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Incline’s “Seven Brides and Seven Brothers” Full of Great Numbers

Review by Doug Iden of “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers”: Incline Theatre

It’s tricky to adapt an original classic, dance-oriented Hollywood musical to the theater, but Cincinnati Landmark Productions has succeeded admirably as “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers” opened at the Warsaw Federal Incline Theater.  Based upon the movie and the Stephen Vincent Benet play “The Sobbin’ Women,” with music by Gene dePaul and lyrics by Johnny Mercer, “Seven Brides” relates how farmer Adam (Evan Koon) in the Oregon backwoods in the 1850’s sets about finding a bride. During Adam’s foray into town, he meets Milly (Katelyn Reid), who is a world-weary cook trying to serve dinner to a group of abusive, unruly townsmen.  Adam sweet-talks Milly into coming to his farm without bothering to tell her, to Milly’s chagrin, that he has six surly, unwashed brothers living in the farmhouse as well. 

Angry but undaunted, Milly resorts to her natural pluck and perseverance to make the best of the situation.  She initially disdains Adams’ advances but endeavors to help the brothers learn social graces so they can romance the young townswomen.  In the delightful dance and song, “Goin’ Courtin’”, Milly tries to teach dancing and good manners to the brothers Benjamin (Ryan-Chavez Richmond), Caleb (Nick Godfrey), Daniel (Jared Roper), Ephraim (Marco Colant), Frank (Kyle Taylor) and Gideon (Cian Steele).  Much of this story is told through dance.  This is not just dancing for the sake of dancing, but the plot is moved along through the choreography, here designed by Director/Choreographer Maggie Perrino.  The best example of this is the barn dance scene when the “now civilized” brothers try to compete with the young townsmen for the affections of the younger women.  In a competition reminiscent of the barn-raising scene in the original movie, the brothers and the townsmen compete with each other by trying to out-dance each other while trying to impress the women.  The dancing in this number and the “Goin’ Courtin’” scene is very good with a combination of ballet, square dancing and tumbling.  This is a large cast with 25 actors, most of whom are dancing in this scene.  The brothers make a good impression on the women–Dorcas (Ally Davis), Ruth (Kate Stark), Liza (Emma Moss), Martha (Renee Stoltzfus), Sarah (Ria Villaver Collins) and Alice (Sara Cox)–but go home alone.  The ensemble singing and dancing is very good. 

Later, the brothers, instigated by Adam, kidnap the women and take them to their wilderness home.  An avalanche blocks the pass so the townspeople can not rescue the women until spring.  Milly steps in and demands that the women stay in the house with the brothers in the barn.  As winter progresses towards spring, a legitimate courtship begins to transpire.

A major theme of the show is the classic conflict between a civilized but corrupted town versus the free and open wilderness coupled with the gradual development of a family. 

Many of the songs from the movie are included but some have been added to accommodate the normal complement of Broadway songs in a show.  The additional songs are written by Al Kasha and Joel Hirschhorn which helps move the story along.  The new song “Love Never Goes Away” is effective as a trio between Adam, who thinks that all women are the same, Gideon who is pining for his Alice and Milly who is appalled by Adam’s sentiment but is clearly in love with her husband.  Koons has a good baritone voice and Gideon sings well but the star is Reid who has an excellent voice, good dancing steps and is very believable as the hurt but determined woman who becomes the matriarch of the family.

Another excellent scene merges original song “Lonesome Polecat” with new song “We Gotta Make it Through the Winter” sung and danced by the frustrated brothers, still mooning over their girlfriends.

The set is pure backwoods, western Americana.  Brett Bowling designed a basic set which shows the inside of the log cabin house with an upstairs bedroom.  Through the upstairs windows, you can see a projection of the mountains.  Evergreens, wooden benches and chopping blocks grace both sides of the stage.  Props including axes, pitchforks and rifles.  Additionally, there are a number of movable set-pieces which represent wooden walls and doors through which the actors continually move.

