“Now listen, Eileen, Ohio was stifling. We just couldn’t wait to get out of the place,” Rosalind Russell said to Edie Adams in Leonard Bernstein’s 1953 musical Wonderful Town. In 1990 Ohio may still have that image, of being a great place to be–from. But performance artist and producer Tom Mulready wants people to know that there’s more to it than that.

Mulready is director of the Cleveland Public Theatre Performance Art Festival, an annual showcase of cutting-edge theater, music, dance, and other related forms that, while attracting performers from all over the world, is particularly committed to presenting Ohio artists. Having established itself there over the past three seasons, the festival is branching out with visits to Baltimore, New York, and Chicago.

This weekend, Club Lower Links will host The Best of the Fest, which consists of one solo performer and three ensembles seen at the Cleveland festival earlier this year. Theatre of Sorts is a one-woman effort by Wendy S. Duke, who studied theater at the University of Akron, then worked in regional avant-garde theaters on the east and west coasts and finally returned to Akron. Her performances, considered blasphemous by some and hilarious by others, revolve around a theme of spiritual anarchy.

Nova Lizard Project, most of whose members are based in the Cleveland area, is as elaborate as Duke is simple; its work has been described as “industrial ballet” that uses loud noise and splashy visual effects to shake up audiences.

The Backyard Mechanics–Luigi-Bob Drake and Kristen Ban Tepper–experiment with handmade instruments and sound poetry in what Mulready calls “a very low-tech, down-home,” deliberately naive fashion.

Mulready, a video artist, is himself a member of Music, Movement, and . . . , an interdisciplinary collective that also includes dancers Cheryl Wallace and Colleen Clark. The group will present a piece that Mulready says was inspired by “a ritual in ancient tribes where during a woman’s childbirth process the man would take to his bed and feign illness. When we first did the piece, Cheryl was eight months pregnant. Since then she’s had the child, and he will be in the performance–well, actually he was in the performance before, but now he’s in a different place.” The work addresses cultural gender roles and biological sexual differences.

The Best of the Fest–whose title, incidentally, was chosen with some irony, Mulready says, as a challenge to the notion of an officially recognized upper crust in avant-garde art–takes place tonight and tomorrow, November 30 and December 1, at Club Lower Links, 954 W. Newport, at 8:30 PM. Tickets are $8; for more info, call 248-5238.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Sandy Underwood.