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.

Carnegie’s ‘Love, Loss and What I Wore’ is More than Just a Girls’ Night Out

Review by Dan Maloney of Love, Loss, and What I Wore: The Carnegie

Ilene Beckerman’s 1995 memoir Love, Loss, and What I Wore tells the story of what her life was like before she had five children. As she explains, “They didn’t think I had a life before I was their mother. Sometimes, I even wondered.”

Adapted for the stage by sisters Nora and Delia Ephron, the play employs a series of monologues and ensemble pieces to stitch together the fabric of women’s lives – everything from the comically mundane to the momentous.

Director Abby Rowold assembles a fine cast of five, strong female performers to take us on this journey. Although each is very different, they come together in a way that is a joy to behold. Individually, these ladies are captivating performers – and they have to be given the amount of ground to cover. But for me, the show is at its best during the ensemble pieces – interludes about dressing like Madonna, having nothing to wear, or loving the color black. This is where Ms. Rowold’s direction shines.

The story we keep returning to is that of Gingy (Marypat Carletti), the only named character in the play. Ms. Carletti exhibits grace and fortitude in the role. More importantly, she got me thinking about the strong women in my life, and what they must have been like in their prime. Gingy’s Story is the through-line, but to say she is the only principle actor would be misleading. The four ensemble players (Mel Hatch Douglass, Nabachawa Ssensalo, Tess Talbot, and Sarah Zaffiro) share equal prominence, and all five women give impressive performances.

Ms. Hatch Douglass is a delight – kooky in the best possible way, yet still able to delve emotionally and connect on a personal level. Ms. Ssensalo deftly handles the more dramatic moments in the show. These could have easily been over-played. However, she speaks the truth plainly, without adornment or contrition, and the result is empowering. Ms. Talbot showcases a spunky attitude that plays exceptionally well, and she does a fantastic job of using the audience’s laughter to invite us into her character. Finally, Ms. Zaffiro comes across as the plucky kid-sister, humorously overwhelmed by the daunting world of womanhood.

While these women carry the day, in some ways, the show is a little over-produced. There are moments where the production elements take away from the storytelling, and more often than not, the transitions between scenes are awkward. Production concepts are forced onto the play, and the reality is these ladies are strong enough in their own right that they don’t the help.

As a thirty-something male, I think it’s safe to say I’m not the target audience for this play, and I’d be lying if I claimed to have understood every joke. I could have benefited from a pocket-translation book, particularly in regard to the fashion references. Still, the storytelling is compelling, and that’s more than enough for me to be able to enjoy myself. The difference is where I was smiling during these tales of love and woe, the women around me were bursting with laughter. And when I was laughing, those same women were doubled-over. In other words, this show is ideal for a girls’ night out; however, dutiful husbands might be surprised by how much they find themselves enjoying it too.

Love, Loss, and What I Wore plays at The Carnegie through November 20th. For tickets, call the box office at 859-957-1940 Tuesday-Friday 12:00-5 PM or visit www.thecarnegie.com.

Put on Your Sunday Clothes and Go See The Carnegie ’s ‘Love, Loss, and What I Wore’

Review by Jack Crumley of Love, Loss, and What I Wore: The Carnegie

November brings a run of Love, Loss, and What I Wore to The Carnegie Theatre, and if you’ve been
missing the writing of Nora Ephron in your life since 2009’s Julie & Julia, grab your sister, your
mother, aunt, grandma, and your best girlfriends and get them to Scott Blvd. before the 20th.

Love, Loss, and What I Wore is a series of monologues about growing up, dating, marrying,
divorcing, and the random quirks of everyday life that always lead to the best stories. All with a
focus on what we wear. Ephron and her sister, Delia, adapted the play from the 1995 book by
Ilene Beckerman. The through-line of the show is Gingy (played by Marypat Carletti), a woman
reflecting on her life and how those memories are shaped by the clothes she wore at the time.
That concept may sound a bit trifling, but just like hearing a song on the radio from when you
were sixteen that takes you right back to that moment in your life, or remembering grandma’s
house every time you smell apple pie, Gingy’s wardrobe gives her memories a specificity.

