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Find Sanctuary with Carnegie’s Hunchback


Review by Jack Crumley of The Hunchback of Notre DameThe Carnegie

The new year means it’s time for The Carnegie’s annual family-friendly show, and this year’s production will really ring your bell. Disney’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame hit movie theatres in 1996, directed by Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise with music by Alan Menken. It adapts the original novel by Victor Hugo, telling the story of Quasimodo, a deformed bell-ringer who lives the Notre Dame cathedral in 15th century France. He’s kept there by Dom Frollo, a zealot who makes Quasimodo believe he’s inferior and inherently corrupt. Both men are infatuated with Esmeralda, a traveling gypsy. Also in the mix is Captain Phoebus, assigned to cathedral security after serving in the French army. He and Esmeralda are falling in love, but Frollo’s jealousy and religious mania lead to her arrest and death sentence. Quasimodo saves her and takes revenge on his abusive master, but at a high price.

In the years that followed the film’s debut, the story was adapted for the stage in Germany, and it ultimately led to a licensable work in the US. This 2019 production at the Carnegie is directed and choreographed by Kurt Domoney with music direction by Xan Jeffery. This show is also made possible by a special set sponsorship by Kroener, Hale & Penick Law Firm.

The set is stunning. All-wood beams create the rafters and staircases in the bell tower of Notre Dame. The stairs are also on wheels and are frequently moved and rotated during musical performances for a great dramatic effect. The show’s lighting helps set various moods, from a beautiful projection of a stained glass window, to a somber, purple lighting for more serious moments. Scenic Designer Theron Wineinger and Lighting Designer Larry Csernik’s work creates an emotionally stirring production.

Telling the story on that set is an excellent cast. Kyle Taylor plays Quasimodo, a character who’s really living two lives–one in public where he’s mocked and feared by people over his physical handicaps, the other in private where he can sing of his passions and fears to a variety of gargoyles and statues he lives with on the roof of the church. Taylor seamlessly transitions between these two modes, and his voice resonates through the theatre as he emotes some very challenging musical numbers. I most recently saw Taylor in Covedale’s The Wizard of Oz, where, as the Emerald City doorman and Oz himself, his physicality was on full display. In this show, too, Taylor carries himself in different ways, depending on whether or not any other characters can see him. Also, there wasn’t a single sour note from Taylor throughout the entire opening night production, but he truly shines in the Act I song “Heaven’s Light.”

Also bringing a beautiful voice to The Carnegie stage is Ria Villaver Collins as Esmeralda. Collins’ Esmeralda is at times an energetic dancer, a compassionate sympathizer, and a fierce defender. She’s the center of attention any time she’s on stage, and she’s a joy to watch. Like Taylor, Collins’ singing skills are outstanding, especially as she sings for heavenly intervention in the lullaby-like “God Help the Outcasts.” She’s also a graceful dancer, with her debut in the show an extended tambourine dance number. At one point, it becomes a slow motion performance and Collins swaps her colorful scarves for rigid fabric to give the illusion that time has slowed. It’s a subtle effect that doesn’t last long, but I found it very effective. 

Playing the villainous Frollo is Mike Sherman. Like his turn last year as Jud Fry in Oklahoma! at the Covedale, Sherman never takes his character over-the-top. I would’ve liked to have seen more overt menace from him, but Frollo’s character is so internally conflicted that he almost has to keep it all inside. It’s no easy task playing such a flawed human as “The Bad Guy.” Frollo believes himself to be righteous, but he can’t deny his attraction to Esmeralda. It twists him inside, and Sherman’s chemistry with Collins is intense. 

It’s interesting to watch this story through a lens that’s more aware of “toxic masculinity” on a societal level. Esmeralda is purely in town to dance and be with her people. Frollo is attracted to her, and can’t handle it, and makes his emotional failings her fault. Quasimodo, through his years of abuse and solitude, is similarly unequipped to handle even the slightest bit of kindness from Esmeralda. He thinks himself in love with her, but he doesn’t take it to the life-threatening degree that Frollo does. 

Jackson Hurt’s Captain Phoebus finds himself a part of this emotional mix. Even though he’s the gallant hero (which Hurt plays well with a necessary bit of tenderness and rebelliousness), he’s almost a secondary character in the Quasimodo, Frollo, Esmeralda triangle. All the other characters are handled by the chorus, which is split between youth, teens, and adults. When they’re all singing those big, Menken choruses, their voices fill the space. The bulk of them play the gargoyles and statues that Quasimodo “talks” with. In the movie, it’s three colorful gargoyles who get the most attention, but having them as a larger group adds to how tragically disturbed Quasimodo is. It’s a new layer to the story that I don’t think gets the same attention when it’s the three from the movie. Backing up the already admirable chorus is a choir that takes up part of the balcony in the audience. The Young Professionals Choral Collective adds a richness to the production.

