LCT Continuing “Stage Insights”

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

Incline Theatre Planning to Raise Your “Spirit” This Summer

 

Sneak Peek by Laurel Humes of Blithe Spirit: Incline Theatre

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

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

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

Here’s the plot:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Walk This Way to Covedale’s “Young Frankenstein”

Review by Doug Iden of Young Frankenstein: Covedale Theater

A monster hits the boards as Young Frankenstein stomps onto the stage at the Covedale Theater.  Based upon the movie created by Mel Brooks and Gene Wilder, the musical tells the story of the grandson of the famous scientist who inherits his grandfather’s castle in Transylvania.  In this hilarious parody and homage to old horror films, we first meet Dr. Frederick Frankenstein (who insists his name is pronounced Fronkenstein) teaching an anatomy class on the functions of the brain.  Fredrick, portrayed by a manic Christopher Logan Carter, explains his scientific methods in the song “The Brain” which is a fast patter song reminiscent of Gilbert and Sullivan.  Frederick has eschewed the findings and methods of his famous grandfather but must now travel to Transylvania to settle the estate of his recently deceased relative.

Surrounded by an ingenious set designed by Brett Bowling, Frederick enters Mel Brook’s insanity by first meeting Igor (Tyler Gau) the creepy hunchbacked caretaker whose hump keeps moving from side-to-side.  Gau, echoing Marty Feldman who appeared in the movie, is one of the highlights of the show as an alternately annoying and, ultimately, helpful assistant to the brain surgeon.  They bond with the song “Together Again for the First Time”.  Frederick, who has left behind his fiancé Elizabeth Benning (Rachel Barkalow), is immediately smitten by local resident Inga (Heather Hale).  In a very cleverly constructed scene in a wagon, Inga sings “Roll in the Hay” with all of the implications of that phrase.  Mel Brooks wrote the music and the lyrics which are extremely clever but are replete with outrageous puns, other plays on words and very sophomoric humor.  However, the songs and the script co-authored by Brooks and Thomas Meehan is hilarious in a “guilty pleasure” sort of way.

Arriving at the castle. Frederick meets the austere, suspicious housekeeper Frau Blucher (Leslie Hatch) which starts a running gag when horses whinny each time her name is spoken. We soon discover that Frau Blucher and grandfather were a “number” as she sings the campy “He Vas my Boyfriend”.  While investigating the castle, Frederick discovers some documents and a secret laboratory where his grandfather created the infamous monster.  Frederick suddenly becomes obsessed and, with the help of Igor, Inga and Frau Bluher, creates his own monster (Peter Cutler).  The monster escapes, of course, and terrorizes the townspeople while Frederick and company try to find him.

This is a very fast paced show ably directed by Bob Bruner.  All of the characters are running amok throughout the show with excellent assistance by the ensemble, comprised primarily of recent university graduates who display good singing and dancing ability.  In many ways, this is an old-fashioned musical with lots of music and dancing.  In modern shows, we rarely see large ensemble production numbers but there are six in this production including “The Happiest Town in Town”, “Join the Family Business”, “Transylvania Mania”, “He’s Loose” and the finale.  The choreograph (by Jeni Bayer Schwiers) allows the youngsters in the ensemble to cut loose with some madcap dances and several excellent tap routines.

One of the highlights of the show (and the movie) comes in the scene where Frederick tries to convince the locals and other scientists that the monster is human and capable of both motions and emotions.  He demonstrates the monster’s abilities with a vaudeville-like show featuring himself and the monster singing Irving Berlin’s classic song “Puttin” on the Ritz”.  Both characters are dressed in tuxedos as they sing and soft-shoe their way through the number.  They are then joined by Igor, Inga and Frau Blucher and finally by the townspeople who fill the stage with raucous and exuberant tap dancing.  The monster also does a “shadow dance” with his image projected through a curtain.  In typical Marx Brothers schtick, the “shadow” doesn’t always follow the movements of the monster.

Music Director Ron Attreau leads a band of nine musicians though a wide variety of music styles including haunting melodies, jazz and typical Broadway musical numbers.  The band is good but occasionally too loud.  A quibble I had is that, frequently, I could not hear all of the lyrics, especially when the ensemble was singing.  This does not interfere with the story-telling but you can miss a number of one-liners.   They also garbled one of the best lines in the show which is a pun on the song “Chattanooga Choo Choo” when Frederick first arrives at the Transylvania Station.

