First, a disclaimer: I have a relationship with Cincinnati LAB Theatre and this particular show that prevents me from writing a traditional and proper review of this piece. I have watched a few rehearsals, created a few images for the set, and the lead actor sits on a chair I brought in from home. That said, I still want to talk about this play and why I think you should see it. But there’s no question, I am more than a little biased.
Sara Mackie has written a very intriguing script about Ronald (Jared D. Doren), who is preparing for his last performance as “Rita,” his drag alter ego in the club where he found residency for the act some time ago. Danielle Muething plays “Tess,” his sister and former song-partner and rival. Sean Michael Flowers rounds out the cast as “Chad,” Ronald’s accompanist and loyal friend.
From the moment Doren enters the stage, all eyes are on him. For me, it’s a real treat to get to see him command the stage with this meaty of a role. I’ve only seen him as a supporting player, being over-the-top and big in musicals and cabarets. In this play with music, though, as he reflects on his career and life and love and loss, he is absolutely mesmerizing in much tender and quieter ways.
Ronald enters the set and for a few minutes silently prepares himself the evening, finding comfort in the songs that he loves before being interrupted by the surprise of seeing his sister, with whom he’s not spoken in quite some time. When Tess enters the energy changes. Ronald shuts down, wondering why she’s come to him now on this day of all days. As he reconciles with her presence and as they hash out their past, he decides that they should once again perform together right before his finale number. Tess protests. Chad tells them it’s “not a good idea” – and frankly, if you understand the story – it’s actually not possible. But Ronald insists. He needs this.
As they rehearse together, we get to hear two fantastic – and very different – songs, composed by Flowers. Muething, especially, shines on her solo featuring jazz scatting. It’s a dazzling and unexpected performance. And the comedy duet provides laughter – and a mechanism towards the final climax of the show.
Muething and Flowers deliver very good performances but this is Doren’s showcase. The restraint he shows contrasts with the expectations we have when we see photos of Rita hanging outside the venue and in his dressing room. And when Ron finishes preparations for his grand finale, Rita’s finale, I was tears. It’s a powerful and insightful look into the character.
I remember what it was like when my first play was produced by LAB last summer. I can empathize with Mackie, seeing her characters brought to life by others and hearing her words spoken out loud. It’s thrilling, nerve wracking, and ultimately one of the most satisfying experiences one can have, I think.
I’m in no way being objective when I tell you to see IS THAT ALL THERE IS? I do think you’ll enjoy it. Regardless I hope you’re supporting all the new work at this year’s 14th Annual Cincinnati Fringe Festival. This is just one of many great productions and it’s one I’m proud to have gotten to watch develop.
IS THAT ALL THERE IS? runs at the Art Academy Studio again on the following dates:
- Jun 3, 2017 at 04:45 pm (Sat)
- Jun 5, 2017 at 07:00 pm (Mon)
- Jun 7, 2017 at 07:00 pm (Wed)
- Jun 10, 2017 at 07:45 pm (Sat)
Click here for more information.