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Theatre Review: NKU's "Failure" is Captivating... With One Great Big Problem

Failure: A Love Story at Northern Kentucky University is a captivating little fable with music with a great big problem.
 
The fragile and fanciful tale of a trio of sisters in the 1920s who all die in the same year would be a glass-slipper-fit for NKU’s Stauss Studio space. Instead it’s being produced in the much larger Corbett Theatre where the able company has to push far too hard.
 
Instead of speaking softly, Failure shouts. (And even so, dialogue is often in competition with the show’s musical accompaniment.) Director Corrie Danieley has clearly caught the spirit of the show, but this regional premiere of Failure would have been so much better in an intimate setting. The play’s emotional connection dissipates with each more distant row.
 
We know the end at the beginning – blunt object, disappearance and consumption (bizarre circumstances all) take the Nelly, Jenny June and Gertrude Fail (Gretchen Priddy, Melissa Cathcart and Victoria Hawley, respectively) in order. 
 
The fun and wisdom is in the telling.
 
The girls have pleasant and whimsy-filled lives in their old house near the Chicago River (left to them by their parents, who also died under extremely peculiar circumstances.) The action plays on multi-level platforms at home and in a larger world filled with fantastical objects, all courtesy of scenic designer Ronald Shaw. 
 
A trio of Graces (Sophia Dewald, Megan Urz and Molly Watson) act as expansive narrators, sharing odd facts and astute observations along the way.
 
A romantic interest, Mortimer Mortimer (Hunter Henrickson) even shows up. The girls’ adopted brother John N. (Andy Simpson) has many pets, including birds and boa constrictor, which all have big personalities and talk; downstairs in the clock shop, the clocks also have voices.
 
Cast members sing period songs – “Let Me Call You Sweetheart” is a continuing melodic underpinning – to what is a simple but important theme: live life while you have it. The Fails’ “gramophone” is a live combo toward the rear of the stage, who do nicely with music director Jason Priddy
 
The key line is delivered by John N.’s old, ailing dog. “Just because something ends don’t mean it wasn’t a success.” Truly words to live by and an invitation to look up instead of down.
 
The student cast charms: Hawley is non-nonsense as eldest Gerty; Cathcart strokes around the stage as long-distance swimmer in training Jenny-June and Priddy is very funny as dewy-eyed and madly romantic youngest sister Nelly.
 
Henrickson is an affable, good-looking suitor with just the right splash of insouciance and the animals are delightfully portrayed by ensemble members Gabby Francis, Colin Kissel, Sarah Alice Shull and Andrew Wiemann
 
Failure takes a Thanksgiving week break before resuming performances Dec. 3-7. 
 
Failure: A Love Story, 8 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday, 3 p.m. Sunday through Dec. 7. Corbett Theatre, Fine Arts Center, Northern Kentucky University, Highland Heights. Tickets: $14 adults, $11 seniors, $8 students (with valid ID). 859-572-5464 and theatre.nku.edu.
 
Written by Jackie Demaline, RCN Arts
 
Photo provided
 
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