Updated June 4: Cincinnati Fringe Festival reviews—Here's what you should see, consider and skip

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WCPO.com has reviewed most of the 32 shows in the 2014 Cincinnati Fringe Festival, rating and grouping them as either "Must See," "Worth Consideration" or "Find Another Fringe Show." Browse our picks and go see shows!

Must See

Fotis Canyon

Produced by Mike Fotis; Minneapolis

Review: Mike Fotis is new to the Cincinnati Fringe, but his autobiographical stories of embarrassment, woe and high anxiety have entertained Minnesota Fringe audiences for many years. Here, as in Minnesota, he sits and reads, a Spalding Gray for the 21st Century. But even seated, Fotis is in fourth gear—his tempo, gestures and booming baritone smacking the back of the room. As written, the stories are sharp and funny. But it’s through Fotis’ performance and persona—smart but schlubby, awkward and ever frustrated (the healthiest relationship he's ever had, "by far," is with his cat)—that these stories gain their signature. The laughs are never far apart, but Fotis' personal and universal observations are gaining poignancy. Near the end of a story about hiking with his family in the Grand Canyon, unmoored by his fear of heights, Fotis relates learning “We’re all on the edge of a canyon, but only recently I’ve realized I’m in control of how wide the path will be.”—Matt Peiken

Remaining Fringe performances: Gateways to Healing—9:15 p.m. Thur., June 5 and 7 p.m. Sat., June 7.

Traffick

Produced by Pones Inc.; Cincinnati

Review: With masks over your eyes, you’re invited to roam the hallways, alcoves and sanctuary of First Lutheran Church. Everywhere, scenes play out illustrating—through narrative, dance, abstraction, light and sound—human trafficking and the entwined fear, humiliation and helplessness. It's just the latest social justice issue taken on by Kim Popa and her dance company, Pones Inc. Here, as in her best work, Popa isn’t crafting a performance but an experience. We meet junkies, prostitutes, pushers and pimps. While movement is Pones' foundation, the most compelling moments are the character interactions. Some are impossible to miss, but a few are so quiet you might be the only audience member to notice or stumble upon them. With the church as her stage, Popa missed an opportunity to bring religion into play here—a priest or nun, perhaps—offering a potential escape or respite for victims of the street. Regardless, you can't help but come away moved by the stories of people who, unlike the audience, aren't free to leave.—Matt Peiken

Remaining Fringe performances: First Lutheran Church—8:30 p.m. Fri., June 6 and 8:30 p.m. Sat., June 7.

An Unauthorized Biography of Benny Hill

Produced by Four Humors Theater; Minneapolis

Review: This isn’t so much an autobiography as a deconstruction of the deceased British comedian. In the hands of Four Humors, the Minneapolis ensemble well-known to Cincy Fringe audiences, this plays out as a sketch variety show. There’s slapstick and mimicry, and only some of the material is drawn from Hill’s sophomoric, dirty-old-man romps. A lot of it is funny. Perhaps the best sketch is a smart observation on how little we pay attention to the lyrics of our favorite pop songs. Four Humors seems just as puzzled as many people were over Hill’s popularity. Strung through the humor is a thread of loneliness, an illustration of perhaps the most authentic Benny Hill.—Matt Peiken

Remaining Fringe performances: Know Theatre—9:15 p.m. Wed., June 4; 7 p.m. Thur., June 5 and 8:45 p.m. Sat., June 7.

Reflections

Produced by The Freedom Ensemble; Cincinnati

Review: The pressure to look skinny, especially among adolescents, is all around us. Here, the actors take us into the dark mind of men and women dealing with eating disorders. The actors would look into mirrors and say “I hate my body.” In this beautiful, well-done play, the actors illustrate the desire for people to fit in to a certain crowd or somehow be noticed by others. The characters begin a “diet,” but one thing they never lose is their suffering.—Natalya Daoud

Remaining Fringe performances: Elementz—8:30 p.m. Wed., June 4 and 7:15 p.m. Fri., June 6.

