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Theatre Reviews: "Gnarly Stump" at Know Theatre, "After Ever After" at Ensemble

The Darkest Night at the Gnarly Stump, Know Theatre

I wish the Gnarly Stump were real – but the been-there-forever bar in a holler somewhere in the mountains feels pretty real at Know Theatre for the next three weekends, where Darkest Night at the Gnarly Stump plays on in the Underground (a.k.a. the lobby/bar) through Dec. 17.

An immersive ghost story with music is definitely an alternative holiday entertainment – and the 85-minute show is jolly fun. Get there early for a set of Appalachian music with the show’s music director/guitarist Paul Strickland and violinist Linsey Rodgers, who pulls many mellow notes out of her instrument.

And while you’re loving the music, take in the little Christmas trees and jingle bells on the tiny stage (‘tis the season), the beat-up throw rugs on the floor, read the blackboard which announces the weekly ‘Story Night’ and the long wooden table where the denizens gather, with a centerpiece of holiday ornaments. Big round of applause goes to scenic and lighting designer (and Know impresario) Andrew Hungerford who truly puts us in the Gnarly Stump.

Michael Sherman, Derek Snow, Lormarev Jones, and Lisa DeRoberts (warning: her crotchety Jocasta will call you out if your cell phone rings, bless her) are the locals. They’re sharing tales of fairies and elves and pixies – and of course, ghosts – when Lindsey Augusta Mercer bursts in.

Mercer is Kim, the stranger who has somehow lost her sister (Gabriella DiVincenzo), who decided a hike along a mountain trail would be a good idea. (Bad idea). Anyway, Kim needs help.

The world premiere by Lauren Hynek and Elizabeth Martin could use a polish (and finding these things out is why you mount a show in a bar). They don’t do much of a job of making the ending a surprise, but CCM’s Brant Russell comes down to OTR to direct with panache.

I’ve said it before but it’s worth repeating. Know is exactly what you want in alternative theater. Give yourself a flex-pass for Christmas. (If you’ve never been, there’s plenty of parking and it’s a five-minute stroll to the restaurants around 12th and Vine.)

Darkest Night at Gnarly Stump, through Dec. 17. Know Theatre, 1120 Jackson St., Over-the-Rhine. 8 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday, 3 p.m. Sunday. Tickets $25, rush tickets $15. 513-300-5669 and

Cinderella: After Ever After, Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati

I’m a big fan of Ensemble’s fractured fairytale holiday musicals, just right for families. Cinderella: After Ever After is, of course, a sequel to the theater’s charming adaptation of Cinderella, a modern heroine who proudly wears glasses and substitutes pink high-tops for glass slippers.

Even better, the principal cast is pretty much the same, and pretty much area theatre fan favorites: Brooke Steele, terrific as always, takes the title role. Her horrible family (stepmom Deb Girdler and step-siblings Sara Mackie and Torie Wiggins) are as hilariously appalling as ever.

I’m happy whenever Michael Bath is on stage, this time as the cheap King of the land, and the same for Kate Wilford, as Gwendolyn the Well-Wisher, kind of a fairy godmother who doesn’t like to use magic but has lots of advice.

New to the cast is Patrick Phillips, who’s delivered some standout performances both at Xavier University and since he graduated and he fits right in with the strong and ever-engaging cast. Interns Griff Bludworth, Maya Farhat and Samantha Russell do well as Cinderella’s animal sidekicks.

The show looks as charming as can be (set ad lighting by Brian c. Mehring, sound by Matt Callahan and costumes by Reba Senske) and a special shout-out to choreographer Dee Anne Bryll who does a lovely job of capturing moments with movement on the small stage.

I’m talking about all the really good stuff first because the After Ever After is a ‘B’ not the usual ‘A’.

One of the best things about ETC’s holiday musicals is that they lead with the heart, and a moral of the story, and pull us in.

This time the heart is buried under frenetic action – all of it fun but it’s too much whipped cream on the pumpkin pie.

After the show opens with a quick musical recap of the theater’s Cinderella, Cinderella and her Prince kind of disappear, and After Ever After indulges in schtick by some very funny people, with lots of time spent on what happens after Gwendolyn casts a spell that has the dreadful folk surrounding the sweeties behaving opposite their worst inclinations.

The plot line has the couple having a spat about the obvious flaws in their respective families, but please. How can Cinderella not know her family is uber-outre? If she doesn’t, how has she avoided picking up some of their behaviors? Anyway, it escalates from there.

The show’s smart creative team should think about a more legit issue. The kids in the audience would get it.

If you’re not already a subscriber or flex-pass holder, the remainder of the seasons looks great. Never been? Treat yourself now. (You don’t even have to stroll to 12th and Vine, you’re there.)

Cinderella: After Ever After, through Dec. 30, Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati, 1127 Vine St., Over-the-Rhine. 7 p.m. Wednesday-Friday, 2 and 7 p.m. Saturday, 2 and 6 p.m. Sunday. No performances Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Tickets: $18-$44. ETC offers a zillion discounts, find the list here. 513-421-3555 and

Reviews by Jackie Demaline, RCN Arts
Top photo: Darkest Night at the Gnarly Stump (photo by Dan R. Winters Photography)
Slideshow Images & Captions: 
Cinderella: After Ever After (photo by Mikki Schaffner)