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CCM’s “Association of Controlled Dreamers” Shows the Power of Action

Review by Doug Iden of “The Association of Controlled Dreamers”: CCM Acting

What can a group of college students do to counteract a potential law that would jeopardize public education?  In a commissioned play torn from today’s headlines, CCM addresses that question in the premiere of “The Association of Controlled Dreamers” at the Cohen Family Theater.

The play includes themes of the role of public education, pandering to a select few, pros and cons of social media, friendship and the power of a group of idealists fighting for their rights.   The action proceeds in a semi-documentary manner with many of the actors talking directly to the audience.  Through that vehicle, you also hear the various viewpoints expressed and, even though it takes a while, the plot begins to enfold.

We are introduced to the Senator and his twin, named Twin, both played by Matt Fox.  As he explains his program to the audience, the Senator is dressed in conventional business attire while Twin is much more casual (so we can tell them apart). The Senator, who is barely old enough to qualify, has presented a bill in Congress that would virtually eliminate public education and replace it with a combination of alternatives including charter schools, etc.  However, Twin is vehemently opposed to the notion and works to upend the proposed legislation.  The Jekyll/Hyde conflict continues throughout the story.  

One of the students is researching a thesis on the power of dreams and establishes a group called the Association of Controlled Dreamers. The group is comprised of many members of the Student Union which gets wind of the Senator’s legislation.  They combine forces to confound the proposed law by staging a sit-in on the lawn of the Senator.

This is the point where the train leaves the track a little.  I’m not sure whether it’s my failure as a critic or the playwright’s somewhat muddled prose or rather loud piano music (or a combination of all three) but I was not able to connect some of the actors with their character’s names in the playbill. Therefore, I can not give proper credit to some of the roles other than naming the following actors:  Rin Wallace, Anastasia Jacques, Paige Jordan, Zoe Cotzias, Michelle Jardine, Jason Pavlovich and Reid Robison.  All of the above were involved in the student demonstrations.  

Despite the serious themes addressed, there is a comedic whimsy about the show as the students weigh their philosophical principals against the real possibility that they may flunk out of school by missing final exams. Most of the comedy was obvious but, occasionally, I missed the jokes.  I must be getting old.  One interesting parallel was the dichotomy of social media as both a device for communicating to everyone but also showing how intrusive and sometimes destructive it can be. Briley Oakley (as Social Media) highlights these issues as she announces TV news-reporter style.  The story is also about friendships that can be forged during controversy.  Spending over a week on someone’s lawn in sleeping bags and no conveniences can create odiferous conflicts.  

One poignant sidelight is the introduction of the senator’s mother (Amanda Nelson) who is living in a shabby apartment while trying to unite the twins.

Director Brant Russell has meshed these stories well by choreographing entrances and exits from the sides, the back and the balcony. The set (designed by Ellie Fangman) is minimalist but effectively uses props such as a desk, chairs and sofas with the mother’s dreary apartment covered by a curtain.  In the back center of the stage is a door which, during the demonstration, becomes the battleground for the righteous students on the outside versus the power-crazy senator inside.  There is some original music by Daniel de Groh although it tends to drown out some dialogue.  There is an effective sound cue with the cell phone rings.

Overall, I thought the themes were intriguing and well-delineated with the usual superb acting of the CCM students but I thought the play needed some more work.  I was somewhat disappointed by the ending.  However, it was a good effort and I encourage you to see the show.  

Miami’s “Bat Boy” is Something You Can Sink Your Teeth Into

Review by Shawn Maus of “Bat Boy: The Musical”: Miami Theatre

What can only be categorized as a Bacchanalian merciless ribbing of today’s hyper-sensitive, quick to judge culture in the world of social “media, Miami University’s “Bat Boy: The Musical” is a laugh-out-loud tour de force.  Even though it was written over 20 years ago, the musical reflects a lot of what’s going on in society today as we marginalize people and groups.  

