For several years Ensemble Theatre of Cincinnati has used the Fringe as an opportunity to showcase its acting interns, aspiring young professionals who work mostly backstage during the season in support capacities. A few of them make it onstage, especially during the holiday show, and most get the chance to understudy roles in ETC’s season. But audiences don’t see much of them. So during the Fringe, they come forward and show their stuff. It’s not really a Fringe show. It’s really just a themeless collection of monologs, scenes and songs. (In some years there’s at least a production number to open and close the performance, but that’s not the case for 2008.)
Nevertheless, this year’s showcase, The Next Stage, is a good chance to see 10 young actors — four men and six women — demonstrate what they’re capable of doing. Most of the performers were onstage at least twice during the 90-minute performance. (By the time you read this, it’s probably over: I saw the second of three performances in this showcase’s brief run; the final presentation was on June 1 at 2 p.m.) Everyone had a chance to shine.
Caitlyn Rose Allison started with a lengthy monolog from Wendy Wasserstein’s The Heidi Chronicles; it’s a speech about a woman making a speech for which she hasn’t prepared. Allison did a nice job of conveying a complex, accomplished character who has feelings of inadequacy. Later, Allison re-appeared, this time as the strong-willed Paulina from Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale.
Jen Walker sang “There’s Been a Change in Me” from the musical Beauty and the Beast. Playing a character who might be Belle’s paranoid doppelganger, she returned for a two-person scene drawn from Jessica Anderson’s How to Keep Your Legs Closed but Your Mind Open, and a brief speech from Edward Albee’s Fragments.
Claire Aberasturi showed considerable breadth playing the withdrawn poet Emily Dickinson from William Luce’s The Belle of Amherst, then returning to sing the brassy “Everybody’s Girl” from Kander and Ebb’s Steel Pier. Similarly, Steve Buckingham offered a dramatic scene from John Osborn’s Look Back in Anger, then sang Jackson Browne’s sweet “Looking Into You.” Buckingham was also part of an extended scene from Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing near the end of the program.
Andrew Coil showed a mastery of contemporary material, playing an egocentric character who’s “totally high on fear” from Kenneth Lonergan’s This Is Our Youth, then turned to a classic role, playing another self-centered character, Benedick in the Much Ado excerpt.
Nicoletta Mazzocca had several chances to show what she could do, starting with the vulnerable woman who posed for a painter years earlier in Donald Margulies’ Sight Unseen. She came back as Iago from Othello, a nice challenge for a female to undertake, and she captured his devious, manipulative character; later she breezed through Much Ado as the sharp-tongued Beatrice. She also played a straight-talking pragmatist opposite Walker in the How to Keep Your Legs Closed excerpt.
Amy King picked less familiar but diverse excerpts, drawing two items from people with strong ETC ties. She performed a self-revelatory scene about a woman who’s child has been murdered from A Package Deal, a script by Lynn Meyers, ETC’s artistic director. She closed the evening with “Something in the Wind,” an optimistically lyrical song by David Kisor, who is the regular composer for ETC’s holiday shows. She also showed fine singing talent with the 1940s-styled “You Can Always Count on Me” from City of Angels.
Dan Tracy used a locally written piece, too — his own monolog about a kid who swipes some Oreos and how his father forgives him; it showed genuine emotion. The balance of his work for the evening drew on Shakespeare: a speech by Claudio from Measure for Measure and one of the characters in the Much Ado excerpt.
Samantha Cistulli proved that she could swing from the drama of Hamlet (her speech was one by the title character) to a sweetly cynical tune by Tom Waits, “A Good Man Is Hard to Find.” She also partnered with John Stiens for the evening’s funniest scene, an excerpt from Christopher Durang’s Beyond Therapy, about an awkward pair on a first date — both of whom bring some disturbing psychoses to the table. Stiens stepped away from that hysterical encounter to a brief, serious speech from Arthur Miller’s All My Sons. He rounded out the Much Ado ensemble, too.
As I said, it was a very diverse evening. Several of these young performers will remain in town: Cistulli will perform with Cincinnati Shakespeare Company this summer in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. It’s worth noting that CSC’s current artistic director, Brian Isaac Phillips, was an ETC intern a decade ago, and that one of his predecessors, Jasson Minadakis, interned with ETC in 1993-1994. Who knows which of this year’s crop will be entertaining us this season or in the future?
– Rick Pender