Skip to content

Covedale’s “A Few Good Men” Challenges Audiences

Review by Sheldon Polonsky of A Few Good Men: Covedale Theatre

Performing a theatrical version of an iconic movie is always fraught with pitfalls—even if it was a play first, as was A Few Good Men, which was a drama by Adam Sorkin before the memorable film starring Tom Cruise and Jack Nicholson. And, to be honest, early in Covedale’s production, I was worried that they weren’t going to be able to pull it off. The cast initially seemed a little tentative and the setup seemed somewhat plodding and unabsorbing. But it was worth hanging on, because by the middle of the first half the show started to gel and by the second half became as gripping and relentless as the original movie. Perhaps, even, this was a technique by Sorkin and the director, Ed Cohen, to lull the audience and build suspense.

For those not familiar with the plot, Lance Corporal Harold Dawson (Trent Marcum) and PFC Louden Downey (Tanner McDole), marines stationed at Guantanamo Bay, are arrested for the murder of PFC William Santiago (Andy Donnelly), in a “Code Red” (a military hazing) which unintentionally led to his death. The Code Red was ordered by their superiors, bible-thumping Lt. Jonathon Kendrick (Eric Minion) and tough-as-nails Lt. Col. Nathan Jessep (A.J. Ford), who subsequently cover it up and are willing to sacrifice the two marines to maintain the honor of the marines (or to save their own hides, depending on how you look at it). The case is assigned to Daniel Kaffee (Rory Sheridan), a junior-grade lieutenant who is chosen mainly for his lack of courtroom experience and his consistent tendency to plea bargain. But when an internal affairs officer, Lt. Cmdr. Joanne Galloway (Erin Carr), is assigned to the case as well, she challenges Kaffee to search for the truth and uncover the conspiracy.

I appreciated that the cast does not try to mimic or emulate the movie cast but makes the characters their own. Sheridan, in particular, refreshingly plays Kaffee not with the boyish charm or callowness of Tom Cruise, but rather like a young Tom Hanks or Tim Allen, a somewhat overwhelmed everyman who despite his Harvard education grapples with his self-confidence and the legacy of his more daring father. Carr’s Galloway is abrasive, voluble and compulsive, but still approachable, and doesn’t overplay the role of the female outsider in a man’s chauvinistic culture that would be otherwise glaring in today’s #metoo, #timesup culture.
Ford’s Jessup is every bit as compelling and genuine as Nicholson’s without copying his mannerisms.

One consistently engaging aspect of all the performances was the use of body language, for which I give a lot of credit to director Ed Cohen (who as a practicing attorney knows his way around a courtroom in real life as well as on stage). In a play where many of the characters are constrained in their speech because of the military code, their frustrations and insecurities have to be signaled by non-verbal cues. Jessep’s breakdown in the courtroom is brilliantly conveyed in this way, and the actors playing the two defendents, Marcum and McDole, are equally skillful in conveying their doubts and insecurities behind their otherwise by-the-book verbal marine responses. Another supporting role I would single out for praise is Nathan Tubbs as Lt. JG Sam Weinberg, Kaffey’s assistant, whose role may not be large or flashy but is crucial as a more cynical foil to Galloway’s sympathetic response to the defendants.

The set, by Brett Bowling, and costumes, by Caren Brady, are of necessity utilitarian and static, so a heavy burden falls on the lighting designer, Denny Reed, to heighten the drama and set the mood, which is managed quite effectively. The plot exposition, given a lot of similar male characters in uniform, military jargon,  and several flashbacks, can be difficult at times, but Cohen as director deftly juggles all those balls and only the most inattentive theatre-goer would have any difficulty connecting with all the characters as the play progresses. Done well, A Few Good Men challenges the audience’s preconceptions, and this production rises to that challenge. Jessup is not an unmitigated monster, and may be a product of his military culture and the tremendous burden of responsibility placed on him as much as those he commands; nor are Dawson and Downey, despite following orders, entirely free of moral culpability. Curiously, in the days before this production I was listening to a lecture on Plato’s Republic, and was struck how enduring these philosophical conundrums are. The questions of truth, justice, and duty to state and one’s conscience are just as relevant now as they were 2400 years ago.

