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If your taste in theater runs to the adventurous, you'll be in heaven for the next two weeks. Starting Wednesday and continuing through June 10 is the fourth annual Cincinnati Fringe Festival, our city's annual celebration of underground, revolutionary arts.
There will be performances daily at venues mostly in Over-the-Rhine:
Ensemble Theatre of Cincinnati (1127 Vine St.)
InkTank (1311 Main St.)
Art Academy of Cincinnati (1212 Jackson St.)
Know Theatre (1120 Jackson St.)
Unnamed Venue (1201 Jackson St.)
New Stage Collective (1140 Main St.)
Below Zero (1120 Walnut St., the one-time home of alchemize).
Dance performances are presented in the below-street black box theater at the Contemporary Arts Center downtown (44 E. Sixth St.).
The Fringe includes more than theater, of course: The festival now has a separate offering in experimental films (Celluloid Fringe) that push their own boundaries. There are more details at the Fringe Web site (cincyfringe.com) and in CityBeat's To Do picks.
The "Bar Series" has changed from last year, when it moved from venue to venue: This year, it's all happening at the Jackson Street Underground, the cool bar and hang-out managed by Know Theatre. Fringe audiences are encouraged to come by after 11 p.m. to meet artists, organizers, volunteers and others who are out to enjoy the performances.
The key to enjoying those performances is to have a plan to navigate everything that's going on, and that can be a challenge with more than two dozen performances coming at you. To assist you in your endeavor, CityBeat has assembled a crew of writers who will help you decide what you want to see.
Below you'll find previews by Jessica Canterbury, Nicholas Korn, Tom McElfresh, Rick Pender, Rodger Pille, Mark Sterner and Kathy Valin. The Fringe organizers try to sort out shows by categories, but that doesn't quite work because they defy classification, so the previews below are in chronological order according to their first performance. (Go to cincyfringe.com for information about subsequent performances, or pull out the official Fringe program from last week's CityBeat.)
Our writers will attend first performances and write reviews for our Fringe review blog . We'll publish some excerpts in next week's CityBeat, but you can stay ahead of the curve by reading reviews online. That's where you'll find the most timely and comprehensive coverage of Fringe 4.0.
How to Fake Clinical Depression (7 p.m. Wednesday, Art Academy). A starving actor/bass guitarist in Los Angeles decides to take a big drug company up on its offer of money in exchange for testing their new line of antidepressants. To become a test subject, he has to fake clinical depression, and the results of this transaction go beyond his wackiest dreams. Steve Marrocco's one-man show presents a rapidly moving series of different characters, including family members and the people he encounters on his drug experience. Does he ultimately find some kind of personal revenge, succeeding in bilking the big pharmaceuticals at their own game? (Sterner)
Christmas in Bakersfield (7 p.m. Wednesday, Below Zero). Les decides to bring his lover, Mike, home to meet his parents for the holidays. On the way, he realizes he's forgotten to tell his parents that Mike is African-American. This is the source of all the conflict in this one-man show, as his conservative country-clubbing parents cannot seem to wrap their heads around a black person in their home, let alone in their family. The fact of Mike's being a male is a non-issue -- a sign of the times? The comedy ensues from the reactions of the parents, who cannot understand their son's inexplicable behavior. (Sterner)
Mad (7 p.m. Wednesday, New Stage Collective), written and produced by Jen Dalton. This is arguably the most personal and potentially profound show in the festival, an autobiographical account of one family's attempts to cope with their son's and brother's schizophrenia. Co-directed by Ed Cohen and Dan Doerger, Mad promises to be resonant and compelling, difficult and personal, stunning and true. In short, it's what Fringe is all about. Dalton says, "This will be my third year involved with this festival, and I wrote this piece with Fringe audiences in mind, knowing it would be the perfect environment for an edgy piece that pushes the boundaries of theater." (Pille)