Imagine designing and creating costumes for 25 actors, which was the role of Caren Brady and her staff.  The costumes run the gamut from pioneer work-clothes to sleeping apparel to fancy dress (in pioneer fashion) to wedding garb. 

Overall, this is a fun show and a good adaptation of one of my favorite movie musicals.  I must give the Incline staff credit because, between this show and “Pippin”, they have stretched themselves with challenging dance and musical numbers.  A good crowd on opening night seemed very appreciative.

So, take an enjoyable, fun-filled trek into the Oregon wilderness with the delightful “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers” which continues at the Incline Theater through September 8.
Tickets are available at
https://www.cincinnatilandmarkproductions.com/Incline/

“Seven Brides for Seven Brothers” Adds Up at the Incline Theater

Review by Nathan Top of “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers”: Incline Theatre

Theater is time travel. It allows an audience to go to a place, an era, a world outside their own and allows them to experience the joys, sorrows, and in-betweens of an unfamiliar setting. This is exactly what is taking place in the Warsaw Federal Incline Theater’s production of the seldom done musical “Seven Brides For Seven Brothers.”

Set in 1850s Oregon Territory, the story begins with backwoodsman Adam Pontipee going into town to find himself a bride, where he meets the tenacious Milly and convinces her to marry him, dDespite an unusually short courtship and the omitted detail that Adam still lives with his six unruly younger brothers. The story unfolds as it becomes Milly’s mission to tame her new brother-in-law’s wild ways and marry them off on their own, resulting in frustration, hilarity, and a lot of singing and dancing.

The vision for the show is clear and focused from director/choreographer Maggie Perrino. This is one show where all the pieces felt like they truly fit together to make a strong, cohesive whole. The set, designed by Brett Bowling, makes the world of the show feel bright, colorful, and huge. With the rearranging of a few walls on wheels, the audience feels transported to many different settings, from a town to a cabin to a barn to a dance, gliding the audience through the show. Musical director Greg Dastillung has done a marvelous job with the talented cast that has been assembled. The blend and balance during the more choral moments of the show, notably the number “Glad That You Were Born,” are hauntingly beautiful. Also, the trio during the number “Love Never Goes Away” was on point.

Almost unavoidably, the show’s biggest highlights were the dance numbers, which reflected the excitement, joy, and surprise of the original 1954 movie. The choreography during the “Goin’ Courtin’” was delightful to experience and the “Challenge Dance” was possibly the best seven minutes of the show, utilizing the cast’s comedic timing with agile footwork. 

There is no live pit, which is fine, I guess. While it was less noticeable during the dance numbers, the absence of a live pit was most apparent during the recitative portions of the score, specifically in the number “Goin’ Courtin’,’” where it was unfortunately clear that the track and the cast weren’t lining up the hits. Among the reasons I choose to attend the theater instead of staying at home watching Netflix is the opportunity to hear live musicians interact with a great cast, whether it be sung, danced, or underscored acting. This was a missed aspect of an otherwise on-point production.

Perrino has assembled a talented and diverse cast. Adam, played by the dashing Evan Koons, has great comedic timing and manages to hit the lows as well as the highs of the wide vocal range. The band of brothers whom Milly must tame throughout the show are charming and engaging, each one giving their characters distinct and lovable voices the audience can bond with, most notably Benjamin and Frank, played by Ryan-Chavez Richmond and Kyle Taylor respectively.  Most impressive, though, is the strong and spunky Katelyn Reid, cast as the show’s protagonist Milly, who proves to have both the acting and vocal chops to really carry the show. It is one thing for a leading character to have chemistry with the love interest on stage. It is entirely another to have palpable character chemistry with six other male characters outside of that love interest, which Reid manages to convey with conviction. The whole ensemble is vibrant and charismatic, creating an inviting culture for the world of the show. 

With the cast and crew giving this rarely done show new life, this is a production not to be missed. “Seven Brides For Seven Brothers” plays Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday through September 8th, 2019. Tickets are available at
https://www.cincinnatilandmarkproductions.com/Incline/

The Carnegie’s “American Idiot” Nails the Nostalgia for Y2K Punk Culture

Review by Nathan Top  of “American Idiot”: Carnegie Theatre

I have an allergy to jukebox musicals; primarily most of them are poorly written and garishly marketed for the purpose of making money. 