A Few Good Men is playing at the Covedale Theatre through October 7th; tickets can be ordered online at their website, http://www.cincinnatilandmarkproductions.com/ccpa/.

Audiences Looking for “A Few Good Men” Find More Than a Few Great Performances at Covedale

Review by Jack Crumley of A Few Good Men: Covedale Theatre

The new Marquee Season at the Covedale Center for the Performing Arts is here, and though this year will feature family favorites like The Wizard of Oz and A Christmas Story, the season starts with a dialogue-driven military drama. A Few Good Men by Aaron Sorkin is widely known by the 1992 film starring Tom Cruise and Jack Nicholson, but it started as a play Sorkin wrote that opened on Broadway in 1989.

A Few Good Men tells the story of two Marines stationed in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, who are accused of murdering a fellow Marine in an apparent hazing incident gone wrong. The focus, though, is on Lieutenant Daniel Kaffee (Rory Sheridan), the defense attorney for the accused Marines. He’s very good at plea deals, but he actively avoids court-martials (or any kind of real work at all). Pushing him to be better is Lieutenant Commander Joanne Galloway (Erin Carr), who is driven–and sometimes blinded–by her passion. In the course of giving these men a strong defense, they come to realize the hazing, called a “Code Red,” is part of a conspiracy and coverup by Lieutenant Colonel Nathan Jessep (AJ Ford), who’s decided he’s more of an authority on right and wrong than the law itself.

The Covedale production, directed by Ed Cohen, was presented on a stage with a bit of a layered set. The backdrop features a large Marine Corps emblem. In front of that is a fence with barbed wire that functions on stage as both an outside area of Gitmo and a jail cell for the accused Marines. There are tall searchlights on either side. In front of that is an arrangement of tables and chairs as needed by various scenes. It’s a simple but effective set since so much of the story weighs on the script and the actors.

Traditionally, I’m not a fan of pointing out the actors having memorized their lines as a point of praise, but this is Sorkin. 1980s Sorkin. So if I were to give credit for a complicated dance routine or a challenging song, I’m going to give credit to this cast for handling the dialogue. Aaron Sorkin’s stereotypical rapidfire, staccato back-and-forth is on full display here, and there were maybe two times when an actor hit a minor speed bump in that delivery on Saturday night. Really, this is not an easy script, and the cast deserves praise for the work they clearly put in.

The lion’s share of that work rests on Rory Sheridan’s shoulders as Lt Kaffee. He’s playing a character who is smart but flippant. Kaffee is the son of a legendary attorney and his struggle with feeling that childhood pressure comes to a head by the show’s climax. Sheridan plays the character with confidence and an excellent sense of comedic timing. Because it’s a relatively static set, there are scenes that begin simply by a character walking into a different spotlight, and often, it’s Sheridan’s Kaffee who has to switch gears from a terse exchange with a soldier into a sarcastic joke about the softball team. Sheridan handles those shifts in tone seamlessly. Having last seen Sheridan play Father Flynn in the Covedale’sproduction of Doubt, A Parable, it was fun to watch him play a character with more time on stage.

Erin Carr’s work as Galloway is challenging in that she’s playing the lone woman on stage in a 1980s military setting. She plays the character with the necessary agency and drive without veering into what could come off as too “emotional.” Carr’s Galloway knows she’s in what could be the ultimate boy’s club and she doesn’t back down just because a man is being stern with her. She’s still human and vulnerable, but she chooses when to show it.

AJ Ford plays Lt Col Jessep, the man who ultimately becomes the villain of the story, but like all good villains, he sees himself as the real hero. Ford’s air brings a sense of authority the minute he walks on stage. He doesn’t fidget. He holds eye contact. There’s a moment when he’s on the witness stand (in the runup to the famous “you can’t handle the truth” scene) when Kaffee asks him a question and he slooooowly turns his head from facing the audience to looking at his questioner. It really gave off a sense of command and dominance in his performance. The only thing I wanted more of from him was to take his time more with that big speech in the courtroom climax. I wanted him to really revel in his self-righteous indignation; his smug, moral superiority.

