Cover Story: Hot Issue: On the Edge

The scoop on this week's Fringe Festival shows

Jacob Drabik

Hot Issue 2008

Quick Link: Rick Pender's Fringe Overview

Quick Link: Visual Fringe Preview

Quick Link: Film Fringe Preview

For the fifth year, the Cincy Fringe Festival is offering two weeks of edgy theater and dance — plus visual art, film and everything in between. The best way to experience the festival is to show up for an evening and wander, but with so many offerings you might have a hard time deciding.

CityBeat charged a team of writers (Jessica Canterbury, Jane Durrell, Tom McElfresh, Julie Mullins, Rick Pender, Rodger Pille and Jerry Stein) to interview Fringe artists and preview what's in store. Shows are sorted by their opening performances; check the Fringe Web site ( for additional dates and times. The complete venue list follows the previews.

Starting Thursday, you can go to CityBeat's Fringe Festival blog site ( for reviews of each production as it opens.

A handful of Fringe shows run only on the festival's final weekend, and they'll be previewed in next week's CityBeat.

Opening Wednesday
Mortem Capiendum (Media Bridges, 7 p.m.) Four Humors Theater has a simple mission statement: "We make the beautiful foolish and the foolish beautiful." Enticing, especially since the gist of the show itself is purposefully vague. Three con men begin to believe their own pitch, and a perfectly ordinary trunk containing ... something.

It'll explore various mythologies based on death, doing so in a uniquely Fringe way. That's about all we'll get in advance. But Four Humors out of Minneapolis has a solid track record on the Fringe circuit, so perhaps we'll drink their mysterious tonic after all. (Rodger Pille)

RSVP (Know Underground, 7 p.m., 9 p.m.) Built by Satori, creators of the 2007 Fringe favorite iLove. Sidewalk bistro setting. No actors or audience per se. Attendees, 12 at each "performance," will participate in the "play" as they observe it — finding out, according to spokesman Anthony Darnell, "how connected you are to people around you." Participants, seated in pairs, wear headsets and are individually instructed by a recorded voice to do things, say things to partners and respond. Darnell says that Satori intends "to create truly intimate experiences in a public place." Nobody, he swears, will be embarrassed, but go with somebody you at least like. (Tom McElfresh)

The Hotel Plays (Know MainStage, 7 p.m.) Four actors play three quirky romantic comedies by Israel Horowitz, a respected American playwright who rarely writes light, though his satire Line has run off-Broadway for years. He's best known for socially significant drama such as The Indian Wants the Bronx. These plays, getting their world premiere in 2008 right here, are linked solely by occurring in the same hotel. Co-director Ed Cohen, who rarely directs comedy, says, "They're kind of Horowitz's spin on Plaza Suite." Jen Dalton, Tara Williams, Ted Weil and Brian Berendts are the actors. Dan Doerger co-directs. Asked about social significance, Cohen says, "None." (TM)

Destination: Fringe (CAC, 7:15 p.m.) Psophonia ("so-fo-NEE-uh) is a Houston-based contemporary dance company that has fun with words and many props. The moniker is an anagram of the first names of Sophia (Torres) and Sonia (Noriega), who founded Psophonia a decade ago. With four additional cast members, they perform eight short pieces ranging from angst-ridden to lighthearted. "Broken Off" explores "losing yourself and regaining composure," Noriega says, particularly when you lose someone close. They'll also present excerpts from "Mazagines and Beat Selts," inspired by Noriega's 2-year-old daughter. And a pair of mattresses are put to good use — or playful abuse ¯ to music by Bach. (Julie Mullins)

SoulVerses (Mr. Pitiful's, 8 p.m.) Ask co-creator Nick Barrows why his show was chosen for the 2008 Fringe and you get this foreboding response: "We were picked out of fear. Blind, unreasoning fear." Now that's a Fringe marketing strategy! Sign us up. But what is it? Hip Hop, poetry, Electronica, free-form Jazz, improv? Yes. Presenters Lyrical Insurrection/Hip Hop Congress and Eagle to Squirrel collaborate to create a verbal and musical lesson of empowerment through audio relaxation. Barrows says, "We are open to anyone enjoying our little psycho-auditory tour de force, but we are personally hoping for the burnouts." (RPi)