The Carnegie’s production of “American Idiot” is not that show.

Director and choreographer Maggie Perrino’s exuberant vision for this show is clear and focused, showcasing the angst and heartbreak of the original 2004 Green Day album after which the show is titled. The set, designed by Doug Stock, is a piece of art in and of itself. So much is going on, between spray paint, scaffolding, and tarps hung around the theater, that the ambiance is strongly set right away. 

The diverse and talented cast Maggie Perrino has assembled is astounding. The primary trio of characters, Johnny, Will, and Tunny, played by Frankie Chuter, Robert Breslin, and Ethan Baker respectively, carry the show with their strong voices and empathetic portrayals of their roles. Hannah Gregory, playing the ironically titled role Whatsername, brings the house down with her anthem to all disappointing boyfriends, “Letterbomb,” while the character Heather, portrayed by Chandler Bates, tugs the audience’s heartstrings with her ballad, “Dearly Beloved.” The commanding Maddie Vaughn, who plays St. Jimmy, nails her solos to the back of the hall with strength and precision, while  MacKenzie Ruff, who portrays Extraordinary Girl, has tasty vocal riffs for days. 

I think there was a story in there. Something about three angry young men going their separate ways and seeking fulfillment through different means, one by staying with his pregnant girlfriend, one by taking a lot of drugs, and another who joins the military because of a commercial (?). One of the girls was the personification of drugs. While the show does contain a few unsung lines, primarily delivered by the winsome Chuter, the music does not strongly portray the wisp of a story well, acting almost as a song cycle rather than a musical. Unfortunately, many lyrics are difficult to understand throughout the show, either due to diction or sound design, causing character motivations and story arc to be lost in the sauce of an otherwise high quality production. That said, the show is still mesmerizing to watch.

Thank God for this pit. Taking Green Day’s iconic songs and musical arrangements by Pulitzer Prize winning composer Tom Kitt, the band rocks the whole show on stage. Danny Manning’s musical direction of the cast and band truly highlights the many talented performers on stage.  Aaron Almashy rocked so hard on guitar, he broke a string.

Within the first ten minutes of this show, at least three older patrons of the theater left. This is not a show for young children or those easily offended by loud, enthusiastic F-bombs being dropped on the audience. However, if you are not one who is easily offended by an unfiltered portrayal of punk culture in the early 2000s, this is a show for you. And if you find yourself similarly afflicted with an allergy to jukebox musicals, I would recommend taking a Zyrtec and heading to The Carnegie to feast your eyes on a visually and aurally joyful production of “American Idiot,” which plays Friday, Saturday, and Sunday at the Carnegie through August 25, 2019.

Grab Your Chucks, Dark Nail Polish, and Disillusionment for Carnegie’s “American Idiot”


Review by Jack Crumley of “American Idiot”: Carnegie

I promise I’m going to do my best to not wax too philosophically in this review. For context, Green Day’s “American Idiot” album was released in September, 2004. It was released when I was fresh out of college, and America was fresh off the 9/11 terror attacks. It’s a collection of songs steeped in themes of jaded youth, distrust of authority, and the never ending battle against apathy. It’s one of those increasingly rare albums that is trying to tell a story: a modern, punk rock opera. It’s not “Tommy,” but it’s not just a collection of random singles, either. I listened to “American Idiot” a lot.

The Carnegie in Covington is kicking off the 2019 season with “American Idiot”, which opened on Broadway in 2010 and was nominated for Tony’s Best Musical and won Best Scenic Design and Best Lighting Design. It also won a Grammy in 2011 for Best Musical Show Album. Green Day frontman Billie Joe Armstrong co-wrote the book with Michael Mayer.