Other cast members worth noting: Phineas Clark’s work as Captain Markinson is extremely efficient with the few lines he gets, and his delivery was impeccable. The two Marines accused of murder, Trent Marcum as Lance Corporal Dawson and Tanner McDole as Private First Class Downey, are extremely well cast. Their ability to deliver exposition as proud soldiers at the top of the show to their vulnerable moments in custody and in the courtroom seemed effortless. Nathan Tubbs as Lieutenant Sam Weinberg plays backup to Sheridan’s Kaffee more so than to Carr’s Galloway, though they’re all on the same side. Tubbs has an easy demeanor, but his monologue about why he thinks Dawson and Downey should be locked up for life was delivered with an impressively honest, fiery sympathy for the victim.

On the technical side, there’s a moment during the big courtroom scene that deserves praise. As the pressure is building for Lt Col Jessep on the witness stand, as he’s being bombarded by Kaffee’s questions and subsequent objections and rulings, the searchlights on either side of the stage start to slowly get brighter. It’s a subtle way to make the audience feel that much more tension in an already explosive scene.

Something that took away from the tension at times was the blocking. I’m not sure if it’s because the set was layered in that way with the fencing, but sometimes it looked like characters had a hard time shuffling past one another. It felt like the stage was crowded, and it took me out of the show a little bit when these strong people who make hard decisions had to take awkward side steps around a chair.

This play is a taut, focused production with interesting characters and impressive performances. It’s the kind of show you need to actively watch, and it rewards you as you watch the story piece together. There is some brief fighting and some cursing, but nothing worse than a PG-13 movie (the Cruise/Nicholson film is rated R).

A Few Good Men runs at the Covedale Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday through October 7. Tickets are available by calling 513-241-6550 or going to the Covedale website, www.cincinnatilandmarkproductions.com/ccpa

Know’s “Mary’s Monster” Grabs You and Doesn’t Let Go

Review by Willie Caldwell  of “Mary’s Monster “: Know Theatre

Maggie Lou Rader in “Mary’s Monster”

Known as Cincinnati’s theatrical playground, the Know Theatre explores “Fear Itself” during the company’s 21st season. The experimental, and often avant-garde, theatre company embraces new works and emerging playwrights to create unique theatrical experiences on an intimate scale. “Mary’s Monster” embraces the macabre and brings to life one of the greatest horror writers of all time.

“Mary’s Monster” is a one woman show that tells the story of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, the famed authoress of the gothic novel “Frankenstein”. The play is written and performed by Maggie Lou Rader, who brings Shelley’s story to life by weaving together a personal narrative rich in drama, intrigue, and tragedy. Born in August of 1797, Mary Wollstonecraft lived a life riddled with guilt as a result of her mother’s untimely death when she was still an infant. Surviving a difficult childhood, Mary would go on to begin a romance with the already married Percy Bysshe Shelley. The couple would face years of hardship and scandal resulting in the suicide of Percy’s first wife and the loss of three children. The story twists and turns leading to the fateful summer of 1816 when consumed by her grief and her demons, Mary births her most famous work and greatest monstrosity, “Frankenstein”.

At its heart, “Mary’s Monster” is a story about our creations owning us. This point becomes especially intriguing given Rader’s authorship of the one woman show and her painstaking desire to bring Shelley to life. Rader’s performance balances agonizing pain with humor, one-liners, and a healthy dose of feminist wit. As the play progresses, darkness and terror slowly begin to creep in, reminding audiences that the monsters are very real and often of our own making.

From a technical standpoint, the set is minimalistic and representational which allows Rader’s performance to become the focal point. The lighting design by Andrew J. Hungerford makes strong use of shadows adding to the set’s overall eeriness. The design is punctuated with the use of thunder and lightning effects which help create the dark and stormy night of Rader’s tale.

The play runs approximately 85 minutes with no intermission and a surprise ending that leaves audiences wondering who is the real monster. With the Halloween season already upon us, get into the spooky spirit and go see “Mary’s Monster” at Know Theatre.

“Mary’s Monster” runs from September 14-23 at Know Theatre, 1120 Jackson Street, Cincinnati, OH 45202. Tickets are available at the box office or by calling 513.300.5669.

