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.

Falcon Faces the Repercussions of Racism in Master Harold…And the Boys

Review by Laurel Humes of Master Harold…And the Boys: Falcon Theatre

Racism – personal and institutional – is explored in Falcon Theatre’s excellent production of Athol Fugard’s acclaimed play Master Harold …And the Boys.

It is 1950 in Port Elizabeth, South Africa. Apartheid, the country’s system of legal racial segregation and discrimination, had formally begun in 1948, and would continue until 1991. Fugard’s play was produced in 1982 on Broadway – initially banned in South Africa.

Those facts are important as background, because Master Harold is not a history lesson. At first, you would hardly guess there’s a dark cloud of legal racism hanging over the lives of the three characters.

Willie (Deondra Kamau Means) and Sam (Ken Early) work at the tea room owned by 17-year-old Hally’s (Rupert Daniel Spraul) parents. Willie and Sam are middle-aged black men. Hally – the Master Harold of the play’s title – is white. Willie and especially Sam have cared for Hally his whole life.

The entire play takes place on a rainy afternoon when Hally returns from school. Much of the conversation is a warm reminiscence between Sam and Hally – when they flew a kite together, the schoolwork they’ve always done together. And the time Sam helped Hally rescue his publicly drunk father.

Sam is clearly the father figure to Hally, whose own war-injured, alcoholic father is currently in the hospital. But in a series of phone calls from his mother, Hally learns his father is coming home. Now the drinking, fighting and constant caregiving will resume.

That is the emotional turning point of the play. Hally has no power over his own circumstances. But, just because he is white in 1950 in South Africa, he has power over Sam. Hally turns his anger on Sam, with words and then a hateful gesture that produces a gasp from the audience.

The actors in Falcon’s Master Harold are superb. Spraul, still an acting student at CCM, more than holds his own with the more experienced Early and Means. The role encompasses a range of adolescent but real emotions, from cocky to frightened to furious. Spraul makes them all believable.

Early plays Sam with dignity and love. He brings the audience with him as he experiences shock, hurt and his own anger when Hally turns on him. We see his internal struggle to move past the hateful encounter toward – maybe – reconciliation.

The playwright must have known his audiences would need some comic relief, so he created Willie. Means makes the most of the physical and scripted comedy he is given. He also shows us a 1950’s South African man who is always aware of his “place” – he is the one who continually addresses Hally as Master Harold.

The May 11 show was unexpectedly special, as director Ted Weil arranged for pre-show remarks by Dr. Eric Jackson, associate professor of history at Northern Kentucky University. Dr. Jackson was joined post-show by the cast, with audience members also invited to join the discussion. Since that was a one-night-only event, I continue to urge Falcon to include director’s notes in its program in the belief that an educated audience is a better one.

Master Harold … And the Boys continues at Falcon Theatre, 636 Monmouth St., Newport, through May 20. Go to www.falcontheatre.net for ticket information.

CSC’s The Tempest Plays With Magic And Moving On

Review by Liz Eichler of The Tempest: Cincinnati Shakespeare Company

Nick Rose right) and Geoffrey Warren Barnes II in “The Tempest”

There are many reasons you should get to Shakespeare’s The Tempest, playing through May 20 at Cincinnati Shakespeare Company. Yes, it is their last show on Race Street, before they move into their beautiful new home in Washington Park, but above these sentimental reasons, it is a clear and marvelous telling of Shakespeare’s tale of love, magic, and forgiveness.

The directors’ concept is treating the stage as a stage, the actors as players, and cover them with the materials of theatricality. Muslin, the fabric of first drafts of costumes, as well as sails, is featured. The walls are covered with it and the sea is built with it. The solitary “ghost lamp” starts and ends the play, reminding us we are in a theatre. Nick Rose enters and crosses, showing us a book of Shakespeare’s plays, a wink, and a smile. And then we are off with a bang.