Inspired by a 1992 story in the checkout counter “newspaper” Weekly World News  (which gives their blessing to this production through co-hosting the event on Facebook), “Bat Boy” concerns the discovery in a Hope Falls, West Virginia cave of a half-human, half-bat creature, and the attempt by a the local veterinarian’s family to civilize the poor beast before the townspeople can get their hands on him.

Director Suann Pollock and her designers create a vivid opening, with spelunkers descending into the cavernous, fog-filled darkness pierced by the headlamps on the three Taylor Children — real down-home-boys out for a night of frolicking and bong-smoking. Just as all good urban legend/horror stories must have something that goes bump-in-the-night, Bat Boy (Worley Stidham) comes out of the darkness and  bites one of them, Ruthie Taylor (Rachel Scardinia), and ends up being taken to the local veterinarian, Dr. Parker (Sam Adams) by the town sheriff (Jack Troiano). In the Parker household, he is eventually accepted as a member of the family and taught to act like a “normal” boy by the veterinarian’s wife, Meredith (Kate Herman), and teenage daughter, Shelley (Brooke Vespoli). Bat Boy is put through a very funny flash-card driven educational process that turns him into a cultivated, refined, bright young scholar who sounds like Stewie from Family Guy. The town of Hope Falls is set on discovering why the cows are dying and preparing for a revival with the Reverend Hightower, and even though they want Bat Boy out, their “Christian Charity” keeps them from killing him. 

The musical is feisty, amusing, and goes straight for the comedy jugular.  At times you’re treated to bits of music and drama reminiscent of “Little Shop of Horrors” mixed with “Jekyll & Hyde” “Spamalot” and “Sweeney Todd” then shaken and stirred with “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.”

This is the slickest musical Miami University has produced in recent years and it shows. 

Filled with tremendous amounts of energy, versatility in comedic timing, and dramatic effect, as well as an incredible extent of stamina, Director Pollock clearly understands the style of the show, and balanced the comedy and dramatic moments at just the right level.  

The casting heightened the comedy and enhanced the bizarre world of Hope Falls, West Virginia (especially where she had men playing female characters and vice-versa). The actors successfully created dimensional characters that happened to live in this bizarre world of hick town cretins. 

It’s hilarious to see Rylan Hixson play Rick Taylor and then flail about in a pink skirt as town council secretary, Daisy.  Hixson’s comic timing is so impeccable he doesn’t need words. Although he can be lampoonish, his performance of both characters is heartwarming, goofy, and pleasingly energetic.

Sam Adams uses every ounce of his slender frame to wield the larger-than-life pizazz required to play Dr. Parker, especially when he morphs into the villain. Adams shows the duplicity behind every decision this character makes. He is complemented by the sitcom-Mom stylings of Kate Herman.  As Meredith Parker, Herman perfectly captures the Donna Reed-esque performance needed in this counterpoint to snarky sitcom moms. The bond between mother and daughter, as well as the sometime battles over appropriate dresses, is completed by the performance of Brooke Vespoli as Shelley Parker, who eventually falls in love with Bat Boy to set off the star-crossed lovers story. Vespoli spans her own good girl/bad girl range with enthusiasm.

Dylan Gray plays a crass, rude, and hilarious Pan in a steamy midsummer night’s’ dream scene that garners enough whimsy to make sure nothing is quite like watching animal hand puppets banging on each other. (I discovered this interesting side note: Not only was Pan renowned for his sexual prowess, but he was also considered the god of theatrical criticism by the Greeks.)

And, of course, there’s Worley Stidham as Bat Boy. I was totally entranced and blown away away by the charisma and skill of his performance.  When Bat Boy is captured in the cave, Stidham contorts his face into an off-center mask — his eyes bulge, his Spock-like ears jut out, and his mouth forms the distinctive “O” of the original front-page photo of Bat Boy, showing his grotesque screaming face, which went on to become the second-best selling issue in the tabloid’s history and that the visage has since evolved into a pop-culture icon. And then comes the moment, just before the song “Show You a Thing or Two” ends, when he simply lets go. The physical tension, (especially the cramped hand stylings of Max Schreck in F.W. Murnau’s Nosferatu) so rigidly sustained for almost a half hour, drains from his body, and Stidham’s face is his own again. This is the startling act of magic that only live theater affords — no CGI or prosthetics (excepting the ears).  Just good old-fashioned theatrical acting — fragile one minute, then raging, then mournful. He’s sometimes inhumane but always human. Vocally, he proves adept at any of Laurence O’Keefe’s song styles — gospel, showtune, ballad.

