On the eve of graduation, three high school friends gather over beers and charts to discuss the pros and cons of quitting while you’re ahead. And the meaning of life. Developed by Cincy native and returning Cincy Fringe artist Alexx Rouse and her A to Z Productions partner Zach Robinson, Quit While You’re Ahead follows this trio as they ponder what looms over their heads as they prepare to enter adulthood.
The show starts with the typical loud laughs and exuberant dialogue that are universal traits for teenagers everywhere. Celebrations abound and memories of their graduation ceremony quickly take a turn, however, when one grad, Jason, makes a startling declaration: “I’m going to kill myself.” It’s the kind of dramatic, often darkly serious phrase that’s not uncommon to hear slip out of the mouth of an emotional youth.
Whether said in jest, as friend Chad initially believes, or with any amount of real intention, it’s a shocking phrase to hear. Surely, this must all be a joke. But it’s not. You see, high school sweethearts Jason and Janie have devised the perfect plan. And they have chart after chart with data to back them up.
It’s commonly said that one should avoid peaking in high school at all costs. The implications of that sort of peak are usually bleak and disappointing. The idea calls to mind the image of a small-town football hero injured before he could go pro, leaving him forever stuck and unhappy in his hometown. Rule the school, then proceed to drool at life.
Quit While You’re Ahead takes a new, and certainly neo-Dadaistic (read: ironically absurd) approach to this idea. Jason and Janie have realized that without the sweet cushion of childhood and parental units, they have to deliver on their parents’ promises that “they can be anything they want to be.” The pressure of doing something remarkable with their lives is simply too much for them. Going out in a blaze of glory seems preferable to facing that harsh reality.
Quit While You’re Ahead is an edgy show. For years there have been campaigns discouraging light references to suicide ideation that delegitimize real mental health crises. For that, this show is edgy. However, Quit While You’re Ahead never ventures into flippant territory when it comes to mental health. In fact, it offers a sort of profound look into an entire generation of young Americans and their widely different views on the meaning of life.
Underneath the very funny jokes and references to detailed charts, Quit While You’re Ahead is a show about feeling powerless in an increasingly unjust and individualistic society, one that promised its children they could be whatever they wanted to be — that they would cure cancer, end racism and be the change they wanted to see in the world. And that society never followed through on the promises to help that happen. It’s about a culture that judges an individual’s worth strictly on their accomplishments. Quite While You’re Ahead is delightfully funny, relatable and poignant, bringing an especially unique meaning during the current era of protests and civil unrest.
The 17th annual all-digital Cincinnati Fringe Festival runs through June 13. Get tickets and show info at cincyfringe.com.