Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Cleveland & Akron

John
Dobama Theatre
Review by Mark Horning

Also see Mark's review of Ya Mama!


Dorothy Silver, Catherine Albers and Kat Shy
Photo by Steve Wagner
The synopsis for Dobama Theatre's latest production, John, directed by Nathan Motta, reads as follows, "An intimate and elusive ghost story from the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright of The Flick (Annie Baker). One cold November night, Elias and Jenny, a young couple struggling to stay together, stop at a bed & breakfast in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. During their visit they encounter a cheerful innkeeper, her blind friend, and an eerie world crammed with toys, figurines and one very odd American Girl doll. This mystical puzzle of a play is full of surprises, both human and supernatural."

Sounds intriguing? It would be except there are no ghosts, it is not a mystical puzzle, and the scant "surprises, both human and supernatural" when hinted at fall flat. What I can agree with is the "elusive ghost story" part. What we basically have is 168 minutes of Waiting for Godot-ish meanderings combined with so many pregnant pauses that it is surprising no one in the audience went into labor.

The show begins with a large semi-circular curtain being drawn back to reveal an intricately laid out stage. Jenny Chung (Cat Shy) and her boyfriend of three years Elias Schreiber Hoffman (Luke Wehner) are attempting to patch up a shaky relationship just after Thanksgiving at a rather creepy bed and breakfast next to the Gettysburg battlefield. Mertis Katherine Graven (Catherine Albers) runs the B&B while caring for her unseen husband. It soon becomes apparent that Mertis (aka Kitty) is two personalities. One is a bubbly sing-song voiced proprietress, the other the lower octave voiced staring-ahead creepy old lady.

They are joined by Mertis' blind friend Genevieve Marduk (Dorothy Silver), who begins by telling Jenny that she was declared "certifiably insane, due to her ex-husband Jack inhabiting her brain as well as taking over the minds of all her doctors, nurses, patients and psychiatrists at the clinic she had checked herself into." Well OK!

So we have all the elements of a first class ghost story. We have the innocent yet flawed couple trying to fall back into love, the dual-personality B&B owner, the mystery husband of said owner, her blind and crazy friend, a room full of dead-eye dolls, a Christmas tree that intermittently flashes off and on, a B&B that served as a hospital during the great battle in which the piles of amputated limbs were so high they blotted out the light through the windows, and, lastly, a player piano that serves up a ragtime melody at strange times (once when Elias recites a strange chant/spell that he found in Mertis' journal).

The problem is, nothing is ever sufficiently developed to its scary potential. Even the "surprise ending" has been telegraphed so much throughout the play that it becomes anti-climactic. With each of the two intermissions, fewer people returned to endure to the end. Those who did, left with puzzled "did you understand any of that?" looks.

The only redeeming element is the cast. Kat Shy and Luke Wehner are perfect as the distant couple who are trying to decide if it is worth staying together. Catherine Albers does a superb job as she shape-shifts between her two strange characters. Last, but by all means not least, is Dorothy Silver, the grande dame of Cleveland theater, who convinces us that she is old, blind and crazy. Unfortunately, the frayed thread of a storyline gives them nothing to develop except their characters. There are great personalities but no tale to tell. It is comparable to a one joke comedy.

Kudos also go to Cameron Caley Michalak for her inspired stage design that, from left to right, includes the "Paris" kitchen, a staircase lined with dolls leading up to the second story, the player piano, and the spooky Christmas tree, as well as a well-appointed living area. Likewise to Marcus Dana for the suspenseful lighting and Jeremy Dobbins for sound. Inda Blatch-Geib shows her brilliance once more in costuming, and Dred Geib of BG Designs fills the room with creepy props.

While the acting is superb, the meandering storyline goes out of its way to avoid any hint of mystery or ghostly apparitions. It is 168 minutes (with two ten-minute intermissions) of tepid suspense that leads you to wonder what all the fuss is about.

John, through November 11, 2018, at Dobama Theatre, 2340 Lee Road, Cleveland Heights OH. Tickets may be purchased by calling 216-932-3396 or by visiting www.dobama.org.


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