Face It

Cincinnati Fringe Festival is ready to roll for its ninth year of adventurous theater

May 23, 2012 at 7:26 am


he four images on the cover of the 2012 Cincinnati Fringe Festival program (included in CityBeat’s May 16 issue) featured various people smushing their faces against a window. Cross-eyed, surprised, disgruntled, quizzical, amused — it’s a diverse set of reactions, all appropriate responses to shows that Know Theatre will present May 29-June 9 during the ninth annual Fringe. 

Beyond the annual mantra/motto “Kinda weird. Like you,” it seems we’re being told, “Face it.” 

In fact, there will be a lot of faces to check out during the annual 11-day outpouring of creativity and craziness. It’s virtually impossible to see all 29 productions unless you take a two-week vacation and have a friendly computer-programmer plot out a schedule to ensure efficient navigation among the 10 venues throughout Over-the-Rhine. Your choices include 10 plays, nine solo shows, four dance pieces and six works described as “multimedia/variety” works — which means they don’t fit into a singular category.

To ease that mind-bending challenge, CityBeat offers this preview. But more importantly, you can follow the observations of eight writers who will catch the first performance of each show and write about it for the CityBeat arts blog at citybeat.com the following day, enabling you to read about the shows and decide which ones to see. (CityBeat has provided this service for every year of the Fringe, the only media source doing so in a comprehensive way.)

Your best plan is to pick some shows that are local and others that tour; for 2012, there are 14 of the former and 15 of the latter. Local artists come and go: Only one group, Performance Gallery, has produced a show in each of the nine festivals. This year it’s a modern fable, Rodney Rumple’s Random Reality (May 30, June 1, 3, 6 and 8), exploring human existence through the story of one boy. Performance Gallery says it’s a tale “told with love, pain and laughter.”

New Edgecliff Theatre, a year-round company, is back with another script by its playwright-in-residence Catie O’Keefe. Her play Darker was well received during the 2011 Fringe, and this time NET is staging Quake: A Closet Love Story (May 30, June 2, 4, 6 and 9). It’s a show about “love and earthquakes” and a recently split couple trapped in a storage closet.

Don’t neglect touring performers. They are frequently artists who travel to various Fringe festivals, so their performances are often more practiced and sharp. Those freaky faces gracing this week’s CityBeat cover are from Grim and Fischer: A Deathly Comedy in Full-Face Mask.

The group behind this show, WONDERHEADS from Portland, Ore., (“a man with a beard and a woman with a fondness for paper maché”) has been described as a “Fringe treasure.” During 2011, they toured Grim and Fischer to several Canadian festivals, picking up Best of Fringe awards in Calgary, Edmonton, Vancouver and Victoria. Armed with handmade masks, they tell a story of a tenacious grandmother who’s not ready to breathe her last breath (“Can you hit Death in the face with a frying pan?”). I expect this show (with a shorter run than most Fringe productions, May 30, 31 and June 2) will be an in-demand ticket.

Kevin J. Thornton returns with another round of stand-up comedy music, Strange Dreamz, about love, sex and the meaning of life (June 1, 2, 4, 6 and 8). His 2011 show, I Love You (We’re Fucked), was a hard ticket to obtain last year. You should also check out a new face in the 2012 Fringe crowd, sketch comedy artist Tanya O’Debra from New York City. Radio Star, a solo show in which she plays 10 distinct characters, won the best of the San Francisco Fringe, recognition from the Montreal Fringe and three innovative theater awards from the New York Fringe. 

Look for new works from local creators, too. Don’t Cross the Streams: The Cease & Desist Musical (May 31, June 2, 5, 7 and 9), written by Joshua Steele and Mike Hall, is being produced by the Carnegie Center in Covington, where Steele is the director of theater. It’s about a group of actors who are working on a stage musical derived from a popular 1980s movie about ghosts and the people who bust them. When they receive a letter from Columbia Pictures threatening to shut them down, they retitle the show, make several hilarious changes to the story and recruit a handsome but clueless soap opera actor to play Peter Venkman (the role originated by Bill Murray). In true Fringe farce fashion, the show features silly-string ion streams and a soft-shoe dance battle.

At least four other local writers have new scripts onstage during the Fringe. A bill of five short comedy/dramas by Phil Paradis, Love Knots (June 1, 3, 4, 7 and 8), will explore what love can make us do. Alan Jozwiak’s Tainted Love: A Zombie-Human Love Story (June 1, 3, 4, 7 and 9) gets its first production. Brad Cupples, who has had his works produced in 2008, 2009 and 2010, is back with Third Quarter Moon: A Complex Derivative Love Story (June 1, 3, 5, 7 and 9). And Tyler Smetts’ The Doppelganger Cometh and Overtaketh is the first production by a newly announced company, Homegrown Theatre. (See sidebar on this page.)

Every year Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati uses the Fringe to showcase its hardworking intern company, young actors who have supported ETC productions during the previous season. It’s a chance to see young talent that might show up on area stages in the next season or two. They’re staging Elizabeth Meriwether’s 2006 script, The Mistakes Madeleine Made (June 1, 2 and 3), an offbeat coming-of-age comedy about a young woman who develops a phobia about bathing.

This is the second year for FringeNext, a Fringe project that enables high school students to create, direct, produce and perform works. Two shows will be staged at the School for Creative and Performing Arts, both by students of that institution; Blown Up and You Will Have Twenty-Five Minutes to Complete This Essay will both be presented on May 30, June 1 and 2.

If dance is your thing, you’ll find works by local companies — MamLuft & Co. is presenting Latitude (May 31, June 2, 5, 7 and 9), and Pones Inc. is involved in a multidisciplinary piece entitled Project Activate (June 1, 3, 6, 7 and 9) — and two out-of-town troupes. During the first week of the Fringe, Chicago’s Space/Movement Project will bring a retrospective of their work, Kiss Kiss Missiles (June 1, 2 and 3). During the second week, Houston’s Psophonia Dance Company will offer Delicious (June 5, 6, 8 and 9).

Of special interest: One night only, June 8, True Theatre returns for its second “


” program, featuring five artists from the 2012 Fringe who will share true behind-the-scenes looks at life in and around the theater. As with True Theatre’s regular quarterly offerings, these monologues will be honest personal stories told in a matter-of-fact — and deeply felt — way. 

The toughest thing you’ll face during the 2012 Cincinnati Fringe is how to take it all in.  


CityBeat ’s arts blog during the Fringe Festival ’s opening days for reviews of all 29 performances as they open.