Ariel’s Fringe ’22 Reviews: Week 1
By Ariel Mary Ann
These two weeks, I am having the pleasure of attending the annual Cincinnati Fringe Festival produced by The Know Theatre of Cincinnati, witnessing Fringe in all its glory for the first time.
For those who might not know what Fringe Theatre is – it’s a form of theatre that’s considered to be nontraditional and typically created on a smaller scale compared to a mainstage production.
To put it simply, Fringe is art for those for those who dare to challenge the status quo. Fringe is an opportunity to see several shows spanning different genres and topics, and it is an international movement.
I am grateful to the artists for allowing a peek into their world. Here’s a list of some of my favorites from the first week of the Fringe:
Written and performed by Erika McDonald
Directed by Paul Strickland
The Barn Identity was the first show I saw at Fringe this year. When I walked into Art Academy and shuffled to my seat, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I knew I would be taken on a journey, but I wasn’t sure where. The show opened with Strickland strumming on the guitar as McDonald began to pull us into her world. This piece felt metaphorical in a way using falling down barns to describe the human experience and what it means to not be okay.
At one point in the show the falling of a prop triggers tenseness in the air. I wasn’t sure what was going to happen next, but McDonald embraced it, holding on to that moment, and used it to give herself (and the audience) permission to breathe.
She weaves in and out of stories highlighting depression, mental health, and leaning on your friends in times of need. By the end, I found myself in tears. The Barn Identity felt like a therapy session for my heart and soul.
Strickland’s music helps guide the audience as McDonald’s words provide a cocoon of safety and vulnerability.
Strickland’s strong direction reflects beautifully in the way McDonald moves on stage.
Overall, this is a show you don’t want to miss, and I highly recommend it.
Presented by Performance Gallery And Solasta Theatre Lab
Directed by Regina Pugh
A Morgue of the Forgotten is a whimsical comedy performed by Performance Gallery and Solasta Theatre Lab. Featuring Jasimine Bouldin, Erin Carr, Daniela Nenova and Willemien Patterson. This devised theatre piece tackles a story about the heaviness of memories and the lengths we would go to rid ourselves of them. In the beginning, we are introduced to the morgue of the forgotten – a place where forgotten things go. In this eccentric upside world, I found myself laughing at one scene and tearing up at the next. Nenova and Carr embrace the world of absurdity through the masterful usage of puppets while Bouldin leans into vulnerability.
Patterson dominates the stage as the Mortician of the morgue. Her character is charming and stands with a sense of power. Bouldin and Patterson, together, are a force to be reckoned with. I absolutely enjoyed this show and found Regina Pugh’s direction and blocking to innovative and refreshing. If you enjoy puppetry and stepping into the unknown, then A Morgue of the Forgotten is for you.
Performed by Bradley Wrenn and Sarah Knittel
Make a F*ckin’ Show, You POS, is a comedy in a league of its own. I found myself crying tears of laugher by the end. This piece is centered around experimental theatre where performers, Bradley Wrenn and Sarah Knittel, explore life through the lens of comedic improv. It should be noted that each performance is uniquely different from one another. Knittel dominates the stage through her sharp timing and smooth chemistry with Wrenn. Their energy bounces off one another and they fit together perfectly. If you’re looking for a show where you can escape the world for an hour, then I highly recommend catching gem if you can.
Performed by Boris Dansberry with music featuring Jess Lamb and the Factory
When you think of Joan of Arc, what may come to mind is the woman who was put to death for speaking out against the English and who become a national heroine in the eyes of France. Boris Dansberry’s Changing My Major to Joan looks at the life of Joan through a deconstructed view of queerness and gender, utilizing a PowerPoint and live music featuring Jess Lamb and Factory. Dansberry analyzes the connection between trans people of today and the plight of Joan of Arc.
What struck a chord with me is how they juxtaposed the death of Joan with suicide within the trans community. This can be an uncomfortable topic to talk about but for trans people who’ve experienced transphobic violence, this can feel like the only option. When coming out, many trans people experience rejection from family through misgendering, the ignoring of chosen names, and outright physical/emotional abuse. Dansberry takes this hour to connect history to the present through highlighting how both Joan and trans people have been told that if they renounce who they are then they can find peace. What is peace if you can’t authentically live as yourself?
With a medieval PowerPoint, live music, and a voice that can blow the roof off the Art Academy – Dansberry gives us a history lesson you won’t soon forget.
Performed by Donna Kay Yarborough
Rosegold is a one-woman play exploring the depths of alcoholism and how trauma can change us at our very core. Donna Kay Yarborough left me speechless by the end. From the start, she commits to tapping into the vulnerability of her character. What stood out to me the most, was the way Yarborough uses horror as a vehicle to describe the demons that we don’t talk about. Particularly using the veil as a metaphor for hiding truth behind the vail of shame. She has a way with words that will leave you on the edge of your seat wanting to know what happens next. If you’re a fan of horror that has a message, then this show is for you.
The Real Black Swann Confessions of America’s First Black Drag Queen
By Kurkendaal Barrett Productions
The Real Black Swann Confessions of America’s First Black Drag Queen tells the story of William Dorsey Swann, a former slave who (as the title suggests) became America’s first Black drag queen. The history of America places white people, specifically white men on a pedestal attempting to highlight the impact that they’ve had on the country while ignoring the impact and accomplishments of Black Americans.
Les Kurkenddaal-Barrett uses this hour to show how Swann pushed against the status quo making a name for himself among other black queer icons of the 1800s. He calls out the racism of white gay men who will fetishize Black bodies while simultaneously ignoring the reality of what it means to be a queer Black man in America.
This show touched me in a very personal way as a Black queer woman. It’s not easy existing in a country that wasn’t built for people who look like you in many ways, I feel seen. KurkendaaI – Barrett’s powerful show is a standout that I can’t recommend enough.
I hope that this guide helps in figuring out which Fringe shows you should see. This is, by no means, not an exhaustive list but each of these shows struck an emotional chord within me and moved me in ways that were unexpected.
If you’re wanting to see multiple shows, consider the Fringe flex pass where you can see 6 shows for $80. Both individual tickets as well as Fringe passes can be purchased here.
Ariel MaryAnn is a graduate of University of Cincinnati, a local theatre artist and playwright.