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At NKU’s “Marisol”, Expect The Unexpected. Seriously.

Review by Spenser Smith of Marisol: NKU

Marisol (Kearston Hawkins-Johnson) is a copy editor for a Manhattan publisher that lives alone in the Bronx. The action of the play begins with Marisol narrowly escaping an attack on the subway. Marisol’s guardian Angel (Je’Shaun Jackson) informs Marisol that she can no longer protect her because she has been called to join the revolution. This heavenly war has reduced NYC to an urban wasteland where homelessness is against the law and “coffee is extinct.” After a failed attempt to find protection in her co-worker and roommate June (Ashley Martin) and her brother Lenny (Calvin Taylor) Marisol finds herself on the streets. Imagine living in a world where you will be physically beaten for exceeding your credit card limit. This dystopian world is created by Jose Rivera, whose story of angels who plot to kill their old and senile God, first premiered at the Humana Festival at Actors Theatre of Louisville in 1992.

Director Daryl Harris has brought together a fine group of actors and dancers to tell this story. It would have been very easy to laugh off the absurdity of it all, but it was very evident every single person’s commitment to the truth in Marisol’s story and that power shines through. The cleverness of the set design (Anna Catton) proves that you truly can get anything from Amazon. The clever use of the boxes is not only efficient but I’m sure a comment on our singular dependence? Are the boxes God? See. You won’t leave the show humming a memorable tune, but you’ll sure be thinking. Movement, choreographed by Tracey Bonner, is not only visually captivating but provides swift transitions between time and space. Shout out to the Angels of Chaos. They stay very busy. Sound effects, designed by Kevin Havlin, are creepy throughout. The eery tones that underscore much of the dialogue perfectly set the mood. I did wish the actors would project a little more in those moments where music played during a scene. I also wanted the music to get louder during transitions. The music was creepy, but for some reason I wanted it to scare me.

The director’s program note states that Marisol is a little bit “Magical Realism, Theatre of the Absurd and Sociospatial Theatre.” I can add, simply, that it’s a play that will give you more questions than answers. Hopefully, it will make you think. More specifically, I hope it will make you think about where we are today and where we are headed in our future. Marisol found herself in a world where all the food is salt and coffee is extinct. Was it because of her choices or the choices of many? It’s not all her fault, but what could she have done to change the outcome? What can you do? Are you registered to vote?

Don’t forget. Tuesday, November 6. Marisol continues at the Stauss Theatre on the campus of Northern Kentucky University through October 28.

Covedale Sends Us Over the Rainbow with “The Wizard of Oz”

Review by Doug Iden of The Wizard of Oz: Covedale Theatre

Ally Davis in “The Wizard of Oz”

A tornado ripped through Kansas and propelled Dorothy Gale into a magical world as the theatrical version of The Wizard of Oz conveniently landed at the Covedale Theatre.  Based upon the landmark, original Hollywood musical from 1939, this “wizard” faithfully follows the iconic film.  The secret of the original was its charm, the music (Harold Arlen), witty lyrics (E.Y. Harburg) and great chemistry as an intrepid band of four overcome fear, adventure, magic and witches (both evil and good).  Since everyone knows the movie and has high expectations walking through the door, doing a theatrical production of this show can be daunting.  I’m pleased to say that the Covedale production is up to the task.

We’ll start with an excellent cast of some CLP veterans and rookies led by a delightful Dorothy played by NKU sophomore Ally Davis.  Davis is equally fetching and effective as the awestruck Dorothy who knows she is no longer in Kansas but fights through her fears and bewilderment as she struggles for a way to return home.  Davis has a pleasant voice and sings “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” as the poignant plea for a better life.  Her first encounter with “evil” comes when neighbor Miss Gulch (Michelle Wells) tries to have Dorothy’s dog Toto euthanized.  According to the playbill, Toto is portrayed by Macy Wiemen who is adorably cute and, thankfully, went through the entire play without any accidents.  

