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Covington-based Co-Writer of "Andy's House of [blank]" Talks About His Craft

Fans of Cincinnati Fringe LOVE storyteller Paul Strickland and his invented landscape of Big Fib Cul-de-Sac Trailer Park. (He likes Cincinnati so much he re-located here, to Covington, last November.) And they like playwright (Slut-Shaming) and video guy Trey Tatum.

Strickland and Tatum, who met at the 2014 Fringe, have come together to create a magical realism musical for four performers set in a town that seems to be just down the road from Big Fib. There’s such a bold, clear signature you’d never mistake it for being by anyone else. And not just because they are two of the folks onstage in Know Theatre’s production of Andy’s House of [blank], continuing in the Underground (a.k.a. the bar) through Nov. 14.

There’s always a rich vein of whimsy in Strickland’s work. Here, that starts with the title: if you’re wondering, it’s “[blank]” as in “fill in the blank.” Andy’s house “museum” changes its collection daily, except for the un-mailed love letters, which are always there. House of [blank] is powered by romantic notions as much as it is by its eclectic, country/rock-flavored score. Among those love letters is one by Andy (Christopher Michael Richardson), to Sadie (Erika Kate MacDonald) whom he’s loved since grade school and has been long lost to him until one eventful day she returns, carrying a mysterious box which sets off a plot that’s a deeply eccentric second cousin to Groundhog Day.

This may sound familiar to Know audiences who lined up for Serials! in winter 2015. Serials! offers a collection of short (10 to 15-minute) episodes and, oh wait, one of the serials is voted off at the end of each evening. House of [blank] was the only one that made it all the way through.

They had one hour of material for their two-hour show-to-be. All they needed was more songs, a framing device, and a character arc for Sadie. The musical is more or less told in flashback, with our guides “16-year-old versions of ourselves,” Strickland explained recently by phone as he drove to Nashville to see a movie he was pretty sure would never make it to Greater Cincy.

The tale of “obsession” thinks a lot about how lost opportunities become yearning. It’s funny and smart and bittersweet and wry. It’s a shaggy dog story that could use a trim, not surprising because the production is defined as “developmental,” although it’s pretty much locked down. Also not surprisingly, it doesn’t yet have the ease and polish of more practiced work, but seeing something this new is always fun.

That “developmental” also translates to “bare bones,” but there’s whimsy here, too, in well-thought-out cardboard props, some of them fairly elaborate. The guys play then-and-now, looking back at and commenting on themselves as teenagers working for Andy, a man whose “heart needs a road map to follow” through life.“ “A man in need of second chances.”

Strickland is “a guy who travels a lot,” as he crosses the U.S. and Canada doing his shows. (“I’m a joke-teller for a living.”)

The Serials! project was pretty much a [blank] when the collaborators began, except on the road from Austin to Pensacola, Strickland had been charmed by the Abita Mystery House just outside of New Orleans, an “oddities shop and roadside attraction,” with a proprietor who is and isn’t “self-aware.”

“I delight in finding ways to praise the strange,” Strickland said, and they had a starting point. Strickland is here because after years on the road, “I wanted to move somewhere I could make theatre for a while.” Know as a home base felt like a fit and he and partner MacDonald moved here Nov. 1, 2014. (House of [blank] is a family affair – Tatum is married to Bridget Leak who directs the musical).

Strickland is fulfilling his plan to make theater. Most immediately he’s planning something for a new Serials! in a few months, and he’s submitting a piece for Cincinnati Fringe 2016 even as his touring schedule remains full.

Andy’s House of Blank, through Nov. 14. Know Theatre, 1120 Jackson St., Over-the-Rhine. 8 p.m. Thursday- Saturday, 3 p.m. Sunday. Tickets $20. 513-300-5669 and knowtheatre.com.

Written by Jackie Demaline, RCN Arts