Up Next: Shakespeare’s TITUS ANDRONICUS

I know, I know.  I have neglected this blog entirely for the last 4 months.  In my defense, a LOT has been going on: David started a job, I started a job, we moved, I went to the LMDA Conference, worked on 2 summer festivals, attended numerous plays, became a responder for Theatre Roundtable, taught classes for Columbus Children’s Theatre, went to the Shaw Festival, AND… the reason I post today… I’ve been pouring myself into a production of Shakespeare’s TITUS ANDRONICUS.  After months of work on the script (I did an adaptation of it for the production) the show is finally ready to open on Thursday, September 8.  Shepherd Production’s presents TITUS ANDRONICUS at MadLab Theatre & Gallery, 227 North 3rd Street, Columbus, OH 43215. Parking is free in the large lot beside the building. Tickets are only $15, $10 for students and seniors.  Shows are September 8, 9, 10, 15, 16, and 17 at 8pm and 11 at 2pm. Buy tickets online at http://www.madlab.net.

Here’s a special sneak preview for you: a look at the dramaturgical note I wrote for the playbill:


“VENGEANCE IS IN MY HEART, DEATH IN MY HAND, BLOOD AND REVENGE ARE HAMMERING IN MY HEAD,” exclaims Aaron the Moor, a sentiment shared among nearly every character in William Shakespeare’s Roman tragedy, TITUS ANDRONICUS.  To many who know it, TITUS may seem almost impossible to produce: the script calls for nearly 30 actors, 6 on-stage murders (not to mention the many others we do not get to see), and countless acts of unimaginable violence.  One of Shakespeare’s earliest works, its excess of blood-thirsty revenge fits into the “Revenge Tragedy” form, a theatrical genre that was wildly popular in Elizabethan England. In the early 1590s, revenge plays like Thomas Kyd’s THE SPANISH TRAGEDY and Christopher Marlowe’s THE JEW OF MALTA were as popular as action and horror films are today.  In writing TITUS, Shakespeare joined their ranks and achieved his first commercial success.   TITUS ANDRONICUS, however, takes revenge beyond graphically violent entertainment, to a place where racial prejudice, war, violence against women, and the human capacity for brutality are often more shocking than the blood and gore.

Titus Andronicus is a highly respected Roman Army General, having led his nation to victory against the Goths on numerous occasions over the course of his illustrious career. His latest triumph comes complete with spoils of war: Tamora, the Queen of the Goths, her three sons, and her wicked servant, Aaron the Moor.  Titus returns only to discover that Rome’s emperor has died, and while the people would prefer the great Andronicus to be their leader, Titus graciously defers to the emperor’s eldest son, Saturninus, who in turn chooses Tamora to be his bride. The insertion of the Gothic leaders into the royal ranks of Rome provides the necessary accessibility to those upon whom the captured Goths aim to exact revenge.  When Tamora’s sons rape and mutilate Titus’ only daughter, Lavinia, at their mother’s behest, the endless cycle of manipulation and destruction between the two families is set in motion, each atrocity exceeding the last.

TITUS ANDRONICUS is thought by many to be set in the 3rd century AD, a period in Roman history referred to as the “Crisis of the Third Century” due to the many emperors who claimed the throne over a relatively brief period of time.  The look of our production, most notably the weapons and costumes, takes inspiration from this period.  While the characters are entirely fictional, many of them are inspired by historical figures in some way or another. The historical inaccuracies, however, are far more frequent than the facts. Like many of Shakespeare’s plays, the foreign setting is often recognizably English in nature, but incorporates some of Shakespeare’s knowledge of Rome and the classics. He utilizes Latin and also incorporates what he would have learned about the Roman government and their military from classical texts like Plutarch’s Lives of the Roman Emperors. Events surrounding the rape of Lavinia are very similar to Ovid’s “The Tale of Philomela” from his Metamorphoses.  In the story, Philomela’s brother-in-law Tereus locks her in a cabin and rapes her, cutting out her tongue so she’ll be unable to tell who committed the crime. She instead sews his name to confess to her sister, Procne, who then kills the children born by Tereus and feeds them to him baked in a pie (see how Shakespeare one-ups this horrific story in TITUS). Despite the bits of the play borrowed from history and from myth, it is more important to recognize this as a time when a major empire was on the verge of collapse, where years of war had weakened Roman society and soon it would cease to exist.  Shakespeare’s audience would have recognized this as the end of an era, and that all of this death and destruction is occurring in vain because soon there will be no Rome for which to fight.