Catch (New Stage Collective, 8 p.m.) Does anyone else feel like something has to happen, and soon? That sinking feeling of uncertainty underscores this Transit Five Productions show, performed by student guest artists from the University of Michigan. Transit Five's Julia Albain says Catch is fringy in the sense that it's a collection of different art forms — realistic and absurdist scenes, spoken word poetry, song, projections — put together to tell a story and make a statement. "I feel strongly that this piece addresses a universal sense of wanting to break out and make change," she says. "And that burden lies heavily on our Generation Y." (RPi)

Letters at Large (Art Academy, 8:15 p.m.) For the fun of it, Canadian improv actor Jeff Sinclair tweaks the noses of businesses in a solo show he's been evolving for seven years. He picks businesses and writes outrageous letters. Can a hotel's doorman deal with guests arriving on camels? Can tobacco company executives explain why some of their cigarettes glow green when lit? His letters (in brief) and companies' responses (in detail) make up the show, along with props and photos of the stuff companies send him. "If you send a compliment, they'll send a few items. If you send a complaint, you'll get double," he advises. (TM)

The Factory (CAC, 9 p.m.) The Contemporary Arts Center has some remodeling in store when Northern Kentucky-based performance arts company Pones Inc. Laboratory of Movement turns it into "The Factory." Created by dancers Lindsey Jones and Kim Popa, it's an Orwellian multi-media work using dance, music, theater, video and audience participation. This plant creates "the perfect woman." Says Jones: "Basically, the audience comes in and takes a tour of 'The Factory.' We use a lot of different spaces within the building — a section on body image, on sexual abuse and domestic violence. The factory is not necessarily a good place." (Jerry Stein)

Better/Worse (Know MainStage, 9:15 p.m.) Veteran fringer Stacy Vespaziani says, "We're not looking to incite a riot, but we want people to talk about their marriage on the way home. If it turns into a fight, so be it." Group-created by Vespaziani and Odds & Ends troupers Amelia Henderson and Courtney Seiberling (who gave Fringe 2006 audiences Britney Spears and All the Other Shit We Deal With), Better/Worse welds together 50 minutes of live performance and videotaped interviews that investigate the state of contemporary matrimony. Does marriage have better or worse impact on your life? What's the "I Don't Know" behind "I Do?" (TM)

Opening Thursday
Meet Me at 3 (CAC, 7 p.m.) Jeanne S. Mam-Luft's new Cincinnati dance troupe collaborates with video artists Vince Linz and Bob Donovan plus musicians Michael Perdue and Jeff M. Luft. Meet Me at 3 is on-the-move in every aspect — moving bodies, moving pictures, moving sound. The free-form work, which moves beyond narrative, is never quite the same from performance to performance. Mam-Luft explains, "I try to create choreographic works that address feelings." She was born to parents escaping the Khmer Rouge genocide in Cambodia. Her experiences as a refugee and immigrant have charged her work, although this work is more conceptual and abstract than emotional." (Jerry Stein)

then after water (New Stage Collective, 7 p.m.) Not group created. Not improvised. That's unusual for Columbus-based Available Light Theatre. Canadian playwright Jennifer Fawcett polished the script at the Iowa Playwright's Workshop. Director Matt Slaybaugh (remembered for A/The Post Modern Love Story, a 2005 Fringe hit) says, "It's a love story with a horrific act of violence at its center, but at the end it's really beautiful." Four timelines overlap, moving forward simultaneously as they reveal how lives are shattered when a couple is suddenly separated and their son struggles with the consequences. Five actors: Slaybaugh, Michelle Schroeder, Acacia Duncan, Ian Short and Alex Beekman. (Tom McElfresh)

Eastbound Jungle (Below Zero, 7 p.m.) All is not well in hobo-land. In fact, the particular segment of hobos found in Eastbound Jungle is painfully split by an accidental death and concerned with themes more usually found in classical literature. Author Brad Cupples, whose Chester County Automaton(s) was a success at Northern Kentucky University's 2007 Y.E.S. Festival, points out that his Fringe play is set on the fringe of the world familiar to most of us. It's the first official production of Ornamental Messiah, a company determined to challenge thinking, examine culture, puncture triviality and generally have a fine time. (Jane Durrell)