Song highlights in the second act include “Listen To Your Heart” (a duet with Inga and Frederick) “Please Send Me Someone” sung by the Hermit (Aaron Whitehead) and “Deep Love” sung by Rachel Barkalow (Elizabeth) and then as a duet with the baritone voice of the monster (Peter Cutler).

The set designs by Brett Bowling for the last several Covedale shows have been excellent but this one tops them all.  The stage is dominated by the castle which, at times, represents both the outside and the inside.  The motif is medieval with a primary stone structure and stairs with adornments including gargoyles and a suit of armor.  The castle has two stories with the study on top and the secret lab below.  The operating table elevates which is used for a tryst between Inga and Frederick (embarrassingly interrupted by Elizabeth) and the creation of the monster.
The scene with the monster meeting the hermit is done in the wings.  Denny Reed has intertwined lights in the castle which illuminate various parts of the structure to, mostly, comic effects.  Caren Brady has designed appropriate costumes including pheasant designs, a Swiss Miss costume for Inga, an austere dress for Frau Blucher and large platform shoes and green makeup for the monster.

The audience, most of whom had probably not seen the show before, started with polite clapping but, in the end, really got into the show and clearly enjoyed it.

So, you might want to complete your Halloween festivities with a visit to Transylvania via the Covedale Theater as Young Frankenstein runs through November 12.  The next production is Annie.

CSC’s “Dracula” Brings Fall Chills and Thrills

Review by Doug Iden of Dracula: Cincinnati Shakespeare Company

Halloween came early this year as Dracula swooped into the sold-out Cincinnati Shakespeare Company theater.  It was also appropriate that opening night was Friday the 13th.  But this production is not a trick but, rather, a treat filled with classic gothic horror and spooktacular special effects.

Based upon the 1897 novel by Bram Stoker and dramatized by Steven Dietz, Dracula relates the chilling story of a Romanian vampire who seduces two London women, which leads to killings, revenge and an ultimate chase to destroy the leader of the “un-dead”.  The novel was written as a series of diary entries, letters, ship’s log entries, etc., written by various characters so there is no central voice or protagonist.  Because of secrecy, doubt, disbelief and Victorian mores, the primary characters do not communicate with each other which allows Dracula to persist in his plan. The play follows a similar script with much of the exposition directed to the audience through dramatic readings of letters and a significant diary entry.

The play opens with Renfield (Billy Chase) setting the scene and then, casually, chewing on a mouse as his entrée.  We learn quickly that he is a vampire who has been imprisoned in a hospital run by Dr. Seward (Kyle Brumley).  Chase appears frequently throughout the show as the precursor and prophet of the darkness to come as he calls for his “master” while deliciously alternating between mad ravings and sinister prophesies.   Seward is in love with Lucy (Miranda McGee) who does not share his feelings.  Lucy’s best friend is Mina (Caitlin McWethy) with whom she shares her secret desires for love.  Their friendship is capped by a lesbian flirtation.

Mina is married to Jonathan Harker (Crystian Wiltshire), an attorney who visits Dracula (Giles Davies) in his Romanian castle to settle a land purchase for the Count in London.  During his stay, Harker is plagued with an unsettling feeling about the Count and his vixens (Candice Handy, Maggie Lou Rader and Tess Talbot).  He escapes but becomes deathly sick in a Budapest hospital.  Mina rescues him and returns to London but Dracula has also arrived and has devilish plans for Mina and Lucy.  Enter Van Helsing (Seward’s mentor played by Jim Hopkins) who theorizes that Dracula is a vampire and that the women are in dire danger.  Thereafter, the action becomes intense.

Davies portrays Dracula as a dangerous, fanatical creature who slithers across the stage and suddenly appears on-stage  in frightening fashion.  This interpretation of Dracula as more bloodthirsty than seductive is closer to Stoker’s vision than to recent Hollywood portrayals.  Davies is sufficiently sinister to carry the role.  Brumley (as Harker) is rather weak-willed and solicitous of Lucy but cannot save her from the bloodlust of Dracula.  McGee plays Lucy, initially, as a saucy flirt who becomes severely ill when attacked by Dracula and, eventually, displays vampiric behavior.  McGee’s transition is compelling.  Mina is the transformative character who overcomes a Dracula bite in hopes of defeating the demon.  McWethy starts meekly but quickly realizes the danger and is instrumental in the final battle.

