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“Dancing” on Solid Ground at NKU

Review by Spenser Smith of Dancing at Lughnasa at NKU

Dancing at Lughnasa, winner of the 1992 Tony Award for Best Play, is the story of five unmarried sisters living together in a small cottage in l936 Ireland. Rose (Amellia Gabrielle Adkins) and Agnes (Jessica Stafford) are the younger sisters eager to attend the Festival of Lughnasa, much to the dismay of Kate (Madison Pullins). It seems their only reprieve comes from the wireless radio, to which they dance and sing, and even that lets them down on occasion. This memory play is narrated through the eyes of Michael (Ben Eglian), the illegitimate son of Maggie (Anna Claire Hoots). He is only seven in 1936, the year his elderly uncle, Father Jack (Daniel King), returns home after serving twenty-five years as a missionary in a Ugandan leper colony. That summer Michael meets his father Gerry (Landis Helwig) for the first time. Gerry is charming to a fault and completely unreliable.

This play defines what it means to be an ensemble. No character gets a bigger feature than another and the story only stands because of our interest in the complex relationships of the sisters. Not much can beat the incredible performances featured in last seasons Grapes of Wrath, but this shuffles pretty close. There are fantastic performances (almost) all around. The story takes places in Ireland and dialect Coach Nicole Perrone (Welcome to NKU!) has fine-tuned the speech so that it serves the setting but we can still understand every word.

Congrats to Director Daryl Harris and his magnificent cast. Harris has assembled a wonderful group of actors and it is clear how much time was spent on storytelling. Without that, this play doesn’t exist. Harris’ thoughtful blocking makes the circular movements of the actors (the play is set in the round) look natural. Attention has also been paid to pace. The first act alone is an hour and a half, but it doesn’t leave us glancing at our watches. Ron Shaw’s minimalistic set was aesthetically fitting (visible screws and modern brackets aside) of the Mundy’s feeble means. Oh, and those wet props! Too often in theatre today we see actors pantomiming, or faking real actions with fake things (i.e. “drinking” from empty cups). Not in this production and it’s much appreciated. There were a few technical glitches on opening night, but nothing that surely hasn’t already been amended.

Dancing at Lughnasa continues at the Stauss Theatre on the campus of Northern Kentucky University through October 29.

For tickets, call 859-572-5464 or visit theatre.NKU.edu.

Move your Caboosical to CCM’s “Seussical”

Review by Laurel Humes of Seussical the Musical: CCM Musical Theatre

CCM’s Seussical is charming, witty and imaginative – just like the Dr. Seuss children’s books that form the basis of the musical.

Seussical is this season’s first Mainstage Series Production from the musical theatre department of the College-Conservatory of Music, University of Cincinnati. The show pulls out all the stops: Broadway-worthy costumes, lighting, staging and standout performances. All what audiences expect from CCM.

Disappointing, on opening night at least, was the sound. We could not always understand the lyrics or dialogue, which sometimes seemed muddy or badly amplified. The situation improved in the second act.

Seussical primarily draws from two stories starring Horton, the kind-hearted, loyal elephant (“an elephant’s faithful 100%”).

First, Horton discovers and protects the dust speck-sized town of Whoville, which exists on a clover flower. Then, the naïve elephant is conned into sitting on a bird egg so its flamboyant mother, Mayzie, can take a vacation. Meanwhile, Gertrude McFuzz, a plain bird, tries to get Horton’s attention.

There are terrific performances from this trio. Frankie Thams’ Horton is so gentle and low-key that he could be overlooked in the frantic action around him. But Thams gives Horton the right amount of determination in defending the tiny Whos (“a person’s a person, no matter how small”) and his voice shines especially in the song “Solla Sollew” about a magical world.

Emily Royer proves to be a fine comedic actress and singer as Gertrude, unfortunately born with a one-feather tail. Outshined by the other Bird Girls and desperate to attract Horton’s attention, she gets pills and grows a tail so long she can no longer fly. Well, for a while – there is a moral to this story for children and adults.

Bryn Purvis as the dazzling, egocentric bird Mayzie really comes into her own in Act II. Her duet with the Cat in the Hat, “Mayzie in Palm Beach,” is a showstopper of great singing and comedy.