Rose becomes Prospero, and has fun with the character. He talks to us, the audience. He lets us in on his plot to find his daughter a worthy husband (Crystian Wilsthire is a charming prince Ferdinand). He shows a tenderness to daughter Miranda (the sweet Aiden Sims) and powerful connection with his servant, the sprite Ariel. Kaitlin McWethy as Ariel has imbued Ariel with a fluidness and light. Her physical transformation transfixes the audience. Prospero’s other servant is Caliban, played close to the ground by Geoffrey Warren Barnes II, an earthly lizard-like beast.

The Tempest is a play about the magical Prospero, who conjures up a storm to lure a boat carrying key players that not only removed his dukedom, but forced him and his daughter to spend the last 12 years on this semi-deserted island. Washed ashore are King Alonso (Jim Hopkins), the usurping Duke Antonia (Kelly Mengelkoch), advisor Gonzalo (Paul Riopelle), and plotter Sebastian (Kyle Brumley). Also on the boat are assorted mariners, the jester Trinculo (Justin McCombs), and the drunken butler, Stephano (Billy Chace). McCombs and Chace, once again, demonstrate why they are Cincinnati’s reigning comedy kings.

The story and actors come together because of the magical direction of the team of Sara Clark, Jeremy Dubin and Brian Isaac Phillips. They spin this tale to make it accessible to audiences old and young, for example, helping Prospero conjure up characters to punctuate the exposition. We understand the different stories, who is who and why. The directors highlight the enchantments on the island, never letting us forget there is magic, especially through the use of light, music, and movement. Kudos to illusionists Doug Borntrager (projections and sound), and Justen N. Locke (lighting).

The theme of the play is forgiveness. Starting afresh. Moving on. Celebrating who we are now, and dancing for hope of the future. Was this Race Street home their muslin mock-up, the rough draft for the wonders to come? “O, brave new world!” Make sure you are one of the “beauteous” people to say good bye to this space and join them in the new. Call now for tickets 513-381-2273. Seats are selling fast, www.cincyshakes.com.

CSC’s Tempest Ends Its Season with a Bang Before Heading to a Brave New World

Review by Doug Iden of The Tempest: Cincinnati Shakespeare Company

Nick Rose (right) and Caitlin McWethy in “The Tempest”

The Cincinnati Shakespeare Company triumphantly opened its final show at its current Race Street location in tempestuous fashion with one of Shakespeare’s last plays, The Tempest. The play tells the story of sorcerer Prospero (Nicholas Rose), the rightful Duke of Milan, who is set adrift with his daughter Miranda (Aiden Sims) and, years later, plots revenge against his usurpers. Using magic, he conjures an immense storm and tricks his nemesis brother (re-named Antonia and played by Kelly Mengelkoch) and King of Naples Alonso (Jim Hopkins) into thinking that they have been marooned on the island as well. The dispenser of his magical charms is sprite Ariel (played intriguingly by Caitlin McWethy) who shadows most of the characters unseen by all but Prospero. Three interwoven stories are told with Prospero playing matchmaker with Miranda and Ferdinand (Alonso’s son played by Crystian Wiltshire). His ministrations succeed admirably. In the second story, deformed island native Caliban (a slave of Prospero portrayed mischievously by Geoffrey Warren Barnes II) plots with jester Trinculo (Justin McCombs) and drunken butler Stephano (Billy Chace) to perform a coup against Prospero. The third scenario details Sebastian (Kyle Brumley) and Antonia’s attempt to replace Alonso as the king. Ariel, at Prospero’s bidding, foils all of the coup attempts and, eventually, earns her freedom.

The Shakespeare Company has an advantage in that it is a resident group of actors who work together year round which is reflected in the ease with which they interact. There are some outstanding performances including Rose as Prospero who is both a character and a narrator and McWethy as Ariel who is part sprite, part enchantress and part scene stealer. Barnes has an interesting take on Caliban with reptilian mannerisms and an undefinable accent. But the stage really lights up when McCombs (as Trinculo) and Chace (Stephano) cavort in various states of drunkenness, often in contrast with Caliban’s monstrosity. All are directed by the triumvirate of Sara Clark, Jeremy Dubin and Brian Isaac Phillips.

Identified variously as a Romance and/or a Comedy, The Tempest boasts villainous action, romantic love and slapstick buffoonery in equal proportions. This mixture makes this an unusual and interesting Shakespearian play.

