Critic's PickThere’s good news and bad news about Loon, the Cincinnati Fringe’s 2013 production from Wonderheads. The Portland-based group uses larger-than-life masks to tell stories without spoken words (although they use evocative soundtracks from movies, nature and music). Last year’s charming Grim and Fischer was one of the “Pick of the Fringe” winners and deservedly so. If anything, Loon is even better — even though it’s just one performer, Kate Braidwood as the lovelorn shlump Francis, portly, bald and clad in mismatched attire. (Last year Braidwood and Andrew Phoenix paired for the touching story of an elderly woman bravely staving off a visit from the Grim Reaper.
One performer instead of two is not bad news, because Braidwood’s solo performance is paired with an almost tangible if inanimate character, the Moon. (The show’s title, Loon, implies someone who’s a little crazy, and Francis certainly qualifies; but it’s also a play on words, since he is infatuated with the Moon, aka “La Lune.”) Missing his late mother and finding zero success with a dating service (his video audition sequence is priceless), Francis rummages through his childhood belongings and finds a cape, a pair of goggles and an old comic book about space travel; his imaginings include sounds and music from Star Wars and its “droids.” A power outage leads him to read by moonlight and dream about connecting with his source of nighttime illumination.
Before long, Francis has brought the Moon down to Earth for a charming and imaginative romance.
The wonder of the Wonderheads is that Braidwood wears the same mask throughout the performance, yet evokes moods and attitudes across an astonishing range of emotions — sadness, exasperation, puzzlement, awe, hope, frustration and romance. People swear that the masks change, but that’s not the case. Braidwood uses body language and the expressive soundtrack to maximum result, and the audience is wholly caught up in compassion for Francis, commiserating with his misadventures and cheering for his occasional victories. (During one series of bold explorations, he swims underwater, dances jauntily to an Afro-Pop tune then climbs a towering mountain to the sound of throat-singing Tibetan monks.)
All in all, there’s a ton of good news in this show’s heartwarming 50 minute of sweetness. So what’s the bad news? Before Sunday night’s opening, all four performances at Know Theatre were completely sold out. Last year, following a similar box-office bonanza in June, Know brought the Wonderheads back for an encore performance of Grim and Fischer. Keep your fingers crossed that a similar engagement of Loon can be repeated later this year. If it does, order your tickets right away.
PERFORMANCE SCHEDULE: 7 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday, 6:45 p.m. Saturday at Know Theatre. Find more of CityBeat's ongoing 2013 Cincy Fringe Festival coverage, including performance reviews, commentary and venue details, here.