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BWW Review: Ohio State's THE COAST OF ILLYRIA Creatively Addresses the Issues of Mental Illness, Addiction

(L to R) Ambre Shoneff as Mary Lamb, Benito Lara as S.T.
Coleridge and Zack Meyer as Charles Lamb in The
Ohio State University Department of Theatre's
production of "The Coast of Illyria."
Credit: Photo by Matt Hazard

The Ohio State Department of Theatre's final main-stage production of the 2015-16 season invites audiences into a world of literary creativity.

Adapted by Jennifer Schlueter with Cece Bellomy from a play originally written by Dorothy Parker and Ross Evans, "The Coast of Illyria" addresses the darker issues of addiction, mental illness and murder in a whimsical setting -- surrounded by ivy-draped walls scribbled with the swirling handwriting of the renowned authors who freely pass through the 19th-century London house's heavy wooden doors.

Illuminated by a crescent moon hanging over a silhouetted city skyline, the setting -- the shared house of authors and siblings Charles (Zack Meyer) and Mary (Ambre Shoneff) Lamb -- provides a safe haven for the eccentric writers who gather on Thursday nights to share their work through dramatic readings of poetry and prose.

The play begins with the members of the Lamb household frantically tidying the interior in preparation for Mary's return. Lighthearted banter is exchanged by Charles and his actress girlfriend, Fanny Kelly (Kahla Tisdale), while young Emma Isola (Abigail Johnson) and the Lambs' maid, Becky (Ronda Christie), straighten paintings and move flower arrangements around the living room.

Yet the play's more serious undertones appear once Mary returns home. Her initial reason for leaving is kept a thinly veiled secret throughout much of the first act, with only vague, ominous references to the true nature of the circumstances surrounding her departure scattered throughout the dialogue shared among the actors on the stage.

Simultaneously unfolding with this mysterious story arc is the budding romance between Charles and Fanny. However, their attraction for each other faces a roadblock when Fanny's mother, Mrs. Kelly (Hannah Halischak), disapproves of the unreliable lifestyle adopted by Charles' friends, who happen to be great literary figures ranging from George Dyer (Tom McKinney) and William Hazlitt (Michael Kenneth Erickson) to S.T. Coleridge (Benito Lara) and Thomas De Quincey (Alexander Sanchez).

(L to R) Zack Meyer as Charles Lamb, Ambre Shoneff as Mary Lamb
and Benito Lara as S.T. Coleridge and in The Ohio State
University Department of Theatre's production
of "The Coast of Illyria."
Credit: Photo by Matt Hazard

References to these authors' works, as well as to William Shakespeare's "Twelfth Night," abound as the two-hour-and-20 minute production unfolds -- a treat for the bookworms and classicists in attendance.

The production incorporated many multimedia aspects, from rainbow lights flashing above the stage while Fanny reads Coleridge's poem "Kubla Khan" to the recorded reading of an excerpt from Charles and Mary Lamb's "Tales from Shakespeare" that played over the speakers during intermission.

Despite its melancholic ending, the play had several moments of dark humor, all the while encouraging audiences to ponder the true price of genius.

"The Coast of Illyria" is set to be performed from April 14 - 21 at OSU's Thurber Theatre.

Showtime and ticket pricing information can be found on the OSU Department of Theatre's website.

The Drake Performance and Event Center is located at 1849 Cannon Drive on Ohio State's Columbus campus.

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From This Author Amanda Etchison

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