Minnesota Fringe Festival Day 3: Who’s Afraid of Winnie the Pooh?(Winner of The Stages of MN Fringe of the Day Award!), Pajama Stories (For Children, All, Adults Only), A Day With the Newhearts, Slender Vale, Swords & Sorcery: The Improvised Fantasy Campaign.

Who’s Afraid of Winnie the Pooh? In which Pooh and Piglet attempt to crush each others souls while Christopher and Hunny watch on in horror. Today’s Winner of the Stages of MN Fringe of the Day Award. Combining the world of Winnie the Pooh with the bitter marital games of Edward Albee’s classic play is anything but obvious. They seem like strange bedfellows but once you see it, well, it fits so perfectly it seems shocking that no one thought of it before. But then you think, who in the hell would EVER think of doing this? Thank God writer Alexander Gerchak did! The script, the performances, and the cross pollination of these disparate ideas is dead brilliant. Endlessly inventive, the premise never runs out of steam and holds true until the very end. It shouldn’t work but, it really works! Word of mouth should turn this into a hit. It’s easily the most accomplished script and production I’ve seen so far at Fringe. The entire cast is great but a special shout out to Thomas Buan as Winnie, best dramatic performance so far. Knowledge of the works of A.A. Milne regarding Pooh Bear and Edward Albee’s play Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? are not required but will greatly enhance your enjoyment of the play.


Pajama Stories (For Children, All, Adults Only) written and performed by Marie G. Cooney is a wonderfully expressive and engaging storyteller. You can tell that she is gifted at connecting with young children. That is the common theme in her storytelling, interactions she has with young people and it’s almost a class for us the audience in how to engage with them ourselves. The issue is that in most cases we, the audience are not children. The delivery ever so slightly pushes the tolerance level. What keeps it from crossing the line is our knowledge of how effective it is with the people in her stories. The other issue is that a couple of the stories are best enjoyed by people who know the children in the story.


A Day With the Newhearts is a play that explores the dark underbelly of the typical suburban Minnesota neighborhood. Taking the form of a 1950’s sitcom the show skewers the form as well as the idea of “MN nice”. It’s a lot of fun performed by a cast that nails the plastic sitcom presentation while also showing us the fear, anger, and menace underneath. It’s a crowd pleasing show no doubt. The character work is great, the set, props, costumes all first rate, the idea is ripe with possibilities. Yet the whole is a little less than the sum of its parts. It loses something in the last 10 minutes, it crosses a line that takes it from quirkily off, to a place irredeemably unreal. But, the parts are kind of a blast!


Slender Vale is an improv horror show. Improv and horror are two genres that I generally enjoy. The combination of the two should be really interesting. Maybe it can work, but tonight it didn’t really ever get into a groove. When you think about it, Horror in itself is a genre that routinely fails to stick the landing. There our hundreds of horror novels, movies, TV episodes, and yes plays that are really effective right up until the end, and then kind of lets you down. Horror is hard to write well, it really shouldn’t be a surprise that a genre that relies heavily on a well crafted and constructed build up and a satisfying end doesn’t lend itself well to being made up on the fly. a Horror story without a plan would require and uncanny amount of luck to successfully pull off. Sure there are individual moments and performers that worked. The darkened basement for example and everything Tom Reed said. But as a whole it never felt like it had any sense of direction. The performers seemed to constantly be thwarting each other and anything that looked like a promising development plot wise. I wrote all of these thoughts down before I saw the final show of the day, or it might have been less favorable.


Swords & Sorcery: The Improvised Fantasy Campaign is improv that worked at the highest level. It’s basically a Dungeons and Dragons game played out live with a Game Master narrating the story which directs the performers on what to do next. When the characters wish to do battle they tell the Game Master and he rolls his 20 sided die to determine if they are successful or not. The performances are serialized and will carry on the story from wherever it ended the previous performance. This flowed beautifully, organically the performers seemed to sense the best direction to take things and never seemed to be struggling with what to do or say next. The entire cast was brilliant but highlights being the two Tylers, Michaels King and Mills. The biggest laugh undoubtedly went to Maria Bartholdi for her sandmetary line. What a Fringe Bartholdi is having, not only is she brilliant in this but she also co wrote and directed Endometriosis: The Musical which won The Stages Of MN Fringe of the Day Award yesterday. This show was so much fun I wish I could take in each performance! It was a fairly full house, so this might be one to line up for early or reserve your seat for.


Don’t want to miss a single Fringe review from The Stages of MN? You can subscribe and have each post delivered directly to your email. On your computer from the home page on the right, enter your email address and click subscribe. On your mobile device scroll to the bottom of the page and do the same. Also, you can follow me on Facebook, search @thestagesofmn and click follow and on Instagram thestagesofmn.