LCT Continuing “Stage Insights”

This season, LCT continues its program "Stage Insights". In place of our usual reviewing process, Stage Insights provides more in-depth, personal reviews from a select number of our contributors dedicated to each of the theatres they are reviewing. In addition, they will be providing exciting Sneak Peaks of upcoming productions. Look for our Sneak Peaks on the front page of our website and our weekly reviews on the Review Page.

Incline Theatre Planning to Raise Your “Spirit” This Summer

 

Sneak Peek by Laurel Humes of Blithe Spirit: Incline Theatre

Actress Kayla Burress is channeling her inner ghost to play one in Blithe Spirit, opening June 28 at Warsaw Federal Incline Theater.

Since this is a Noel Coward comedy, Elvira the Ghost is playful and clever. With the added advantage that no one can see her, “I can slouch around, say whatever I want, with no pretense or show,” Burress said.

That is freedom, in upper-class 1940’s England, where everyone keeps up a mannered and stylish veneer, putting on a show for each other. “Elvira is the opposite of that,” Burress said.

Here’s the plot:

Novelist Charles Condomine (Matt Krieg) was married to Elvira before she died seven years ago. Now his wife is Ruth (Grace Eichler). Charles is researching séances for a book, when clairvoyant Madame Arcati (Traci Taylor) calls up the ghost of Elvira.

Only Charles can see and hear Elvira, which sets up hilarious situations of misunderstanding as he reacts and Ruth thinks he’s crazy – until Elvira makes herself known to Ruth, too. There are many other twists, but I won’t spoil the fun.

Blithe Spirit, directed by Bob Brunner, is filled with special effects. Things float and break; there’s fog and haze. Elvira is ghostly in pale makeup and hair, light-colored and flowing costumes.

Blithe Spirit was first staged in 1941. In a testament to Noel Coward’s enduring humor, the play has been revived many times in London and New York, most recently on Broadway in 2009.

Elvira even died funny, Burress said. “She had a heart attack laughing at a radio show. She laughed to death!”

Burress, a 2015 musical theatre graduate of Ohio Northern University, just concluded a tour with Madcap Puppets and expects to appear next with The Children’s Theatre of Cincinnati.

Blithe Spirit runs Wednesdays-Sundays through July 23 at Warsaw Federal Incline Theater, 801 Matson Place, in the Incline District of East Price Hill.  For tickets, call 513-241-6550 or go to www.cincinnatilandmarkproductions.com.

Prepare to be Enchanted by CSC’s “Midsummer Night’s Dream”

Review by Doug Iden of A Midsummer Night’s Dream: Cincinnati Shakespeare Company

The Cincinnati Shakespeare Theater inaugurated the 2017-18 season in its new digs with a technically spectacular production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.  Even for those of you who think that Shakespeare is an alien being who really talks funny, this is a show worth watching.

The play, which many consider to be one of Shakespeare’s finest, is a farce replete with mistaken identities, magic potions, fantastic creatures (fairies), bawdy language, naive people doing silly things and a significant amount of slapstick.  The plot is somewhat convoluted with two different couples in ancient Athens who escape to the forest so that they can pursue their true loves.  The “dream” becomes a nightmare for many of the characters.  In the forest, they interrupt a bitter dispute between the king and queen of the fairies which spills into the couple’s love lives.  To add to the chaos, a troop of itinerant thespians are rehearsing a play which they hope will be selected at the couple’s wedding.  Got all that?  If not, don’t worry.  Just allow the hilarity to wash over you and enjoy the evening.

However, this is not just a play of inanities.  This is one of Shakespeare’s most scathing condemnations of people’s foibles and gullibility, especially related to love.  The satire can be summed up by the famous line: “What fools these mortals be”.

As usual, the entire cast is superb with a few highlights including Sara Clark as Puck, the trickster who works for the Fairy King Oberon, Matthew Lewis Johnson as Nick Bottom (lead actor in the troop), Caitlin McWethy as Helena (one of the lovers) and the Fairy King and Queen (Giles Davies and Miranda McGee).   Clark, as Puck, is charged by Oberon to use magic potions to ridicule the Fairy Queen Titania and the lovers but gets confused and bewitches the wrong people.  Puck also is the conscience of the show with a constant commentary on the state of humanity.  Johnson (as Nick Bottom) is a hilariously over-the-top egomaniac who thirsts for the lead acting position but is turned into a half-donkey whom Titania becomes smitten with because of one of Puck’s spells.  The Bard always has fun with character’s names and Nick Bottom as “the ass” is a prime example.  Johnson chews up the scenery with his performance.

