Let me tell you a tale from the fringe of the Fringe.
There is a local actor named John Middleton, currently appearing in “Minnesota Middle Finger.” Middleton appeared in one of my plays about a year back, although “appeared” and “play” aren’t precisely the right words. The performance is called “Sleaze Book Club,” and consists of me giving trashy paperback novels from the mid-20th century to actors, who then prepare a book report and a reading based on the book. Then I call a library, tell them we’re a real book club, and request a meeting room. And that’s it. Middleton produced a typically fine, lively, intelligent book report; he is known for fine, lively, intelligent performances.
He’s also known for bringing gifts of whisky to plays.
This week, John Middleton got it into his head that he wanted to create a drink for the Fringe. He has his own blog at MnPlaylist, and will probably be detailing this there, but I was invited to participate in the selection process, and so will relay my experiences.
Middleton invited about a dozen local theater people, including his fellow castmates in “Minnesota Middle Finger,” who are pictured above with a cocktail and an extended middle finger, although, this being an online news source that does not trade in easy vulgarities, I have blurred the middle fingers. Middleton had us meet at what will remain an undisclosed warehouse space someplace in the Twin Cities, where he had a group of chairs set up in circles, a setup that recalled one of those creepy hard-sell seminars or some sort of thespianic cult. But Middleton had also set up a table in front, covered with liquor bottles, fruits, vegetables, ice, mixers, glasses and a shaker, and immediately started mixing drinks. He had already concocted four cocktails that might serve as the unofficial drink of the Fringe Festival, and wanted to share them with us, to see what our preference was, and also to get names for them.
Middleton had also provided some cheese and a tray of nuts — specifically, pistachio nuts powdered with paprika, which, it turns out, are the exact colors of the T-shirts worn by Fringe volunteers. It also turned out to be an unexpectedly delicious combination, so, lesson learned: Go ahead and create finger food out of fashion choices.
All of Middleton’s drinks had a gin base, which I think might scare away the alcohol neophytes at the Fringe, of which I expect there are many. But everybody makes vodka drinks nowadays to satisfy timid palates. I don’t know that gin adequately represents the experimental or jejune quality of many Fringe plays, but, then, I think most Fringe plays are fairly close to a Buttery Nipple or a vodka and Red Bull, and I wouldn’t have wanted to drink either. Middleton started with a drink made from gin and honey, to which he added dry sherry and rose prosecco, a drink that everybody on hand immediately dubbed the Rose Conseco, which is a terrifically funny name that has absolutely nothing to do with the Fringe at all. The drink was light, effervescent, and easy to swallow, which, again, I don’t necessarily associate with Fringe shows.
At this point, we retired to the nearby bathroom to rinse our glasses. The bathroom had one of those hand driers that blasts heat with the force of a hurricane, pushing your skin back like some horrible special effect from a science-fiction film. I tried to dry my glass in the machine, without much success. I later found out everybody had made the same attempt.
The next drink was gin, cucumber and homemade ginger syrup, which, for tortured reasons, the assembled named Mother Mercy. Gin and cucumber is a very good pairing, and everybody liked the drink quite a lot; this was an early front runner for unofficial Fringe drink. But Middleton had two cocktails left to offer.
His next cocktail was a version of the sidecar, but with a gin, rather than brandy, base. The sidecar is typically offered in a glass with its rim coated with sugar, and Middleton had brought sugar flavored with orange zest. But he was adamant that we only coat half the glass, in reference to the incomplete light-rail line, which has left University Avenue torn to shreds. By itself, the drink was rather sharp, but once the orange-flavored sugar was added, it became sweet and easy to drink. Those assembled named it the Urban Planning, and considered choosing this one over the Mother Mercy.
But Middleton had one last drink, which he warned us might be a disappointment. It was a bit of an oddity — gin, pomegranate molasses acquired from a Middle Eastern grocery store, and whipping cream. Middleton watched us drink it with a nervous look, and was surprised to discover we all liked it. A lot. It’s a bit like a very rare cocktail, the Ramos Gin Fizz, which nobody makes because it requires egg white and orange flower water, and must be shaken continuously and vigorously for something like 30 hours to get the proper consistency. But the results are frothy and sweet and flavored subtly with orange. This was very much like that, but for the flavoring being pomegranate, and the cocktail requiring less work and less obscure ingredients. So here we had a drink that was much better than we had been led to expect, based on its description and its contents. Exactly like a Fringe show.
And so it was mutually agreed that this drink should be called The Fringe. And with that, some of the people staggered away, declaring themselves drunk, and some remained, getting drunker, and somewhere in the city the Fringe Festival continued, as yet unaware that it now had a drink with its name.
A quick note at the end here about an unrelated subject: I will be writing a story about something called “Baby Marx” at the Walker Art Center for tomorrow, but the event begins tonight, and is worth checking out. In brief, the project is the continuation of a project by Mexican artist Pedro Reyes, which was, astonishingly, originally filmed as a television pilot a few years ago. It’s a children’s show that features history’s economists as puppets, who appear as the result of a short-circuiting microwave in a library. Reyes and his crew will be filming scenes of Marx, Lenin, et al. around the Walker for the next week or thereabouts, and tonight will offer an opening lecture about the project at 7 p.m. It’s not often you get a chance to see a children’s show, of sorts, being filmed — much less one that features so many communists. The library set for the show has been set up in one of the galleries, and it’s exquisite, as are the puppets.