The Kid in the Dark (7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Know Theatre) by Mark Halpin, Richard Hess and Andrew Smithson is a new song cycle that tackles the tough emotional territory of living with personal loss. Despite its subject, lyricist Halpin quickly adds his "way of dealing with things is typically through humor, and that sensibility pervades the show." He developed the songs last summer with local composer Andrew Smithson, and as the project took shape, Halpin realized the Fringe Festival would be an ideal platform for their new work. With CCM's Richard Hess at the helm, this promises to be a polished and moving production. "The big reason to see this," says Halpin, "is the brilliance of the cast. The first time I heard them perform these songs, it took my breath away." (Korn)
Lufthaus: 1914 (8:15 p.m. Wednesday, Ink Tank). Creator-director Gabe Johnson translates lufthaus as "pleasure palace" and describes the 60-minute piece as "a drama with heavy movement." Four allegorical characters (Jennifer Spillane, Katie Kershaw, Michael Stone, Josh Bershears) "investigate primal desires" and "revolt against the strictures of a collapsing empire." Men try to find their voices and identify their roles in an emerging society, while women who have been held down by the old society attempt to free themselves through sexual means. A working title, Memories of Melancholy Whores, likely reveals much. The piece appeared earlier in workshops at NKU, where cast members are students. (McElfresh)
The War on Weather (9 p.m. Wednesday, Art Academy). High-impact weather conditions unravel in this satirical show, which is intended to provoke laughter and reflection. The United States has created a world in which Americans enjoy blue skies and 75-degree weather every day, while the rest of the world is relegated to the climactic dregs. This excess of control over the natural world, necessitating constant military surveillance, is mirrored in the lives of Joni and Jeffrey. He's the workaholic head of FEMA Ohio, while she's depressed and over-medicated. A tangle of events lead to some difficult decisions. (Sterner)
Extreme Puppet Theatre (9 p.m.
Wednesday, New Stage Collective) by hands-on company Soque du Soleil, which has gathered countless puppets, marionettes, dolls and toys to fight and fornicate for your amazement and amusement. Punch and Judy were never like this. The idea for the show was born at last year's Puppet Slam (presented during the 20/20 Festival by the Cincinnati Area Puppetry Guild), and as puppeteer Kevin Poore relates, "Ideas flowed fast and furious. Where else could you find ventriloquist dummies coming to life, French pastries organizing a revolution or hippie sock puppets at 'Woodsock?' " No doubt the applause for this will be more than the sound of one hand clapping. (Korn)
Calculus: The Musical (7 p.m. Thursday, Art Academy) Yes, you read that correctly. It's a musical. About calculus. Whether or not the show is any good seems secondary to witnessing first-hand how the creators manage to pull this off. "For people who love math, it's a theatrical treatment of something they don't often get to see in an artistic or entertaining context -- which can be a lot of fun," says co-creator Sadie Bowman. "For people who hate math, it's a show that de-mystifies and renders approachable a subject that for a lot of us can seem to be surrounded by barbed wire with electric bees attached." I'm not sure which camp I'm in, but I am primed for a ballad about derivatives. (Pille)
Wet Dream (7 p.m. Thursday, Know Theatre). Jeremy Millsaps has been creating imaginative events in Cincinnati for five years. Many remember Skin Art 2005, which he presented at the Contemporary Arts Center. Wet Dream is the result of his experiences with non-traditional art. It's about Veronica, who passes out in bed after a night of partying: Her dream is a fantasy world of aerial dance, live vocals and performance art and video. Millsaps says its "racy, acrobatic, strange, passionate ... and a little sexy." (Pender)