McWethy, as Helena, is in love with Demetrius (Kyle Brumley) who is engaged to Hermia (Courtney Lucien) who actually loves Lysander (Crystian Wiltshire).  Got that?  Anyway, McWethy is both funny and flirtatious as she chases Demetrius throughout the forest.

Davies is deliciously manipulative as Oberon who, like Puck, comments on the action and, convincingly, straightens out the mess in the end.  McGee (Titania) is initially enraged with Oberon, enchanted with Nick Bottom, re-enraged with Oberon and, ultimately, reconciled with him.

There also is a bit of non-Shakespearean language such as, after running around the stage, one of the thespians says: “This theater is bigger than the other one”.

But a major star of the show is the technical wizardry and pizzazz on display in the new theater.  Scenic Designer Shannon Moore, Costume Designer Amanda McGee, Lighting Designer Justen Locke and Sound and Video Designer Douglas Borntrager pull out all the stops by highlighting their new pyrotechnic toys.  The primary scenery is a modern-looking treelike structure around which the actors cavort.  This, combined with video projections of the forest and a constantly changing moon, creates an effective magical forest.  This is a large cast and costuming it must have been a real challenge with a combination of grotesque fairy outfits, Athenian garb, wedding dresses and outlandish medieval clothes for the acting troop.  Some of the fairy costumes are also lit, creating a ghostly effect.  The lighting allows the illusion of transformation as the fairies “zap” other characters and create, alternately, bright and eerie views.

A major innovation is the flying apparatus which allows many of the fairies to fly around the stage.  Sara Clark must earn 1,000 air miles per performance.

Two scenes exemplify the raucousness and hilarity of the show.  One is a ”lover’s quarrel” between the two sets of lovers and the final “play within a play” production by the itinerant journeymen actors to celebrate the final nuptials.  Spoiler alert:  there is a happy ending to the play and an even happier ending for the audience.

So pack up your fairy dust and magic potions and dare to enter the enchanted forest of A Midsummer Night’s Dream at CSC’s brand new theater continuing through September 30.  For ticket information, call 513-381-2273 or visit www.cincyshakes.com.  Their next production is Dracula running from October 13 to November 4.

Human Race’s “Legendale” is a Fun Escape

Review by Liz Eichler of “Legendale”: Human Race Theatre

Watching a new work is always fun.  You get to see what works and what still has room to grow. Human Race’s “Legendale” by Andrea Daly and Jeff Bienstock is a musical that is a lot of fun, but is still on a quest to maturity.

“Legendale” is about a man approaching 30 with dread, because he feels it’s “game over.” He’s a capable computer programmer, who once developed and took his own fantasy game to market, only to have a fatal mistake in the code. So now he works a dead-end job and plays computer games with cyberfriends. The musical comes alive when he immerses himself into the game “Legendale” and interacts with the characters on their quest. Stuck with the avatar “Cow-Maiden,” however, eventually he stops grumbling and starts discovering this humble character’s strengths, as well as his own.

The show opens with a fun group number, but then slows until we enter the game of Legendale when the show comes alive. The costumes and props are worth the ticket.  The design team includes Scenic Designer Michael Schweikardt, Costumes by Ayn Kaetchen Wood, Lighting by John Rensel, Projections by David Bengali, and Sound by Jay Brunner. Also with Costumes, Armor and Weapons Design are Anne Juul Holm and Lotte Blichfeldt. Directed by John Simpkins, with musical director Scot Wooley. The characters interact and weave through the two worlds seamlessly. There are some nice songs, including the recurring “Lord of Legendale” “I’ve Got a Rock” and “Here and Now.”  The ending is perfect!

Abby Church is electric as Zelayna/The Cow Maiden. She plays her role with earnestness and force. Max Crumm as Andy has a wonderful voice, but his character has “given up” and he plays the melancholy so well, it is hard to connect with him. The spirited ensemble includes Rachel Flynn, Jesse Sharp, Travis Mitchell, Nathan Robert Pecchia, Cody Westbrook and Colin Hodgkin.

