REVIEW: This Random World

I knew how good of a show this was when my heart began to race and my pulse quickened.  As the story progressed, there was expectation in the air, anticipation of connections that I longed to see happen on stage while also sort of hoping they wouldn’t.  I left more than satisfied.

Stephen Dietz’s THIS RANDOM WORLD is a collection of scenes, featuring characters who are interwoven but independent (think the beautiful movie, “Magnolia,” or Robert Altman’s films) played by an all-star Cincinnati cast and a couple of newcomers, too.  There’s Kelly Mengelkoch, who can do literally anything on stage, paired with Patrick Phillips, who is equally as versatile.  We see Annie Fitzpatrick, believably playing a much older woman, along side a sassy-but-restrained Burgess Byrd.  Justin McCombs, making his ETC debut, is relaxed as he acts across from Brianna Bernard, who really shines strong.  Finally, there’s Ernaisja Curry, who’s wide-eyed portrayal is only surpassed by emotional breakdown towards the finale.  Through some solid scene work, comic timing, and a great grasp of the material, this ensemble performs this ninety-minute one-act play with precision.

Dietz is a smart playwright and this is a well-written play.  Yet in the hands of a less-capable director, this show could be just a little too cute.  Luckily, D. Lynn Meyers is at the helm and guides the show away from melodrama. Instead she focuses just enough on the quirky elements while keeping the pace moving along, guiding her actors into believable and gentle performances.  It’s really quite good.

A lot has been and will be written about the new space on Vine Street that houses this iconic Cincinnati theater.  And it is beautiful.  The lobby is more comfortable.  It’s more accessible – to file in and out of and to sit still in (the seats are a little higher and a little bigger).  The bar is huge and the box office less claustrophobic.  But I was relieved to know that the stage is still filled with Brian C. Mehring’s luscious designs, ear-candy sound designs by Matt Callahan, colorfully appropriate costumes by Reba Senske, and proficient, professional acting by some of the best talent in town.

Lynn Meyers should be celebrated for her commitment to Over-the-Rhine, her quiet yet persistent fundraising efforts, and for choosing socially conscious, timely, thoughtful, and relevant plays.  But its a relief to see that the appropriate hoopla hasn’t distracted her from directing what is often the best stage-work in Cincinnati.  This show is another example of what has earned ETC their new space and all the attention – consistently great theatre.

THIS RANDOM WORLD runs through November 4th at Ensemble Theatre.  Tickets and more information can be found here.