MANKATO — Two years ago, Mankato playwright Esther Hoffmann was converted during the Minnesota Fringe Festival.
Until then, she had only been an audience member, largely content to keep her writing to herself. But it was during one of the annual theater festival’s hundreds of performances when her own creative muse began overwhelming the self-doubts that had kept her work closeted from the public.
“I thought to myself, ‘It’s time to start sharing.’”
With that declaration, Hoffmann hasn’t wavered.
In just a year’s time, she has staged several of her plays through Mankato Mosaic, a collection of local actors, directors and playwrights who produce several shows each year, including the popular “Bar Tales” series. She also played a lead role in the Blue Earth Reader Workshop’s recent performance of Tom Barna’s dark drama, “The Matriarchy.”
Two of Hoffmann’s plays that were included in recent Bar Tales performances will now be included in Mankato Mosaic’s Fringe performance.
“It is exciting,” Hoffmann said. “This is what happens when I try.”
Mankato Mosaic’s show is actually a collection of four short plays. Titled “Shorts in a Bundle,” the show includes Mitch DeDeyn’s “Puppet Love” and Jan O’Connor’s “Gayby’s Playdate” as well as Hoffmann’s two plays: “How to Speak New Age” and “A Little Pick Me Up.”
Hoffmann originally wrote “A Little Pick Me Up” as a stand-up comedy routine for a friend. She re-wrote it for Mosaic into a two-person play about a woman whose dating life has become so dysfunctional, she decides to date herself.
“How to Speak new Age” is about two co-workers: one of whom grew up speaking New Age, and the other of whom is going on a date with a woman who speaks New Age. So, the first co-worker must attend the date to translate.
Hoffmann said the play is a response to her frustration with the passive-aggressive proclivity to say something that appears non-confrontational or profound, but conceals a hidden (and often more sinister) message.
For instance, Hoffmann offered this example: “When people say, ‘He’s on his own journey,’ they really mean: ‘He’s an idiot.’
“It just seems that in modern life, instead of dealing with you, people will hand you some Zen phrase.”
Hoffmann said her work is characterized by wordplay and dysfunctional humor. And she added she’s excited to see how the Mankato Mosaic’s actors and directors illustrate her work.
“It’s in their hands now,” she said. “As a playwright, you kind of have to let go.”
Tough act to follow
Travis DePaul Berg had a tough assignment for this year’s submission to the Fringe Festival.
Last year, his play “Robot Lincoln” garnered more than its share of attention for its quirky, historical subject matter -- and even more for the cover shot of a robotified Abe that landed the play on the cover of the City Pages. The recent Minnesota State University graduate said he felt a certain amount of pressure to follow up last year’s submission.
In “Behind the Big Top”, Berg lifts the veil on circus clowns, peeling back the canvas tent to reveal the pathetic, desperate lives behind the clowns’ ever-smiling facade.
“It’s the job of the clown to laugh and make people happy,” he said. “But what if they’re miserable themselves?”
In what he classified as “definitely a dark comedy,” Berg features an enticing cast of characters, from Whammo the alcoholic, to a heroine-addicted clown who eschews speaking for horn-honking, to a pair of clowns that double as sex addicts (but are not interested in each other).
Berg’s cast is comprised primarily of fellow MSU graduates, including Meredith Larson (director), Annie Dosh, Libby Slater, Ryan Thorsen and Andy Gullickson. He credited his alma mater and said the Fringe Festival is a good place to showcase MSU’s theatre department.
“Word definitely gets around with how good of a department we have,” Berg said.