may have been lowered, but the bar has never been higher. Established playwrights and directors get to take risks that could never set a foot on the corner of 42nd Street and Broadway. And schmoos like you and me get to watch them, or – better yet – make them watch us.

Remember – three plays this year. If my spies catch you at Burrito Loco karaoke on opening night, I’ll bite you faster than a regent at a GC protest.

Adri Mehra welcomes comments at [email protected]