CincyFringe Review: A Brief History of Petty Crime

Jimmy Hogg's one man show A Brief History of Petty Crime is a fast paced tale of a troubled youth and his best friend trying to fit into society, but shop lifting along the way.  Hogg's Karma is fucked.  He is going to Hell.  Well, not really, but he made mistakes as a kid, more than most people did, and is sharing the struggles he had in finding a way to start and make it in life.

This is a classic One-Person Fringe show, but it stands out with well written humor, a reserved charm, and the honesty Hogg shares with every anecdote.  Of the many of this style of show that have come through the Cincinnati Fringe Festival over the last 7 years, this ranks among best.  It is fresh.  It moves fast, but will slow down when it needs to be slower.  Hogg was able to play to the audience.  His show is flexible in that way and that adds to the experience.  It gives you something different, not set in stone.  He wants to share his story, but wants you to have fun doing it.

At one point he messed up a couple of words and made a quip to acknowledge he messed up and it was funny.  The audience just connected on it and roared with laughter as he riffed on it for a minute or so, giving that particular performance something organic.  A unique performance I would suspect every audience would get each night from Jimmy Hogg.

CincyFringe Review: Tantric Acting at the Holiday Inn

There is a surprise in this production that I want to share with you.  I can't.  I just can't ruin the surprise.  I can tell you to run and see Finite Number of Monkeys production of Tantric Acting at the Holiday Inn.  I can tell you about the Bindis, which you may have seen running around the festival.  They are hilarious, but are but one of the gut busting laughs that will greet you while attending TantraCon2010.

A seminar is the setting of the show which focus on two presenters out to sell you on Trantric Stretching from a Bollywood "Star."  The script from Michael Comstock is brilliantly crafted.  Both George Alexander and Randy Bailey bring the characters into a reality that makes everything feel like it is actually happening, even while you know it's not.  You'd think both men are really into yoga, but they don't look it.

The show puts much into audience participation, which is risky, but pays off if they pick the right people.

The only negative I can point out, for those who saw last year's Finite Number of Monkeys The Success Show, which was wonderful, is the similarity both productions share.  To use a cliche: they went back to same well.  I hope next year's FNM show comes back with something radically different.

CincyFringe Review: A Night of Well Adjusted Ladies

Fun.  I can't find a better word to describe A Night of Well Adjusted Ladies, from Venzin-Althaus Explosion!. The premise rests on both writers', Megan Venzin and Emily Althaus, Mother.  Real life experiences are often the most terrifying subject for a writer to bring forth, but both do so without any sign of trepidation.  That courage likely stems from the troubles each had with their mother.  One mother suffers from alcoholism and the other suffers from narcolepsy.

Both women share their stories with raucous humor holding nothing back from their lives.  Whether is was a mother hanging out of her bathing suit or a mother falling asleep while in line at a fast-food restaurant, the embarrassment of the past makes for hilarity today.

A simple set that consists of an easel with a massive pad of paper gives the stories the canvass needed to come to life with the voices and motions of the actors.  The drawings on the giant pad of paper act as transitions between each story, but pack a funny tone that makes each anecdote better.

The audience was charmed in near unison by the duo and their pre-show work of asking for interesting memories about things mothers had done paid off when they read them at the end of the show, adding in some improved comments.  What I found most important about the show was that at no point did it strike me that either of the two performers did not love their mother.  They have had struggles, but they clearly found the humor in some of life's challenges and give the audience the chance to share.  Take them up on the chance to share.

CinyFringe Review: Blue Collar Diaries

Character is key to most theatre.  The characters in a blue collar neighborhood of St. Paul, Minnesota are as plentiful as bodies of water in the Land of Lakes.  Blue Collar Diaries, presented by Bridge Productions, is a one woman show exploring the depth of those characters.  Playwright Michelle Myers Berg performs each of the characters with sharp detail.  Using nothing more than a slight clothing change or few props, Berg transforms into each person with ease.

The acting on this production is the highlight.  The voices a lone are worth going.  Berg has the tone and sound of the people she grew up with.  Her Parents, the odd people down the street, the grounded lady on the radio all paint an audio picture that is filled with subtle motion to bring them to life.

This piece is a portrait of being blue collar in America in the 1960's and 1970's.  The simple elements of life that are not so simple when you have horrors in the past that can't be forgotten.

There is not a narrative to this piece, other than a focus of Berg's father, dealing with the person he had to be during the Korean War as a sniper.  They rest of the characters outside the family didn't add to that story.  I think structurally the piece had two parts that could stand alone stronger: One is Berg's family, the other are the characters of St. Paul.  I would like to see the latter explored more.

This piece can be recommend to those who experienced the 60's and 70's firsthand.  The cultural memories are really effective to those of us who can know what life was like in that period.

CincyFringe Review: Nevermore

Nevermore, a play by Amy Pttinella and presented by Twilight Productions, tackles the formidable topic of the mental state behind great writers and does so with the life of Edgar Allen Poe.  Poe's sad lifestory is summarized during his haunting of a modern day writer's attempted suicide.

Russell McGee takes on the role of Poe headfirst and makes a run at the mysterious literary icon.  He gave a consistent and interesting interpretation of the man, as a smart and troubled person, using wit to shield his sorrow.  The opening depiction of his death was very compelling.  The interaction with Amy Pettinella as the "Woman" a depressed writer had moments of interest, but the two actors lacked compatibility.  Pettinella's characterization of a drunk writer lacked enough emotion and authenticity. I would have expected more clear and recognizable drunken or depressive behavior and found that lacking in her performance.

On opening night the technical cues had serious problems, which hopefully can be remedied once the performers are more comfortable with the crew and the space at Gabriel's Corner.