All of the elements of the theater combine to create the tension in this demonic, atmospheric world.  The set, created by Shannon Moore, is stark with a sharp, jagged structure designed to create unease.  The rear center of the stage is dominated by a large bed in front of a glass doorway leading outside.  Many surprise entries occur through the door.  Black ceiling-high curtains frame the doorway.  There is also a clever use of a stage trap door and some flying tricks resembling Batman.  With minimal prop movement but creative lighting, the scene effortlessly shifts from a London bedroom to Transylvania to a hospital room/cell.  Justen Locke’s design alternates between bright spotlights, moody shadows, eerily blood-red lighting when Dracula attacks and a very effective latticed spot in the hospital cell.  The illusions are heightened by eerie video projections and sound designed by Douglas Borntrager including thunder, spooky music and the disembodied voice of Dracula surrounding the audience.

The costumes (Amanda McGee) reflect the black and white, conservative Victorian era juxtaposed with the glaringly lurid dress of the vampires and vixens.  And the wigs.  Scary wigs worn by the vixens, a black tangled wig for Dracula and Lucy’s flouncy locks.  The direction of Brian Isaac Phillips choreographs all of the elements into a deliciously frightening evening.

It shouldn’t be too scary outside to enjoy the guilty pleasures of Dracula’s castle inside which continues at the Cincinnati Shakespeare Company through November 4.  For tickets, call the box office at 513-381-2273 or email at www.cincyshakes.com.  The next production is The Adventures of Tom Sawyer running from November 17 through December 9.

 

“Frankenstein” at the Falcon:The Possibility of Love—Gone Wrong

Review by Alan Jozwiak of Frankenstein: Falcon Theatre

Love.

It is amazing how such a small word can contains worlds of meaning.

It is these depths that love can take which is central to the Nick Dear adaptation of Mary Shelly’s novel Frankenstein, currently being staged by Falcon Theatre.  This script premiered in the Royal National Theatre on London, starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller alternating the roles of the Creature and Victor Frankenstein.

Stepping into these big shoes is a compelling cast that create an eerie and memorable evening of theatre.  Seldom does Halloween fare strike the right note of being truthful to their source material, whle still conveying the horror depicted within the story.

This script hits that note and creates some memorable theatrical moments in the process.

One such moment comes at the start of the show.  When the audiences comes on stage, the stage is bare save for a draped figure lying stage center on four stage blocks.  The draped figure turns out to be the Creature (Olaf Eide), naked and struggling to come to life.  The physicality exerted by Eide in this sequence was something completely unexpected and jarring enough to put the audience into the world of the Creature as he tries to figure out his surroundings.  Eide is able to make his body a natural extension of the Creature’s emotions and it is amazing to watch Eide play with his movements on stage.

Unlike most versions of Frankenstein that start with Victor Frankenstein and his journey to create his monster, the play is told from the perspective of the Creature.  In order to pull off the solid performance, Eide is completely in the moment as he plays the Creature.  At turns quizzical, suffering, comical, revengeful, and lustful, Eide melds his physicality with the immensity of emotion that Creature feels and boils it down into emotionally relatable situations.

Another set of memorable moments comes with the interactions of the Creature and the blind DeLancy, beautifully played by Donald Volpenhein.  Volpenhein plays the blind man who befriends the Creature very simply, but believably.  We get to see enough different interactions with DeLancy and the Creature to get a sense of depth to their relationship.  I have seen Volpenhein in many other plays, but this wonderfully crafted performance strikes me that Volpenhein is hitting a new level in his acting.

This production was also made memorable by all of the touches of humor, some of which almost become camp in their tone.  The perpetual comic relief in this play Lisa Dirkes, who played various female roles and inevitably ended up being the necessary comic relief.  She got big laughs throughout and provided some grounding for the broody melancholy of Luke Ashley Carter as Victor Frankenstein.

Carter plays Frankenstein like Hamlet on steroids, completely full of dark melancholy and brooding that deepens as the body count of his  family members grows as a result of the Creature.

Like Eide, he is completely in the moment as he plays Victor Frankenstein.  This is a difficult role to play, since Frankenstein dwells in a changing level of blackness from what he has done by creating the Creature. Carter sculpts Frankenstein’s despair and blackness into fine gradations that lead the viewer down that rabbit hole.  The first appearance of Frankenstein in the middle of Act I is different from the man we see chasing the Creature in the Arctic at the end of Act II.