In Rehearsal (SCPA Studio, 7 p.m.) Alison Vodnoy, CCM senior and Fringe veteran, says of playing two women and six men in her self-written solo show, "Men and women are so different, and so similar ... the difference lies in how they behave to get what they want." Vodnoy, who is in fringe festivals in Minneapolis and Indianapolis this summer, says of Cincinnati's Fringe, "Every year people come up with innovative answers to 'What is theater?' And the brilliant part is, none of them are wrong!" Perhaps the same is true of her In Rehearsal characters, who prove there are two sides to every story. (JD)

The Dance: The History of American Minstrelsy (SCPA Black Box, 7:15 p.m.) Author-actor Jason Christophe wants his show with Aaron White "to erase fear of American minstrel shows." Minstrels might be gone, he says, but "we perpetuate their images by ignoring them." He compares banjo-wielding white men in blackface makeup (like Al Jolson) with today's "posturing black gangstas" and finds similar stereotypes. "We've buried this ghost," he says, "but until now we haven't given it a proper funeral." As The Dance mixes education and comedy in front of projected minstrel show images, Christophe and White remove the blackface in which they begin the show. (TM)

Burning Man Redux (Art Academy, 8 p.m.) Cincy Fringe vet and Detroit native Tommy Nugent mined his experiences visiting Nevada's Burning Man Festival for local audiences in 2002. Last year for the Fringe, he turned inward and presented The Show, during which he explored the primary elements of theater while telling some of his life story. This year, he returns to familiar ground, another solo show described as an accidentally spiritual tale about two trips to the annual festival. He calls this show "more straightforward story-telling," but there are promises of both fire and razorblade eating. Take that! (Rodger Pille)

What the Deuce! (Media Bridges, 8:15 p.m.) "If you want to see your date squirm with delight and embarrassment," Dylan Shelton says, "this show will take care of the embarrassment." The first-time fringers' exploration of love and sex with puppets, sketch comedy and improv focuses on the nastiness of love. Shelton and Annie Kalahurka have worked on their script for a year and say their show isn't an Avenue Q rip-off. "While you may find a similar edginess," he says, "we were more influenced by the comedic styles of Ricky Gervais, Amy Sedaris, 50 Cent, Abbott and Costello, Will Ferrell, Steve Carell and Mariah Carey." (Jessica Canterbury)

Body Language (SCPA, 8:15 p.m.) The True Body Project's Body Language: A Radical Truth can't be confined to a single spot. It moves through the School for Creative and Performing Arts, audience in tow, in a collaborative voyage of discovery springing from three months of research with Cincinnati women and teenage girls. Project director Stacey Sims says the piece explores "the dense, complex, inner life of women" and body expressions of painful experience, painful history. "It's stunning and moving. Women are often uncomfortable in their bodies. They try to disconnect," Sims says. The production will move to Columbus and possibly New York. (JD)

Love of Last Resort (Below Zero, 9 p.m.) After being stranded three years on a tropical island that was a gay resort, Josh (Zach Jett) amuses himself by constantly changing personalities. He's self-sufficient, too, taking cues from Martha Stewart's magazine. Up washes Matt (Tim Keo), but he's a hard sell. He doesn't like the personality switching, and he's still mourning a past love. Jerry Rabushka wrote the script. He says, "I'm gay and I write most of the material we put on." Billed as a comedy with music (Rabushka plays keyboards), the play has a message: "Don't let your past ruin your present." (JS)

Undertow (Know MainStage, 9:15 p.m.) Typically a film is made, then music is added. Local musicians Sean Rhiney and Marc Brasington did it the other way around, writing songs and then collaborating with filmmaker Marcelina Robledo, who responded cinematically. The result tells the story of three lives forever intertwined, inexplicably and tragically. Rhiney, Brasington and other musicians perform the 12-song "soundtrack" live, exploring themes of love, innocence and loss. "I'm a Rock guy. I like playing live," says Rhiney, co-founder of the MidPoint Music Festival. "This isn't 'experimental' or 'artsy,' but you'll be engaged emotionally" by what he calls "a beautiful little disaster." (Rick Pender)