This show fully exceeded my expectations. The remarkable set combined with a strong cast, technical cues, special effects, and excellent vocals created a truly enjoyable experience. And even though there’s so much detail and thought put in to this production, it still requires a bit of theatrical imagination on the part of the audience during the climax, which I appreciate. It’s a family-friendly adaptation of a Disney film, though words like “hell” are said a few times (“heaven” is said and sung a few times as well). Whether you’re familiar with the 1996 film or not, The Hunchback of Notre Dame is an excellent production.

The Hunchback of Notre Dame plays at the Carnegie Friday, Saturday, and Sunday through January 27. Tickets are available here.

Carnegie’s “Hunchback of Notre Dame” Takes the Disney Version to New Heights

Review by Doug Iden of The Hunchback of Notre Dame: The Carnegie Theatre

What would it be like to be isolated, ostracized and ridiculed?  This is the primary theme of the Hunchback of Notre Dame which is currently playing at The Carnegie.  The show is partly based upon the Victor Hugo masterpiece and partly on the Disney animated version. However, the scope of this version lies between the brutally realistic Hugo novel and the somewhat sanitized and romanticized Disney treatment. Using the songs written by Alan Menken and lyricist Stephen Schwartz, with many newly written tunes by the duo, this rendition is much more dramatic, darker and operatic than the animated film.  

We are introduced to the lonely, mostly deaf Quasimodo who functions as the bell ringer in the tower and is considered a “monster” by Archdeacon Frollo (Mike Sherman).  Quasimodo longs for friendship and companionship as he sings his theme “Out There”. He imagines that the gargoyles of the gothic flying buttresses and the various statues are friends with whom he communicates.  The “gargoyles” are played by the Youth Ensemble of Ruby Brooks, Ava Kroener, Ben Meyer, Robert Wilke and Athena Updike dressed in costumes with horns and wings with a Teen Ensemble acting as the statues. Both the gargoyles and statues act as a Greek Chorus which sometimes talks with Quasimodo, speaks for him or commentates on the action.  

Kyle Taylor inhabits Quasimodo as a fearful but poignant outcast who is cowered by Frollo but daydreams of attending the Feast of Fools.  The crowd turns on the “monster” but Quasimodo is rescued by a gypsy dancer named Esmeralda (Ria Villaver Collins). Esmeralda is the only person who has shown compassion towards Quasimodo and the hunchback is immediately smitten.  Their bond is heard in Esmeralda’s theme song “God Help the Outcasts,” a heart wrenching plea for acceptance sung passionately by Collins. Frollo also becomes enchanted with Esmeralda despite his vow of chastity. Sherman is physically intimidating as Frollo but does not convincingly exude the pious but narrowminded evil of the character.  Skyler McNeely, as Clopin the Gypsy King, serves as a narrator, a comic relief and a host of the gypsy revelries with an excellent voice.

A newly appointed captain of the guard for the cathedral (Captain Phoebus played by Jackson Hurt) also becomes smitten with Esmeralda which leads to a love quartet and ultimately to the dramatic ending.  

This show is a musical extravaganza using pre-recorded music.  There is a large cast with a chorus seated in the balcony with almost continuous music.  The voices, overall, are excellent, led by Taylor, Sherman, Collins and Hurt, but capably augmented by other cast members, the various ensembles and the chorus.  The song “The Bells of Notre Dame” (from the film) sets the tone with a minor-key, dramatic rendering of the story, with a leitmotif occurring throughout. Quasimodo’s “Out There” is exuberant and heartfelt while Captain Phoebus’ theme “Rest and Recreation” displays his love of life.  Hurt has a good voice and is effective as the eventual love interest of Esmeralda. Other highlights are “Top of the World” where Quasimodo describes his view of Paris from the tower, “The Tavern Song” which shows the gypsy society, “In the Place of Miracles” where the gypsies describe their hopes for the future and the poignant “Someday” where Quasimodo and Esmeralda dream of a better life.  

The set is also a marvel (on a relatively small stage) designed by Theron Wineinger.  Constructed entirely of wood, the set is a series of stairs and platforms representing the upper tower with bells in the background and actors walking around the moveable set.  The effect is the creation of many different scenes on a static stage. The set almost becomes a character.

Lighting (Larry Csernik) also adds to the mood of the set with a combination of a “noir” feeling, blood-red emotions and an interesting effect with the light from the stained-glass windows superimposed onto the wooden structure.  

Credit also goes to Jim Stump who has designed a tremendous variety of costumes ranging from the gargoyles and statues, period pieces, very colorful gypsy outfits, Quasimodo’s hunchback. monk’s robes and Frollo’s archdeacon garb.

The director and choreographer Kurt Domoney has done a yeoman’s job of coordinating this large cast and chorus including adults, teens and youngsters.   Actors moved seamlessly throughout the show while dancing, singing, acting and constantly maneuvering the set. Two gypsy dance scenes are exuberant and fun, highlighted by the dancing of Collins.

