Alan’s Cincy Fringe ’24 Reflections

"t has been an honor to serve as a theatre reviewer for the Cincinnati Fringe 2024" -- Alan Jozwiak

By Alan Jozwiak

This is the first time in years that I was able to attend almost the entirety of Cincy Fringe ’24, so that means 28 reviews for all the Fringe shows I’ve seen (yes, 28!) Here are a few thoughts about the amazing 2024 Cincinnati Fringe Festival, produced by Katie Hartman and her team.

For me, this year’s Fringe started off as more of a “sleeper Fringe.” When I initially looked at the lineup, there were a few standouts, but nothing really jumped out. So I dug around a bit–reading the descriptions and exploring the backgrounds of the artists to see which shows would be the “must-see” ones. A few local ones piqued my interest.

From my initial four shows I wrote about in a preview, one was an amazing hit (Cancel This Musical), one was an incredibly solid show (Meet Me at the Bathtub), one was a solid and charming show (Castaways), and one developed into a solid show by the end of its run (As If I Will Remember). This last show team mentioned they appreciate my suggestions in my review. I am grateful for the feedback and because the subject is incredibly important and near and dear to my hear (my mother had dementia).

Alan’s Favorites from 2024 Fringe

After the Fringe, here are my Top Picks overall:

You can check out all of the LCT reviews of the 2024 Fringe shows on this alphabetized GRID.

Many Strong Themes Emerged in Cincy Fringe ’24

Some interesting themes emerged from the this year’s Cincy Fringe, such as a focus on  demons/witches/occult (I’m Finally Going to Ask Elizabeth Hopkins. . .; The Last Witch in Ireland; Bloody Mary; No Passengers), an exploration of historical characters/people who lived through challenging historical times (Eleanor’s Story; Songs without Words; Singing in the Dark, 1933; Meet Me at the Bathtub), aging and dementia (Castaways; As If You Will Remember; A Migration of Crones), and waiting/deferment of goals (Castaways and Waiting for Laura). Gender and trans issues were also prominent with shows like Gender?F*ck!, Esther Made Me Do It, and Mounting Washington.

My Work as an LCT Reviewer

This year’s Fringe also changed the way I approach my theatre reviews. I got a lot of positive feedback from people reading LCT reviews–both the audience and the artists. It made my writing more personal, and made me focus on the value I–and my fellow reviewers–give to both the readers and the producing organizations. I even met my first groupie, (I won’t give their name for fear of calling them out) who told me they regularly look for my reviews on the LCT website. So flattering! A few days later, Queen City Flash used a blurb of mine within their publicity for their last performances, which I consider high praise. I am glad I am providing value to our wonderful theatre community.

Other Lists for Cincy Fringe ’24

Finally, here are three lists of shows that I responded to:

List One: Shows I would like to see again

  • The Last Witch in Ireland (I saw this show at the end of a five-show day. I would like to see it again just to take in the wonderful movement pieces they had within that show.)
  • One-Man No Show (I did not really get this show the first time around, but enough people I trust said it was worthwhile.)
  • I’m Finally Going to Ask. . . (I saw the show where the audience hit the hat trick of achieving all story goals. It would be fun to see it again where none or only one those goals were met.)

List Two: Shows I hope have a life outside of Cincy Fringe

  • I’m Finally Going to Ask. . .
  • Meet Me at the Bathtub
  • Gender?F*uck!

Cincy Fringe nurtures new work, as well a stop on the “Fringe Circuit.” The first two should be considering touring the Fringe Circuit and the last one could be modified as an educational show for colleges and universities. I learned a lot from that show.

List Three: Shows that are a complete surprise

  • Bodies
  • No Passengers
  • The Last Witch in Ireland
  • Waiting for Laura

Read my review below of Bodies for why it made the list. No Passengers is surprisingly complex and thought-provoking. I knew it would be good, but the show is something completely different than what I thought it would be. For The Last Witch in Ireland, this might have been the first time I’ve seen Inbocca Productions and will definitely watch out for this group in the future. Finally, Waiting for Laura did not get get a lot of early buzz, so I was completely surprised at how funny it is. It is a great show, and glad to have seen it as my last show of the 2024 Cincy Fringe.

In closing, it has been an honor to serve as a theatre reviewer for the Cincinnati Fringe 2024. It was a full and fun Fringe and I hope to serve as your Fringe reviewer in the future. Now here are a few reviews from my last few days.

Meet Me at the Bathtub: The Short Life & Tumultuous Times of Charlotte Corday by Samantha Joy Luhn 

Luhn is a self-professed history nerd who wrote and stars in a show about Charlotte Corday, the woman who killed the French Revolutionist Jean-Paul Marat in his bathtub. (Marat had a skin condition that necessitated him to be constantly soaking in hot water.)

