While the Playwrights’ Center only seats 75, a sellout is a sellout, and that’s what greeted the first performance of “Two Short Operas” Thursday night at the Minnesota Fringe Festival. Producers Dead Composers Society must have been thrilled, and the audience got a polished, enjoyable show in return.
Though the Fringe has a reputation for seat-of-the-pants productions, there have always been pieces that are probably ready for a more-traditional run.
Of course, for opera to work on any level, it needs a certain amount of polish, or it¹s just going to come out all screechy. The two pieces, “Mr. Berman’s Bath-Size Bar” and “There’s a Mastodon in My Backyard” side with the absurd. In each of writer/composer Stephen Houtz’s works (with a libretto by Cynthia Houtz on “Mastodon”) miscommunication and rising frustration are the order of the day. The five performers are more than up to their tasks ¬ not just of the score but also of the comedic depths of their characters.
About 45 minutes after “Two Short Operas,” a more typical first-night Fringe show hit the Playwrights’ Center stage. “I’ll Kick Puppies for You” takes a hard look at love. It’s certainly not a novel topic, but one that is done with some sharpness and insight.
The string of sketches center roughly on Ophelia, as she goes from childhood to maturity, buttressed by love and loss at every turn. It’s best when siding with the absurd. The show’s attempts at more serious topics (suicide, impending death) don¹t hit it off as well, and the performers seem a bit at sea in these moments. Still, there’s enough good in this 45-minute show to hopefully draw bigger houses in the future.
All of this is just the start. These two shows represent a bit more than 1 percent of the total offerings of this year¹s festival. Look for more reports on the Festival next week.
For show times and more information, go to the Fringe Festival site online.