While in Kansas, Dorothy associates with many of the characters who will also appear in Oz as different characters including Wells as the Wicked Witch of the West, Erin Nicole Donahue (Auntie Em and Glinda), Brandon Bentley (Zeke and the Cowardly Lion), Jeremiah Plessinger (Hickory and the Tinman), Chris Logan Carter (Hunk and the Scarecrow) and Kyle Taylor (Professor Marvel, the Guard and the Wizard).  Many in this group channel the actors from the film.  Carter, as the Scarecrow, mimics Ray Bolger’s rubber-legged dancing style, Wells plays Margaret Hamilton with glee and Bentley is Bert Lahr personified, especially in his song “If I Were the King of the Forest”.  They carry the show and they do it with élan.  They also sing the marvelous score very well and articulate the clever lyrics.  Music Director Ron Attreau leads a larger than normal orchestra which supplements the singers well.

The ensemble is large and effective playing a variety of roles from Munchkins to crows to apple trees to citizens of Oz. Four youngsters (Nora and Ruthie Darnell, Raine Mari and Morgan Tracy) play Munchkins and Oz citizens.

A combination of lighting and sound (Denny Reed), scenic design (Brett Bowling) and costumes (Caren Brady) propel the play from a drab Kansas farm to the technicolor Munchkinland, to dark and mysterious forests to poppy groves to Oz itself and to the lair of the Wicked Witch.  All of these scenes have different requirements and I am always interested in how they show the tornado.  The set in Kansas is dreary with colorless work clothes and clouds along the top of the stage.  The tornado is hinted at first through the sound of the wind and then rotating lights superimposed on the set.  When Dorothy first emerges in Munchkinland, curtains are pulled back to reveal a rainbow and the set is well lit.  Suddenly, the Muchkins appear in a variety of multi-colored costumes.  Glinda appears in a beautiful gown and the Wicked Witch is now green-faced and dressed in black.  

The costumes of the Scarecrow (who keeps losing his straw), Tinman, Cowardly Lion and Dorothy (blue and white gingham dress) are similar to the movie.  And, of course, Dorothy inherits the red slippers.  The poppies are represented by the ensemble dressed in red and green outfits.  The Emerald City citizens and the backdrop are all in green.

The effect of the technical enhancements plus the acting the direction by Bob Brunner and choreography by Jeni Beyer is a delightful, fun filled adaptation of the film.  This is also a show that children should relish.  There were some kids in the audience but more children should have the opportunity to see the show.

So, grab your Halloween costumes (especially the witch ones) and follow the yellow brick road to the Covedale theater through November 18. 

 

 

 

Miami University’s Intimate and Personal “Echoes of Miami” is a Gripping Haunt

Review by Sean Maus of Echoes of Miami: Miami University

In its season opener, Miami University’s College of Creative Arts has unleashed an emotional, sensationally gripping thriller.

The myths, legends, and history of Miami and Oxford literally echo through time in this original concept collection of short plays written by the current and former students of the theatre program. The question “How do we understand the history of the place where we stand?” is the evening’s examination. The production begins outside the College of Creative Arts where we learn the language, poetry, passion and history of the Myaami tribe whose ancestors cared for the land  that is currently the home of Miami University in Oxford.  This is a place where many people have lived and are no longer remembered.

Through 7 different “plays within the play” the performances take the audience on a journey through many voices: voices of women in an asylum once on the grounds of the campus, a man of the underground railroad, clergymen leading the people of Hopewell Church, the students who have mysteriously disappeared and murdered one of their own, teachers filling the famous lecture-recitals in the late 19th Century, the voices of roommates who learn a lesson about taunting the infamous ghost(s) of Helen Peabody. We’re led through the production and around the college campus by three incarnations of Helen Peabody who was the first head of Miami University’s Western College — her portrait still hangs in Peabody Hall, a girls’ dormitory named after her.