A Brief History of Beer

Produced by Wish Experience; London

Review: Never taking itself too seriously for a moment, "A Brief History of Beer" has a stellar, cosmic opening that pulls the crowd right in. Encouraging just the right amount of audience participation in this drink-along history lesson, this performance has something to offer everyone. Whether you're a usual suspect looking for a lighthearted, comedic adventure through this time-traveling booze cruise or a serious craft beer snob, this play brings a lot of laughs and plenty of memorable fun. Be sure to grab a pint of your favorite drink before the show begins.—Marc Kennedy

Remaining Fringe performances: Know Theatre—7:30 p.m. Wed., June 4 and 7:30 p.m. Fri., June 6.

Something Something New Vagina

Produced by Rebecca Kling; Chicago

Review: Equal parts performance and public service announcement, “Something Something New Vagina” is a primer for the ages

on understanding the experience of “gender reassignment surgery.” That’s the term used by Rebecca Kling, a smart, funny, filter-free performer from Chicago just seven months past her surgery that turned “my outie into an innie. My Kelsey Grammer became a Scarlet Johansson.” Early on, Kling normalizes our view of people born into the wrong bodies by comparing her surety to that of the title character in “The Little Mermaid.” Later, she brings us the details of her surgery—her parents, divorced, were largely supportive (her father told her he’d love her “whatever you are as long as you’re not a Republican). The Q&A at the end of Kling’s show is just as revealing.—Matt Peiken

Remaining Fringe performances: Gateways to Healing—7:15 p.m. Wed., June 4 and 2:30 p.m. Sat. June 7.

The Legend of White Woman Creek

Produced by The Coldharts; Brooklyn, N.Y.

Review: Katie Hartman dresses up as the ghost of Anna Morgan Faber, a 19th Century stay-at-home mother, to illustrate the story of her married struggles and the death of her son through spoken word and song. This opera-folk singer plays guitar and graces us with slow and fast tempos and her magnificent voice, which pulls the audience into her story and brings us to a dead silence. Most of the story is performed in song, though Hartman doesn’t once lose character.—Natalya Daoud

Remaining Fringe performances: MOTR Pub—7:15 p.m. Wed., June 4; 7:30 p.m. Friday, June 6 and 5 p.m. Saturday, June 7.

Ikelus

Produced by students at St. Xavier High School; Cincinnati

Review: Haunting piano notes play as a teenage boy, Ike, finds out he suffers from narcolepsy.  Though often poked fun at for his uncontrolled napping, Ike’s inability to discern reality from dreams forces him to consider a difficult question: How does one deal with an inwardly complex disease that restricts emotional range and feeling? J.C. Statt’s new play perfectly illustrates the struggle of a no-longer-average teen as he tries to cope with his strange dreams and unfortunate reality. The subtle shifts between illusion and reality are sharp and tragic, asking, “Why live if you can’t feel?”—Lindsey Gwen Franxman

Remaining Fringe performance: None remaining.

Where Edward Went

Produced by Untethered Theater; Cincinnati

Review: The alluring title, alone, has the ability to draw people in, and the actual performance delivers everything to fulfill that initial curiosity. Bookended by two emotive pieces of interview footage to go along with the documentary theme, this play seamlessly flows in and out of a theatrical non-fiction feel to a post-modern, condensed drama. You often don't have any idea where the plot is going, but you're just as happy to be on the ride – a great story that would fit equally well for an artsy short film.—Marc Kennedy

Remaining Fringe performances: Art Academy Auditorium—7 p.m. Thur., June 5 and 3:15 p.m. Sat. June 7.