The show is concurrently being produced in Denmark, and the writers will probably tweak it some more. There is definitely something to work with, it is a great idea for a musical! The audience really loved and connected with most of it (except for the young man playing games on company time). The main character needs to be redefined, and to give the audience a reason to root for him as the underdog. I hope they build on the great line at the end “You’re the one who’s alone, I’m on a team!”

Come see for yourself.  Bring the kids! “Legendale” plays through October 1.  For tickets go to ticketcenterstage.com or call 937-228-3630.

Covedale’s “The Miracle Worker” Has Vision and Heart

Review by Doug Iden of The Miracle Worker: Covedale

The American classic The Miracle Worker inaugurated the 2017-18 theater season at the Covedale Theater. Based upon real events, the play depicts the desperate attempt of 20-year- old teacher Annie Sullivan to help the blind/deaf youngster Helen Keller achieve success in the seeing/hearing world. But Boston-bred Annie faces an even greater challenge than she anticipated when she meets the spoiled and tyrannical offspring of an Alabama businessman and his family in the late 19th Century. First, Annie had to establish discipline with the young girl while fending off the well-intentioned but misguided behavior of Helen’s family who felt sorry for the girl and molly-coddled her.  Then, Annie had to create a feeling of reliance with Helen so the youngster could start to make the connection between words and the objects that the words represented.

The success of the play hinges on the tug of war between the two highly intelligent but determined women, and Rebecca Whatley (as Annie) and Brooke Chamberlin (as Helen) are up the challenge. Even though you are probably more familiar with Helen Keller than Annie Sullivan, this story is definitely about Annie. To quote Director Greg Proccacino from the program’s Director Notes, “(Helen) could not have accomplished ANY of it without the fiery spirit, dogged talent and tenacity of her teacher, Annie Sullivan.” Whatley displays this “fiery spirit” as she battles Helen, Captain Keller (Helen’s father played by Brent Alan Burington), Helen’s over-protective mother (Sarah Viola) and her drift-less half-brother James (Michael Donohoe) while fighting her own internal demons. As the play progresses, everyone changes.

Multi-layered themes include dysfunctional families, differing reactions to a challenging child, post-Civil War hostilities to the North, southern paternalistic attitudes towards women and the general medical ignorance of handling “afflicted” people.

The primary supporting cast of Burington (Captain Keller), Sarah Viola (Kate Keller) and Michael Donohoe (James Keller) adds significantly to the overall tensions and drama. Viola’s character has to navigate a perilous journey between her paternalistic husband who expects complete obedience from her while trying to protect Helen from her husband’s misguided approach towards the child. Burington is whipsawed between his feelings and the determined attitudes of Annie and his wife. Michael Donohoe, while acting as a sarcastic “Greek Chorus” for most of the play, finally achieves the backbone to stand up to his father and provide grudging support for Annie.

The static set, designed by Brett Bowling, works effectively by presenting two different scenes at the same time. On the left, there is a table at which most of the family dynamics play out, while the right features a bed which alternately serves as Annie’s bedroom in the Keller house and a cabin on the grounds which allows Annie to work privately with Helen. Scene changes are handled by lighting although there are times when the two scenes merge with action happening in both areas simultaneously. Sound, combined with lighting, (Denny Reed) effectively tells the backstory of Annie’s tenure in an asylum, her relationship with her doctors (she is partially blind) and her poignant relationship with her younger brother. One particularly effective prop is the water pump which becomes the catalyst for Helen’s final metamorphosis. The costumes by Caren Brady appear to be period appropriate.

Director Greg Proccacino as crafted an excellent production. My only quibble is that Annie’s Irish accent waxes and wanes a bit and Helen’s transformation seems a bit abrupt.

Overall, I recommend this play continuing at the Covedale through October 1. Their next production is Mel Brook’s Young Frankenstein starting in October.