Electrifying “Mary’s Monsters” at Know is a Must See

Review by Liz Eichler of “Mary’s Monsters”: Know Theatre

Maggie Lou Rader in Know’s “Mary’s Monsters”

An amazing evening of storytelling, Maggie Lou Rader’s “Mary’s Monsters” is a must see.  You’re in for an electric on-the-edge-of-your-seat evening to hear the truth is stranger than fiction life of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, daughter, wife, sister, and haunted writer of Frankenstein, expertly written by and performed by Cincinnati’s Maggie Lou Rader.

In a simple (but perfect) setting, Rader digs into the character that provides more nuance, and richness in tone than one would imagine.  There’s a lot of humor, some self-deprecating, but there’s also irony, and a real connection with the modern audience (such as saying–deliciously–what any modern woman is thinking, discovering her husband is a philanderer). But that is only part of Mary’s story, whose mother died a few days after she was born. She’s obsessed with and haunted by death all her life, losing children, and imagining what wonders science can still behold, if it were possible to bring the dead back to life.

These many spirits haunt her, motivating her, harbingers of grief to come, pulling her from completing her masterpiece of fiction, as she desperately tries to focus in a household of children and a noted romantic poet. This story sent me right to Wikipedia and to pull my copy of “Frankenstein” off the shelf, hoping to squeeze in a reread with the new understanding of her life.

The play is not without a few issues. The beginning is entirely riveting and she unfolds the story seamlessly. But there’s a point about three-quarters of the way through that it gets a bit long (the momentum dips in the boat scene) and then there’s a prop choice which got some unintended giggles from the audience.

Kudos to director Jennifer Joplin, as she guided the writer and actress to animate this amazing story (you’ll be shocked you didn’t know it!) Andrew Hungerford’s tremendously effective pit, backdrop, lights and sound are another character, richly echoing or foretelling coming events in this riveting story. Noelle Johnston chose the perfect clothing to help define this amazing woman.

Get your tickets ASAP for this limited run, only through September 23 at knowtheatre.com or 513-300-5669. (85 minutes, no intermission)

 

“Banned from Baseball” is a Homerun for Human Race

Review by Liz Eichler of “Banned from Baseball”: Human Race Theatre

Traditional Greek Tragedies are about the fall from grace for a king, usually because of their pride or hubris. Banned From Baseball,running through September 23 at Daytons Human Race Theatre,  explores the hubris of two kings, Rose and Commissioner Giamatti, and delivers a compelling show, even for a non-sports fan.

This is the world premiere of a story well known to Reds fans and your average Joe. Patricia OHara wrote the story, not just about Pete Rose, but also about the baseball commissioner, looking to redeem himself after stepping down from a stressful academic career.  He holds onto one thingthe purity of the game, and his duty to keep it pure. Both men are filled with the passion for the same thing, baseball, and the audience gets to see the highly likable sides of each, as layers are peeled away. Even kings betray themselves,the play explores, peeling back the layers of the humanity in both Rose and Giamatti.

The secret to this is the casting, and Brian Dykstra is a perfect Hit King.  Dykstra is believable as a blue-collar river ratwho worked hard to break a record and international acclaim, believing the hype and adulation. That naive pride both buoyed him to the top and put him in dangerous waters with questionable companions. Dykstra prowls the stage like a former athlete, still with a competitive fire burning inside him. Doug MacKechnie embodies Bart Giamottis white collar passion and addictive behavior, so audiences get to weigh each side.  Interestingly, he gets to weigh in on Roses vices, while he chain smokes and drinks at the office.

Supporting the two main characters, we also see great performances from Marc Moritz as Rueven Katz, Roses lawyer, K.L. Storer as infamous lawyer John Dowd, and Scott Hunt as Fay Vincent, the Deputy Baseball Commissioner protecting the games fiduciary interest.

Director Margarett Perry coordinates the group with great pacing allowing the audience to connect with all the characters.  The set (Tamara L. Honesty) is perfect, with the stadium as a glowing crown behind the stage. Costumes (Janet G. Powell) evoke a time gone by, making us miss plaid three piece suits. Lighting (John Rensel), Sound (Jay Brunner) and Props (Heather Powell) all add to the professional quality of this production.  

I highly recommend you see this show, to see a well-known story told with love for the players and the game.  For tickets contact 937-228-3630, or human race.org.

