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Covedale’s “Almost Heaven” Will Give Uou a “Rocky Mountain High”

Review by Doug Iden of ‘Almost Heaven”: Covedale Theatre

“Sunshine on my Shoulders Makes Me Happy” is one of the most popular songs written by John Denver and, in his words, best sums up the production Almost Heavennow showing at the Covedale Theater.  If you like John Denver, you will like this show.  If you don’t like John Denver, well…..

This is a classic Broadway Review which is a compilation of themed songs tied together by a gossamer-thin thread of a story.  The theme here is the music, lyrics and life of John Denver.  The show sits mid-point between a plotted play and a musical concert, sometimes sliding towards the story but, more often, towards the music.  The story, brief as it is, tells Denver’s life history as a way to segue into the music which is presented chronologically as he wrote it.  His story is mostly sanitized and uplifting but there is mention of his drinking and contentious divorce from his wife Annie.

Characteristic of many Reviews, there are no characters per se.  All seven singer/actors are identified as “company”, playing different parts throughout the show but, mostly, singing. However, one “company” character (Liam Sweeney) does represent Denver and tells most of his story.  Sweeney “portrays” Denver as a personable, enthusiastic character, has a good singing voice and sports a pseudo-Denver haircut to boot.  The other six singers (Brian Anderson, Kelsey Rose Cummings, Elaine Diehl, Annie Schneider, Jamie Steele and Kyle Taylor) alternate between doing solos, duets, singing in the chorus and acting various parts.  

There are a number of musical highlights in the show starting with Cummings singing “Rhymes and Reasons”, “I Guess I’d Rather Be in Colorado” and “I’m Sorry”. Cummings has an excellent voice for Denver’s music. Sweeney displays a laconic style with “Thank God, I’m a Country Boy” and a brief but excellent duet with Cummings featuring “Annie’s Song”.  Taylor (most recently seen at The Carnegie inHunchback of Notre Dame) excels in “Country Roads”.  Schneider nailed my personal favorite Denver song “Leaving on a Jet Plane”.  With a decidedly country/western style, Diehl sang the haunting “Fly Away” and Steele led the chorus in the rambunctious homage to Jacques Cousteau in “Calypso” which ends the first act.  

The second act opens with “Country Boy” featuring a variety of folksy musical instruments including a washboard, Jew’s harp and spoons. Several of the singers also accompanied themselves on guitars.  Another interesting moment was “Grandma’s Feather Bed” using an upright feather bed prop with various actors popping up from the bed.  Director Tim Perino also makes an appearance as a singer. The show ends with the entire chorus belting Denver’s anthem “Rocky Mountain High”.

Keyboard/Conductor Greg Dastillung leads the on-stage band of Aaron Almashy, Geoff Pittman, Hannah Mueller, Jan Diehl and George Bruce while leading the singers.  The opening number was a little rocky but the cast and the band warmed up to the music.

Brett Bowling’s set design was apropos with a mountain cabin on the side with the sign “Welcome to the Rocky Mountains”.  A video screen was flanked with totem poles. Snow covered evergreens appeared on both wings with a surrealistic image of a mounting bridging the two wings across the top of the stage.  Caren Brady’s costumes were simple but appropriate.  The women wore dresses with cowboy boots and the men had blue jeans and shirts.  Sweeney (as Denver) wore a buckskin jacket.

One interesting plot approach is the use of letters (real ones, I presume) which the “company” frequently reads which helps move the story along and highlights significant times in Denver’s life. Another device is the use of pictures projected onto a large screen at the back of the stage.  The pictures show news elements (Vietnam protests, for example), pictures of Denver’s family and albums and many scenic views.  Sometimes the pictures are augmented by dialogue, but often stand alone.  The pictures are, of course, queued to events displayed through the plot or the music onstage.