Gion DeFrancesco’s set design is a marvel. Multifunctional and multi-faceted, the brilliant use of an “iris” of the cave opening which helps to spotlight the Bat Boy is subtle yet draws us into the bizarre world of Hope Falls.  Lighting designer Marly Wooster provides fitting lightning and other effects that enhance the spooky tale. Ryan Heinrich leads a fine band, through the music often is too loud. Unfortunately, the room undermines this production on sound. Audio problems diminished the opening night performance. Some – mics cutting out, uneven volume levels – are fixable. 

While “Bat Boy” holds a mirror to reflect a grotesque society, the show is as much about the conversation of today’s meme-infatuated society of fake news as it is about the great time people will have at the show. Truly fake news, “Bat Boy” is exactly the sort of entertainment we need right now.  Anyone up for true originality shouldn’t miss this musical or its hilarious, talented cast. I would recommend this show to theatergoers looking for something fun and frothy. The talented cast and laugh-out-loud humor are what make this so much fun. A worthwhile evening and Miami University College of Creative Arts should be hailed for successfully mounting this ambitious production.

“Bat Boy” runs April 25-27 at 7:30 p.m. and May 5 at 2:00 p.m. in the Gates-Abegglen Theatre at Miami University.

“Bat Boy” Discovered on Miami Theatre Stage!

Review by Kevin Reynolds of ‘Bat Boy: The Musical”: Miami Theatre

It’s not breaking news that there are some unusual or unexpected inspirations for Broadway (or wanna be Broadway) musicals. I give you a Stephen King horror story (“Carrie”), the banning of public toilets (“Urinetown”), even the first Treasurer of the United States (really? You need me to tell you?)

But the Miami University Department of Theatre is currently presenting perhaps one of, if not THE most, bizarre. Director Suann Pollock (General Manager of Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park) has taken on “Bat Boy: The Musical” for the final production of their academic year. It had a run off-Broadway in 2001 but lives on in local theatres and colleges around the country.

The plot, in short, is a fictional presentation of the story of Bat Boy, a creation of the tabloid publication Weekly World News to help sell papers, From the discovery of the Bat Boy in a cave through his almost “My Fair Lady”-esque transformation (thanks BBC!), to the small town uprising and ultimate satisfying/non-satisfying conclusion (depending on your perspective), there are innumerable twists, domestic un-bliss, possible incest, a revival meeting, and a pretty decent body count. With some laughs. And rock music. There’s a lot going on.

There’s a gender-neutral approach to the supporting cast as several play men and woman no matter how they identify. Some of it works, some gets distracting, but credit to them for trying to best utilize the actors. 

Strong performances come from Worley Stidham as Bat Boy (an incredibly physical performance, especially through the majority of the first act); Brooke Vespoli as Shelley Parker, who at first disdains the Bat Boy but as he changes, so do her feelings: and Kate Herman, who brings a true, though somewhat mysterious, sense of maternal love for Bat Boy. All possess strong voices and captured their characters as they transform throughout the play.

The music is, for the most part, forgettable, but two numbers in the second act stand-out. The rousing revival number (“A Joyful Noise) led by visiting Reverend Hightower (Abby Chafe) opens Act Two and brought cheers and howls from the, up until then, lethargic audience. And the sweet duet “Inside Your Heart” was beautifully performed by Bat Boy and Shelley. 

