Cover Story: What a Rush

Fringe Festival brings back edgy performance art for a second year

Jun 1, 2005 at 2:06 pm
CityBeat Hot Issue 2005

Summer gets off with a particular blast of heat thanks to the second annual Cincinnati Fringe Festival, beginning Wednesday and continuing through June 12. Last year's first-time event proved that our supposedly conservative city has plenty of fans willing to turn out for cutting-edge theatrical and performance art events.

Close to 2,000 people attended more than 30 productions and visited temporary art gallery spaces in May 2004. The organizers chose three of the best-received shows and staged a "Pick of the Fringe" benefit that raised $1,136 and helped the Fringe meet its $14,800 financial goal. (The Fringe grossed roughly $23,000, with roughly $8,000 paid out to performers.) An anonymous gift of $7,000 helped lay an even firmer foundation for this year.

As CityBeat did a year ago, we'll again provide in-depth, online coverage of the Fringe Festival. We begin with this preview package discussing each of the productions. As quickly as they open, our staff of Fringe reviewers will provide their commentary online at

Columbus-based BlueForms Theatre Company, one of last year's favorites, will return, but there are plenty of new acts to explore and savor.

Most performances will take place at one of four venues: the Contemporary Arts Center's downstairs black box theater (which was one of last year's spaces); the Cincinnati Ballet's new performance space at Liberty Street and Central Parkway; Memorial Hall on Elm Street (just south of Music Hall in Over-the-Rhine); and Gabriel's Corner (in Over-the-Rhine at Sycamore and Liberty streets). Check out the Fringe Web site ( Does This Monologue Make Me Look Fat? (by Amy Salloway, 70 minutes). Described as a collection of seven stories/ poems/musings loosely linked by the themes of food, sex, body image and relationships and how those four interconnect, Does This Monologue is writer-actor Amy Salloway's opportunity to boil theater down to its simplest and most powerful form. "I wanted the most important thing about the show to be the stories themselves, the immediacy," she says. While the show is about loneliness, dissatisfaction and insecurity, she says its comedic and irreverent approach makes it safe for everyone to admit, "Hell, yeah, I'm lonely. Hell, yeah, I hate myself sometimes. You do, too? Awesome!" Awesome, and Fringe at its finest. (RP)

Don't Look Down, A Song Cycle (An Acquired Taste Production with music and lyrics by Adam Wagner and additional music by Ben Magnuson; directed by Richard E. Hess, 50 minutes). Seeing a funky show that could play nowhere else is a valid reason to head to the Fringe, but seeing one of the area's great rising talents for perhaps the last time locally is just as valid. So goes one good reason to see Don't Look Down. CCM graduating senior Adam Wagner has impressed audiences since he arrived in Clifton four years ago, and in this piece — written and performed by Wagner and directed by UC professor Richard Hess — Wagner really gets to strut his stuff. "(It was) an experiment for me to put songs I had previously only played in living rooms in front of a live audience who has a choice to like it or not," Wagner says. "There is no conventional storyline but completely unrelated songs brought together to tell a story." (RP)

Dr. Debbi's Musical Medicine Show: A Parody of Healthcare in Cincinnati & America (created by Debbi Silverman and Mitch Liberman, 45 minutes). The show's co-creator and solo performer is Debbi Silverman, M.D. By day she's a board-certified family physician who has been in private practice; these days she's employed by the Cincinnati Department of Health. By night she sings, acts and does stand-up. Her 10-number, 50-minute Medicine Show weds parody lyrics to familiar melodies and provides, she says, "an opportunity to laugh at the very frustrating experience of dealing with our healthcare system." The material lampoons, among other things, lifestyle pharmaceuticals, doctor/lawyer conflict and the local Academy of Medicine's evolving class action lawsuit against local health insurance providers. (TM)

dr. pain on main (InkTank, written by Aralee Strange, 60 minutes). Aralee Strange is drawn to life in the streets. Not so much homelessness — she means city life among people who don't have yards, who live together in the open because there's nowhere to hide. A former Main Street resident, the poet says she's fascinated by what she sees there. "You just can't help being an observer of what's going on around you," she says, sitting in the Main Street headquarters of InkTank, which is producing her show. Strange has resurrected dr. pain for the Fringe after several years away from it. Director and dramaturg Michael Burnham (also a member of the Cincinnati Entertainment Awards Hall of Fame) says the project dates back to the "last big gentrification" of Over-the-Rhine but is still relevant. They've revised the script so that it hovers between poetry and theater. "Reality is fine," Strange says, "but I just think in the theater you might want reality plus something else." (EC)

The Dream of the Astronaut (The Commonwealth, written by Chip Gambill, 60 minutes). A comedy/ drama/tragedy revolving around one man's encounters over time with three different women. The relationships illustrate the unrealistic expectations we have of one another, but they remain the catalysts for self-realization. "We are the breakers of our own hearts," Gambill says. The strong creative team is headed by Bulgarian Peter Karapetkov, who has directed worldwide from Moscow to Dublin. The leading man, Cincinnati Shakespeare Festival co-founder and former artistic director Nick Rose, is no stranger to Cincinnati audiences. The three stopovers on Rose's journey are played by Jennifer Dalton, Lindsey Valitchka and Jardana Peacock. (MS)

