Member Login

Theatre Review: Play Inspired by Jerry Sandusky's Wife (& Other Fringe Shows)

Cincinnati Fringe Festival continues with highs and lows. Here’s a quartet of shortie reviews which touch on both from RCN's Jackie Demaline:
 
Ultimate Stimulus
 
This fanciful and timely one-woman show starring Tanya O’Debra is told in the form of a lecture and performed in an Art Academy lecture hall. 
 
The topic is serious – income inequality. If you haven’t been paying attention, this isn’t the new Gilded Age. It’s the new Ming Dynasty, says lecturer Amanda McCloud (O’Debra). The way playwright Felipe Ossa gets us thinking about the condition of our society may be lunatic, but they’ll keep you thinking long after the lecture has ended. 
 
Ossa embraces the absurd with his play’s thesis. Ultimate Stimulus is an argument for a modern form of concubinage. 
 
Every member of the uber-wealthy .01 percent would be required to contract with a member of the bottom 20 percent. The number of concubines is adjusted to the amount of multi-millions to billions in the bank (or hedge funds or gold…).
 
Part of the absurdity is the quite inventive solution – the crowd of concubines has to reflect America – maybe a homeless man, a divorced mom, an aging veteran. A melting pot of all ages, sizes and ethnicities.
 
Tucked into the lecture are wish-fulfillments for the abused middle class. For instance, why not drag the .01 percent out of their bubble? It’s entirely possible if there were some one-on-one time between the very rich and everybody else it would “make them more invested in the condition of the less fortunate.” 
 
Insane? Perhaps, but McCloud points out, “Where has sanity gotten us?” Hilarious charts and animated diagrams and drawings illustrate the intricacies of the plan, which include a sort of dating site (‘equal-hearts.com’). The ideas just get wackier but there’s logic buried within.
 
Ossa has clearly thought about issues of economic inequality a great deal, and good for him for asking us to think about it, too, opening the door with this smart, well-performed Fringe entry.
 
Sarge
 
This contemporary solo drama, tightly scripted by local playwright Kevin Crowley, is a tour de force for first-rate local actress Christine Dye – and begs the question, if it looks like a duck and walks like a duck, is it okay that it might make you feel a little creepy even if it’s a great duck?
 
The duck in question is the Jerry Sandusky scandal. Sarge is a transparently veiled fantasy that explores what might have been the feelings of Mrs. Sandusky through three 20-minute vignettes with Dye burrowing deep into her character.
 
The names are changed (to ‘Sandberg’) not to protect the innocent but maybe to keep the playwright and producer out of trouble. 
 
When the one-act begins, Dot “Sarge” Sandberg is already under siege from a horde of reporters outside, but a friend comes over and they share coffee at the kitchen table. Next, it’s at night and we’re still in the kitchen. Dot is giving coffee to a patrolman who’s come by after a brick is thrown through her window. Finally she’s on the witness stand being questioned by the prosecuting attorney.
 
Sarge defends her husband throughout, and goes through every emotion you’d expect and while there’s some stereotyping, Dye makes her profoundly human. 
 
Crowley should be able to get interest from a lot of theaters with Sarge, so passionate and smart. But if Mrs. Sandusky is anything like the character Crowley and Dye have created, this would feel like one more violation. It’s also good theatre.
 
The Legend of White Woman Creek
 
The dark cellar of MOTR Pub should be a great place for a ghost story. And maybe it is, when it isn’t Friday night and the bar isn’t packed and there are shrieks and thumps, but they’re clearly from the partying crowd upstairs.
 
I mention this because atmosphere is an important part of this polished one-woman song cycle, which calls up the restless spirit of a young woman living – and dying – on the Kansas frontier 
 
just after the Civil War. Katie Hartman sings the folk-inspired original score with richness and emotional depth, inviting us to be swept up in an evocative story that finds our hopeful heroine entering into a loveless marriage, endlessly working the farm, being kidnapped by an Indian tribe – Long on melodrama? Yes. But satisfying. Just try to avoid Friday night.
 
An Unauthorized Autobiography of Benny Hill
 
I’ll confess up front, Brit comedian Benny Hill has always left me – eh. But I completely get that there’s a reason Benny and his sketch comedy filled with scantily clad girls and double entendres and London bobbies chasing around in the spirit of Mack Sennett’s Keystone Kops to the show’s theme “Yakety Sax” was an international television staple for more than 30 years. He was a pro.
 
Cincy Fringe favorite Four Humors (based in Minneapolis) returns to town with an amateur almost-an-hour. Nothing surprises, but on the one hand true fans may not want surprises. On the other hand, the reaction to some comedy bits is dead silence, which seemed to surprise the performers. 
 
Surprising or not, the audience does deserve that the sketch comedy be well-executed. It isn’t. 
 
The program says the company’s mission is, in part, to let “…the artist connect with the audience in a vulnerable and honest way.” Which explains why tubby Benny in his marching band leader jacket spends a lot of the 50-minute show looking morose. We get the whole “tears of a clown” thing in under a minute. I wish the troupe had had more to give us – including the “unauthorized autobiography” promised in the title – with the other 49.
 
The Cincinnati Fringe Festival continues through June 7. For information on all things Fringe visit www.cincyfringe.com.
 
Photo: Christine Dye as the title character in "Sarge"/provided