So where is Dr. Seuss’ most famous character, the Cat? Everywhere, although none of the stories are his. In Seussical, the Cat serves as master of ceremonies, walking us through and sometimes inserting himself into the stories. Kevin Chlapecka is superbly smooth and sardonic.

Special mention must go also to Derek Kastner and Marissa Hecker as the hilarious Mr. Mayor and Mrs. Mayor of Whoville.

Of local interest – Seussical composer Stephen Flaherty is a 1982 CCM graduate. He and his longtime lyricist partner also wrote Ragtime, Once on this Island and, most recently, Anastasia.

Seussical continues Oct. 25-29. For ticket information, call 513-556-4183.

Young Frankenstein is ‘ALIIIIIIIVE’ at The Covedale

Review by Jack Crumley Young Frankenstein: Covedale Center for the Performing Arts

Last month, Covedale audiences watched Annie Sullivan work miracles with Helen Keller in a production that was at times intense and very emotional and moving.

Now for something completely different…

Covedale gets very silly (and very sexual) for the fall with Mel Brooks’ classic: Young Frankenstein, his brilliant 1974 spoof movie that Brooks himself adapted for Broadway in 2007. Young Frankenstein tells the story of college anatomy professor, Dr Frederick Frankenstein, travelling to Transylvania after learning of his grandfather’s passing (the infamous Victor Von Frankenstein). There, with the help of Igor, lab assistant Inga, and housekeeper Frau Blucher, Freddie fulfills his family destiny and reanimates a corpse of his own, creating a giant monster to terrorize the village. Now imagine that presented in the most ridiculous way possible, live on stage.

Praise first goes to the cast. There are going to be a lot of descriptions in this review that will come off as understatements, and calling this show “over-the-top” is the first. The only way to sell a show like this to the audience is to fully embrace the wackiness, and this cast does.

Christopher Logan Carter (Dr Frederick Frankenstein) not only has to play a role defined on film by the great Gene Wilder, but he also has to deliver spitfire words from all the songs Mel Brooks himself wrote for this stage adaptation along with all of the choreography and physical comedy. That first song, “The Brain,” sets the tone perfectly for all the work he’ll be doing the rest of the show. Performing this role Thursday through Sunday nights for the next five weeks has got to be a daunting task, but based on his performance opening night, Carter is up for it. Tyler Gau plays Igor, and again has to deal with expectations set high by another comedy legend, Marty Feldman. To his credit, Gau is not trying to do an impression of Feldman and seems to be having the most fun on stage as he both assists and vexes his master. And sings. And dances. Both men seem to have genuine chemistry and their voices work well together, especially in their song, “Together Again for the First Time.” Peter Cutler plays The Monster, a part whose workload grows as the show goes on. Cutler has to anchor one of the defining scenes in the script, the big “Puttin’ on the Ritz” song and dance number, and he killed it on opening night. By the end of that song, the audience was laughing and clapping along as The Monster evolves from stomps and grunts to stomp-y dance moves and grunt-y singing.

The women of the core group hold their own. Heather Hale brings her opera chops to the role of Inga, the up-for-anything, local gal, lab assistant. Hale’s singing skills are on full display with the yodelling she has to do in “Roll in the Hay” as she and Carter cavort around in the back of a wagon. Hale also balances playful whimsy with playful sexy, as she’s often either being grabbed or doing the grabbing herself in various scenes. Playing the–let’s say INTENSE–Frau Blucher is Lesley Hitch. She’s working on two dozen performances for Cincinnati Landmark Productions, and she plays Blucher with a healthy amount of showmanship (showwomanship?), directing half of her lines straight at the audience. Her “you’re too kind” line in Act II was so expertly delivered and timed, I’m still not sure it wasn’t an ad lib. Rachel Barkalow rounds out the main cast as Elizabeth Benning, Dr Frankenstein’s high-strung fiancee. Her voice is so well-suited to the role both in dialogue and singing. Other than The Monster, Barkalow’s Benning undergoes the biggest transformation in the show, going from sharply repressed to passionately demanding. Her “Please Don’t Touch Me” song delivered the line I heard most of the audience buzzing about during intermission: where she and the ensemble just sing “tits” like 15 times over and over again.