The show is not what I expected.  I thought this would be a “Disneyfied” romance from the film (especially since this the family friendly Carnegie show).  I was pleased and impressed by this version which is much more powerful, meatier and more adult while still maintaining the charm of the film.  The singing alone is worth the price of admission.So, don’t Quasi-consider going to this production.  This show is for all ages. The production runs through January 27.  The next show at The Carnegie is the exuberant celebration of big band music with Swing.

Know’s “Red Bike” Takes Audiences on Unexpected Paths

Review by Jenifer Moore of “Red Bike”: Know Theatre

Red Bike”, by playwright Caridad Svich, is a soul-evoking magical journey of commiserating over life’s choices and responses to its circumstances at the onset of its opening. While the title of the play leads you to believe that you are seeing a story related to Cincinnati’s own public bicycle sharing system, you are wrong.

Directed by Holly L. Deer, the seventy-minute production is a part of the Know Theatre of Cincinnati’s 21st season exploring the concept of Fear Itself and how one can succumb or overcome it.

One should take a breath as the protagonists A and M explore their futures through child and adult eyes and the makings of success. The exhilaration of riding a bike, in this case red, and sharing your future dreams with a childhood pal fuels the majority of the play while opening a window to see how a parent’s own deferred dreams can change the course of ones lives forever.

Cast members Maliyah Gramata-Jones and Montez O. Jenkins-Copeland combine grace, skill, wittiness and soul to bring the ideals of a tale of two cities to the forefront–the haves and the have nots and old days versus new day–that moves audience members to think about their own life choices and determine if they can accomplish their dreams or settle for something more practical. The fact that they are African-American puts another spin on what it means to “make it”, forcing audience members to explore the concept of success through a myriad of cultural lenses. The choice of Noelle Wedig-Johnston and Rebecca Armstrong choice to streamline the set with costumes that are authentic and fresh show that checks (Nike) and stripes (Adidas) can coexist in one uniform, while nearly 40 boxes on a barren black canvas allow audience members to focus solely on the dynamic performance that is offered by Jones and Jenkins-Copeland.

Red Bike” brings home the point that life is hard, and it is very difficult to say how one’s life will turn out from a child’s age. Choices that people make and circumstances beyond their control can dictate the course of any journey. Yet, “Red Bike” reminds the audience that while there are twists and turns to life and it can come with its own fears, it is to be lived. You may fall off said bike, not once but many times, but you should always get back up and ride again. “Red Bike” proves that while dreams can be deferred, you should never stop believing in them. And even if you do fall off the bike, you can always get back up and ride again.
Red Bike is currently showing at the Know Theatre on its Mainstage until Feb. 2, 2019. Tickets can be purchased by calling the box office at (513) 300-5669 or during the hours of 11am – 5pm Tuesday through Friday and one hour before showtime on show days.

Know’s “Red Bike” is a Poetic and Exhilarating Ride Back into Childhood

Know Theatre presents RED BIKE featuring Montez O. Jenkins-Copeland (left) and Maliyah
Gramata-Jones. Dan R. Winters Photography Theatre

Review by Liz Eichler of “Red Bike”: Know Theatre
Remember when you were young and you had a bike, and you would go fast, past trees and houses, feeling the wind whipping at you and anything was possible?
Know Theatre’s production of “Red Bike” brings back those moments of exhilaration—and a little bit of fear. Fear of losing control, fear of growing up–all neatly packed and shipped into the Rolling World Premiere Production of Caridad Svich’s “Red Bike,” running through February 2. Treat yourself to a 70-minute performance to make you feel and remember what it was like when anything was possible—to grow up and be a firefighter, or even a helicopter.
This is a powerful ride through your memories, told non-linearly, with the poetry of word and movement. Directed (and choreographed?) deftly by Holly L. Derr, it is the story of an 11-year old in those moments before a bike crash, when you know you are training for the tour de France (because
you will be in it someday), because anything is possible, despite what mom or the old man on the bus say.
The lithe Montez O. Jenkins-Copeland and malleable Maliyah Gramata-Jones own the stage and move in and out of characters with ease and humor. The stage is scattered with many Amazon packing boxes, which they pile, manipulate, and accent the story. Parts of assorted bikes are scattered on the stage, some used throughout the play, but the only complete bike is in our memory—kudos to Andrew
Hungerford for Scenery and Lighting.
The only question I have is the repetitive sound breaks between the scenes, wishing there were more variety in the sound itself or perhaps varying the location of the sound break, in this space in our head.
So go back in time and race through the streets of your childhood again, see this moving homage to your first freedom on wheels, before life and things cluttered things up.

Tickets to “Red Bike” are available at knowtheatre.com or 513-300-5669.

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.