John Denver’s music and lyrics represented a unique voice and a personal view of his world.  The music floated between prevailing genres of the day including folk, rock, country and western, protest and traditional popular songs.  His music, often criticized as corny and irrelevant, was genuine and always filled with joy and his palette was huge, including deeply personal songs, raucous “how-downs”, protest melodies, love songs and almost spiritual anthems to the great outdoors.  His canvass encompassed the eastern wilds of West Virginia to the sweeping vistas of the mountain west to an exhilarating exploration of the sea with Jacques Cousteau.  But, unlike many other self-absorbed, angst-driven composer/lyricists of the day, Denver’s music transcended the maudlin and painted a universal image of his exhilarating world.  His songs were simple but never simplistic.  

Overall, I found the production competent, enthusiastic, joyful and entertaining.  There’s a lot to be said for a show that’s entertaining.

So, “Country Roads, Take Me Home to the Place I Belong, Covedale Theater, West Side Mama, Take me Home”.  Almost Heaven plays through March 10.

Covedale Honors the Memory of John Denver with “Almost Heaven”

Review by Laurel Humes of “Almost Heaven”: Covedale Theatre

John Denver fans, here’s your show: “Almost Heaven” at the Covedale Center for the Performing Arts.

Nearly 30 of Denver’s songs, which he wrote and/or sang, are performed by a great 7-person company of vocalists and 6-piece band. The songs span a career that started in 1965 and tragically ended in 1997, when Denver died piloting an experimental plane.

Do not expect a clear chronology of Denver’s life and songs. There is very little explanatory dialogue, so the show may send some casual fans to Google to fill in the blanks.

But there is excellent use of a video screen that displays images to root the songs in specific times and places. This is especially effective in the first act – the assassinations in the 1960s, the Vietnam War and the hippie movement.

Denver’s folk-singing start was with the Mitchell Trio, known for satirical songs that criticized current events. So “Draft Dodger Rag,” with some clever choreography, is in the show, along with the Denver-penned “I Wish I Could Have Been There (Woodstock).”

Especially poignant is 1971’s “Take Me Home, Country Roads,” performed in front of images of Vietnam soldiers. 

The focus in the second act is more personal: Denver’s marriage (“Annie’s Song”) and then divorce; move to Colorado (“Rocky Mountain High”), and even a drunk driving charge.

What I had forgotten (okay, I Googled!) was Denver’s commitment to the causes of world hunger and ecology. The rousing performance of “Calypso,” an ode to Jacques Cousteau, is backed by video images of the exploration ship.

Covedale’s stand-in for John Denver is Liam Sweeney, who certainly favors the singer with his lanky build, blonde hair, and sweet smile. But the songs are shared equally by the entire company of Brian Anderson, Kelsey Rose Cummings, Elaine Diehl, Annie Schneider, Jamie Steele and Kyle Taylor. All have strong and beautiful voices, and there is a good mix of solos and ensemble singing.

Only once do we see video of the actual John Denver singing. Then it’s muted, and Sweeney takes over. That could have been scary, the actor next to the icon. But Sweeney’s performance is especially strong here.

Brett Bowling’s set design is wonderfully rustic, highlighted by the exterior of a barn and blending in elements of mountains and pine trees. An especially nice touch is the framing of the video screen in Native American totems.

Here’s a first: director Tim Perrino is so in love with “Almost Heaven” that he and his guitar take the stage toward the end to join the company in “I’d Rather Be a Cowboy.” The temptation to sing along is shared by the audience, so don’t be surprised if you hear your seat-mates – or yourself. 

“Almost Heaven: the Songs of John Denver” runs through March 10 at the Covedale Center, 4990 Glenway Ave. Tickets are available at www.clpshows.orgor 513-241-6550.

Right This Way to “Cabaret” at NKU

Review by Kevin Reynolds of “Cabaret”: NKU Theatre

On a Valentine’s Day evening, what good is sitting alone in your room?

