TheConveyor 2011 Awards of Excellence

It is time again for to put forth our opinions and bestow the Awards of Excellence for the Cincinnati Fringe Festival.  2011 was another top notch year with the quality of productions up again.  This year's difference was that no single show was way ahead of the pack.  Our top shows all were very close in ranking, making it very difficult to pick just one show at the top. We made a choice, but I think this year a case could be made for three or four shows to be the overall best. We had to chose only one.

Best Overall Fringe Production
You Only Live Forever Once from the Four Humors Theater

The Top Tier by Genre – In addition to the best overall production, we recognize the top tier of productions. The shows listed below in each grouping represent the best of the festival, FringeNext and the workshops were not included. Each genre, as defined by our reviewers, breaks the festival out into comparable categories. In each genre we have listed, in alphabetical order, the shows that stand out as exceptional.

Best Narrative
Melancholy Play
Miss Magnolia Beaumont Goes to Provincetown
Peyote Business Lunch
The Lydia Etudes – About Loving Anton Chekhov

Best Non-Narrative
101 Rules For Dating (of which you will hear 20 or so…)
The Body Speaks: Scripted
To and Fro and Up and Down
Vindlevoss Family Circus Spectacular

Best Story Telling/One Person Show
Curriculum Vitae
Headscarf and the Angry Bitch
I Love You (We're Fucked)
Missing: the fantastical and true story of my father's disappearance and what I found when I looked for him

Best Dance/Movement/Interdisciplinary

Rip in the Atmosphere
The Body Speaks: Movement
White Girl

Another way we honor the participants of the Cincinnati Fringe Festival is by identifying many elements of each production that deserve recognition. The awards listed below single out individuals and elements of shows that were exceptional. They are ranked in order.

Best Individual Performances
George Alexander in Peyote Business Lunch
Joe Hutcheson in Miss Magnolia Beaumont Goes to Provincetown
Mindy Heithaus in Darker and The Body Speaks: Scripted
Dawn Arnold in The Lydia Etudes – About Loving Anton Chekhov

Best Ensemble
Peyote Business Lunch
You Only Live Forever Once

Best Musical Moment
Music From The Proof: A Workshop
I Love You (We're Fucked)
Headscarf and the Angry Bitch
Opal Opus: Journey to Alakazoo

Funniest Show
You Only Live Forever Once
Curriculum Vitae
Peyote Business Lunch
101 Rules For Dating (of which you will hear 20 or so…)

Best Script
Chris Wesselman, Paul Lieber, and Christopher Karr for Peyote Business Lunch
Joe Hutcheson for Miss Magnolia Beaumont Goes to Provincetown
Jason Ballweber, Ryan Lear, Dan Peltzman, Rachel Petrie, Mark Rehani and Matt Spring for You Only Live Forever Once

Best Overall Moment
The inclusion of FringeNext and FringeDevelopment series, a great way to expand the festival.
The 'giant' mouse trap in You Only Live Forever Once
Michael Hall in a towel and a 10 gallon hat in The Body Speaks: Scripted
Jessica Ferris squeezing through the frame of a folding chair in Missing

Most Fringey Show
Vindlevoss Family Circus Spectacular!
Tooth and 'Nuckle
The Body Speaks: Scripted

CincyFringe Review: You Only Live Forever Once

If you've seen the movie True Lies, Bill Paxton plays a used car salesman who pretends to be a spy.  Now, this has absolutely nothing to do with the Four Humor's newest show, You Only Live Forever Once, but if you imagine the pretend spy world that Bill Paxton's character would be living in, it might be something like this show, including the puppets.

Secret Agent Dave Johnson, played by Ryan Lear, is a James Bond-esque (as might be imagined by Jim Carey) spy in a battle of wits and puns with Wealthy Industrialist Kitty Cougarton, played by Matt Spring. Sock puppet henchmen and stick figure puppets interchange with their live action counter parts in a non-stop 50 minutes of laughs.

The acting is wonderful, the opening/closing sequences were brilliant touches, and the script was crisp and focused.  The dangers of puns can, for obvious reasons, be extensive, but the writers (which include: Jason Ballweber, Ryan Lear, Dan Peltzman, Rachel Petrie, Mark Rehani and Matt Spring) never strayed from comic gold.  This is the fourth production from the Four Humors to venture down from Minnesota to the Cincinnati Fringe Festival and the first to include the team from last year's Fringe hit, The Finkles' Theater Show (by Ryan Lear and Rachel Petrie).  The influences of their brand of comedy add much of the energy to the production and blend well with the tone of the Four Humor style show that Cincinnati audiences know and love.  In other words the combination of talent works to purrrrfection….Yes, puns only work with the right set-up, and mine crashed and burned like a paper jet puppet. If you see the show, that last bit might be slightly funny.

If you are at Fringe this is one of the don't miss productions.  Get a ticket to their Friday or Saturday show now before they sell out!

