Our team of NUVO reviewers gave the following performances either five or four-and-a-half stars. (We'll have a rundown of the four star reviews available here in moments!) The plays are arranged alphabetically.
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This one person show features a talented cross-dressing Aussie whose voice will send chills down your spine and whose lyrics will put a smile on your face. Character comedian Selina Jenkins dons a beard and a cowboy hat for her male character: Beau Heartbreaker, a dairy farmer from the outback of Australia. Jenkins uses her velvety voice and unique sense of humor to illustrate important and topical issues, but never with a heavy hand. It is Flight of the Conchords meets Hedwig and the Angry Inch meets Ron Swanson's alter ego Duke Silver. Let yourself fall in love with Beau Heartbreaker. — Katelyn Coyne
IndyFringe Theatre, Saturday, 9 p.m.; Sunday, 1:30 p.m.
Fruit Flies Like a Banana: 21 Things They Won’t Teach You at Julliard The Fourth Wall
This show made me weep, it was so beautiful and fun. “Pick another card! Quickly!” Audience members read each card aloud and the Fourth Wall people run to gather the tuba or the tiny piano or whatever is needed for that lesson. We race against the clock to complete all 21 lessons in the pack before the hour is up. But inside each lesson, nothing is rushed. There is exactly enough time to experience everything from the music of silence to how not to bow. Hybrid artists C. Neil Parsons, Hilary Abigana, and Greg Jukes blend dance, music, and comedy into gift after gift for us, neatly credited and exquisitely performed. — Hope Baugh
Cook Theatre, Wednesday, 7:30 p.m.; Saturday, 1:30 p.m.; Sunday, 6 p.m.
Darwin vs Rednecks
Irreverent and unapologetically liberal, Stewart Huff guides the audience through his own theories about what he believes actually makes humans different from other animals. This isn’t a lecture but a vehicle for Huff to describe the simple profundities of life in a grand and very engaging manner. Darwin vs Rednecks will make you laugh at the absurdities of flawed and circular arguments and reflect about your own abilities to discern fact from fiction. Don’t let the title fool you. The show's not as much about evolution as it is about fostering and maintaining curiosity in the world we share. — Tarah Cantrell
ComedySportz, Wednesday, 7:30 p.m.; Saturday, 7:30 p.m.; Sunday, 4:30 p.m.
The Real McCoy
Brent McCoy: Comedy That Works
Unlike in The Secret Circus, in which he and his wife play British spies, in this solo show, Brent McCoy is himself, Vermont accent and all. Part juggler, part comedian, part (family-friendly) strip teaser, McCoy can engage an all-ages audience like no one else. You don’t feel manipulated, though. You laugh a lot and leave feeling relaxed and happy. It's basically the same juggling show he did the last time he was here, but his skills are as impressive as ever. And now the show is on the small Cook Theatre stage, which makes it feel new and even more difficult. — Hope Baugh
Cook Theatre, Thursday, 7:30 p.m.; Saturday, 4:30 p.m.; Sunday, 3 p.m.
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The Secret Circus
The Secret Circus
This is the hilarious story of two nerdy-sexy characters, Agent Honeymoon and Agent Butterfly, and their death-defying (or at least broken-bone-and-broken-chandelier-defying) journey to accomplish their mission. I'd like to think it is also the story of Brent and Maya McCoy’s marriage. He lifts her, she lifts him, upside down, back and forth, balancing each other no matter what sharp knives or other distractions come flying through the air. And really, isn’t everyone’s marriage a secret circus understood only by the people inside it? Anyway, this show has completely different content from Brent McCoy’s solo show, but is similar in terms of impressive skills and joyful audience engagement. — Hope Baugh
Cook Theatre, Friday, 9 p.m.; Saturday, 6 p.m.; Sunday, 1:30 p.m.
Star Luck Café
Red Boat Productions
“Thrush” (Deb Mullins) opens this inspired production by strumming her guitar and singing about the Star Luck Café and its customers. “People come to share ideas as if someone might care,” she sings. But café owner Dizzy (Kevin Johnson) at first seems not to care. He’s seen too many poets like Moonshine (Allison Reddick) and Getty (Clay Mabbitt) walk through his door. “Your shit is paradise to a fly,” he says. Such exchanges between Dizzy and his customers suggest that great poetry cannot be written in vacuum, that it requires an exchange of ideas that WiFi-free coffee houses like Star Luck provide. Get ready for deft discourses about art and life, lightning-quick wordplay, and Moonshine’s svelte, sexy dancing. — Dan Grossman
Phoenix Basile Theatre, Thursday, 9 p.m.; Saturday, 6 p.m.; Sunday, 6 p.m.
