Part dance performance, part puppet theater, part carnival side-show, Bedlam Theatre’s annual fire-fest was a wonderful spectacle, well worth seeing. The flaming whip, fire fans, and burning dresses alone were, dare I say, “cool.”

Insert more cheap fire jokes here.

Still, The Burning Ones: The Origin of Flame felt rough around the edges, and left me disappointed, as director Rah Kojis didn’t really step beyond the “wow factor” inherent in any fire show.

The production is loosely based around a bedtime story read by an exasperated father to his children, about a mad scientist whose discovery of fire sparks something in his neighbors, a love of flame that supposedly changes their lives forever. The story is told through a series of dances and vignets filled with a mix of dances built around flaming props and fire-spitting; narration is provided partly by shadow puppets and partly by the father character as he reads to his children.

Overlooking technical problems with the father-narrator’s wireless microphone (the show is held outdoors, in Bedlam’s parking lot) and the occasional under-fueled torch (performers conserve their fuel for the last weekend of the show), the performance nonetheless felt sketch-like and pregnant with unfulfilled potential. Performers in synchronized dance pieces were frequently out-of-sync, and in a few dance-oriented scenes, intriguing movements and themes were introduced, but the performers almost always held back from expanding on them. Perhaps this is because, beyond the simple storyline above, it’s not clear that Kojis intended to explore any particular themes other than the sheer, undeniable coolness of being brave enough to do anything with flaming swords, umbrellas, and fans in your hands.

Perhaps this is something Kojis, one of the Twin Cities’ premier fire artists, could step beyond in future shows. Some dancers had started to play with the shapes created by their props, and there were hints of passion in parts of a few pieces — fire gives Kojis plenty of material to work with, and given her undeniable skills as a fire performer and a dancer (shown off during Origin of Flame), I’d be eager to see what she might produce.

“The Burning Ones: Origin of Flame” plays at Minneapolis’ Bedlam Theatre Thursday-Sunday, 9pm, July 9TH-18TH in the Bedlam parking lot. Tickets $12 Thu/Sun and $15 Fri/Sat (no one turned away for lack of funds). Vaudeville performance following the performance on the 17th; Bedlam’s 16th Birthday Party to follow the performance on the 18th.

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