Additionally I was confused with the structure of a play.  The program indicated that there was a finale consisting of a performance of Poe's Haunted Palace, but it didn't occur.

I am hopeful the production team can regroup on this work and refine the characterizations.

CincyFringe Review: Aberrant Reflections on the Barbarism of You & I

T-shirts alone are not funny.  T-Shirts on and off the bodies of three talented actors are hilariously sharp.  Artemis Exchange's production of Aberrant Reflections on the Barbarism of You & I premiered on Wednesday and quickly has become one of my must see recommendations of the Festival.

This view is not a conspiracy.  I don't have any connection to the Masons.  The script, an adaptation of a work by Christopher Karr, has a wonderful pace that doesn't get bogged down on anything, but sticks to the outline it creates.    I've never actually seen the TV series Lost, but if you are a fan, I'm not sure if you will find this production to a bit of parody of the TV show or not.  I see an influence from the series as the back drop for the limited narrative.  That adds the framework of the work that has three "captives" (Chris Dooley, Emma Robertson, and Chris Wesselman) forced to act out scenes from an unseen captor.  Each scene pokes holes in some of the most well known conspiracy theories.  Those holes come on both sides of the theories.  They don't disprove them. They do mock some of them, but demonstrate how they can make some sense, when you're isolated.

The set was trashy.  It was full of trash and worked perfectly with the loose narrative, giving the actors a play pen to move around and get dirty.  The action on stage gets just a little bit dirty, but you laugh.  You laugh a lot.  The jokes are heady, but the actors make the material accessible on a physical level. The use of the T-Shirts as identifying costumes is not new, but it really works with the material.

This type of production isn't everyone's style, but try this one out.  It is smart and will bring you along if you let it.

CincyFringe Review: That One Show

Is Dance Movement?  Is Movement Dance?

 

My interest in Dance as an art form has long been lacking.  That interest has grown a bit in recent years, but I always felt that I was shortchanging the form.  Dance to me was more personal, more interactive.  It was something you did with your date at Prom or at a wedding.  Pones, Inc's production of That One Show taps into the meaning of Dance/Movement with many perspectives of what the art form is, and is not.  It looks at what it means to everyone, individually from childhood to the more formal adult expression.

 

They ask the question: What is Dance.  They literally ask the question to the audience and seek answers, to the point of volunteering friends to answer if the don't get a quick response.

 

The show is a true interdisciplinary production that merges video, music, dance/movement, with acting into a well done theme that drives to the audience to come up with an answer.  The video piece is the star of show and include portions of many dozens of interviews done with people answering various questions about their views or memories of dance.  The construct of the film is the backbone of the production.  The movement/dance was a supporting element to the show.

 

"Dancers" will relate to this show, especially dancers who love to dance, but are not going to be asked to be a principle with the Russian Ballet.  I was most interested, as a "non-dancer," in how interested the performers were in understanding what everyone things about Dance/Movement.  The only element of the show I wish for more was that their theme was so open ended.  Yes, that is a position, that Dance/Movement can mean anything, but that is a point of view that I think is unattainable.  There are limits.  I would agree with a point of view that the boundaries of Dance/Movement should be both wide and open to evolution, but at any point in time there are still boundaries of what make sense.  That One Show makes sense, they could be more direct about it.  I would have like to have seen them invite someone from the audience on stage to dance.  I was actually waiting for that to happen and worried that I might be asked.  That tension illustrates part of the history of Dance to me, one with tension, but that is what feel the message ultimately was for That One Show, let go of the fear and just Dance/Move.  I'm going to break out the Footloose Soundtrack and put this idea to work.

Fringe Review: April Fools

When Thumping Techno-music plays an omniscient yet emotionally flawed character, what else could you want? Kazoos? You got it. Hats? There are some of those. Boxes? Lots of those. "April Fools" by Four Humors Theatre is a conceptual romp that explores comedy, poetry, music, and takes big chances. The payoff is in the unexpected. There is a loose narrative here that takes a back seat to expression. At times they go for a laugh, at other times the laughs just creep up on them for no apparent reason. This show is a classic Fringe show. It doesn't spoon feed the audience, but it does lead them to the well. If you aren't willing to let go of your preconceptions, then I don't know if you are going to like this show. If you want to jump into an empty box with four guys from Minnesota, play with markers, jam with a sweet techno beat, giggle like a kid, then go talk with the actors (Brant, Jason, Matt, and Nick) after the show about what the Hell just happen on stage, then you have two more chances (Friday and Saturday at the Know Theatre). I really liked this show and really want to get an mp3 of the music tracks. I think a techno "god" is something we all can use. That and a thermos. Long live Poetry Box.

Fringe Review: The Success Show

Writing drives "The Success Show" from Finite Number of Monkeys, and the script by Michael Comstock is force that puts the the You in You-niverse. The setting is a self help seminar and we are served up a satirical spoof worthy to be compared to early SNL or SCTV. The structure of the show puts the audience member inside the seminar right from start where you are greeted and asked to make a name tag. I was "Bob". I wanted to remain anonymous. My Fringe Media Pass had my name on it, but I wanted to keep everyone guessing. George Alexander and Randy Lee Bailey were fantastic as Denny Martin (self declared self-help guru) and his right hand man Arnie Laughlin. They captured the reality of the characters and then brought it over to satirical side without letting go of the actuality of these characters. The audience interaction is funny, fresh and unpredictable. The turns that the story takes come out of nowhere. Everything about this show works. My advice for you if you want to have a successful night is when a man asks you to take a bite of an onion, do it. Then take a second bite. The last performance is at 9:15PM at the Art Academy Friday night June 5th (tonight).