“Midsummer” at Cincy Shakes Gives You More To Love About Shakespeare

Review by Liz Eichler of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”: Cincinnati Shakespeare Company

Cincinnati Shakespeare Company opens its Otto M. Budig Theater this week with Shakespeare’s” A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” a feast for the eyes and laughs for the belly. CSC doesn’t hold back as they pile on the effects, joyfully testing out every benefit of their new space and equipment like a sugared up kids at a birthday party.  There’s something for everyone: lovers, sword fighting, scatological humor, dancing, singing, rock music, light-up costumes, puppets, flying, projections, but wait, there’s more! That “more” is some amazing actors who breathe so much life into Shakespeare’s script that all this spectacle could be superfluous.

In case it’s your first time, “Midsummer” is three interrelated stories occurring during one magical Midsummer’s Eve, a night of revelry, where faeries come out to play.  Duke Theseus is planning to celebrate his wedding to Hippolyta, with a feast complete with home-spun entertainment for the reception. Two young noble couples run into the woods, one on their way to get married, the others to thwart them. Faeries (who have come to celebrate the Duke’s wedding) interfere with both the couples, each other, and the home-spun locals rehearsing a play for the wedding entertainment. Comedy, and weddings, ensue.

This is one of Shakespeare’s most popular comedies, and I have enjoyed watching or creating multiple productions. How could this be different?  Well, Director Brian Isaac Phillips says “wait, there’s more!” More ways to interpret, stage, costume, and love about this production.

First, there’s Caitlin McWethy as Helena. Her humorous self-effacing ways make the character amazingly relatable. Courtney Lucien is a mighty foil for her, as the diminutive Hermia. Who is sweet in the first act, (but wait, there’s more!) she shows you that no one should get between her and her love, Lysander (well played by Crystian Wiltshire). Rounding out the lovers is Demetrius (Kyle Brumley) who goes toe to toe with Lysander. Rounding out the “nobles” are Darnell Pierre Benjamin (Duke Theseus), Maggie Lou Rader (Hippolyta), Barry Mulholland (Egeus), and (YAAASS!) Philostrate (Sylvester Little, Jr.).

Next, the homespun “mechanicals” will have you rolling in the aisles.  Quince, the earnest writer and director of the entertainment is brought to life by Kelly Mengelkoch, who commits 110% to bring this character out of the shadows. Matthew Lewis Johnson chews the scenery, “out Herod-ing Herod” as Bottom. He is joined by the ridiculous antics of Billy Chace, Paul Riopelle, and Jeremy Dubin, as Snug, Snout, and Flute. Of course, Robin Starveling (Justin McCombs) has a darling and obedient dog.

Finally, faeries fill the sky and theatre, including Cary Davenport, Tess Talbot, Candice Handy, and Geoffrey Warren Barnes II. Sara Clark is a plucky, nimble, and sassy Puck. And wait, there’s more: Giles Davies and Miranda McGee play power games as Oberon and Titania, although both seem stymied by their costuming.

The scenery (Shannon Moore), lighting (Justin N. Locke), and sound, video, and glorious moon (Douglas J. Borntrager) look lovely.  The 70’s style of costuming is hit and miss, but when they are “right on,” they will stir memories of Match Game, David Bowie concerts, epic movies, and Hee-Haw.  The audience is so much closer in this wonderful thrust stage, so the little things (wigs, zippers, make-up, etc.) are much more noticeable.

The performers engage you, running on stage and off, “through bush, through brier,“ throughout the new space, including a balcony. The spectacle captures your attention, but with the strength of these performers, it would be a great show, even if they were all in their skivvies (but yes! there’s more!) “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” plays through September 30.  Tickets atwww.cincyshakes.com or call 513-381-2273, and enjoy more of this lovely space.

Blind Faith Leads to Miracles at Covedale

Review by Jack Crumley of The Miracle Worker: Covedale Center for the Performing Arts

Brooke Chamberlin and Rebecca Whately in “The Miracle Worker”

The 2017-2018 season at the Covedale Center for the Performing Arts is starting off on a dramatic note with William Gibson’s gripping play from 1957 about drive and the triumph of the human spirit, The Miracle Worker. Though it is adapted from Helen Keller’s own autobiography, the play centers around the struggles of Keller’s teacher, Annie Sullivan. A woman who, while mostly blind herself, fights tooth and nail to get through to a 6-year-old girl who has been both blind and deaf since falling ill as a baby. Much like last season’s production of Doubt: A Parable, this production is a departure from the traditional musicals and comedies typically featured on the Covedale stage. Also like Doubt, this show delivers solid, thoughtful, and at times intense dramatic performances.

