Failure: A Love Story by Philip Dawkins is a whimsical, comedic play about the sequential, senseless deaths of three Chicago sisters. The tragic death of their parents and others are also cheerfully chronicled.
Wait, what? Yes. From the whirlwind start, we know three Fail sisters will die — expiring in reverse order, youngest to oldest, from blunt object to the head, disappearance and finally consumption. We know it is just after the turn of the 20th century. We know the Chicago River is important. We meet Mr. and Mrs. Fail. They drown. Then time shifts and they meet, fall in love, have babies, lose a baby and find a baby. We meet Nelly Fail (Gretchen Priddy), Jenny June Fail (Melissa Cathcart) and Gertrude Fail (Victoria Hawley). We meet John Fail (Andy Simpson), the oddball brother. We meet Mortimer Mortimer (Hunter Henrickson), the plucky, unlucky-in-love fiancé (and near widower) of all three sisters.
There are three lovely Graces (Sophia Dewald, Megan Urz, Molly Watson) who narrate rapid-fire the events of the play, a strong Ensemble (Gabby Francis, Colin Kissel, Sarah Allen Shull and Andrew Wiemann) of clocks, birds, a dog, snake and various others, plus a smooth jazz onstage band with vocals to contribute the Gramophone soundtrack.
If it sounds like a lot happening, it is. My head cold did not contribute clarity in the first dizzying moments of narration, music, devising, dancing and swimming. I struggled to hear actors much of the time. I decided to surrender to the experience and hoped it would all sort itself out in.
It mainly did. There is much to like in this strange play about time, loneliness and love. Despite auditory challenges, the music and singing are lovely; the set and costumes are a visual feast. It is funny and, at times, moving. Failure is an ensemble accomplishment, yet the characters of Jenny June, the swimmer (with a great cameo by Johnny Weissmuller) and John, with his autism spectrum oddities, stand out.
You can’t beat being in the house of a university play. There is such great camaraderie and affection from audience to actors that no play could ever really be a failure. NKU’s Failure isn’t perfect, but what love story ever is?
FAILURE: A LOVE STORY, presented by Northern Kentucky University, continues its run Dec. 3-7.