One of the most interesting parts of “American Idiot” American Idiot is how specifically rooted it is in its time, but also how timeless a story it’s telling: disaffected young people who yearn for a life outside their upbringing, searching for purity and truth, and ultimately finding satisfaction by going back where they came from. Director Maggie Perrino specifically cites Holden Caufield of “Catcher in the Rye” and Dorothy Gale from “The Wizard of Oz” as previous incarnations of this kind of story. Being unhappy with The World and wanting to strike out on our own is an urge nearly everyone can relate to. “American Idiot” tells this story with an emphasis on the desperation to be unique and cool while finding commonality through frustration and pain. Add in both religious and bohemian overtones, and it presents a contradictory–and therefore very human–story.

Before I start praising the talented, energetic cast, I want to praise The Band. This is a show that would be easy (and likely cheaper) to have the cast sing to a track, but there are real musicians on the Carnegie stage playing, and it gives the show so much more life. Danny Manning on keys, Alex Foley on bass, Derek Johnson’s drums, and Aaron Almashy and Joe Tellman’s work on guitar makes everything on stage feel more real. More alive. There’s a part where Almashy directly interacts with the action on stage, and it earned an extended applause on opening night. The band’s work makes the show better.

The plot of “American Idiot” centers around Johnny (Frankie Chuter), Will (Robert Breslin), and Tunny (Ethan Baker), their drive to escape their upbringing and find their place in the world, their failures, and their homecoming. They’re living in a post-9/11 and Iraq War world, where doubt and resentment toward literally everything is the norm, and the boys are looking to leave their homes in Suburbia (population: a few) and go to The Big City (population: a shit ton). Will has to stay behind when his girlfriend, Heather (Chandler Bates), finds out she’s pregnant. Johnny and Tunny leave, but they separate when Tunny finds meaning in the overt patriotism of the era and joins the military. All three young men spiral from there: love, drugs, and rock n’ roll for Johnny, alcohol and bitter resentment for Will, and injury/amputation/PTSD for Tunny. All three guys sound great together, and they’re often singing while running on stage, selling a variety of emotions that are complex shades of anger and wounded. It’s so much more than Green Day karaoke.

The cast took their curtain call as an ensemble, and that’s entirely appropriate. From the main guys, to the women in the supporting roles (who get plenty of their own moments to shine), to the chorus that’s endlessly dancing and thrashing across the stage, this is a group of young actors who are WORKING. I say “young,” only because it appears the majority of this cast are students at the University of Cincinnati’s College Conservatory of Music and at Northern Kentucky University. As a 38-year-old, I’m fascinated by the frame of reference this cast has for this album compared to mine. I grew up in the increasingly commercialistic 1980s, the ironic 1990s, and then to see the disaster of 9/11, knowing what things were like “before” is a perspective this cast largely doesn’t have. But it’s still interesting to see those timeless themes I mentioned before being presented and sold by this cast. Green Day may have written the words “and there’s nothing wrong with me. This is how I’m supposed to be in a land of make believe that don’t believe in me,” but they’re not the first generation of young people in America to feel that way. 

I’d be remiss if I didn’t highlight the work of those women in the cast. Chandler Bates as Heather has a great moment early on when she sings “Dearly Beloved” to set up her learning she’s pregnant. There’s an intensity and earnestness to her voice that instantly sells her character’s situation. Hannah Gregory, an LCT alum herself, plays Whatsername. She and Johnny meet and fall in love and fall in drugs together. Gregory’s voice soars, and that often happens as she’s running all over the stage. The aforementioned drugs are supplied by the dangerous and alluring St Jimmy, played by an intense Maddie Vaughn, whose leering gaze and screaming rock songs come as close as this show gets to having a villain. Rounding out the cast of extraordinary women is Makenzie Ruff’s Extraordinary Girl, who provides a lifeline for Tunny to find his way back from the trauma of war. I last saw Ruff bringing the house down as Sally in NKU’s production of “Cabaret“ last year, and she delivers a fantastic performance this time around as well.

Jeremy Mayo’s lighting design is an incredible, colorful rock concert. Doug Stock’s scenic design features an impressive ladder/pole combination connecting the mezzanine with stage left. The costumes designed by Amanda Borchers are the perfect amount of ironic t-shirts, flannel, and crop tops for the era.

