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Review Number One is in for “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”

Western Reserve Playhouse staging ‘Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?’

6/6/2019 – West Side Leader

By David Ritchey

Starring in Western Reserve Playhouse’s production of “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” are, from left, Dennis Runkle, Kayla Lehman, Max Winer and Mia Radabaugh.
Photo: Chris Douglas

BATH — In 1962, when “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” opened in New York City, playwright Edward Albee (1928-16) changed American theater forever. The Pulitzer Prize Committee nominated “Virginia Woolf” for its top prize. Columbia University, which awards the prize, turned coward and did not award the Pulitzer Prize to any play in 1962.Albee received three other Pulitzer Prizes for other plays. My point is this is one of the most outstanding plays in the American notebook.

Western Reserve Playhouse is staging a blistering production of “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” The show runs through June 15.

The plot involves a late-night party at the home of George and Martha. George is a member of the faculty at a small New England college. After a party sponsored by the college president, George (Dennis Runkle) and Martha (Mia Radabaugh) invite Nick (Max Winer) and Honey (Kayla Lehman), a new faculty couple, for a late-night drink.

In most productions of “Virginia Woolf,” Martha dominates the ribald games, but in this production, George gets his fair share of the battle. However, in this production Nick roars like a bull attacking the other animals in the barnyard.

Unfortunately, Honey isn’t given the lines and the fight of the other characters.

Director Kelly Strand played to the strengths in the script. She balanced George and Martha and she brought Nick up to their level. She used the strong voices of Martha, George and Nick to the script’s advantage.

Radabaugh plays comedy as well as anyone in Northeast Ohio, but in this production, she plays from the other side of her personality and she plays it well. Is her Martha mean or is she terribly hurt by the disappointments of her life?

Runkle plays his scenes as the waves on the beach. He roars and crashes in and then recedes into quietness.

Winer plays the male ingénue with style. At the beginning of the play, he’s a polite gentleman attending a small faculty party. But as the hosts turn up the heat, his Nick turns up the volume and the physical action.

“Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” isn’t the story of a college/university faculty. This is the story of a marriage filled with soul-searing disappointments.

You have limited time to see this thought-provoking production. Albee is quoted as saying he wants people when “they leave the theater to think about something besides where they parked the car.”

I dare write the people in the audience didn’t think about where they parked their cars as they left. And, I’m sure some of the pillow talk was a comparison of their marriage and Martha and George’s marriage.

For tickets, call 330-620-7314 or visit


David Ritchey has a Ph.D. in communications and is a professor emeritus of communications at The University of Akron. He is a member of the American Theatre Critics Association and the Cleveland Critics Circle.


This Sunday is our next $5 Bucks Series Staged Reading

We continue our 2019 $5 Buck Play Reading Series with
Written by Joe Gilford
Directed by Jeffrey Lyn Hall


On the verge of TV stardom, comic Mickey Dobbs meets actress and activist Natalie Meltzer, and their romance blossoms—as does the risk that they’ll be blacklisted for their political activities. In the face of the House Un-American Activities Committee, tasked with exposing communist subversion in New York’s entertainment world, Mickey and Natalie endure the absurd and tragic process that victimized entertainers and turned friends and colleagues against each other. For some, the blacklist will mean a decade without work. For others, it will spell the end of their careers. And those who willingly testify—naming others to the committee—will be branded as “finks.”

Mickey – Brian Diehl – Natalie – Holly Ann Facer- Walters- Tom Stephan – Bobby –  James Alexander Rankin
Fred – Alex J. Nine – Ensemble – John Peters, Jeffrey Lyn Hall, Jim Fippin

“Finks” by Joe Gilford Sunday,  May 19, 2019 at 2PM. Tickets are $5.00 and can be purchased online at or at the door.

  • Rating PG-13 Contains Adult Themes and Language

Meet the cast of “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf”

Western Reserve Playhouse presents:

“Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf”
by Edward Albee

Directed by Kelly Strand

Show Dates May 31-June 15, 2019

SYNOPSIS: George, a professor at a small college, and his wife, Martha, have just returned home, drunk from a Saturday night party. Martha announces, amidst general profanity, that she has invited a young couple—an opportunistic new professor at the college and his shatteringly naïve new bride—to stop by for a nightcap. When they arrive the charade begins. The drinks flow and suddenly inhibitions melt. It becomes clear that Martha is determined to seduce the young professor, and George couldn’t care less. But underneath the edgy banter, which is crossfired between both couples, lurks an undercurrent of tragedy and despair. George and Martha’s inhuman bitterness toward one another is provoked by the enormous personal sadness that they have pledged to keep to themselves: a secret that has seemingly been the foundation for their relationship. In the end, the mystery in which the distressed George and Martha have taken refuge is exposed, once and for all revealing the degrading mess they have made of their lives.

