Review: Assholes and Aureoles

I expected this show to be laugh-out-loud funny, and it was funny. But, more than that, it was smart. Like really smart. The company and Cincy Fringe organizers didn't play up that aspect of the show. Might it scare off the masses?

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It’s usually a bad thing to have any kind of expectations walking into the theater. Something you expect to be good is never good enough. Conversely, if you don’t think you’re going like something, you probably won’t.

Having said that, I full-on admit I expected Assholes and Aureoles to be funny. Like really funny. Like pee-in-your-pants funny.

Lofty and unfair expectation, right? Yes and no. And that’s the best part of theatergoing: the surprises. Assholes was funny. But, more than that, it was smart. Like really smart.

The company and the Fringe organizers didn’t play up that aspect of the show. Might it scare off the masses? Maybe, although hopefully not at Cincy Fringe. But I guess it’s wise marketing to tout instead the comedic outrageousness of any show with “asshole” in the title.

Stringing together six unrelated scenes, the two-woman piece explores all manner of social dysfunction. Domestic violence. Child molestation. Sexual harassment in the workplace. Politically correct identification. All subjects tackled with absolute gusto, fearlessness and candor. And, yes, with intelligence.

Performers and co-creators Diane Kondrat and Karen Irwin — along with playwright Eric Pfeffinger — fashion a show befitting of the opening night of a fringe festival. Adult breast-feeding just has a way of setting a tone, you know?

But that first piece could easily have been about the joke, the gimmick or a glorified sight gag. Instead, the performers make some subversive commentary on mother-and-daughter relationships. Oh sure, the joke is there — and funny it is. But it was more than that.

The second piece might be the funniest of the bunch: a soliloquy on the glowing merits of Chris Hansen from TV’s To Catch a Predator reports. Kondrat sits unassumingly in front of the audience and holds up an 8-by-10 glossy of Hansen. What follows is wonderful and perverse. “What must it feel like to do such good,” she asks, “and be so hot?” Her Hansen fantasy leaves no detail untold.

The third scene is a monologue for Irwin about rape. As expected, literally and figuratively, she turns the table on the matter.

The longest and most ambitious piece is set in a nondescript women’s shelter. This scene might best sum up the strengths of the two women, who relentlessly spar every way imaginable as Kondrat’s social worker determines if Irwin’s Pollyanna-suburban girl is up for the task of volunteering at such an emotionally challenging place.

It’s in this piece that the two actresses use their height contrast to great effect. It’s also the most physically demanding of the set. Each plays three wacky, wide-ranging characters, one more outrageous than the next (most especially an Eliza Doolittle homage).

It’s a great, entertaining and simultaneously hard-hitting scene. And, yes, it’s wicked smart.

Performed at New Stage Collective through June 6. See performance dates and preview here.

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