Have you ever gone to a restaurant and just ordered dessert? That’s what FORTUNE, the newest play at Ensemble Theatre Company is like. Sometimes when you attend a show at ETC, you are served a meal so full of weighty social issues you leave grateful for the opening night snacks (provided beautifully by the staff) to give you a taste of something sweet on the way home. But in the case of this production, dessert is presented on stage. And it’s a lovely treat.
FORTUNE is the story of a fortune teller named “Maude” (Kelly Mengelkoch) who has the gift (or curse) of seeing people’s futures. For real. She’s visited by an anxious and lonely man (Mengelkoch’s real-life husband, Jeremy Dubin) who is desperate to find love. His future is bleak, so Maude – for the first time in her life – makes up a story about a red-haired woman that he is destined to meet. This fib manages to change the future, but in ways neither character anticipates.
I can’t imagine this show without this cast. Mengelkoch is Cincinnati’s most versatile actress, and this script allows her to show off her comedic character chops. Dubin, known for his strength as a physical comedian, is best when he’s reigning it in and delivering dramatic lines. He gets to do both here. And of course, since this duo is a real-life couple, their chemistry is excellent.
Deborah Zoe Laufer’s script might be a little long, but when I started this blog many years ago, the main criteria for getting a positive review was whether or not you made me feel (hence the “Sappy” part). I shed a few tears in the climax of this romantic comedy, and so it’s hard for me to argue that the play is anything other than good. I do wonder, though, if left in the hands of less capable (and charismatic) actors and without the fantastic technical elements how it would work.
Luckily, this is Ensemble Theatre – and this is a quality production, with professionals at the helm. Despite a rare lighting miscue, the technical elements are perfection. Brian c. Mehring’s set, while at first feels almost lop-sided until you understand the use of the bare-er part of the stage, is decorated with the kind of detail the wonderful Shannon Rae Lutz always provides. The lighting accentuates the story, and so does the sound (though the effects might be a little loud). Julia Guichard’s dialect coaching allows Mengelkoch to shine, and the costumes by Amanda McGee are pivotal to the piece.
Director Brian Robertson paces the piece well, making the two-hour show proceed quickly through the various scenes. Apart from that, though, he captures the heart of the play and sets a tone that while sweet is genuinely not sappy. And for that, this dessert fan – and sappy critic – is grateful.
FORTUNE runs at Ensemble Theatre of Cincinnati through February 15th. Tickets and more information can be found here.