FRINGE 2018 CRITIC'S PICK: 'Annalise'

This moving play tackles stigmatized issues head-on, including anxiety, depression and self-harm, through the eyes of two high schoolers

click to enlarge FRINGE 2018 CRITIC'S PICK: 'Annalise'
Photo: Diana Cardenas

Soft light illuminated the face of a girl shaking with panic as a morose boy wrapped her in a tight hug during the Fringe Next production of Annalise, a heartbreaking and raw tale of mental illness, friendship and the power of hope, presented at the Art Academy of Cincinnati. This moving play tackled stigmatized issues head-on, including anxiety, depression and self-harm through the eyes of two high schoolers.

Penned by Vicky Alcorn, a rising senior at Highlands High School, the show not only captured mental disorders in an extremely realistic way, but also created an overall tone of authenticity; from sometimes vulgar language to relatable experiences such as school assignments and prom, it was very easy for young people to connect with the plot and characters. However, it also provided a vital insight for audience members of all ages into the rocky and painful world of many teenagers today.

Alcorn’s script artfully included the personification of anxiety and depression as very different people who often spoke to the protagonists, Annalise and Danny. Alex, played by Dustin Parsons, perfectly captured the uptight and nervous nature of anxiety; from his crisp bowtie and collared shirt to frantic interjections into Annalise’s line of thought, he cleverly brought anxiety to life. Similarly, Haley Whitt’s heart-wrenching performance as Debbie, Danny’s depression, clearly illustrated the cruel and manipulative nature of this mental illness with her relentless terrible and deprecating remarks.

Izzy Moses perfectly starred as Annalise alongside talented Grant Sower as Danny. The two actors had natural chemistry onstage that made their friendship and eventual love story seem plausible and genuine. Both wholeheartedly embraced the challenge of such a heavy show, aptly portraying their characters with incredible emotional skill. Nevertheless, despite their immense talent, it was sometimes difficult to hear or understand certain actors, even in the small performance space.

Technical elements drew audience members in and created an ideal backdrop for the performance. Though the set was modest and consisted merely of small movable pieces such as tables, chairs and simple props, it was clear that a more complicated set wasn’t needed. The actors brought each scene to vibrant life with facial expressions and mannerisms as well as staging that created spatial depth and division between the characters and their illnesses. The soundtrack during scene changes involved various, seemingly random popular and older songs that left audience members questioning if it was supposed to represent Danny’s soundtrack (he had earbuds in throughout the show) or if it was simply a misguided choice by the director. 

Annalise was a deeply moving performance that discussed extremely important topics often ignored by mainstream media. This entertaining work of art left audience members engaged throughout the show. Though it was intensely emotional and at times difficult to watch, it also served as a hopeful reminder that life really does get better and that we are never as alone as it might seem. 

The Cincinnati Fringe Festival runs through June 10. Find showtimes, tickets and more info here.

Reviewer Cara Wagner is a junior at Mount Notre Dame High School. A review she wrote for the Cincinnati Cappies, which recognizes high school theater programs, was one of two Outstanding Critiques for the 2017-2018 school year. CityBeat is pleased to honor her achievement by providing her this opportunity to review this Fringe Next production by students from Highlands High School in Fort Thomas, onstage during the 15th annual Cincinnati Fringe Festival.

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