What makes this piece of theatre so striking is its multiple locations – not an easy choice to make logistically. The play takes place throughout locations on and about the College of Creative Arts.   Also, the profound amount of history that is inventive and curious that emerges through some powerful writing.  While many of the stories are steeped in lore, the good old-fashioned ghost story tour feels urgent and deeply, painfully human.  Each playwright and director exert supreme control of their stories, locations and characters.  The actors are inventive and curious about what the character can reveal and how they reveal it.  Yet, there’s a little signature chilly touch of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and “The Twilight Zone” here.

While the audience may not be prepared to brave the crisp night air outside the college, the opening scene “This is Myaamionki” is a colorful spectacle of specters. We’re transported from modern Miami through Alex, a current student who is more interested in taking a selfie — portrayed by a cute sprite of an actress Anna Hernandez-Buces as she meets time-traveling Myaamia tribe members, and is introduced to our spirit guides in the many forms of Helen Peabody. While some of the performers took a while to warm up, especially given the outside temperature, there were some time-worn textures to actress Maddy Shilts’s Man-Hating Helen.  Historic Helen, played by Laura Smith, has an ebullience that brought a powerful chemistry to her compatriot Defender Helen who is eerily empathetic as they introduce us to “The Haunting in Peabody Hall.”

If I had to pick from the stories, my choices would be “Murder at Reid Hall” and “Delirium.” These two stories brought a real sense of mystery and emotion to the core of my being. “Delirium” focused on the maltreated women patients in mental asylums at the time of 1925. Taking place in storage space beneath the main stage theatre you are treated to a spooky  haunt with chilling spirits portrayed by Nellie Given (Woman of Electricity), Megan Hayes (Woman of the Window), Meghan Stille (Woman of Solitude) and Jessie Beach (Woman of Chains). If the staging doesn’t creep you out, the sunken, manic eyes of these actresses will haunt you.

“Murder at Reid Hall” is a Twilight Zone throwback to the 1950’s complete with a James Dean infused performance by Worley Stidham.  Eleanor Alger brings the cheating Sharon to life with just the right tinge of bouffant hair while shrieking like the best of the horror film drive-in movie girls of the 1950’s.  Kevin Garcia was perfectly cast as the average 50’s teen –  moody, confused, and finding himself, who probably was enjoying dancing, spending time with friends, often at a malt (milkshake) shop.

Then, there’s the fun haunted house feel of the “Haunting in Peabody 237” which brings a bit of humor to the haunting. Rylan Hixson as Cam and his roommate Kevin Garcia as Andy, were roommates in Peabody Hall. The set decoration was straight our of a men’s college dorm, complete with Xbox, sweaty socks and bags of chips scattered on the floor. Garcia and Hixson show their terrific versatility as actors having gone from dramatic roles in previous sections (“An Evening withe Snyders” and “Murder at Reid Hall” respectively) to turning on the comedic charm as two roommates. Beyond excellent acting technique the two young actors have a genuine connection. They make it  so much easier to produce riveting results on stage without looking contrived. Both are astute and close observers of human nature even though they are playing roles similar to their own lives. But it’s watching the transformation of these two from their earlier roles of the evening into roles that come back to haunt them.

Even though the stories change, the show generally keeps working with the same stuff. It’s twisting tales of supernatural fears and everyday horrors that explore the deep history of the Miami campus.  For being in development for four years, according to producer Saffron Henke’s note in the program, the efforts have paid off.

Echoes of Miami is the sort of risk-taking show that comes along seemingly only in Fringe Festivals.  Credit the Miami theatre team with bringing the tonal leaps and shifts in time and place to making this college a place of great theater that is a diamond in the crown of Cincinnati area theatre.

Know’s “The Man-Beast” is a Ferocious Tale

Review by Liz Eichler of “The Man-Beast”: Know Theatre

Jennifer Joplin and Jim Hopkins in “The Man-Beast”

The artists and administrators at Know Theatre continually conjure tricks and treats, from gorgeous scenery, powerful and surprising performances, to interesting offerings after the mainstage shows. In Joseph Zettelmaier’s “The Man-Beast” they provide a production of power, love, and betrayal in 18th century France which steeps slowly but richly and builds to a surprise conclusion.

