Review: WRECKING BALL at Cincinnati Shakespeare Company

Making its world premiere at the Cincinnati Shakespeare Company, this play runs through October 28th, 2023.

By: Oct. 20, 2023
Review: WRECKING BALL at Cincinnati Shakespeare Company
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It is a rare privilege to witness a new original play in its first production the way it was intended to be. Thanks to Cincinnati Shakespeare Company and playwright Zina Camblin, that opportunity is now possible by attending Wrecking Ball, a satirical dramedy taking place in a fictional television writers room on the first day of creating a new script. Over the course of this 100 minute long one act play, we are introduced to a crew of characters through the eyes of Abby (played by Victoria Cartagena), a young gender-queer person recently hired as a writers assistant. Within the writers room, the team tackles a comedy adaptation of the classic 1973 play The Hot L Baltimore by Langford Wilson. But when certain news makes headlines, it becomes a trigger for personalities and secrets to be unveiled.

An incredible factor of this play and production is that it was written specifically with these actors in mind. Consequently, it felt incredibly natural for each of these professional and dynamic performers to inhabit these roles and to see them as a team. Their delivery and timing is spot on, and they know how to balance the hilarious comedy with the serious moments, frequently within seconds of each other. As a satire, each of them takes on a certain archetype to mold their character around. First appearing as near stereotypes of how different groups of people may be viewed in the era of 2022 when the events take place (the uptight Gen X leader trying to appear laid back but resists authentic progression, the one who has been in the business for many a decade and has seen its history firsthand, the millennial queer black man with a passion for drag queens, the white liberal woman trying to adapt to change in a slightly ignorant but good hearted manner, and more), the layers and eccentricities in their roles are revealed to be more complex than what is given at face value. The play also tackles performative allyships and the idea of working around what is supposedly politically correct instead of considering writing comedy with genuine respect for its subjects. It gives its audience so much to think about, especially when it comes to connecting the pieces and details hidden throughout. Altogether it creates a reflection strong enough to be a prism of truth.

Though this play is flooded with references from a wide variety of television shows, movies, and more, the script stands well enough on its own that it isn’t required to understand each reference perfectly to keep up. Instead they are merely enhancements to form a more realistic portrayal of what it’s like to be submerged in this TV-centric world where past precedent within the industry affects everything currently happening. Camblin’s background as a TV writer made her adept to this setting and the nuances that came with it, and she gives us a peek into what it’s like to work on a story with others. One aspect of this show demonstrates how it’s difficult for those who go against tradition to break into the competitive business that is television and script writing. For most people attempting to enter organically and based on their own talent and passion, they are pressured to adapt to the people in charge and agree to their plans, even if it goes against what they believe in. 

It’s important to remember that the television industry was initially created by and for a certain sector of people. These are the same people that have had the generational privilege of holding power and authority for the last few centuries in this country through the main attributes of being wealthy, white-skinned, and male. Therefore, when the original leaders chose their protégés and successors, they chose people who reflected their values, and those people tended to do the same, and so on. Over the course of the last several decades, people not fitting all of these descriptors have broken through, but not without a large amount of pursuit, pushback, and putting one’s head down in order to not make too much of a disruption in fear of being ejected from the powers that be. Often the ego will inflate to the point of becoming dangerous and even abusive, and that is what is explored here. Influence and reputation is everything, and it’s only once they’re stripped away that the raw talent can shine through.

Despite the darkest parts, Wrecking Ball displays an appreciation for the art form that only someone who has been in that writers room can relay. Whereas writing something like a play or a novel is usually very individualized, writing for TV is a collaboration of forming the best possible ideas using different perspectives. In addition, it’s unique in the way that once it’s finished, it becomes a finalized product and is sent into the world as a piece of canon in the media’s history. This only creates pressure to make the most of the opportunity. It also immediately becomes a product of its time, and only time will tell if the end result will endure. Striving for that common goal through those expectations, there is bound to be tension along the way. But once they’re in a groove, they can make their contributions in a cohesive manner to create something great and, with luck, powerful.

Along with the intense messages of the play, its design choices are brilliant as well. The costumes matched each character’s demeanor in a remarkable fashion, right down to the defining differences of the shoe selections. By focusing the majority of the play in a single room, it made a difference when there was a shift of time or place. Everything was done very intentionally. The addition of the screen displayed on top of the set not only supplied information when occasionally needed, but it also gave the ability to feature a video clip of a news piece to create another level of immersion and provide a few cameos by some potentially familiar faces. As always, the team at Cincinnati Shakespeare Company knows how to make the most of their space, resulting in yet another successful play from all standpoints. Whether you’re a television enthusiast, a writer, a person who has to work with others in a professional setting, or someone who has a desire to stand up for what’s right, Wrecking Ball can be appreciated by anyone.

Wrecking Ball runs through October 28th, 2023 at the Cincinnati Shakespeare Company. Tickets can be purchased at cincyshakes.com or through the link below.

Photo Credit: Mikki Schaffner.




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