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Theatre Review: "The Drowning Girls" at Clifton Performance Theatre

Clifton Performance Theatre moves its act a couple miles north this season.
 
Just continue up Ludlow, hang a left at Spring Grove and there you are.
 
(I say this without knowing if there’s a legal left onto Spring Grove, but that’s where you’ll find funky, century old The Liberty, at 3938 Spring Grove, also home to Improv Cincinnati and MamLuft & Co. Dance)
 
Clifton opens its season in a Halloween-y spirit with The Drowning Girls, continuing through Nov. 11. When the doors open to the ground floor space (don’t be fooled, you have to go up, down, and around to get there, although the handicapped can be accommodated), three women are soaking in three clawfoot tubs, lost in their own thoughts. (They are tastefully costumed in Victorian undies which cover all.)
 
We soon learn their thoughts are not happy ones. Bessie (Mindy Heithaus), Alice (Eileen Earnest), and Margaret (Carol Brammer) are unquiet spirits. These strong actresses come together with Bridget Leak, one of the best directors in Cincinnati’s indie theater scene to tell a story inspired by the "Brides in the Bath" murders of George Joseph Smith just over 100 years ago.
 
Smith was a rotter and homicidal.
 
The starry-eyed ladies, ranging from young virgin to aging spinster, are caught up in the throes of romance and dreams of true love as Smith woos them in whirlwind fashion. George’s true love is money, and the easiest way to get it was to have his trusting brides to write a will if they had means and definitely sign an insurance form if they didn’t.
 
They didn’t live long. Poor Margaret barely made it till the ink was dry.
 
The Drowning Girls is a quick 80 minutes, the bare studio space filled by imagery, both words and action. The script is lyrical, even as the play opens with them pondering the various ways murder might be committed back in the day – a throat cut, a mouthful of arsenic, bricked behind a wall. 
 
The women tell their individual stories, and they are as angry at their own foolishness as they are at their murderer. Leak has the trio up and about, catching the play’s rhythms and moving adeptly from tub to stage with each stepping up to play a supporting character in another bride’s story.
 
Clifton Performance is consistently worth checking out – their play choices attract some of the area’s best performers and directors. Most of the upcoming season will be presented in the Liberty’s upstairs theater. 
 
A couple of Liberty’s plusses – there’s a parking lot a few yards up the street and Littlefield’s, a comfy bar with yummy, homey eats, is just two doors over.  
 
The Drowning Girls, through Nov. 11. Clifton Performance Theatre at The Liberty, 3938 Spring Grove Ave., Northside. 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, 3 p.m. Sunday. Additional performance 8 p.m. Nov. 6. Tickets $25, students and seniors $15 plus service fee. https://drowninggirls.brownpapertickets.com/ For more information call 513-813-7469.
 
Written by Jackie Demaline, RCN Arts