The star studded cast filled with some of WRP’s favorites, Kayla Lehman (Tartuffe, Little Women, & Emma), Dennis Runkle (Emma), Max Winer (Dogfight), and Mia Radabaugh (Tartuffe and Emma).

Directed by newcomer Kelly Strand, Stage Managed by James Elliott, Costumed by Kelsey Tomlinson, Lights by Daniel Hunsicker, Set by Dawn Sniadak-Yamokoski.

“Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” by Edward Albee Shows are May 31-June 15, 2019 tickets are $17.00 for Adults and $15.00 for Students and Seniors. Tickets can be purchased online at or at the door.


Review #2 is in!

‘Emma’ review: Shani Ferry charms as Jane Austen’s meddling heroine

by Kerry Clawson with the Akron Beacon Journal

A cast of memorable characters comes to life on the Western Reserve Playhouse stage with the classic Jane Austen story “Emma.”

Under the fine direction of longtime Actors’ Summit company member Keith Stevens, the delightful and charming Shani Ferry stars as young matchmaker Emma Woodhouse. Ferry, a regular Akron-area pro who also worked for many years at Actors’ Summit, brings bright humor to this meddling, spoiled society girl who derives endless entertainment and self-satisfaction from her misguided manipulations of her friends’ love lives.

This stage adaptation, create by former Cleveland Play House artistic director Michael Bloom in 2010, is based on one of Austen’s greatest novels, published in late 1815. It’s Austen’s fourth of sixth novels and the last to be published during her lifetime.

The story is set in the early 19th century amid the country gentry of fictional Highbury, England. In Emma’s world, courtship and marrying well is just about everything for the young women of this country village. This heroine sees people as projects and believes she is always right when it comes to matters of the heart.

Bloom’s adaptation makes highly effective use of monologues by Emma, where she tells the audience of her delight in matchmaking and gradually of her horror at the errors she has made with other people’s lives. Ferry has excellent comedic delivery, especially in the moments when the largely good-natured Emma shares her innermost thoughts about her foibles.

A tight supporting cast includes Eli Ravenson as good friend Mr. George Knightley, Victoria Kirgesner as confidante/newlywed Mrs. Weston, Emily Shipley as the unsophisticated young Harriet Smith and Kayla Lehman as the beautiful and secretive Jane Fairfax. Mia Radabaugh is the ever-talkative spinster Miss Bates and the humorous Dennis Runkle is Emma’s father Henry, who fusses that young women shouldn’t marry.

Ravenson creates the voice of reason as the serious Mr. Knightley, the only character to stand up to Emma’s silliness and chastise her when she speaks unkindly. Henry, on the other hand, thoroughly indulges his daughter.

This story becomes a comedy of manners as some love triangles develop. Michael Knobloch is charming and effusive as young Frank Churchill, whom Emma starts to fall for, though she has sworn off ever marrying. It’s just too bad his light-colored, satiny pants are so unattractive in comparison with the other men’s dark pants onstage.

Kelsey Tomlinson cuts a snooty character as Augusta Hawkins and Zach Manthey’s Mr. Elton is almost as silly as Emma, until he’s subdued by his imperious new wife Augusta.

These richly drawn Austen characters have provided plenty of fodder for adaptations over the years, for the stage as well as in TV and film. That includes a 2000 musical version of the story as well as the 1995 movie “Clueless,” set in Beverly Hills and starring Alicia Silverstone.

In Bloom’s stage adaptation, Emma’s sister Isabella and brother-in-law John Knightley, the younger brother of George, are not seen.

Western Reserve’s production features some nice recorded music as both Emma and Jane sit at the piano to entertain friends. Ferry and Knobloch also share a lovely vocal duet.