To say this play has a bad reputation would be an understatement.  To this day, TITUS is rarely performed because many believe the writing to be poor in comparison to Shakespeare’s later works.  The physical violence can be so over-the-top that directors tend to shy away from the play for fear the brutality will surpass the frightening into the comical. Not to mention the treatment of Lavinia and the behavior of Aaron, which are quite difficult to stomach for a modern audience. Lavinia is used and abused both physically and metaphorically; she is considered a form of currency by her father and every other man she meets, being passed around from man to man until any agency she has left is quite literally ripped from her body.  Aaron, on the other hand, is perhaps the most powerful character in the play, manipulating his surroundings to his liking and feeling no remorse for it.  His speeches are some of the most eloquent in the play and the role is considered one of the most finely penned and most challenging villains in all of Shakespeare. None of this, however, changes the fact that this methodically evil character is black, and his faults are blamed on such by the fairer skinned characters in this world.  Without careful staging, Shakespeare’s treatment of this character could simply be viewed as racist, unless the production can separate the racism of the characters from the perceived racism of their creator.

So with all its challenges, not only why, but how does one put on this play in 2011?  To address the latter, we’ve adapted the original script to feature only 16 actors.  Contradictions and confusions have hopefully been eliminated through the conflation or removal of extraneous characters and the cutting of repetitive lines and scenes. The production aims to emphasize the underlying manipulation and verbal aggression in the text, taking focus away from the excessive physical violence and putting it instead on Shakespeare’s prowess with words. As for the “why,” what could be more relevant today than witnessing a society entangled in an ongoing war rooted in revenge?  It seems fitting that this play will be performed on the 10th anniversary of September 11, a reminder of the death, destruction, and debilitation the last 10 years have brought on our society as the result of the response to our own “rape.”  In TITUS ANDRONICUS, Shakespeare dares to show us the horrific lengths to which a General, a leader, a father, and a human being will go to avenge wrongs against him, and the consequence is the perpetuation of violence across generations to come.



Published in: on September 7, 2011 at 5:21 PM  Comments (1)  



 Whistling in the Dark Theatre Company

The Green Room

March 20, 2011 at 2PM


To better understand the format of this Review, please see my page entitled Kate-the-Critic’s Philosophy.


NBF: 1. Some of the crowd scenes were a little unfocused and that’s when I would slip away a little… but HIGHLY entertaining otherwise. Too busy audibly laughing to put my hands in my mouth.

*:  There isn’t really much to contextualize here.  David is doing a reading for this company next month, but I don’t feel the need to hold anything back!



On June 23rd 1992, the now-defunct supermarket tabloid Weekly World News published its first story about a half-boy, half-bat who was repeatedly captured by scientists only to make a daring escape. The Bat Boy became an icon for the fabricated publication, somehow resurfacing constantly around the country until the paper folded in 2007. And now his story is a hysterically entertaining musical… which you can see right here in Columbus at Whistling in the Dark Theatre Company!


The place is Hope Falls, a fictional mining-turned-cattle town in rural West Virginia. The Taylor children, Rick, Ruthie, and Ron, spelunk into a nearby cave only to be attacked by a monstrous being – a cross between a boy and a bat. A Bat Boy!  The abominable critter is taken in by the Parker family, where he is taught proper speech and etiquette (however inappropriate to the region thanks to Mrs. Parker’s BBC Language tapes). Despite his efforts at conformity, the Christian town rejects the outcast and makes him a scapegoat for all the town’s problems. Only the forbidden love between the Parker’s daughter Shelly and the Bat Boy has the power to change the minds of the townspeople and reveal the truth about his past. Add some pop-singing, line-dancing, and shadow puppets and you’ve got yourself one hell of a fun evening.


