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You’ll Clap Your Hands Off at Covedale’s “A Christmas Story”

Review by Jack Crumley of A Christmas Story: Covedale Center for the Performing Arts

The weather is getting colder, and Dorothy has returned from her trip over the rainbow, which means the Covedale is now telling a different kind of story. A Christmas Story. Philip Grecian has adapted the classic, 1983 film that broadcasts non-stop on the big day itself, and Director Tim Perrino has made the show work for his stage on Glenway Avenue. This is the adaptation from 2000, not the Broadway A Christmas Story: The Musical from 2012. This production at the Covedale now through December 23 may have a few new scenes and characters, but there are no song and dance numbers.

A Christmas Story tells the tale of Ralphie Parker remembering a particularly eventful Christmas from his childhood in 1940’s-ish rural Indiana. All of the inimitable moments from the film are in this production: fantasizing about the Red Ryder bb gun, the Little Orphan Annie decoder pin, sticking a tongue on a lamppost, meeting Santa, saying “the queen mother of dirty words,” even the Bumpus’s dogs (with a little imagination). This show is a memory wrapped in history and tucked inside nostalgia.

The biggest difference this production has with its source material is the change in the narration. In the movie, an all-grown-up Ralph is describing and commenting on the story as it happens purely as a voiceover. In this stage production, an adult Ralph Parker is a character on-stage. The younger version of Ralphie at times acts out and directly reacts to the adult Ralph’s words in a somewhat demonstrable way. Narrator Ralph also interacts with the characters to a certain degree. It’s a change in the dynamic of the detached, reactionary voiceover from the movie, and it makes sense for a theatrical production. If nothing else, having the face of adult Ralph reacting to the funny moments in the story makes those parts that much funnier.

The cast of this production has to walk an interesting line where-in they are playing characters that we’ve all seen just one way in the movie. That’s the material they’re working with, but in terms of the way they recite their lines and the blocking on stage, this show isn’t just trying to copy everything from the movie. Tommy Boeing as the adult Ralph narrator has many more lines than the 1983 voiceover, and oftentimes as he’s describing something, the actors playing the Parker family have to keep themselves busy in a scene until the next element hits. Nicole Capobianco as The Mother, Chris Bishop as The Old Man, Eric Schaumloffel as Ralphie, and Henry Charles Weghorst as Ralphie’s younger brother Randy, all do a great job of staying in character even when the focus is on Ralph. Capobianco’s Mother is a little more warm than the way Melinda Dylan played her in the movie. Bishop as The Old Man is a lot more cartoonishly fun than Darren McGavin’s portrayal. Schaumloffel’s Ralphie has to alternate between being in a scene and breaking the fourth wall to play to the audience and he shifts back and forth with ease. Weghorst’s childish whining about having to go to the bathroom is pitch-perfect.

All of the children in this show are fully committed to their parts. In addition to Schaumloffel and Weghorst, Peter Waning as Flick and Noah Jeffreys as Schwartz (Ralphie’s childhood friends) don’t hold back when it comes time to scream and run from the town bully, Scut Farkas (played with an energetic menace by Mitchell Wolking). Added to the cast of this stage adaptation are some girls in the class: Esther Jane, a potential romantic interest played sweetly by Ruthie Darnell and an inspiring, ahead-of-her-time Helen, played authoritatively and honestly by Clare Graff. There’s no hint of embarrassment about what these kids are doing on stage. They’re playing these characters and having fun doing it. That kind of enthusiasm makes the show that much easier to enjoy.

As always, the set for this production was impressive. Generally speaking, the audience is seeing the interior of the Parker house: the kitchen, the living room, the front door, and stairs leading up to Ralphie’s room. There’s a lot of detail in Brett Bowling’s set. Outside of scenes in the home, set pieces are wheeled on and off stage: the infamous lamppost, a blackboard and desk for Miss Shields’ classroom (played by Madison Pullins, who goes for the gusto in the fantasy sequence where she’s grading Ralphie’s theme paper), the family car, and–most impressively–the Santa set. Just like the movie, children climb stairs to talk to Santa Claus, then they fly down a slide after telling the big guy what they want.