Emma, who is rich due to an inheritance, can afford to concern herself with other people’s class and social status. She’s likable nevertheless, especially when she confesses herself to be a “spoiled child.” And Runkle’s Henry has one of the funniest lines in the show when he finally concedes that Emma’s marrying will at least put an end to her matchmaking business.


Comedy: “Emma”

When: Final shows 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday

Where: Western Reserve Playhouse, 3326 Everett Road, Bath

Onstage: Shani Ferry, Eric Wayne Coulbourne, Sid Freeman, Victoria Kirgesner, Michael Knobloch; Kayla Lehman, Zach Manthey, Mia Radabaugh, Eli Ravenson, Dennis Runkle, Emily Shipley, Kelsey Tomlinson

Offstage: Jane Austen, author; Michael Bloom, adaptation; Keith Stevens, director; Daniel Huntsicker, set design; Kelsey Tomlinson, costumer; Kevin Rutan, lighting design; Justin Herman, sound design; Sue Snyder, Brianna Joi, props; Bryan Bird, recorded pianist; Brianna Joi, stage manager

Cost: $17; students and senior citizens, $15

Information: 330-620-7314,

Arts writer Kerry Clawson may be reached at 330-996-3527 or Follow her at @KerryClawsonABJ or


First Review of “EMMA” is in. It is a HIT!

Strong acting featured in Western Reserve Playhouse’s ‘Emma’


4/25/2019 – West Side Leader
By David Ritchey

Shani Ferry (Emma Woodhouse) and Eli Ravenson (Mr. George Knightley) share a scene in Western Reserve Playhouse’s “Emma.”
Photo courtesy of Chris Douglas

BATH — Western Reserve Playhouse is staging Jane Austen’s “Emma” through May 4. Austen (1775-1817) wrote the novel “Emma” late in her life. “Emma” has been adapted into movies, television features, in several versions for the stage and now there is rumor of a musical version. The adaptation of “Emma” offered at Western Reserve Playhouse was adapted by Michael Bloom.

Keith Stevens directed this production of “Emma.” This is the Stevens who has acted and directed successfully throughout Northeast Ohio for several years.

Stevens has a good command of the theater and of the script he’s brought to the stage.

“Emma” is a delightful comedy of manners. Emma Woodhouse (Shani Ferry) prides herself on her ability to matchmake. She has successfully introduced Mr. Weston (Sid Freeman) and Mrs. Weston (Victoria Kirgesner) and the first scene shows the Weston’s marriage ceremony.

Emma announces repeatedly she will never marry. However, when Frank Churchill (Michael Knobloch) makes his first entrance, Emma changes her mind. He is handsome, sings well and charms all of the ladies.

Costumer Kelsey Tomlinson built many era-appropriate costumes — home dresses and ball gowns. I think of wigs as part of the costumes and the wigs were especially good in this production.

The costumes are complemented by the furniture, which is bright and appropriate for the era.

Kayla Lehman choreographed the dance scenes. The dances were directly out of the 1815 period. Lehman did an excellent job staging the dances on a small, crowded stage.

Ferry creates a charming and irritating Emma. Bloom wrote this version to have Emma step out and speak directly to the audience. This breaking of the fourth wall is uncomfortable for some audience members, yet Ferry makes this stage convention easy to watch. Ferry is an excellent actress who has worked in the Akron theater area for several years.

Mia Radabaugh plays the talkative Miss Bates. Radabaugh has a keen sense of comedy and can milk a line for all of the laughs that line may hold. She’s a first-rate actress.

Mr. George Knightley (Eli Ravenson) seems irritated by Emma’s match making and her inability to get her own life in order. He squirms with this comedy of manners and the inability of characters to run their own lives. Yet, when he takes charge of his own life, he is decisive and fun to watch.

The cast members are equally strong, without a weak link on the team.

The novel and the play seem to reach out to Dear Abby, Ann Landers and Miss Manners. During the play, I thought of teenagers giggling over who has a date with whom for the prom.

“Emma” was one of four of Austen’s novels to be published in her lifetime and the last one published before her death. As a young, single woman, Austen visited many friends for several weeks at a time. These visits provided characters and scenes for her novels. One of the forms of house-party entertainment was for members of the family to act in short plays.

For tickets, call 330-620-7314 or visit


David Ritchey has a Ph.D. in communications and is a professor emeritus of communications at The University of Akron. He is a member of the American Theatre Critics Association and the Cleveland Critics Circle.