My personal experience with Keythe Farley, Brian Flemming, and Laurence O’Keefe’s BAT BOY: THE MUSICAL is, like so many other things, shadowed by the events of 9/11. BAT BOY first opened Off-Broadway in March 2001 to spectacular reviews and was still hot when I arrived in Manhattan that August for my freshman year of college. I never made it to the show out of fear of going downtown (give me a break, I was 17 and didn’t have a cell phone), but the show pressed on for months after the fact while so many others closed their doors. I assumed it lasted because New Yorkers needed a gut-busting satire to take their minds off the chaos, but after finally seeing it staged last weekend I realize that wasn’t the only reason for its success.  It’s an all too familiar tale of the consequences that come with failing to understand each others differences.  The play is about Christian charity, or more accurately, “Christian charity,” and what is really lurking behind Hope Falls’ moral façade.  The “young lovers whose differing backgrounds keep them from being together” trope is a familiar one, but BAT BOY really goes for the throat of the people it’s attacking (seriously… there’s a lot of blood in this one! Don’t worry… it’s fun blood).  A play that you expect to deliver a superficial message ends more like a moving Shakespearean tragedy, with a final result that is a surprisingly accessible story within a well-structured plot.  The citizens of Hope Falls reiterate that the Bat Boy teaches us love, acceptance, and forgiveness, and this mission is accomplished for this audience and those New York audiences after 9/11.  And moreover, BAT BOY: THE MUSICAL is still highly commercial and very easy to sell (Right? Don’t you already want to buy a ticket?? A comedic musical based on a tabloid?? Come ON!). 


Whistling in the Dark’s production, directed by Joe Bishara, is laugh-inducing yet thought provoking as the writers intended.  A relatively small cast doubles as the central characters and the townspeople, employing frequent cross-gender casting. The effect is that everyone is visibly a little of one thing and a bit of another, just like the Bat Boy who they are so quick to demonize. This casting suggestion appears in the script however it is clear that Bishara really exaggerates this aspect of his production, taking it one step further by adding actors. The result? The hairy legged women and clean shaven men really stand out. Liam Cronin (who is also the Co-Producer and Lighting Designer) steals the show as the Bat Boy: he expertly grunts and drinks blood, and once transformed, sings well despite the fangs in his mouth.  The moments between Mrs. Parker (Heather Carvel) and the Bat Boy are the most delightful, as she lovingly teaches him human speech and behavior. Carvel’s is but one of many spectacular voices in this group, resulting in strong choral numbers throughout.  Christopher Storer’s maniacal deviance as Dr. Parker is also worth noting: the character is a true villain who Storer characterizes to chilling effect with sharp comedic timing and a powerful voice. The choreography is a bit simplistic at times, but Choreographer Liz Wheeler also has her hands full providing an effective portrayal of the Bat Boy’s love interest, Shelly Parker.  For all this I was told they only had 12 rehearsals – a feat of talent and dedication that shows.


The performances take place in The Green Room, a space in the OSU south campus gateway that is subsidized by the university’s Arts Initiative.  It lives up to this title by being a completely “green” space, dedicated to expelling as little waste as possible by using mainly recycled materials to produce shows. While many literary departments across the country are attempting to become green by using less paper, theater production is wasteful in nature and most companies do not follow this trend. Whistling in the Dark chose an appropriate piece in BAT BOY for this green style: the rawness of the space suits the tone of the play while also allowing its themes to protrude ahead of its fun surface. The accompanying music is prerecorded rather than performed live (this may be due to the cost of live performers more than the green mission).  There is even a counter and wall of cabinets utilized in the staging that remain from the room’s former life as a coffee shop. Any ineffectiveness in lighting or costuming is also easily forgiven because of this “Poor Theater” approach (see David’s next David’s Corner entry for more on this point). 