Alongside Carletti’s Gingy are four other women who come and go and are simply referred to as
“Ensemble.” Individually and at times together, they tell short stories about prom dresses, boots,
purses, the color BLACK, how every woman in a certain age range at one point wanted to be
Madonna, and more. Their stories are equal parts witty, candid, and touching.

All four women in the ensemble, Mel Hatch Douglas, Nabachwa Ssensalo, Tess Talbot, and
Sarah Zaffiro work very well together. There are times when they’ll all take turns saying the
same line, like “it doesn’t fit,” and each actress has her own way of delivering that dialogue.
Opening night had the women playing off the audience’s reaction at times, and it peaked during
the “Shoes” segment in the second act that had the audience roaring and Tess Talbot breaking,
briefly. I mean this as praise. It was a fun, honest moment in a fun, honest show.

Credit should be given to the director, Abby Rowold. Gingy and the Ensemble all have a sincere
naturalness to them in their movement and their delivery. It’s very difficult to tell if that’s from
Rowold giving precise direction, or her letting her cast move instinctively. Some of the more
theatrical moments of the show all have the right, funny punch to them; particularly the memory
of a certain, buxom relative.

Staging Love, Loss, and What I Wore at The Carnegie really maximizes the intimacy of the
relatively small space. These are women telling you their most embarrassing moments or
revealing how they really felt about their second husband. Putting this show on a large stage
would take away from the connection that builds between the cast and the audience. Also, the
set is designed as Gingy’s bedroom, with a semi-transparent curtain in the back that serves as a
border for a not-so-backstage dressing room for the Ensemble. There are also home movies
projected onto that curtain to help set the mood for certain stories, drawings of Gingy’s various
outfits through the years, and the story titles are projected on it as well. Rounding out this
multi-media production are songs that also augment the stories, particularly Doris Day’s “Que
Sera, Sera.”

The show is a bit bawdy at times with some cursing, but even during the indelicate moments,
you could hear people in the audience making those knowing chuckles as if to say “oh yeah,
I’ve been there.” The femininity of Love, Loss, and What I Wore is a major element, but that
really shouldn’t discourage men from seeing it alongside their wives or girlfriends or sisters. One
of the real strengths of the show is its relatability. And I say that as a 35-year-old man.
Love, Loss, and What I Wore plays at The Carnegie through November 20. Tickets are
available at www.thecarnegie.com.

‘Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom’ at NKU Strikes a Dissonant Chord

Review by Spenser Smith of Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom: NKU

Set in a recording studio in the 1920’s over the course of an afternoon, a group of musicians and the legendary blues singer Ma Rainey record several songs. Much of the play takes the form of discussions and arguments among the four musicians, each of whom brings his own perspective to questions of prejudice and the problems facing African Americans in society.

Toledo (Carlos Matthews) is the piano-playing moderator of the evenings debates. He is level-headed, but definitely has something to say. Slow Drag (Kaleb King) is the aptly-named bass player that serves up a few zingers but is mostly along for the ride. Levee (Geoffrey Hill) is the hot-headed trumpet player that is confident his arrangements will make him the next name in the music industry. Troublesome for me, his antics are more center stage (literally) than Ma and her name is in the title. Cutler (Landon Horton) is the trombone player that places his trust in God. It was definitely a pleasant surprise to see Landon on a local stage again. Irvin (Ben Cohen), Ma’s manager, knows “how to handle her” and he does a fine job delivering laughs throughout the show.

Ma Rainey (Brittany Hayes) shows up over an hour late to the recording and most fittingly, almost an hour into the show. We see her throughout the night in short, diva spurts and then go back to the conversations with the band members. I would have liked to see more of Ma, both literally and figuratively. Ma thinks she’s a star and Sturdyvant (James Dawson), the record producer, knows she is. I think those antics could have been better served if we had seen more vocal power from all involved. There is a trap in which actors can fall in the Stauss Theatre. A smaller space does not mean smaller voices. I had issues with diction and volume throughout the night. I also mean to say that this vocal variety would add to the intensity of the physically violent moments in the show. The same can be said for the songs. When the boys are practicing and when we (finally) get to recording, the music is too soft. It makes watching the actors mime playing their instruments much more difficult to believe.

