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Cincinnati Fringe Mini Reviews: "Chemistry", "Edgar Allan", & "Moonlight After Midnight"

It’s Fringe!

People swarm through Over-the-Rhine for 10 days every year (this year through June 6), meeting on the sidewalk, trading recommendations while standing in line, grabbing a meal, grabbing a drink, expanding their theatre experience by picking a show, or two, or three. Hey – it’s only an hour, give it a try!

For your consideration, three entries about couples, all of them easy to recommend. All of them likely 2015 festival hits. Location listed at end of mini-review. For schedule and all information, visit www.cincyfringe.com.

CHEMISTRY. (MUST SEE) The script was a winner at the New York International Fringe Festival in 2014 (it went on to an encore run in NYC) and it’s a winner here, too, in a first-rate, polished production with major connections to Playhouse in the Park’s intern company, in particular director Katie Lupica, co-founder of the NYC-based producing company. Art Academy Studio.

Jamie (Jay Hobson) is manic. Steph (Laurie Benning Roberts) is chronically depressed. How could they not fall in love? As Steph says, “Manic and depressive – a pair so perfect they named a disease after us.” 

Playwright Jacob Marx Rice’s smart, funny, sad script packs a lot into an hour – about romantic chemistry, about how often mental illnesses are addressed as something one has versus something one is. About the chemistry demanded to treat an organic condition – and whether that’s better living through chemistry. And how sometimes it isn’t.

Strong work from all, starting with Lupica, Hobson and Roberts, and from the design team, many University of Cincinnati College Conservatory of Music grads. New York-based Mark Van Hare powerfully underscores the drama with his original music and sound design.

EDGAR ALLAN. (MUST SEE) The Coldharts (creators of last year’s sell-out The Legend of White Woman Creek) return with their spin on American Gothic, this one a deliciously creepy comedy – with songs! - imagining a childhood moment of Edgar Allan Poe. Ukulele and trombone accompaniment is exactly as wonderfully skewed as the rest of the show. (Opening night at Know was packed.)

This time the couple are doppelgangers (a duplicate, not just in looks but in characteristics.) They’re ‘precocious’ 11 year-old boys who meet on the first day of boarding school. They have much in common -- ambition, hairstyle, fashion sense, a belief in their own remarkable-ness, and their name. 

You won’t be amazed to hear that the very existence of The Other robs each Edgar of what passes for joy. Mr. Poe would be pleased with this “manic lullaby,” delightfully performed by Katie Hartman (nutsy from her first note with a crazed glint that never leaves her eyes) and Nick Ryan (who plays his own mysterious notes with perfection.) Great for older kids. Know Theatre.

Check out a sound preview here.

MOONLIGHT AFTER MIDNIGHT. A mystery wrapped in an enigma show set to melancholy Patsy Cline hits. It’s night. A couple meet in a hotel room. Think of them as The Girl at a Wedding (Vanessa Quesnelle, who performs the Cline songs a cappella) and the Guy in a Room (Martin Dockery, also the playwright.)

While this is his Cincinnati debut, Dockery has written and performed a staggering number of Fringe shows and folks who know his work say Moonlight has signature elements, particularly his fondness for wordplay.

A word or phrase is picked up and repeated, played with, invariably returned to later as the story advances, layering in suggestions of love and loss. The context is continually re-considered, re-positioned with -- a new fiction? A new fact? 

But, back to the beginning in this genuinely bare-bones, solidly performed show. The Girl steps into the hotel room. The guy is staring out the window, marking the progress of a comet that only swings by Earth every 10 years. She says he’s called for her services. He says he hasn’t. Nevertheless they embark on a role-playing exercise. Or do they?

Moonlight has earned high marks at major Fringes across the U.S. and Canada, but to me it feels a little too much like an acting exercise. As the clever word game goes on and on, I felt myself asking a variation on a Peggy Lee question:  “Is this all there is?” 17 E. Court St.

Written by Jackie Demaline, RCN Arts

Photo: Edgar Allen (provided)

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