Young Frankenstein is a huge production. It fittingly begins with a crack of lightning and just goes song after song, and the remaining members of the cast in the ensemble are there for nearly every one. Credit to the ensemble for not only sounding great, but also bringing some talented dancing skills to the stage. The Act I song “Join the Family Business,” where the ghosts of elder Frankensteins terrorize Frederick’s dreams, is a great showcase for both.

On a technical level, Young Frankenstein must’ve been a bear. Brett Bowling’s moody set is just detailed enough, and is loaded with secret doorways, rotating pieces (you’ve got to have the bookcase scene), an elevator, and more. Wired into the set, and timed up with what I would say is the most complex scheme I’ve seen yet at the Covedale, are all the lights. This show has a ton of light and sound cues that all came off flawlessly. It’s not at all surprising to see that Technical Director Denny Reed’s program bio says he’s been in the Cincinnati Entertainment Awards Hall of Fame for years. A handful of the sound cues are recorded, but this show also benefits from having a live band in the pit. Ron Attreau on piano conducts reeds, brass, percussion, and (of course) a violin, providing in-show sounds along with all the songs. The band never overpowered the singing and really added to the production.

In case it’s not clear, this show has a lot of adult themes. There is some occasional cursing, but more predominant are the sexual situations. Saying that the show is “sexually suggestive” is another understatement. This is a boisterous, bawdy show. There are times when characters are either having sex behind a covering or the audience is hearing them have sex off stage. It’s all for laughs, and I wouldn’t call it vulgar. It’s risque, especially for a venue like Covedale. At no point was I offended, but I wouldn’t say that this show is for kids.

Director Bob Brunner, the cast, and the crew put a lot of work into Young Frankenstein and it shows. The opening night audience laughed and clapped along because of all that hard work. If The Miracle Worker was this season’s most dramatic turn, Young Frankenstein is its most comedic.

Young Frankenstein plays Thursday through Sunday until November 12. Tickets are available by calling 513-241-6550 or going to the Covedale website, www.cincinnatilandmarkproductions.com/ccpa

Walk This Way to Covedale’s “Young Frankenstein”

Review by Doug Iden of Young Frankenstein: Covedale Theater

A monster hits the boards as Young Frankenstein stomps onto the stage at the Covedale Theater.  Based upon the movie created by Mel Brooks and Gene Wilder, the musical tells the story of the grandson of the famous scientist who inherits his grandfather’s castle in Transylvania.  In this hilarious parody and homage to old horror films, we first meet Dr. Frederick Frankenstein (who insists his name is pronounced Fronkenstein) teaching an anatomy class on the functions of the brain.  Fredrick, portrayed by a manic Christopher Logan Carter, explains his scientific methods in the song “The Brain” which is a fast patter song reminiscent of Gilbert and Sullivan.  Frederick has eschewed the findings and methods of his famous grandfather but must now travel to Transylvania to settle the estate of his recently deceased relative.

Surrounded by an ingenious set designed by Brett Bowling, Frederick enters Mel Brook’s insanity by first meeting Igor (Tyler Gau) the creepy hunchbacked caretaker whose hump keeps moving from side-to-side.  Gau, echoing Marty Feldman who appeared in the movie, is one of the highlights of the show as an alternately annoying and, ultimately, helpful assistant to the brain surgeon.  They bond with the song “Together Again for the First Time”.  Frederick, who has left behind his fiancé Elizabeth Benning (Rachel Barkalow), is immediately smitten by local resident Inga (Heather Hale).  In a very cleverly constructed scene in a wagon, Inga sings “Roll in the Hay” with all of the implications of that phrase.  Mel Brooks wrote the music and the lyrics which are extremely clever but are replete with outrageous puns, other plays on words and very sophomoric humor.  However, the songs and the script co-authored by Brooks and Thomas Meehan is hilarious in a “guilty pleasure” sort of way.

Arriving at the castle. Frederick meets the austere, suspicious housekeeper Frau Blucher (Leslie Hatch) which starts a running gag when horses whinny each time her name is spoken. We soon discover that Frau Blucher and grandfather were a “number” as she sings the campy “He Vas my Boyfriend”.  While investigating the castle, Frederick discovers some documents and a secret laboratory where his grandfather created the infamous monster.  Frederick suddenly becomes obsessed and, with the help of Igor, Inga and Frau Bluher, creates his own monster (Peter Cutler).  The monster escapes, of course, and terrorizes the townspeople while Frederick and company try to find him.

