FRINGE 2017: 'Gen and Mabel'

Gen and Mabel are two perfectly lovely people who just aren’t meant to be together, no matter how badly they want to be.

At its heart, Gen and Mabel is a story about two perfectly lovely people who just aren’t meant to be together, no matter how badly they want to be.

From the very beginning of the show, we know that Gen and Mabel don’t make it. The description in the Fringe guide calls it a show about “two women trying to fall in love — and failing.” But their chemistry onstage is so strong that you want it to be wrong. It is because of the superb talent of the actors that their reactions to each other are visceral and sincere, which is why they are able to elicit both true laughter and bitter disappointment throughout the show.

Through Gen we’re first introduced to the titular characters and their modern love story. We’re plopped into the first scene alongside a very frenetic and very late Gen, who throws herself right into the couple’s first moment together, one we soon learn is a Tinder date. In one of the most refreshingly honest and relatable portrayals of modern dating — dating apps in particular — the two exchange awkward first date stories in an eager attempt to bond quickly. Their immediate plunge into deeply personal stories makes the audience feel as if all of us are old friends, and our role as the audience is that of the friend who gradually watches a relationship blossom from the sidelines.

Just as Gen and Mabel jump right into their deeply personal backgrounds and defining life stories, they also brush along the surface of complex social issues — intersectionality, accurate portrayal of LGBTQ love and relationships, feminism, consent and even the accessibility of theater as an art and its platform for social change. These matters are often haphazardly thrown into the media we regularly consume, but the sincerity with which Gen and Mabel discuss their thoughts and feelings ensures that the commentary never feels forced.

Each scene change is initiated by female vocal-driven indie music that assists the tone in each phase of Gen and Mabel’s relationship. Love songs transition to fight songs and then to breakup songs. But in addition to assisting in tonal transitions, the music is also a subtle reminder that a huge underlying theme of the show is women’s issues — how women interact with each other and the world around them, particularly professionally versus personally; how women’s issues and LGBTQ issues intersect. But these songs are ultimately and inevitably cut short so the story can unfold, almost as if these transitions mirror the shallow depths of attempted love connections the characters wade in and out of throughout the show.

These characters are real. They are ugly, sincere, withholding and earnest. Through it all, the show gifts us with a raw and relatable picture of two people trying to meet each other where the other is, but ultimately falling short.


The CINCINNATI FRINGE FESTIVAL continues through June 11. Find CityBeat reviews of 41 early performances here. For a full schedule and more info about Fringe, visit cincyfringe.com.

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