Review: The Secrets Project

This 55-minute, group-created "show" is all very earnest. It's intense and painfully angst-driven. But it's pop-psych drivel that Dr. Phil would be ashamed to spout.

The Secrets Project is the last to open and among the least effective of 31 shows that have thrilled, delighted, entertained, astounded, irritated, bored, distracted and mystified audiences during the altogether successful 2009 Cincy Fringe Festival.

Why Fringe managers allowed this show’s Cincinnati-rooted, Chicago-based producers, The Genesis Ensemble, to drag it into the former New Stage Collective space for only two performances on the festival's last two days is a secret they should keep. (Most Fringe shows give four or five performances.) Why the young women who make up the Ensemble should want to strip search their personalities in public is a secret their Project keeps ... and they’re welcome to it.

The 55-minute, group-created “show” is all very earnest. It’s intense and painfully angst-driven. But it’s pop-psych drivel that Dr. Phil would be ashamed to spout.

Everyone has secrets. They can be big, small, embarrassing, silly or dangerous, even lethal. Yes, keeping a secret can destroy a relationship, but it can also preserve one. Yes, people sometimes reveal secrets to intimates, often with unexpected, even harrowing results. Yes, sometimes people discover other people’s secrets and turn that knowledge into power. They can use such secrets to build friendships or to destroy lives. The keeping (and blabbing) of secrets has kept All My Children and As The World Turns throbbing along on daytime television for years.

It’s on that romance novel, soap opera level of character development that The Secrets Project operates. (“He dumped me." “She betrayed me.” “Look at me, I’m a lesbian.”)  It really should be titled The Twentysomething Female Secrets Project. The exploration might profit from having some thirtysomething, fiftysomething, even seventysomething secrets. And maybe some male ones.

The show’s printed program keeps secrets of its own. Five women are listed as ensemble members: Amanda Jane Dunne, Jennifer Leininger, Cece Miller, Kat Paddock and Rebecca Ribich. It’s fair to assume that they're the five who appear on stage, though nothing certifies that or differentiates among the five. Lindsey Barlag is listed as director. Annie Perry is credited as dramaturg and lighting designer.

All the performers appear to be of graduate student age, but the biographies in the program spout the sort of juvenilia you’d expect if they were in junior high. One woman wants to run away and join a circus. Maybe she should have.

The Project jerks forward in segments. There are a few scene-ending blackouts. On opening night none of these obvious breaks was greeted with applause from the 30 or so audience members.

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

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