This is a debut solo performance from Nick Ryan, who many audiences may know from past Cincinnati Fringe appearances as part of The Coldhearts. Silver Hammer continues the Coldheart tradition of dark, eerie stories as Ryan presents a deconstruction of how he salvaged the show post-pandemic—or is it about how he got through quarantine?—or maybe it’s about radicalization on the internet—or it might be about misinformation and Vladislav Surkov?
The ambiguity in themes and message is partly thematic itself, but it’s a tricky premise to deliver, particularly as a first solo show attempt. Ryan is a strong performer with a calm and steady presence, but moments of hesitation and what seemed to be memorization troubles exposed his newness to the solo-show artform. Filling the mainstage as a solo performer is not easy, but his strategic use of projections and his simple but thoughtful movements pulled it off. Using a guitar added grounding and texture, even if the music itself was not particularly memorable. The show’s heady and complicated narrative demands a deft guide—the show will only improve as Ryan grows in confidence.
In all, this show offers several good laughs, interesting ideas about radicalization and misinformation, and plenty of layers that will stay with you after viewing. And if you are a fan in any way of The Beatles’ song, “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer”—this is a must-see.
Disclaimer: This reviewer does not like Wuthering Heights. This reviewer does not have much sympathy for any of the characters and finds the whole thing a bit whiny. So when this reviewer still recommends that you make time to see the latest creation from Hannah Gregory and Caitlin McWethy which is a retelling of Wuthering Heights, you know there must be something to it.
They make the most of the source material, with Gregory’s script layering contemporary ideas of oppression and theories on what makes people behave monstrously. In an already time-limited piece, she wisely invests upfront in the bond between Heathcliff and Cathy, which helps justify the intense heartbreak and madness that ensues. McWethy’s staging is simple and evocative, and there are just enough fog and sound effects to set a mood without overdoing it. The music is reminiscent of Spring Awakening, blending folk with pop/rock in an ethereal and emotional way (special acknowledgment to Cary Davenport’s arrangements). All these choices combine to create an intentionally blurry line between the historic era of the piece and the modern day audience.
The performances are all excellent: Patrick E. Phillip delivers a charming snob that the audience is fated to root against, and provides accompaniment on the keyboard. Ellyn Broderick does a nice job with a role that could have more dimensions if there were more time. Ryan Chavez Richmond’s Heathcliff is charismatically brooding. Cary Davenport and Carroll Wallace support the show well as both musicians and gravediggers. But the show belongs to Maddie Vaughn as Cathy. Her voice is well-trained yet expressive, her face innocent yet jaded, and she packs an emotional journey of Everest-proportions into only 60 minutes.
It’s not a perfect piece. I’m not sure whether the period-appropriate dialogue paired with modern lyrics distracts or enhances. It could perhaps benefit from a longer run time, but I’m not sure I want to spend that much more time with the characters. I am sure, however, that this is an opportunity to see a new musical work with moments of profound heart from two of the city’s most promising theatremakers. It is an opportunity not to be missed.
The Cincinnati Fringe Festival has a reputation for being “kinda weird.” Texas Annie: The Legend of the Moan Ranger fits that bill. The program includes credits for a vulva pillow—if that makes you uncomfortable, I do not recommend that you see this show. If, however, you are interested in seeing what would happen if the creative minds behind Waiting for Guffman’s “Red, White, and Blaine” were tasked with writing a musical to promote sex positive state legislation—get your tickets now.
The premise is that (very real) Texas legislation that makes it a felony to own more than six sex toys inspires a vigilante dildo seller to roam the Wild West liberating libidos everywhere. Nothing about this show is subtle. It has an element of grade-school-pageantry to its presentation, which contrasts in a delightfully absurd way with the adult content. Director Maggie Perrino brings her trademark joy for musical theatre, then adds a Red Bull and a side dish of satirical silliness. The staging is deliberately cartoonish, allowing for Jennifer Howd’s and Roz Mihalko’s clever script (which they originally devised as a screenplay before writing the stage version ) to maintain its quick pace. Steve Goer’s music effectively parodies several genres, though the pre-recorded tracks felt a bit tinny—I wish there had been space and resources for live music.
The actors are having so much fun it is infectious. Nearly everyone plays multiple roles, and they chew the cardboard scenery with vigor. Individual voices are strong, and the harmonies are tight. The standout performances for me, however, are Lydia Noll and Royce Louden. Noll exhibits a captivating radiance as the pious ingenue who rediscovers herself. The duet with Hattie Clark’s Texas Annie is a highlight in musicality and comedy. And Louden? He commits 1000% to every supporting character he takes on, and his performance during the show’s…climax…will be hard to forget.
I’ve heard chatter of pursuing a longer life for this show, and I encourage this idea. I’d advise the writers to consider one revision: For such a sex-positive story, it struck this reviewer as contradictory for the conflict’s resolution to involve noticeable lack of consent in a sexual experience. I have no doubt it can be worked around and Texas Annie can continue to shock, embarrass, entertain, and delight. This is a show that will keep audiences coming, and will leave them very satisfied—as long as they’re into that kind of thing.
Kate Mock Elliott is a wordsmith, theatre artist, musician, and designer based out of Cincinnati, OH.