Save the Tragedy For Tomorrow… Come See Comedy Tonight at Cincinnati Shakespeare Company

Review by Willie Caldwell of A Funny Thing Happened On the Way To the Forum: Cincinnati Shakespeare Company.

Cincinnati Shakespeare Company kicks off their 25thAnniversary Season by presenting their first fully staged musical, none other than Steven Sondheim’s, A Funny Thing Happened On the Way To the Forum.

Originally opening on Broadway in 1962, Sondheim’s musical farce is based on works by the ancient Roman playwright Plautus and tells the story of young love, family loss, mistaken identity, and throws in a fair amount of cross-dressing for good measure.

The fast-moving, highly energetic production takes full advantage of the Otto M. Budig Theater with action spilling into the aisles and weaving throughout the audience. Director Brian Isaac Phillips has brought the production into the 21st century by including bits and gags that incorporate modern technology and pop culture references that are sure to land well with audiences of all ages.

The production is supported by a tremendous cast who prove they are adept with slapstick musical theatre as they are with classic Shakespearian texts. The dynamic duo Pseudolus (played by Matthew Lewis Johnson) and Hysterium (played by Jeremy Dubin) drive the story forward through a series of mishaps and ill-formed decisions that keep audiences laughing. The duo is delightfully balanced by a pair of young lovers played by Courtney Lucien and Kelcey Steele who desperately work to overcome all odds in hopes of ending up together despite the best efforts of the suave Roman captain, Miles Gloriosus (played by Gabe Wrobel). The sizeable cast is rounded out by three bumbling Proteans (played by Geoffrey Warren Barnes II, Sara Clark, and Caitlin McWethy) and capped off with a pack of singing and dancing courtesans owned by the succulent flesh peddler Marcus Lycus (played by Darnell Pierre Benjamin). The colorful cast of characters spends close to three hours singing, dancing, and working their way into the hearts of the audience who are along for every step of the ride.

Vocally, the cast works hard to create a rich sound full of character and energy which is accompanied by a full 10-piece orchestra including piano, upright bass, brass, reeds, strings, and percussion. While the balance of the orchestra is sometimes a bit muddled, the music underscores more than 15 numbers with the orchestra elevated up stage.

Adding to the experience is the masterful scenic design by Shannon Robert, lighting design by Adam Zeek, and costume design by Brian Horton. The technical elements of the show lend a brilliant use of color and excitement which even includes a live water feature on stage. Cincy Shakes‘ first foray into musical theatre is a delightful romp that will keep audiences laughing and humming along. Save the tragedy for tomorrow and come out for comedy tonight.

A Funny Thing Happened on the way to the Forumruns September 7 – 29 at Cincinnati Shakespeare. Tickets are available online or through Cincinnati Shakespeare’s Box Offices at 513.381.2273

CSC Gets Audiences Laughing with First Musical “A Funny Thing…”

Review by Liz Eichler of “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum”: Cincinnati Shakespeare Company

Congratulations to Cincinnati Shakespeare Company for launching its first musical, the hilarious A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.The show is funny, raucous, colorful, bawdy, silly, appealing, appalling, and lovely. Running through September 29, it will make you laugh with the lovers, liars, and clowns.

Its A Comedy Tonightand a farce in every definition with ridiculous sight gags, mistaken identities, audience interaction, and more. A Funny Thing…” is now a classic American musical, one of Stephen Sondheims first (1962), with book by Burt Shevelove and Larry Gelbart. Its based on Plautusancient Greek farces, still funny, still politically incorrect. (Plautus wanted you to pick up the rock and laugh at what was crawling and festering under itif just for a bitversus recoiling in disgust, horror, or sadness.)

It is the story of Pseudolus, a slave, who is willing to do anything to earn his freedom, including ruses and tricks to ensure the son of his master weds the woman of his dreams. Three houses are depicted on the eye-popping set, Pseudolusfamily consisting of father Senex (Jim Hopkins), wife Domina (Kelly Mengelkoch) and son Hero (Kelcey Steel); Erronius (the dry humor of Joneal Joplin) whos been away seeking his lost twin children; and Lycus (Darnell Pierre Benjamin), owner of a brothel and his bevy of talent, and the story unfolds, by the omnipresent Psuedolus, played by Matthew Lewis Johnson with joy, energy, and always a wink to the audience.

