“The Drowning Girls” at Clifton is Eerie and Powerful

Review by Liz Eichler of Drowning Girls: Clifton Performance Theatre

Perfect for the season (and voyeuristic murder-theme podcast junkies), The Drowning Girls is a beautiful but disturbing story of three brides who trusted the wrong man.

The three performers are already luxuriously bathing (clad in Victorian underwear) in cast iron tubs when you enter the performance space.  The tubs are filled with steaming water, and that water defines the play. It is the water of life and death. It has rhythm. It has purpose.  It even has humor.

In the early 1900’s, three different women were murdered in their bath tubs, three young brides, asphyxiated by water while the groom gets away with it, over and over. The play focuses on how he systematically manipulated these women, possibly more, and how they were eagerly duped. The narrative is non-linear, and the actresses hop in an out of characters, including the brides, the groom, parents, shopkeepers, cleaning women, doctor, and detective. Director Bridget Leak choreographs the play wonderfully, focusing the ebbs and flows of the language and action with polished precision.

Mindy Heithaus, Eileen Earnest, and Carol Brammer are powerful local performers, femme fatales even, but here, they are the victims speaking volumes in death. They bravely perform sans makeup, dripping wet, fluidly moving in and around the tubs the whole evening. They are strong, beautiful, and talented. Earnest’s detective and Heithaus’s doctor also highlight their comedic skills.

The set is stark, with cast iron tubs and a red carpet.  Lighting captures the performers’ angles and paleness. The white gowns and accessories are beautiful. I wonder if the production team considered turning it up a notch, increasing the haunted house vibe to add to the spookiness of the season. We are, after all, watching ghosts tell their beautiful, unsettling, lyrical story. Perhaps they realized the words are more frightening than screams and a fog machine.

Go see Drowning Girls and be open to a new kind of haunting. Written in 2009 by Canadians Beth Graham, Charlie Tomlinson and Daniela Vlaskalicy, it is based on a true story. (George Joseph Smith was hanged for the murders in 1915.)

ADDRESS: Liberty Exhibition Hall, 3938 Spring Grove Avenue, Cincinnati (their new Northside location!)

DATES: October 27-Nov. 11

CONTACT:  drowninggirls.brownpapertickets.com or

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