Credit must also go to Scenic Designer Gion DeFrancesco for a beautifully executed and versatile set that goes from cave to living room to slaughterhouse with ease; Lighting Designer Marly Wooster who provided tremendous mood setting effects and a seamless color palette that enhanced the action; and Choreographer Ashley Goos for creative and character-appropriate dance numbers.

My only real disappointment is with the sound, specifically the performers’ microphones. I believe these microphones are the best and worst things that have happened to musical theatre. When they are managed properly (which is a true art form), they are a tremendous benefit. When they are not, they become a distraction, keeping you from becoming lost in the story. I felt no audio subtlety – it was like all microphones were set at 10 and left alone. This may have worked well with a larger crowd on opening night, but I was there the second night and the house was maybe half-full, so I hope some adjustments can be made through the run.

“Bat Boy: The Musical” runs April 25-27 and May 2-4 at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, May 5 at 2 p.m. Tickets available by phone at 513-529-3200, at the box office, or online at Bat Boy: The Musical tickets


Review by Kevin Reynolds of “Association of Controlled Dreamers”: CCM Acting

For the past three years, UC’s College-Conservatory of Music has hosted a Playwrights’ Workshop where, among other projects, the attendees develop a commissioned play from a guest playwright. The most recent of those plays is “Association of Controlled Dreamers” by one of the staff writers from the Netflix show “The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina,” MJ Kaufman.

What Kaufman, have created is truly contemporary story of the divided world we find ourselves in, the power of family, and how the next generation may need to find a way to unify to exert influence over those in power.

The production begins with a series of vignettes that allow the audience to meet the extensive cast – 15 in all. (Well, most of the cast…more on that in a moment.) While there’s crossover, you find one group are members of the college’s Queer Student Union, and others have joined a research project teaching and recording lucid dreams. That crossover of several students brings everyone together to thwart legislation that would destroy public education in favor of funding and vouchers for private and faith-based institutions. The man behind the bill, Senator Matthews, is the youngest senator in US history (forcing a constitutional amendment to allow him to serve since he’s under 30) with eyes on the White House, and one who enjoys the power and the perks that come with it. Matt Fox portrays Matthews, as well as his twin brother, Twin, as two opposite sides of the same coin. As their mother (played by Amanda Nelson) slowly dies from cancer, you wonder about the concept of nature vs. nurture and how two humans from the same egg can be so diametrically opposed. There may be a clue late in the play but it’s an argument not settled here.

The combined group decides civil disobedience is the only solution to stopping the bill (though early help from Twin bought them the time they needed) so they all move onto the lawn of the senator’s getaway retreat. There are confrontations with the senator who assumes they will eventually get bored and go away, while the students struggle with how long to stay as finals are fast approaching and they want to graduate. A somewhat ominous subplot eventually decides the issue, but that’s all I’ll say.

While most of the characters have their beliefs and cling to those, one character who you don’t think is a character at all at first learns that the Senator she so admires, and those who follow him, may not be operating with the best interest of all. Madison Pullman portrays Mary as an eager, starry-eyed fan, but those stars go away, and you sense her disappointment and confusion when she shows up on the lawn.

The performances are universally strong, all with unique and quirky levels of humanity, and all finding a greater purpose working together than apart. That also makes spotlighting some among the others is difficult – suffice it to say that this is a true ensemble piece and all the actors are to be commended.

Brant Russell, a CCM Acting Professor, takes the reins as director and keeps the action moving through all the early vignettes as he takes full advantage of the two-level stage in the Cohen Family Studio Theatre. It is apparent that he has an affinity for this piece and the message it is sending to his students and their peers. Special kudos to CCM student Andrew Wright for an exceptional job with the lighting that served the many transitions and time shifts so well.

“Association of Controlled Dreamers” just runs through this Saturday. Tickets are free but limited. For more information and box office contact information, visit

After Know’s “Mercury”, You’ll Never Look At Your Neighbors The Same Way Again!