CSC regular Jim Hopkins is another audience favorite as the buffoon Senex, flaunting his comic timing, great singing voice, and dad-bod. New to the CSC stage, Kelcey Steele embodies innocence and masculinity, also with a great set of pipes. Of course Jeremy Dubin mines Hysterium for laughs as manager of Senexs household, and really connects with the audience in Im Calm.However, the highlight of the evening is Senex, Pseudolus and others in Everybody Ought to Have a Maid,so well performed and memorable, (again, not politically correct).

It is a strong ensemble, but a special shout out to the mostly silent: the perfect showgirls Rachel Perrin (Gymnasia) and Ernaisja Curry (Panacea) and all three Minion-like ProteansSara Clark, Caitlin McWethy, and Geoffrey Warren Barnes II who play many parts so well. Balancing out the cheesecake and fruitcake is some beefcake, with recent CCM grad Gabe Wrobel as Captain Miles Gloriosus, with a body and voice that goes for miles as he tries to carry off daffy Philia (Courtney Lucien).  Lisa DeRoberts (Vibrata), Leslie Goddard and Kate Stark (Geminae twins), and Sarah Willis (Tintinabula) round out the brothel.

I attended a preview, where they were still futzing with lights, and exploring the archs of the laughs, pacing, and working with the amazing orchestra. The Costumes (Brian Horton) and Set (Shannon Robert) are perfect and well built. The Electric Blue accentsemphasize the frivolity in the colorful costumes, set, and lighting (Adam Zeek).  Musical Director Erin McCamley pulls out some great harmonies, Choreographer Vince DeGeorge gets the cast going with Fosse and Flossing and great moves in between. Director Brian Isaac Phillips has put together a great show, still a bit uneven when I saw it at a preview, but the comedy hit.  

The show is a hoot, go see it, but the shining star is CSC leadership, both for producing an AEA  musical with up-and-coming local talent and for giving audiences the treat to see beloved CSC performers expand their range. Cincinnati has a deep musical theatre bench, and constantly adding to it with faculty and student connections from UCs CCM, NKU, Miami, Wright State, and SCPA, as well as transplants and other homegrown talent.  It is  great to see more professional opportunities in Cincy, versus forcing our musical theatre talent out to Chicago, New York, and LA.

So go to A Funny Thing…” for the laughs, and perhaps your support may encourage future musicals as well! A Funny Thing…”plays through September 29. Get tickets at www.cincyshakes.com.

And I Am Telling You…Don’t Miss “Dreamgirls” at The Carnegie

Review by Grace Eichler of Dreamgirls: The Carnegie

Moving into their second week of the run, The Carnegie has pulled off a huge success with their production of Dreamgirls. Director Torie Wiggins brings to life the timeless musical with jaw dropping numbers such as “And I Am Telling You,” “Move,” and “Dreamgirls.” The Motown musical is supported by Music Director Mike Flohr and an impressive band. Choreographer Darnell Pierre Benjamin provides both girl group synchronicity and suave dance numbers like “Steppin’ to the Bad Side.” All of this is heightened by the costuming of Helen Anneliesa Raymond-Goers, who seamlessly transitions between sparkles & sequins and the flowing wide leg pants & kaftans of the 60s and 70s.

The ultimate measure of a successful production of Dreamgirls is dependent on one set of incredible pipes: Effie White’s. Tia Seay exceeds all expectations with her powerful voice, staggering riffs and commanding presence. Her quieter moments were just as powerful in Act 2, bringing the audience to their feet numerous times.

The other two Dreamgirls hold their own as well: Sharisse Vernelle Santos’s Deena Jones transforms from a meek backup girl to the elegant leading lady she is groomed to be. Her gentler sound is a wonderful foil to contrast Deena and Effie, but she leads the trio in some of their most famous songs. Lormarev Jones brings Lorrell Robinson to life, a role that can often be overlooked. Jones provides a comedic balance and a crystal clear soprano.

An audience favorite was clearly Dedrick Weathersby’s rousing performance as James Thunder Early. Weathersby channels James Brown with his vivacious and energetic numbers, culminating in “The Rap.”

Dreamgirls is presented by The Carnegie and runs August 11-26, 2018. Ticket information is available on The Carnegie website or by calling the box office.