13 Dead Husbands – Hauh Hauh, Wee Wee, Saw Saw

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Casey Dutt

13 Dead Husbands, Photo Credit: Shealyn Jae Photography

A REVIEW BY ACHILLES FEELS

The last time we saw Cohesion Theatre Company, I had some choice words to say about their, well, “cohesion.”  The company took the review like champs, and even sent me a fan video of Sean James actually reading the phone book {swoon} – a total winner move in my book!  Founding Artistic Producer Alicia Stanley says (in her program notes) that 13 Dead Husbands is “completely, wonderfully different from [their] first production.”  How true, how true!  A brand new stage like Cohesion picking Shakespeare’s Coriolanus as their first show right out of the gate, while admirable, may not have been the strongest of choices.  Husbands, on the other hand, their second production as a company, will move this group of artists forward in Baltimore.  The choice of venue, Church on the Square in Canton, is much more fitting than their last store-front space in Highlandtown.  That was a good switch, guys, if not an anticipated one!  Maybe even a blessing in disguise.

After spending 15 minutes parking, I grab myself a mead at the bar, sit back and prepare to take a play I didn’t know a thing about (it’s a Baltimore premiere).  The dulcet tones of two-piece band The Napoleon Complex (Nick Delaney & Alicia Stanley) rock out the pre-show, transition, and post-show music.  Damn were they lovely to listen to.  Y’all got an album?

13 Dead Husbands is about the “most beautiful woman in the world,” mega black widow Dee-Dee (Casey Dutt), and the suitors who woo her – say that 5x fast!  At the top of the show, we’re in an archetypal French cafe, where we meet best friends Jean-Pierre (Bobby Henneberg) and Marcel C’est La Vie (Matthew Payne).  Not kidding, the dude’s last name is “Ce La Vie.”  Marcel is the sexy swarthy Frenchman who tells his plain-Jane friend JP how he’s fallen in love with Dee-Dee, who is sort of the ultimate fear-seekers challenge.  See, Dee-Dee has been married 12 times before, all of her husbands have mysteriously died and she talks to them as though they’re still vertical though eerie photographs she’s taken of each.  In fact, some believe that the actual act of taking the photograph seals the doom of the betrothed forever.  She currently runs the cafe and Marcel has been coming to sip lattes and gawk at Dee-Dee for months now.  Jean-Pierre is a simple balloon salesman who pushes his quaint sales-cart from park to park.  They don’t really see eye-to-eye on this whole Dee-Dee thing, but eventually (what a twist!) Jean-Pierre scores Dee-Dee’s digits and they start going steady.  Meanwhile, Dee-Dee is continuously romanced by several other potential suitors and through these many mens, we meet Hubert Q. Hubble (Thom Sinn), an American newspaper tycoon.   Hubert is slimy, and he’s here to try his luck with Dee-Dee too (he saw, in tomorrow’s newspaper, how beautiful this lovely French cafe-girl is and wanted the upper hand at her… uh… hand!).  Dee-Dee’s seems a simple (read: shallow) thing. She just wants presents and moor husbands – grrl, don’t we all!  It doesn’t really matter what the man does (agreed!), her priors are everything from a flamboyant tailor Mr. Milo Minkle (Phil Vannoorbeeck) to redneck Texan Jack Russel (Nick Delaney).  She, at first, appears shallow and materialistic but we come to realize that there is much more to this lady than meets the eye.  The show is a romantic sitcom and playwright Tom Horan does a great job of writing text that would easily appeal to a large homogeneous population. The dialog almost feels Broadway-style accessible, it’s so obviously not trying to offend anybody and be funny at the same time.  In the end, all is happy, but I won’t totally spoil the surprise that the whole play is marching towards.

There are many things that Cohesion did that worked well. I enjoyed the varied body-types and ages on stage.  Each character was well cast and the stage picture makes total sense.   None of that casting a 17-year-old to play 50 nonsense (and where they did cast out-of-age, it worked and was not distracting, so thanks for that).  Director Brad Norris and Assistant Director Caitlin Carbone keep the flow moving. In on one side, some action happens and you’re out the other side with a very “revolving-door” kinda staging that works well for the style.  I’m so very happy that I could see the show.  Lana Riggins’s lighting design worked well to facilitate peeping the action, but did not do much in terms of supporting the story or driving setting or emotion (then again, with a play this easy-on-the-eyes, you don’t really need a lot of bells and whistles!).   Set by Sebastian Sears was simple, straightforward, and practical, but could have used a more connected color palette and a hair more craftsmanship – I was a little worried that door was going to collapse any moment.  Costumes by Stephanie Fisher were dead-on, well tailored, and character driven. Norris did some really cool projection design in the window of Dee-Dee’s flat, but I wished it was larger and used more frequently because the illustrations looked amazing.

Let’s talk about the elephant in the room for a sec: the accents.  Horan specifies that this play is set in “a Paris that exists only in the imagination.” What the hell does that actually mean?  At times the accents were funny and perfectly executed, but most often the actors’ attempts distorted the text and left me with HUH face. This was most often the case with Payne.  His Marcel is passionate, funny to the point of making me LOL several times and has amazing stage presence, but sometimes the words just did not come through [I think this may have partly been due to the acoustics of the space.  That damned church was so fucking echoey that, combined with the over-the-top nature of the accents, I could barely make out the dialogue, especially at the beginning.  I got used to it, but it was still a bummer.  Ah well.  C’est la vie, right? – TBO]  Henneberg and Dutt do slightly better in this regard (although still a little inconsistant).

The acting is mostly spot-on.  Dutt is perfect as the hapless Dee Dee, and she, along with Payne (when I could understand him) and Dominic Gladden’s Irish physician Dr. Seamus Delaney were my faves [Agreed, especially about Dutt and Payne, but I also thought Henneberg was just fantastic.  What a warm and open actor!  What great instincts!  And, Achilles, can you believe he’s only 18?  It’s hard, because we sprang from the terrifying loins of our mothers fully formed, so we were never 18, but can you fucking believe it?  Watch out for this kid!  Sorry, I’ll but out of your review now.- TBO].  Sinn’s over-the-top slim-bucket was right on the edge of being fabulous but left me a little dry.  Hubble either needs to be a lot more, or a lot less.  Sinn plays too much to the audience for laughs, and not enough to the actors sharing the stage with him.  He’s funny, dead funny, actually, but sometimes gets a case of the trying-too-hards.

The Bottom Line:  13 Dead Husbands is a well-executed gem.  Cohesion deserves a packed house for rocking out in this new space so very well. This play was easy on the eyes, and easy on the mind.  Husbands is one of those audience-pleasing experiences where you don’t have to think too much, you can be easily entertained, and you have a roaring good time along with the cast.  While I knew Cohesion had it in them, and I was rooting for them all the way, I admit was a tad worried for a second.  I shouldn’t have been.  They knocked this one outta the freaking ballpark.

Running at Church on the Square in Canton until March 29th.

SECOND OPINION?

http://wypr.org/post/rousuck-review-13-dead-husbands-cohesion-theatre-company

http://www.broadwayworld.com/baltimore/article/BWW-Reviews-Playing-Marital-and-Mortal-Odds-13-DEAD-HUSBANDS-at-Cohesion-20150314

Review: 13 Dead Husbands at Cohesion Theatre Company

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