There is something supremely liberating about knowing that, of all the many people around the world, at the instant you’re attending Ain’t That Good News you most certainly are the only one having that exact experience. You must be, because there's no show quite like it. Not just in the Cincy Fringe or any Fringe, but on any stage anywhere.
It seems simple enough and therefore not unique: two performers, two mics, a handful of instruments and an otherwise bare stage. But until you factor in the two personalities, their talents and their collective life experiences, you don’t realize what a long, strange trip you’re on.
Truth be told, the performers — husband and wife duo Abigail and Shaun Bengson — are the ones whose trip you’re bogarting. But that’s the whole basis of the show. They traveled the world, the Bengsons explain at the outset.
“That’s what we do,” Abigail says. “We talk to people and write songs about them.”
This show is a collection of about 10 of those songs with their back-stories sometimes thrown in for good measure.
Right from the start, as soon as the first bars of the first tune are played, it's clear Abigail has a killer voice with Janis Joplin-type vocal power tucked away. It doesn’t entirely come out in that first piece, but I made a mental note to wait for it. During the next song, a tune inspired by a gang member in El Salvador, she hints at it even more. Unfortunately, most of the audience is left waiting for it to connect with them since Abigail’s vocal acrobatics are all in Spanish. Impressive nonetheless.
Shaun’s musical skills shine in the next piece about a vaudevillian from Vermont and his masturbating monkey. (As Abigail says, “You can’t make this stuff up.”) Shaun expertly plays any number of musical instruments over the course of Ain’t That Good News, including the guitar, keyboards, ukulele and accordion. His vocals get a chance to shine in the fourth tune about shut-ins in Indiana. It’s a poignantly sad song, the kind Neil Young in his prime would write.
Abigail brings the characters in the stories to life through her vocal prowess: the Norwegian circus performer out for vengeance, the God-fearing mother from Dayton and the friend from New Orleans who vividly describes the perfect woman. They all have different stories to tell. So the Bengsons perform each piece differently, mixing up the style constantly.
It’s a cool device that implies the Bengsons don’t just think what you have to say is unique and interesting. They’re also going to musically present your story in a way that's unique and interesting in the context of their show.
The Coffee Emporium space helps the intimate vibe immensely. If there is a quibble, it’s that some of the vocals got a bit garbled in the back of the space during the show’s first performance. I hope it can be corrected quickly.
There’s just no easy way to describe the experience. It’s like a New York cabaret performed by a young couple on their way to Haight-Ashbury by way of a coffeehouse open mic in Athens, Ohio. It’s odd and raw, by turns challenging and accessible, touching and frothy.
It’s a little bit of everything, and it’s also unlike anything you’ve seen and heard before. For Fringe-goers, that’s good news.
(Get upcoming performance dates and venue details here.)