As the founder of CASA, I want you, the audience, to feel as if I am inviting you into my house, my living room, for an evening of entertainment.
The image of Queen Elizabeth I bringing guests into her court to see the newest masque or hear the newest play comes to mind. There was nothing "elaborate" to it, except the queen, her castle, the lords and ladies...ok, so it was elaborate...but the idea of opening one's home to guest and providing them with entertainment in an intimate setting thrills me! Thus, our Summer Series.
Goals of the Summer Series:
1. Casts which require young performers - giving them the opportunity to work side by side with experienced professionals - doing shows that would most likely NOT be done in a high school theatre.
2. An intimate setting for the audience with uniquely environmental productions.
3. Making art by telling a story.
Thank you for your support!
Previous Summer Series
Molière with Masks: Unmasking CASA’s Production of
Molière’s The Learned Ladies
By Alan Jozwiak
One of the delights of the Cincinnati theater scene is when theater companies produce little-known plays by major playwrights. For the last play in the Cincinnati Actor’s Studio and Academy’s (CASA) Summer of Classic Comedies, CASA chose the French playwright Molière’s little-known comedy The Learned Ladies.
The Learned Ladies concerns a group of society ladies aspiring to be cultured intellectuals. Philaminte (Katie Tierney), and her daughters Armande (Haley Gillman) and Bélise (Amber Smith), spend their time contemplating philosophical verities and being dazzled by the intricate wordplay of the pedant Trissotin (Grace Wesson).
By contrast, Philaminte’s other daughter Henrietta (Meg Griffin), is not interested in intellectual pursuits and falls in love with her like-minded beau Clitandre (Julie Deye). Philaminte has other plans for Henrietta and schemes to have Henrietta marry Trissotin, over the protestations of her hen-pecked husband Chrysale (Alena Firle).
Director Cheryl Couch makes two bold decisions in directing this production. First, Couch cast an all-female cast of high school and college students, as well as female actors from the greater Cincinnati theater community. This casting worked at highlighting the feminine ethos within the script and gave voice to the feminine in a way that would not have happened with a mixed gender cast.
Using female adult actors in this production is a bit of a departure from regular CASA casting, which typically draws upon talented high school students across the region, as well as from graduated gap year students and college freshman/sophomores who come back to Cincinnati to work in theater. This mixed aged casting further strengthened the production, since Molière’s script can be challenging for younger actors, with it being text-heavy with intricate wordplay.
Second, under the leadership of Costumer Finney Kutcher (newly graduated from high school and who intends on studying acting at Columbia College in Chicago in the fall), the period costumes were complimented with matching masks and corsets (for the female roles) and matching masks and vests (for the male roles) to denote a character’s inclination towards intellectual endeavors. Learned ladies like Philaminte had masks and corsets made from book pages. By contrast, the false scholar Trissotin had a mask and peacock feather pin on his vest to symbolize his excessive external show of knowledge.
Kutcher does a fine job with the masks and matching corsets/vests. Because of their size, it was hard as an audience member to get a full sense of the intricacies of the masks. It would have been nice if they were on display after the show to see up-close the care that was taken to craft them. In terms of the costuming apart from the masks and matching corsets/vests, my only quibble with the costuming was that there needed to be richer fabrics for the older characters. Since older characters were sometimes being played by younger actors, it would have helped clarify the social status between different characters.
This production was quintessentially an ensemble piece, with worthy performances by most of the performers. Armande (Haley Gillman, a rising sophomore in the NKU Musical Theater department) and Henriette (Meg Griffin) open the show with a strong scene which sets up some of the basic conflicts that they will have within the play. Clintandre (Julie Dye, who is going to Wright State to study acting in the fall) also provided a strong performance as the lover protests his love for Henriette. Ariste (Eliza Martin) was also strong as her character tries to help her brother Chrysale (Alena Firlie, a student at NKU majoring in theater) unite Henriette and Clintandre.
Perhaps the one actor which stole the show was Leanne Hays, who plays the role of Martine the kitchen-maid. Hays added a note of earthy levity to these high-blown intellectual women. Martine has some rather saucy lines and some very un-PC lines about husbands beating their wives in order to keep them in line. While these lines are painful for modern audiences, Hays’ delivery avoided the audience from excessive cringing.