But the really interesting aspect of the show is the staging (designed by Shannon Robert) which is a combination of modern technology and some very old-fashioned theatrical tricks such as using sheets manipulated by actors to simulate waves. As you walk into the theater, there is a bare stage flanked by shabby sail material against the aisle walls. The play opens with a single light and recordings of numerous well-known Shakespearean quotes from other shows. Suddenly, the storm starts and we see projections of waves on the walls accompanied by the clash of thunder and actors simulating the rocking of the ship. Throughout the show, we see numerous surreal projections adding to the eeriness and effective use of many small lights hanging from the ceiling above the audience, all designed and controlled by Justen Locke. At the end of the play, the actors strip the canvas from the walls and the play reverts to a black stage with the actors out of costume and in street clothes. It seems to be an ending to the era of the current theater.

So don’t let a little Stormy Weather inhibit you and enjoy The Tempest, presented by the Cincinnati Shakespeare Company through May 20.

Covedale Gloriously Revives Musical Favorite My Fair Lady

Review by Doug Iden of My Fair Lady: Covedale Theatre

“I have often walked down this street before” and the journey has always been glorious as My Fair Lady opened at the Covedale Theater. Based upon George Bernard Shaw’s social satire Pygmalion, My Fair Lady is considered by many (myself included) to be one of the greatest musicals every written. The story shows Professor Henry Higgins’ attempt to transform a cockney flower girl (Eliza Doolittle) into a refined, high society lady by changing her dialect and her manner of speech. During the process, both Higgins and Doolittle are transformed in ways that neither could imagine.

Linguist Higgins (Brent Alan Burington), a product of the British caste system, is an arrogant, self-absorbed bachelor who is wedded to his work and views Eliza only as a challenge and not as a person. Eliza (Sarah Viola) is initially awed by the opulence and privileges of the upper class but, gradually, finds her voice and her own inner strength and eventually stands up to Higgins’ bullying tactics.

This is as perfectly integrated musical with Alan Jay Lerner’s clever and insightful lyrics propelling the story accompanied by Frederick Loewe’s melodic score. The play starts with the song “Why Can’t the English” in which Higgins decries the various English dialects which keep people in their societal niches. All of Higgins’ songs are patter songs which were originally “sung” by non-singer Rex Harrison. We hear the thoughts of the primary characters through song soliloquies including “I’m an Ordinary Man”, “Just You Wait” and “Hymn to Him”. This is one of the best scores ever written for a musical.

Burington portrays Higgins as a slightly more aggressive and boisterous character than we are used to seeing and it works well because Viola’s Eliza is also more assertive, so the battle of wills takes on a delicious fervor. Viola is excellent as Eliza with an extraordinary voice singing “I Could Have Danced All Night”, one of the big hits of the show, and “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly?” among others. Another highlight is local veteran Matt Dentino portraying Alfred Doolittle, Eliza’s hedonistic father. Dentino steals every scene in which he appears with over the top renditions of the extraordinarily clever “With a Little Bit of Luck” and the ironically rueful “I’m Getting Married in the Morning”. Dave Wilson plays a besotted and innocently naïve Freddy Eynsford-Hill who slavers in his devotion to Eliza by singing the classic “On the Street Where You Live” in a pleasant, tenor voice. Gregory Bossler plays Higgins’ friend Colonel Pickering who functions both as a co-conspirator with Higgins and an ameliorating counterpart for Eliza. The large ensemble cast, who variously play cockney laborers and upper class snobs, is universally good with a few playing supporting characters such as Brandon Bentley (Zoltan Karpathy) and Mary Puetz (Mrs. Higgins). All are good singers.

Maggie Perrino has choreographed simple but alternately energetic and elegant dance routines ranging from the cockney workers to the sumptuous Embassy waltz number.

The set is detailed, functional and effective. Three set pieces (designed by Brett Bowling) have faces which, when turned by one-third, represent Higgins’ study, a street scene and some other interiors. There is a lot of detail in Higgin’s study with book-lined walls, a staircase, a second floor and a workspace including elocution and recording equipment, a bust of Shakespeare and several medical charts.