Review by Spenser Smith of “Mercury”: Know Theatre

If I had to describe the Know Theatre‘s “Mercury” in one sentence it would go a little something like this: Meddling desperate housewives, with a little help from a punk rock Sanderson sister, send their enemies to hell to meet Sweeney Todd. I hope you’re intrigued.

The world-premiere production by Steve Yockey, who wrote one of my all-time Know Theatre favorites “Pluto”, fills this psychological thriller with characters all of which you somewhat dislike. Art imitates life? The show focuses on three “relationships.” In the first Heather (Elizabeth Chinn Molloy) is looking for Mr. Bundles, her “sneaky” dog that has run off. Her neighbor, Pamela (Robyn Novak), is more interested in how many swigs it takes to get to the bottom of the scotch bottle than where the four-legged friend might have wound up. Tension builds as we learn that the two are more than neighbors and they’re not on the same page as to where their relationship, or their feelings on its conclusion, stands. We then meet Olive (Eileen Earnest) who is back to her favorite novelty shop run by Alicia (Tess Talbot) to pick up something a little stronger than a ”candle.” Olive has some upstairs neighbors, Brian (Andrew Ian Adams) and Nick (James Creque), that are a little too loud a little too often and she thinks Alicia can help her fix the problem. She’s not supposed to, but after some begging, Alicia gives Olive a book that will bring about the desired outcome to its recipient. Meanwhile, Heather has found her way to the shop as well. She gives her parting gift to Pamela and Olive leaves her surprise for Brian. Upon receipt–BAM–Pamela and Brian are sent into the underworld where we meet Sam (Patrick Earl Phillips), the aforementioned Sweeney Todd-esque undertaker that will decide their fate. Phillips’ Sam finds the humor in the cruel and vile operation he runs with his partner Alicia. They’ll been dating for, like, 127 years and she still doesn’t have a ring. In their coexistence, Alicia handles the “airfare” and Sam takes care of the rest. Just one look at him and you know what he’s been doing. Each of the characters is flawed. None of them think they have quite what they think they want or deserve. The play is about their individual ways of getting to that place. For some, it won’t be the outcome they envisioned.

Director, Scenic and Lighting Designer Andrew Hungerford has assembled a dynamite ensemble cast. The play centers around the complex relationships of its characters and when they are speaking directly to one another we see the stories strongest moments. The three-sided turntable set makes great use of the space while also giving us enough separation of the worlds to stave confusion.

This play might be too mature for some, but those elements are never unjustified. The story is a cynical look at ourselves, the relationships we forge in life and the stark differences in how people deal with their personal demons. If you don’t see it for that, it’s 95 minutes of pure thrill!

“Mercury” plays through May 11. Get tickets at 513-300-KNOW or

“Mercury” is a Twisted Look into Revenge, and We Can’t Look Away

Review by Liz Eichler of “Mercury”: Know Theatre

Steve Yockey’s plays are kaleidoscopic – a slight turn, an imperceptible twist makes all the difference. He takes simple concepts and twists them with love and magic, so we see them anew. In Know Theatre’s production of “Mercury” the stars align, making “Mercury” a must-see this spring.

“Mercury” is a dark comedy about some ordinary yet nasty people, seeking revenge for the wrongs they’ve brought upon themselves. They keep looking to go backward in time, to be in retrograde. Know Theatre’s production has gathered a strong ensemble of actors who get the most out of a simple move, an eyebrow lift, a look, to delve deeper into these beings. Director, Scenic and Lighting Designer Andrew J Hungerford, again provides the perfect backdrop in set, lighting and projections for these powerful emotions, and guides them on their journey through the deliciously dark script. The turntable stage smoothly transitions from one suburban kitchenette, to a curiosity shop, to the living room of a duplex. 

We first meet Pamela (Robyn Novak) and Heather (Elizabeth Chinn Molloy), two frustrated housewives who live next door to each other, who’ve been in the process of redefining their relationship. Molloy is a great foil and has one of the creepiest scenes where her sweetness is transformed into something disturbing. Novak owns the stage, deftly knowing when to have the mask of sarcasm, when to show the vulnerability and hurt.