While it will never appear on a list of “most romantic musicals,” the current production of “Cabaret” at Northern Kentucky University‘s School of the Arts certainly evokes plenty of other emotions.

Director Brian Robertson has assembled a stellar cast of performers with strong voices and a cohesive choral style. This is a good time to point out that, while “Cabaret” has always featured fluid gender portrayals, I would define this production as gender defiant. It starts from the first moment with a female Emcee, which at first seems counter to traditional “Cabaret” wisdom, but when you are exposed to the relentless debauchery of pre-Nazi Berlin and the overt sexuality oozing from the stage, those concerns — combined with the commanding stage presence and fully embraced portrayal by Faustina Gorham – that choice seems completely reasonable.

And while the Emcee often garners much of the attention, there can not be a compelling, emotional “Cabaret” without a compelling, emotional Sally Bowles. Every pivotal moment, every plot advancement, and every true sense of humanity comes through Sally. Makenzie Ruff brings all the acting and musical power the role demands and then some. Her performance of “Maybe This Time” was heartfelt, beautifully phrased, and brought raucous cheers from the opening night audience. 

There are several other performances of note: Sam Johnson as both Ernst and one of the kick line dancers proved his tremendous versatility. Haley Gillman as Frau Kost really brought the vocal goods to the Act One finale of the reprise of “Tomorrow Belongs to Me,” a duet with the aforementioned Sam Johnson, when the tone of the entire production shifts to Nazi fear right before our eyes.

Finally, Sarah Hack and Matthew Nassida as Frau Schneider and Herr Schultz pulled off what I think was an interesting choice by director Robertson. As the two elders in the story, they never changed out of their decadent Kit Kat Club attire for these roles. Instead, by donning a few costume pieces, they adopted some older person characteristics (a little slumped over or a slightly higher-pitched voice) to become Schneider and Schultz. I admit that it took some getting used to, seeing the kindly fruit vendor Schultz in a fedora, suit jacket, mesh t-shirt and fishnets with garters. But again, when seen in the context of the entirety of this production’s vision, it was a consistent choice and they pulled it off beautifully.

High praise to the set design by Lindsey Purvis – it was an excellent use of the space from side to side, front to back, and top to bottom. The placement of the outstanding 11-piece orchestra (under the direction of Jamey Strawn) at the back of the stage perfectly fit the Kit Kat Club. The tawdry, gender bending costumes by Ronnie Chamberlain and the excellent dialect coaching by Taylor Isabel Winkleski made the characters resonate more fully.

If you’ve seen “Cabaret” before, don’t let that keep you from seeing this singularly unique, well-staged and well-performed production. In fact, a little research showed the casting of a female as the Emcee is a rare occurrence and, frankly, has many detractors. I can see why, if done simply as a stunt and the surrounding production doesn’t embrace that choice, but this one does, and it makes for a truly satisfying theatrical experience.

“Cabaret” runs through February 25 at NKUs Corbett Theatre. For tickets, visit NKY SOTA Box Officeor call (859) 572-5464.

We’re Butter Together: A Review of American Legacy Theatre’s Production of “Spinning into Butter”

Review by Alan Jozwiak of Spinning Into Butter: American Legacy Theatre

(Note: this is a new and updated review of my previous review–the first review was with the understudy cast and this is a second viewing.)

Racially motivated hate crimes are becoming all too common on college campuses.  In 2017, The Chronicle of Higher Education reported close to 280 hate crimes across college campuses throughout the United States. These hate crimes can take any number of forms — including racially derogatory notes sent to minority students. Such notes forms the basis of the American Legacy Theatre’s latest production, Rebecca Gilman’s Spinning into Butter.

Spinning into Butterdeals with the aftermath of fictional Belmont College dealing with the racism behind these derogatory notes, both from the administration and the student body. Administrators Strauss (Elliott Young) and Kenney (Katie Groneman) want to find a quick solution to the problem, either by creating racial forums or generating ten-point plans to deal with the issue.  Students Greg (Ray Dzhorgov) and Patrice (Anyssa Selkirk) want to use the incident to explore issues of racial politics and identity, while faculty member Ross (Caleb Farley) and Dean of Student Services Sarah (Hannah Rahe Goodman) each explore their own racial biases.