The relatively small ensemble of characters is very well cast. Both Brent Alan Burington as Captain Keller (Helen’s father) and Sarah Viola as Kate Keller (Helen’s mother) bring an authority and warmth to their roles, respectively. Even though she has no songs to sing this time, Viola’s lilting voice is a pleasure to listen to, especially with this show’s requisite southern drawl. Michael S Donohoe plays Helen’s half-brother, James, who spends much of the show criticizing everyone else. Donohoe’s demeanor and sarcastic smirks fit the character well.

Rebecca Whatley plays the lead role of T-E-A-C-H-E-R, Annie Sullivan, a 20-year-old woman whose entire life has been a struggle. She was born blind, but, thanks to surgery, now has limited vision as long as there isn’t too much light. Whatley does a tremendous job of balancing Sullivan’s range of emotions and motivations, not to mention making an alphabet of hand gestures seem effortless. She’s a woman who is intensely driven, despite her own self-doubt, and who is still being tortured by her past. There are moments in the show where she flashes back (audio only) to terrible times as a child with her brother in the sanatorium where they grew up. Those moments are made to feel even more isolating as the stage gets darker, save a bluish spotlight on Annie. It’s a simple, but effective mood-setter. Whatley skillfully switches from those isolated moments of pain to getting right back to fighting to teach Helen. It’s a tremendously taxing role, and Whatley rarely shows any weakness in playing the part. Throughout the show, I found myself constantly asking “what would I do in that situation?” and Whatley’s believable grit and determination are quite inspiring.

Though she’s not technically the lead, the only person working harder on stage is Brooke Chamberlin as Helen Keller. This young lady has the unenviable task of playing a character everyone in the audience is watching all the time, and who can’t interact with any fellow cast members in any way that’s “normal.” Imagine taking everything you know about human interaction and not only ignoring it, but replacing it with an altogether alien, almost animal-like instinct. You can’t look at anyone talking to you. You can’t even give signs that you hear them. Your whole world is black except for what you may be touching (or what’s touching you) at a given time. And Chamberlin is fantastic from start to finish. Her bio in the program references a dance background that serves her well. Even though her movements are blocked and well-rehearsed, Chamberlin impressively makes you believe she’s walking chaos. A wild child. I found myself watching her when she was not the focus of a scene, and I never saw a moment when Chamberlin dropped character.

Chamberlin’s chemistry with Whatley on stage is another element of this production that deserves praise. The pair have a lot of physical interaction, and much of it is unpleasant. Helen’s struggle to understand and Annie’s struggle to teach her are both paired with several actual struggles between them. There’s a particular scene in the dining room where Annie is determined to get Helen to sit and eat with a spoon. It’s a fight that does not end quickly, and illustrates how endlessly exhausting Annie Sullivan’s work to teach Helen is. I can’t imagine how much work the director, Greg Procaccino, and the fight director, Melissa Bennett Murphy, put in with these two actors to make that scene as believable and heart-wrenching as it was.

Procaccino’s direction also balances the show’s intensity with very human emotions. Whether characters are bickering or negotiating or trying to communicate at all, everything comes across as personal and honest. That sense is most profound in the run up to the climax as Captain Keller and Kate try to decide what’s best for their daughter. For all of Burington’s bluster as the Captain, and all of Viola’s motherly tenderness as Kate, both are just trying to figure out whether all this pain (both Helen’s and their’s) is worth it. They’re struggling. And that comes across very clearly on stage.

The simple set is a bit of a departure for Covedale. Even though much of the play is set in and around the Keller home in 1880s Alabama, scenic designer Brett Bowling eschewed a large, detailed set. Instead, there’s just a dining area on one side, a bedroom on the other, a background indicating a mostly wooded area, and off to stage right there’s the water pump where Helen makes her famous break through at the show’s climax. The audience has to use a bit of imagination to fill in the blanks, but it’s not off-putting at all. It may actually make the audience feel more invested in the story.

Inasmuch as a curtain call is part of a show’s production, I was a bit disappointed that Whatley and Chamberlin weren’t given more formal bows. The show ends, the stage goes dark, and the whole cast is already on stage. Both Whatley and Chamberlin had individual bows amongst the group, but neither get that moment of re-taking the stage. That triumphant walk from the wings to the center of everyone’s attention. This is not to sell the work of the rest of the cast short, but I just felt that their work deserved a bit more recognition.