This production also has fun with the lighting in the fantasy sequences of Ralph’s memory. Whether it’s Ralphie himself taking down Black Bart’s gang or the moment when the lugnuts going flying in slow-motion to Ralphie’s reaction of “fuuuuuudge,” Lighting & Sound Designer/Technical Director Denny Reed’s cues perfectly add to the story.

A big part of Christmastime is about traditions and family and familiarity. So if you’re looking to take the family to see something that’s both new and familiar, you can’t do much better than this year’s production of A Christmas Story.

A Christmas Storyruns at the Covedale Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday through December 23. Tickets are available by calling 513-241-6550 or going to the Covedale website, www.cincinnatilandmarkproductions.com/ccpa

Covedale Captures the Magic and Nostalgia of “A Christmas Story”

Review by Doug Iden of A Christmas Story: Covedale Theatre

The day after Thanksgiving, I dust off my collection of holiday movies to initiate the season.  One of the treasures is the beloved A Christmas Story, written by humorist Jean Shepherd, based upon his semi-autobiographical novel “In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash”, a story of a youngster and his family growing up in a middle class-town in the Northwestern Indiana/Chicago area.  Therefore, it was with some trepidation that I attended the opening of the play A Christmas Story at the Covedale Center. (I had seen a musical version of this play last year in the Broadway Series and was not enamored.)

It is risky to produce a play based upon this iconic film. The key is capturing the charm, the whimsy, the humor and the unapologetic nostalgia with which Shephard imbues the story.  I’m happy to say that the Covedale production met that expectation which was readily apparent by the audience’s receptivity. The larger than typical opening crowd was clearly enchanted with the performance with a lot of laughing, winking recognition of plot points and a penchant for finishing certain lines of the play encouraged by Narrator Chris Bishop.

The structure of the play is episodic, depicting a series of incidents (disasters) leading up to Christmas morning.  Many of these scenes have become the fabric of the holiday season including the purchasing of a Christmas tree, the tongue frozen to a flagpole, the flat tire sequence, the visit to see Santa, Father (Tommy Boeing) displaying an atrocious lamp in the window and Ralphie’s insatiable desire to get a genuine Red Ryder 200-shot Carbine Action Air Rifle.  The show is also replete with catchphrases such as the “triple dog dare” and the oft-repeated warning “You’ll shoot your eye out”.

As in the movie, the play is narrated by an adult Ralphie (Bishop) who reminisces about a holiday time years ago in the 1940’s. The difference is that, in the movie, the narration is done as a voice over while, in the play, we see the Narrator throughout the show, mostly as a commentator but, occasionally, interacting with the other actors.  The narration is critical because a lot of the humor, the charm and the gentle social commentary is told through this character.  Despite flubbing a few lines, Bishop is warm, charming, engaging and charismatic.

The interplay between Father (Boeing) and Mother (Nicole Capobianco) is a key element.  Boeing portrays Father Ralph as a gruff, boisterous, somewhat incompetent but loving husband and father.  Capobianco plays Mother as a doting but long-suffering woman who deals with her mercurial husband, little money, and the raising of a recalcitrant Randy (Henry Charles Weghorst) and the precocious Ralphie (Eric Schaumloffel).  The highlight is the “fight” (almost a dance) between Mother and Father as they attempt to turn on or off the woman’s-leg lamp which Father won in a contest.  Mother ultimately wins the contest when she “accidently” breaks the hideous lamp.

Ralphie, his brother and his friends Flick (Peter Waring) and Schwartz (Noah Jeffreys) are constantly harassed by classmate Scut Farcus (Mitchell Wolking) as the boys walk to and from school.  Ultimately, Ralphie is pushed too hard by Farcus and earns his revenge.

There are also two female classmates (Helen played by Clare Graff and Esther Jane (Ruthie Darnell)) who play significant roles. Esther Jane, who has been added to the story, has a puppy love crush on Ralphie who, mostly, is oblivious to Esther’s interest.  The added possibly impending romance is an interesting touch.  Darnel plays Esther as a person trying to befriend Ralphie and adds a sweet touch to her pursuit.  All of the youngsters in the show are good although many are actually older than the characters they are portraying.  Some highlights include Ralphie’s daydreams about his use of the air rifle as he saves the day against bad guys.  These scenes usually include the other youngsters as well.  A lot of the credit for melding these elements with the adult story goes to Director Tim Perrino.

