Futuristic Drama Revisits Cincinnati’s Harambe Tragedy On Incident’s Fifth Anniversary

CFF_Harambe logoCINCINNATI, OH – In May 2016, Cincinnati shocked the planet with the tragic death of a rare gorilla. Equipped with knowledge from the future and countless chances to intervene, could the outcome have changed?

Hugo West Theatricals (HWT) proudly presents the first-ever dramatic exploration of one of Cincinnati’s darkest hours in HARAMBE, a new play premiering this spring at the 2021 Cincinnati Fringe Festival. University of Cincinnati drama professor Brant Russell directs an exploration of the nature of fact, expertise and shared moral values in the “fake news” era.

Performances will take place June 6 – 17, 2021 at outdoor venues along Jackson Street in Over-the-Rhine:

  • Sunday, June 6, 6:15pm
  • Tuesday, June 8, 6:15pm
  • Sunday, June 13, 8:00pm
  • Thursday, June 17, 8:00pm

Single tickets ($10 – $15), as well as festival passes, are available now at cincyfringe.com.

CINCINNATI TRAGEDY AS CRIMINAL REFORM
Stan has awoken in a zoo, and finds himself witness to a terrible incident: the killing of an endangered silverback gorilla to save the life of a three-year-old child. A mysterious stranger appears, stirring Stan from a fugue state and helping him to realize that he’s witnessing these horrific events on repeat, as “simulation therapy” for crimes committed in the future. Having made Stan conscious of his prison, the stranger shares a startling theory: what if Stan could convince the computer behind the simulation that he’s been reformed, terminating the punishment early? Just one catch… if the digital “warden” senses an effort to manipulate the outcome, the game is changed. Basic facts of the universe begin to shift, unraveling the mind of the incarcerated back into submission.

Voices from the 2016 eyewitness video inspire the characters of HARAMBE. A loving mother whose child briefly escapes her sight, a visiting uncle and niece, the zoo director, and the unfortunate triggerman. With each cycle, reality spins further out of control, causing Stan to wonder if there is any universe in which the life of Harambe can be saved.

Named after a song by Rita Marley, “Harambe,” ironically, means working together, caring and sharing. The music of the Rastafarian songstress is both soundtrack and antagonist in the play, the recurrence of the music signaling the painful restarting of the cycle for Stan.

Queen City patrons will also recognize a parody of Cincinnati Public Radio’s ubiquitous “The Ninety-Second Naturalist,” which punctuates each cycle with themed episodes that increasingly blend fiction with fact about the natural world.

WHY REHASH A PAINFUL MOMENT?
With a bizarre real-life denouement of internet memes and Monday morning quarterbacking, the tragic tale of Harambe has not been significantly explored on the live stage. There is no more appropriate place to broach the subject matter than Cincinnati, and no more appropriate stage than the Cincinnati Fringe Festival. That said, HARAMBE is not a historical drama. The play fictionalizes the key individuals in the incident, and places them in increasingly absurd circumstances. Moreover, the play does not seek to pass judgment on the individuals and institutions involved, focusing instead on the human and societal influences that bring each character to the decisions they make. As the line between truth and fiction becomes increasingly blurry, the audience is asked to consider the nature of fact, expertise and collective moral values, in an age when all three have become a social gauntlet.

Importantly, the play never shows the sad encounter between the child and the gorilla, nor the shooting of the animal. Likeness to any actual individuals involved in the incident is intended as parody.

THE TALENT
HARAMBE is directed by University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music (CCM) acting professor Brant Russell. Russell’s rich pedigree developing new plays includes founding and directing the Cincinnati Playwrights Workshop, and producing CCM’s annual TRANSMIGRATION festival of new works. In addition to CCM, Russell has directed locally at Know Theatre and Cincinnati Shakespeare Company, and elsewhere in the country at Queens Theatre, Victory Gardens, Writers’ Theatre and Steppenwolf.

The local cast includes HWT veterans Randy Lee Bailey (DON’T CROSS THE STREAMS, HOT DAMN! IT’S THE LOVELAND FROG!, THE GOSPEL OF BARABBAS) and Chris Stewart (STREAMS). Cincinnati actors Cathy Ross and Sarah Zaffiro and CCM Acting student Mateo Sallano make their HWT debuts. Kevin Semancik provides sound design.

ABOUT HUGO WEST THEATRICALS
Hugo West Theatricals (HWT) is the lunatic hobbyhorse of writing and producing team Mike Hall and Joshua Steele. Mistakenly called “inveterate showmen” (Cincinnati Enquirer) and “smart playwright[s] who know how to surprise an audience in unexpected ways,” their often sold-out productions have been dubbed “smart and funny, amiable and high energy” (River City News) and “riotously funny but infectiously endearing” (Cincinnati Citybeat).

Founded in 2012, HWT has produced award-winning stagings of original, adapted and existing works: DON’T CROSS THE STREAMS: THE CEASE AND DESIST MUSICAL; A KLINGON CHRISTMAS CAROL; HOT DAMN! IT’S THE LOVELAND FROG!; ZOMBIE-LOGUE; CESSNA; THE LETTERS OF VINCENT VAN GOGH: A LIVE PERFORMANCE; SUMATRAN RHINO; and THE GOSPEL OF BARRABAS.

HARAMBE is HWT’s seventh Cincinnati Fringe Festival entry. It is the company’s third play focused on remarkable local history topics, which have included the cryptozoological phenomenon of the Loveland Frog, and a deadly plane crash and yet-undiscovered treasure buried in the early 1980s.

More information on HWT can be found at https://hugowesttheatricals.wixsite.com/home.

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