While it’s not a wacky musical, The Miracle Worker is a story most people know, and it’s portrayed beautifully at The Covedale. You’ll feel something as you watch Annie bring Helen Keller into the world. It’s dramatic and thoughtful and extremely inspirational.

The Miracle Worker plays Thursday through Sunday until October 1. Tickets are available by calling 513-241-6550 or going to the Covedale website, www.cincinnatilandmarkproductions.com/ccpa

Incline Theatre Prepares to “Show Off” in its Production of “The Drowsy Chaperone”

Van Ackerman in “Drowsy Chaperone”

Funny.”  “Smart.”  “Convoluted.”  These are just a few of the words that came up in conversation about Warsaw Federal Incline Theater’s up-and-coming production of The Drowsy Chaperone.  Director Angela Kahle and the cast particularly discussed the implications of world and character building for “a show within a show.”

Van Ackerman, a.k.a “Man in Chair,” is our guide through the fictional jazz-age musical, The Drowsy Chaperone, at times stopping the action to explain characters, their respective actors, or any actor-to-actor drama that might be going on behind the scenes.

This, of course, presents the actors with the unique challenge of playing a character, who also happens to be an actor, who is also playing a character.  We can expect to see the layers and complexity of this work, among other things, to come out in the show itself.  “I don’t think it’s going to be what people expect,” said actress Helen Anneliesa Raymond-Goers, who is playing Mrs. Tottendale in the show.

The plot follows the Man in Chair as he attempts to cure his “non-specific sadness” by putting on his favorite recording The Drowsy Chaperone.  The plot of the show-in-the-show focuses on Janet Van-Der Graaff, a budding actress ready to give up her career to marry her fiancé, Robert Martin.  Feldzieg, her producer, is pressured to stop the wedding by two gangsters-disguised-as-pastry-chefs, and devises his own plan to discreetly end the engagement.  Antics, song, dance, and hilarity ensue.

There was one, resounding consensus among all the cast in terms of their production: it’s going to be one you won’t want to miss.  Angela, making her directing debut here at the Incline, especially talked about how this show can resonate with all patrons of theater, whether a seasoned veteran of many years, or someone who has seen a musical only once in their lives.  It’s everything you love about musicals, plus a strong ensemble cast, and a cozy hometown theater looking over the Cincinnati skyline.

The Drowsy Chaperone opens August 2nd at the Warsaw Federal Incline Theater. Tickets can be obtained online at http://www.cincinnatilandmarkproductions.com. Come out, bring your friends, and get ready for a good time.  In the words of actor Christopher Carter, “It’s fun for all, and all for fun!”

Incline’s Blithe Spirit is Supernaturally Sublime

Review by Laurel Humes of Blithe Spirit: Incline Theatre

Lift your spirits for a couple of hours by sharing them with the ghosts in Blithe Spirit, the venerable Noel Coward comedy now onstage at Warsaw Federal Incline Theater.

This must be said first: Even if the actors just did a costume style show on the set, it would be worth a trip to the theater. Costume and properties designer Caren Brady and set designer Brett Bowling have captured the elegant look of upper-class British society in the early 1940’s.

The expansive, lovely drawing room setting is filled with period furniture and props – French doors, book-filled shelves, artwork, a gramophone. Not just decorative; all will become part of the plot.

And it’s a fun plot, full of Coward’s sardonic wit. Novelist Charles Condomine (Matt Krieg) was married to Elvira before she died seven years ago (even the cause of death is humorous). Charles is now married to Ruth (Grace Eichler). He is researching séances for a book, when clairvoyant Madame Arcati (Traci Taylor) calls up the ghost of Elvira (Kayla Burress).

Only Charles can see and hear Elvira, which sets up hilarious situations of misunderstanding as he reacts and Ruth thinks he’s crazy – until Elvira makes herself known to Ruth, too. That’s Act 1; several more twists fill out the comedy.

Coward was quoted about these characters he created: “You can’t sympathize with any of them.” And the actors have a great time bringing these self-centered, high-mannered folks to life.

