Unlike the characters in Peyote Business Lunch, Artemis Exchange’s high-octane entry in the 2011 Cincy Fringe, you don’t have to ingest anything to have your head turned around several times. The cast of four (performing at the gallery space at ArtWorks, 20 E. Central Parkway, enter from Jackson St.) will keep you laughing, furrowing your brow and being amazed for the entire 65 minutes you’re there.
The set-up is simple and mildly amusing: Jon Frankie (Randy Lee Bailey) is an overwrought job applicant, a guy with a master’s degree who’s lost his accounting job and is nearing the end of his rope. Through monster.com he’s lined up an interview, the most recent in a string of increasing depressing encounters. This one seems a tad odd: It’s at an Olive Garden Restaurant inside a casino on the Yacqui Reservation near Tucson, Ariz.
He’s greeted by a surly server (Katie Kershaw) who confiscates his sport coat, his keys and his shoes. But she brings him “unlimited” breadsticks, while he waits.
He’s joined by Marvin Jones (Christopher Dooley), a fast-talking underling who Jon can barely fellow as he rambles at high velocity across a countless array of topics, from the history of the Olive Garden to more breadsticks. Then Chief Leon Proudfeather (George Alexander) arrives, long grey hair pulled back in a ponytail, but wearing a business suit and a tie that vaguely resembles an Indian blanket. (He’s 1/16 Yacqui, which is apparently enough to qualify for his CEO position with the Casino de la Luna.) More breadsticks and “tea made with locally grown products” — that is, peyote.
That beverage is the trigger for the remaining three-quarters of this wild “vision quest/interview,” which I won’t try to describe but simply mention that Kershaw plays a handful of characters whose presence is clearly drug-induced, from a lizard to economist Adam Smith. (She also drops back into the dull server at various moments: “How is everything?”) Proudfeather drills Jon with nonsensical and disjointed questions that range from the usual interview matters to questions of time, life and existence. Jon, increasingly agitated, tries to respond coherently but becomes more and more caught up in the chaos (which has the underling ranging up and down the aisle spouting gibberish that’s vaguely inspired by the conversations). More than once, Jon (played by redheaded Bailey) implores the others, “Please tell me if my hair is on fire!”
All of this is funny in a crazy, give-it-up kind of way: You’re not likely to follow all that happens (the script is by Christopher Karr, Paul Lieber and Chris Wesselman), but if you’re willing to sit through slightly more than an hour of zany intensity, you’ll come away feeling changed. Toward what (or into what) will depend on who you are (and perhaps what you’ve ingested), but you’ll be impressed with the wizardry of words, the density of ideas and the work of a talented, frenetic cast.
Note: The long, narrow ArtWorks gallery is designed for art shows, not performance, so sight lines are not great. The stage is slightly elevated, but I recommend that you pick your seat carefully (preferably toward the front) in order to see all the action unobstructed.