The show begins when a hermit, Jean (Jim Hopkins), bangs on the door of an outcast woman, Virginie (Jennifer Joplin) a practitioner of herbal arts and taxidermy, who “knows a thing about a thing.” He’s wounded, but huge and agitated so she defends herself with a gun.  He begs her to mend his arm, bitten by a mysterious bloodthirsty creature which has been menacing the area. He’s been tracking this creature to earn a large reward from the king. Virginie mends him, and eventually they agree she will help him secure the reward, sealing this deal in a blood oath.

Directed by Brant Russell, the two performers fill the stage. Hopkins is an imposing figure and Joplin matches him with strength, and both add a bit of humor, providing relief in this tension filled show.

The play explores power and trust—when this powerful man comes to her house, he is weakened, but she has a gun. The creature has power to track and kill human and animals throughout the countryside, and he feels he has stopped that power by killing the creature, he just needs the evidence to prove it. The king has power to offer a large reward. The woman has power over herbs and weeds to find their medical and pharmacological properties. Power and the powerful keeps shifting throughout the play, that’s what makes it so interesting to watch.

Visually, you will be in for another treat by Andrew J. Hungerford. First, somehow Know fit this large set into the small corner of the lower level, and still provides plenty of seating, keeping the intimate feel. Virginie’s dim cabin is perfect for her, filled with herbs and skins, working lanterns, and a large glowing fireplace. Mara Tunnicliff is the Taxidermy Designer and she’s created some very believable pieces. Noelle Wedig-Johnston’s costumes add color and reflect the period, as does Doug Borntrager’s subtle but effective Sound Design.

Is there room in the play to eliminate the intermission, tighten and build to an uninterrupted conclusion? Oui. But if you’re in the mood for some mystery, professionally performed by some of Cincinnati’s top talent, Know is your place this Halloween season. Call 513-300-KNOW or go to knowtheatre.com for tickets.

UC CCM’s “Guys and Dolls” Bets on the Right Numbers

Review by Liz Eichler of “Guys and Dolls”: CCM Musical Theatre

UC’s CCM is staging a vibrant, lively version of a Golden Age Musical classic, “Guys and Dolls,” with a talented ensemble, creative team, and amazing orchestra creating quite a few memorable standout numbers.  Music and Lyrics by Frank Loesser, Book by Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows, “Guys and Dolls” runs through October 27. It takes a while to build, but the payoff is in the second act, when the talent keeps coming.

Based on Damon Runyon’s colorful stories of 1940’s New York city characters, the play revolves around the antics of gambler Nathan Detroit (the role is double cast: Matt Copley opened the run, but alternates with Kevin Chlapecka) and his long-time fiancé Miss Adelaide (also double cast, I saw Anya Axel, but Kendall McCarthy alternates). Detroit and his cronies plan illegal “floating craps games” while dancer Adelaide is more than ready to ready to settle down after a 14-year engagement. The other unlikely couple is gambler Sky Masterson (Frankie Thams) who bets he can take Mission Sister Sarah Brown (Aria Braswell) to dinner in Cuba. He wins the bet but loses his heart. All are capable performers with some great individual moments.  During “Sue Me” between Nathan and Adelaide, “If I Were a Bell” between Sarah and Sky, and Sky’s “Luck be a Lady” the performers all get a chance to let go and belt out their hearts.

If you’ve seen (or been in) high school or community theatre production of “Guys and Dolls,” you have probably not been privy to the richness of dancing and choreography this CCM version provides. You will be impressed with the chorus, from when they first step on stage with unique characters in the stylized street scenes, to the well-executed and varied dances in the Havana scenes, to the Crapshooters Ballet which features so much enthusiastic dancing and acrobatics from the young cast it reminded me of “Newsies.”  When you think they’ve topped it, here comes “Sit Down You’re Rocking the Boat,” with masterful precision by the group that really understands movement, being led by the triple threat of Nick Berninger as Nicely Nicely Johnson, with professional comedic timing and delivery. He knows how to punch the jokes.