This environmental effort is admirable and I applaud Whistling in the Dark for it. However, the one thing that concerns me is the lack of a program.  In order to save paper, the cast and creative team were listed on a chalkboard in the space. How do I then remember the names and histories of the talented actors I’ve just seen if I don’t have a cast list with bios at hand? By providing a program, actors are not only noticed but remembered, possibly resulting in future opportunities. In a theater community where pay is often much less than is deserved, this is one form of compensation that can be provided. I hope next time there will at least be an online program linked to Whistling in the Dark’s website so when I want to remember the name of that talented actor, there’s a way to find it. Also, by not having a program, the audience is given no information about the Bat Boy tabloid phenomenon and the musical’s origins. It could just be the dramaturg in me talking, but I feel this would have further enhanced my experience of the play.


The only downfall of this accessible campus location is that it is surrounded by bars and restaurants… LOUD bars and restaurants. Sunday afternoon may be the perfect time to catch this play, because the pounding music may distract from evening performances. Parking is only $1 per hour in the south campus gateway garage, and the more tickets you buy to this show, the cheaper it is. So grab some friends and get down to campus!



Whistling in the Dark Theatre Co.



March 24-April 3

Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights at 7:30pm

Sunday afternoons at 2pm

$20 for 1, $35 for 2, $50 for 3, and $60 for 4 tickets

Published in: on March 24, 2011 at 5:34 PM  Comments (1)  

A Musing on CBus / April Overload

I sat down to make myself a list of all the shows opening in Columbus in April. I need to keep careful track because some theaters here do a play almost every month of the year, such as the Columbus Civic Theatre which closes Arthur Miller’s THE PRICE this weekend and opens THE LATE CHRISTOPHER BEAN in just 3 weeks. Others barely produce, perhaps 3 productions a year, such as the Whistling in the Dark Theatre Company.  While they appear to have a great space and even better location (right on Ohio State’s campus in the campus corridor), they produce BAT BOY THE MUSICAL this month, and other than a staged reading and a touring educational show there is nothing else listed on their schedule. With so many theaters in town with a similar situation, I need to stay on top of what’s going on or I’ll miss the opportunity to see the work of those companies, most of which I’ve never experienced. 


The real issue is not the infrequency of Columbus companies producing plays – all companies are limited to what they can afford, when they can get actors in a very thinly spread acting pool (VERY thinly spread – every audition David has gone to they have wanted to cast him… Every. Single. One. Talk about the sweet life), and when their regularly rented spaces are available.  The REAL issue is that every company opens plays at the exact same time, this time in April. There are 7 plays that I know of opening on an April date, and 4 others opening in March that continue into April. Really? If I thought the acting pool was spread thin in this town, I’ve noticed the AUDIENCE pool is spread even thinner. Folks here don’t go to shows outside CATCO or the Broadway tours. They expect polish and professionalism, and assume they won’t get either from a smaller company. Theaters here also don’t market their work outside their small groups of loyal followers.  I had to do some real digging to find these 11 shows (Columbus theaters need a full blown marketing overhaul in point of fact, but that’s for a later post). I’ve also already realized that I don’t ever need to reserve a ticket in advance for a play in Columbus other than Shadowbox Live or CATCO because the other theaters never really sell out. Having 11 poorly marketed shows running at the same time in small theaters isn’t going to help with this predicament.


How serendipitous that right as I was making this conclusion, I notice an article in the New York Times Arts Beat entitled, “Spring Can Really Hang You up The Most.” The point – there are way too many freakin’ shows opening in April in New York, so many in fact that it’s practically impossible to get to all of them without going to plays 5 nights a week. Well, it’s not THAT bad in Columbus, obviously, but still an interesting coincidence for someone who really wants to get into these shows to review them and convince Columbusians… Columbusers.. Bussers? Bussers. To convince BUSSERS to see them. This is happening in NYC because Broadway shows need to open by April 28, 2011 to be considered for Tony Awards. Producers want their show to open as close to the Tony’s as possible so the performance is fresh in the voters mind and so that they can sell tickets after their show wins that Tony. Guess what, Columbus: we don’t have Tony Awards! You don’t have to all open at the same time! Isn’t that great?  It would really help me out a lot if this didn’t happen again, ok? I don’t get comps because I’m only a simple blogger, therefore it’s expensive, and I can’t be in 4 different places on April 7 (yes, 4 shows open on April 7 and CBus only has about 2 newspaper critics. Problem? Yes).


