Cincinnati Playwright Joseph McDonough has a new show onstage at the Playhouse, his third in six years, making him that theater’s most frequently presented playwright since 2000. And with good reason: His scripts are evocative, lyrical and always engaging.
Travels of Angelica, while not an absolute home run, is nonetheless a work of substance and imagination as staged by Playhouse Producing Artistic Director Ed Stern.
McDonough weaves then converges two stories separated by more than three centuries. Playwright Alexander Crumpler (Erik Lochtefeld) flees London in 1657 with his daughter Lucia (Heather Wood) to escape an intolerant conservative government that banned theater and condemned him for writing. In Colonial Virginia he establishes a new identity as Edward Blythebury and continues to write secretly. But a manipulative neighbor Josiah Podge (Greg Thornton) detects his past and threatens to expose him.
In the present, Matthew (Jason Schuchman), a literary scholar, hopes to discover more about Crumpler’s existence for his dissertation. He’s about to give up when his girlfriend Emma (Sarah Dandridge), a fiction writer, warms to Vincent Penny (Joneal Joplin), a talkative old codger who remembers bits of cryptic poetry and reveals his long-ago wife’s maiden name was Blythebury.
The mystery of what became of Crumpler’s writings obsesses Emma, while the resentful Matthew pulls away. In alternating scenes, Crumpler sustains the memory of his wife for himself and his daughter by creating fabulous tales — “Travels of Angelica,” he calls them, and sometimes “travails.” The play ends with a lyrical merging of past and present best appreciated in the theater.
While I found the characters of Jason and Penny’s angry daughter Gabrielle (Jo Twiss) to be distracting because they’re less than fully developed, the balance of McDonough’s script imaginatively explores the human need to sustain life and love through storytelling. Bravo to the Cincinnati Playhouse for again staging a work by McDonough with an earthbound set by Joseph P. Tilford, animated projections of sea and sky by John Boesche and dramatic lighting by Thomas C. Hase, all adding character and depth to the production.
TRAVELS OF ANGELICA, presented by the Cincinnati Playhouse, continues through Feb. 15. Buy tickets, check out performance times and find nearby bars and restaurants here.