Sarge

Produced by Clifton Performance Theatre; Cincinnati

Review: Christine Dye delivers a patient, layered and riveting performance as the wife of Jerry Sandusky, the disgraced former college football coach and convicted molester of young boys. The play, written by actor-playwright and Fort Mitchell, Ky., native Kevin Crowley, is set at the time of the unfolding charges against Sandusky and, ultimately, Sandusky’s trial. But this well-researched one-woman show is all about Dye’s “Sarge”—the nickname for Sandusky’s wife—and her blind devotion to her husband. “Family, God and livin’ a decent life” are all that matter to her, and all have been breached. Sarge sits at her kitchen table, Bible always within reach, hesitant and embarrassed but compelled to talk about the “lies” hurled about her husband. Rather than having her address the audience, Crowley takes the risk of posing Sarge in conversations, first with a neighbor and then a police officer, neither of whom we see. It pays off. Dye’s watered eyes and quivering mouth are real, and she portrays Sarge as both simple and ferocious. In the end, we can’t help but sympathize with anyone caught up as collateral damage—people who also become victims of the bad things done by those they love the most.—Matt Peiken

Remaining Fringe performances: Art Academy Auditorium—7:15 p.m. Wed., June 4 and 7 p.m. Fri., June 6.

The King & I: A Hunk of Burnin’ Love

Produced by Schedule C Productions; Anderson, Ind.

Review: Playwright Kevin Holladay playfully pokes at America’s willingness to worship in a 45-minute satire that equally skewers televangelists, TV news and The King himself. I didn’t laugh at the TV stuff, but I did laugh with Melvin MacGillicuddy, whose grandmother is lifted from a coma by Presley’s 1957 Christmas album. As Preacher Melvis Praisley, he battles the same demons Elvis did. His Las Vegas sermon, cleverly stitched from the lyrics of Elvis’ hits, is easily worth the price of admission.—Dan Monk

Remaining Fringe performances: 17 E. Court St.—7 p.m. Wed. June 4 and 5 p.m. Sat., June 7.

Short-Attention-Span Theatre

Produced by

SAST; Tucson, Ariz.

Review: The young, talented cast delivers not only a stellar performance, but also a theatrical challenge. The cast opens the show immediately with its mission—to deliver 30 plays in 60 minutes—and the audience roars with laughter for every second. While the topics of these plays undoubtedly resonate most with a younger audience, their mature delivery brings an equal amount of laughs for open-minded people of any age. Mission accomplished!—Marc Kennedy

Remaining Fringe performances: Art Academy Commons—7 p.m. Wed., June 4 and 7 p.m. Thur., June 5.

Slut Shaming

Produced by Trey Tatum; Cincinnati

Review: Writer-producer Trey Tatum jumps right to the chase—the story of a teenaged girl tagged as a slut, and the bullying that comes with it, after an alleged date rape. Tatum’s writing is tight and crisp, with only dashes of humor to leaven the intensity. Tatum and director Bridget Leak challenge their audience with time shifts, surrealism and a swirl of narrative and character portrayals delivered by three young actresses (Shayna Schmidt is the most versatile and expressive of them). As the brisk show reaches its apex, “Slut Shaming” delivers its most powerful message—that women have the power to control their own narratives.—Matt Peiken

Remaining Fringe performances: None remaining

Bebe

Produced by Patchwork; Jonesborough, Tenn.

Review: This isn't a typical musical. In fact, it isn't really much of a musical at all, except for a few songs that may not be appropriate for children. Six actors jump from one instrumental song to another, leaping across the stage through graceful choreography while telling intriguing stories about facing one's fears and dealing with failure. Each performer takes the audience on his or her own emotional and comic journey.—Natalya Daoud

Remaining Fringe Performances:None remaining.

Son of a Hutch

Produced by Left Out Productions; New York City

Review: If Joe Hutcheson's self-therapy is as effective as his performance skills, he's well on his way to a life of tranquility. Running through his life story as a young gay male struggling in a family of dominating masculinity, Hutcheson knows exactly how to balance his storytelling skills with his precise comedic delivery. After delivering a full exposition on each “Hutch” in his family, as well as a brief sentimental moment of his deceased “Grandpa Hutch,” Hutcheson concludes with a realization of how he, too, has become a Hutch in the most unusual of circumstances.—Marc Kennedy

Remaining Fringe performances: None remaining.