I get the impression that Columbus theaters in general just don’t seem to be aware of each other. Everyone has a day job resulting in all rehearsals taking place at night. All theaters can’t afford to have plays run outside Thursday-Sunday, so no one can ever go see each other’s work (oh, the number of Tuesdays and Wednesdays I’ve sat alone at home watching SVU while David is at rehearsal, wishing I could have been at your play!). There is a great organization called the Theatre Roundtable of Central Ohio.  They aim to keep everyone working together, hosting unified auditions every year for all central Ohio theaters as well as hosting workshops for actors in the area. However, if theatres are still scheduling their shows to run for the same 2 weekends and presenting the exact same plays as other companies in the same year (there are 2 MIDSUMMERs and 2 RENTs that I know of in 2011), it looks like there is more work to be done. They also have the Roundtable Awards! But they’re in January, soo… why open ALL your plays in April? Spread it out a little.


In conclusion, you should all go see a play in April, but I can’t in good conscience urge you to see ALL these plays in April. The audience pool is spread thin, but we can help. Check out this list and see what peaks your interest. See my page Central Ohio Theaters for links to websites that contain more information and tickets.  Let’s get some butts in the seats.



BAT BOY THE MUSICAL, Whistling in the Dark Theatre Co., The Green Room, March 17-April 3

ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM, Raconteur Theatre Company, Club Diversity, March 17-April 2

CURTAINS, Gallery Players, JCC, March 19-April 3

WHAT THE BUTLER SAW, CATCO, Riffe Center, March 30-April 17

BOY GETS GIRL, Curtain Players, Galena, April 1-17

THE MALE ANIMAL, Actors’ Theatre of Columbus, CPAC, April 7-17

SKYSCRAPERS OF THE MIDWEST, Available Light Theatre, Riffe Center, April 7-23

A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM, Bread & Circus Theatre Co., Hilliard Harmony Artistic Center, April 7-10

THE LATE CHRISTOPHER BEAN, Columbus Civic Theatre, April 7-30

CINDERELLA, Columbus Children’s Theatre, Lincoln Theatre, April 14-24

[TITLE OF SHOW], Center Stage, Axis, April 29-May 8





Published in: on March 18, 2011 at 3:09 PM  Leave a Comment  


March 13, 2011

To better understand the format of this Review, please first read my page entitled Kate-the-Critic’s Philosophy.

NBF: 0. !!! No hands in mouth AT. ALL. Kudos to an engaging cast. And as we all know, the songs ain’t bad either.

*:  David auditioned for Shadowbox at a general audition a couple weeks ago and was invited to attend a show. This theater has one of the pricier tickets in town ($20-$30), but we got to go for free. I thought this was worth sharing since the comparison of what I pay to the quality of the work often clouds my judgment. 


David and I just saw RENT by Columbus’ Easton based theater troupe, Shadowbox Live. Yep.. that big, gay, rock n’ roll, bohemian love-fest, homeless, disease ridden, tear-jerking RENT… the hit 1996 Pulitzer Prize winning musical by Jonathan Larson.  This seemed like an odd fit since I only know the place as a cabaret style theater and restaurant that puts on wacky sketch comedy shows. However, Shadowbox has been doing full-length rock musicals in their gritty space since 2006. RENT fits this company of actors and their space beautifully. Quick bit of info for the tiny fraction of you who know nothing about this musical (how is that possible, I ask? Maybe you were in a coma for most of the 90s): The story is loosely based on the Puccini opera LA BOHÈME, but instead of fighting TB, all the borderline-homeless bohemians in this play are fighting AIDS and don’t have money to pay for their rent as well as their meds in the now gentrified Alphabet City, NYC. I think that’s all you need to know. 