Luhn delivers a strong and commanding performance as Corday, showing us all aspects of what lead up to the 24-year-old to become known as the “Angel of Assassination.” Luhn’s script is full of wonderful tidbits about Corday’s life and times and has enough dramatic suspense to keep us guessing as to what will happen next. Staging for this show is equally engaging. The vintage claw foot tub becomes the centerpiece of the show. I also love the bit with the fruits and vegetables at the end as Luhn recounts all the people close to Corday indicted as “supposed” co-conspirators and sentenced to the guillotine. Accompanying her journey is a Greek Chorus of one, the role of Everyone Else played by CCM Acting student Kenny Rayborn. 

In short, Meet Me at the Bathtub is an engaging and fascinating life into Charlotte Corday well worth spending the time to see. Luhn should take this show on the road because it would find receptive audiences outside of the Cincinnati Fringe Festival.

Bodies by Can’t Stand Sitting Productions (Matti McLean)

I was hesitant to attend this show because the publicity photo looked like it would be some sort of cheesy Las Vegas razzle-dazzle body painting show that wouldn’t respect the person being painted. Nothing could be farther from the truth. McLean creates a safe space for both the painted person and the audience. He starts the body painting of his lone subject fifteen minutes before the show as sort of a preshow and gets done fifteen minutes before the hour-long show concludes, giving just enough time for audience members to try out body painting on McLean himself. This is shorter than the 2-3 hours he normally takes to paint someone outside of a Fringe show. Along the way, McLean calmly talks about his life, his body acceptance struggles, and the basics of body painting. The audience and the person being painted also have an opportunity to ask him questions as he paints.

I enjoyed the show more than I thought I would. I even tried my hand at painting McLean at the end of the show. In the hurly burly of Fringe, it is delightful to have a low stress show that is relaxing and entertaining at the same time. See this show. You will not be disappointed.

A Ford’s Escape (or a Honda’s Civic Lesson) by Zamudio Theatre & the Milford Drama Department

A Ford’s Escape is the sole high school offering within this year’s Cincy Fringe and it showcases the talents of seven actors from Milford High School. This Fringe Development piece loosely tells about the life and times of several young people–Ford (Abby Craig), McKenzie (Leah Gabble), Tilly (Aubree McClung), Jane (Oliver Marcum) and Jenny Linn (Baylie Davis)–who have just graduated from high school and are going their separate ways. As the show progresses, we see the friends find success, encounter heartache, and get to that age where they decide to live in an assisted-living community together. Alternating between these scenes are snapshots from an improv classroom where we also see an extra Improv Classmate (Hailey Walls) and the Improv Coach (Eileen Earnest).

The improv bits are lovely because it showcases one or two of the performers who may grow up and become the next generation of Alphas (Cincinnati’s all-female improv troupe). Advertising that this was an improv show would also have drawn an audience other than the friends and family of the actors. The use of lines from a book to generate lines of dialogue during one improv scene is an improv game I had not seen before and it works to great effect. While billed as a play/dramedy, the ideas presented in the beginning don’t get fully developed throughout the course of the play. The strong spot of the piece, the improv, isn’t fully connected yet. Could this work as an improv-based play on graduating from high school, reaching for your dreams, and dealing with the inevitable setbacks and tragedies?

In short, I applaud up-and-coming Fringe performers driving their way to future Fringe success, but this needs more development.

A Migration of Crones by Performance Gallery

The only production company who has been in every single Cincy Fringe since its inception, this year Performance Gallery delivers a meditation on growing older with A Migration of Crones. This piece has two actors on stage (Jodie Linver and Willemien Patterson) who meditate on growing older, perform pieces which discuss cranes, crones, and aging, while also watching the video monitor where Regina Pugh discusses ways older women can look younger, including demonstrating with hilarious effect the limp plumper and the home-made face lift in a box for $14.95. I loved how the different video segments addressed ageism in a way that everyone can relate to. Although, the second of Regina’s video segments running a bit long.

Some audience members say they adore this piece. I love the fact that this year’s Cincy Fringe has shows discussing growing older (I think it is high time that all segments of life be covered in the Fringe), but the elements of this piece did not gel for me. The connection of the crone/crane connection was not explained. I also wonder why Aretta Baumgartner was not highlighted in the videos. (I suppose she was recording them or doing behind the scenes work. She is listed in the program.) I miss the early day of Cincy Fringe when I would get my Aretta fix with the latest Performance Gallery piece.

In short, A Migration of Crones fills a desperate need within the Fringe to give representation to older women.

Webcam by Kirk Sheppard 

What happens when a simple job to make money begins to dominate your life? This is the premise of a Fringe Development piece by The Sappy Critic himself Kirk Sheppard. Webcam tells the story of Cory (Owen Clark), a broke college student who decided to exhibit himself on a pay website in order to make some extra money. Along the way, he is befriended by one of the website’s regulars Florida Bill (R. Deandré Smith) and receives the ire of his long-time friend Gina (Hannah Levin) who wants him to quit.

Sheppard has a sharp sophisticated script and this production is fully realized, complete with dozens of light and sound cues depicting the online conversations on the website that are projected behind the actors. While there are a few rough edges to the script (such as the fate of the grandmother and whether Smith should also depict some of the other online characters interacting with Cory), this script is certain to find its way into the greater theatrical world. The acting is superb all around, especially from Owen Clark who has to perform his lines in sync with the projections behind him that he could not see. 