The set design and props are intricate and marvelous. Brett Bowling created a static background set which represents the kitchen, living room and upstairs bedroom of the Parker family.  The set addresses the family’s modest financial situation with a somewhat shabby interior but also represents the age with 1940’s refrigerators, stoves and console radios.  The interior house set is on a platform to differentiate from outside activities such as the schoolroom, Goldblatt’s Department Store (there really were Goldblatt’s stores), Ralphie’s harassment by Farcus, etc.  The moveable props include a very elaborate seat for Santa atop presents with the slide for the kids when they are through, a dilapidated car, the storied flagpole, the Christmas tree lot and a blackboard for the school which substitutes as a wild west daydream of Ralphie’s.

Lighting and sound effects designed by Richard Zenk are also instrumental.  There are numerous sound effects including the “heathen” dogs from next door, icy wind, the car, sirens and background Christmas music.  One of the best examples is the combination of acting, lighting and sound when Ralphie opens his last present which received a lot of laughs.  The costumes (Caren Brady) are typical of the era but also channels the movie, especially the hat worn by Scut Farcus.

If you too yearn for a Red Ryder air rifle and would like to spend some with the quirky, somewhat eccentric but loving Parker family and friends, see A Christmas Storyplaying at the Covedale Center through December 23.

 

 

“Pride and Prejudice” at NKU A Feast for the Eyes

Review by Laurel Humes of Pride and Prejudice: NKU Theatre

Northern Kentucky University has staged a picture-perfect production of Pride and Prejudice. The unfortunate problem is understanding all of the dialogue.

The original 1813 novel by Jane Austin has been filmed for movies and TV and adapted for the stage, in this version, by Jon Jory. The plot and main characters are certainly well known. Mr. and Mrs. Bennet have five daughters and, in this time period, daughters cannot inherit property. So it is urgent that they marry well, in order to provide for the family after his death.

So – marriage for love or money? Class structure, gossip and the resulting misunderstandings, and social mores are  all explored by Austin.

The 21 NKU cast members are beautifully costumed in the time period; kudos to Ronnie Chamberlain. The set, designed by Karen Glass, is substantial and flexible – a lovely staircase, plus painted trees, shrubs and clouds to suit interior and exterior scenes.

The actors are all very fine at physical comedy. But it was frustrating on opening night to not be able to hear/understand all the lines. The audience loses the wit of the script, along with important plot points.

There are standouts among the cast. Mr. Bennet (Kevin Birdwhistell) and Mrs. Bennet (Katherine Salee) are absolute opposites. He is calm and slyly witty. She is giddy, overbearing, and manipulative in her efforts to see her daughters married.

Tyler Rosenblatt’s Darcy is convincingly cold and self-absorbed, so it comes as a shock when he proposes marriage to Elizabeth Bennet (Rachel Kazee), who has spent most of the first act spurning him. Part of the proposal is a listing of all the reasons she is not a good match. “You are the last man in the world I would be prevailed upon to marry,” is her reply. (For now.)

Among the other Bennet daughters, Makenzie Ruff’s Lydia is silly and annoying – exactly the way she should be portrayed. A running joke is that Mary Bennet (Melody Lindsey) is constantly reading, even when dancing at one of the several balls.

Amellia Adkins as Darcy’s aunt, Lady Catherine, has only a couple of scenes, but she makes the most of them. Adkins is every inch the haughty and pompous interferer who dispenses her opinions in unmistakably clear diction.

Pride and Prejudice, directed by Corrie Danieley, runs through Dec. 9 at Corbett Theatre at NKU. Call 859-572-5464 for ticket information.

