Category Archives: Reviews

MARY’S MONSTER Review

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Maggie Lou Rader as Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley. Photo by Dan R. Winters Photography.

MARY’S MONSTER presented by the Know Theatre of Cincinnati through Sept. 23. Click here for a synopsis and more information on the production. I attended the opening night performance.

Know Theatre of Cincinnati continues their 21st season themed “Fear Itself” with an original work written and performed by Maggie Lou Rader. MARY’S MONSTER discusses the life of novelist Mary Shelley, best known for her Gothic novel Frankenstein: or, The Modern Prometheus. 

For her first solo script, Rader has chosen a daunting subject. While Shelley did not receive recognition for the bulk of her works while she was alive, today scholars have shown increasing interest in her complete body of literary output. Shelley’s personal life was as complicated as it was haunted by tragedy.

While I found the subject matter interesting, the script itself seemed to focus more heavily on her relationships than on her literary achievements. The complicated nature of these relationships caused some of the exposition to become heavy and confusing. Given the heaviness of the script, the lighter moments were few and far between, so even the addition of some gallows humor would be welcome. On a personal level, I didn’t find Shelley to be very likable

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Maggie Lou Rader as Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley. Photo by Dan R. Winters Photography.

Director Jennifer Joplin makes good use of the set designed by Andrew J. Hungerford. They were times when it felt she had to work around the stage’s centerpiece as opposed to working with it. Even though the pacing was good, the show could use some editing, particularly as it builds to its conclusion. There were times when I felt Rader’s vocal delivery became a bit sing-songy and I would like to have heard a bit more emotion in her voice over the losses Shelley faced. A few of these tragic moments could have been given a bit more time and weight to them.

Overall, MARY’S MONSTER is an interesting, well-performed, but uneven portrait of a woman whose literary worth is still being explored and debated more than a century and a half later.

My rating: 4.25 out of 5.

I would enjoy hearing what you think about the show or my review. All I ask is that you express your opinion without attacking someone else’s opinion. You can post your comments below.

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A FEW GOOD MEN Review

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Photo by Tammy Cassesa.

A FEW GOOD MEN presented by the Covedale Center for the Performing Arts through Oct. 7. Click here for a synopsis and more information on the production. I attended the opening night performance.

Covedale Center for the Performing Arts kicks off their 2018-2019 season with a sound and satisfying production of Aaron Sorkin‘s military drama, A FEW GOOD MEN.

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A.J. Ford as Lt. Col. Nathan Jessep. Photo by Tammy Cassesa.

Director Ed Cohen has a knack for casting that is very evident here, having put together a solid acting ensemble from top to bottom. The action is well-paced and the director smartly found ways to keep the action dynamic and interesting during the understandably static court room scenes.

The set design by Brett Bowling works well for the production, opting for a backdrop of a fence line with a giant re-creation of the US Marine Corps logo dominating the stage. Taking advantage of the Covedale’s wide proscenium, the smaller scenes are staged in lit areas stage right, center, and left. This also limits the time needed for scene changes as tables and chairs are simply re-positioned throughout the performance.

It is evident that Costumer Caren Brady worked hard to bring authenticity to the various military uniforms worn throughout the production. The cast also handled multiple quick costume changes well with no delays in returning to the stage.

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Eric Minion as Lt. Jonathan James Kendrick, A.J. Ford as Lt. Col. Nathan Jessep, Phineas Clark as Lt. Col. Matthew A. Markinson, Nathan Tubbs as Lt. Sam Weinberg, Rory Sheridan as Lt. J.G. Daniel A Kaffee & Erin Carr as Lt. Cmdr. Joanne Galloway. Photo by Tammy Cassesa.

Being such a solid production, the few complaints I have are nitpicky. At the end of Act I, Kaffee’s final line seemed to break the fourth wall which felt out of place. Using military cadences to cover the scene changes worked up to a point. It does get a bit repetitive, so if any can be eliminated on the shorter changes I’d recommend considering it. Also when the cadences are used, it is very apparent when they are not in sync. Lastly, for Markinson’s final scene you may want to consider putting the sound effect after the blackout and choosing one that doesn’t sound as muffled.