In short, Webcam is a strong and engaging Fringe Development play that shows promise outside of this year’s Cincinnati Fringe. 

Gender? F*ck! by Rachel Baker 

This is a surprisingly educational show and, at times, a touching examination of gender and what it is like to be gender nonconforming. The show opens with the hatching of our Protagonist (Rachel Baker) out of a large egg overlaid with a Richard Attenborough style narration to explain the newly hatched “queerling’s” beginning steps. Along the way, the Protagonist is befriended by the like of Creature (played with great relish by Lyd Noll), Mx. Frazzle (Nolan Kreeger) and Gender Expression (Faith Gingrich Goetz-Isaac) who show the Protagonist what it means to be gender nonconforming.

This show is a bit uneven in spots, alternating between sophomoric moments and great and tender scenes, like the Dead Name mother scene in which Mx. Frazzle begins to lose their identity as trans after coming into contact with their mother. It is an important moment in the play and drives home the message that if you are trans, you are coming out for the rest of your life. Even someone who looks like they have their act together, like Mx. Frazzle, can have moments of gender doubt and uncertainty. I also found it helpful when the play discusses the different pronoun choices. There is room for even more on that topic. 

In short, Gender?F*ck! Is a show on an important topic that is educational and heartfelt. I urge the team behind the show to consider adapting this material to take it on the road to colleges and universities. There is a need for this sort of show.

No f*cks given. None taken. All done by Pamela L. Park

This solo effort showcases seven lessons that Park hopes will level up humanity to the next phase of development. Some of these lessons and their accompanying commentary range from the comical (social niceties pollute the air with CO2) to the profound (her meditation on her name and people’s desire to nickname her Pam). Park has some engaging and professional-looking PowerPoint graphics and her show moves at a brisk pace (thanks to her adept director Shinshin Yuder Tsai). However, these plusses are offset by Park’s constant tirade of shouting and negativity, which can be off-putting. Park mentions she is suffering from a life-threatening medical condition, which she says prompted an eight-hour emergency room stay the weekend before I saw her perform, so maybe this wasn’t her strongest show.

My closing thoughts about this show is that Park needs to find a way to transmute her negativity into something that will work for her. In short, No f*cks given is a challenging show, expertly crafted and performed, which deals with confronting social niceties and crafting a life which hopefully levels up humanity.

Seaman by 2 Sleep Ratguys

Past award-winning Fringe artist Amica Hunter (Anatomica) teams up with veteran Fringe performer and haunted house scare-tainer Bruce Ryan Costella to produce Seaman, a show where Hunter and Costella alternate playing the captain of a ship whose voyage goes completely wrong. Using heavy audience participation for various members of the crew, we encounter a seagull that has a history with the captain and a hilarious mermaid that is an unexpected delight of the show (Kudos for Hunter to pull off this physically demanding role).

I laughed a lot in this show because of all of the unexpected bits and clever switching out of the two Seamen. This is the first time that Hunter and Costella have worked together and the combination is surprisingly delightful. This is the world premiere of this piece which they will be taking on the road to various Fringes over the summer. I hope they polish the end of the piece which needs to be echoed more strongly in the beginning.

In an interview with Costella at the Fringe afterparty (who is every bit as engaging in person as their TrueFringe segment) they said the show is in the process of developing and growing. I would love to see it again at the end of their run to see how much it has grown in both story and humor. In short, Seaman is a silly show that aims to entertain through its wit and wonderfully inventive minds of Hunter and Costella. If you like off-the-wall shows, then this is the show for you.

Waiting for Laura by Ben & Justin Presents (Top Pick

I preface this review with an apology. Waiting for Laura was my last show at the 2024 Cincinnati Fringe and had I know how funny it was, I would have seen it sooner and tried to generate more buzz for this show. I did not hear much about this show and it ran under my radar.

Local artist Ben-Miller Jones pairs up with Columbus-based Justin King as a press crew waiting to interview famed actress Laura Dern. Along the way they are served warm nuts and drinks by Dern’s Assistant (Lizzy Miller), who gets increasingly puzzled by the duo’s nervous erratic behavior. What follows is a hysterically funny rehearsal of what could happen when Laura Dern shows up that is in the vein of an Athol Fugard or a Samuel Beckett play, complete with some great physical comedy by King. There are also lots of funny one liners, like their assertion that one of the Russo Brothers is actually a Glade Plug-In. 

In short, Waiting for Laura is a smart and slapstick look at the Hollywood entertainment industry, filled with plenty of role-playing and lots of laughs. Does Laura Dern come? What befalls Ben and Justin? Will they run out of nuts before Laura Dern arrives? All of these things are revealed by the end of this hilarious production.

Overall, Waiting for Laura served as a great way to end my 2024 Fringe journey. Again, please read up on all of the Fringe 2024 reviews in the Review Grid.

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

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