Wednesday, October 8, 2003

Flat 'Voice' fails to sing

Theater review

By Jackie Demaline
The Cincinnati Enquirer

A Voice of My Own, season opener for Ovation Theatre at the Aronoff's Fifth Third Bank Theater, feels like a show originally created for educational touring.

It cheerfully spoons out information about great women of literature (primarily 18th and 19th century European) at a school assembly-friendly 85 minutes.

There are far worse things than an evening spent discovering more about the Brontes, Jane Austen, Virginia Woolf and their literary sisters; for the lives of great artists, even the most mundane-seeming is, with the advantage of hindsight and a knowledge of their accomplishments, fascinating.

Playwright Elinor Jones clearly researched well and compiled her material (correspondence, diaries, documentation) with an eye to teasing us with just enough of a peek through a window into these lives to make us want to find out more on our own.

But be warned: for the most part, the material in Voice is far better than the production it's given.

Uninspired directing has been an ongoing problem for Ovation. Sometimes good material manages to win the night, but revues like Voice need all the help they can get, and director Joe Stollenwerk's contribution is merely perfunctory.

He gives the impression that he doesn't love this material or particularly understand it.

Certainly there's rarely any real sense of the women whose words we're hearing, which begs the question of why do this piece without a will to capture the essence of these women?

There are some nice moments. Kristin Clippard sends up a few good chills as Mary Shelley, the author of Frankenstein. From her reading of a family correspondence, I would be willing to bet that Lisa Hall Breithaupt is a Jane Austen fan and Burgess Byrd lets us hear Toni Morrison loud and clear.

Production values are basic, with a line of elaborately designed chairs of various periods set across the back of the playing area. The actresses are dressed in a vaguely Edwardian style of white shirt and ankle-length brown skirt, which are less than flattering to half the ensemble.

Almost a dozen songs are interspersed among the dramatic vignettes of Voice.

The musical interludes add little to this production, partly because most of the time the women don't sing well together and partly because there's no sense of enlivening, no injection of another emotional plane, which is the purpose of a musical overlay in a performance.

A Voice of My Own, 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, Fifth Third Bank Theater, Aronoff Center, 241-7469.

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