Overall the show is filled with fine performances, directed by Daryl Harris. The unique set, by Kenton Brett, is something I haven’t seen in that space before but absolutely appropriate. I really loved the practical use of the space. Costumes, by Ronnie Chamberlain, are appropriate for the time period and it was a pleasure to see all those snazzy shoes! Fitting, since that item takes a main focus towards the end of the play.

As a native of the city and a member of three generations of Cleveland sports teams, I was disappointed to miss Game 2 of the World Series. Considering the outcome, it’s probably best I went to the theatre and I’m glad I did. Ma Rainey is enjoyable and thought-provoking. It made me really listen and I think that would do a lot of us serious good in these troubled times.

Ma Rainey continues at the Stauss Theatre on the campus of Northern Kentucky University through October 30.

CCM Shines With  ‘A Chorus Line’

Review by Teddy Gumbleton of  A Chorus LineCCM Musical Theatre

For their first mainstage show, University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music’s Department of Musical Theatre is presenting A Chorus Line, the iconic musical featuring music and lyrics by Marvin Hamlisch and Edward Kleban, book by James Kirkwood and Nicholas Dante, and original direction and choreography by Michael Bennett. A Chorus Line tells the story of a group of dancers auditioning for a part in a musical. During the audition, the director, Zach, asks them to open up and slowly they reveal themselves as more than just nameless chorus members. When it opened in 1975, A Chorus Line was a massive hit, scoring 9 Tony Awards, the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, and it went one to be one of the longest running shows in Broadway history.

In many ways, A Chorus Line is an ideal undertaking for a college conservatory. It is a classic musical, with a varied cast of characters, and important choreography. It is also produced fairly regularly, which would allow the skills they learn to directly translate to future productions. But, on the other hand, A Chorus Line can be a tricky artistic endeavor because the copyright of the piece requires that all productions recreate Michael Bennett’s original choreography and staging, limiting a production’s ability to provide a unique interpretation.

In spite of these limitations, a production of A Chorus Line can distinguish itself through impeccable execution of Bennett’s choreography and by fleshing out the details that bring the characters to life. The cast of 26 students does both of these very well, nailing the choreography with much aplomb and soaring in their rich, detailed character work. Some highlights include, but are not limited to, the tender affection Al (Paul Schwensen) shows towards his wife and Mark’s (Daniel Marhelko) green earnestness.

However, there are two moments worth singling out about all other. The first is when the tremendous trio of Sheila (Kyra Christopher), Bebe (Madelaine Vandenberg), and Maggie (Areo Keller) perform “At the Ballet”. This is when each of these dancers express why they fell in love with dance. It is the first point in the show when the characters begin to reveal themselves. Christopher, Vandenberg, and Keller brought exquisite depth to the song and wonderfully set the mood for the emotional journey ahead. The other high point belongs to Christopher Kelley’s Paul. Paul initially is a quiet and reserved character. Only after being pressed by the director does he share his complicated past in a heartbreaking monologue. Kelley’s delivery might be the most affecting I have seen; he is remarkably restrained, never giving into hysterics, which makes it all the more wrenching.

Director and Choreographer Diane Lala does a terrific job of faithfully recreating Bennett’s original production. She nails the nuance of his work and reminds the audience of the genius of the original. Also worth mentioning are Lindi-Joy Wilmot’s costumes. She evokes rich character detail and subtly infuses 1970’s fashion into each piece. Matthew D. Hamel’s spare sets and Jeremy Dominik’s rich lighting work wonderfully in tandem to shape the mood of the show.

Overall CCM’s lovely production will remind you why A Chorus Line is still regarded as great musical. A Chorus Line runs through October 30 in CCM’s Patricia Corbett Theater.

People are born, People die: A Review of CCM Acting’s production of ‘Middletown’

Review by Alan Jozwiak of Middletown: CCM

The title of this article is taken from lines from Will Eno’s play Middletown and echo the main theme of the play, which director Richard Hess describes as being about “life and death—and everything in between.”  Loosely based on Thorton Wilder’s Our Town, Middletown tells the story of Mary Swanson (Sydney Ashe) who moves to Middletown ahead of her husband.  While going to the local library to get some information about her new town, she meets John Dodge (Rupert Spraul), an unemployed man who spends his time learning about various subjects, such as gravity.