Worth Consideration

Around Dark Matter

Produced by Mica Dvir; Tel Aviv, Israel

Review: Mica Dvir has given herself this monumental artistic task: Explore and express her personal fascination with the Holocaust and critique her home country’s contemporary “use” of the Holocaust while creating a performance piece that resonates with less-invested audiences. When Dvir succeeds, it’s through photographic imagery and accompanying sounds—the relentless chugging of trains on their way to the death camps—rendered all the more haunting on opening night June 1 by the actual thunder and rain outside the theater. At times, Dvir sacrifices communication, leaving her audience behind, for the sake of creating a layered piece of performance art. She relegates her most keen and poignant insight, that Israel makes cynical and calculated use of Holocaust remembrance, to a rush of unsupported rhetoric at the end of her show.—Matt Peiken

Remaining Fringe performances: Know Theatre—8:45 p.m. Thur., June 5 and 7 p.m. Sat., June 7. 

Tragedy: A Tragedy

Produced by New Edgecliff Theatre; Cincinnati

Review: CNN’s worst nightmare—and, by extension, its audience’s nightmare—plays out in “Tragedy: A Tragedy.” Ordinary nightfall and all the banal nothingness that comes with it are given apocalyptic treatment by a Wolf Blitzer-like anchorman and three correspondents. The premise is funny—around-the-clock televised news is still ripe for satire—and there are some wonderful lines sprinkled in the text. One correspondent describes the dictionary as “the long, sad, confusing story of nearly everything” and later assures us that “statistically speaking, we have every expectation night will end.” But the humor arc peaks about 10 minutes in, and playwright Will Eno doesn’t know how to elevate the stakes or steer us into unexpected places. At the end, one could see “Tragedy” as an allegory for loneliness and regret—both for the characters and the audience.—Matt Peiken

Remaining Fringe performances: Coffee Emporium—8:45 p.m. Wed., June 4 and 7:15 p.m. Thurs., June 5.

Papa Squat’s Store of Sorts

Produced by Paul Strickland; Indianapolis

Review: Paul Strickland told a packed house at Coffee Emporium on Friday night that he drew only 16 people to his first Cincinnati Fringe Festival show last year. More than 60 attended his first show this year, eager for yarns about the Big Fib Trailer Park Cul de Sac. Some have called it a white-trash version

of Lake Wobegon. It falls well short of that standard, but Strickland keeps it lively enough with his foot-stomping blues guitar riffs and impersonations of colorfully named characters like Ain’t True, Uncle False, Rue Morehasit and the love of her life, Papa Squat.—Dan Monk

Remaining Fringe performances: Coffee Emporium—9:15 p.m. Thur., Jun5 and 9 p.m. Sat., June 7.

How to Fold a Pleated Skirt

Produced by Susie Thiel Collaborative; Lexington, Ky.

Review: This 50-minute comedic dance routine is all about the type of how-to’s people Google. “How to get over a breakup” and “how to build a bookshelf” were some of the how-to’s the dancers literally demonstrated through common movements such as rolling, kicking and reaching. The dancers had audience members participate with them. The artistic expression and improvisation were great, but watching a performance on how to do the simplest, everyday things wasn’t worthy of 50 minutes.—Natalya Daoud

Remaining Fringe performances: 17 E. Court St.—8:45 p.m. Fri., June 6.

Ligature Marks

Produced by Gideon Productions; Astoria, N.Y.

Review: Merging digital worlds with reality, writer and actor Mac Rogers entertains with his darkly funny new play. The show is set just after ex-con Terry returns to his clingy ex-girlfriend, Jill, after two years in prison. When Terry realizes Jill’s continued feelings for him, he attempts to leave but is trapped by her threat: Leave or kill her—and either way she’ll die. Jill’s sweet and clingy personality is creepy but endearing, and it humorously contrasts with Terry’s infuriating aggression. It all emphasizes the damaging point: “People don’t change.”—Lindsey Gwen Franxman

Remaining Fringe performances: None remaining.

