St. Lou Fringe Review: Cecily and Gwendolyn's Fantastical Missourian Anthropological Inquisitorial Probe

How you feel about Cecily and Gwendolyn's Fantastical Missourian Anthropological Inquisitorial Probe, which runs all four days of the St. Lou Fringe (Thursday 4 p.m., Friday 8:30 p.m., Saturday 1 p.m. and Sunday 2:30 p.m., all at the Nash Building, 3000 Locust), depends on how you feel about interactive theater.

It's not the sort of interactive theater where audience members are required to make loud noises or sing silly songs at a signal from the performers. Instead the conceit here is that Cecily Marlborough and Gwendolyn Hamm, two hoopskirt-wearing ladies, have arrived in St. Louis via their magical time-traveling balloon from Victorian England (the technology of this remains unclear) and are eager to collect data on the natives and their peculiar customs. In exchange for information, they offer bribes of tea and biscuits.

But Cecily and Gwendolyn (played by Karen Getz and Kelly Jennings), despite their proper British manners, are not passive receivers of knowledge. They are highly skeptical and highly critical, and they challenge the audience to match wits with them as they riff on nuggets of information with which they have been provided: in the case of a preview performance last night, these included St. Louisans' sometimes masochistic devotion to the Cardinals, local speech patterns ("Highway Farty") and our bewildering way of pronouncing French words (they found "Gravois" particularly distressing).

(It should be noted that they take a dim view of texting while the probe is in session; last night, their wrath was enough to frighten off an offending audience member.)

St. Louis is full of absurdities that seem even more absurd when you try to explain them to outsiders. Cecily and Gwendolyn understand this -- it's the key to their act -- but, unlike a lot of observational comedians, they are actually funny. Their wit is sharp, but not mean-spirited. An inquisitorial probe isn't the worst way to spend 45 minutes. We could think of many, many worse.

As an extra bonus, at every probe, the investigators appoint two audience members to record the data that's been collected, and then they transfer it to their website. Since Cecily and Gwendolyn are spending the summer on the fringe festival circuit (they've already visited Cincinnati; ahead are Washington, DC, Minneapolis, Boulder and Philly), it appears that, in the coming months, they will be adding a great deal to human knowledge.

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