A newcomer onto the Cincinnati theatre scene, American Legacy Theatre (A.L.T.) is the brainchild of Matthew David Gellin. The driving force in creating A.L.T. is to change the nature of the theatrical experience. The group is dedicated to presenting their shows in intimate, site-specific settings that complement the themes of their shows. For example, in November, the company had a show held on the Cincinnati Bell Connector streetcar in response to audience interest in gentrification in Over-the-Rhine. 

Ultimately, A.L.T. has a stretch goal of becoming part of a National Theatre in the United States (we are the only first world country without a National Theatre).

A.L.T.’s partnership with The Carnegie Center of Columbia Tusculum, a former Carnegie library, makes it the perfect location for the formal academic feel of Belmont College.  Bookcases line the walls of the theatre space and the high vaulted ceilings convey a splendor of yesteryear.  Director Matt Gellin further highlights this space by having a theatre-in-the-round arrangement. Gellin does a fine job at moving actors through the space without privileging a particular angle.  

Gellin is also able to get sculpted performances where actors interact with each other in interesting ways.  For instance, Ray Dzhorgov, who plays Greg, did some wonderful facial and verbal reactions to Sarah’s questions about forming the student group Students for Tolerance.

It made Greg’s small role that much more interesting to watch.

Hannah Rahe Goodman, who played the lead, Sarah, was a wonderful study in how the bland niceties of professionalism can hide roiling emotions of anger, hurt, and hatred. Rahe Goodman does a strong job showing the ways that Sarah’s professional mask slowly disintegrates over the course of the play.  Rahe Goodman is in every scene of the play, so the audience gets a chance to see that slow destruction of her mask in slow stages. 

Rahe Goodman was particularly strong with Sarah’s long speech in the middle of Act II where she reveals all her racist thoughts.  Equally compelling was her speech at the end of the play where she talks about holding the hands of Simon Brick, the African-American student who was the target of the derogatory notes.  The pathos of the scene was moving.

The cast also had two out standouts—the actors plays Ross (Caleb Farley) and Strauss (Elliott Young).  Farley plays Ross as the carefree man-boy faculty member who was sleeping with Sarah while his other girlfriend Petra was out of the country. Farley brings conviction to that part and is skillfully able to interact with Sarah (Rahe Goodman) in ways that are enjoyable to watch and holds the audience’s attention.

Elliot Young as Strauss is a wonderful blend of crazed insistence with blowhard surety. Young knows how to deliver the right amount of each of these traits in his performance to make the audience never certain what he will do next.  His interactions with Kenney (Katie Groneman) were also a wonderful study in how actors react to other.  

The title of the play Spinning into Butterdraws the story of Little Black Sambo, where the tigers who take all of Little Black Sambo’s clothing spin themselves into butter by running around in circles. Taking the title and “spinning” it a little bit further, the play ultimately comes to the conclusion that “we’re butter together” by recognizing our common humanity instead of being divided by issues of race. 

I saw this production with the Monday night understudy cast and felt the play was deserving enough to be seen again with the main cast.  As a play, Spinning into Butteris rich and complex enough to be seen several times without feeling repetitive.  This production in particular is a solid rendition of a timely play that should not be missed.  Spinning into Butter is seldom performed in the Cincinnati area and it has enough drama, heart, and issues to satisfy anyone who loves theatre. 

Spinning into Butterruns for the next two weeks, with performances running at 7:30 pm on February 7, 11 (second understudy performance), 15, and 16 with 2pm performances on February 10 and 17.  Go to https://www.americanlegacytheatre.org/spinning-into-butterto find out more information concerning production dates/times.