The remainder of the play focuses on the journey that these two people take as they deal with issues of life and death.  Mary Swanson deals with the birth of her child and John Dodge deals with a life-threatening illness.  Along the way, we get little glimpses of life in Middletown, from tourists taking a walking tour of the town, a cop (Isaac Hickox-Young) being philosophical on his police walkie talkie, to a librarian (Mafer Del Real) dealing with a drunken Mechanic (Andrew Huyler Ramsey) in her library.

Director Richard Hess takes this rambling, word-mad play and skillfully guides his actors through the various scenes. To echo the variety of locations, the set itself was broken up into different sectors which easily become a library interior, hospital interior and exterior, and other places in Middletown.  Capitalizing on the ensemble nature of the piece, Hess makes certain his actors work together as a unit, making for a tight production.

Sydney Ashe plays the lead roles of Mary Swanson with a nice blend of earnestness and fun naiveté that works well for his role and is counterbalanced by the equally nice blend of flippancy and despair shown by Rupert Spraul as John Dodge. They work off each other effectively to move forward the scenes that they are in.  Ashe gets some great laugh lines from Dodge’s character and Dodge gets some big laughs from his self-deprecating humor.

Kudos also go out to Andrew Huyler Ramsey as The Mechanic and Nicholas Heffelfinger as The Astronaut Greg and other roles. Ramsey’s character is basically drunk during most of his scenes and he gives a strong sculpted performance in those scenes, alternating between different states of inebriation.

Similarly, Nicholas Heffelfinger provides some strong performances playing a variety of different roles.  He was strong as one of the tourists going on a walking tour of Middletown. However, he did a great job as Astronaut Greg because of the physicality of that part; Astronaut Greg is in space talking to ground control and appears to be floating in space during that scene.  It was hard to tell whether he was on a wire, but he did a great job floating above a chair ten feet up from the floor of the stage.

In short, Middletown is a different view of issues of life and death from one of the more original voices in theatre today.  It runs from October 20-22, 2016 in the CCM Cohen Family Studio Theatre. Any fan of Thom Paine (based on nothing) or The Realistic Joneses should see this show.

Dance, 10; Looks, 10: CCM‘s Chorus Line Gets a Perfect Score

ccm-chorus-lineA Chorus Line and CCM Musical Theatre Program are a perfect match.  These students LIVE these stories. They bring a passion and a pathos that is visceral, making this musical about an audition as true today as it was in 1975, when the show first hit Broadway.  Director Diane Lala’s cast delivers so many great moments in this show that it is a 10, both for dance and looks.

The story is about performers auditioning for a new dance production, and a director not only pushes them physically, but interviews them to find out just what motivates them to dance.  They are all aware that dance is a short career; twenty-six is considered old, and injury haunts them every day. Many began to dance as an escape, and they reveal that that pain is still part of them, in the very muscles that theep them moving.

The music is also amazing, and Musical Directors Roger Grodsky and Evan Roider help make each song personal and present in this iconic score. Every number delivered.

Costume designer Lindi-Joy Wilmot has captured 1970’s New York. The high-waisted pants, bell bottoms, striped shirts and dance wear provide a variety of authentic looks that many in the audience recall.  The hair and wigs by Danae R. Jimenez also captured this look; I overheard two ladies discussing they had Val and Bebe’s hair when they were younger.  While the set is mostly a bare stage with a taped line downstage, there is a big finale and scenic designer Matthew D. Hamel and lighting designer Jeremy Dominik deliver the spectacle.

Director Diane Lala and the cast 110% embrace this show, and fill the characters with believable details, such as how they hold their dance bag or pull their arms into their sleeves.  They speak with their bodies. Their stance reveals who they are:  yearning, feeling people. These characters, and the CCM students who bring them to the stage, have trained all their life to dance, sing and act—triple threats. Yet despite their talent,  their job now is to keep auditioning, competing with hundreds of others for one role, being cut because they are too short, too flat chested, too whatever, but it has nothing to do with their ability to dance.  Sigh.

This show is a 10. Each dancer can DANCE, with high kicks, great extension, and amazing moves, and each has standout moments. The only thing that is problematic is Cassie’s “The Music and the Mirror.” Is it a “dancing for your life” opportunity or an inner monologue? Either way, it feels stuck in the past.  Is it the music, the mirrors, the choreography, or the performer? You decide, when you see one of the best productions in Cincinnati.