This is a very fast paced show ably directed by Bob Bruner.  All of the characters are running amok throughout the show with excellent assistance by the ensemble, comprised primarily of recent university graduates who display good singing and dancing ability.  In many ways, this is an old-fashioned musical with lots of music and dancing.  In modern shows, we rarely see large ensemble production numbers but there are six in this production including “The Happiest Town in Town”, “Join the Family Business”, “Transylvania Mania”, “He’s Loose” and the finale.  The choreograph (by Jeni Bayer Schwiers) allows the youngsters in the ensemble to cut loose with some madcap dances and several excellent tap routines.

One of the highlights of the show (and the movie) comes in the scene where Frederick tries to convince the locals and other scientists that the monster is human and capable of both motions and emotions.  He demonstrates the monster’s abilities with a vaudeville-like show featuring himself and the monster singing Irving Berlin’s classic song “Puttin” on the Ritz”.  Both characters are dressed in tuxedos as they sing and soft-shoe their way through the number.  They are then joined by Igor, Inga and Frau Blucher and finally by the townspeople who fill the stage with raucous and exuberant tap dancing.  The monster also does a “shadow dance” with his image projected through a curtain.  In typical Marx Brothers schtick, the “shadow” doesn’t always follow the movements of the monster.

Music Director Ron Attreau leads a band of nine musicians though a wide variety of music styles including haunting melodies, jazz and typical Broadway musical numbers.  The band is good but occasionally too loud.  A quibble I had is that, frequently, I could not hear all of the lyrics, especially when the ensemble was singing.  This does not interfere with the story-telling but you can miss a number of one-liners.   They also garbled one of the best lines in the show which is a pun on the song “Chattanooga Choo Choo” when Frederick first arrives at the Transylvania Station.

Song highlights in the second act include “Listen To Your Heart” (a duet with Inga and Frederick) “Please Send Me Someone” sung by the Hermit (Aaron Whitehead) and “Deep Love” sung by Rachel Barkalow (Elizabeth) and then as a duet with the baritone voice of the monster (Peter Cutler).

The set designs by Brett Bowling for the last several Covedale shows have been excellent but this one tops them all.  The stage is dominated by the castle which, at times, represents both the outside and the inside.  The motif is medieval with a primary stone structure and stairs with adornments including gargoyles and a suit of armor.  The castle has two stories with the study on top and the secret lab below.  The operating table elevates which is used for a tryst between Inga and Frederick (embarrassingly interrupted by Elizabeth) and the creation of the monster.
The scene with the monster meeting the hermit is done in the wings.  Denny Reed has intertwined lights in the castle which illuminate various parts of the structure to, mostly, comic effects.  Caren Brady has designed appropriate costumes including pheasant designs, a Swiss Miss costume for Inga, an austere dress for Frau Blucher and large platform shoes and green makeup for the monster.

The audience, most of whom had probably not seen the show before, started with polite clapping but, in the end, really got into the show and clearly enjoyed it.

So, you might want to complete your Halloween festivities with a visit to Transylvania via the Covedale Theater as Young Frankenstein runs through November 12.  The next production is Annie.

CSC’s “Dracula” Brings Fall Chills and Thrills

Review by Doug Iden of Dracula: Cincinnati Shakespeare Company

Halloween came early this year as Dracula swooped into the sold-out Cincinnati Shakespeare Company theater.  It was also appropriate that opening night was Friday the 13th.  But this production is not a trick but, rather, a treat filled with classic gothic horror and spooktacular special effects.

Based upon the 1897 novel by Bram Stoker and dramatized by Steven Dietz, Dracula relates the chilling story of a Romanian vampire who seduces two London women, which leads to killings, revenge and an ultimate chase to destroy the leader of the “un-dead”.  The novel was written as a series of diary entries, letters, ship’s log entries, etc., written by various characters so there is no central voice or protagonist.  Because of secrecy, doubt, disbelief and Victorian mores, the primary characters do not communicate with each other which allows Dracula to persist in his plan. The play follows a similar script with much of the exposition directed to the audience through dramatic readings of letters and a significant diary entry.