CincyFringe Review: 101 Dating Rules…

When you are looking for help on how to avoid making mistakes on a topic, say dating, who else is better to turn to than someone you trust and someone who has made far more dating mistakes than you will ever make in a single lifetime? The Venzin-Althaus EXPLOSION's newest production of 101 Rules for Dating (of which you will hear 20 or so…) gives not only one lifetime of bad dating experience, but two: Megan Venzin and Emily Althaus. The comic duo is back from last year's CincyFringe hit, A Night Of Well Adjusted Ladies, with a high energy self-help seminar spoof that offers up a hilarious romp through the dos and don'ts of dating.

Mixing up multiple elements, including karaoke-like musical interludes a really well done video, and some hands on improv, the duo delivers a very funny send-up that will hit close to home unless you have been happily married for the last 50 years.  Staying close to home for a topic in this year's show pays off with added authenticity in delivery.  The stand-out element is the video portion of the show that shows the duo out in a New York City park talking to random people about relationships and getting funny results, especially from the Easter Bunny.

The improv elements were very well executed and shows their experience and comfort performing together.

One area of improvement would be to focus the number of varied elements.  I wanted maybe more improv and fewer musical interludes.  That may be me just me not relating to the music. The best suggestion I can make to all of the men out there, sit in the front and you might get a little extra attention.

CincyFringe Review: Tooth and ‘Nuckle

Expectations have been a recurring theme for me in my reviews this year.  When I read that Matt Johnson was doing a show this year, I had a set of expectations.  I've seen his work before.  In Tooth and 'Nuckle I got the Matt Johnson I was expecting.  He is on the edge at all times, pushing you, sometimes with a very pointy stick.

If you go to Fringe festivals and expect that everything is going to make sense, then I think you are missing out.  We need bizarre shows, with vagina puppets made from grocery bags.  We need raunchy sex crazed stuffed animals manipulated by Johnson as a puppet that then mock audience members for not wearing the right color clothing (pink for girls, blue for boys).

Grocery bags crudely spray painted white to look like teeth contain the props for each vignette.  Some of the vignettes are long and some are way too long.  None of them paint a coherent portrait of a focused idea, but are none-the-less interesting.

Matt Johnson is not one to shy away from controversy and this production is filled with it, including the belief that it is nearly all improvisational.  I would encourage people to go to this show, but don't expect to understand it or even like it.  In this case the experience I had met my expectations and I found it really funny.  You may hate it more than any show you have seen in your life.  Either way, go and experience it.  That is why we Fringe

CincyFringe Review: Miss Magnolia Beaumont Goes to Provincetown

I am thrilled when my expectations are exceeded.  The running time of Left Out Productions NYC's Miss Magnolia Beaumont Goes to Provincetown was leaving me a little bit disconcerting for a solo Fringe show, but this is more than a solo show.  This is a multiple character one person play that is a crafted work with two distinct and seamlessly woven roles played by Joe Hutcheson.

Using mostly voice and demeanor, Hutcheson dresses for a vacation to Provincetown, Mass and has a guest living inside him, that of Miss Magnolia Beaumont, an antebellum southern belle from Georgia who died in 1863 and ending up living inside Master Joseph, as she calls him.  She can't commmunicate with him, but hears and sees as he hears and sees. He's a gay man.  Yes, there's a bit of a culture clash, but as she's a genteel lady and more modernly inclined, the conflict is muted and more real.  If you took a person from the 1860's and placed them in today's society, many of the social differences we focus on in the present would be more alien, than controversial to the person of the past.  That type of authenticity was a refreshing take on the underlying conflict between these characters.

As time progresses, Magnolia is able to communicate with Joseph and the growth begins.  Both have secrets and finding how to trust someone else enough to share those secrets is the focus of the story.  Humor is a great way to deal with the emotional struggle with trust and Miss Magnolia and Joseph bring laughter and touching revelations together in such a way that I didn't even notice that 90 minutes had passed.  

CincyFringe Review: Darker

When the end comes it is said that the light fades from your eyes and everything goes dark.  That image is the visual put forth from New Edgecliff's Darker written by Catie O'Keefe.  Light and Dark run heavily through this production.  Keeping the characters and the audience 'in the dark' takes on an additional importance.  Love, death, the power of the impending darkness puts a sensual story on stage with a hazy situation where the past is seeping into the present.

The cast of Michael Carr, Mindy Heithaus, and Jeffery Miller are all excellent.  They know their characters and show no fear in playing off each other.  The set and costumes, designed by Jim Stump, were the best I have seen in Fringe this year.  It is risky to have a set and lighting design as elaborate as Darker used, but Stump made it work really well with the limits placed on Fringe productions.

The story was a good concept.  It was thought provoking and had strong dialog, but it needs something more.  There wasn't too much to the story as often happens in theatre.  This production fits well with being about an hour long.  The backstory needs more context.  The ending would be more dramatic if the build-up had more basis.  As a writer, I love the concept it explores, but the power struggle that goes on between the characters takes more of the focus than the mind blowing resolution of the story.