Director Diane Lala managed a lot of moving pieces, and as choreographer, she fills the stage with dancers and movers that are a joy to watch. The ensemble is amazing. Kudos for casting an alumnus as Arvide Abernathy, Sarah’s father. His “More I Cannot Wish You” was sweet and believable. The color pallet of the costumes and scenery is interesting and enjoyable.  Thomas C. Umfrid (Scenic Designer) planned wonderful moving pieces that adapt and impress in every scene.  The interior of the Mission is a warm authentic treat, but the lightpost is perfect. Costumer Designer Reba Senske’s clothing fit the performers and the period, with lightness and ease, accommodating the hundreds of high kicks throughout. The show is not without some issues. Audience comments at intermission concerned articulation and sound issues during the speaking segments (from patrons in their 20s to 70s, sitting in various parts of the theatre). However, the music can be heard, both from the amazing singers and the talented orchestra, conducted by Roger Grodsky.

“Guys and Dolls” runs through October 27. Contact CCM.uc.edu or 513-556-4183 for tickets and more information.

 

 

 

CCM’s “Guys and Dolls” Is A Risky Bet

Review by Spenser Smith of Guys and Dolls: CCM Musical Theatre

Director Diane Lala states in her Director’s Note that Guys and Dolls “has been saluted as the perfect musical comedy.” The production now on stage at the Patricia Corbett Auditorium should take note.

Guys and Dolls, with music and lyrics by Frank Loesser and book by Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows, premiered in 1950. The musical is based on two short stories by Damon Runyon.The original Broadway production ran for 1200 performances and won the Tony Award for Best Musical. The show was also a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Drama.

These are awfully big shoes to fill. A “perfect musical comedy” with a heart. The story focuses on two relationships. We first meet Nathan Detroit (Matt Copley), the gambler tasked with finding a new venue for the “floating crap game.” He has to keep his dice habits away from Lieutenant Brannigan (Stone Mountain), and his eager-to-wed fiance Miss Adelaide (Anya Axel). Copley and Axel are a fine pair. Dialect coaches D’Arcy Smith and Kate Webster could have helped Copley by urging him to tone down his dialect. His dedication to the accuracy makes some lines unintelligible and that small criticism was amplified opening night with myriad sound issues. Axel couldn’t escape the soundboard on the fritz, but her strong singing voice needs no amplification. Her Adelaide caught me off guard. The role was written specifically for Vivian Blaine, the only lead actor to star in both major original productions and the 1955 movie. Twenty three years after her death, the role Blaine originated sixty eight years ago is her most notable triumph and the role for which she is most recognizable. Why? Take a look at the film. Blaine absolutely chews the scenery. She gets a laugh out of every possible moment. Most of the punchlines in the ninety-minute first act at CCM fall completely flat and the opening night audience was eerily quiet throughout. The relationship between Nathan and Adelaide should be funny. It’s supposed to be the polar opposite of the tepid courting between Sarah and Sky. Copley and Axel are both fine actors and I am not one to promote carbon-copy performances, but their interpretations of these iconic comedic roles leaves the scenery, designed by Thomas C. Umfrid, completely whole.

The other relationship involves Sarah Brown (Aria Braswell), who leads the Save A Soul Mission with her older and wiser confidante Arvide Abernathy (Dain Alan Paige). What she really doesn’t know is that her mission will be the subject of the next bet. Nathan Detroit is in need of $1,000 to host the latest crap game. Detroit decides his only way to get it is to bet Sky Masterson (Frankie Thams) that he can’t get Sarah to go to Havana with him. Masterson, a suave gambler who doesn’t lose a bet, takes him up on the offer. Braswell, an excellent soprano, begs the sound board operator to leave her microphone off when she belts out the “I’ll Know” tag. She can really wail. Thams, as Masterson, must charm his way into Sarah’s heart. He has to win the bet, after all. In their first scene together, Thams came off as brash and even mean. Remember, Sky needs something. If Sarah wasn’t put off by his unending advances from the start, she is now. Things improve from there, both for the characters and the performances. One thing is for sure, it feels like Sarah and Sky really like one another and I appreciated the honesty in that dynamic. I was genuinely glad Braswell’s Sarah wasn’t scared off by Thams’ Sky in that first mission scene.

