Category Archives: Reviews

SHOCK! The Spine-Tingling Tale of Miss Spidra Quick Review

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Tess Talbot as Joyce Billings | “Miss Spidra”. Photo by Dan R. Winters Photography.

SHOCK! The Spine-Tingling Tale of Miss Spidra presented by Know Theatre of Cincinnati through Oct. 24. I attended the opening night performance.

Know Theatre returns to in-person performances by celebrating a slice of Americana perfect for the Halloween season: the costumed hosts of locally-produced late night television B-horror movie shows.

The script by Joseph Zettelmaier is smart, laugh-out-loud funny and does a great job of capturing the time period. The scenes from the ’50s are intercut with video interview segments where an older “Miss Spidra” reminisces about her career as a horror host. Director Andrew Hungerford shows a deft hand in the tone and pacing of the production. A couple moments of blocking pulled me out of the moment, but this would be a very minor complaint.

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Paul Riopelle as Ray Coslaw & Tess Talbot as Joyce Billings | “Miss Spidra”. Photo by Dan R. Winters Photography.

Paul Riopelle is pitch-perfect as Ray Coslaw, the beleaguered local TV executive working to mimic the late-night success of other cities that have hopped on the horror-host craze. Tess Talbot shines as Joyce Billings, aspiring actress (and Ray’s sister-in-law) who reluctantly signs on as the hostess, fighting to make her character more than another vamp of the night. The chemistry between these two actors is central to the success of the production.

Brianna Bernard rounds out the on-stage cast as Lucy Lupnicki, the young sidekick brought in to keep the show “fresh.” She handles the arc of the character very well as Lucy learns the ropes of the local TV industry. Talbot’s real-life mother, Terry Neumann, does a nice job as the older Joyce in the video segments. Also Daniel Winters has a fun video cameo as local politician Oglesby.

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Paul Riopelle as Ray Coslaw, Brianna Bernard as Lucy Lupnicki & Tess Talbot as Joyce Billings | “Miss Spidra”. Photo by Dan R. Winters Photography.

The technical aspects of the show worked well. The video was enjoyably produced and felt like a modern-day documentary thanks to director of photography Ryan Lewis. Resident costume designer Noelle-Wedig-Johnston did a great job of capturing the look of the ’50s and in the creation of Miss Spidra’s look. The set and props design by Kayla Williams define the two performances spaces well. I did feel the bookcases looked a bit unadorned for the TV set and I couldn’t find the gargoyles mentioned during the interview. Speaking of things mentioned in the script, it would have been fun to see the dry ice fog roll in for Miss Spidra’s debut. [Director Andrew Hungerford kindly informed me that, as with many things, there is currently a dry ice shortage, so kindly ignore my last sentence. –Rob] Again, I’m just being picky. ūüôā

Overall a wonderful return to live performances and a very enjoyable, nostalgic look back to the early days of local television.

My rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Click here for more information on the production.

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DAISY Quick Review

DAISY presented by Falcon Theatre is available online through Nov. 7. 

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DAISY chronicles the beginnings of the fear-mongering advertising that has become such a staple of our political discourse.

From Wikipedia:

Daisy“, sometimes known as “Daisy Girl” or “Peace, Little Girl“, was a controversial¬†political advertisement¬†aired on television during the¬†1964 United States presidential election¬†by incumbent president¬†Lyndon B. Johnson’s campaign. Though only officially aired once by the campaign, it is considered to be an important factor in Johnson’s¬†landslide victory¬†over¬†Barry Goldwater¬†and an important turning point in¬†political¬†and¬†advertising history. It remains one of the most controversial political advertisements ever made.

The script by Sean Devine is interesting and disturbing in equal measure and does debate the ethical ramifications of this new approached to political advertising. Multiple themes of today are echoed in the events of almost 65 years ago.

Director Tara Williams has assembled a solid ensemble to bring these characters to life. Jay Dallas Benson as Sid Myers and David Levy as Tony Schwartz did well in creating fully realized characters. There were several times however when the emotions of the scene and the interaction of the characters did not quite ring true for me. In part because the actors were not performing at the same energy level.

In the press release for Daisy, Williams describes the performance as a “television/theater hybrid” in the vein of CBS’ Playhouse 90 from 60 years ago and I think that concept worked well in the filming. Given the limitations imposed by the pandemic on both cast and crew, and the typical budget of a staged performance, Falcon has done a great job of finding locations, costumes and props to establish the time period and atmosphere of the piece (with much support from our local arts community).

Understanding that this is new territory, and as with anything new there is a bit of a learning curve, if your organization pursues another production in this format I would mention a few things: The staging did become a bit stagnant with actors sitting/standing in the same spot for extended periods of time. While the play area is confined, there are opportunities to stand, sit, lean forward, or shift body angle to give some energy to the scene. Normally on stage there is a concern with peripheral characters stealing focus in a scene but with filing and all the actors being in the shot, the characters need to be a bit more present and reactive in the scene.

