Provided by Cincinnati Fringe FestivalSolo performer Julie Gieseke bares her conflicted, self-doubting soul in this 60-minute performance, written with director Nina Wise (and developed by Martha Rynberg and Tanya Taylor Rubinstein). “Julie” is on the hunt for her ideal girlfriend, resorting to an expensive dating service after other avenues have failed. Before that starts, she meets Monica, an offbeat artist who actually seems to meet most of the necessary criteria, even if she’s not exactly Julie’s anticipated ideal girlfriend. In fact, she wonders if Monica is straight. But they click via a series of awkward dates and art outings.
At the same time, Julie is struggling to cope with her mother’s imminent death from cancer; it’s clear that dread and grief are coloring her psyche. Nevertheless, she’s taken aback when Monica tells her she believes that Julie might have a borderline personality disorder. When they have an altercation over a minor event, Julie decides she might benefit from some group therapy, another expensive, if not worthwhile, decision. Julie gains some insight about herself — and others — including a clearer view of Monica. There’s more to the story, of course, including its somewhat ambiguous conclusion that seems to suggest she’s come to terms with her needs, in part because of her mom.
It’s an interesting ride: Gieseke is an accomplished performer who has totally mapped out her storytelling with physical gestures, facial expressions, voices and movement. She uses two four-legged stools as more than furniture: They become props, from a table in a coffee shop and her mother’s hospital bed, to some off-beat art and a car she loves to drive. With just a bit of shifting lighting, she creates varied scenes that are sharply defined and often very amusing. In one of Julie’s occasional outbursts, she insists: “I’m not angry, I’m emphatic.” And her time in group therapy involves portraits of others that are painfully hilarious.
I’m not sure why the show’s title required the coy asterisks in the context of a Fringe festival. Borderline A**hole felt over-rehearsed, which is not something I can often say about Fringe productions. But Gieseke’s performance seemed a bit too calculated and in need of a greater feeling of spontaneity. There are some very satisfying moments, to be sure, but it seemed we never were let totally inside her character. That’s a borderline we might have benefited from crossing.
The Cincinnati Fringe Festival runs through June 15. Find showtimes, tickets and more info here. Check out more reviews from our CityBeat team here.