Overall, the show is a very enjoyable piece, that gives the audience much to see and hear as the light fade.

CincyFringe Review: Curriculum Vitae

I don't how anyone could imagine finding a way to 'break the 4th wall' better and with a sense of joy within the improvisation no less.  Jimmy Hogg's Curriculum Vitae will have you laughing at each lightning speed phrase that no American as easily phrase.  Originally from Britain, Hogg has the verbal ability to talk fast common to many of his home county.  He uses that speaking tone to catapult you through his resume, literally his resume or "cv" and takes you through his work history and the life around it.  The is both a story and a chronology of his life at work and the people and employment pitfalls that most have experienced.

Hogg appeared in last year's CincyFringe and told of his youthful petty crime.  This show is more theatrical, with bits of mime added for affect and a costume progression that followed will with the structure of the "cv."  If you are lucking to see the one more performance on Monday night, but see it, then you get to experience him 'breaking the 4th wall.'  It has a comedy club feel to it, but when you add it to theatre, it is so unexpected it is so much more fun.  It is naughty and when a British person says it, it just sounds more interesting.

CincyFringe Review: I Love You (We’re Fucked)


Kevin Thornton's I Love You (We're Fucked) filled the sweaty Artworks space with both eager audience members and wonderfully funny stories and songs.  Thornton is an extremely talented performer who has improved on his 2009 CincyFringe show Sex, Dreams & Self-Control with a crisp comedy that was more fast past and improvisational.  Kevin knows how to put on a show and knows how to push the crowd over they edge with him.

The tone of the show takes many more detours.  You don't know what he is going to say, but that will not scare the audience if they aren't prudish.  The prudes might want to skip this one.  Beware of the "Blood stories" as they mix emotional elements that snap back to humor very quickly.

I sat in the back, which is slightly elevated, giving a better sightline.  The sound was fine for me in the back, but had room to be louder.  The heat was intense, literally.  Kevin was nearly topless by end after removing his shirt and tie.  I don't think this was part of the show, more of a reality to a hot fringe night for a sell out crowd.


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CincyFringe Review: Peyote Business Lunch

Free Bread sticks, special tea, a lizard, Adam Smith, and big dose of introspection make total sense after you see Artemis Exchange's new production Peyote Business Lunch. The show goes deep inside the mind, and I do mean deep, to pull out that wave-particle choking your soul, causing you to wake up screaming in the middle of the night, but then makes you laugh when you think about it years later.  It takes you on a journey to experience everything that ever was and will ever be, all in about 60 minutes.

This show is a wonderful blend of tongue twisted mental exercises of dialog, rich characters, and brilliant acting.  The cast of George Alexander, Randy Lee Bailey, Chris Dooley and Kate Kersaw are all veterans of Fringe and add hilarious layers to the script.  Speaking of the script, another top notch effort from Christopher Karr and Chris Wesselman along with Paul Lieber.

Jon Frankie (Bailey) really needs a job and 'hopes' to find it at an Olive Garden in a Casino, on a Yacqui Reservation. He is seated by the disgruntled Waitress (Kershaw) and then meets with Marvin Jones (Dooley) assistant to Chief Leon Proudfeather (Alexander), who interviews him for a job.  That's the simple part.  The rest of the story goes places you can't imagine.  Well, you can imagine it, but you have to open a few doors of perception or you may be lost.  This show bring out the brains and feasts on them like zombies.  It makes you laugh, ponder, laugh, laugh, and ponder more while laughing again.  This is one you don't want to miss.

CincyFringe Review: The Vindlevoss Family Circus Spectacular!

What makes you human?  How do you know?  Could you be a zombie pretending to be human?  In Karim Muasher and Carrie Brown's production of The Vindlevoss Family Circus Spectacular there is no question who the zombie is, but does that mean a zombie can't be human?  Weren't all zombies former humans? Are zombies and humans just part of the same circle of life?

Using props and light, the two characters, Professor Vindlevoss and her adopted son Edvar the zombie, put themselves to the test to determine if they are human.  The Professor is putting Edvar to the test, but in turn she is testing herself relating to her own father and keeping her humanity by not giving up her zombie son.

If you want to know what the soul of a Fringe Festival is like when it is on stage, then see The Vindlevoss Family Circus Spectacular.  This is why I love the Fringe Festival.  This show is a charming, funny, and inventive production that puts the physical elements of theatre around a focused theme and succeeds.  The style feels like what I would imagine you would have seen in European theatres 100+ years ago, and therefore makes it unique for Cincinnati audiences of today. I wonder if audiences of Over-the-Rhine  of the 19th century would have felt right at home watching these actors?  I'm no historian, but I think they would. The show has a few sound issues, and would fit better in a more intimate space, but that doesn't hold it back.