Overall, A FEW GOOD MEN is a solidly performed, engrossing court room drama which naturally builds to a satisfying conclusion.

My rating: 4.5 out of 5.

I would enjoy hearing what you think about the show or my review. All I ask is that you express your opinion without attacking someone else’s opinion. You can post your comments below.

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MR. BURNS, A POST-ELECTRIC PLAY Review

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Act I.

MR. BURNS, A POST-ELECTRIC PLAY presented by Xavier University Theatre ran Sept. 7-9. Click here for a synopsis and more information on the production. I attended the Saturday matinee performance.

Xavier University Theatre kicks off their 2018-2019 season with a unique three act play based on an episode of The Simpsons television series. The three acts are set in the very near future, seven years after that, then 75 years after that. Each act was performed in its own unique performance space throughout the Gallagher Student Center.

The eight person ensemble, under the direction of Stephen Skiles, was very impressive in their performances and truly was an ensemble. The cast included Andrew Leonard, Cassie Delicath, Kelsey Schwarber, Aiden Dalton, Nora Weisz, Matthew Wilkinson, Catherine Sholtis & Gigi Relic. Their believably and commitment to the different settings went a long way to selling the show.

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Act 2.

Music director Scot Buzza put the cast through its paces, whether they were performing a capella in Act Two or accompanying themselves on guitar, drums, piano – and I believe even a toy piano in the final act.

Equally impressive was the creativity and attention to detail put forth by the production team. Set/lighting designer Joe Beumer created some truly unique environments for Acts One and Three. The naturally lit “found space” for the second act also fit its needs extremely well. Given the gloominess of the weekend, I was curious if any additional light sources were used in the middle act for the evening performances. The “fire” light sources looked realistic and I loved the effect that lit the theater as we entered for the third act. The sets were built by the students under the technical direction of Joe Leonard. Honestly, I checked with the director to verify they didn’t purchase the set in the third act because it was so well done.

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Act 3.

Costume designer Jessica Pitcairn gave the “costumes” of Act Two a great “limited resources/limited experience” quality and also created a unique aesthetic for the final act. Properties designer Lydia Reagan found a great balance in giving new life to found objects and finding creative ways to recreate objects that were mass produced in the “past.”

Overall, a job very well done. Thanks to everyone at Xavier University involved in bringing this fun and quirky show to a Cincinnati stage. It was an unexampled theatrical experience I will remember for a long time to come.

My rating: 4.75 out of 5.

I would enjoy hearing what you think about the show or my review. All I ask is that you express your opinion without attacking someone else’s opinion. You can post your comments below.

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A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE FORUM Review

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The Courtesans in Cincinnati Shakespeare Company’s production of A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE FORUM. Photo by Mikki Schaffner Photography.

A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE FORUM presented by Cincinnati Shakespeare Company through Sept. 29. Click here for a synopsis and more information on the production. I attended the opening night performance.

Cincinnati Shakespeare Company kicks off their 25th anniversary season with their first musical production, Stephen Sondheim’s A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE FORUM.

Visually FORUM is bright, colorful, and fun. I thought the Vegas-inspired costumes of the Courtesans’, designed by Brian Horton, were nicely done and had a Bob Mackie quality to them that I enjoyed. The incorporation of pixel tape into Adam Zeek’s lighting design (or is that into Shannon Robert’s scenic design?) was a nice touch and it was very effective when it was synced to the music. The two-story, three house set worked very well for the script demands and housing the orchestra. The attention to detail was impressive and the fountain was a fun addition.

The sound design of Douglas J. Borntrager nicely balances the orchestra with the vocalists. I had no issues hearing every spoken and sung word, an impressive feat for their first musical in the space. Speaking of the orchestra, I thought the music sounded full and rich and well directed by Erin McCamley,

FORUM has a special place in my heart as I have childhood memories of watching it on TV with my Dad. I enjoy the music and I do believe it is a better musical than movie. This production is fun and sports a talented cast, but I think the show struggles as musical theater.

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Kelly Mengelkoch as Domina & Gabe Wrobel as Miles Gloriosus. Photo by Mikki Schaffner Photography.