Debut director Paul Morris has done a wonderful job within this script and assembled a strong cast.  Morris gets good performances out of his actors, so hopefully his other directorial efforts in the future will produce similar results.

Scenic Lighting and Design/Technical Consultant Jared Doran effectively uses video projections to create the backdrop for the actors.  When the Creature goes off into the woods, the entire stage is transformed into a woodland area.  Similarly, the laboratory was also effective with the projected electrical apparatus used to give life to the creature.

Overall, Frankenstein is a worthwhile evening of theatre.  It is also demonstrating that  Falcon Theatre is stepping up its game as a destination for all serious lovers of theater.  This production adds to the great they work they did last season (Rabbit Hole, “Master Harold”. . . and the Boys) and the great work that will come this season.

To learn more about Falcon Theatre’s season and for tickets for their 2017-2018 theater series, go to their website http://falcontheater.net/.

 

Cincy Shakespeare’s “Dracula” is Eerie and Lush

Review by Liz Eichler of “Dracula”: Cincinnati Shakespeare Company

Miranda McGee and Giles Davies in “Dracula”

If you’ve never been to Cincinnati Shakespeare Company, “Dracula” is a great opportunity to enjoy a  very accessible show and explore a beautiful space. This amazing professional company finally has a larger, more audience friendly space in the Otto M. Budig Theatre on Elm Street. The season is one of the most varied, with something for everyone. “Dracula,” playing now through November 4, and is perfect for the season and new audiences: it is delightfully spooky, a little bit scary, lush, and beautifully done.

There are surprises, be warned. Director Brian Isaac Phillips (Producing Artistic Director) includes all the traditional props (blood, fangs, garlands of garlic) but gleefully adds a few elements sure to keep you on the edge of your seat. Dracula himself, Giles Davis, is mesmerizing, as he floats across the stage in an other-worldly physicality.

The character Renfield (Billy Chace) frames the play in this Steven Dietz adaptation of Bram Stoker’s novel. The action is set in 1897 London, and we meet best friends Lucy (Miranda McGee) and Mina (Caitlin McWethy), as they share stories of their suitors. Mina’s fiancé, Jonathan Harker (Crystian Wiltshire), is traveling to Transylvania to conduct business with an unknown wealthy Count (Dracula) who is planning to move to London. One of Lucy’s suitors is Dr. Seward (Kyle Brumley), who runs the lunatic asylum nearby.  One of his patients, the agitated Renfield, calls for “his master” to come. Meanwhile, Lucy falls ill with a mysterious illness draining her of blood. Seward asks his mentor, Dr. Van Helsing (Jim Hopkins) to advise on the case.

A few standout performances: Hopkins owns the space as Van Helsing, 110% committed to his beliefs; Chace keeps the audience guessing if he is truly sane or insane; McWethy and McGee delightfully illustrate and expand the boundaries of Victorian morals; and Maggie Lou Rader does the most in her maid cameo.

Costumes (Amanda McGee) and Scenery (Shannon Moore) are lush and rich, perfectly setting the tone. Sound and Video Design (Doug Borntrager) flesh out the story, adding the eerie musical soundtrack, to appropriate gulls, and misty video ambience, also complimented by Justen N. Locke’s Lighting Design.

If you’ve never been to CSC, develop a taste for great theatre with “Dracula,” My non-theatre going companions were entranced and called it “nicely spooky.” For tickets go to www.cincyshakes.com

Fanning the Flames of Know Theatre’s “The Arsonists”

Review by Alan Jozwiak of The Arsonists: Know Theatre

Tyger Tyger, burning bright,
In the forests of the night;
What immortal hand or eye,
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

Tigers, like in the lines from the William Blake poem, look like they are burning from a distance.  They are also part of the imagery within Know Theatre’s latest production, The Arsonists, by Jacqueline Goldfinger.  This play is part of the National New Play Network’s Rolling World Premiere, a program which encourages multiple productions of new works by various theatres situated across the United States.

            In the play, the tiger becomes a symbol for “the best controlled burn,” something that the titular father-daughter arsonist team desperately wants to have.  We meet the father, identified by the single letter H (Jim Stark), and the daughter, identified by the single letter M (Erin Ward), after an arson job goes wrong—with bad consequences for H. The play is conceived as a quest piece for M to finally let go of her father through some mythic overtones which harkens back to Egyptian mythology and the story of Osiris, who needed to find a missing body part in order to make his way into the afterlife.

