A year ago the fevered minds of Queen City Flash — writer/actor Trey Tatum, actor Jordan Trovillion, director Bridget Leak — entertained Cincy Fringe audiences with Zoinks!, a hilarious spoof on teen detective tales with some ghostly twists. The trio has returned for the 2020 online incarnation of Fringe with Killjoy, Ohio, a tall-tale meditation about memory and recollection told cleverly using the Zoom video platform and some profoundly philosophical thought.
Killjoy, Ohio, is a fictional town, supposedly located in southeast Ohio — on Ohio State Route “666,” just north of Zanesville on the Muskingum River. We’re told that a sign upon entering the town proclaims the population to be 720. A few minutes later, that detail is repeated — but reduced by one. A tiny item, but indicative of strange things ahead. In fact, Killjoy, Ohio, could be a sister town to Hawkins, Indiana, the setting for the Netflix hit series, Stranger Things.
With Zoinks! in 2019, Queen City Flash could take advantage of traditional theater devices in terms of lighting and scenery, not to mention having sold-out audiences in a classroom space at the Art Academy of Cincinnati. This time around, their “space” is a split-screen with side-by-side Zoom windows, allowing Tatum and Trovillion to perform socially distanced — in fact, from their separate homes in rooms that have been vacated and blanked out. But the actors — playing characters named Trey and Jordan, a device to keep them a tad more familiar to audiences, perhaps — interact using Tatum’s script, full of high-speed descriptions and wildly imaginative situations.
“Trey” is awakened by an intruder, which turns out to be “Jordan,” his next-door neighbor embarking on a career as a none-to-successful cat burglar. After a suspicious exchange — although he’s a Killjoy native, he’s only recently moved back to the small town — they begin to discuss his oddball collection of picture postcards showing scenes of local attractions that seem to no longer exist. In fact, there is no evidence that any of these landmarks, especially the Riverland Adventure Park, ever existed. But Trey has memories of events and people from there. And Jordan is willing and eager to help him dig into these mysteries as well as his psyche.
Tatum’s Trey is nervous and gullible, while Trovillion’s Jordan is bolder and slightly menacing, frequently egging him on to explore his memories, even when he is ready to back away. Their performances, in shadow and minimal lighting effects, are affecting. (At one moment they break character to briefly share personal memories — perhaps real — then jump back into the tumultuous tale they’ve been enacting.) Jordan theorizes that Killjoy — at town with at least four separate historical iterations — exists in a kind of Bermuda Triangle, where things disappear. Trey is digging for some family history he hopes to better understand, and that becomes the crux of their adventure when they actually land in the alternate reality of the Riverland Adventure Park.
Killjoy, Ohio tends toward prolixity and it is often a tad dense. That’s overcome by these talented, expressive and inventive performers, but I suspect the 70-minute piece could have more impact if we didn’t have to work quite so hard to grasp details and keep up. Perhaps trimming it to 50 minutes or so? Nevertheless, the show’s virtual presentation is a lot of fun to watch as the actors play off one another in ways that might become a model for some performances in the future.
The 17th annual all-digital Cincinnati Fringe Festival runs through June 13. Get tickets and show info at cincyfringe.com.