Dead City (Review)

Lively, mixed-media production is a little like watching fireworks

Celebrating New York back in 1928, lyricist Lorenz Hart got all gooey and romantic: “The great big city’s a wondrous toy, just made for a girl and boy. We’ll turn Manhattan into an isle of joy.” Writing in 2000, enfant terrible playwright Sheila Callaghan would have us think she sees only the careless, loveless, disassociated meanness of contemporary New Yorkers. Wrong. Her characters are more men and women than Hart’s girls and boys but she’s every bit as romantic about the Manhattanites she pictures in Dead City. And for all that her gritty visions and angular, often angry ways with words are diametrically different from Hart’s, she’s every bit the poet he was.

Now, New Stage Collective and Director Alan Patrick Kenny have brightened Cincinnati’s winterscape with a loud, lively, mixed-media production that’s a little like watching fireworks. Explosions of words, thoughts, lights, sounds and images surge into view, glitter for a moment and then fade to black, readying the stage for the next explosion. It can be argued that both script and production work too hard, trying too frantically to sizzle and amaze. It also can be argued that they’re just exuberant.

Borrowing structure from James Joyce’s Ulysses, Callaghan awakens thirtysomething Samantha Blossom (a smart, skillful a. Beth Harris) with news that her husband (Ken Early) is having an affair, then sends her on a careening, daylong chase through offices, hospitals, sleek stores, sleeker spas and trendy nightclubs — seeking truths (like Joyce’s Bloom) or at least a few comforting fictions. Poets, waiters, friends, clerks, doctors, patients and street people speed and impede her search. Alphabetically, and of equally high energy, they are: Aretta Baumgartner, Cary Davenport, Hannah Dowdy, Margaret-Ellen Jeffreys, Michael Monks and Alison Vodnoy.

Blossom’s chase around Manhattan is nimbly choreographed (especially the lightning set changes) and lit with dazzle (Sara Watson). Live action is supported with bursts of video imagery (Paul Lieber) and an excellent soundscapes (Chris Guthrie).

DEAD CITY, presented by New Stage Collective, continues through Feb. 22. Buy tickets, check out performance times and find nearby bars and restaurants here.

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