Within this mythological framework is a microcosm of M’s relationship with her father.  We see both the warts and the wonder, from their arguments to their harmonizing on gospel and country songs.  Much of the credit for making The Arsonists work should go to director Tamara Winters.  Winters is able to work all these elements together into a compelling evening of theater.

Erin Ward as M does a great job with her role.  It was also delightful to witness Erin Ward’s ability to be totally authentic and in the moment throughout this play.  Ward does an outstanding job walking in this emotional terrain.  She turns from being carefree and joking with her father, to being petulant towards him, to despairing about surviving the loss of her father.  Ward is a particularly strong singer, which makes these gospel and country songs delightful.

Cincinnati theater newcomer Jim Stark does an equally beautiful job as H, the spectral father wanting to bond with his daughter, while also trying to let her go.  This is a play of routines of the familiar and Stark does a great job showcasing the care of his daughter while both of them are preparing wicks for future arson jobs.  These little actions reveal the care that Stark’s character has in connecting with his daughter as he is discussing everyday things with her.  They are some of the more beautiful moments of the play.

Scenic Designer and Producing Artistic Director Andrew J. Hungerford created a sparse, but effective in the form of a raised cabin. By having the cabin floor sit a foot or so above the stage, it allows for some surprises to come out of the floor boards.  The wood was also unvarnished, echoing the fact that raw wood can be more easily lit.  It short, it was a nicely done set that contributed to the overall impact of the play.

While H and M might still try to chase down that tiger to get that best controlled burn, you do not need to do so.  The Arsonists runs this weekend and next weekend, ending on October 14th.  This is another fine production that Know which should satisfy its audience members.

For ticket information, contact Know Theatre through their website: http://www.knowtheatre.com.

Falcon’s Production is Not Your Father’s “Frankenstein”

Review by Laurel Humes of Frankenstein: Falcon Theatre

The opening moments of Falcon Theatre’s Frankenstein are a gift to the audience by actor Olaf Eide and lighting designer Jared Doren.

Eide’s Creature, newly created by Dr. Victor Frankenstein, is trying to stand and walk, lit as in a pantomime. We can relate – we’ve seen fawns and baby giraffes making the same moves soon after birth. Eide’s athletic agility makes the Creature’s attempts to move as a human fascinating, almost like a dance.

What is missing – no mother or father to help the fledgling. And that is the tragedy of Frankenstein, by Nick Dear, adapted for the stage from the 1818 Mary Shelley novel.

The themes in this Frankenstein are more frightening than any monster.

The stage play is told from the Creature’s point of view, rather than the creator’s. Dr. Frankenstein, appalled by his creation, abandons him to the streets of a German city. The Creature’s appearance in Falcon’s production – primarily scars running through his face and torso – frightens everyone he encounters.

Until the Creature meets a blind man (Donald Volpenhein), who shelters him and teaches him to speak, read and write.

But there is no long-term safety there and, in the first of a continuing series of revenge events, the Creature destroys the blind man and his family.

Where is the blame? Who taught the Creature wrath and revenge? What responsibility does any creator have?

“I created you because I could,” says Dr. Frankenstein (Luke Ashley Carter), who takes no responsibility for nurturing his creation.

“What have I brought into this world?” asks the father of Dr. Frankenstein (Kelly Hale), who does not understand the son who is so cold and heartless to those who love him.

Falcon’s production of Frankenstein is a play of ideas, rather than horror. The show should be welcomed by theatergoers (like me) who have not read the novel or play script and only know the now-campy caricature of the Boris Karloff monster and Halloween masks.

Eide is outstanding as the Creature. He has created a distinctive voice, way of moving and mannerisms that make the character fascinating to watch. We see the Creature evolve, learn to read and think. We suffer with him when he tells his creator “You make sport with my life.”

Carter’s Dr. Frankenstein is driven by ego and science. It is difficult to believe that he has a fiancé, much less the beautiful and sympathetic Elizabeth (Victoria Hawley), who loves him despite getting nothing in return.

The presence of Elizabeth, though, leads the Creature to demand that Dr. Frankenstein create for him a bride. The Creature has surpassed his creator, because he can feel love.