I haven’t been to Shadowbox Live, operating in Columbus since 1988, since I was in high school. My mother forced the family to go to their big money making, Christmastime sketch comedy show. I don’t recall much of that affair, but the thing that stood out most about the experience this time around was the fact that the actors were also the servers. Yes. We are talking about RENT, here… a musical chock full of belting, dancing, and gyrating. But even so… there goes Roger with a tray of cocktails… and there’s Mimi with a steaming pile of nachos! And if it isn’t the actor playing Tom Collins bringing me my very reasonably priced Sam Adams (I figured beer was appropriate. Actually “BEER AND WINE!” would have been more appropriate…. or a Tom Collins). After witnessing this actor/server practice in action, I am left wondering if these people could not be crazier (I know my husband was floored by the idea of performing a full-length musical and not having any prep time or any sort of break at the intermission), OR if they are BRILLIANT. People who DON’T go to the theater only like one thing about going to the theater: seeing an actor perform and then getting to see them in real life. Don’t believe me? Go to the talkback of a topical drama and wait for that one lady to say, “Your voice sounds so different!” and then ask, “How on earth did you memorize all those LINES!” By having the actors serve tables, work the box office, sell t-shirts, etc., they are fully responsible for the entire theater experience AND they give these seldom theater-goers their fix. This particular play also allowed the company to stay true to their festive cabaret atmosphere – while they didn’t serve food or drink during the acts and asked for audience members to kindly not talk to them during the play (yeah, I know, do the audiences at Shadowbox normally TALK to the actors DURING the show? I need to see that…), they did encourage singing along. The bona fide Rentheads sitting at the table next to us took FULL advantage of this.


As for the show itself, it was pretty damn solid. Bravo.  My poor husband has only seen the dreaded 2005 film featuring Adam Pascal’s 45-year-old highlights, so I was glad he had the opportunity to see a capable cast perform the piece on a bare set with a live rock band as it was done on Broadway. Director and Shadowbox Executive Producer Stev Guyer makes the claim that they are “not doing a rip off of any previous production of RENT” despite pressure from the “rabid fan base.” And yet, I couldn’t help but notice that some elements were exact replicas of the original Broadway production. For example, Mark (John Boyd), while an energetic performer and proficient singer, was a replica of Anthony Rapp right down to the scarf and thick-rimmed glasses. My adorable server (Jerrod Roberts) was also a dead-ringer for original cast member and future Law & Order star Jesse L. Martin. Maureen (spectacularly sung by Valerie Witherspoon) was Idina-ing the hell out of the familiar cow-jumping-over-the-moon choreography. The rest of the production had some creative casting, such as a sexy, brooding African American Roger (Brandon Anderson) and a perky, very Caucasian Mimi (Nikki Fagin. As I watched I thought, “Oh, maybe Mimi doesn’t have to be Latina!”… And right then she powerfully belted out the line, “When the Spanish babies cry!!!” from her big solo, Out Tonight. I guess she is supposed to be Latina, but it wasn’t distracting).  There was also a MASSIVE ensemble of dancing, but more often meandering, homeless people. 17 people in the chorus total. David’s immediate response was that he now noticed the theme of residents being bumped out of their homes and onto the streets due to the fact they’re unable to pay for their rent and their AIDS medication in a newly gentrified Lower East Side.  An astute observation seeing as the director claims “bumping up the presence of the homeless” was fully intentional. Then I said to David, well yeah, you didn’t notice the poor people before because everyone was wearing designer clothes in that stupid movie.


The set was a blank slate highlighting only their bitchin’ rock band, a strategically placed dancing pole for Mimi and a projection screen for Mark’s filmic exploits. The rest of the room was also used by the actors for intensely emotional moments such as the classic “525,600 Minutes” at the top of the second act. I was particularly impressed by the dramaturgical information – a history of the AIDS epidemic and the gentrification of Alphabet City – provided on the projection screen prior to the performance. With this contextualization, the production placed the focus on the theme of AIDS and its impact on real people rather than on the bohemian lifestyle (“Bohemian lifestyle” can easily be interpreted in 2011 as someone who doesn’t pay rent, bills, or their tab at the local diner because they are tortured artists. Today I guess these people are more commonly known as Hipsters). The Dispatch’s performing arts critic Michael Grossberg says the “intimate staging and careful orchestrations [make] almost every word intelligible” (link to complete review below). This is a technical point on which I would disagree. It is easy for any rock musical to fall into the trap of unintelligibility due to overwhelming electric guitars and drum sets, this one being no exception. The actors who are clearly talented musical theater performers made their lyrics known, where as others often screamed unintelligibly. This is a big reason as to why the original cast recording became so wildly popular in the 90s – Larson’s poetic and insightful lyrics were recognizable. Just ask those people who were at the table next me.  I wonder how many copies of that thing they’ve gone through…