Well, Elvira is not technically alive, when she returns as a lively ghost. “I’ve passed over,” Elvira insists. “It’s vulgar to say dead where I come from.”

Burress is ghostly but beautiful in pale makeup, hair and gown. Her presence is enhanced by Denny Reed’s eerie lighting. Apparently, Elvira the ghost is pretty much the same as Elvira the woman. Burress plays her free-spirited and fun-loving, but also petulant, pouty and childish. You wouldn’t want to live with her.

Ruth certainly doesn’t want to share her house and husband with Elvira. Eichler’s Ruth is dignified and self-assured in her elegant gowns and home. She tries to be the voice of reason – but these circumstances are most unreasonable.

“I haven’t the faintest idea how to send her back,” Madame Arcati admits when Ruth pleads with her to get rid of Elvira. Besides, the medium is still crowing over her success in conjuring Elvira.

Taylor makes a fine Madame Arcati – sparkling, lively and eccentric – aided by flowing costumes that accommodate her physical comedy.

With all the effort to send Elvira back to the “other side,” it is not clear that Charles wants to. Krieg plays the two-wife husband just short of whining and very long on ego when dealing with the women; he’ll take flattery from whoever gives it.

Krieg and Burress’ best scene, though, is a fiercely funny squabble about their marriage. Director Bob Brunner has almost choreographed the back-and-forth accusations and answers with great pace and timing.

Join the Séance in Incline Theatre’s Blithe Spirit

Review by Rachel Brandenburg of Blithe Spirit: Incline Theatre

Do you believe in ghosts? Or are mystics, mediums, and psychics simply frauds who have convinced themselves of their own power? This is the question raised in Warsaw Federal Incline Theatre’s Blithe Spirit, in the house of the Condomines, who have invited the neighbors and a psychic medium over for dinner. Charles Condomine (Matt Krieg) is an author in the midst of writing his next book, which, of course, involves a fraudulent medium, and wants to do the proper “research” by having Madame Arcati (Traci Taylor) over for visit. Ruth (Grace Eichler) is Charles’ second wife, with his first wife having died at a young age. The Bradmans (David Roth and Susan Jung) join in on Charles and Ruth’s wit and skepticism, remarking how amusing the evening will be.

The seance takes a surprising twist when Madame Arcati passes out during a trance, and soon the ghost of Elvira (Kayla Burress), Charles’ first wife, appears. Of course, with a catch: Charles is the only one who can see her. Hilarity ensues as Charles tries to explain his way out of his interactions with his increasingly-unruly house guest, and find a way to bring the hauntings to an end.

Overall, the production is clean, fast-paced, and keeps the audience’s attention (could you say… has them entranced?) All actors do a marvelous job of playing to each others’ levels, and no one character dominates the scene unless there is a strong reason to do so. Krieg captures Charles’ initial skepticism, then outright panic and helplessness at his discovery. We see a warmer, more open side of him as the night goes on. Grace Eichler gives a strong performance as she seamlessly embodies Ruth’s down-to-earth wit and intelligence, making an excellent foil to Buress’ airy, mischievous, yet somehow still lovable Elvira.

Allison Hinkel kept audiences laughing with her portrayal of Edith, the shy and frantic housemaid who can be seen at several intervals scurrying about the house. David Roth, as Dr. Bradman, is your typical doctor and gentleman, and Susan Jung, as his wife, channels her inner socialite, together making a natural pair of “skeptics,” as Madame Arcati would call them. Speaking of Madame Arcati, Traci Taylor executes the role with exuberance, energy, and a clear love for all of the medium’s quirks and eccentricities.

Costumes, by Caren Brady, help to punch up the qualities of the characters without taking away focus from the narrative. Elvira’s flowy, ethereal and yet girly gown makes her look right at home against the blue backdrop of the set, while “skeptical” characters like Ruth are most often seen in more clean-cut, practical-looking evening attire. Set design, by Brett Bowling, hits at all the luxuries and social class of the homes’ inhabitants, while also keeping a framed picture of Elvira center-stage–a haunting reminder of who’s really in charge in the home.

Blithe Spirit runs through July 23. Grab your friends, and maybe some salt or a protective amulet or two. You never know what’s lurking on the other side.

For tickets, call the box office 513-241-6550 or visit www.cincinnatilandmarkproductions.com