Review by Willie Caldwell of Susan Swayne and the Bewildered Bride: Know Theatre
Take one-part murder mystery, one-part comedy, add a healthy dose cross dressing, a case of mistaken identity, mix in some flourishing swordplay, and you have Susan Swayne and the Bewildered Bride at Know Theatre.
Written by Reina Hardy, the play centers around the Secret Society of Lady Detectives, aka S.o.L.D, who are trained in the martial arts, hand-to-hand combat, and sword fighting. The Lady Detectives set out to solve a string of murders that occur in London’s Whitechapel District circa the late 1880s. History buffs may pick up on a reference or two of the famed serial killer, Jack the Ripper, but despite the gruesome killings, Susan Swayne is anything but a dirge. This action-packed comedy delivers a one-two punch and serves up the laughs for a two-hour run time.
Described as a cross between Mary Poppins and Sherlock Holmes, the play embraces gender fluidity, cross dressing, and flies in the face of gender norms. Supported by a powerhouse, mostly female cast, Susan Swayne delivers a slashing good time that lands well with audiences.
Lisa DeRoberts delivers a sharp performance as the title character Susan Swayne and is beautifully balanced by a powerful cast of fierce and independent women. Ernaisja Curry as Isabelle Fontaine -Kite begins the play as a delicate flower who transforms into a highly skilled assassin after joining S.o.L.D. in hopes of finding the truth about her missing husband Eric. While her motivations appear in earnest, we soon learn that not everything is as it seems and appearances can be deadly and deceiving. Jordan Trovillion delivers a carefully controlled performance as Katherine Denn, blending masculine and feminine characteristics as the play’s anti-hero.
The dialogue moves quickly and is full of biting wit and double entendre. The quick pacing combined with comedic elements and driving action makes the two-hour play feel much shorter than it actually is. The stage combat and rapier work are quite impressive given the limited space and closeness of the Know’s mainstage venue. The actors are highly adept in their fight chorography with the cast demonstrating a confident mastery of rapier and dagger fencing styles and wielding umbrellas.
The set is a bit clumsy with a total of six moving pieces that feel somewhat oversized for the Know’s intimate space. Scene changes were well-rehearsed but seemed to take a little too long given the quick pacing of the play. The monochromatic color scheme of the set and lighting added little to the overall experience and at times felt a bit distracting. Given the Know’s avant-garde theatrical style and proclivity for experimentation, it’s possible that more could have been done with less, freeing up the stage for larger and more elaborate fight scenes.
Overall, the production is fun, funny, and full of energy. If you’re looking for something a bit different from the standard holiday offerings, be sure to check out Susan Swayne and the Bewildered Bride at Cincinnati’s Know Theatre.
Susan Swayne and the Bewildered Bride runs November 24 – December 16 at Know Theatre of Cincinnati. Tickest are available online at knowtheatre.com or by calling the box office at 513-300-5669.