To me, the show felt segmented and didn’t flow well from scene to scene. In hand with that, the show failed to build any momentum. Aside from Kelly Mengelkoch as Domina and Matthew Johnson as Pseudolus, it seemed that many of the CSC’s ensemble didn’t create a character. When speaking, they tended to drop into their familiar Shakespeare voice and tempo which worked against not only the pacing, but some of the comedy as well. The chase in act two could also be tightened up timing wise, as several times the stage was empty as we waited on entrances.

I found the comedy of the show to be very similar to what is usually done with their “Abridged” productions, but this time with musical numbers. I’m not saying that this is a bad thing, but it also isn’t really new or different, either. I also think that there is more comedy to be mined from the script and more options for physical comedy.

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Cincinnati Shakespeare Company’s production of A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE FORUM. Photo by Mikki Schaffner Photography.

The staging is forward-heavy, but the only sight line issue I had was during the “Lovely” reprise as the pair were so far downstage and facing in toward each other. Since the fourth wall is broken so frequently, actors could work to be a a bit more inclusive of all the audience.

Overall, this is an enjoyable production especially if you haven’t seen FORUM before. I do hope the cast can “shake off their Shakespeare” and really come to embrace the fun and silliness of the show over the remainder of the run.

As of this writing, two performance has been added to the run: Saturdays, Sept. 15 & 22 at 2pm.

My rating: 4.25 out of 5.

I would enjoy hearing what you think about the show or my review. All I ask is that you express your opinion without attacking someone else’s opinion. You can post your comments below.

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MISERY Review

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Barbara Chisholm as Annie Wilkes. Photo by Mikki Schaffner.

MISERY presented by Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park through Sept. 29. Click here for a synopsis and more information on the production. I attended the opening night performance.

Cincinnati Playhouse kicks off their 2018-2019 season with a top-notch stage adaptation of the Stephen King novel of the same name. Gasps, groans, and nervous laughter? Check, check, and check. Director Blake Robison delivers edge-of-your-seat thrills with capital “Eeek!”

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David Whalen as Paul Sheldon. Photo by Mikki Schaffner.

As savior and sadistic jailer Annie Wilkes, Barbara Chisholm is equal parts funny and scary, but always believable as she ping-pongs between “number one fan” and number one fanatic. David Whalen as injured novelist Paul Sheldon transitions very well from near-helpless prisoner to determined survivor and handles the physical demands of the role very well. Together the two have a great rapport on stage and their adversarial relationship is very engaging to watch unfold (except in those moments you have to look away). Rounding out the cast is Kenneth Early turning in a solid performance as Buster, the local sheriff who questions Annie about the missing Sheldon.

The fourth star of the show is Paul Shortt’s beautiful three-sided set which rotates between living room, bedroom and kitchen throughout both acts. There are also a couple of surprises with the set that were fun and highly effective.

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Barbara Chisholm as Annie Wilkes & David Whalen as Paul Sheldon. Photo by Mikki Schaffner.

The set decor was amazingly detailed and fit perfectly with Annie’s character. The lighting design by Xavier Pierce adds much to the show’s atmosphere and I enjoyed how the passage of time was handled between scenes. Also adding to the suspense of the piece was the work of sound designer and composer, Matthew M. Nielson. Rick Sordelet and Christian Kelly-Sordelet are listed as fight choreographer and special effects coordinator for MISERY. For the most part, the stage combat and effects are highly effective and handled well by the cast.

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Kenneth Early as Buster & Barbara Chisholm as Annie Wilkes. Photo by Mikki Schaffner.

Costume designer Kathleen Geldard created some great looks for Annie and several of the changes seemed very quick . Great work by the crew on the running of the show and those stealthy set changes as the play continued on the other side of the wall.

Overall, MISERY is a tightly directed, engrossing and suspenseful thriller, elevated by pitch-perfect performances and great eye to detail. Start your Halloween season a month early at the Playhouse.

My rating: 5 out of 5.

I would enjoy hearing what you think about the show or my review. All I ask is that you express your opinion without attacking someone else’s opinion. You can post your comments below.

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