Know Theatre and CCM Drama Test Audience’s Boundaries in “Hunchback of Seville”

Review by Erica Minton of “Hunchback of Seville”: Know Theatre (in partnership with CCM Drama)

Summary:

Know Theatre and the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music partner for a farsical look at Spain in the 1500s: a time of Inquisition, genocide, colonialism and murder. Maxima—the Hunchback of Seville and adopted sister of Queen Isabella—is given a chance to change her bleak life and possibly the future of Spain…but there are dangerous strings attached.

Review:

Opening night at Know Theatre’s The Hunchback of Seville was a rowdy affair in a packed house. At least half of the audience raised their hands to identify as being new to Know Theatre—undoubtedly representing many families and friends of UC College Conservatory of Music students, a happy by-product of the Know’s production partnership with CCM.

Unfortunately, what that fresh new audience experienced was not my favorite show to come out of Know Theatre. My biggest problems revolved around the script—ultimately, I could not decide what the show was trying to be. At times, it seemed to be a downright zany, slapstick farce. At others, the story wanted to be a guilt-inducing look at the bloodshed behind our history lessons. While a dose of humor is certainly welcome in a story rife with genocide and murder, I did not feel the balance was ever struck. The comedy relied on too many repetitions of the same schtick: anachronisms (a 14th century Spaniard pausing to take a selfie, as an example), audio/visual jokes (the same “cat screech” gag occurred five times by my count), excessive breaking of the fourth wall, and so on. Often these cheap and predictable jokes interrupted the rich, human moments of the show.

That being said, the cast is to be commended for its commitment to a wild and goofy script. A few who stood out to me were Colleen Landrick, playing the titular Hunchback, as well as Julia Netzer as Innocenzia, a similarly hunchbacked serving girl with a heart of gold. I was impressed by the stage presence of these two women—and, in fact, of much of the cast. Another tip of the hat should be given to Emily Walton—the character of Juana is a hurricane of a villainess and Walton’s commitment to this deranged character was a standout for me.

Know Theatre’s “theatrical playground” is a place of risk-taking, and this show is no exception. Though I felt the script lacked balance and was ultimately difficult for me to comprehend, Hunchback was a bold undertaking that you would certainly not see on any of Cincinnati’s other stages. If audiences are looking for a show to test their boundaries, consider Hunchbackbut have a beer first, and settle in for the type of comedy that includes “Yakety Sax” and a lot of Valley Girl inflection (“Hello? Spain is f*cked, Espanta.”). These audiences will be rewarded with an energetic and capable cast, strong female characters, and a healthy dose of social commentary.