Whether you listened to this album a million times in your early 20s or you just enjoy seeing a high energy, in your face rock musical, slip on some Doc Martens and get to the Carnegie before September August ends. “American Idiot” plays Friday, Saturday, and Sunday at the Carnegie through August 25, 2019. Tickets are available here.

Students Tackle False Confession in America Legacy Theatre’s “All In Your Head”

Review by Christiana Molldrem Harkulich of “All in Your Head”: American Legacy Theatre

Title: Students tackle False Confession in A.L.T’s “All In Your Head” 

The American Legacy Theatre’s current offering, “All In Your Head”, is the world premiere by the 2019 Junior Board–a group of high-school students in a 12-week intensive designed to give space and voice to social issues and themes they want to address. This original work takes us on a journey into the mind of Calum Fischer, a high-school student who is suspected by the police of sexually assaulting his crush and classmate Molly Thomas. Calum believes he didn’t do it, but during his long interrogation, he falsely confesses to the crime. The 2019 Junior Board (Caitlin Walsh, Alex Pham, Jonah Sorscher, and Davey Pleshinger) wrote and perform this piece inspired generally by the prevalence of false confession in our justice system and specifically, as Alex Pham told the audience in the talk-back, by his obsession with the Netflix Documentary “When They See Us” about the Central Park Five. 

The Junior Board program is an admirable project, and the students have created a piece that sparked questions for the audience about false confession. The confession to Detective Andrews (played with sincerity by Jonah Sorscher), is spoken in tandem between Calum (Alex Pham) and Molly (Caitlin Walsh–in this scene, Molly is a figment of Calum’s imagination). The sharing of lines between them adeptly played with truth and omission and is one of the strongest scenes in the play. 

In the final scene, Molly comes to see Calum in jail to tell him that she knows it wasn’t him and that she hopes he’ll be out of jail soon. This is the first time in the play that we see the character of Molly where she isn’t a memory or a figment of Calum’s imagination, and Walsh made her journey and trauma believable. In the talk-back, one of the first questions was about this scene–if he’s innocent shouldn’t he be free? Walsh answered this question with clear passion and knowledge, telling the audience members that often, even when the confession is proved false, it can take a very long time for someone to exit the prison system despite their innocence. For a group focused on social justice, drawing attention to this issue, and getting the audience to pay attention to this problem, was the point, and it was clearly successful.

“All In Your Head” has limited design, which lets the audience focus closely on the work of the actors. The writing takes on a big idea and has some plot holes, but none too large to deflect the play’s goal. Music choices, like Blink 182’s “What’s My Age Again” made me wonder what year the play was set- although that may be the point- false confession is not a new issue.

The final performance of this short run of “All in Your Head” is August 4th at 1 PM at The Carnegie Center of Columbia Tusculum (previous performances were in the auditorium of the Cincinnati College Preparatory Academy). 

It’s invigorating to see young theatre artists take on issues and create new work. I hope that in the future, the talk-back, which seemed just as important as the play, might be more focused and organized. I look forward to seeing what the 2020 Junior Board will create next year. 

Fury and Focus Fuel Know’s “Girl in the Red Corner” 

Review by Liz Eichler of “The Girl in the Red Corner”: Know Theatre

Know Theatre’s ready to rumble! 

With the theme “The Fight”, Know appropriately opens their 22nd season with “Girl in the Red Corner.” Stephen Spotswood’s drama is the story of a gal fighting her demons, in and out of the octagon. 

Tess Talbot stars as Halo, the recently divorced woman, now living with a mom who drinks too much, who regrets never going to college or applying herself in high school. Going from dead-end job to job, she finally gets up the courage to walk into a gym that trains MMA fighters. Because she needs to do it.

Halo is in the “finding your power” stage of her life.  She’s not letting people take it from her, and like most women, it’s a struggle. It becomes her mantra as she trains, punctuating each hit as people tell her who to be and what to think.

Her trainer is Gina, arrestingly played by Abigail Esmena Foehle. Her intensity and focus make her a standout and, coupled with her athleticism, you will 100% believe she is a real MMA fighter. 

