BWW Review: ALIAS GRACE Haunts at Cincinnati Playhouse In The Park
I'll be the first to admit that when I read the show blurb for Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park's "Alias Grace," I was a little anxious and hesitant about seeing it. I knew the talent would be through the roof, and the production quality would be extraordinary, as always, but it was the subject matter that I feared. I am an absolute wimp when it comes to thrillers and murder mysteries. Yet, I spent the entire play on the edge of my seat, thoroughly enjoying myself and mourning the end when the lights came up.
"Alias Grace," based on Margaret Atwood's novel of the same name, centers on a woman, Grace, in prison because she was charged with committing one of the most notorious murders in history. 16-year-old Grace went to prison in 1843 for the murders of both of her previous employers, but could not make a good case for herself in court as she cannot seem to remember the events that took place the night of the murder. Dr. Simon Jordan, a psychologist, believes that by talking to Grace and having her start from the beginning, he'll be able to jog her memory. Things get complicated when his initial intentions get confused and he finds out more than he anticipated.
The play is performed in Playhouse's smaller black box-esque theater, the Rosenthal Shelterhouse Theatre, which made the story that much more compelling and thrilling. The setting is so intimate that you cannot help but be completely drawn in and focused.
Every performance was unbelievably dynamic and enthralling, but there are two actors in particular who were absolute stars. In her first job as a chambermaid, Grace (Caroline Hewitt) met and witnessed the death of her best friend, Mary Whitney (Andrea San Miguel). Much of the play is told through flashbacks, which mainly involve those two characters going through intense trials and tribulations, from learning how to properly do their job to life changing discoveries and procedures. Hewitt and San Miguel pair perfectly and have such honest chemistry.
Hewitt begins the play as a cold, withdrawn woman who has been asked about a dreadful event in her life far too many times, and she has told all that she knows, but she continues being asked the same questions. Throughout the play, the audience sees Grace's wall being broken down as she trusts Dr. Jordan and his process more. Hewitt possesses this gorgeous, child-like wonder when she flips into Grace's past self in the flashbacks. There is a clear difference from the jaded woman who has seen more than most, and the young girl who looks at the world with rose-colored glasses. There is a particular moment near the end that is absolutely chilling where the audience sees Grace break, and Hewitt navigated it perfectly. Witnessing that moment alone is worth the entire play. A glimmer in Hewitt's eyes that leads you to believe in the murderer side of her appears and the rest is history.
San Miguel has a similar presence in the way that she carries herself. Mary Whitney is two years older than Grace, and while San Miguel is smaller and has a younger look to her, the way she carries herself gives her the necessary maturity, while also maintaining that youthful energy. After Mary passes, she becomes a spirit in Grace's mind. That once youthful energy that San Miguel entertained with for the beginning of the play is gone and a demonic, revengeful presence is left in its place. Both are executed flawlessly by San Miguel.
It's hard to put into exact words what happened in that theatre. It was chilling, haunting, mind-boggling, thrilling, and one of the most brilliant pieces of art I've seen in a long while. I highly recommend that you make your way down to Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park before "Alias Grace" closes on Oct. 27. It's truly one that can't be missed.
For tickets and more information, tap here.