“Susan Swayne” Thrusts, Parries, and Scores in Know Theatre’s Latest Production

Review by Willie Caldwell of Susan Swayne and the Bewildered Bride: Know Theatre

Take one-part murder mystery, one-part comedy, add a healthy dose cross dressing, a case of mistaken identity, mix in some flourishing swordplay, and you have Susan Swayne and the Bewildered Bride at Know Theatre.

Written by Reina Hardy, the play centers around the Secret Society of Lady Detectives, aka S.o.L.D, who are trained in the martial arts, hand-to-hand combat, and sword fighting. The Lady Detectives set out to solve a string of murders that occur in London’s Whitechapel District circa the late 1880s. History buffs may pick up on a reference or two of the famed serial killer, Jack the Ripper, but despite the gruesome killings, Susan Swayne is anything but a dirge. This action-packed comedy delivers a one-two punch and serves up the laughs for a two-hour run time.

Described as a cross between Mary Poppins and Sherlock Holmes, the play embraces gender fluidity, cross dressing, and flies in the face of gender norms. Supported by a powerhouse, mostly female cast, Susan Swayne delivers a slashing good time that lands well with audiences.

Lisa DeRoberts delivers a sharp performance as the title character Susan Swayne and is beautifully balanced by a powerful cast of fierce and independent women. Ernaisja Curry as Isabelle Fontaine -Kite begins the play as a delicate flower who transforms into a highly skilled assassin after joining S.o.L.D. in hopes of finding the truth about her missing husband Eric. While her motivations appear in earnest, we soon learn that not everything is as it seems and appearances can be deadly and deceiving. Jordan Trovillion delivers a carefully controlled performance as Katherine Denn, blending masculine and feminine characteristics as the play’s anti-hero.

The dialogue moves quickly and is full of biting wit and double entendre. The quick pacing combined with comedic elements and driving action makes the two-hour play feel much shorter than it actually is. The stage combat and rapier work are quite impressive given the limited space and closeness of the Know’s mainstage venue. The actors are highly adept in their fight chorography with the cast demonstrating a confident mastery of rapier and dagger fencing styles and wielding umbrellas.

The set is a bit clumsy with a total of six moving pieces that feel somewhat oversized for the Know’s intimate space. Scene changes were well-rehearsed but seemed to take a little too long given the quick pacing of the play. The monochromatic color scheme of the set and lighting added little to the overall experience and at times felt a bit distracting. Given the Know’s avant-garde theatrical style and proclivity for experimentation, it’s possible that more could have been done with less, freeing up the stage for larger and more elaborate fight scenes.

Overall, the production is fun, funny, and full of energy. If you’re looking for something a bit different from the standard holiday offerings, be sure to check out Susan Swayne and the Bewildered Bride at Cincinnati’s Know Theatre.

Susan Swayne and the Bewildered Bride runs November 24 – December 16 at Know Theatre of Cincinnati. Tickest are available online at knowtheatre.com or by calling the box office at 513-300-5669.

 

Everything is Right in Broadway In Cincinnati’s “Play That Goes Wrong”

Review by Liz Eichler of “The Play That Goes Wrong”: Broadway in Cincinnati

If you’re in need of a good chuckle (aren’t we all) imagine 2 hours of sustained belly laughs – that what you find in “The Play That Goes Wrong,” part of the Broadway in Cincinnati series. Recently closed on Broadway, many of the top notch professionals have joined the tour bringing one of the best evenings of theatre around.

It is a farce. No heavy thinking involved. It is physical comedy and word play. A whodunit in a stereotypical but beautiful English estate, complete with study, butler, gardener, and a little hanky panky.

It is the story of a hapless theatre troupe (the Cornley University Drama Society) mounting a play (“The Murder at Haversham Manor”), and things go terribly wrong because the members of the troupe are either incredibly naïve, overworked, pompous, forgetful, or just plain over-actors. And when you think things have fallen apart as much as it can—they fall apart even more. The melodrama they are mounting is so melodramatic, and the “theatre troupe” so incredibly inept, it is hysterical to watch—because the real performers are so incredibly talented with physical comedy and timing.

That is the secret of this play…timing. Timing the laughs, timing the silence, timing the looks. There’s a lot of other key timing, catching books or keys thrown, and more.

