June 03, 2007
True + False
During this performance's 90 swift minutes, seven players dish up a dozen biographical sketches, all of them plausible, only half of them literally true. The show challenges audience members to distinguish between factual truth and what merely appears to be true. After each sketch the audience votes with “T” or “F” flashcards and the tally is recorded. At the end of each performance, the collective wisdom of the audience is announced.

On opening night (May 31) audience perception was correct about only three stories, wrong about nine. The following night the audience was right about three, but not the same three. To keep word from leaking and affecting the votes of future audiences, they never reveal which votes are correct. That also keeps you pondering after the curtain comes down. Producer-director-performer Ted Bechtel said after the Friday show that Cincinnati audiences seem a little more credulous than others.

This entertaining, audience-involving, grin-provoking concept plays with perception and maintains a positive sense of the absurd and the outrageous. Here the comedy is refined, there it’s rowdy. Only rarely does it toy gently with its target. And the social criticism is scathing.

The show is perfectly suited to the out-there atmosphere of a Fringe, but it’s also sturdy enough to have played an extended run as an independent, off-Loop attraction drawing audiences against Chicago competition.

Eight people take stage in front of a wall of video monitors that, prior the show, use live, taped and looped images to play now-you-see-yourself-now-you-don’t games with of the audience as it assembles for each performance. Three of the eight (Allan Acquino-Quiaoit, Erin Liston and Andrew Schneider) double as players and manipulators of extensive video, sound and lighting effects that support the performance. Roger Bechtel (who fronts Big Picture Group and teaches theater at Miami University), David Getzin, Jeremy Schaefer and Shannon Welling are the other players. Stephanie Ehemann stage manages the rest of them.

Getzin spins a deliciously absurdist tale about walking down Clark Street in Chicago, meeting a man carrying a huge fish and taking him along to a homeless center where the cook turns it into a feast. True? False? Who knows? Welling says she lied to a date about being a champion horsewoman, only to discover that his family bred and raised horses. In a harrowing ride she learned how to whisper to the horse. She also describes appearing in a hyper-Teutonic musical production of Hansel and Gretel in which she played a kazoo and did a song and dance about sauerkraut. One of those tales is literally true. Which? Who knows?

Acquino-Quiaoit talks about contracting herpes. Then he describes about how cruel Spanish invaders in the Philippine Islands set off the series of protest events that produced his unusual last name. With luck, it’s the second one that’s true.

Bechtel tells how, as a student at Yale, he worked as a waiter at a fraternity dinner. A certain President of the United States, drunk out of his mind, turned obstreperous, threw a punch that missed Bechtel and hit a female caterer. There’s a bitterly ironic twist to the tale, not to be revealed here, that makes it frightening whether it’s true or false.

Relaxed and welcoming between sketches, True + False becomes intensely focused and perfectly paced when the tales are being twisted. Grade: A+

Note: Though it came and went quickly during the first weekend of Fringe 2007, True + False should be a contender for "Pick of the Fringe" honors. Since this edition of the show is ending its run with this engagement at the Cincinnati Fringe, Big Picture Group will finally reveal which stories are factual and which are fanciful after mid-June. Check their Web site for the answers.

— Tom McElfresh