Kevin Crowley has a strong sense of humor and it usually rides the line of dark black to a deep navy blue. So, when I saw he had written a show about people in vegetative states, I was prepared to figuratively hold on to my hat. Shockingly, though, THE VEGETABLES, a musical starring a who’s who of Cincinnati theatre celebrities, is sweeter than rhubarb pie.
Piper Davis plays the daughter a man (Reggie Willis) who’s been in a coma for over 30 years. Jaemire Whitfield, a student at SCPA, plays Davis’s son. Then there’s Phil Fiorini as Cathy Springfield’s son; she’s been in this condition for 13 years now. Griff Bludworth plays “Eric,” a relatively young “vegetable” as it were, who was engaged to the now profiting-from-the-settlement fiancée played by Miranda McGee. Finally, Francis Timberlake, a 2018 SCPA graduate, is the newest patient and her parents are played by Crowley and Denise Del Vera. Oh, and did I mention that the nurse is Tracy Connor or that the doctor is Daniel Britt? All. Star. Cast.
I will always contend that musicals demand singers and as much as I love these cast members, most of them are not musical theatre type vocalists. Fiorini, to be fair, was in THE LION KING on tour, and Bludworth and Timberlake are fine singers . . . but it’s Fringe and so I’m willing to overlook some (OK, a lot) of bum notes. For me, the best parts of the show are the self-referential asides and fourth-wall breaks with knowing smiles from Crowley, grumpy comments from Willis, and a well-timed outburst from Del Vera. Fiorini has some of the best scenes and maximizes his stage time; I’d love to see a show based solely around he and his mother.
I am hopeful that Crowley will take this piece, which is definitely Fringey in its length, content, and composition, and develop it into a more robust full-length play because there is so much exploration to be done on this topic. In its current state, however, it’s a fun little piece. Since the show takes place in Know Theatre’s mainstage space, the set piece is larger than some of it’s Fringey peers. The lighting cues, the sound, and tech in general allows a more professional presentation. And with seasoned actors like these, you would expect the performances are going to be solid; for the most part, they are top-notch.
THE VEGETABLES is a show with a subject matter that seems to have a whole lot more to explore. As it is, it’s a solid hour of fulfilling entertainment. I liked it.