Night Walkers

Produced by Homegrown Theater; Cincinnati

Review: This experimental piece opens up with a dark, eerie aura of confusion, and it's a confusion that doesn't leave even after the final bow. Rather than relying on strong plot points, this play moves forward by exploring themes and metaphors related to sex, violence, night terrors and subordination. Much like David Lynch's early work with "Eraserhead," you know it's about something tangible, but you just don't quite get it. This is not one for an ordinary audience, but worth a shot if you want something off the beaten path.—Marc Kennedy

Remaining Fringe performances: Art Academy Auditorium—8:30 p.m. Thur., June 5 and 7:15 p.m. Sat., June 7.

Hot Damn! It’s the Loveland Frog

Produced by Hugo West Theatricals; Cincinnati

Review: If you don't know the driving theme behind "Loveland Frogs" within minutes of the performance, you're at the wrong show. This quaint folk tale about the nearby city of Loveland, Ohio takes every opportunity to poke fun at the southern hillbilly stereotype. A medley of bluegrass tunes drives the play, but this, unfortunately, serves as more of a distraction than an essential component. While the audience had plenty of laughs, this is only a comedy to those who love all that is cute, country and corny.—Marc Kennedy

Remaining Fringe performances: Art Academy Commons—8:45 p.m. Thur., June 5 and 8 p.m. Sat., June 7.

Confessions of a Fatherless Daughter

Produced by students at the School for Creative and Performing Arts

Review: Six high school girls narrate emotional stories about their relationships with their fathers in this play of triumph and laughter. The play is based on the real stories of the performers, who paint vivid images of how their fathers treat them, how they want their fathers to treat them and how their relationships with their fathers affect their relationships with other men. The actors were phenomenal, but I would have liked to have seen father-and-daughter interaction rather than mere narration.—Natalya Daoud

Remaining Fringe performances: None remaining.

Ultimate Stimulus

Produced by Felipe Ossa; New York City

Review: Amanda McCloud lends a lot of energy and a bit of humor to the topic of income inequality. She states her plan on closing the gap between the top 10 percent and the lower 75 percent and demonstrates it by comparing ancient concubines and their lifestyles to an average low-income man helped out by Christy Walton, of the Wal-Mart family. McCord talks of the Average Joe not only needing to network, but also relying on a higher authority—someone already in the top 10 percent—to succeed. Is her plan ideal? Yes. Is it going to happen? Probably not.—Natalya Daoud

Remaining Fringe performances: Art Academy Auditorium—9 p.m. Wed., June 4 and 8:45 p.m. Fri., June 6.

Find Another Fringe Show

Revolting Circumstances

Produced by The Burying Beetles; Cincinnati

Review: Flashbacks to British aristocracy during the Revolutionary War are juxtaposed with scenes of current rural Appalachians scheming to make money by staging Revolutionary War reenactments. Or at least that’s what I think is happening in this head-trip of a play. There are asides to narrate Revolutionary War factoids to the audience. For some reason, a crab makes

a few cameo appearances. Along with a couple non sequitur drug references, at times this felt like an episode of “H.R. Pufenstuf.” Playwright John Ray created a mishmash the jumps everywhere and goes nowhere. In the words of one character, referencing his insights while high on mushrooms, “They say it’s a Frank Gehry, but to me it’s just a giant cheeseburger.”—Matt Peiken

Remaining Fringe performances: Elementz—7 p.m. Thur., June 5 and 3:45 p.m. Sat., June 7.