American Legacy Theatre’s “Spinning in Butter” Highlights Its Unique Mission

Cincinnati’s newest entry into the theatre scene, the American Legacy Theatre, presents a powerful and personal scrutiny of racism on campus with its latest production, Spinning in Butter.

The driving force of the new American Legacy Theatre (A.L.T.) is to change the nature of the theatrical experience. The brainchild of  Matthew David Gellin, a local actor-director who has been a regular around Cincinnati theatre, A.L.T. productions are a response to audience feedback concerning topics their audience wants to see discussed onstage. From that point, A.L.T. finds plays which match up those topics. In addition, the group is dedicated to presenting their shows in intimate, site-specific settings that complement the themes of their shows. For example, in November, the company had a show held on the Cincinnati Bell Connector streetcar in response to audience interest in gentrification in Over-the-Rhine. Finally, A.L.T. has another lofty but important vision: to become part of a National Theatre in the United States, the only first world country without one.

Spinning in Butter examines the rise of racially motivated hate crimes , which are becoming all too common on college campuses. One such form of hate crime, writing racially derogatory notes against minority students, is the basis for A.L.T.’s current production, written by playwright Rebecca Gilman, who experienced a similar incident while as a student.

Spinning into Butter takes place at fictional Belmont College, a private school in Vermont where the student population is largely white.  Dean of Students Sarah Daniels has to work around the needs of her fellow administrators and the college community when racially charged notes appear at the dorm room of Simon Brick, an African-American freshman.  What follows is a revealing exposé on how the administration and student body respond to the racist incident. 

For this show, Gellin took this topic of racial injustice and found a strong venue where it could explored—The Carnegie Center of Columbus Tusculum.  A former Carnegie library, the center’s main activity room is perfect for conveying the serious academic nature of Belmont College.  Bookcases line the walls of the theatre space.  Gellin further stages the show using theatre in the round, meaning that there are no privileged viewpoints.  As a director, Gellin does a fine job at moving actors through the space without privileging a particular angle.

I saw their production on a Monday night and Monday nights are reserved for the understudies to perform.  Part of the mission of the American Legacy Theatre is to be a teaching company and they have a complete cast of understudies for every role. Not only are they on call in case an actor in the main cast can’t make it onstage, they also get a chance to tread the boards for at least two productions throughout the run of the show.  Being an understudy for this show also means attending almost all of the rehearsals of the main cast.

Since I saw an understudy cast, I will not go into critiquing performances, other than to say that there was some fine actingt.  I did get a chance to interview both actors playing Sarah—Hannah Rahe Goodman and her understudy Katelyn Nevin.  What follows are some of the questions that came up in the post-show Q&A, as well as through conversation with the actors after the show: 

 What was the most challenging thing about performing this show?

Rahe Goodman: I had to stop judging Sarah [my character].  I was struggling to memorize some of her lines because I saw her as a racist.  I had to find ways to stop judging her and letting her reveal her own thoughts without my commentary.

Nevin: The long monologue Sarah has in Act II [where Sarah reveals her racism]. Also, I have three younger siblings who are mixed race, so playing a racist has been hard.  I am close to my younger sister and I have to stop thinking about her whenever I get to Sarah’s long monologue.  I could not get through it otherwise.

What was the experience of rehearsing this play?

Rahe Goodman: Since Sarah is in every scene, Matt [Gellin] made me work on breathing from my diaphragm during rehearsals so that I could sustain my performance.  I’ve gotten into the practice of doing a ten-minute meditation where I would mindfully breathe before a show and it helps sustain my breathing during performance.  It also helps me have more of an emotional connection with Sarah, making me able to go deeper into her character.

Nevin: I was at most of the rehearsals with Hannah [Rahe Goodman], so I got a chance to see her at work.  I was impressed with Hannah’s process of rehearsal in the way that she could get to the emotions within a scene.  It helped me with my performance with Sarah.