This show is funny for every audience, but an extra hoot to anyone who has spent anytime backstage knowing that things do go wrong, and actors and crew have to make split second choices. Sometimes they work, but this is a smorgasbord of bad choices in set dressing and ensemble work – all great fun for the audience.

The cast consists of the deep-voiced Peyton Crim (Robert), Ned Noyes (the misogynist Max), Scott Cote (Dennis) with a limited vocabulary, Brandon Ellis (Trevor) with a Duran Duran fixation, Yaegel T Welch (Johnathan, who plays the most undead dead body), Jamie Romero (Sandra), Angela Grovey (Annie), and Evan Alexander Smith (Chris) who may have the most stage time to demonstrate his impeccable timing (except for mentioning Cleveland).

Also to note is the set by Nigel Hook, the costumes, by Roberto Surace, and the lighting by Ric Mountjoy. All three scenic elements must perform over and above the usual call for a show – and they do. Great work by tour director Matt DiCarlo, based on the original direction by Mark Bell. The play was written by Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer, and Henry Shields and is quite a celebration of the good, the bad and the ugly things that have happened on a local stage. I saw this show in a much smaller theatre on Broadway last year and it loses little in the translation to the tour.

An integral part of the show is the audience, as the actors react and present directly to you–the people. So I guarantee you will have an evening of laughter at “The Play That Goes Wrong,” playing now through December 2 at the Aronoff Center, as part of the Fifth Third Broadway in Cincinnati series. Contact cincinnatiarts.org for tickets.

Broadway in Cincinnati’s “Play That Goes Wrong” Definitely Goes Right

Review by Spenser Smith of The Play That Goes Wrong: Broadway in Cincinnati

Photo: Jeremy Daniel

At the risk of needing no further review, I must say this is absolutely the funniest play I have ever seen. Bring tissues.

The Play That Goes Wrong is a play by Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer, and Henry Shields of Mischief Theatre Company. It won Best New Comedy at the 2015 Laurence Olivier Awards and Best Scenic Design of a Play at the 2017 Tony Awards.

The play, that is already going wrong, begins before curtain. Members of the crew are on stage as the audience enters the theatre finishing up some last minute setup and searching for a missing dog. You might even be asked to help. The fictitious Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society has recently had some issues with casting. Due to restraints, they’ve had to make some adjustments to a few classics. What would you do if during James and the Giant Peach your only peach goes rotten? Or if you really liked poems about kittens by T.S. Eliot set to music by Andrew Lloyd Weber but only had one actor? This year the company is staging The Murder at Haversham Manor, which has the right number of parts. During the performance, I think the better question to ask is “What goes right?” The set is falling apart, props are misplaced, actors are forgetting lines, and the stage manager (visible to the audience in a House Left box) is missing his cues. The joy of surprise is the beauty of this hilarious play, so I won’t give away any plot details.

The entire cast is a riot. Most of the actors have several moments when they directly interact with the audience and Cincinnati ate it up. The actors are up, down, under, over and all across Proctor and Gamble Hall for two hours. It must be physically exhausting for them, but man are we having fun! The set, designed by Nigel Hook, becomes an important piece of the puzzle and does not disappoint. Well, at least not from the audience perspective. The show has everything. Spit takes, pratfalls, sword fighting and when was the last time you saw a play with coordinated stunts? It is often said that “there is something got everyone!” Well, in this play, that is abundantly true. This is a group of equal opportunity offenders and they’ll get you to laugh one way or another. Or all of the above.

If you doubt the play is as funny as I have described, go see it for yourself or just ask the young girl that was sitting in front of me during the opening night performance. I think I was being too loud. Sorry, girl in G7, but it was VERY funny.

The Play That Goes Wrong continues at the Aronoff Center through December 2.
For tickets, visit the box office located at 650 Walnut Street , call 513-621-2787 [ARTS] or you can order online at cincinnatiarts.org.
 