Caren Young must have busted the budget with an array of costumes including working clothes, upper class suits and dresses, formal dance apparel and several gorgeous gowns worn by Eliza. Due to the large cast, there are a lot of costumes.

Tim Perrino (the Covedale’s Artistic Director) directs his self-proclaimed favorite musical with fast moving abandon, drawing good performances from the principal leads. My only quibble is that the horn section of the band may need more practice.

On a personal note, My Fair Lady was the first professional musical I ever saw and, at a New Year’s Eve matinee at the Shubert Theater in Chicago, I fell in love with musicals in general and My Fair Lady in particular.

So, if you want to see a good production of a marvelous musical, Dance all Night on the Street Where the Covedale Lives continuing through May 21. Tickets are available by calling 513-241-6550 or going to the Covedale website, www.cincinnatilandmarkproductions.com/ccpa

Have a Whopper, Pull Out the Stopper, and Get to the Covedale‘s My Fair Lady on Time

Review by Jack Crumley of My Fair Lady: Covedale Center for the Performing Arts

It’s the end of the season, and Tim Perrino & Co are going out on a high note. Featuring some of the best songs in American musical theatre history, My Fair Lady is easily the most ambitious production at Covedale Center for the Performing Arts this year.

My Fair Lady boasts one of the best Broadway pedigrees, ever. Originally a play by George Bernard Shaw, the show as a musical languished in development for years before Lerner and Loewe were able to adapt it properly. It’s the show Rex Harrison won his second Tony for and it’s also where a young Julie Andrews was discovered.

For Covedale audiences, Brent Alan Burington commands in the role of Henry Higgins, the brilliant-but-cold phonetics expert trying to train Eliza Doolittle to act and speak like a woman of high society. Sarah Viola returns to the Covedale stage as Eliza, and brings not only her elegant, powerful singing voice, but also her raucous, Cockney-accented shrieks. Higgins’ cohort and the source of Doolittle’s moral support is Colonel Pickering, played by Gregory Bossler. His good-natured demeanor and solid comedic timing are a perfect balance for Higgins’ all-consuming drive and lack of social grace.

As strong as the lead actors are, the entire cast deserves credit for how well they work together. It’s only fitting that a show about the beauty and power of the spoken word features a cast with such extraordinary voices. Burington, Viola, and Bossler each have a unique tone, but they all blend very well with the ensemble members of the cast during group numbers like “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly?” and “You Did It.” The ensemble should be praised for all playing charming, unique background characters that never go so far as to steal interest away from the main action.

Special recognition goes to Matt Dentino. No one is having more fun than he is playing Eliza’s father, Alfred Doolittle. He’s a pleasure to watch cut loose singing “With a Little Bit of Luck” and “Get Me to the Church on Time,” and he steals every scene he’s in.

A somewhat regular issue at Covedale can be the acoustics, but there were no problems with sound whatsoever on My Fair Lady’s opening night. Every cast member could be understood, whether they had a microphone or not. It’s an impressive feat given the sheer volume of dialogue and lyrics the cast members have to deliver. Burington’s Higgins has the lion’s share, and he handled it all quite confidently. Viola has the task of both speaking and singing in multiple accents over the course of the show, and it was fun to hear how she transformed her voice from an obnoxious, ignorant flower girl into a classy, self-assured woman. The live band led by Xan Jeffery is a welcome addition for this show as well. Again, the sound quality was great and there was never a time when the words were drowned out.

Covedale’s My Fair Lady is impressive beyond the cast and how eloquently they speak and sing. Brett Bowling’s set is his best work of the year. The pieces and flats that take the audience to the streets of Edwardian London look almost like 3D pencil sketches. They give the stage a storybook feel, and it helps focus attention on the actors. There’s a great contrast when we travel inside the home of Henry Higgins. Two of the side set pieces rotate and the flats slide open to reveal a more detail-oriented space. From the extensive bookshelves to the complicated, practically steampunk-style audio equipment, it’s like stepping inside Higgins’ head. Another rotation and the addition of some trellises turn the stage into opening day at the Ascot Gavotte. The set for the embassy ball at the end of Act I isn’t extremely opulent, but one of the rotating set pieces has a staircase that impressively slides out and into place for Eliza to descend and command the room.