Sarah interacts with all the characters within the play.  Which character is the most fun for you to work off of?

Rahe Goodman: It is a toss-up between Ross [played in the main cast by Caleb Farley] and Strauss [played in the main cast by Elliott Young].  It is fun with Elliott because he can give back as much as I give him within the play.  With Caleb, we can work off each other very well.

Nevin: Ross [played in the understudy cast by Ray Dzhorgov].  Ray and I are friends offstage and we have the same sarcastic type of personality.  It is fun working with him on stage.

Even having seen the understudy cast, I feel that this production of Spinning into Butter is a very worthwhile experience.  It is a provocative piece of theater and a good sign for things to come from American Legacy Theater.  I would put this on the list of theatre productions to check out.  Spinning into Butter runs for the next two weeks, with performances running at 7:30 pm on February 7, 11 (second understudy performance), 15, and 16 with 2pm performances on February 10 and 17. Tickets can be obtained on their website www.americanlegacytheatre.org/.

The View from Death Row: A Review of Falcon Theatre’s Production of “The Exonerated”

Review by Alan Jozwiak of The Exonerated: Falcon Theatre

This is not the place for thought that does not end in concreteness;

It is not easy to be open or too curious.

It is dangerous to dwell too much on things:

To wonder who or why or when, to wonder how, is dangerous.

This warning, issued by Death Row inmate Delbert Tibbs at the start of the play The Exonerated, sums up the experience of diving into this play where the audience learns about the real-life tragic experiences of six innocent people who, through circumstances beyond their control, ended up being convicted of murder and sentenced to death.

The stories presented in The Exonerated were culled from interviews that the playwrights Jessica Blank and Erik Jiensen conducted from actual people who were exonerated of their crimes while on Death Row. These stories make for a compelling evening of theatre put on by Falcon Theatre.

We get to hear the tales of six people—Delbert (Darryl Hilton), Sunny (Dee Anne Bryll), Robert (Keith Alan Holland, Jr.), Gary (Brian Griffin), Kerry (Phineas Clark), and David (James Troup). Each story is different and unique, but share the common theme on how easily an unsuspecting citizen can be accused of a crime.

These six actors were faithful stewards of the stories that they were entrusted to tell. All six of the principles gave strong performances that powerfully presenting their stories. Each actors had moments where they could shine, like in the police interrogations of both Gary (Griffin) and Sunny (Bryll), the shocking confessions of prison life by Robert (Holland) and its toll on family members by Kerry (Phineas Clark), and the aftermath of life in prison by Delbert (Hilton) and David (Troup).

The spiritual weight of the show rests on the character of Delbert and Darryl. Hilton captures Delbert’s wisdom, his warmth, and worn-down belief in things like fairness and justice. Hilton nicely balances these traits without sounding forced or fake; he channels the old soul nature of Delbert in ways that substantially support the performances of his fellow actors.

The emotional weight of the show rests on Sunny, and Dee Anne Bryll gives us a study of a women struggling to save herself, her husband, and her children in the wake of impossible circumstances. Bryll’s story has some surprising emotional shockers which she delivers with authenticity and power. I won’t divulge them here, except to comment that several audience members gasped when they were revealed.

Director Paul Morris does a masterly job at allowing the stories to take precedent and having the actors sitting in chairs telling their tale. Taking a cue from the original off-Broadway production, the actors are seated in chairs as they tell their story. Only Delbert’s character is allowed to roam the stage as he philosophizes about life and incarceration.

By removing distractions of setting, props, and costumes, the audience is able to concentrate all the more on the stories being presented. It was a wise choice which added to the power of the show.

Working in conjunction with the Ohio Innocence Project, Falcon also hosted several exonerated people for a talkback after select performances of the play. I was privileged to hear the story of Clarence Elkins, who was exonerated of killing his mother-in-law and niece. He is living proof of what happens when justice runs afoul. On February 8, Falcon will host Patrick Welage, who is Professor Emeritus of Theology, Philosophy, and Theatre Arts to discuss the moral issues raised within the play.

