SUMMERLAND presented by Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park through March 5. Click here for more information on the production. I attended the opening night performance.
A taste of Halloween comes late (or early, depending on your point of view) to the Park’s Shelterhouse with SUMMERLAND. If you are unfamiliar with the term, “Summerland” is the name given by Theosophists, Wiccans and some earth-based contemporary pagan religions to their conceptualization of an afterlife.
Arlitia Jones’ play uses the now infamous image taken by Spirit Photographer William H. Mumler as a jumping off point for her play. In the photo, a seated Mary Todd Lincoln is captured with the ghostly image of her late husband standing beside her.
Director Michael Evan Haney elicits unique and believable performances from his talented ensemble of three. Billy Finn is strong as the young and driven Jospeh Tooker, determined to prove Mumler is the fraud Tooker is convinced he is. Michael Rothhaar charms as William H. Mumler, a man who appears to genuinely believe his work is a comfort to the living. Playing Mrs. Mumler, Whitney Maris Brown is mesmerizing as the enigmatic and otherworldly wife and possible conspirator.
My favorite scene of the play is the beginning of Act II. The “confrontation” between Mrs. Mumler and Tooker is immensely satisfying to watch. Brown is a force of nature as she assails, cajoles and taunts Mr. Tooker, keeping him completely off balance.
For me, one of most successful aspects of the play is how well the technical team set the mood for the piece. The special effects worked well and the theater magic stayed well-hidden in the intimate performance space. The end of Act I is indeed “spooky.”
As a new work the play could still use a bit of editing. The first scene went a bit long in exposition considering how quickly it becomes apparent that the young man is there for more than his portrait sitting. The epilogue also seems a bit anti-climatic, working hard to establish a connection between the two men after all that has transpired.
Overall, an engaging and unique historical drama with a supernatural bent.
My rating: 4.5 out of 5
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