Also to be praised is the costume work by Caren Young and Heather McKernan. The tan suit that Higgins wears for most of the show is spot on. Eliza’s flower girl dress is obviously reminiscent of what Audrey Hepburn wore in the film, and her dress at the Ascot is stunning. The ensemble cast has to switch looks from poor laborers to butlers and maids to high society, and none of their looks ever felt out of place.

There was no one in the audience left wanting by the end. This production is sponsored by Arnold and Mary Jo Barnett, and they were in attendance on opening night. Within seconds of the start of curtain call, they were both on their feet, and the rest of the audience soon followed. I’ve spent the 2017 season sitting next to the same group of three ladies, regular season ticket holders. They all agreed that Covedale saved the best for last.

My Fair Lady plays Thursdays through Sundays until May 21. Tickets are available by calling 513-241-6550 or going to the Covedale website, www.cincinnatilandmarkproductions.com/ccpa

Sound and Fury are Part of Listening for the Light at Know Theatre

Review by Ken Stern of Listen for the Light: Know Theatre

What’s more improbable than history, the actual lives lived in the past? Who would believe a story of a visiting angel telling a man to dig up gold plates that have holy text inscribed on them and creating a whole new religion from that? That is the truth Mormons tell of Joseph Smith and his starting their religious movement.

It is hard to believe that Joseph Smith would embrace an escaped slave, invite him to be one of his 17 apostles and make him a trusted adviser. That is not historical. It is the tale Kara Lee Corthron spins in her play, Listen for the Light, playing at the Know Theatre through May 13.

See this world premiere production and admire the strong acting talent Cincinnati theatres have nourished. Outstanding performances are delivered by Darnell Pierre Benjamin as Eli, Josh Katawick as Joseph, and Tess Talbot as Lula. The three are an ensemble cast, and each play multiple roles, but they shine as their main characters. Tamara Winter deserves credit for her direction. She does much more than keep the cast in motion.

Eli is an escaped slave in the Frederick Douglass mold: smart, thoughtful, religious, ethical, striving for justice, and burdened by the personal tragedy of the deaths of his wife and daughter, who died on their journey north. His is a quiet power, expressed in facial expressions and gestures.

Katawick’s Smith has a fierce integrity, even as he questions his own faith and wonders if he is a prophet or a fraud. Like Benjamin, Katawick twists up his face as he looks skyward, imploring God. His is a more explosive and spirited performance, but it is always authentic to the character portrayed.

Talbot’s Lula, a 17 year old pioneer daughter, is an animated, quick talking, wear-her-heart-and-her-head-on-her sleeve virgin. Tapped by Smith to be his 43rd wife, Smith has entrusted her to Eli’s care until the spirit of the lord moves in her to accept Smith’s proposal. But while the backwoods teen is illiterate, she has as much integrity as her fellow protagonists. She is truly waiting for God’s voice to tell her He wants her to be Smith’s bride. And the voice doesn’t come. Not in Act I.

The action takes place in and around a sturdy, well planked interior of a log cabin, alternatively Eli’s home and the town store. Pegs adorn the walls from which costume changes hang. This seems shoehorned into the left half of the stage. The right half is open, the back wall serving as a screen for grainy black and white film clips that match the scene. These clips are as varied as Eli’s baby and a wolf in the wild. (Doug Borntrager designed sound and video.)

While Lula awaits word from above, the people of Nauvoo, Illinois are about to run the Mormons out of town. Smith catalyzes this action by ordering his followers to destroy a printing press and torch the building. That fire washes over the audience, courtesy of Andrew Hungerford’s usual stellar lighting design. Smith eventually is taken to jail, a death sentence when a mob breaks in. The blood appearing on his shirt is a great touch made possible by designers Sarah Beth Hall (scenic and prop design) and Noelle Wedig (costume design).