This is a rare opportunity to see this play performed with a talented cast. Do not miss it. The Exonerated runs one more week, with performances February 7 – 9 at 636 Monmouth Street in Historic Newport, Kentucky. For more information, please go to the Falcon website at: http://falcontheater.net/current-season/exonerated/.

Incline’s “The Graduate” Wants to Ask You a Personal Question

Review by Jack Crumley of The Graduate: Warsaw Federal Incline Theatre

Mike Nichol’s film, The Graduate, is arguably the most iconic coming-of-age tale of love and sex of the 1960s. From its long, dialogue-free opening shots and iconic framing to its highly quotable dialogue (“Plastics!”), The Graduate represents an essential piece of American culture. In the year 2000, it was adapted for the stage by Terry Johnson and had a run both in London and on Broadway. Johnson’s work blended elements both from the movie and from the original 1963 novella by Charles Webb. It also included scenes in neither the film nor the book, though that’s not indicated by Director Greg Proccacino for this production that’s running at the Warsaw Federal Incline Theatre, now through February 10 (just in time to miss Valentine’s Day, appropriately).

The Graduate tells the story of Benjamin Braddock: 21-years-old, fresh out of college, and totally disillusioned with life. He’s highly educated and exceptionally alone, looking for anything that’ll make him feel something he considers genuine. An encounter with Mrs. Robinson at his graduation party, and a subsequent (albeit brief) stint fighting wildfires, give him a thirst for both life and an affair with her. The two begin to regularly see each other at a hotel until outside forces manipulate Benjamin into going on a date with Mrs. Robinson’s daughter, Elaine. Despite his efforts to sabotage it, Benjamin finds himself drawn to Elaine’s honesty and ability to actually converse. When Elaine becomes engaged to another man Benjamin is forced to confront his true feelings and goals in life.

For this production, Elliot Handkins plays Benjamin, and Marissa Poole plays Mrs, Robinson, both shouldering a heavy load in putting these characters on stage without simply doing an impression of Dustin Hoffman and Anne Bancroft. Procaccino’s program notes focus on how this show is about choices and the consequences they bring. And I would say the choices Handkins and Poole make are what makes this production unique.

There’s an awkwardness that’s inherent to Benjamin’s character, especially in the first act, and Handkins plays it with a slightly frantic candor, not a quiet reserve. He’s graduated college and he still finds himself being told what to do by his parents, and he’s sick of it. The relationship he has with Mrs. Robinson starts as an act of rebellion, however reluctant he is at first.

Poole’s work as Mrs. Robinson covers a variety of emotions and moods that are almost constantly in flux. She shifts from nihilistic, to defiant, to playful, to seductive, to dismissive, to manipulative from line to line, and that’s just the first scene. There’s also an honesty to Poole’s portrayal of the character that wasn’t a part of the film. Her Mrs. Robinson comes off as more direct than devious in that once she decides she wants Benjamin, it’s practically fait accompli.

The supporting adult character roles are filled admirably by Brent Alan Burington (whom I last saw as Henry Higgins in Covedale’s My Fair Lady) and Torie Pate as Benjamin’s often confused, frequently frustrated parents. Alan Kootsher plays Mr. Robinson as an interesting combination of blustering sad sack. I last saw Madison Pullins relishing the daydream sequences as Mrs. Shields in the Covedale production of A Christmas Story from just last month, but she’s playing a much more complex character this time around as Elaine Robinson. Pullins as Elaine is equal parts innocent and intriguing. She’s such a breath of fresh air compared to her cynical mother that the youthful Benjamin can’t help but be attracted to her. Pullins is playing an Elaine that is still a pleasant, open person, despite having grown up being constantly told what to do by a mother who resents her. There’s more for her to do in this production than the movie, including a scene where she and her mother get drunk together and bemoan, well, pretty much everything. It gives a better glimpse into what Elaine Robinson’s life has been like. The dynamic between Pullins and Handkins feels very natural.