The play opens with Renfield (Billy Chase) setting the scene and then, casually, chewing on a mouse as his entrée.  We learn quickly that he is a vampire who has been imprisoned in a hospital run by Dr. Seward (Kyle Brumley).  Chase appears frequently throughout the show as the precursor and prophet of the darkness to come as he calls for his “master” while deliciously alternating between mad ravings and sinister prophesies.   Seward is in love with Lucy (Miranda McGee) who does not share his feelings.  Lucy’s best friend is Mina (Caitlin McWethy) with whom she shares her secret desires for love.  Their friendship is capped by a lesbian flirtation.

Mina is married to Jonathan Harker (Crystian Wiltshire), an attorney who visits Dracula (Giles Davies) in his Romanian castle to settle a land purchase for the Count in London.  During his stay, Harker is plagued with an unsettling feeling about the Count and his vixens (Candice Handy, Maggie Lou Rader and Tess Talbot).  He escapes but becomes deathly sick in a Budapest hospital.  Mina rescues him and returns to London but Dracula has also arrived and has devilish plans for Mina and Lucy.  Enter Van Helsing (Seward’s mentor played by Jim Hopkins) who theorizes that Dracula is a vampire and that the women are in dire danger.  Thereafter, the action becomes intense.

Davies portrays Dracula as a dangerous, fanatical creature who slithers across the stage and suddenly appears on-stage  in frightening fashion.  This interpretation of Dracula as more bloodthirsty than seductive is closer to Stoker’s vision than to recent Hollywood portrayals.  Davies is sufficiently sinister to carry the role.  Brumley (as Harker) is rather weak-willed and solicitous of Lucy but cannot save her from the bloodlust of Dracula.  McGee plays Lucy, initially, as a saucy flirt who becomes severely ill when attacked by Dracula and, eventually, displays vampiric behavior.  McGee’s transition is compelling.  Mina is the transformative character who overcomes a Dracula bite in hopes of defeating the demon.  McWethy starts meekly but quickly realizes the danger and is instrumental in the final battle.

All of the elements of the theater combine to create the tension in this demonic, atmospheric world.  The set, created by Shannon Moore, is stark with a sharp, jagged structure designed to create unease.  The rear center of the stage is dominated by a large bed in front of a glass doorway leading outside.  Many surprise entries occur through the door.  Black ceiling-high curtains frame the doorway.  There is also a clever use of a stage trap door and some flying tricks resembling Batman.  With minimal prop movement but creative lighting, the scene effortlessly shifts from a London bedroom to Transylvania to a hospital room/cell.  Justen Locke’s design alternates between bright spotlights, moody shadows, eerily blood-red lighting when Dracula attacks and a very effective latticed spot in the hospital cell.  The illusions are heightened by eerie video projections and sound designed by Douglas Borntrager including thunder, spooky music and the disembodied voice of Dracula surrounding the audience.

The costumes (Amanda McGee) reflect the black and white, conservative Victorian era juxtaposed with the glaringly lurid dress of the vampires and vixens.  And the wigs.  Scary wigs worn by the vixens, a black tangled wig for Dracula and Lucy’s flouncy locks.  The direction of Brian Isaac Phillips choreographs all of the elements into a deliciously frightening evening.

It shouldn’t be too scary outside to enjoy the guilty pleasures of Dracula’s castle inside which continues at the Cincinnati Shakespeare Company through November 4.  For tickets, call the box office at 513-381-2273 or email at www.cincyshakes.com.  The next production is The Adventures of Tom Sawyer running from November 17 through December 9.

 

“Frankenstein” at the Falcon: The Possibility of Love—Gone Wrong

Review by Alan Jozwiak of Frankenstein: Falcon Theatre

Love.

It is amazing how such a small word can contains worlds of meaning.

It is these depths that love can take which is central to the Nick Dear adaptation of Mary Shelly’s novel Frankenstein, currently being staged by Falcon Theatre.  This script premiered in the Royal National Theatre on London, starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller alternating the roles of the Creature and Victor Frankenstein.

Stepping into these big shoes is a compelling cast that create an eerie and memorable evening of theatre.  Seldom does Halloween fare strike the right note of being truthful to their source material, whle still conveying the horror depicted within the story.