Frankenstein moves through a lot of locales, from city streets to forests to the Arctic Circle. Ingeniously, director Paul Morris and projection designer Kevin Kunz have created back-wall screen images to firmly place the characters in their surroundings.

Frankenstein continues at Falcon Theatre, 636 Monmouth St., Newport, through Oct. 14. Go to www.falcontheatre.net for ticket information.

CCM’s “Hamlet” Unites the Epic with the Familiar

Review by Alan Jozwiak of Hamlet: CCM Acting

“Tne union of the epic with the familiar.”

These words comes from Susan Felder’s Director’s Notes from the CCM Acting Main Stage production Hamlet. They aptly describe the overall tone of her production.

Felder beautifully sets her production of Hamlet during the Roaring Twenties in Denmark at a time when the fun and frivolity masks the horror witnesses during the First World War.  The epic scope of Hamlet (revenge and dynastic succession, etc.) is set against some very familiar concerns that all people have with parental conflicts and lost love.

In my LCT reviews, I sometimes have not given enough credit to the director of shows, largely because it is hard to distinguish between an actor’s talent and a director’s hand at polishing that talent so that it shines brighter. This will not be the case for this review.

Hamlet is a show in which you can obviously see the hand of the director skillfully guiding her actors into choices that lead to strong performances and a memorable production.  Felder wisely does not dodge around the language of the play, but makes the language the centerpiece.  Action is guided by what is being said with the result that the play that has layers while still being faithful to the script.  Shakespeare in the hands of young actors can be problematic, but Felder is able to get her actors to act with the words instead of side-stepping them.

For those of you who skipped out of English Lit class, the basic plot of Hamlet is as follows: Prince Hamlet (Rupert Spraul) comes back for his studies at Wittenberg for the funeral of his father, Hamlet Sr., the king of Denmark, and has to deal with the fact that his father’s successor Claudius (Landon Hawkins) has not only taken over his father’s throne, but has also married Hamlet’s mother Gertrude (Ella Eggold).  The play gets underway when Hamlet meets up with the Ghost of Hamlet Sr. (Carter Lacava) who tells his son that Claudius was his murderer and that Hamlet should seek revenge by killing Claudius.

For a play of this scope, a strong Hamlet is a necessity.  Felder chose one of the strongest actors in the CCM Acting program—Rupert Spraul.  Spraul plays Hamlet in a way that straddles the world of a boy-man who still has one foot in Wittenberg University where he was studying while having his other foot in the Danish court and its responsibilities.  Spraul knows how to joke with his comrades from Wittenberg, as well as being a smart aleck when dealing with pompous courtiers like Polonius (Isaac Hickox-Young).

Spraul was able to capture Hamlet’s “antic disposition” (i.e., his “feigned” madness—the feigned part being in question) in a wonderful goofy way that hinted at the underlying problems Hamlet is facing by being in both worlds.  Within the seven soliloquies Hamlet speaks are places where Sprawl is wonderfully able to explore the madness Hamlet faces at being put into an impossible situation.

Matched against the wild protestations of Hamlet is the smooth talking Claudius, played skillfully by Landon Hawkins.  Melding political flattery with daunting ambition, Hawkins is able to match Hamlet’s craziness with his own deftly politic behavior.  A beautiful example of this comes when Claudius has to confront Laertes (Nicholas Heffelfinger), who points a gun at Claudius demanding revenge for the death of his father Polonius.  Hawkins smoothes Heffelfinger’s ruffled feathers with dulcet words and a demeanor of a natural politician.  This could have been a blow-away scene, but becomes a master class in the art of delicate negotiations with a skilled actor who understands the subtext of the situation.

One of the delights of this production is the way that, when pressed by serious circumstances, the rest of the cast also adopts an antic disposition which echoes Hamlet’s own madness.  One such example comes with closet scene with Hamlet and Queen Gertrude. Queen Gertrude (Ella Eggold), who has played her role rather reservedly during the first part of the play, echoes Hamlet’s madness during this scene by being just as agitated as Hamlet while Hamlet explains to her the problems of her marrying Claudius.  Eggold does a first rate job at breaking down her reserved demeanor to discussing this situation.

This production also paid close attention to even the small roles.  Felder was deftly able to create an interesting story arc for Rosenscrantz (Josh Reiter) and Guildenstern (Matt Fox) through costuming and props.  The pair initially enter the play wearing their college wear; however, over the course of the play, we see them becoming increasingly corrupted by Claudius’ court, eventually dressing like courtiers, drinking Scotch (or Bourbon) and smoking cigars, the same spirits and smokes that Claudius favors.

