The VindleVoss Family Circus Spectacular!, a charming two-hander from Cincy Fringe favorite Karim Muasher (of Giant Bird fame) and partner Carrie Brown, has all the makings of a great show: An original concept. Memorable characters. Comedy. Pathos. Puppets. Live tigers (sort of). The most inventive use of props you’ll see on any festival stage this year. And, yes: free popcorn and glow sticks for all the kids in the crowd.
Muasher, as “innocent zombie” Edvard, and Brown, as the “mustachioed lady” Professor VindleVoss, are well-trained performers with an easy onstage rapport.
Together they attempt to mount a death-defying, heartwarming circus out of a few odd objects — and here and there, as when the Professor makes her climactic cannon-launch from a tricked-out suitcase, they succeed.
But this premiere (presented at the Hanke 1 venue, 1128 Main St.) still feels like a work in progress. Most bits, even the most pleasing ones, run too long; certain off-putting elements, such as Edvard’s truly grotesque appearance, ought to be reconsidered for a play aimed at family audiences. Both characters, but especially the Professor (whose back-story drives the action), need fleshing out. What’s at stake here, really? Why must this performance happen, at this time, under these circumstances — and what role are we in the audience asked to play? The whole show needs more music, more movement, more speed, urgency and energy. The payoff, when the zombie confirms his humanity by passing the Professor’s final test, plays awkwardly and fails to satisfy.
Of course, one of the reasons Fringe festivals exist is to give theatre artists a laboratory in which to experiment. I have no doubt Edvard and the Professor will leave Cincinnati with a tighter, clearer, more consistently entertaining show than the one I saw on June 2. They’ll earn that punctuation. For now, we can enjoy the thrill of the chase.