This script hits that note and creates some memorable theatrical moments in the process.

One such moment comes at the start of the show.  When the audiences comes on stage, the stage is bare save for a draped figure lying stage center on four stage blocks.  The draped figure turns out to be the Creature (Olaf Eide), naked and struggling to come to life.  The physicality exerted by Eide in this sequence was something completely unexpected and jarring enough to put the audience into the world of the Creature as he tries to figure out his surroundings.  Eide is able to make his body a natural extension of the Creature’s emotions and it is amazing to watch Eide play with his movements on stage.

Unlike most versions of Frankenstein that start with Victor Frankenstein and his journey to create his monster, the play is told from the perspective of the Creature.  In order to pull off the solid performance, Eide is completely in the moment as he plays the Creature.  At turns quizzical, suffering, comical, revengeful, and lustful, Eide melds his physicality with the immensity of emotion that Creature feels and boils it down into emotionally relatable situations.

Another set of memorable moments comes with the interactions of the Creature and the blind DeLancy, beautifully played by Donald Volpenhein.  Volpenhein plays the blind man who befriends the Creature very simply, but believably.  We get to see enough different interactions with DeLancy and the Creature to get a sense of depth to their relationship.  I have seen Volpenhein in many other plays, but this wonderfully crafted performance strikes me that Volpenhein is hitting a new level in his acting.

This production was also made memorable by all of the touches of humor, some of which almost become camp in their tone.  The perpetual comic relief in this play Lisa Dirkes, who played various female roles and inevitably ended up being the necessary comic relief.  She got big laughs throughout and provided some grounding for the broody melancholy of Luke Ashley Carter as Victor Frankenstein.

Carter plays Frankenstein like Hamlet on steroids, completely full of dark melancholy and brooding that deepens as the body count of his  family members grows as a result of the Creature.

Like Eide, he is completely in the moment as he plays Victor Frankenstein.  This is a difficult role to play, since Frankenstein dwells in a changing level of blackness from what he has done by creating the Creature. Carter sculpts Frankenstein’s despair and blackness into fine gradations that lead the viewer down that rabbit hole.  The first appearance of Frankenstein in the middle of Act I is different from the man we see chasing the Creature in the Arctic at the end of Act II.

Debut director Paul Morris has done a wonderful job within this script and assembled a strong cast.  Morris gets good performances out of his actors, so hopefully his other directorial efforts in the future will produce similar results.

Scenic Lighting and Design/Technical Consultant Jared Doran effectively uses video projections to create the backdrop for the actors.  When the Creature goes off into the woods, the entire stage is transformed into a woodland area.  Similarly, the laboratory was also effective with the projected electrical apparatus used to give life to the creature.

Overall, Frankenstein is a worthwhile evening of theatre.  It is also demonstrating that  Falcon Theatre is stepping up its game as a destination for all serious lovers of theater.  This production adds to the great they work they did last season (Rabbit Hole, “Master Harold”. . . and the Boys) and the great work that will come this season.

To learn more about Falcon Theatre’s season and for tickets for their 2017-2018 theater series, go to their website http://falcontheater.net/.

 

Cincy Shakespeare’s “Dracula” is Eerie and Lush

Review by Liz Eichler of “Dracula”: Cincinnati Shakespeare Company

Miranda McGee and Giles Davies in “Dracula”

If you’ve never been to Cincinnati Shakespeare Company, “Dracula” is a great opportunity to enjoy a  very accessible show and explore a beautiful space. This amazing professional company finally has a larger, more audience friendly space in the Otto M. Budig Theatre on Elm Street. The season is one of the most varied, with something for everyone. “Dracula,” playing now through November 4, and is perfect for the season and new audiences: it is delightfully spooky, a little bit scary, lush, and beautifully done.

There are surprises, be warned. Director Brian Isaac Phillips (Producing Artistic Director) includes all the traditional props (blood, fangs, garlands of garlic) but gleefully adds a few elements sure to keep you on the edge of your seat. Dracula himself, Giles Davis, is mesmerizing, as he floats across the stage in an other-worldly physicality.

