Cincinnati Fringe Festival returns for its 12th year

Once again, the Know Theatre of Cincinnati will be providing multiple venues downtown for experimental playwrights both locally and from around the country.

The Cincinnati Fringe Festival, like other fringe festivals worldwide, celebrates risky theater that pushes boundaries in both style and content. Fringe productions have been known to incorporate dance, music, poetry, visual art, and film.

The 2015 lineup boasts 39 performances over 12 days, encompassing all kinds of styles and subject matter. Of the 39, we’ve listed the three that caught our attention. Enjoy!

“Zombie-Logue”

Zombies in TV and film have been consistently popular for about a decade. But what about a piece that tells the story from the zombie’s point of view? That’s what Mike Hall, one-half of the Cincinnati-based Hugo West Theatricals company, is hoping will counter the “zombie fatigue” that may be experienced by some audience members.

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“I can see why people might be like ‘geez, not another zombie story,’ but I think people have more vampire fatigue than zombie fatigue,” Hall said. “(Zombie stories) are usually about the survivors and what the government is doing. Nobody ever thinks a zombie might have feelings, too.”

Hall said the show was essentially about what a zombie thinks and feels after he awakens to his newly undead status.

“He realizes he’s somewhat back to human again, but also trapped,” he said. “He doesn’t understand his surroundings, but as he begins to piece it together, he realizes how much it disgusts him as a human.”

“Tammy Faye’s Final Audition”

Tammy Faye Bakker was a Christian evangelist and media personality who was married to Jim Bakker, whose sexual escapades with a secretary and felony convictions for fraud and conspiracy brought about their divorce in 1992 and dealt a nearly lethal blow to the formerly multi-million dollar televangelism industry.

For those who haven’t thought much about Tammy Faye in the last 25 years, Brick Monkey Theatre Ensemble, a Southeastern Ohio theater company comprised entirely of Ohio University theater faculty members, is performing this piece to reiterate her historic importance in the evangelical movement.

“When people think of Tammy Faye, they think of the crying and the makeup,” said Merri Biechler, an adjunct professor of theater at OU. “But she was actually the first evangelical to embrace gay people back in the 1980s. (The evangelical movement) was more inclusive back then, the idea that anyone could find Jesus, that Jesus loved everyone.”

“Tammy Faye’s Final Audition” is a dreamy exercise where she auditions to create one final TV talk show called “Tammy Faye Wins At Life.” Whether the audition exists inside or outside her head is up to the audience. Throughout, she interacts with all the important men in her life, such as her ex-husband, Jim, her son, Jay, her current husband, Roe Messner, and her one-time co-host, J.J. Bullock, an HIV-positive gay man who also starred in the sitcom, “Too Close For Comfort.” Miechler said the piece was inspired by the fact that Tammy Faye granted an interview to CNN’s Larry King literally seven hours before she passed away from cancer.

“She had a real drive to be in front of an audience,” Miechler said. “Call it ego or a last message of love to her fans. It comes from an internal drive that the play tries to understand.”

We Gotta Cheer Up Gary

If you’re a fan of the film, “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” you will probably also enjoy “We Gotta Cheer Up Gary,” as both stories involve a professional agency trained to heal what is normally a private emotional process.

In this case, a vague government agency is assigned to treat people for unhappiness. Unfortunately, due to budget cuts, one government agent is assigned to “cheer up” a roomful of people at the same time and fails miserably.

However, according to Jason Ballweber, artistic director for the Minneapolis-based Four Humors Theatre, the piece is not the sort of cynical farce that the premise might suggest.

“The desire to make everyone happy is earnest,” he said. “It’s too easy and trendy to be sarcastic and ironic, and I don’t like that. There’s such a quickness to go negative in modern entertainment, like two friends who spend the entire movie insulting each other.”

Indeed, the only fault in the “cheer up” philosophy is the logic behind it.

“Government scientists determined that the key to happiness was giving up your personal identity,” Ballweber said. “The idea that the best way to be happy is to fit in, which is to be just like everyone else. That’s why everyone in the room is named ‘Gary.’ “

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