The 2014 Cincinnati Fringe Festival is in full swing, heading toward its finale on Saturday. If you haven’t attended yet, you still have plenty of chances to see some fascinating performances. If you’ve been going, you might want some tips on good choices. CityBeat’s Fringe reviewers have been catching opening nights and writing about them for the special Fringe blog at citybeat.com. So what’s the buzz?
HOT DAMN! It’s the Loveland Frog!, featuring Bluegrass tunes and a lot of comedy, has had several sold-out performances. Reviewer Joe McDonough wrote, “While the Loveland Chamber of Commerce might not appreciate it, Mike Hall and Joshua Steele have created a lovable, over-the-top Loveland that is a sort of redneck heaven, a Dogpatch on the Little Miami, populated with backwater oddballs in search of the elusive monster.”
Sarge is a more intense, serious story, a one-woman show about the wife of discredited Penn State football assistant coach Jerry Sandusky. Praise has come from many quarters for Cincinnati actress Christine Dye’s performance. CityBeat’s Stacy Sims wrote, “Dye is riveting throughout this emotionally layered 50-minute exploration of the power of denial …[her] complex and earnest performance makes you feel deeply for Sarge, a woman many feel is complicit in child abuse.”
Paul Strickland was an overnight hit at last year’s Fringe with Ain’t True and Uncle False, his folksy tales about residents of the trailer park at Big Fib Cul-de-Sac. He’s back this year entertaining full houses at the Coffee Emporium with another monologue of colorful characters, Papa Squat’s Store of Sorts, complemented with bluesy tunes.
Reviewer Joe Gorman observed, “There was a solid audience anticipation already built for this show. He did not disappoint.”
Another solo storyteller, Mike Fotis, according to writer Nicholas Korn, is “hilarious, joyful and brilliant.” He describes Fotis Canyon’s simple set-up: “Fotis, a performer and writer from Minneapolis, sits at a table with a binder of stories and bottle of flavored water for fuel. He starts with a little preshow banter, and then reads a couple of his stories for the audience. If that sounds like not enough show for you, you are wrong.”
In a wholly different direction is Pones Inc.’s Traffick. Writer Rodger Pille was impressed with the dance and performance art group’s Project Activate, staged in the Emery Theatre at the 2011 Fringe. Pille attended their new show, this time in Over-the-Rhine’s First Lutheran Church, interpreting tough tales of human trafficking using movement and spoken word as well as audience engagement. Pille wrote, “I’m struck by how far Pones has come. … The troupe has undeniably grown in size, skill and ambition. And with Traffick, they absolutely nail it.”
If you didn’t see Joe Hutcheson’s deeply personal monologue, Son of a Hutch, that’s too bad: His final performance was Sunday. You’ve also missed Slut Shaming, about the fallout surrounding the rape of a teenage girl, a powerful and timely story inventively staged and performed by three young actresses who spent last season as acting interns at the Cincinnati Playhouse.
There’s still time to catch Katie Hartman’s ghostly and mournful song cycle, The Legend of White Woman Creek, about a white woman captured then slowly absorbed into the Cheyenne tribe in 1860s Kansas. In the close quarters of a basement room at MOTR Pub, Hartman stands and sings about a desperate, lonely woman who finally finds happiness, then has it brutally snatched away from her. “It’s not a stand-up-and-cheer kind of show,” I wrote. Instead, “it’s artfully crafted and professionally delivered in an understated way. But it is powerfully effective.”
For something completely different, Four Humors Theater returns to the Fringe with An Unauthorized Autobiography of Benny Hill. There’s a lot of silly humor drawn from the 1970s and ’80s TV show hosted by and starring the wacky British comic. But it digs deeper. “As this show’s contradictory title implies,” I wrote in my review, “it’s as if Hill has turned his wicked if simple-minded comic eye on himself in a self-revelatory manner that’s entertaining and poignant.” The Minnesota company’s artistic leader Jason Ballweber resembles Hill and portrays him convincingly. “But this show,” I added, “digs beneath the zany surface to explore Hill’s psyche — yet in a manner that uses his trademark bits.”
You can cast a vote for your favorite as the “Audience Pick of the Fringe” at a Fringe venue. Results will be shared at Know Theatre late on Saturday evening.