Vortex of the Great Unknown, the newest play from creative team Serenity Fisher and Robin O’Neal Kissel, is a whirlwind of new vocabulary words (say zoetropic five times fast); new professions (flavor listener) and new problems (an entire galaxy is about to be devoured/obliterated by a scary instellar storm, aka the vortex).
Collaborators Fisher and O’Neal Kissel, co-founders of the Tangled Leaves Theatre Collective, have an impressive history with the Cincinnati Fringe Festival. Their 2010 production, Sophie’s Dream, played to sold out crowds and ultimately took home the Audience Pick of the Fringe award. The next year, their collaboration yielded Opal Opus, another Audience Pick of the Fringe.
In Vortex, a crew of hardworking researchers, led by Dr. Sally Sauce, is struggling to come up with a potent concoction that will eradicate dimnesia, an affliction that has numbed almost the entire population of the galaxy. Zoetropians are impervious to music, scent, taste, etc. The right blend of elements will awaken the masses and even save them from the coming vortex.
Vortex, like much of Fisher and Kissel’s work, is an unusual and often charming animal. It is shamelessly eccentric, wildly creative, truly sincere, but also a touch self-indulgent at times. The pair have a knack for journeying deep, deep into the fantastical worlds they imagine. Their travels yield both exciting possibilities for the stage as well as some real obstacles for audiences. Vortex presents a fascinating and vivid new world, but the byzantine complexity of the story and even the language of the play can make it difficult for audiences to form meaningful relationships with the people onstage.
However, the piece showcases some truly amazing Fringe talent. Torie Wiggins brings her gorgeous voice and powerful presence to the role of Dr. Sauce. Another gifted singer, Whitney Argadine, is delightfully sweet and sassy as Sauce’s daughter, Honey Teriyaki. Dashiell Waterbury sings the life out of Peter Bitterman, the play’s handsome love interest. And Fisher herself does a fine job as Mable Maple, another researcher at The Fifth Taste laboratory. The show’s music, composed by Fisher, is an endearing blend of hopeful love songs and haunting melodies in minor keys. The band plays beautifully throughout, setting the mood of the piece. Cincinnati Shakespeare company member Sarah Clark’s direction polishes the production, bringing both the strange world of the play as well as its quirky characters into sharper focus. The show also makes great use of projection and multimedia.
Though not without weaknesses, Vortex of the Great Unknown offers a multi-dimensional and engaging evening at the Fringe Festival.
PERFORMANCE SCHEDULE: 6:45 p.m. June 1, 7 p.m. June 3, 9 p.m. June 6 and 3 p.m. June 8. Find more of CityBeat's ongoing 2013 Cincy Fringe Festival coverage, including performance reviews, commentary and venue details , here.