Anyway, if you don’t usually go to the Shadowbox because you don’t like comedians hassling you while you eat mediocre bar food, you don’t have to worry about that with this one. Go see it. If you’re one of those people who like theater but have decided they now hate this play because it’s “overrated” or you’re “sick of the music” or “the movie sucked,” I’m not going to argue with you. I’m rather sick of it, too. And yes, that movie really sucks. But if you have never seen this piece staged, this is an excellent opportunity to see a brilliantly written play live on stage as it was intended.  If you don’t make it this time, we know RENT will be back sooner or later.


Shadowbox Live

164 Easton Town Center



Sundays at 2 and 7pm until April 17

Adults: $30   Students/Seniors/Active Military: $20



Columbus Dispatch – Michael Grossberg – Monday, March 7 2011

Published in: on March 15, 2011 at 3:04 PM  Leave a Comment  


March 9, 2011

To better understand the format of this Review, please first read my page entitled Kate-the-Critic’s Philosophy.

NBF: 2.  Not bad! I almost made it to the end… and then my hands ended up in my mouth. I think my disengagement was mainly length related.  The show lasted a highly unnecessary 2.5 hours, but thankfully there was a 15 minute intermission. 

*: My husband is in this play. So I am biased? Well, duh. He’s my husband. And I’m also directing for these guys this month, so yeah, I’m biased. But I would also argue that I am my husband’s harshest critic. And since there is a lot more going on with this play than Mr. David Tull, let’s move on, shall we? 


This March, an ominous shadow is cast over MadLab Theatre and Gallery. A dark, existentialist, rather pessimistic… kinda confusing and also a bit long-winded… shadow type thing.  Sorry about that, this pitch black dramedy, the first full-length production of MadLab’s 2011 season of new, unpublished work, demands a deep yet silly introduction. Jared Latore’s A SHADOW IN THE DARK allows audiences to have a laugh while also forcing them to contemplate the meaninglessness of their existence. If you like entertainment that prompts you to do either and you have $12, please read on.


Simon Sermon (Stephen Woosley) is a children’s author who has the mysterious and unfortunate habit of marrying women who subsequently die within a year. The latest victim is Ann (Courtney Deuser), who now haunts Simon in his dreams. Two other-worldly beings represent Sleep and Death (Jeffrey Potts and the devastatingly handsome and charming David Tull), who guide Sermon and his new mistress, neurotic alcoholic secretary Betsy (Aran Carr) to their demise. With the help of Betsy’s psychologist roommate Caroline (Becky Horseman), Simon’s final work is published, the book that reveals the truth behind his deadly contagion.  


Now, although quite vague, the only reason I am able to give you this bare bones synopsis is that I saw it twice and asked my husband a barrage of questions in between performances. The play DOES feature a plot that moves us from beginning to end with an ever so slightly satisfying payoff. However, the text is often convoluted and intentionally unclear, and the many epic themes – dreams, death, sleep, love, evil – are too big in themselves, not always working together toward a common goal. Latore is rather aggressive in his desire to dramatize the meaninglessness of human existence, but adds no new insight – he merely crams in quotations from the great poets, from Byron and Shelly to Shakespeare, as well as the assertions of Freud and Jung and even the Bible, allowing these texts to do his philosophical dirty work. While he does have a knack for dialogue and rhythmic banter (which the actors don’t always pick up on in this production), it is also clear that he hasn’t developed his craft to the point where he can look at the bigger picture, strategically providing clues for the audience as the play progresses.  After working with many early career playwrights, I get the sense that this writer feared “giving too much away,” and as a result didn’t give enough away. Result?  The audience gets to laugh every once in awhile, but has no idea what the heck is going on a lot of the time.  