Warsaw’s Executive Artistic Director, Tim Perrino, greeted the audience before the show began by pointing out emergency exits and promoting the next season at the theatre. He also warned the audience that this show is “rated R,” and that was a fair warning. Poole’s Mrs. Robinson has several scenes where she’s fully nude on stage and there is an extended musical montage of her in bed with Handkins’ Benjamin. Praise to the actors, the director, and the rehearsal regimen for making the parts of the show with said nudity play with a steadiness and sophistication. It’s a professional atmosphere all around, and Sunday’s Warsaw audience, while certainly surprised when she drops the towel, did not seem to take offense. Brett Bowling’s set design is a simple room with a center backing that rotates to go from bedroom/hotel room to strip club with a small stage. There are no scenes of characters driving in cars, just walking through the city streets of the audience. A simple light on the stage conveys Benjamin and Mrs. Robinson in an elevator. There are some great effects in the climactic final scene.  

The Graduate is playing at the Warsaw Federal Incline Theatre on Wednesday and Thursday at 7:30, Friday and Saturday at 8:00, and Sunday at 2:00 now through February 10, 2019. Tickets are available by phone at 513-241-6550 or 513-241-6551 or on the Warsaw website: www.cincinnatilandmarkproductions.com/incline

CSC “Fences” Testifies “Keep Swinging for the Fences, Even if You Miss”

Review by Jenifer Moore of “Fences”: Cincinnati Shakespeare Company

“In life, you gotta take the crooked with the straight.”  That’s what the main character, Troy Maxson, believes in August Wilson’s Pulitzer Prize winning drama “Fences”. Director Christopher V. Edward’s powerful rendition of this iconic stage play at the Cincinnati Shakespeare Company captures hearts and minds, bringing to life the promise, pain, joy and heartbreak of being black in America during the late 1950’s. Set in Wilson’s hometown of Pittsburgh, Pa., “Fences” shows the physical and emotional struggle of trying to achieve the ideal American Dream against racial barriers.

“ranney” and Torie Wiggins in “Fences”

The realities of black poverty are present more than ever in the set, designed by Shannon Moore, featuring a barren yard with more cracked dirt than grass, a lonely baseball tied to a tree and a porch for conversations both joyous and tough.

CSC newcomer “ranney” leaves everything on the stage as Troy, a broken black garbage collector whose dreams of making it to the big league disappear at the all-too-familiar hands of racism. Professional Baseball was not open to him at the time, no matter what his swing. Bitter by his circumstances, Troy turns to the bottle, arrogance and telling crazy stories to survive. Joined by him are his beautiful lady love Rose (Torie Wiggins), dedicated to fulfilling her wifely duties, often times at the expense of her own hopes and dreams; Gabriel (Geoffrey Warren Barnes II), a younger brother disabled from war injuries; Cory (Crystian Wiltshire), a son with dreams of being a successful football player; and Lyons (Darnell Pierre Benjamin), a middle-aged son whose creative spirit often leaves him begging for money to stay afloat.

“Fences” is a must-see for those who wish to know how racism can hinder and impact African American families for generations. As Troy’s good friend Bono (Sylvester Little, Jr.) notes, “some people build fences to keep people out, other people build fences to keep people in.” Society has built fences in numerous ways to keep African Americans from succeeding and equaling the playing field among races. Yet, Troy, through his determination, keeps swinging for the fences, despite a few misses.

August Wilson’s “Fences” is a part of the Cincinnati Shakespeare Theatre Company’s 25th Anniversary season and will run until Feb. 16, 2019. Tickets can be purchased online, by calling the Box Office at (513) 381-2273 ext. 1 or in person seven days a week noon – 5pm at The Otto M. Buddig Theater 1195 Elm Street Cincinnati, OH 45202.