Jennifer Joplin plays multiple roles that demonstrate her amazing range, from an enthusiastic telemarketing trainer, to an MMA competitor, and to Halo’s mom, who can’t quite figure out her cell phone. Mindy Heithaus is Halo’s sister Brinn, and Adam Tran plays Halo’s brother-in-law and the owner of the gym.  Together they fight about raising a daughter, whose presence is felt through loud music. 

While you may be familiar with similar stories on screen, it is amazing to see the moves up close in a theatre. These gals trained! K Jenny Jones is the Fight Director and the actors delivered. The set and lights (Andrew J. Hungerford) are a convincing padded octagon with arena lighting. Great sound from Doug Borntrager punctuating monologues and more. Costumes (Noelle Wedig-Johnson) are gym attire and authentic gear.  Jeremy Pender is their MMA advisor, keeping them real. Director Tamara Winters brings it all together. 

Halo shouts about being sexually harassed on the phone at her telemarketing job, and her brother-in- law, who held the same job, doesn’t believe her. Because it never happened to him, it must not have happened. More fuel behind Halo’s punches.

This play also highlights the difficult position of an aunt.  A niece wants to connect with you, but mom wants to control that relationship. So do you keep connecting and being real with the teenager? If you do, that puts you in bad with your sister. If you don’t, you lose trust with your niece. More fuel for Halo’s kicks. 

While the play may feel overwritten at times and underwritten at others, the show is worth seeing in an apparent city-wide season of women. Bring your significant other.  Lure him in with the sports theme—he may start to get the other stuff. 

“Girl in the Red Corner” runs through August 17.  Tickets are available at 513-300-KNOW.

“Girl in the Red Corner” Packs a Punch at the Know Theatre


Review by Raechel Lombardo of “Girl in the Red Corner”: Know Theatre

If you and a friend or spouse are arguing over whether to see something sporty or artistic for the night out, the Know Theatre has just the right compromise for you with their production of “Girl in the Red Corner.”  Stephen Spotswood has written a fun play that mixes the annoyance and overbearing vibes that accumulate at home and at work with the physical manifestation of aggressive release in the fighting ring, and director Tamara Winters does an impeccable job blending these different types of aggression beautifully.

Abi Esmena as Gina is so natural in her acting and fighting abilities, when she’s on stage it honestly feels like you’re just listening in on a training session and she’s both silly to lighten the mood and raw when you push the right buttons. It doesn’t even seem like I’m watching an actor, it feels like this is really her life and profession.

Mindy Heithaus as Brinn is so authentic in her older sister/nearing divorce/trying to control a rebellious child/while also finding herself role.  It’s so enjoyable to watch her shift so effortlessly into all kinds of emotions and depths of her character’s personality or feelings towards a situation.

Jennifer Joplin as Terry/Nancy/Gina’s Opponent is a riot to watch as she bounces from scatter-brained mom who is struggling, that “happy to be here” saleswoman we have all encountered in some way, and the tough fighter.  A perfect choice to play multiple characters that need to all be distinct from each other.

Tess Talbot as Halo provides a great combo of being that awkward newcomer in a coming-of-age sort of genre and a girl becoming a strong woman and maturing.  She’s incredible for the role that ties everyone’s life lessons together and is very expressive in body and face.

Adam Tran as Warren/Kyle/Bar Dude knows how to make all his characters lovable pushovers while also giving that individualistic distinction about where they are in life at the end of the day that identifies if things are just a ray of sunshine or if not all is well at home.

I tip my hat to all the actors who were bruised from all of their previous fight rehearsals I’m sure, and a round of applause for the incredible fight choreography by K Jenny Jones and MMA Advisor Jeremy Pender.  This is also a nod to Resident Stage Manager Meghan Winter and Assistant Stage Manager Eva Schramm, as I’m sure this was nerve-wracking to maintain and judge at fight call!