The Charlie Clark Show (SCPA Black Box, 9:15 p.m.) Actor Charlie Clark has been fretting about being pigeonholed as local theaters cast him in shows about nudity (The Full Monty, Take Me Out), sex (See What I Wanna See, Hello Again) and bestiality (Reindeer Monologues, The Goat). So he created a one-man show about the challenges of creating a one-man show. Initially his senior thesis at Wright State, after 14 years the show is funny and contemporary, focusing on his current life (married with two kids). It's very immediate, since his wife (in real life) is expecting their third child in June, perhaps while he's performing. (RPe)

Anna the Slut and the (Almost) Chosen One (Mr. Pitiful's, 9:15 p.m.) Inanna is a Sumerian goddess of sex who, like Persephone, takes a trip to the underworld. Interpreted by Warrior Hunger Theater, "Anna" is a sultry sophomore, her hell is a college bar where she'll hit one of three guys — a nerd, his ever-tardy friend and a jock. CCM writers and designers Andrew Hungerford and Chad Bonaker framed the legend anew. Hungerford says, "The ideal Fringe show should have sex, comedy, universal themes, a catchy title and puppets." Hungerford calls Anna "spectacle on a shoestring," and adds, "Thinking is good, but laughing comes first." (JS)

Opening Friday
fricative (SCPA Black Box, 7:30 p.m.) You probably never thought about liberating spoken words from linear bondage, but that's what Performance Gallery's show does. More than noise but not quite music, fricative is a performance piece that shapes eight performers into an orchestra, a "vocal gymnasium of pure sound." Says Brian Andrews-Griffin: "As far as avant-garde work, it rides that rail. There's no plot, no characters. It's like going to the symphony. It's all nonsense but with a cohesiveness. You laugh, it enhances your mood." Performance Gallery is one of the Fringe's most innovative annual contributors. (Rick Pender)

Exit-stance (SCPA Black Box, 9:30 p.m.) Playwright Harish Trivedi has written seven plays in 10 years, but Exit-stance is his first foray into a Fringe Festival. This solo piece, billed as a dark comedy, presents a man who isn't about to go gently into any good night but instead rails against it with ill temper that triggers humor and poetry. The play successfully premiered last year in Dayton, where Trivedi heads the India Foundation. The speaker, portrayed by actor, poet and computer engineer Raghava Gowda, is an Indian immigrant in his 90s whose irascible personality transcends petty boundaries of race and age. (Jane Durrell)

Opening Saturday
Inner: City (Know Underground) Sort of a Magical Mystery Tour, this is an iPod guided walking tour exploring the neighborhood setting of Fringe productions, with flashbacks to the area's theatrical history. Bring your own iPod or take a chance that the loaners aren't all gone. Some published info has incorrect tour times; the correct schedule has it departing Know Theatre at 2, 2:30, 3, 3:30 and 4 p.m. Saturday; 1:30 and 2 p.m. Sunday; and 1, 1:30, 2 and 2:30 p.m. on June 7. The tour takes approximately two hours and promises to be full of surprises. (Jane Durrell)

next to not (next to nothing) (Coffee Emporium, 7 p.m.) Earth is now considered by scientists to be in a "severe sixth period" of extinction. We lose one species every 10 minutes and one language every two weeks. CCM grad Julianna Bloodgood and CEA Hall of Famer Michael Burnham address the issue together, performing a theatrical collage devoted to extinction. "Our two voices cannot say enough. This is an issue of the Earth, personal and global," Bloodgood says. "And this is all wildly funny, in a kind of macabre way. The audience will experience a bit of truth, fact and a whole lot of poetry." (Jessica Canterbury)

The Next Stage (ETC, 8 p.m.) Ensemble Theatre of Cincinnati depends on dedicated interns for behind-the-scenes support all year long. After the season, these young professionals — 10 of them this year, mostly from college and university theater programs around the U.S. — get to showcase their talents during the Fringe Festival. After a year of classes, small roles, backstage work and understudying, they're prepared to move on to the "next stage" of their careers. In 80 minutes, they'll demonstrate their readiness with scenes, songs and monologues from sources ranging from Shakespeare to LaBute, plus a few they've written themselves. Friday and Saturday only. (Rick Pender)

