Cincy Fringe 2023: Alan’s Reviews #2 of 2

The Cincinnati Fringe is establishing a higher bar for its productions. Under the leadership of Katie Hartman, Cincinnati Fringe has really stepped up its game by producing shows which are solid and engaging.

By Alan Jozwiak

The Rembrandt Job by Clifton Players

from Cincinnati, Ohio

This show is a must-see for a number of reasons–a superb script by Kevin Crowley, expert direction by Carol Brammer, and a stable of great actors which include local theatre veterans Dale Hodges and Michael Bath. 

The premise of this play is based on the real-life theft of two Rembrandt paintings from the Taft Museum of Art in 1973.  Brammer deftly moves the action along, hitting all the key moments within the play while allowing her actors to mine the comedic depths of the script.  The production also had some strong costuming choices which capture the essence of the 1970s Cincinnati. Seldom do I comment on costuming with a Fringe show, but the outfits of the villains of the piece are a delightful study of the good, bad, and ugly of 1970s fashion. 

I can’t speak much more about this production for fear of revealing some of its juicier twists and turns. In short, history comes alive within this piece. It is a study of what happens when the best laid plans of thievery get left behind in the mad scramble to get money from two Rembrandt paintings.

The Highway Woman by Hannah Gregory

from Cincinnati, OH

Graphic of bandit mask on an old town

This show from Cincinnati Fringe award-winner Hannah Gregory is a comic retelling of the legend of Katherine Ferrers, an actual English Renaissance noblewoman who is forced to protect her ancestral mansion of Markyate from intruders by becoming the masked highway woman.  Gregory assembles a superb cast of actors, including Brianna Miller (Katherine Ferrers), Danitza Piper (Cordelia), Jared Earland (Tam), and Dylan Shelton and Ellyn Broderick as Players 1 and 2 (who play a wide array of parts).

Costuming is also strong in this production; seldom have I found Renaissance-wear so compelling.  The script reminds me of a thick juicy YA historical novel.  This piece could be expanded into a longer evening of theatre, fleshing out some of the plot elements which get compressed due to time constraints. In short, the comedy is strong in this piece (largely thanks to Shelton and Broderick) and the story is compelling.

Made in America by Teruko Nakajima

from Los Angeles, California

MADE IN AMERICA show Smiling asian woman with dog

Teruko Nakajima has a life story to tell–starting with her dysfunctional homelife and abusive childhood in Tokyo, Japan, continuing through her experiences as a professional dancer and sex worker in New York City, and ending with her breakdown and rebirth in Los Angeles. Nakajima is a vibrant performer who invites her audience to this amazing story in a tell-all solo performance.  I cannot give away too much about the show for fear of spoilers.  What stands out in her performance is her absolute conviction of telling her own truth without self-judgement or fear of audience condemnation. 

She is a brave spirit who comes to terms with her past and hopes her audience can learn from her experiences. In short, Nakajima is a must-see performer whose energy and infectious spirit of being in the now is worth the price of admission. She also owns an amazing support animal, her dog Titi, who is the most chill theatre dog I have ever had the experience to come across (as well as the cutest). I had a chance to talk to her the day after the show and she was as delightful in person as she is on stage. You must see this production.

Advisory Note: Made in Amecia discusses at length family dysfunction, sexual assault, and being a sex worker.  She is highly explicit in its discussion of these topics, so audience members need to be aware of this fact to avoid being triggered.

Bloodline by Paris Crayton III

from Los Angeles, California

Bloodline poster

Paris Crayton’s solo show mines the experiences of his grandfather, father, and himself as each of these generations tries to make sense of the relationships in their lives. Crayton plays all three men, alternating between each character as he tells each man’s story.  Along the way, Crayton discusses a wide array of issues–finding one’s true love, marital difficulties, father-son relations, sexual acceptance, suicide, and keeping the flame of creativity alive amidst a world of obsessive demands and soul-sucking details.

This show surprises me with its subtle sophistication and strong storytelling. We get a chance to see a master storyteller revealing family dysfunction and coming to grips with that dysfunction along generational lines.

You must see this production. I am ever so glad I did.  This is one show that I hope that audience buzz leads to sell-outs for his final performances.

Who’s Afraid of Winnie the Pooh? by Clevername Theatre

from St. Paul, MN

Who's Afraid of Winnie the Pooh

Mixing the Winnie the Pooh book series with Edward Albee’s “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”–what could be more Fringe?

Clevername Theatre creates a faithful adaptation of the Edward Albee play, casting Winnie the Pooh and Piglet for the bitter George and harping Martha, closely following the beats within the Albee script. The humor fully works if you are really familiar with both the Albee play and the Pooh books.