As for set and lighting design, Scenic Designer Logan Greenwell created a sparse set that seems too big for the actors, a deliberate choice to emphasize the vast scale for the events which unfold. Greenwell also effectively used draperies at the end of the first half of Hamlet, when the hanging drapes suddenly fell down after the play within the play to highlight the start of the destruction of the Danish court that happens after intermission.

Similarly, Lighting Designer Oliver Tidwell Littleton does an outstanding job with the first appearance of Hamlet Sr.’s Ghost.  The Ghost initially appears entirely as lighting on the stage floor, effectively showing the otherworldly nature of the spirit which brings terrible news to Hamlet.

In closing, I was delighted by the work that director Susan Felder did to take her talented cast and produce work that was both moving and faithful to the source material.  This was one of the first outings for Felder as a director and I am personally looking forward to her next directorial outing.  She is on the list of theater people not to miss anything she does on stage.

This production was only on during the weekend of  September 27 to October 1, 2017—a downside to having strong college production which is only a few performances long.

However, CCM has literally hundreds of other performances and productions of both theatrical and musical work.  To learn more about CCM and CCM Acting, visit their website at http://CCM.uc.edu.

 

Incline Raises the Bar with “Cabaret”

Review by Laurel Humes of Cabaret: Incline Theatre

‘Come to this Cabaret, my friend.’ A fantastic production at the Warsaw Federal Incline Theater through Oct. 15.

Incline has staged a near-perfect production of the acclaimed musical, first seen on Broadway a hard-to-believe 50 years ago and revived there at least three times, most recently in 2014. But no matter how many times and what versions you’ve seen of Cabaret, this one is not to be missed.

We are in capable hands from the moment Matthew Wilson appears as the Emcee of the Kit Kat Club in 1931 Berlin, smoothly singing “Willkommen” and promising us a chance to forget our troubles and be entertained. We meet the Kit Kat Girls and Boys, all good-looking and sexy, and not necessarily in girl-boy pairs.

When Sally Bowles, the star of the Kit Kat and Cabaret, does her first number, “Don’t Tell Mama” – well, this show is going to be a hit. Hannah Gregory is incredibly accomplished as a singer, dancer and actress.

But then, so is every member of the 14-person cast, half in multiple roles. What an absolute pleasure.

Berlin in 1931, at least at the Kit Kat Club, is a free and easy, anything goes society. Our hero is the American Cliff (Rory Sheridan), who has come to Berlin to write his novel. He quickly makes Sally’s acquaintance, and their unorthodox love story begins.

The show’s second love story is between an older couple. Fraulein Schneider (Helen Anneliesa Raymond-Goers) is landlord of the rooming house where fruit merchant Herr Shultz (Jeff Richardson) lives. This is a well-matched stage pairing of two skillful actors with beautiful voices; a highlight is their duet “Married.”

So Act I is mostly fun, love, good times, sex. To my view, co-directors Angela Kahle and Tim Perrino have taken the middle road on the Cabaret raunchy meter, which has veered up and down over the years, depending on the production. The double entendre lines are all there, but not shouted. The Emcee is flamboyant, but not dirty. The choreography is risqué, but not embarrassing.

Then the fun ends, and we see what’s coming. A Nazi in our midst is revealed. We know – before the characters do – what will happen to the Jewish fruit merchant and the gay performers at the Kit Kat Club. There is a stunning visual conclusion to the show.

A centerpiece of Incline’s Cabaret is the 7-piece, terrific and lively band that actually sits center stage, surrounded by well-used stairs and a catwalk. The bandstand is part of scenic designer Brett Bowling’s inventive set, which includes rolled-on pieces to depict the rooming house and a dressing room.

Costume designer Caren Brady has again outdone herself with lovely costumes. Not a quibble, just an observation – the Kit Kat Club is hardly tawdry and Sally Bowles cannot be poor with such great clothes!

I urge you to see Incline’s superb staging of Cabaret.

Cabaret continues through Oct. 15 at Warsaw Federal Incline Theater, 801 Matson Place, in the Incline District of East Price Hill. For tickets, call 513-241-6550 or go to www.cincinnatilandmarkproductions.com.