 So who the heck is this Jared Latore? A simple Google search reveals a guy who has a 2009 BA in Theatre from Missouri’s Truman State University and a world premiere of this play at the 40th Street Stage in Norfolk, Virginia… and little else.  I’m not knocking him for this. We should admire and support places like MadLab who dedicate their time to the production of new work. Without productions and audiences, young playwrights don’t get better. Unfortunately, since this playwright is getting productions, he may think he is “done” with this script. Latore could have benefited from working with MadLab on clarifying his story… and cutting the excessive amount of fat from this repetitive play (did someone say Dramaturg??).  And needless to say, MadLab could probably have benefited from choosing a stronger script to kick off their year.


To say the issues with this play are strictly the fault of the playwright isn’t entirely true, but these actors and their director did almost as much as they could with what they had.  Director Jennifer Feather Youngblood may not have given the audience enough visual cues to clarify the playwright’s shadowy story, but she is apt in staging dialogue-driven scenes. As the lead, Woosley suits Simon in look and attitude, but gives a sometimes two-dimensional performance that doesn’t always help us poor fools in the audience access Latore’s philosophy. Where Potts and Tull are clearly the trained actors in the group (not just because of their funny voices and specificity of movement, but because of their noticeable complexity of thought), Carr, Deuser, and Horseman fit their characters, too.  The acting is sometimes a bit lopsided, but all of the actors are invested in their production.  The script just makes everything about it sort of luke warm. Or as Betsy would say, it’s “warmer than dead.”


I was really into Brendan Michna’s set design. It features many red cords that snake their way into the rafters, representing both veins that pump life blood into the space around us, and IV tubes. The focal point is an upright bed that doubles as both a death bed and a coffin (Comedy!). Symmetrical projection screens hang amongst veiny muslin curtains where both scene titles and background images are displayed. The whole thing kinda looks like a torture chamber… or the set of a SAW movie. Unfortunately, the awkward and far too small trio of square platforms that line the stage make for some clumsy staging and sometimes seemingly dangerous moments for the actors.


I left the theater wishing this play had been produced in late October, and that I had seen it after picking apples in an orchard and carving a pumpkin. The specificity of this realization led me to believe there is in fact a target audience for this strange play. Am I said audience? Well, no. I cried at the Broadway production of CHITTY CHITTY BANG BANG and was dancing in my seat to the point of breaking my cell phone (would I honestly lie about that?). So who is this mystery audience? Perhaps if you like black comedy, Absurdist drama, Jungian psychology, existentialist philosophy, English poetry, and/or B horror flicks, this play may be for you. It felt like… Strindberg’s DREAM PLAY meets a zombie flick. Or Halloween for Poets. A new genre!


For all the cons that come with this script, there are just as many pros in the MadLab experience as a whole. Their new space on North 3rd Street is charming, with high warehouse ceilings for proficiency in lighting, and a kitschy conglomeration of mismatched stadium seating for its 69 possible patrons. It’s right downtown, boasts free parking in several area lots (see their website’s parking map before heading downtown), features an art gallery in its lobby, and even provides pop, candy, and chips for a pay-what-you-can donation. MadLab is a company on the precipice of professionalism, and the artists who run it have their hearts in the right place even if their operation is sometimes unconventional. The unpaid artists who work to put their shows together deserve your support even though this particular play leaves a little to be desired.


This production has only 4 more performances, so be sure to check your calendar so you can see my hubby and his hard-working cast mates. It’s only $12, for goodness sake! One of the cheapest tickets in town. On the 18th and 19th, the show is followed by 3 in 30, 3 10 minute plays fitting the “shadow” motif. I’m directing the second piece, SHADOW V. MANN by Austin Steinmetz, and I have funny, adorable, actors who are ready to work hard to make you laugh.  It’s only 3 additional dollars to stay for 3 in 30, or you can wait to arrive until 10:30PM and pay $5 for the show. MadLab also does a “Bad Movie Night” on the 2nd Tuesday of every month. I have yet to participate, but it sounds like any die-hard Mystery Science Theater 3000 fan has no business missing it.


227 N. 3rd St.

Columbus, OH 43215



Friday and Saturday nights March 18-26 at 8pm

$12 adults/$8 students/$6 members

Published in: on March 15, 2011 at 2:53 PM  Leave a Comment