Nothing was sugar-coated, it really feels you’re getting into the early rounds of an MMA fight, achieved by lighting, sound, set, and costuming, made possible by Scenic and Lighting Designer Andrew J. Hungerford, Costume Designer Noelle Wedig-Johnston, Sound Designer Doug Borntrager, Technical Director Nick Koehlke, Master Carpenter Jim Stark, and Scenic Painter Olivia Leigh.  The stage is always the fighting ring; lighting indicates location such as dim fluorescent lighting to give an office cubicle aesthetic; sound also indicates location and tone in the scene, and costuming occasionally includes topical distinguishable character pieces, but is always faithful to being workout clothes and barefoot.

I urge you to get a bit of everything with fighting, life problems many have been affected by, and really interesting artistic choices by coming to see this show, it’s really something different and enjoyable. “Girl in the Red Corner” runs through Aug 17th, tickets at their website, https://knowtheatre.com.

MISS HOLMES is on the case at Cincinnati Shakespeare Company


Review by Christiana Molldrem Harkulich of “Miss Holmes”: Cincinnati Shakespeare Company

Who is Sherlock Holmes? As Lestrade answers in Cincinnati Shakespeare Company‘s 2019-2020 season opener “MISS HOLMES”, Holmes is the “The strangest damn woman I’ve ever met.” This production, which opened last night and runs till August 4th, re-introduces the audience to the late 19th century’s perennial favorite detective but this time both Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson are women. The two-and-a-half-hour mystery takes us through Holmes and Watson’s first case together, which allows playwright Christopher M. Walsh to explore the hazards of being a woman in 1881 (the year the play is set). This is an appropriate occupation for a play that launches the CSC’s “Season of the Woman” in honor of the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage. 

I shan’t give away too much of the plot since this play is a murder mystery, but I’ll give you the premise of the play since the audience learns that in the first scene before we even meet Miss Holmes (played with panache by Kelly Mengelkoch). A young wife, Mrs. Lizzie Chapman (played with a sparkle in her eye by Maggie Lou Rader), receives threatening anonymous notes warning her of the violent and suspect nature of his husband and the unusual death of his previous wives. Mr. Chapman, a detective with Scotland Yard, is from the get-go the play’s obvious villain and Sean Haggerty, in his debut with CSC, plays the role with a mix of bumbling everyman and violent menace to excellent success (his colorful suit, designed by Clara Jean Kelly, wonderfully complements his portrayal). There were audible hisses and a loud “Oh No!” from the audience when Chapman entered in the second half of the play. 

Unraveling the mystery, which is, of course, more complex than it at first seems, and getting to know Sherlock and Watson (Sara Clark) take up the rest of the plot. To be a woman detective or a woman doctor, and unmarried, in Victorian London presents a wide range of issues that the bachelor Detective Holmes of Doyle’s original novels never needed to worry about. The constant threat of the insane asylum hangs above Miss Holmes head, and Dr. Watson must choose between her profession and a marriage that would block her from her work. Clark’s portrayal of the doctor-who-craves-adventure is compelling and it is her journey that carries the play, which is appropriate since Watson is always the lens through which we understand Holmes. Clark’s approach to the character is smart, precise, full of feeling, and it makes me quite excited for her turn as Hamlet later this season. 

The show, directed by Jemma Alex Levy, is certainly an ensemble piece and the company nature of CSC shows through in the ease of the actors together on-stage. Of particular note are Darnell Pierre Benjamin and Miranda McGee, who are both joyful and hilarious additions to the performance in their wide range of roles. Solving the crime takes the audience and our detectives to a wide range of locations that are imaginatively created through the sparse but evocative scenery of Shannon Moore and the flexible and haunting lighting of Justen N. Locke. Together these two designers create a wide range of shadowy places and bring the idea that not all is as it seems into the world of the play. 

The character of Sherlock Holmes debuted on stage in 1899, and the last century has seen many different adaptations and changes (and this is not the first time Holmes has been a woman). As evidenced by the popularity of the BBC’s “SHERLOCK” and CBS’s “ELEMENTARY”, there is pleasure in seeing the too-smart detective solve the seemingly impossible case again and again, and that game is yet again afoot at the Otto M. Budig Theatre.