Rory Sheridan is a one-man whirling dervish performing all the roles in the script he wrote for m-o-u-s-e.
In the story’s frame, he’s an archeologist in the distant future who has stumbled on the autobiography of Walt Disney’s pet mouse in a long-lost vault. With his life support system dwindling, he has less than an hour to share this story with the world, which he undertakes to do by dictating the gist of the manuscript to his artificial intelligence assistant, Ariel (played with unflappable, Siri-like demeanor by Mia Vera). But this is more than a simple monologue: It’s a full-fledged video entertainment.
The archeologist’s discovery purports to present a 95-year life story of the mouse who became an omnipresent corporate mascot. It’s not quite the story we know of avuncular Uncle Walt and the chipper “Steamboat Willie,” Mickey Mouse’s 1928 debut in a synchronized sound cartoon. Sheridan's narrative covers a bizarre spectrum, from the ur-mouse with a mentally deficient sister to Walt, an antic animator, and numerous other characters who relate in tangential stories and vaguely familiar creations to contemporary audiences.
Sheridan’s mouse takes exception to how he’s illustrated, resembling a “water molecule with legs,” outfitted with oversized hands and feet and dressed in a “diaper with two buttons.” There’s a doofus dog-man (can you say “Goofy”?), a farm wife who evolves into a bizarre hybrid of Captain Hook and Maleficent, a beautiful woman living with seven small men, a bear who sucks on a plastic honeybear bottle — on and on. Whiffs of Disney trivia whiz by, augmented by clever illustrations and animated sketches.
Sheridan’s 53-minute show is a surreal mashup, delivered in a highly entertaining way. He uses different voices, costumes, and even facial hair to play a delirious array of the roles. With AV assistance from Alice Flanders and original music by James Allen, m-o-u-s-e is a polished production that’s answered the Cincy Fringe challenge to create online entertainment that takes advantage of the medium. Sheridan has shaped this “kinda weird” story into an imaginative experience that should please audiences who have flocked to past Fringe festivals.
As the archeologist’s time runs short, his AI, Ariel, suggests that cryogenics might be the way to preserve all this information, another echo from the Disney universe. But ultimately she convinces the him to upload his discovery to the cloud for future reference. Perhaps it will live on “when you wish upon a star”?
The 17th annual all-digital Cincinnati Fringe Festival runs through June 13. Get tickets and show info at cincyfringe.com.