 

Know’s “Susan Swayne” Brandishes Corsets and Cutlasses

Review by Sheldon Polonsky of Susan Swayne and the Bewildered Bride: Know Theatre

The Know Theatre summarizes its Thanksgiving offering, Susan Swayne and the Bewildered Bride, written by Reina Hardy, as “Sherlock Holmes meets Mary Poppins”. That’s as apt a description as I can think of, with the added suggestion of a little “League of Extraordinary Gentlewomen”.

We meet the titular Susan Swayne (Lisa DeRoberts) as she stakes out the house of her rival, Katherine Denn (Jordan Trovillion) in Victorian England. She is accosted by an angry wife, Isabelle Fontaine-Kite (Ernaisja Curry), who accuses her of spiriting away her husband, Eric. We soon discover that the impeccably mannered and attired Susan (dare we say, “practically perfect in every way”?) is a member of S.O.L.D., the Society of Lady Detectives, and quickly proves she is as equally adept at splitting ruffians with sword and fisticuffs as she is at avoiding splitting her infinitives. She takes Isabelle into her confidence and introduces her to the rest of her organization, led by the equally proper Lady Alice Bomberry (Regina Pugh) and rounded out by two young trainees, Adelaide (Kearston Hawkins-Johnson) and Madeline (Alexx Rouse). The only males in sight are Chris Wesselman and Nathan Tubbs, as various unnamed filler characters.

Anything more would be spoiling and frankly a little superfluous, as the plot itself is rather muddled and hard to swallow. Suffice it to say it involves cross-dressing, shifting loyalties between the women and and a lot of unbuckled swashbuckling (the women, heaven forfend, fight corset-less). Never fear, there is nothing here to offend young sensibilities except for some mild to moderate sexual innuendo. The fun of this show lies in the juxtaposition of the mild-mannered bustled women and the Holmesian milieu of the Victorian detective genre. And unfortunately that makes it a bit of a one-joke play, with the exception of a very funny exchange in an opium den during the second act. In fairness, though, this talented cast, shepherded by director Tamara Winters, manages to milk the joke for everything it’s worth, and the interplay between DeRoberts’ dead-panning delivery and Curry’s histrionics manages somehow to stay fresh throughout. Trovillion’s portrayal of Denn, while initially a little wooden, becomes quite endearing. The laurels for the evening, though, go to Alexx Rouse who had the timing down perfectly for her role as the dim-witted Madeline and consistently garnered the biggest laughs.

Andrew Hungerford’s set design, in subdued blacks, white and grays, was effective both at the evoking the Victorian setting as well as reminding us of the inherent theatricality of the production, and its sliding panel design made it very functional. The lighting design (also by Hungerford) and sound (Doug Borntrager) was subtle but appropriate. Plenty of eye-turning props abound, especially of the weapon variety (Rebecca Armstrong, Kara Eble Trusty, Andrew Homan, and Tom Fiocchi apparently can all take some of the credit for this). Finally, Noelle Wedig-Johnston’s costume design is spot-on authentic for our fastidiously habilimented heroines.

Susan Swayne has a reassuring message of female empowerment and sexual liberation, albeit without the sharpness or bite of its characters’ rapiers. And, for all the single-mindedness of its plot and gags, the production undoubtedly entertained its audience on opening night who rewarded it with a lot of hoots and guffaws. So, for a pleasant evening of derring-do with the added benefit of an extra X chromosome, head out to Know Theatre. Susan Swayne runs through December 16th; tickets can be obtained from the Know box office or https://knowtheatre.com.

 

 

CSC’s “Twelfth Night” Shows How the West Was Won

Review by Doug Iden of Twelfth Night: Cincinnati Shakespeare Company

I attended a Shakespeare play last night and a Wild West Show broke out. Set against a background of an Old West barroom (designed by Vince Salpietro), the Cincinnati Shakespeare Theater opened its production of Twelfth Night in “rootin’-tootin’” fashion.