Congratulations to everyone involved in bringing this timely play to life in these unprecedented time.

My rating: 4.25 out of 5.

Click here for more information on the production.

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FANNIE LOU HAMER, SPEAK ON IT! Quick Review

FANNIE LOU HAMER, SPEAK ON IT! presented by Know Theatre of Cincinnati through Oct. 4. I attended the opening Thursday performance.

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             Nathan Singer as Music Man. Elizabeth Leigh Taylor as Fannie.

At one point in the performance, Fannie makes the observation that she isn’t sure if she has traveled to the future or if we, the audience, have traveled to the past. Just one of many gut punches of truth contained in this excellent 40-ish minute production.

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Elizabeth Leigh Taylor as Fannie.

Elizabeth Leigh Taylor impresses as the titular character. Part call to action and part revival, Taylor is captivating in her performance (and vocals) as the civil rights activist, bringing Hamer’s passion, dignity, hard-earned wisdom, and faith to the forefront. Nathan Singer in the supporting role of Music Man provides the perfect combination of¬† musical and vocal support.

Adapted by playwright Cheryl L. West from her play, Fannie, the script focuses on the heart-wrenching and dangerous struggles of Black voters to simply register to vote in the South during the Jim Crow era.

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Nathan Singer as Music Man. Elizabeth Leigh Taylor as Fannie.

Director Derek Snow does an excellent job of creating the atmosphere of the work. Even though the performance is “confined” to the bed of a pickup truck, the blocking feels completely natural.¬†

Congratulations to the entire technical team for their hard work in making this show the traveling success that it is.

Pay-what-you-can performances continue through Sunday evening. The Saturday evening performance will be live-streamed. You can even register to vote at the performances. 

My rating: 5 out of 5.

Click here for more information on the production.

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FEAST Quick Review

FEAST presented by Know Theatre of Cincinnati through Sept. 20. 

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Jennifer Joplin as Grendel’s mother.

The gang at Know Theatre have been at the forefront of bringing online content to local audiences. With FEAST, Know brings a fully-staged production to our “little boxes” with great success.

Playwright Megan Gogerty re-tells the legend of Beowulf from the viewpoint of Grendel’s mother. As history is written by the victors, she-who-was-not-named in the epic poem takes us to tasks for her grievances against our fathers, who not only killed and mutilated her son, but who also painted him as a “monster” for all time.

Gogerty’s script is smart, insightful and cleverly weaves 21st century themes into the narrative. Unexpected laughs, great turns of phrase, and thought-provoking conclusions permeate the performance.

Jennifer Joplin handles the dense and demanding script extremely well. Her verbal stream of consciousness flows from doting mother to vengeful, not to be trifled with demigod, and every emotion rings true.

Director Tamara Winters’ deft hand shows a strong understanding of the material. The show is well staged, being mindful of the camera but not beholden or tied to it. The flow of the show feels natural and makes great use of the entire play space.

The set, designed by Andrew Hungerford, not only defines the confined space, but allows the use of light and shadow to enhance the visual component of the show. Clever stage lighting plays with Joplin’s features as the character’s emotions ebb and flow. Stringent use of sound and visual effects, supplied by Douglas Borntrager, do much to add to the atmosphere of the work.

Congratulations all on a well-done, engaging production.

My rating: 4.75 out of 5.

Click here for more information on the production.

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BLUES FOR AN ALABAMA SKY Quick Review

BLUES FOR AN ALABAMA SKY presented by Falcon Theatre through Feb. 8. I attended the opening Saturday performance. 

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Bryana Bentley as Angel and Elizabeth Taylor as Delia. Photo by Kristy Rucker

For the new year, Falcon takes its audience to Harlem in the summer of 1930 for the engaging drama BLUES FOR AN ALABAMA SKY. This strong script touches upon several social issues that are still prominent 90 years later: racism, birth control/family planning, and homosexuality.

Producing Artistic Director Ted Weil’s set, featuring two small apartments separated by a hallway, is one of the most ambitious and well executed sets I’ve seen at Falcon. The two spaces are smartly furnished with great attention to detail. With Falcon’s limited play area, there were times when the tight quarters made for some awkward character crosses.

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Bryana Bentley as Angel. Photo by Kristy Rucker.

The five-person ensemble is well-cast and handles the material nicely. Director Torie Wiggins makes good use of the space and creates some beautiful stage pictures. There are some quiet, touching moments and the confrontational scenes had a nice bite to them. On Saturday night, the more conversational scenes lacked energy and could have used a bit more drive.

Overall a well-performed, solid period piece.

My rating: 4.25 out of 5.

Click here for more information on the production.

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