Blogging Behind Bars

Produced by Unity Productions; Cincinnati

Review: Oh, if only there were such camaraderie in prison, nobody would fight for reform. I haven’t read Whitney Smith’s journals from prison, but this script that’s derived from them (by Jon Kovach) paints such a sanitized version of prison—"the hole,” no less—that all credibility is lost. Cellmates might as well be roommates at a college dorm—polite, considerate, ready with helpful advice. Smith’s journals, as revealed in this show, deliver unsavory details about cellmates past but little of the writer’s own plight or inner turmoil. Long incarcerations for drug offenses is, indeed, a national problem, but the screed against them here sounds trite. When the greatest conflict among cellmates is over who will turn off the leaky shower, you know you’re in Oz.—Matt Peiken

Remaining Fringe performances: Elementz—8:45 p.m. Thur., June 5 and 8:30 p.m. Sat., June 7.

Heist

Produced by Performance Gallery; Cincinnati

Review: In this supposed caper-gone-wrong farce, we can’t help but see potential in the visages of our motley ensemble of crooks and hostages—the gang’s ringleader is a clown who could pass for Pippi Longstocking’s evil twin—and every performance is solid and assured. But the story and script are as cuffed and shackled as the hostages held in this, literally, cramped basement. Every hint at suspense is dashed, every dramatic arc flattened, every teasing storyline fizzled to nothing. In the end, the only thing we know that’s been stolen is the audience’s time.—Matt Peiken

Remaining Fringe performances: MOTR Pub—7 p.m. Thur., June 5 and 6:45 p.m. Sat., June 7.

[Frankenstein]

Produced by Alex Talks and Harper Lee; Cincinnati

Review: The year is 2031, and women everywhere are contracting a mysterious disease that leaves their bodies whole but decimates their hearts and minds. Of course, it’s up to men—here, a neurologist and university professor—to come to the rescue. Particularly in this time of #YesAllWomen, the premise of the play is exasperating, and all the more so because it comes from two women—Harper Lee and Alex Talks. In flashback, we see how the professor and his damsel in distress met, and there’s no visible reason why she’s working so hard to flirt with him. The performances are fine enough and there’s some clever abstraction here. But in the end, as in much of our pop culture, it’s all about the hole the woman fills in the man’s life, not at all about what makes the man right for her.—Matt Peiken

Remaining Fringe performances: Gateways to Healing—9 p.m. Wed., June 4 and 7:30 p.m. Thur., June 5.

Names

Produced by theater students from Highlands High School; Ft. Thomas, Ky.

Review: Early in this play, about a young girl with schizophrenia, it’s hard to tell where the story is going, especially because there really isn’t much detail as to the nature of the schizophrenia. The performances, themselves, are also uneven. As a 5-year-old, the girl hears voices and names her “special friends” Birthday, Toy, Together and Sickness. These could be imaginary friends, not symptoms of schizophrenia. Eventually, by the end of the play, the “Sickness” (aka The Evil One) takes over the girl’s body, and then the play is over. We don’t need 60 minutes to get there.—Natalya Daoud

Remaining Fringe performances: None remaining.

Booty! A Revolutionary Pirate Tale

Tangled Leaves Theatre Collective; Cincinnati

Review: The creators of “Booty!” labor to place this convoluted play in 1970s Boston, with no motive or payoff. All the rad, far out and groovy cultural cliches and clothes are there, but the story is unwieldy: Ghosts of pirates past, and a couple friends who care, fight to save a young, impressionable girl from an urbane, older man possessed by another ghost. This Guffmanesque production wastes the talents of the instrumental quartet Cardboard Hearts and the two cast members (Jared Joplin and Serenity Fisher) who prove they can sing. Arrrrgh!—Matt Peiken

Remaining Fringe performances: Art Academy Commons—8:45 p.m. Wed., June 4 and 4:15 Sat., June 7.

Don’t Look Back

Produced by Student’s Theater for Aid in Global Emergencies; Newport Central Catholic High School.
 
Review: Inspired by the true story of writer Gio Bukunawa's parents persevering through the 2013 Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines, this is a tale of making the toughest of life's decisions in the most pressing times. The inspiration for the play is one of great depth and the actors deliver a well-rehearsed performance, but the
work relies on many conventions in theatrical storytelling and, ultimately, feels flat and unoriginal.—Marc Kennedy
 
Remaining Fringe performances: None remaining.
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