The gender-bending comedy follows twins Viola (Caitlin McWethy) and Sebastian (Patrick Earl Phillips) when their boat capsizes, they are separated (each thinking the other is dead) and, then, struggle to survive in a foreign land. For protection, Viola pretends to be a man named Cesario and enters the service of Duke Orsino (William Oliver Watkins) with whom she promptly falls in love.  Orsino is attracted to Cesario as well but, since he thinks she is a man, complications ensue.  However, Orsino thinks he is in love with Countess Olivia (Abby Lee) and sends Cesario as an intermediary.  Olivia, then, promptly falls in love with Cesario/Viola.  Complications, misunderstandings, confused identities and general chaos continue to run rampant through the remainder of the show

In the comic subplot, Olivia’s uncle (one of the Bard’s greatest characters, Sir Toby Belch played deliciously by Billy Chase) conspires with Olivia’s maid Maria (Jennifer Joplin) to belittle Olivia’s pompous steward Malvolio (Barry Mulholland). They are abetted by Sir Andrew Aguecheek (Geoffrey Warren Barnes II), Fabian (Jeremy Dubin) and Feste (Paul Riopelle) with more than a passing nod to The Three Stooges.  Their collective buffoonery is a highlight of the evening.

Somehow, with a wave of Will’s magic wand, it all sorts itself out in the end and everyone ends up with whom they are supposed to.

The acting, as usual, was superb. McWethy did an excellent job of playing the confusing male/female role with frequent looks of consternation.  She parroted the movements that, as woman, she thought a man would employ.  At one point, she sprawled all over the stage (as a man) rather than assuming a modest female posture.  One scene in particular stands out when the band has taken the stage with a production number.  Viola and Orsino are sitting together ostensibly enjoying the music but secretly stealing glances at each other.  Orsino is embarrassed by his apparent attraction to a man.  All of this is done subtly with no dialogue.  The comic quartet of Belch, Aguecheek, Fabian and Feste cavort uproariously and steal every scene they are in.

Music plays a significant part in the story as a group of troubadours dressed like John Wayne constantly appear, acting, at times, like a Western Greek Chorus. Sometimes, they walk in the saloon door and, at other times, they just pop up from behind the bar and on the roof unexpectedly (which always garnered laughs from the audience).   The musicians, playing in a distinctly western, horse-opera style, include Barnes, Cary Davenport, Josh Katawick, Sylvester Little, Jr., and Riopelle.  There are also numerous musical gags with snippets from popular songs from musical such as “The Sound of Music” and “Maria” along with “The Twelve Days of Christmas” (a play on the title, I’m sure) and some standard folk songs such as “Oh, Susanna”.

The costumes, designed by Clara Jean Kelly, blend well with the theme including normal working clothes (musicians), outlandish chaps (the jester Feste), Dude outfit (Malvolio), flouncy dress (Olivia), Mississippi gambler (Orsino) and identical nautical outfits for the twins Viola and Sebastian (which helps the audience identify them). The barroom set is typical of its day but rather ornate with a touch of a nautical theme. They use a trapdoor in the floor to represent Malvolio’s imprisonment and the storm scene when the ship capsizes is very cleverly done.

Overall, the show is directed by Austin Tichenor as a broad, sweeping burlesque with significant elements of farce and slapstick. There is a whole routine where the comic conspirators use pratfalls similar to a Keystone Kops routine and several sword dueling scenes which look like a parody of an Errol Flynn movie.  The audience appeared to love the presentation.  How many times do you hear laughing out loud at a Shakespeare play?

Purists may rail at this interpretation which is not traditional. This is an example of “cultural appropriation” (according to a Shakespearean expert that I know) which incorporates modern allusions into a 400-year-old play.  There were a number of contemporary allusions including a “moon walk” (ala Michael Jackson), high-5’s and a lot of funky dance movements by Chase and Barnes.  They were even satirizing old western movies.  The point is to try to make Shakespeare more accessible and accommodating to modern audiences which I, personally, think is fine.  After seeing many Shakespeare plays, I am still a little intimidated by the Elizabethan language and it often takes me 5-10 minutes to get into the rhythm of the play.  In this production, I barely noticed the “thees and thous” and was instantly transported into the magic of the show.

So, if you are looking for a thoroughly entertaining evening, do not wait for the “Twelfth Night” of the production but gather your 10-gallon hat, saddle up your trusty Cayuse and saunter down immediately to the Cincinnati Shakespeare Theater production running through December 8.