My only complaints about the production come from the nature of the Richard Wilbur translation of this play. Wilbur’s translation of the play tended not to identify the different characters while they were talking. Being unfamiliar with the play, it took me a while to piece together the relationships between the different characters. Since there was also young actors playing older characters, there weren’t the normal contextual clues when actors are more age appropriate.
Molière’s play also involves sustained concentration, as the audience needs to listen closely to the wordplay so as to understand the action on the stage. This play was not an English comedy of great guffaws, but more of a polite chuckles dependent upon the audience closely listening to get each chuckle.
One thing which I did greatly appreciate was the dramaturgical information provided by John Ray posted up in the lobby explaining the French political background of the time of Molière, as well as explaining some of the meanings behind the characters’ names. A few tidbits from this information include that Philaminte’s name has two possible meanings—“lover of the truth” and “one who defends.” Also, the name Trissotin means “three times stupid” and was inspired by Abbé Cotin, a poet and scholar of the 17th century.
In closing, this was a rare chance to see a solid production of a little-produced Molière play. Since it only ran for one weekend (August 3-6), the production is unfortunately closed. However, add CASA onto your summer theater radar for next season. They have a proven track record of delivering thoughtful, engaging, and provocative material.
Something Forbidden This Way Comes:
A Review of Cincinnati Actor’s Studio and Academy’s Production of
Forbidden Broadway: A Musical Revue
By Alan Jozwiak
Teenager performers singing cabaret songs that parody Broadway musicals sounds like an unlikely combination. But under the direction of Gina Ceremele-Mechley, she was able to produce an engaging Forbidden Broadway, a musical revue that pokes fun of popular Broadway musicals. In this production, teenage performers from Cincinnati Actor’s Studio and Academy (CASA) sing songs parodying classical musicals, such as Fiddler on the Roof and Annie, along with newer musicals, such as Hairspray and Mamma Mia.
Staged as an actual cabaret, the audience was allowed to enter the performing space an hour before curtain so that could be escorted to a table and served free drinks and pastries by the actors who were in the show. I was served by actress Faith Dansberry and ended up having a lively conversation both with Faith and her mother, who also sat at my table.
Forbidden Broadway relies heavily on the audience’s background knowledge of the various Broadway shows, as well as an expert knowledge of different types of singing styles (a surprising number of songs were about the different singings styles within Broadway musicals). As a result, some of the humor may not have registered with everyone in the audience. But there were more than enough laughs to make this musical revue a perfect show for a summer evening’s entertainment.
There were several outstanding singers within the production. The aforementioned Faith Dansberry was outstanding in her solo Chorus Line parody. She has a good range, as well as a strong stage presence, making her Chorus Line parody, as well as the other songs in which she sang, delightful.
Also strong was Matt Berman, who did some strong work in the parodies of Chicago and Fiddler on the Roof. Like Danesberry, Berman also has a strong stage presence. Combining that with a strong vocal talents makes him a stand-out to watch on stage.
Special credit also needs to go to pianist Jacob Strom, who did the musical accompaniment for this musical revue. An accomplished keyboardist, Strom provided compelling artistic interpretations to the various numbers.
There was also a very nice moment with Aiden Dalton (playing The Phantom of the Opera) and a special guest (director Gina Ceremele-Mechley, who played Ethel Merman), which was essentially a mashup of the musicals The Phantom of the Opera and Annie Get Your Gun. It concerned the differences between miking actors versus actors being able to belt out songs without a mike.
CASA drew not only from the talented high school students across the region, but graduated gap year students and college freshman and sophomores who come back to Cincinnati to work in theater. Creating this work in only eleven days (to simulate what professional actors sometimes face when putting up shows), it was amazing the level of polish the actors achieved.
Despite that level of polish, the show was uneven at times. I felt as though the great singers in the ensemble might have benefited with some more time crafting their performances to make them even stronger. Performers could also have benefited from seeing the shows they were parodying. A few songs felt as though the performers couldn’t achieve the level of humor within the song because they had not seen the musical they were parodying.
However, this was still basically an entertaining evening presented by CASA. I had a good time and was able to laugh heartily, a rare feat these days where everyone is stressed and anxiety-ridden.