Dying to Tell (written and performed by Mark Flanigan, 75 minutes). Mark Flanigan has been affecting audiences with his poetry since 2000 in venues ranging from the Contemporary Arts Center to "your local dive." His ambitious Fringe project consists of the performance of five completely different shows, a sort of chronological retrospective featuring pieces that audiences seemed to like best. An underlying theme is the difficulty of needing to work full-time and to write and the consequences this has had for his health and his relationships. Besides telling stories and reading poems, Flanigan incorporates samples, song, poems read on top of instruments and accompaniment by local musicians such as Steven Proctor. (MS)

Fafi Meets Sandie — or the Aftermath (created by Farai Bere and Sandra Ndebele, 60 minutes). There's nothing unusual about political circumstances impacting performing arts, but for Farai Bere and Sandra Ndebele's dance work the government of their native Zimbabwe forced the project in an entirely different direction: Choreographer Ndebele was unable to leave the country for "political reasons." Besides enlisting another choreographer, the New York-based group modified the piece and added a subtitle. Two female dancers portray women who meet at a refugee camp and share stories of political disappointment and flirtations with men through a fusion of styles — traditional African, Hip Hop and, unexpectedly, ballet. (JM)

Hooray for Speech Therapy (Too Much Free Time Productions, written and performed by Kurt Fitzpatrick, 60 minutes). So OK, going into theater isn't the most obvious career move for a guy who stutters, but when Kurt Fitzpatrick got a taste of acting in a high school play he knew theater was for him. Hooray for Speech Therapy is his funny account of overcoming his problem by way of various speech therapy programs, including one he calls "speech therapy boot camp." The Brooklyn-based comic says, "It's the story I would have been too embarrassed to tell until I realized I had nothing to be embarrassed about. Everyone has something to deal with in their lives." He's learned his trade, acting and improv, at places like Second City and has created the first comedic one-man show about stuttering performed by a stutterer. (JD)

Kala Natesa (Planet Dance in collaboration with Exhale Contemporary Dance Company, created by Andrew Hubbard and Missy Lay Zimmer, 60 minutes). It's been said that hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, so watch out for the dark, feminine power in Exhale's new work. The piece for seven female dancers was inspired by the multi-armed, sword-wielding Hindu goddess Durga. Founders of the locally-based, contemporary Jazz company are former Broadway dancers Missy Lay Zimmer and Andrew Hubbard. The snazzy pair enjoy taking dramatic flair to new heights, from dynamic choreography and theatrical lighting to wild hair and makeup (Cats, anyone?). A perfect match for a demon-slaying female deity! The program also features a series of four solos, including a "freestyle" improvisational piece by Hubbard. (JM)

Karaoke Knights, a One-Man Rock Opera (Timothy Mooney Repertory Theatre, created by Tim Mooney, 75 minutes). Put simply, there are two camps when it comes to karaoke. There are absolute addicts who can't do it or see it enough. And then there are liars who say they're not in the first camp. Tim Mooney, a Chicago-based actor and self-appointed "karaoke king," is unapologetically in the former camp and brings his "one man and a microphone" tour-de-force to this year's festival. What makes this Fringe-worthy? "I don't think any traditional theatre would take a chance on it until they saw its impact on an audience, and the Fringe itself provides that venue and that audience," Mooney says. (RP)

A Mime Is a Terrible Thing to Waste (Playwright Development Project, written by Chuck Sambuchino, 60 minutes). Not your father's mime show. Employing a cast of eight mimes, it pokes fun at mime even while celebrating the genre. It sounds unique and festive and promises to be a family draw. The audience gets into the act, and some of it will be surreal: "When one mime throws a punch from the side of the room, another mime on the other side of the room must recoil." The four-year gestation of this project began at Xavier University, including a developmental workshop through Cincinnati Playwrights Initiative. The script is direct- ed by Carrie-Ellen Zappa featuring Bob Elkins, Chuck Haungs and Mikhail Roberts. (MS)

Moments of Disconnect (Sawyer House Productions, created by Dan Bernitt, 60 minutes). This is a one-man show portraying scenes from the author/performer's life. Incorporating elements of monologue, stand-up comedy, literary reading and spoken word, Bernitt looks at the fabric of his life from the ordinary moments such as climbing a tree to the defining realization of his being gay in America. The piece promises a range of emotion from sultry to energetic to funny. Since its premiere a year ago, Moments of Disconnect has been performed at a wide variety of venues throughout Kentucky. A singer, songwriter, poet and monologist from Kentucky, Bernitt is himself a work in progress as he explores a variety of art forms. (PK)