This all sounds serious, and is, but there are plenty of opportunities to laugh. Among the many minor characters are two of Smith’s wives, played by Benjamn and Katawick. Their head-to-toe brown cloaks, heads covered by bonnets, cannot hide their height or maleness. Their appearances prime the audience to smile, which is coached into laughter by the wives’ conversations and caricature actions. Playwright Corthron may need to rethink the balance of breaking tension with distracting attention from the plot.

But credit Corthron for weaving miracles into the script and the design team for creating the expanding light and swirling smoke, which pulls Lula out of the cabin, making the miracle real. That is only one of the production’s miracles. But this story, which is religious for each of its main characters in ways uniquely authentic to each, has Eli saved from a dire fate saved by a less obvious miracle.

In a flashback near the end, Smith baptizes Eli, and, symbolically, his wife and daughter, telling Eli “They’re saved. And so are you. [a pause] You don’t believe me.” Eli’s reply: “I trust no man.” And Joseph’s response: “Trust God. If I give you nothing else in this life, I want to give you hope.”

The real Joseph Smith’s creation of a religious movement must have come from his ability to give people hope even as he spun tales of angels and buried golden tablets. Corthron is true to that version of the Mormon founder. Her characters, like real people are battered. They also hold on to hope. The entire cast and production crew is true to the vision presented in this world premiere.

The show continues through May 13, Wednesdays through Sundays (matinee performances), A pre-show brunch is an option on April 30th. Tickets can be purchased at 513-300-KNOW or knowtheatre.org.

CCM‘s Very Dumb Kids Are Brilliant

Review by Alan Jozwiak of Very Dumb Kids: CCM Acting

Friends gathered over the Fourth of July weekend. It is a time when relationships are tested, secrets revealed, and decisions made. This particular holiday weekend has been the backdrop for many plays, such as Terrance McNally’s Lips Together, Teeth Apart and Lanford Wilson’s Talley Trilogy.

A Fourth of July weekend spent in an old farmhouse in western Massachusetts is the setting for a bold new venture from CCM Acting (formerly CCM Drama), New York playwright Gracie Gardner’s Very Dumb Kids.

Specifically commissioned for CCM Acting (the first such commission by CCM Acting), this play had a workshop production last year around this time in which a very different version of the script was presented. Much to Gardner’s credit, she did a major script overhaul by streamlining dialogue and rearranging scenes to make it easier to follow the progression of the different characters.

Very Dumb Kids follows a group of twenty-something friends recently graduated from college who deal with the death of their friend Sarah (Lauren Carter), who dies unexpectedly while on a mission trip to Libya. Left to pick up the pieces are her friends, the mourning Phoebe (Jacqueline Daaleman), her absent boyfriend Austin (Isaac Hickson-Young), and an assorted cast of characters who deal with the death in different ways.

As befits an ensemble piece, all the actors did an outstanding job working off of each other and acting like they’ve been friends for years—which they have been, since they have been in CCM classes and shows together for years.

Jacqueline Daaleman played the part of the needy and neurotic Phoebe to perfection, who is devastated by the loss of her close friend Sarah. Lauren Carter was strong as both Sarah and Carrie, the “very dumb kid” killed in Libya and the girl Sarah’s boyfriend Austin becomes engaged to after Sarah’s death. Also strong was Carter Lacava as Peter, the hapless and eye-infected Latin teacher, and Nicholas Heffelfinger as Nolan, the opportunist trying to hit up his friends for money to fund his app.

Director Brant Russell does a fine job guiding the actors through the overlapping dialogue and missed opportunities which these characters continually find themselves in.

Russell did an especially fine job with the opening scene in which all the actors are speaking at different times over the dining room table. It was a bit of a challenge to figure out relationships, but that was the point behind Gardner’s overlapping dialogue (an earlier draft was written on an Excel spreadsheet to keep straight when actors were supposed to overlap their lines). Russell turns this seeming cachophony into coherence—a pretty mean feat.

The scenic designer, CCM student Karly Hasselfeld, created a compelling set of rooms which function as the front rooms and bedrooms of the farm house. The combination of faded weather-beaten décor acted as the perfect backdrop for what happens onstage.