The phenomenal cast includes: Anya Murphy Axel, Kevin Chlapecka, Kyra Christopher, Alec Cohen, Gary Cooper, EJ Dohring, Bailee Endebrock, Zoe Grolnick, Kyle Ivey, Tyler Johnson-Campion, Phillip Johnson Richardson, Derek Kastner, Areo Keller, Christopher Kelley, Brianna Latrash, Daniel Marhelko, Jackson Mattek, Hamilton Moore, Emily Kristen Morris, Kimberly Pine, Bryn Purvis, Paul Schwensen, Frankie Thams, Madelaine Vandenberg, Casey Wenger-Schulman, and Keaton Whittaker.

A Chorus Line plays through October 30.  Tickets can be purchased by calling the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music Box Office at 513-556-4183 or going to their website www.CCM.uc.edu.

Covedale‘s ‘The Foreigner’ Breaks Down Walls with Good Natured Humor

Review by Doug Iden of The Foreigner: Covedale Theater

Rodger Pille in "The Foreigner"

Rodger Pille in “The Foreigner”

Don’t be a stranger to The Foreigner which is now running at the Covedale Theater.  This very funny play is a combination of an American and British farce with a labyrinthine plot, mistaken identities, misunderstandings, hidden agendas, slamming doors, secret nooks, language barriers and mass confusion.  Even though the play may seem alien at first, you will be rewarded in the end.

Written by American Larry Shue, The Foreigner tells the story of an extremely shy, self-effacing Brit (Charlie Baker played by Rodger Pille) who accompanies his friend Froggy (Aaron Whitehead) to rural Georgia for an annual military training session which he teaches.  Charlie, married to a beautiful and very adulterous woman, is debilitated by having to socialize with anybody, especially strangers.  To avoid confrontations and the appearance of rudeness, the two men conjure up a ploy to convince the others that Charlie does not speak English.  Charlie is then introduced to Betty Meeks (Leslie Hitch), who runs the rustic fishing lodge where they are all staying, the Rev. David Lee (Daniel Cooley), Lee’s fiancé Catherine Simms (Annie Schneider), and her apparently dim-witted brother, Ellard Sims, played by Matthew Wilson.  Because of an almost stereotypical betrayal of Southern rubes, the other characters talk very freely about their activities and peccadillos in front of Charlie because they assume he cannot understand what they are saying.  They try to communicate with Charlie by yelling loudly (in English) but the young Brit remains apparently oblivious.  Many of these discussions lead to the convoluted goings-on later in the play.

However, this play, with all of its inherent silliness, has some serious undertones which elevates it beyond a standard farce.  There is a scathingly funny condemnation of xenophobia and racism as a major plot point and, as important, it depicts the characters achieving a level of self-awareness and achievement that none of them would have imagined at the start.  They begin as absurd caricatures but finish as individuals with real lives and real futures.  This is a credit to the playwright, the actors and the director Jody Meyn.

This is largely an ensemble piece but all of the action swirls around Charlie Baker and it is his performance that makes the play work.  This is a difficult role because, for almost half of the play, Charlie is mute and must rely on facial expressions, blank stares and an extraordinary ability to mime to convey his feelings and thoughts.  Rodger Pille does an excellent job of, initially, conveying a sincere goofiness at the center of the comic maelstrom but, eventually, developing a unique, likeable personality and self-actualization to which the others respond favorably.  Leslie Hitch (as lodge owner Betty Meeks) does a good comic turn and Matthew Wilson, as Ellard, convincingly transforms from a kind-hearted but largely ignored dullard into a man smarter than he thinks he is.  In one very funny (and difficult to act) scene, Charlie and Ellard mime and mimic each other during the simple task of eating breakfast.  The two characters help each other develop their real strengths.

Aaron Whitehead, as Froggy, conveys a convincing British accent, acting as the sarcastic Greek Chorus, while Daniel Cooley subtly shows his hidden and dangerous agenda.  Kyle Quinlivan is rapidly developing into a very talented addition to the Cincinnati theater scene.  I have now seen him in a variety of performances including a likable college student in the musical Baby, Jesus in  Godspell and now a racist radical in this play.