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Forgive me if I borrow a line from David Hoppe's review of 7(x1) Samurai from 2009, when it most recently played the Fringe: “Watching Gaines you understand why people started calling certain kinds of performances 'plays.'” I'll second the thought: It's a joy to watch Gaines play just about the entire cast of Seven Samurai — from townspeople to samurai to brigands — employing only a couple masks (to differentiate the good and bad guys) and, of course, his lifetime of experience as a clown and mime. I suspect you'd get more out of it if you'd seen the film recently; even though Gaines takes pains to differentiate each samurai, it can be a little tough to follow the action. But who cares about the plot? The way Gaines acts out battles between samurai and brigands, miming blood spurting and intestine unfurling, is downright ingenious and hilarious without losing a certain gravity. — Scott Shoger
TOTS Main Stage, Friday, 6 p.m.; Saturday, 6 p.m.; Sunday, 3 p.m.
American History XXX
Disclaimer: If you don't like to read or don't have a vast knowledge of current events and culture, then this show is not for you. (But then again, you probably wouldn’t be reading NUVO right now, would you?) Byrnes seems to have a knack for broaching controversial subjects, including but not limited to racism and vegetarianism, with a voice both hilarious and at times uncomfortable to swallow in the best of ways. Witty, smart anecdotes cover topics such as parenting and dealing with millennials, intertwined with politically and historically motivated stand-up that may lead you to reevaluate your worldview. — Tarah Cantrell
ComedySportz, Wednesday, 9 p.m.; Thursday, 6 p.m.; Friday, 7:30 p.m.; Saturday, 4:30 p.m.
At the outset of this feat of virtuoso storytelling, Loren Niemi — a modern day Scheherazade — gives his audience a choice. Should he begin his tale with the baker, the contessa, the mapmaker or the widow? These are the main characters from a world of stories that owes something to the Arabian Nights but really just exists in Niemi’s gray matter. That is to say, he has never written any of this down. In said world, there are oases, high towers, and the titular destination, where not everyone can stay. But you just might want to return to watch a repeat performance. Niemi’s stage presence is utterly captivating and no two of his performances are exactly alike. — Dan Grossman
Phoenix Basile Theatre, Wednesday, 7:30 p.m.; Saturday, 3 p.m.
This radio show could also be called “Stacked” — there are so many intellectual and humorous layers to it, all so seamlessly integrated that it's fun rather than suffocating. It even includes two dance breaks. The actors read from scripts on music stands, with a couple of foley artists (Matt and Holly Sommers) off to the side, and the studio audience acting as chorus on command. All of the actors are excellent. Bob Barton, Travis DiNicola, Sue Grizzell, and Ken Oguss play multiple roles. Playwright Bob Sander is the Narrator and Jim Poyser is adorable as the semi-psychotic Jack, of Jack and the Beanstalk fame. — Hope Baugh
Cook Theatre, Thursday, 9 p.m.; Saturday, 3 p.m.
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Wildly inventive tale of slacker Mitchell (whose obsessions include online gaming and fast food), his long-suffering female partner Con (Constance Macy) and the characters of a fantasy contest called “Battle Ax.” In a moment alone with Mitchell’s laptop, Con begins communicating with game character Jenevive (Jen Johansen on stilts in a literally towering performance) and the two begin empowering one another in both their respective worlds. Rob Johansen, handling the roles of Mitchell and two Battle Ax characters, proves again he’s one hell of a character actor and Macy is spot on, too. Loaded with priceless moments and resonant lines that’ll stay with you long after the final bow, this one’s both funny and thoughtful. — Ed Wenck
Phoenix Main Stage, Wednesday, 7:30 p.m; Saturday, 4:30 p.m.; Sunday, 6 p.m.
Petunia and Chicken
Based on the works of Willa Cather, this sweet love story is set at the turn of last century on the difficult farming terrain of Nebraska. It is here that newly transplanted immigrant Petunia meets, falls in love with, and eventually separates from Chicken, a local farm boy. The two characters (as well as several others) are played with exquisite timing by real-life married couple Carrie Brown and Karim Muasher, who also act as each other’s props and sound effects throughout. From its delightful introduction to its rousing and heartwarming climax, this is minimalist theater at its absolute finest. — Laurence Brown
800 Bloc, Thursday, 9 p.m.; Saturday, 3:00 p.m.