Minnesota Fringe Festival Day 11 The Final day: Bonny & Read, The Real Black Swann: Confessions of America’s First Black Drag Queen, Bellerophon’s Shadow: Voyage of the Pegasus, and Black Wall Street: Dreamland Theatre (Winner of The Stages of MN Fringe of the Day Award).

Bonny & Read is a musical about two female pirates written, directed, and starring Kendra Braunger and Carissa Christenson. The music consists of existing pirate songs, you know the type, “Drunken Sailor” “Blow the Man down,” which are all well sung by the cast from Christenson’s arrangements. It’s an interesting story based on two real life women. For the show their tale is told by two historians who narrate from high backed chairs on either side of the stage. Towards the end the narrator angle is abandoned, which proves to be short sighted. The show that flows along nicely up until that point ends up dragging at the end and the final resolution could have been a lot clearer. The show contains some of the best sword fight choreography I’ve seen on stage.


The Real Black Swann… is the show that, more than any other at the Fringe Festival, gave me a better understanding of what it is like to walk in someone else’s shoes, which is quite an accomplishment at Fringe because there are a lot of shows that do a good job of creating empathy. Les Kurkendaal Barrett shares the story of William Dorsey Swann, a former slave who became the first black Drag Queen in the late 1800’s. He intersperses Swann’s story with details of his own life as a black man in todays America through the storytelling convention of a dream brought on by anesthesia during a surgery. It’s powerful, funny and really effective at helping me, a white middle aged man, understand what everyday life is like for a black man in our times.


Bellerophon’s Shadow: Voyage of the Pegasus is a puppet show that blends a science fiction story with Greek mythology. The technique of using humans in sight of the audience to not only control the puppet but also to act as the structures, creatures, and elements like the sea, is really effective. This was a show that just happened to fit in a free slot I had in the location I had shows schedule before and after it. It looked interesting and unlike anything else I had seen at Fringe yet. It’s what we call a happy Fringident. I’m so glad I caught this inventive and creative journey into the outer limits of the universe.


My Dance With Lisa is a one woman show about a former architect now working as an overnight security guard in the Louvre who watches over the Mona Lisa. To stay awake and because she needs someone to talk to, she tries to engage the painting in conversation. It’s not a fantasy play, the Mona Lisa does not talk back. But through monologue we learn of the disappointments that have led her to this place. It’s performed well by Gina Sauer, but the script isn’t terribly original or interesting. There’s nothing to her story but a failed marriage and bitterness that comes from not moving on but dwelling on things that didn’t work out as we hoped. It’s tricky because it’s like listening to your Mom’s friend complain about her divorce that happened 10 years ago; you feel bad for her, but you don’t really want to hear about it for an hour. The only thing that saves this from being exactly like that is Sauer’s performance and the fact that they keep the divorce issue under wraps for the first half of the show, so you are kept going out of curiosity of what is up with this woman, what is she down about?


Black Wall Street… is The Stages of MN Fringe of the Day Award winner. This tells the story of a piece of history that I only became aware of when I watched The Watchmen TV series last year. Set in the Dreamland Theatre on the day of the Tulsa Oklahoma race massacre. A screening of a film is interrupted by reports that a young black man, Dick Rowland, who had been arrested mistakenly for attempted assault of a white woman but was going to be released was about to be lynched. The Black patrons of the theatre band together to head over to the jailhouse to make sure that doesn’t happen. There is a discussion between the patrons and their white friends about getting involved. When the black theatergoers leave to try and save Rowland, we see the white friends left alone in the theater. We hear and, via a projected clip from The Watchmen, see the the beginnings of what led to one of the deadliest terrorist attacks in our country. The show makes the audience feel as if we are part of the audience in the theater way back in May of 1921. It’s brilliantly acted in particularly Charla Marie Bailey and Dante Pirtle as Loula and John Williams the theater owners and Camrin King as Emma Gurley, Loula’s best friend. Doc Woods directs from a script by Atlese Robinson. Together they have found the perfect way to tell this story to an audience of all races. Certainly we all felt differently if we were black or white. As a white man I was angered and shocked and unable to understand that world of 1921. If I was a black and sitting in that audience what would I have felt? Maybe a lot of those same feelings, maybe a lot of other feelings as well. They made a point at the end during a talk back of pointing out this is not “black” history it is American history. We all need to know this story and we shouldn’t have to wait until we are 50 years old to learn about it in a TV series adapted from a superhero comic book.


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