The second half felt much more relaxed. The pace that dragged heavily for much of the first act seemed to pick up a little bit. Two moments most definitely did not disappoint. The Crapshooters Ballet, choreographed by Director Diane Lala, was fresh and fun. I have to point out it was awkward that they danced that whole number silently. Not unlike the dance in the Havana club, there was no ambient noise (hoots and hollers) from the ensemble. Since it went on for so long it seemed like a deliberate choice and one that should be reconsidered. Probably most notable is everyone’s favorite eleven o’clock number “Sit Down You’re Rockin’ The Boat” sung by Nicely Nicely Johnson (Nick Berninger). When Nicely is forced to testify during the mission meeting, his off-the-cuff storytelling becomes deliciously entertaining. The swift choreo and stratospheric vocals are in their prime. I have only seen this number staged with Sky, Nathan and the gamblers, not the entire ensemble. The idea of making this a full production number is a welcomed change.

Tickets for Guys and Dolls, running through October 27, can be purchased by calling 513-556-4183.

“The Man-Beast” at the Know Theatre: The Beastman Always Rings Twice

Review by Sheldon Polonsky of The Man-Beast: Know Theatre

Jim Hopkins and Jennifer Joplin in “The Man-Beast”

18th century France. The terrible “Beast of Gevaudan”, a suspected werewolf, is ravaging the countryside killing victims. King Louis has offered 300 livre for its destruction. An outcast woodsman goes on the hunt and and almost brings him down before being mauled in the arm and escaping. He stumbles into the cabin of a mysterious woman, who may or may not be a witch, and together they form an uneasy alliance to claim the bounty.

With this premise, the Halloween season, and the theme of Know’s season–“Fear Itself”–you might assume that their latest offering, The Man-Beast, might resemble a classic Hollywood horror film. You would be wrong. Instead, The Man-Beast takes its inspiration from the very best of Hollywood’s film noir, like “Double Indemnity” or “The Postman Always Rings Twice”. It is a tale of passion and betrayal, a story of two people desperately trying to cling to love and avoid the inevitable consequences of greed and an immoral act. Oh, and then a little bit of well-placed horror sprinkled in.

The playwright, Joseph Zettelmaier, was responsible for two other recent Know favorites, “All Childish Things” and “Pulp”; although those plays could hardly be more different in setting and style than this one, they all share some of the features that make his plays a delight to watch: witty dialogue, incisive character development, and several twists that leave the audience guessing. My only quibble with the script was a certain inconsistency in style, at times more classic and old-world, at times more vernacular and modern, with a smattering of Frenchisms thrown in that seemed more deliberate than natural. Still, that hardly detracted from the enjoyment.

This two-person play was exquisitely cast with two Cincinnati-area notables–Jim Hopkins from the Shakespeare Company and Jennifer Joplin, well known to ETC and Human Race patrons. Hopkins, with his imposing frame and powerful baritone, embodies the feral hunter, Jean, perfectly. Joplin, as Virginie, brings wonderful humor and humanity to her role, while maintaining an aura of menace which grows as the play proceeds. Together, they have remarkable chemistry which lends authenticity to their complicated but compelling relationship.

