FRINGE 2020 CRITIC'S PICK: Paul & Erika's House Show

Strickland’s off-beat songs and MacDonald’s clever ways of animating found objects are very much in the vein of what Fringe fans have come to expect from this pair

click to enlarge FRINGE 2020 CRITIC'S PICK: Paul & Erika's House Show
Photo: Provided by Fringe Festival

Paul Strickland’s tall tales of the Big Fib Trailer Park and Erika Kate MacDonald’s storytelling using inventive puppetry has made them Cincy Fringe favorites (and Know Theatre regulars), especially when they combine forces. Paul & Erika’s House Show is a new venture, not to mention an adventure, from the get-go. Last fall they were doing after-show entertainment as “Theatre Mobile” at Know. Now their endeavor is known as as “Theatre Immobile,” since they’re stuck at home, just like everyone else.

Their “house show” positions as them tiptoeing into a new medium — video — in amusing fits and starts. More than once we see Erika or Paul peering into a smart phone camera and questioning, “This is it?” And not less than four times in their 35-minute online offering — the medium for all 17th annual Cincy Fringe shows in response to the pandemic — they start down the path of creating a production, only to stop and start over again.

An opening credit tells us “We Don’t Know How to Make A Movie But I Guess We’ll Have To Now.” Sitting side by side on a couch at home, speaking to us (at our homes) through the camera, they tell us that this might be a bit like a “house show,” a form they’ve done before — but a key element is lacking: We aren’t actually there.

In line with the Fringe’s annual slogan, it’s “kinda weird.” Strickland and MacDonald are totally at home with weirdness with this show: Strickland’s off-beat songs (there’s even a sing-along number) and MacDonald’s clever ways of animating found objects (for instance, amusing roles in this show are played by a tablespoon and a dinner plate) are very much in the vein of what Fringe fans have come to expect from this pair.

It’s all very meta, in a let’s-try-this kind of way. Everything feels a little bit off — intentionally, of course — as the duo tests a series comic approaches, never feeling completely satisfied. One effort uses wonky visual effects; another has them rotating through a variety of costumes (really just everyday clothes from their closets) and crazy hair. There are moments of animation. And for everyone who loves Strickland’s imaginative, punning musical tales, there’s “The Story of Eddie Mology.” Pay attention to the lyrics about a seesaw and time travel. 

“The less time you have,” we learn, “the more time it takes to do anything.”

MacDonald and Strickland tell us directly that they miss having an audience. But from the confines of their home, they’ve given us a show that will induce smiles — just as if you’d showed up at their front door and were invited in for a “house show.”

The 17th annual all-digital Cincinnati Fringe Festival runs through June 13. Get tickets and show info at

Rick Pender

RICK PENDER has written about theater for CityBeat since its first issues in 1994. Before that he wrote for EveryBody’s News. From 1998 to 2006 he was CityBeat’s arts & entertainment editor. Retired from a long career in public relations, he’s still a local arts fan, providing readers (and public radio listeners)...
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