We also meet the saccharin and nosy Olive (the amazing Eileen Ernst) and discover her unrequited love for neighbor Nick (James Creque) who’s partner Brian (Andrew Ian Adams) is petulant and missing his old life in the city, which didn’t include bears.

Finally, there’s Sam (Patrick Earl Phillips) and Alicia (Tess Talbot), who’ve been dating for, like, over a hundred years, and still no ring.  Their complicated relationship makes them see red, however, their arguments are juxtaposed with hilarious work-a-day conversations.  Very clever writing.  Sam’s unusual work uniform shows off Phillips’ physique, (kudos to costumer Noelle Wedig-Johnston). Talbot shows her range from a sweet shop girl to someone who can stare down the devil. 

Each person has anger issues. Some direct that anger to a significant other, others focus on their neighbor.  Each has made sacrifices; none have gotten what they think they deserve. Perhaps each is “designed so you can’t touch them,” as Pamela describes her cacti. Perhaps they feel “when someone hurts you, you have to put that hurt somewhere else,” but that hurt still darkens the soul, and can’t be hidden by a sunny disposition. 

The women in this show are especially strong; the play demands it and the actors deliver. Ernst has become one of the area’s strongest physical comics who really knows how long to stretch her silence, when to let her limbs run amok, and when to show she is in control. Novak commands the stage in her debut. Talbot is an amazing chameleon. Molloy was so interesting in a non-speaking role in “SuperTrue”, it’s a joy to hear her speak. Under the guidance of AJH, the ladies and the men capture Yockey’sdark magic.  “These are the monsters around us and inside of us…in difficult truths…in times of change,” from AJH’s notes of the season.

This is the perfect R-rated theatre date.  Funny, scary, interesting, unusual, bloody, and really really good. “Mercury” plays through May 11, the final performance in their 21st season “Fear Itself.” Get tickets at 513-300-KNOW or

Your Life as a Dungeons and Dragons Game: A Review of NKU’s Y.E.S Festival production of “Initiativel

By Alan Jozwiak

Life changes as easily as a roll of a multi-sided dice.  This holds true if you play Dungeons and Dragons, as well as in the world premiere play “Initiative” by Jacob York.  This play is one of the two Y.E.S. Festivals plays offered this season for the biennial festival.

Initiative tells the story of Dave (played by Brandon Critchfield), who is an avid Dungeons and Dragons fan and regularly plays with his best friend Tyrone (played by James Dawson) and his other gaming friends Sky (played by Kali Marsh) and Benny (played by Trevor Browning).  Dave’s life looks happy on the outside, especially with his relationship with his girlfriend Meg (played by Piper Bates).

However, Dave faces a major hurdle.  He learns that he has incurable cancer—and he is only in his late twenties.

To compensate for this fact, Dave engages in ten scenes where Dave engages in a real-life Dungeons and Dragons game where he gets to live the life that might not happen if he dies of cancer.  He does everything from patching up a fight with Meg, as well what would happen if he and Meg had a baby girl.

Director Mike King assembled an amazing cast of NKU student actors for this production.  It was the perfect marriage of script with cast.  The cast was able to celebrate and amplify the material in a way that was compelling to watch.  King allows his actors to interact in believable ways that makes for a powerful production. Such a marriage highlights the best qualities of the Y.E.S. Festival to promote new plays and support emerging playwrights.

Two actors are standouts within this production.  As the role of Dave, Brandon Critchfield beautifully embodies the fragility, uncertainty, and emotional confusion of Dave.  The scenes where Crichfield’s acting comes alive was during those scenes when he had to confide his emotions to either his girlfriend or other friends.  There is a level of believability to his acting that was compelling.

Another standout was James Dawson as Tyrone, Dave’s best friend.  Dawson has a beautiful sense or this material and is able to channel his inner nerd through this role.  Dawson knows how to react to what is happening in the moment and can use that to support his fellow actors in their work.  It makes for a strong performance that gets even better when Tyrone expresses his feelings of loss at Dave’s failing health.