Overall, Very Dumb Kids was an enjoyable evening of theater. My only complaint was its length. Running at 1 hour 45 minutes, it felt like it could have had an intermission without losing any of its momentum. A special treat was that the playwright herself was present at the opening performance Thursday evening and had a talkback after that performance.

For more information on CCM Acting, go to http://CCM.uc.edu/theatre/drama.html. and You can find information on next season’s CCM Acting productions, as well as other information related to the program.

NKU‘s Human Services Skewers Our Fetish with Fame

Review by Doug Iden of Human Services: NKU Year End Series

The Y.E.S. (Year End Series) Festival continued at NKU with the world premiere presentation of Tom Baum’s Human Services. Alternating with the other YES Festival participant Unfrozen, Human Services tells the story of a spoiled, shallow female rock star Kelsey (played by Madison Pullins) who is arrested for drug possession and sent to a rehabilitation clinic.

The play opens with a phone dialogue between Kelsey and Momma (Alexa Fangman) and we find out quickly why Kelsey is a hedonistic brat–because her mother is the same. Exchanging insipid air kisses and sophomoric declarations of love, Momma basks in her role as the archetypal stage mother who is infatuated with fame, glory, self-aggrandizement and money.

Presented In the intimate Strauss Theater at NKU, the play castigates the obsession which society has with celebrities. In the absence of “royalty”, we deify air-head Barbie dolls who can’t sing a note outside of a recording studio. But the story is also about maturation and redemption, at least on the part of Kelsey.

When our egotistical rock star arrives at Aspiration House, she is greeted by an ensemble of recovering eccentrics including a transvestite (Daisy, played by Jacob Miller), a woman who sees aliens behind every bush (Carmen, portrayed by Emily Tortorella) and Baxter (Brandon Critchfield), a homeless man who may yet be savable. I would describe this play as a “dramedy” since there is significant campy, satiric comedy overlaying some very serious content. But, above all, it is the story of relationships and how, eventually, most of the characters work together to try to improve themselves and their situations.

Leading the ensemble rehab group is Jacob Miller as the ebullient transvestite, Daisy, who steals virtually every scene they are in. Daisy is an outrageous but kind-hearted soul who mentors Kelsey and tries to steer her though the labyrinthine bureaucracy of the center and with her fellow eccentrics. Daisy can also be jealous, however, and reacts strongly to her perception of unwanted attention shown by others towards Kelsey. Also effective in a mostly comedic role is Emily Tortorella as Carmen, who has a hilarious scene when she mistakes some bug exterminators dressed in decontamination suits as alien spacemen. Critchfield imbues Baxter with a level of sanity and dignity and shows the potential for real recovery. His equanimity contrasts with the craziness surrounding him. As polar opposites of the inmates, Kearston Hawkins-Johnson plays the institution’s boss as imperious and officious, while her chief psychiatrist Rachel (Emily Borst) is rather naïve but is genuinely trying to help her clients. A latecomer, Wyatt (Matt Dreyer), plays a significant role in the story. And did I mention that there is a stalker?

Another target of Baum’s derision is the paparazzi who try to invade Kelsey’s privacy, first at home and then in the rehab facility. Playing a bit like two of the Three Stooges, Milo (Matt Nassida) and Roman (Landis Helwig) assume various guises (including cops and the above mentioned exterminators) in their quest to get pictures and dirt for the publicity crazed media.

But the story would not work without the believable transition of Kelsey from narcissist to a caring and involved person. Interestingly, that transition is manifested by a role reversal with her mother when Kelsey becomes the parent and Momma the child. Kelsey also, in secret, provides both Baxter and Daisy with the financial opportunities to succeed. Pullins does the transition admirably.

One caution is that play is replete with raw language which, at times, seems gratuitous.

Director Michael Hatton controls the insanity and choreographs the rapid entrances and exits well in the small theater space. The costumes (Margo Birdwhistell) are appropriate for the characters including button-down suits for the professional women and a series of dresses for the tall, statuesque Daisy (Miller). Despite an early glitch which required a re-start of the play, the lighting and graphics (William Milligan) effectively showed a transition on the one-set stage designed by Kaitlin Findley.

Human Services with its counterpart Unfrozen continue at NKU through April 30.