Fringe benefits

The greatest theater extravaganza of the year is just getting warmed up.

Keri Carlson

As promised in last week’s edition, here is a compendium of the Fringe Festival plays that the Daily’s Arts staff was able to review. It is essential to remember that this group represents less than 4 percent of the total offerings in this year’s festival. For a look at the entire gamut of Fringe plays and performance, please go to fringefestival.org or pick up one of the free guides to the Fringe available at the venues and around Downtown and south Minneapolis. Following each of our capsules are the venue at which it plays and the remaining show times. – Niels Strandskov

A La Carte: In a Fool’s Kitchen
Circus Minimus’ “A La Carte: In a Fool’s Kitchen” is located somewhere in the hazy intersection of French poet Gerard de Nerval, Stanley Tucci’s film “Big Night” and public television’s “Sesame Street.” The piece, which combines puppetry and live action, is a family friendly show that even the most jaded aesthete can enjoy. The action (and it is all action!) centers around a hapless French chef and the opening day of his new restaurant. The bumbling protagonist is played by Christopher Griffith, who repeats the mantra “je suis un chef professionale” with increasing desperation. His antagonist is a saucy lobster, played by Sheri Aronson. Several audience members are also onstage, playing the restaurant’s customers and junior cooks. Although “A La Carte” is clearly visualized as a children’s play by its creators, the brilliance of its slapstick routines is on par with anything from the glory days of Laurel and Hardy. With the outside world so dreary despite the sunshine, this unassuming puppet show masterfully fulfills its promise to amuse. (Niels Strandskov)

Minneapolis Community and Technical College Main Stage, Friday at 2:30 p.m., Saturday at 5:30 p.m., Sunday at 1:00 p.m.

Look Ma, No Pants:
A Brief History of Comedy

The Scrimshaw Brothers and friends are at their chaotic best in the Fringe Festival iteration of their ongoing revue “Look Ma, No Pants.” Loosely based around a few scripted sketches which retell comedy history from a Scrimshaw perspective, the show also includes the No-Pants Dancers, improv by the Impossibles and a traditional mulling-over of current events by the Scrimshaw Brothers themselves.

Bad improv can be torture to sit through, but luckily the Impossibles are usually right on. They’ve got energy, panache and a well of experience to draw from. The slightly silly pop and modern dance of the No-Pants Dancers makes for an interesting break in the show’s otherwise nonstop barrage of patter. The Scrimshaws are also including a special guest on each night’s bill from other Fringe Festival plays. Combined with their longer-than-average running time, this makes “Look Ma, No Pants” a heck of a comedy bargain. (Niels Strandskov)

Loring Playhouse, Wednesday through Saturday at 11:20 p.m.

Punk Rock Revisited
Following last year’s Fringe hit “Punk Rock Omaha,” comes “Punk Rock Revisited.”

“Punk Rock Revisited” follows three friends, a bratty punk rocker without a band, a spacey and naive poet and a quick-tempered playwright, on their move from Omaha to Chicago. Improv duo Ferrari McSpeedy (Joe Bozic and Michael Fotis) chaotically flip through a number of different characters without costume changes. They simply wave a hand in front of their face with a swoosh sound and switch positions. Because of the pair’s brilliant comedic acting skills, the characters each have a distinct personality. Even in a fight sequence where the actors battle themselves, the characters never blur together. Bozic and Fotis expose the hilarity of 20-somethings figuring out what the hell to do with their lives. They battle through angst, dreams, friendships and a horrible Guns N’ Roses rendition at a friend’s funeral. Bozic and Fotis deliver the perfect comedy with a punk rock punch. This is certainly a must-see at the Fringe. (Keri Carlson)

Brave New Workshop, Wednesday at 7:00 p.m., Friday at 5:30 p.m., Sunday at 8:30 p.m.

Seven Sketches About Love
You would think that in play titled “Seven Sketches About Love,” a warm and mushy feeling would of course be referring to love. But this is the Fringe, and that feeling is certainly not love, but a part of everyday life that’s decidedly more unpleasant. “Seven Sketches” seeks to shock with tales of beating small children, slavery, swearing like sailors and revealing writer and actor Taavo Smith’s genitals. The problem is, when the shock wears off – which it does pretty quickly – there is no humor to back it up. The play has virtually no context and comes across as one long series of horny 15-year-old boy jokes. All Fringe shows come with some reward, however, and “Seven Sketches” might be the best show at which to people watch. Smith’s opening clarification of comedy versus tragedy had the crowd roaring. The momentum spilled into the next scene but slowly the laughter became more uncomfortable and the audience began shifting in their seats. By the fourth sketch, it was more fun to watch the disgusted faces heading toward the exits than the play itself. (Keri Carlson)

Brave New Workshop, Monday at 7:00 p.m., Wednesday at 4:00 p.m., Friday at 7:00 p.m., Saturday at 1:00 p.m.

Unleash the Hounds!
Religion, politics and cultural criticism are serious matters. That doesn’t stop Dean J. Seal from exposing those topics and more to his razor-sharp wit in his one-man show “Unleash the Hounds!” A staged reading in three parts, “Unleash the Hounds!” starts off with a wrenching look at Mt. Rushmore, using Gutzon Borglum’s gigantic presidential faces as a jumping-off point for a discussion of the Native American genocide and the history of the United States as an empire. On a lighter note, Seal reads his parody of “The Raven,” laying into David Letterman and consumerism. A parody-within-a-parody of the song “Rock Island” from “The Music Man” is worth the price of admission by itself. The show closes with Seal’s meditations on religion, theater and gay liberation in a reading called “Jerry Fallwell Is a Homophobic Jackass.” While Seal’s political line is fairly rudimentary, he does a good job explaining the subject matter in a very accessible way. However, even if you’ve already spent a fair amount of time thinking about derogatory sports team names or the perfidy of the Christian right, “Unleash the Hounds!” offers a fresh, funny perspective on these weighty issues. (Niels Strandskov)

Loring Playhouse, Tuesday at 10:00 p.m., Thursday at 7:00 p.m., Saturday at 8:30 p.m.