Cincy Fringe 2024: Alan’s Reviews June 1 & 2

Based on the award-winning autobiography of her grandmother’s time in Nazi Germany during and immediately after the war, Garner's show is a not-to-be-missed production.

By Alan Jozwiak

For “Day One” of Cincy Fringe 2024, I saw three productions spanning the range between the silly and the dark tragic. Here is my take on each of these three shows:

Eleanor’s Story: An American Girl in Hitler’s German

Cincy Fringe 2024–Top Pick. In a solo performance recounting the life of her grandmother Eleanor, Ingrid Garner delivers a very strong performance that is at times engaging, enlightening, and disturbing. Based on the award-winning autobiography of her grandmother’s time in Nazi Germany during and immediately after the war, Garner’s show is a not-to-be-missed production. Despite some of the sound issues (Garner’s mic had a habit of fading out at times), this is a production that will pull you in and never let you go until the final scene. Trigger warning: This production describes/depicts scenes of violence and rape.

SPECIAL EVENT: Alphas: Origin Story, A Comedy Variety Show

Alphas are an all-female improv troupe and in this variety show, all of their sketches revolve around the idea of origins. The sketches vary in quality from the hilarious to the bearable. This show succeeds with sketches concerning a mother learning that her newborn has psychic abilities, a grandmother telling her granddaughters their origin stories (it involves a castle and some special magic), and a superhero adventure with a superhero I can’t mention because it would spoil the surprise. This show is funny and worthwhile seeing. They have only one more show June 9 @8:30 pm.

Singing in the Dark, 1933 by Big Empty Barn Productions

Finally, Singing in the Dark is a solo cabaret filled with songs popular during Germany’s Weimar Republic, that time just before Hitler’s rise to power. The show is also a meditation on those lost in conflict as well as a reflection by the emcee of a theatre troupe to make sense of the loss of his theatre troupe who were taken away by those in power. Bremner Duthie delivers a strong performance as the emcee. While the ratio of song to story leans unfortunately more on the story side, Duthie presents several unique and inventive arrangements for such standards as Twentieth-Century Blues and Mack the Knife. While you may notice the work is a bit uneven at times (it is reduction of the 75-minute version), you will admire his artistry and singing. It is a different take on the standard cabaret experience.

Cincy Fringe 2024

For my second day of Fringe, I caught four productions, two of them touching on dementia, one on extraterrestrials, and one on meth addiction.

Here is my take on these shows:

As If You Will Remember: Words, Music, and Dance Exploring Dementia’s Love and Loss

This piece takes the writing of one writer (Rachel DeRochers) and two poets (Gerry Grubbs and Pauletta Hansel) who have lost someone to dementia and gives them a stage to express their love and loss. Added to this is the fine interpretative dance of Katie Chal. This is one show that would have benefitted from being in a bigger venue because Chal has restricted space to do her dancing and there were times when she competed for the attention of the person speaking. The smaller venue also meant that the musicians sometimes overwhelmed the writer/poets. It was hard to hear Grubbs at times.

I particularly love Hansel’s moving poetry about losing her mother to dementia (Hensel is the current writer-in-residence for the Cincinnati Public Library). I feel this production needs some of the rough edges taken off in order to do full justice to the memory of those who had fallen. Despite these things, I applaud this company for tackling a difficult subject that society does not want to acknowledge.    

Castaways by Liz Coley

Billed as “Gilligan’s Island meets Waiting for Godot in memory care,” Coley’s play explores the repetitive lives of Ginger (Lesley Taylor) and Mary Ann (Torie Pate) who sit at the same table day after day waiting for the fruit cups and a possible visit from Mary Ann’s daughter Meredith.  Both Taylor and Pate are standouts playing memory care patients who have differing degrees of dementia. You will be moved by Taylor’s over-the-top flamboyance as well as heartened by Pate’s decent humanity in trying to keep her best friend from harm. Also strong is Zak Kelley as Tonio/Tonia, caretaker to the two women. While I may not agree with the ending, I feel this play showcases the talents of its actors and explores with humor and heart the topic of dementia. I applaud Coley for exploring a subject that is certainly not seen much within Fringe festivals—the life of the aged/infirm.

The F-Files from Solasta Theatre Lab

The F-Files recounts the exploits of two extra-terrestrials in human skin suits, played by Erin Carr and Daniela NeNova, that are sent to Earth by the Bureau of Intergalactic Evaluation to explore and report on the planet. NeNova is a talented physical comedian; she really could make the best use of her body as an alien. Using a “choose your own adventure” format where the audience chooses with their different colored paddles from different choices, the resulting choices had some hits and misses. I love their Czech blacklight puppetry while exploring underground, but was less impressed with some of the other things the audiences choose from later in the show. Perhaps the beginning banter between the two aliens could be trimmed. In sum, this is a show that is why we attend Fringe: seeing shows that are off-the-wall and out of the ordinary.  

Methtacular! By Stephen Strafford

Cincy Fringe 2024–Top Pick. Strafford’s musical solo show about his battles with meth addiction sounds like it would be a dark journey. However, Strafford avoids being maudlin by using musical theatre to explore his downward drug spiral and eventual recovery. Strafford’s journey is not a pretty one and his story becomes a cautionary tale on the dangers of addiction. A Cincy Fringe reprisal from 2012 (where it only had three performances), Methtacular! is a winning musical play that explores a difficult subject in a language to make it more palatable. Strafford’s original songs, strong vocals, and honesty in telling his tale make this a play you will not soon forget. Unfortunately, this show only had two performances. Maybe there will be an extended run of Methtacular! at some Cincy Fringe within the not-too-distant future. There will be an audience for it!

Cincy Fringe 2024 Overall

Cincy Fringe 2024 is proving to be great. I look forward to more shows Starting Tuesday, June 4. There is plenty of time to buy an All Access Pass or a Flex Pass (6 shows) and choose your Fringe adventure. Contact the Fringe Box Office and explore all of the shows HERE.

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

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