The mistakes Madeline made, which give title to this 75-minute excursion into wanton lack of bathing and job despair, are exactly those our heroine Edna adopts as her personal route to coming of age and meeting life on its own terms.
A how-do-we-get-grown-up story seems appropriate for the annual intern project at Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati (ETC), this year the work of five actors, directed by fellow intern Jenny Estill. They go at it with relish and have the luxury of using Brian c. Mehring’s wondrous set for next to normal (returned to the stage for a two-week run later this month). Their basement workspace (suggesting there are basements and basements) is topped by the bathroom, or at least the bathtub, in Edna’s apartment. For Edna, the tub is occupied by her now dead brother, played by Michael Carr with touching sincerity.
The actors are all up to their tasks in this quickly moving production, which opens with Beth, the head of a crew of personal assistants to a family whose 1% status cannot be doubted, lining out their duties with a zeal approaching frenzy. Indeed, Sara Kenny as Beth leans to the frenetic, certainly an element of Beth’s make-up but perhaps a touch too much. Rachel E. Berger gives Edna a convincing unhappiness and desperation; she is good at using her whole body to telegraph her feelings. Andrew Maloney has the thankless job of being three interchangeable short-term lovers for Edna — even their names, Drake, Jake and Blake, are virtually interchangeable and their downright bad poetry seems to be the same.
The plum role, next to Edna, is Wilson, admirably embodied by Christopher Ziegler. Wilson has a thing for sounds — copiers, shredders, airplanes, name it and he will imitate it. He also develops a thing for Edna, and I think I give away little or nothing to say this is eventually reciprocated. The trick to Wilson’s role is making his cardboard character, fashioned for laughs, emerge when he needs to as a more rounded individual. Ziegler is up to it, and we do accept him as the winning suitor when his time comes.
A year as an Ensemble intern is a deep immersion in theater as it is lived. Despite the college degrees in drama most of these six interns possess, it’s a good bet that The Mistakes Madeline Made would not have had its professional polish and good timing if they’d put the show together last fall. Fringe attendees get a look at careers about to take off when they see this show.