As Scenic Designer, Cat Johnson creates a compelling set that grounds the scenes where Dave and his friends played Dungeons and Dragons.  But this same set could also be transformed into an imaginary space where all of the gameplaying for Dave’s future takes place.  Also, there is a huge dragon (spoiler) that periodically appears above the set to announce doom and gloom that was also compelling to watch.

In the final analysis, “Initiative” was a wonderful addition to the Cincinnati theatre scene that has starting to lapse into more predictable theatrical fare.  It is a sad play, but it is a good kind of sadness that makes you feel. There were a few missteps within the script (I spoke with the playwright after the show and he told me his is revising the scripts), which is a good thing because this is one play that really should have a life on its own.  It was a good choice for Y.E.S. Festival and one hopes that they will choose another one of his plays for latter Y.E.S. Festival productions.

For more information on Y.E.S. Festival and other NKU productions, go the following website:

Shakespeare’s Scottish play Brings Violent Delights to Cincy Shakes’ 25th Anniversary Season

Review by Willie Caldwell of “Macbeth”: Cincinnati Shakespeare Company

Part supernatural fable, part horror flick, “Macbeth” delivers blood, guts, and gore in Cincinnati Shakespeare’snewest production.

One of the Bard’s more famous tragedies, Macbeth is a play about dark ambition. More so, it’s an exploration of blood, guilt, and the fragility of the human psyche. The play begins with General Macbeth receiving a prophecy from three witches that he is destined to become the King of Scotland. Eager to assume power, and urged on by Lady Macbeth, the pair set out to claim their destiny by brutally killing everyone in their path. As the body count continues to climb, the guilt racked duo descends into a supernatural spiral of madness and death. 

Cincinnati Shakespeare veteran, Miranda McGee, directs the adaptation showcasing her love of horror in a delightfully grotesque fashion. Giles Davies delivers a merciless performance as Macbeth – scheming, plotting, and murdering his way into political importance. Davies’ slim frame and effective use of physicality create a desperate character bent on assuming power at all costs. Kelly Mengelkoch portrays a ruthless Lady Macbeth who begins as a strong and manipulative woman but succumbs to the maddening guilt of her own blood-stained hands. The pair play well off of each other and bring a classic interpretation to the infamous characters.

Overall, Cincy Shakes’ production brings a dark and visceral adaptation to the stage, giving gravitas to the traditional story. The set, costumes, and treatment of the language are all period specific with strong attention to detail. As mentioned before, the use of theatrical gore was delightfully grotesque causing the audience to laugh uncomfortably several times throughout the production. 

The treatment of the witches is a particular stand out part of Cincy Shakes’ adaptation. The use of projections, creepy soundscapes, and voice augmentation create a surreal and terrifying experience whenever the “Sisters Three” make an appearance. The witches themselves (played by Darnell Pierre Benjamin, Courtney Lucien, and Caitlin McWethy) bring a demonic, Mephistophelian presence that is repeated every time they appear. The play makes full use of the technological abilities of the Otto M. Budig Theatre and it’s great to see the company continuing to test the limits of their new home.

The stage combat is highly orchestrated and for the most part quite impressive. At times, the fight choreography feels a bit labored which is to be expected with such a sizeable cast. Several sequences move too slowly to translate any real sense of urgency or danger but given the amount of theatrical gore this might be a good thing. Suspension of disbelief can be a delicate thing.

“Macbeth” isn’t a play for everyone. It’s a dark, violent exploration about the pursuit of political power. In the end, Macbeth becomes the very thing he is fighting against. The play is full of murder, blood, and gore with a shocking amount of violence. For those comfortable with the dark side of human nature, Cincy Shakes production delivers violent delights and violent ends. 

“Macbeth” runs April 5 – May 4that The Otto M. Budig Theater, 1195 Elm Street, Cincinnati, OH 45202. Tickets can be purchased online at www.cincyshakes.comor by calling the box office at 513-381-2273.