The character Renfield (Billy Chace) frames the play in this Steven Dietz adaptation of Bram Stoker’s novel. The action is set in 1897 London, and we meet best friends Lucy (Miranda McGee) and Mina (Caitlin McWethy), as they share stories of their suitors. Mina’s fiancé, Jonathan Harker (Crystian Wiltshire), is traveling to Transylvania to conduct business with an unknown wealthy Count (Dracula) who is planning to move to London. One of Lucy’s suitors is Dr. Seward (Kyle Brumley), who runs the lunatic asylum nearby.  One of his patients, the agitated Renfield, calls for “his master” to come. Meanwhile, Lucy falls ill with a mysterious illness draining her of blood. Seward asks his mentor, Dr. Van Helsing (Jim Hopkins) to advise on the case.

A few standout performances: Hopkins owns the space as Van Helsing, 110% committed to his beliefs; Chace keeps the audience guessing if he is truly sane or insane; McWethy and McGee delightfully illustrate and expand the boundaries of Victorian morals; and Maggie Lou Rader does the most in her maid cameo.

Costumes (Amanda McGee) and Scenery (Shannon Moore) are lush and rich, perfectly setting the tone. Sound and Video Design (Doug Borntrager) flesh out the story, adding the eerie musical soundtrack, to appropriate gulls, and misty video ambience, also complimented by Justen N. Locke’s Lighting Design.

If you’ve never been to CSC, develop a taste for great theatre with “Dracula,” My non-theatre going companions were entranced and called it “nicely spooky.” For tickets go to www.cincyshakes.com

Fanning the Flames of Know Theatre’s “The Arsonists”

Review by Alan Jozwiak of The Arsonists: Know Theatre

Tyger Tyger, burning bright,
In the forests of the night;
What immortal hand or eye,
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

Tigers, like in the lines from the William Blake poem, look like they are burning from a distance.  They are also part of the imagery within Know Theatre’s latest production, The Arsonists, by Jacqueline Goldfinger.  This play is part of the National New Play Network’s Rolling World Premiere, a program which encourages multiple productions of new works by various theatres situated across the United States.

            In the play, the tiger becomes a symbol for “the best controlled burn,” something that the titular father-daughter arsonist team desperately wants to have.  We meet the father, identified by the single letter H (Jim Stark), and the daughter, identified by the single letter M (Erin Ward), after an arson job goes wrong—with bad consequences for H. The play is conceived as a quest piece for M to finally let go of her father through some mythic overtones which harkens back to Egyptian mythology and the story of Osiris, who needed to find a missing body part in order to make his way into the afterlife.

Within this mythological framework is a microcosm of M’s relationship with her father.  We see both the warts and the wonder, from their arguments to their harmonizing on gospel and country songs.  Much of the credit for making The Arsonists work should go to director Tamara Winters.  Winters is able to work all these elements together into a compelling evening of theater.

Erin Ward as M does a great job with her role.  It was also delightful to witness Erin Ward’s ability to be totally authentic and in the moment throughout this play.  Ward does an outstanding job walking in this emotional terrain.  She turns from being carefree and joking with her father, to being petulant towards him, to despairing about surviving the loss of her father.  Ward is a particularly strong singer, which makes these gospel and country songs delightful.

Cincinnati theater newcomer Jim Stark does an equally beautiful job as H, the spectral father wanting to bond with his daughter, while also trying to let her go.  This is a play of routines of the familiar and Stark does a great job showcasing the care of his daughter while both of them are preparing wicks for future arson jobs.  These little actions reveal the care that Stark’s character has in connecting with his daughter as he is discussing everyday things with her.  They are some of the more beautiful moments of the play.

Scenic Designer and Producing Artistic Director Andrew J. Hungerford created a sparse, but effective in the form of a raised cabin. By having the cabin floor sit a foot or so above the stage, it allows for some surprises to come out of the floor boards.  The wood was also unvarnished, echoing the fact that raw wood can be more easily lit.  It short, it was a nicely done set that contributed to the overall impact of the play.

While H and M might still try to chase down that tiger to get that best controlled burn, you do not need to do so.  The Arsonists runs this weekend and next weekend, ending on October 14th.  This is another fine production that Know which should satisfy its audience members.

For ticket information, contact Know Theatre through their website: http://www.knowtheatre.com.