WOOF! The Road Show (7 p.m. Thursday, Below Zero) A musical about two guys touring in a musical -- much like this one! Adam and Jon are appearing in a gay romance written by Adam, and Jon keeps wanting to duplicate the relationship off stage, even though their contract forbids it. Woody the hot stage hand complicates matters between them, and a group of frustrated writers keep changing the script every time the duo performs. Farcical clowning around about such things as dogs, pancakes and the theater puts the play's more serious moments concerning romantic human relationships into perspective. (Sterner)
Alone Together (7:30 p.m. Thursday, New Stage Collective). "Love," says playwright-director Ted Brengle, "is a wonderful way to blind yourself." His 35-minute drama "takes an impressionistic look at how a young couple's relationship can fall apart" by investigating "the things they've talked themselves into ignoring." The cast includes Josh Stamoolis, who has shown strongly in recent Cincinnati Shakespeare Company productions including a Ninja Hamlet, and Miami University senior Courtney Maistros. Alone Together was presented in the 2006 Columbus Fringe Festival and just prior to the five local performances will appear (different cast) in a one-act play festival at the Wonderland Theater in New York. (McElfresh)
The Art of Longing (7:30 p.m. Thursday, Ink Tank). What's longing all about? Ovation Theatre Company's Fringe entry attempts to uncover inquiries on what makes a life exceptional. Mixing movement, drama and spoken word, this production was created by Ovation with input from 60 people during the Fine Arts Sampler weekend who responded to a writing prompt. "The work the audiences gave us actually spun our work into a totally new direction, which has been the most extraordinary part of the collaborative process," says director Mia Self. The Art of Longing explores what motivates our decisions through the daily lives of four characters. (Canterbury)
Pulse (8 p.m. Thursday, Ensemble Theatre). Every year Ensemble Theatre of Cincinnati brings together a group of young theater artists who work behind the scenes as stagehands and understudies until late spring, when they assemble an eclectic mix of their own writing -- monologues, movement pieces and scenes. Shannon Rae Lutz, who oversees the interns, says this is their chance to "confront and refine their individual voices as they sit on the precipice of the rest of their careers. ... This is the future of theater, from the mouths of babes, so to speak. It's what's happening right now." (Pender)
iLove (9 p.m. Thursday, Know Theatre) examines the iPod revolution, our obsession with new media and technology and how we try to stay connected in increasingly detached ways. "Our culture has definitely changed, so we have changed, so the kind of love we're capable of has to have changed," says Anthony Darnell, actor, co-writer, editor and co-director of The Satori Group's "unoriginal, original work." Produced by and written for New Stage Collective, iLove evolved from playwright Charles Mee's Remaking Project: He encourages writers to take his scripts and cut-and-paste them with their own material, creating a new work. Darnell says our phone conversation illustrates iLove's concept: Expect to see cell phones, infomercials and computers intermingled between the words of Björk, Barack Obama, Regina Spektor and Richard Linklater, among Satori's own contributions. (Canterbury)
On Edge (9:30 p.m. Thursday, Below Zero) by Stephen Hunter seeks to "teach Cincinnati a lesson" with these first public performances of this 60-minute dark comedy. Two brothers (a baseball player and a street vendor) discover a piece of jewelry and a secret that both divides and unites them. Hunter's lesson is simple: Family matters more than anything. Though set in the present in New York City, the play is, he said, an alarmed response to emotionally charged Cincinnati "situations where people forgot about family." Jeffery K. Miller, Josh Bershears, Justin Adams and Colleen Sketch (all NKU students or graduates) lead a company of seven. (McElfresh)
Tommy Nugent's The Show (9:30 p.m. Thursday, New Stage Collective). Nugent, first-time Fringer and self-declared traveling philosopher, is quick to point out that his eponymous show isn't really theater. It is, in his words, "one guy telling some stories, having some fun and deciding whether or not to really play Russian roulette onstage." Theater or not, it sounds deliciously Fringe-worthy. After a noted run in 2002 at the Know Theater with Tommy Nugent's Burning Man, Nugent is back on the local stage to tackle, out loud, all sorts of issues rattling in his brain. Laughs, thoughtful insight, animal traps and straitjacket escapes are on tap. (Pille)