The play is presented at the lower level near the bar, whose intimate setting, for the most part, served the play well. I did get distracted by the lanterns hung from the low ceiling which Hopkins had to frequently dodge (sometimes unsuccessfully). The night I was there, three tall gentlemen sat in the first row and the lack of graded levels of seating gave my wife and I a somewhat obstructed view. But otherwise the single set, designed by Andrew Hungerford–Virginie’s cabin–fit well in the space and was extremely well-appointed. Special kudos to the Prop Designer, Rebecca Armstrong. But the real star of this production was the taxidermy designer, Mara Tunnicliff. A large bear head dominates the set throughout the play, but pales in comparison with the realistic taxidermic creation presented in the second half, a stunning prop which I can’t imagine how it was created or found. Director Brant Russell wisely refrained from too many sound or lighting effects but let the suspense and horror arise from the characters and the story themselves. Those sound effects (Doug Borntrager) and lighting effects (Andrew Hungerford) that were used were well-placed and effective.

Overall The Man-Beast was a terrifying experience, more from its revelation of the human heart than any Hollywood monster. Don’t miss this great Halloween offering at the Know, running through November 9th. Tickets may be obtained from knowtheatre.com or from the box office,

Cincinnati Shakespeare’s “1984” Will Leave You Wide-eyed!

Review by Willie Caldwell of 1984: Cincinnati Shakespeare Company

The second production of Cincinnati Shakespeare Company’s 25thanniversary season is a shocker in more ways than one. Written by George Orwell and adapted to stage by Robert Icke and Duncan MacMillan, 1984 tells the story of a dystopian future where, “war is peace, freedom is slavery, and ignorance is strength.”

Written in 1949, Orwell’s novel is widely revered as one of the greatest political fiction and science-fiction novels of all time. The novel’s themes of totalitarian and authoritarian state governments resonate strongly with today’s political landscape and never-ending news cycle. Big Brother, doublethink, and thought-crime all play out in real time as the ruling party seeks to wipe out individualism and independent thinking through perpetual war, omnipresent government surveillance, and propaganda.

The star of the show is undoubtedly the video and projections crated by Dan Reynolds and Steve McGowan of Brave Berlin. As the founding directors of LumenoCity and Blink, Reynolds and McGowan skillfully create an atmosphere of claustrophobic tension and a heightened sense of paranoia. The use of technology and digital projection mapping helps to create a surreal world where nothing is quite what it seems and there is always the sense that someone is watching. This is made apparent as the audience is incorporated more than once through the use of live stream video. Audiences are accosted by sound and light for the duration of the performance which runs approximately 101 minutes without intermission.

While the use of technology is an overall triumph, there are places where the sound becomes deafening. The repeated use of a siren becomes somewhat uncomfortable as does several instances of an amplified voice which is simply too loud. Ushers offer ear plugs which I would recommend.

The cast is strong and works hard to blend the world of the play with the world of the audience. Actors routinely break the fourth wall and reference the similarities between Orwell’s 1984 and current day.

Justin McComb’s portrayal of Winston Smith begins quietly and remains understated for the first part of the play. As tensions rise and allegiances are tested, McComb works himself into a full fledge frenzy on stage. Sweat, spit, and blood become tools in his performance as he works to close the gap between the actors and the audience forcing us to question our own reality and leaving us to wonder, is this really a “play?’

Julia, played by Sara Clark, is methodical and almost robotic. Clark’s carefully crafted performance demonstrates skillful control and is matched by the sharp lines of her appearance. Clark is reminiscent of the femme fatale character and embodies the seductive siren who will ultimately bring disaster to any man who becomes involved with her. Clark and McComb balance each other quite nicely as tensions continue to rise and ultimately reveal a dramatic transformation of the set.

O’Brien, played by Jeremey Dubin, weaves between our protagonists in a parental way that is ominously reassuring. Dubin delightfully embodies an air of smugness that often accompanies unchecked authority.  His performance is meticulously matched by his sharp suit, tidy pocket square, and horn-rimmed glasses.

Overall, the production is unnerving, timely, and a bit too real. If you’re looking for a psychological thriller of Orwellian proportions, don’t miss Cincy Shake’s production of 1984. Especially as we gear up for the real horror of the fall season… midterm elections.

1984 runs from October 12 – November 3, 2018. Tickets can be purchased online or by calling the box office at 513.381.2273.