Technically, the scenery and lighting enhances the mood of the play.  The set design by Brett Bowling is very detailed and evokes a rural, rustic fishing lodge beautifully.  The set includes myriad stuffed fish, antlers, a spoon collection (from a first act joke) and a warning sign about Bigfoot which the locals probable believe in.  The lighting is effective as well during a storm, an onslaught in the second act and some legerdemain while defending the lodge.

I overheard several people in the audience on opening night comment that they were unsure about the play initially but were very glad they went.  So, grab your funny bone and see The Foreigner at the Covedale running through November 13. Tickets are available at the Covedale website, www.cincinnatilandmarkproductions.com/ccpa

Charm and Big Laughs in Covedale’s ‘The Foreigner’ Aren’t Lost in Translation

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

Rodger Pille, Lesley Hitch and Matthew Wilson in “The Foreigner”

The Covedale Center for Performing Arts’ fall production of The Foreigner has begun, and the opening night performance ended with an audience that was thoroughly laughed-out and giving a standing ovation. The Foreigner premiered at about this time of year in 1984 New York City. The show is unapologetically silly, but also maintains a very human element of wanting to make a connection with others. To feel a part of something. To feel at home.

The Foreigner tells the story of Charlie (played by Rodger Pille), a boring, British, science fiction editor who’s visiting a lodge in rural Georgia. He’s on the trip with his military friend, Froggy (played by Aaron Whitehead), as a way to forget the troubles with his sick (and very adulterous) wife back home. Charlie is terrified of interacting with people, however, and Froggy comes up with the idea of telling everyone at the lodge that Charlie is from a far off land and speaks no English as a way to get everyone to leave him alone. As you might imagine, hilarity ensues from there.

Audiences should be just a little bit patient with the show. It starts off somewhat slow with quite a bit of exposition. There’s a lot to set up and everything has a payoff, but you just have to get there. There were also some minor issues timing dialogue with a lightning/thunder sound effect in the opening scene that made it a little more difficult to get into the groove of the show.

The Foreigner is a funny show that benefits from presentational acting (as opposed to representational acting). There are times when cast members “know” that the audience is there (most notably in under-his-breath comments made by Froggy. Think Bugs Bunny holding up a sign with a screw and a ball.) But that presentational style is a little off-putting before the comedy really kicks in. Hearing about Charlie’s miserable life back home in the opening scene has no real sense of intimacy because it’s setting up for jokes down the road. It’s purposeful and it fits in with the show overall, but at the very beginning it can come off unpolished.

Rodger Pille’s performance as Charlie grows from a neurotic sad sack into a curious, fun-loving mute that eventually blossoms into a man who can only feel free when he’s NOT being himself. The relationship between Charlie and the simple-minded Ellard (strongly played by Matthew Wilson) is the highlight of the show. The first act breakfast scene between them is when the audience really starts yukking it up. Pille and Wilson have excellent timing between them, and I would imagine that their scenes will gel even more as they feed off each different audience during the show’s run.

It should be pointed out that Wilson’s performance as Ellard walks a fine line. His character is described as dim-witted and gentle, but not mentally handicapped per se. His sister, Catherine (played by Anne Schneider), is trying to see if Ellard is “smart enough” to handle getting his half of the family inheritance. Wilson’s smiling innocence and childlike movements really endear him to the audience and put a comedic spin on almost everything he says.

The cast performs on a very detailed and well-made set. Scenic Designer/Production Manager Brett Bowling’s stage has characters going into rooms upstairs and a trap-door basement. There’s a strong amount of set decoration that’s just there to add to the character of the show, and it does so without being distracting or busy.

The show “gets real” at the climax when members of the KKK show up, but even that confrontation stays in the vein of the light-hearted comedy that the audience has been enjoying throughout. Because it is the KKK, there are some sinister racial statements made, but nothing that’s blatantly racist. There is also some cursing in the show that didn’t seem to bother the opening night audience (which appeared to be all adults), but anyone considering bringing children should be aware of it.

Much like the character of Charlie, The Foreigner is a show that gradually casts off its hangups and has some real fun for a couple of hours, and it invites you to come along and do the same.

The Foreigner plays at the Covedale Theatre through November 13. Tickets are available at the Covedale website, www.cincinnatilandmarkproductions.com/ccpa