The Killing State (9:30 p.m. Thursday, Ink Tank). Students from Xavier University will perform a piece drawn from correspondence with Death Row inmates they contacted during a philosophy class and a staging of Tim Robbins script of Sr. Helen Prejean's Dead Man Walking. Director Cathy Springfield hopes that seeing convicts as human beings via video and spoken word will affect audiences. "We hope they will understand that wrongful deaths are intolerable to a society that promotes human rights," she says, "and that rehabilitation is possible as we see two convicts as human beings." (Pender)
TRUE + FALSE (7 p.m. Friday, CAC). Big Picture Group, led by Miami University professor Ted Bechtel, improvised and polished the 14 outrageous, mostly comic "stories" that blend in this 90-minute combination of live action and video. "We were unsettled," Bechtel says, "by people's inability to distinguish the difference between the authentic and the inauthentic." Each of seven cast members relates two bits of personal history -- one true, one fictional -- while video cameras and other performers "mess with the audience members' heads." Audiences vote on which tale is true, which is false. The collective judgment is revealed, but the actual "truth" is not. (McElfresh)
I Take It Back (7 p.m. Friday, Know Theatre). Stacey Morrison has a confession to make. In 2004 she voted for George W. Bush. It's that one decision -- the process that led her there and then the unquenchable desire to rescind it -- that writer-performer Morrison and director Amelia Henderson, both CCM alumnae, explore for laughs and self-realization. "Up until this point, admitting that I voted for G.W. is not something I publicly announced and on many occasions flat-out denied," Morrison says. "But when I decided to come clean, the Cincy Fringe seemed like the proper place share my truth." Everyone in this decidedly red state should be forced to hear that truth. (Pille)
Contains Adult Themes (7 p.m. Friday, Unnamed Venue) is two one-person performance pieces connected by a common theme: the self-consciousness of the individual mind and how it relates to the outside world. The first play, The Rest Is Up to You, depicts a young girl who loses her imaginary friend when she falls under the spell of a controlling ventriloquist's dummy. The second, In My Dresser Drawer, concerns the relationship between the artist Cid and the dream figure Verbal, who might hold the secret to Cid's battle with self-mutilation. Presentation methods include found props, movement and shadow manipulation. (Sterner)
Think Fast Go Slow (9:15 p.m. Friday, Unnamed Venue) is a show for music lovers with an interesting twist. "It tells a story without words," says solo musician Todd Juengling, who plays electric and acoustic guitars and four Simons, an electronic memory game that's became a pop culture icon of the '80s. Juengling performs in near darkness, so the Simons are his primary light source. With touches of minimalism, modern Jazz/Funk, Bossa Nova, Electronica and Musique Concrete, Juengling says, "It will make you want to turn off the radio and listen to your life." (Pender)
Casualties (2 p.m. Saturday, Zero) is a new work by Cincinnati playwright Sally Domet that portrays Angie's quest for identity amid wounded souls from the Vietnam era. Lauren Ashley Carter, a senior at CCM in the fall, plays the young woman through several decades of her life, from childhood in the downtown tenements of 1950s urban Appalachia continuing into the 1960s when she lives with a draft dodger and later his best friend, freshly returned from the war. Director Michael Miller compares the work to Twin Peaks in its twists and turns and unusual characters. (Pender)
Public Espionage (3:30 p.m. Saturday, New Stage Collective) by Le Petomane Theatre Ensemble, a contemporary comedy ensemble from Louisville, whose style meddles with and modernizes vaudeville, commedia and clowning. Co-founder Gregory Maupin describes the piece as "Driver's Ed for secret agents." He adds, "There are people out there who aren't good at lying, so we want to do our part to help them get along in this cruel, cruel world." The show delivers all the standard equipment for undercover operatives, including chase scenes and ninja. How should audiences respond? Maupin warns, "We want people to laugh, and then wonder if doing so only encourages us." (Korn)
