Blogging Behind Bars (Critic's Pick)

Unity Productions (Cincinnati)

Critic's Pick

The mission of Unity Productions is to make a positive change through the arts, education and community service. Blogging Behind Bars fulfills that mission. It’s the story of Whitney Smith, a local kid who found himself imprisoned in maximum security, where he eventually took his own life. This is a heartbreaking account of a young man and his family, ensnared in a heartbreaking system. Once you get into the prison track, bad things are likely to escalate.

To deal with his imprisonment, Whitney, with the help of his father, writes a blog from prison. Writer John Kovach adapted his play from Whitney’s blog, “Superfriends.”

TJ Ganser as Whitney leads the excellent cast. He has an infectious smile that captures the young man’s struggle between a long-ago idyllic childhood and the present harsh reality of his life in prison.

Whitney has a stack of dense philosophy books that stuns his new cellmate Brian, played perfectly by Patrick Phillips. But the true basis for Whitney’s philosophy is a Calvin & Hobbes comic book, which harkens back to his childhood. A scene at the beginning of the play between Whitney and Diggity, played with wary coolness by Rico Reid, has the two men standing on opposite sides of a fence. Diggity is crouched low, with a needle, seemingly injecting Whitney with drugs. He is actually drawing a Calvin & Hobbes-inspired tattoo. This subtle act shows Whitney with a good heart.

Justin Spencer as the ruthless prisoner Mike and Ashley Dunn as Jessie, the beleaguered attorney, shine here. Matt Dentino as Jeff, Whitney’s father, brings out the loving relationship between son and father.

Theater can teach you about new things. This show propels you to want to know more about Whitney. You care about him. You wonder why America has nearly two million people in prison. You ask yourself what you might do to change the system.

Unity Productions is helping to raise money for the Smith family’s legal battle. In the lobby, a 468-page book of Whitney’s blog plus letters he and father exchanged is for sale. There’s also a silent auction of set pieces: bunk beds, prison jumpsuits and a working toilet. Theater to action: that’s the intention.

Blogging Behind Bars is another outstanding work from Unity Productions.

BLOGGING BEHIND BARS by Unity Productions (Cincinnati) will be performed 2:30 p.m. May 31, 8:45 p.m. June 3, 8:45 p.m. June 5 and 8:30 p.m. June 7 at Elementz (1100 Race St., Over-the-Rhine). 
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