The 2010 Cincy Fringe Festival is headed toward its second and final weekend, wrapping up Saturday. If you haven’t made your move yet, we’re ready with some recommendations.
Here are short takes on six productions still running that CityBeat reviewers have labelled “critic’s picks.” These are excerpts from longer reviews; for the full commentary about each of these and the 23 other productions, go to the special Fringe Fest microsite.
The Finkles’ Theater Show (at Know Theatre). Meet the Finkles: They’re theater lovers, just like you. Tonight, for the first (and probably last) time, they’re going to put on a whole darn show, right here at Know Theater, all by themselves. You don’t want to miss this gleeful hour of stage calamities conceived by Minneapolis-based partners Ryan Lear and Rachel Petrie. It could become the breakout hit of the 2010 Cincy Fringe. Cleverly constructed, sharply written and hilariously performed, it’s a simultaneous celebration and lampoon of all that is sacred and silly in the histrionic realm. But there’s also this: that moment when everything suddenly comes together and we feel the love of art and life that’s brought us together in this special place — a theater — for an experience we’d be unable to have anywhere else. (Julie York Coppens)
Harold (at Duveneck II). “There’s a lot of different ways to tell his story. Here’s how I tell it.” I felt like a kid again, sitting around a campfire with someone spinning scary stories, each one a littler creepier than the next. It opens in darkness with an actor and a flashlight; he tells a short spooker about two farmers and their scarecrow Harold. They treat him shabbily and he comes to life to wreak revenge.
It’s a prelude to an evolving, episodic rendition of the story that takes an hour involving two brothers in the wilderness tending goats. Albert’s been telling ghost stories to Tom, his kid brother, for a long time. I won’t spoil the fun by saying more about the final minutes, but they are just what a good ghost story should be — startling, even when you already know what’s coming. (Rick Pender)
Aberrant Reflections on the Barbarism of You & I (at Know Theatre). At first this show sounds scattered and silly, like it over-reached for meaning or effect. But it’s deeply philosophical and not nearly as scatterbrained as it would like you to think, more deep-delving than overreaching. Further, its provocative reinterpretations of familiar parables and fables are seriously funny — with laughter rumbling up from inside, the sort of laughter that forces you to think about things you don’t necessarily go to the theater to think about. Three actors are imprisoned onstage in some limbo somewhere, dominated and dictated by an invisible, all-powerful eminence just beyond the horizon — or at the back of the theater. He controls their lives with sound effects, signs and the occasional call to a cell phone onstage where they endlessly re-enact roles they’ve played throughout history. (Tom McElfresh)
Tantric Acting at the Holiday Inn (at the Art Academy). The funny folks who gave us The Success Show a year ago at the 2009 Fringe have returned to the Dayton Airport Holiday Inn for a wonderfully wacky movie that blends a sainted American musical with Bollywood production values and cultural aims —Oklahomahatma. This show is solid Fringe fun: happily satiric, economically staged, sparsely cast (several key roles are filled by audience volunteers) and slickly played. Two underlings await the arrival of the key presenter, Bollywood star Patel Patel. The production is enlivened by a PowerPoint presentation of Oklahomahatma plans. The audience plays itself throughout the production — i.e., a group of people listening to a pitch in a motel meeting room. (Jane Durrell)
Blue Collar Diaries (at Media Bridges) Playwright/performer Michelle Myers Berg beckons us inside her memory for a look around. We can regard verbal snapshots of a dozen people who loomed large in her poor but secure childhood in a downscale part of St. Paul, Minn. She knows her people intimately, respects them — and loves some of them. All of that knowing and loving and respect radiates from the tiny Media Bridges stage when she slips inside one of her characters and lets him or her speak. The portraits are carefully crafted. Many are freshly unexpected though never improbable. You’ll meet the church lady who saves souls from a tiny radio station in her basement and an ancient Jazz musician who plays trumpet and dispenses quirky wisdom in a neighborhood saloon. Her characters speak from inside themselves. (Tom McElfresh)
A Night of Well Adjusted Ladies (at Coffee Emporium). This show is the perfect example of what’s right and fun about Fringe theatre. There are more produced, glossier shows in the lineup, but pound for pound, you won’t find a more accessible, charming and pee-in-your-pants-funny show at the festival. Megan Venzin and Emily Althaus (pictured above) launch into the show by distilling as simply as they can who they are as women right now. They then spend the next 45 minutes or so explaining the maternal forces in their lives that got them there. Each childhood story is funnier than the one before. The tales could easily have been mean-spirited but aren’t. Credit the thoughtful writing. Some Fringe offerings substitute edgy content for theatricality. I want to be moved by presentation and characters, as well as content, so it’s a joy to see a show like this one that hits the right balance with aplomb. (Rodger Pille)