The Susie Thiel Collaborative’s 2014 Cincinnati Fringe show provides about 50 minutes of well-crafted and mildly entertaining fare. If these 12 skits revolving around the idea of “how to” directions (“how to make a peanut-butter sandwich,” “how to get over loosing a boy/girlfriend” or “how to build a bookshelf”) had been presented at the end of a college semester’s work for a small class developing a piece with improv techniques, they would undoubtedly have earned a passing grade.
Given that Thiel is, in fact, the director of the dance program and assistant professor of theatre at the University of Kentucky, it’s hard not to imagine as much. But graded in performance for the general public? Not so much.
However, the five likeable performers (including Thiel) perform engagingly, often with dazzling smiles, which are perhaps a little tongue in cheek. As per the title, they are dressed in plaid, pleated wool skirts (except for the one gentleman, who wears plaid Bermuda shorts) and sweaters. Intermittently, they dance — barefoot, mostly a blend of modern tending toward everyday movements like rolling, reaching, convulsing and kicking and with moments of contact improv — but also with jazzy theater riffs such as a Travolta pose or a Gangnam-style gallop. One segment featured an energetic aerobics combination that involved the cast picking two audience members to join in. Text comes and goes. We learn the directions, accompanied by suitable movement, for folding a skirt: “Hold. Fold. Find the seam along the side. Smooth.”
The ground floor space at 17 E. Court was configured with folding chairs on the same level as the stage, and a small masonite-type floor with hanging wings and a backdrop. Before things got underway, audience members were offered pencil and paper by two cast members and instructed to write the directions for making a peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich. The papers were then collected.
Predictably, the stack of directions later appeared onstage. Thiel read from them and followed some of the directions literally (“spread peanut butter on bread” was simply done with her fingers, as the directions didn’t mention a knife). One paper suggested, “Ask mom.” Thiel actually called a number on a cell phone. When she got a machine, she left a message telling her mom that she was onstage in a skit; she invited us to holler “Hello.” We did.
In the most amusing segment, Theresa Bautista and Mary Szczygielski demonstrated how to build a bookshelf. Though there were no actual bookshelves, the contrast between using the complicated, confusing directions of a build-it-yourself shelf, versus “assembling” two cinder blocks and a board was well played out, especially by Bautista.
HOW TO FOLD A PLEATED SKIRT by Susie Thiel Collaborative (Cleveland) will be performed at 9:30 p.m. on May 30, 6:30 p.m. on June 1, 7:30 p.m. on June 3 and 8:45 p.m. on June 6 at 17 E. Court St.