At the opening performance of Cincinnati-based Performance Gallery’s entry into the 2011 Fringe mélange I was sometimes puzzled at the direction the show was taking. But my attention rarely wandered far from the 14 very competent actors onstage who appeared in situations ranging from the absurd to the tongue-in-cheek. Creative credits are too many to list, including scripting, directing, conceptualization and development.
Jodie Linver, to the sound of a pulsing heartbeat, surrounded by dead flowers and in white Butoh-face, appeared every so often as a dead person apparently trying to ascend to a version of heaven. The repetition of her deadpan attempts — in the end spitting out flower petals and standing in a waiting posture on half-toe — had the audience giggling and applauding. Was I seeing hints of Angels in America?
There was no shortage of raw humor. A carnie-like announcer with a British accent introduced (and added sound effects) a fart joke. A gentleman in a raincoat tried to sell body parts like a spleen and uvula (which he guaranteed would impress when you were finally able to pronounce Bach’s name correctly). He offered a chamber pot painted by da Vinci, and a woman tartly informed him she’d already acquired one from NPR. She turned out to be a client who had purchased Prometheus’ liver, which she didn’t strictly need, so that she could drink more.
Jokes were pretty broad. An enraged audience member jumped up: the performance was terrible. On his back was a sign reading “Godot.” “Here’s Grimmy!” intoned the announcer as if he were Ed McMahon, and indeed a limp figure sat in a chair alongside a Woody-Allen-ish Reaper, a black-cloaked figure carrying a scythe, who’s interviewing one Mr. Smitherington about what it’s like to be dead.
He’s not quite, actually and asks who she is. “I’m death, and you’re a nincompoop.”
Other situations and characters spooled out between intermittent black-outs.
Daddy Frank, a mean bastard apparently mourning his dead wife, steals Molly his son Vern’s promiscuous girlfriend. His pregnant daughter, Jenny, tries to leave home but has a miscarriage. A little Tennessee Williams, anyone?
A man who drinks with his girlfriend and another woman is cuckolded by the woman. It reminded me of the movie’s When Harry Met Sally line, “I’ll have what she’s having,” when he takes his girlfriend’s vocal climax to be an affirmation of his oh-so-sensible biases.
In “The Week Off (That Off-Week)” three made-up, attractive women sprawl on a bed and sequentially recount their varying insecurity and happiness in life, after which they put on their high heels and march out, presumably into the real world from which they have taken a short leave.
A puppet manipulated through a tear in the backdrop is accompanied by a strange story about a boy which segues into a scene in which two men, one in a huge diaper, cowboy boots and hat encourages a crying seated man to describe in an increasingly confused conclusion how he likes to kill with his hands.
Probably there’s another famous play I’m missing reference to here; there were certainly hints of nasty sexual role-playing. But how does it all add up? And why does the crying man end up crawling on the floor saying “Praise him” toward the puppet who is now wound up in what looks like cotton batting?
For me this production, billed as “a series of little plays exploring a theme,” trended towards spoofs defining the human race in terms of its shortcomings and the eventual end of us all. The concluding vignette was disturbing. At the same time, it was both riveting and distancing. Very Fringy.
The intimate venue at 1411 Vine St. (perhaps 40 seats; some people sat on the floor in front of the first row) has a new wood floor, soaring white walls and an embellished ceiling, providing a lovely framework for the show.
Afterwards, I had only a few minutes to walk up to the third floor and see the seven photos that inspired “The Body Speaks: scripted.” I could see hints of the calligraphic silhouettes of the photographer’s subjects in the performance I had just seen, but I was mostly struck by how far the imaginations of the Performance Gallery’s collaborators had ranged.