THE FRINGE FESTIVAL IS SO EXCITING: new work is busting out, artists are taking risks by making The Show They’ve Always Wanted to Make; audiences have tons of shows to choose from and they can see them for less than Guthrie rush line ticket prices. Seriously, it just can’t be beat.
But let’s face it: The Fringe Festival sometimes feels like a popularity contest. Who gets the most kitties? Who has the longest lines? Who’s playing to sold-out houses? (Sorry to whomever’s at the proscenium stage -- no one sells out all those seats). And of course, there’s the biggest honor: getting called back for the Encore Performance. So you sold the most tickets? Fantastic. The Fringe wants you to do the show one more time. To sell more tickets.
If there were awards for Fringe Class Clown being handed out on opening weekend this year, The Gay Banditos would definitely be a hot pick. Produced by the Mechanical Division, the script was written by two of the show’s performers, Ben Thietje and Bobby Gardner. The setting is North Carolina, where an innocent hetero nuclear family, the Millers, find their dinner interrupted by the Gay Banditos, an ever-growing gang whose main objective is to change heterosexuals’ orientation by forcing them to watch male-bodied, same-sex couples get it on. In so doing, one gay convert at a time, the Banditos eventually hope to take over the world.
Performers Christine Karki, Tom Karki, Patrick Kozicky, and the playwrights invite the audience to listen in on personal interviews about their reactions and feelings towards this shocking event. The play, ironically, is structurally very similar to The Laramie Project.
The actors have spot-on comedic timing, playing off stereotypes to great effect but also enacting their characters persuasively, with wide-eyed fear and surprise. The production, overall, is funny. But, with The Gay Banditos, having such skilled actors makes the show’s just-OK script look way better than it is. The story, although funny, isn’t fresh. Focused primarily on the stereotype of a white, Southern, hetero-normative nuclear family, the script barely touches on the diversity and complexity surrounding issues of same-sex equality in the United States. Instead, the playwrights make sweeping generalizations about both same-sex couples (specially, male same-sex couples) and the people that are fighting to define marriage as “one woman and one man.”
I hope audiences will think critically about the way The Gay Banditos represents the “other” side of the debate. How can we expect to change minds of those we disagree with if we offer unfair generalizations of their viewpoints? Maybe the first step toward finding common ground, like the Miller family learns, begins with recognizing we’re all human -- complex, changeable, and three-dimensional -- no matter where we’re situated in this conversation.
Reserve tickets early if if you’re interested in catching The Gay Banditos. If this show’s on your “maybe” list, consider this: The Mechanical Division is donating net profits from ticket sales to Minnesotans United for All Families, and that’s pretty cool.
Related links and performance details:
The Gay Banditos is showing at the U of M Rarig Center Thrust in Minneapolis for just two more shows: Saturday, 8/11 at 1 pm and Sunday, 8/12 at 7 pm. Find additional information on this show’s Fringe web page: http://www.fringefestival.org/2012/show/?id=2247. “Like” the company on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/TheMechanicalDivision
Find reviews, ticket info and more on the Fringe Festival website: www.fringefestival.org/
Check back on the homepage regularly throughout the Fringe Festival, August 2 – 12, for more short reviews on mnartists.org, sent in from our intrepid performance critics on the scene.
About the author: Amber Davis is an actor, puppeteer, stage manager, and teaching artist in the Twin Cities. Davis has worked with the Walker Arts Center and Open Eye Theatre, The Jungle Theater, The Children’s Theater, Orchestra Hall, Free Arts Minnesota, Mu Performing Arts, Savage Umbrella, Aporia Theatre, and Chameleon Theatre Circle. She co-organizes Wheel Sexy, a bicycle cabaret and burlesque show. Savage Umbrella's most recent project, Davis directed and designed The Golden Carp, a new chamber opera.