Rebels with a Cause (created and performed by Ensemble Theatre of Cincinnati's intern company, 80 minutes). Throughout ETC's recent season 10 apprentices played small roles and did backstage grunt work. Up to now their "cause" has been the struggle to support themselves as they find their individual voices as artists and make their way in the theater. Now guided, directed and pruned by Northern Kentucky University theater professor Cheryl Maxine Couch, they're taking the stage as writers, directors and actors in a collage of material they created or adapted for themselves — with, per Couch, "unique entrances, dynamic physicality and shocking images." Their cause now, as Couch puts it, is "to say something big and important." (TM)

Running on Empty Fairytales (MegLouise Dance Group, created by Megan Pitcher, 40 minutes). This performance is a movement adventure, unfolding in the way a series of dreams might flash through your mind in the morning. Seven dancers perform Pitcher's choreography set to the music of Te Vaka, Thomas Newman, Randy Newman and Lokua Kanza. The audience is gradually drawn into the piece posing some of life's questions, "If this is normal, why is it so hard?" or "If I'm the only one, then why is this happening to me?" Though questions are asked, the answers are left to the audience. The creator implies that the ultimate answer might actually be another question, "What is it I wanted?" The MegLouise Dance Group started in Michigan in 2002 and then moved to Mansfield, Ohio, in 2004. Fringe marks the premiere of this piece and the group's first performance in this part of the country. (PK)

Slow Children Playing (by Anna Marie Agniel, 50 minutes). Is everything moving too fast? How about, just for a change, taking things at a different pace? Some people do, because they're "developmentally delayed." Anna Marie Agniel suggests those who do might know something the rest of us don't. Slow Children Playing, a wholly one-woman production — she wrote it, directed it and is the sole performer — is based on her experiences with her sister, Mary Kate, who was born with a chromosomal abnormality that makes her mildly retarded. Mary Kate, Agniel says, in her own way helped write the piece: "Everything is taken from something she's said or from teachers at her school or from friends. I've talked with her about it, and I try to use her own words for most everything." Chicago-based Agniel has done improv, experimental theater, children's theater and "plain old drama," but she's most motivated by her own work. (JD)

Tectonics (Moving Art Dance Company, created by Colleen McCarty, 60 minutes). Cincinnati's only contemporary dance ensemble turns out a Fringe performance with what's becoming its signature mix of modern dance, yoga and improvisation. Choreographer Colleen McCarty says the work focuses on "pure movement," stances and breathing. "It's about things shifting and the result of that and then the reaction," she says, hence the title. But don't go expecting flowing routines or for the choreography to fit exactly to the music — chances are, if you're attending any Fringe performance, you won't be. "It is interpretive," McCarty says. "(Modern dance) is an abstract form expressing abstract ideas." In this arena, we would expect no less. Tectonics also features an opening musical concert by Chris Roesing. (JT)

Thrash Poems and Other Questionable Forms (Catharsism of Narcotica, created by Olchar E. Lindsann, 60 minutes). The Columbus group Catharsism of Narcotica promises an exciting and eclectic experience that's truly on the fringe of theater, poetry or whatever you want to call it. Thrash Poems covers a vast array of topics — from time travel to spelunking to French Nunism — and doesn't rely on words alone to get across the ideas, utilizing kazoos, slide whistles, found Casio keyboards and any sound that can possibly be made with the mouth. It should be a sensational experience that'll give you something to talk about for quite a while. (CW)

Three (Totally Realistic Productions, by Donna Sellinger, 50 minutes). This piece not only wowed audiences earlier this year during the Playhouse in the Park's "alteractive" series, it won the award for best written entry at the 2004 Minneapolis Fringe Festival. Playwright Sellinger finds her inspiration in tiny details and obscure memories from her life, then turns them into entire stories that she hopes "move or touch people or strike a certain emotional resonance." She's quick to point out that the pieces don't dictate a specific message; rather, their goal is to write and act well to strike that resonance. Three combines three stories told in succession that appear completely unconnected, yet each is narrated by a child and revolves around dissatisfaction with his/her particular family situation. (JB)

Woyzecked and Left for Dead (a collaborative creation by Cincinnati's Performance Gallery, 90 minutes). In March, the Performance Gallery presented Woyzeck, an original interpretation of Georg Büchner's unfinished script from 1837. Now they're coming to the Fringe with an even more liberal adaptation of the visionary play: Woyzecked and Left for Dead, or the Killer Whispers and Prays. In the original Woyzeck is a poor soldier who returns from war to an unfaithful mistress. The Fringe version makes Woyzeck a woman, adds puppets and gives the tale a modern spin. Says playwright Nathan Singer, "You're dealing with the essential concept of a soldier coming home from war and what happens, and that's one of those universal concepts." (EC)

THE 2005 CINCINNATI FRINGE FESTIVAL runs June 1-12 in six performance spaces downtown and in Over-the-Rhine. See page 42 of the regular CityBeat issue for a calendar of times, dates and locations and check for up-to-the-minute schedule details. Reviews of these performances will be posted daily at