UnMasked: Curt · from Detox (SCPA Studio, 8:30 p.m.) Curtis Shepard says his edgy, eight-character solo show has been percolating for seven years as he acted with local troupes (Arts Consortium, Children's Theater, ETC). Characters just show up in his head: different ages, genders and ethnicities. He lets them remove their masks and talk. "Everyone," he said, "wears different masks for work, for spouses, for people we pass on the street. Some masks are lies. Some conceal pain. It's important that we take off our masks and discover that we're all the same. We all want to be loved and accepted and respected." (Tom McElfresh)

Oatmeal and a Cigarette (Coffee Emporium, 9:15 p.m.) Bad Dog! Productions makes its first Fringe appearance with the second showing of a play about a 30-year-old guy who thinks he's 3 and likes to breast feed. The group customarily performs in non-theater spaces "gymnasium, library, church, dance bar, internet café," so will feel right at home in the Coffee Emporium at The Emery. The play developed out of several weeks of improvisation and character games, with the actors and director abetting writer George Sapio. He calls his collaborators "stellar people, great instincts and range and willing to take chances." (JD)

This Is No Ordinary Life! (CAC, 9:15 p.m.) One-time Broadway dancers Missy Lay Zimmer and Andrew Hubbard founded Exhale Dance Tribe in 2000. For the Fringe, they point their choreographic kaleidoscope at the human condition and come up with a colorful array of emotions. "The show is composed of vignettes that solicit raw emotion from everyday life," Zimmer says. Alessandra Marconi dances "Through Your Eyes," a solo about a teenager who achieves some illuminating insights into herself. "Ravaged Bridegroom" challenges women to discover their masculine side. (Jerry Stein)

Opening Sunday
Giving Up Later (NSC, 3:30 p.m.) One of the great surprises of the 2005 Fringe Fest was Adam Wagner's Don't Look Down, an energetic, uncompromised musical from someone literally just starting out. (Wagner graduated from CCM that year.) Now a New Yorker, he returns with his latest musical composition, his first truly finished work about the perils of commitment. By choosing to commit to someone or something, he reasons, aren't we really giving up future iterations of ourselves and our lives, future "laters?" Sounds like more heart-felt songs from someone who knows how to write them. (Rodger Pille)

Attack of the Angry Black Booty (Below Zero, 6:30 p.m.) Storyteller Les Kurkendaal got his idea for dealing with the challenges of weight loss working at Jenny Craig in Los Angeles. "My job is talking to people about why they want to lose weight, he says, "and I recently had a struggle with my weight as well." Also a stand-up comedian, Kurkendaal has come to prefer storytelling: "You don't have the added pressure of being funny. I was hooked." A member of the L.A.-based narrative company Story Salon for 12 years, Kurkendaal has appeared at all five Cincinnati Fringes with material often focused on race and sexuality. (Jerry Stein)

Monday Only
Car/Street (Know MainStage, 9 and 10 p.m.) According to local artist Andy Marko, "If you've ever lived in an urban neighborhood, you see human dramas just by looking out your window. The energy of an urban environment is fascinating." His 25-minute production is right up the avid people-watcher's alley. Exactly as it sounds, it's a series of cars (and maybe bikes, grocery carts) driving by on a closed-off street. This living streetscape is "car performance art," Marko says, "a re-creation of urban life with cars on an urban street. Think of a (Hieronymus) Bosch painting in real time." (Jessica Canterbury)

Opening the Second Week
Don't Make Me Pull This Show Over (Know MainStage)

Nearly Nude (CAC)

Southwest Ohio Society of Badasses (New Stage Collective)

Stawberry Pie (Know MainStage)

Your Negro Tour Guide (Media Bridges)

These productions will be previewed in the June 4 issue of CityBeat.

Fringe Venues
Art Academy of Cincinnati , 1212 Jackson St. at 12th Street

Below Zero , 1122 Walnut St. at 12th Street

Coffee Emporium , 110 E. Central Parkway

Contemporary Arts Center , 44 E. Sixth St.

Ensemble Theatre of Cincinnati , 1127 Vine St.

Know Theatre of Cincinnati , 1120 Jackson St. (two stages)

Media Bridges , 1100 Race St. at Central Parkway

Mr. Pitiful's , 1323 Main St.

New Stage Collective , 1140 Main St.

School for Creative and Performing Arts , 1310 Sycamore St. (three stages)