I wished I had read the Albee play or seen the 1966 film with Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton before seeing the show to refresh my memory of the play. I think I would have caught even more Easter eggs within the script. The acting in this production is quite strong.  Winnie the Pooh is played to perfection by Thomas Buan. I admire the lengths Buan gets into the character, complete with ingesting a LOT of honey on stage.  He guzzles down so much at one point that honey literally coats his beard.  The honey beard was both hypnotic and disgusting at the same time. The rest of the cast is equally strong, with Stephanie Johnson playing Piglet, Nick Hill playing Christopher, and Stephanie Callagham playing Hunny.

This is one of those shows that is a smart sophisticated piece of theatre that has lots of touches of the ridiculous–very much in the spirit of both Albee’s play and life itself.

Happy Go Lucky by Showshinz/Tanomi Shoshinz

from Tokyo, Japan

Happy Go Lucky puppets poster

Happy Go Lucky is an adult puppet show that has a sophisticated, yet brassy, approach which connects with an adult audience as well as children.  Shoshinz uses rod puppets (which are manipulated by a rod) and she is incredibly adept at making her puppets move with expressiveness and emotional power.  This comes best through the puppet of the older woman which she uses in her show publicity. There is a great attention to detail in that puppet’s mannerisms and actions which typically do not happen with other puppet shows that I’ve seen.  I can’t give too much away with this show for fear of spoilers; however, watch out for the puppet sketch with the xylophone and the sheer white puppet. It is magnificent.  Since Shoshinz is using smaller scale puppets, I would suggest being in the first few rows for maximum impact.

STREAMING: Sweet Dreams, Pillowman

American Lives Theatre, from Indianapolis

Sweet Dreams Pillowman, Streaming show in Cincy Fringe 2023

The only digital offering this year is American Lives Theatre’s production of Sweet Dreams, Pillowman.  This group hails from Indianapolis, IN and this show perfectly embodies the zany whimsy which is the hallmark of the Indianapolis Fringe.  Since the show was part of the 2022 Indy Fringe lineup, I am assuming this is a recording of one of their Fringe performances. 

The show deals with the mid-quarter crisis of Monique (Audrey Stonerock), who spends her days moping around her apartment with little company save for a (literal) chorus of rats to give her solace.  All of this changes when a pile of unwashed clothing on her couch magically transforms into the Pillowman (a puppet voiced and manipulated by Zachariah Stonerock). Prior to the Pillowman’s appearance, I was disengaged. The piece comes off as frankly juvenile with too many songs from the rat chorus.

However, the real impact of the piece comes at the second half where the Pillowman teases out why Monique is in her slump and the steps she takes to get out of that downward spiral.  The ending feels like it is heartfelt and honest. However, the sound quality of the video is uneven, which is a drawback.  For this show, I think I would wait to see it in person.

Alan’s Fringe Reflections Part 1

Between two shows at Gabriel’s Corners and Main Street, I hung out at the Ziegler Park Lawn, which is a delightful space reminiscent of the oval green in Washington Park–although slightly smaller and a lot less crowded. It is a perfect hangout spot and there are even Wednesday-evening films shown for free on the lawn during the summer. Be certain to check it out during Fringe or any other time.

I regret not being able to see the shows by Paul Strickland* and Trey Tatum* which are always my go-to’s. I could only Fringe for 4 days (and 11 shows) due to work obligations. Here are three more shows I wished I could have seen, but did not:

1. Thread and Bone by Lisa Egan Woods (I enjoyed and empathized with Bonds’ Heart Ripped Out Twice and So Can You! and would have loved to compare notes with the Woods production since both discuss heart-surgery, and clearly so much more.)

2. Modern Beings In Search of the Soul by Solasta Theatre Lab (I have heard some good buzz about this production by both audience members and artists from the show. It sounds like it would be a fun exploration of deep issues in a supportive environment.)

3. Keeping the Torch by Pones (Pones does good work and I have every reason to believe their latest show on aging will not disappoint.)

Alan’s Fringe Reflections Part 2

Finally, here are the three things I learned from my experiences with Cincy Fringe 2023:

1. Sometimes it is okay to try something brand new.  This year I am missing a lot of Cincy Fringe because of work commitments, so I deliberately chose shows that were recommended to me by others.  Some of these I would not have chosen for myself and I was not dissatisfied. It pays to take a different path and embrace new options.

2. The Cincinnati Fringe is establishing a higher bar for its productions.  Under the leadership of Katie Hartman, Cincinnati Fringe has really stepped up its game by producing shows which are solid and engaging.  I have not heard any buzz about a bad show. This is a positive sign which I hope continues into the future.

3.  We have some brave Fringe performers willing to explore dark territory using the light of their experience, love, and learning.  There are some dark things discussed within some of the shows, but they are balanced by equal glimmers of the human spirit shining through to blot out the darkness.  Who could ask for anything more?

Fringe on Cincinnati! Enjoy yourself during the rest of the festival. Get your tickets HERE

*Sorry guys. I’ve heard great things about both of your shows.

updated 6/15

A new Calendar for everything onstage from LCT’s member theatres.

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