girlfight (5:15 p.m. Saturday, Know Theatre) by Performance Gallery. Although the title suggests women at war, the folks at the Performance Gallery have been working with Louisville's Le Petomane Ensemble (see previous preview). As troupe member, Regina Pugh, explains, the companies created a list of items, phrases and situations to be wedged into both productions. These invented necessities proved to be the sisters of invention, giving rise to some of Pugh's favorite moments of the show. girlfight was developed in rehearsal as a series of improvised scenes. As for the title, it began as just a joke name for their offering but proved to have staying power. "Men responded to it particularly well," Pugh says. (Korn)
Exhale Dance Tribe (7 p.m. Saturday, CAC). Diana Ross once sang, "I Want Muscle," and that's what you can expect from the dancers of Exhale Dance Tribe, a baker's dozen of unabashedly motivated and sexy movers, who'll present six different pieces, with names like "Blink," "Not for Sale" and "The Ghost of Corporate Future," each a world unto itself. Missy Lay Zimmer and Andrew Hubbard, two gifted ex-Broadway dancers who have landed for a second act in Cincinnati, and their young sassy, brassy company can deliver the goods -- leaps, spins, high kicks, undulations and a potent sensuality culminating in life-affirming finales. Come along for the ride. (Valin)
I Do ... I Think (7 p.m. Sunday, Art Academy), written and performed by Amanda Thompson. Most romantic comedies end with a wedding but for Thompson, that's where the real story -- and comedy -- starts. "The show begins with a bride having one massive bridezilla attack." Then it's a journey through the first year of her marriage, based on Thompson's personal experience." This one-woman show began as a class assignment and blossomed into a passionate and funny look at "two people who are placed on a pedestal for a year, surrounded by parties, presents and well wishers. And then what?" (Korn)
iNput (7 p.m. Monday, CAC). The MegLouise Dance Group, last seen here during the 2005 Fringe in "Running on Empty Fairytales," once again presents Cleveland choreographer Megan Pitcher's vision -- she wants her all-female company of dancers to look like ordinary people, rather than dance clichés of ghosts or goddesses, and to bring a fresh way for audiences to connect to dance. Building on immediate iNput from their audience, the group is prepared to demonstrate agility in responding to suggestions combined with driving or tender pre-rehearsed phrases. They will deliver an eye-opening adventure set to music ranging from contemporary Jazz to Jimi Hendrix. (Valin)
The Monkey's Paw (7 p.m. Monday, Ensemble Theatre). Playwright-director Kevin Crowley says his two-character, 60-minute dark comedy is about the fear of fatherhood -- "literally about a father who abandons his eight-year-old son in the woods." He tried to make the script simultaneously grim and funny. "It's a coup," he said, "to pull off a tightrope act like that." This Monkey's Paw is not a dramatization of the 1902 W. W. Jacobs story that illustrates in tragic terms how one must be very careful what one wishes for. Rather it's an enigmatic, hallucinatory fantasy on the story. Crowley, who acts professionally, recent wowed audiences in Opus at ETC. (McElfresh)
Ancestral Voices (8:30 p.m. Monday, CAC). Nadia Tarnawsky of the Cleveland Institute of Music directs a cast of five in this magical rendering of Ukrainian folklore, blending modern dance, world music and puppetry. Ancestral Voices tells the ancient story of sisters Oksana and Marusia, one wealthy and one widowed, set to exquisite texts sung and spoken in Ukrainian and English. Cleveland native Tarnawsky, who cherishes her heritage, is expert in the open throat singing style (think Bulgarian Women's Choir), characterized by piercing tone and expressive embellishment. The hour-long theatrical experience promises to be rich in language, metaphor and meaning. Put it on your "don't miss" list. (Valin)
THE 2007 CINCINNATI FRINGE FESTIVAL opens Wednesday in various venues in Over-the-Rhine and downtown Cincinnati. It continues through June 10. Look for new reviews posted daily at our Fringe review blog .