Chicago Theatre Review
Haunting, Beautiful, and Tragic
The Drowning Girls – Signal Ensemble Theatre
A warm summer evening for theater. Reflections of a day in your life. Who do you know? Who have you loved? How did your feelings get in the way?
Moving inside the performance space, you find yourself all at once transported. It was hazy, humid and haunting. Three, claw-foot tubs on dim stage, the tile floor not complete. Seeing the three girls in the tubs was eerie. There was something unsettling from the very start.
“The Drowning Girls” at Signal Ensemble Theatre is a well told tale of villainy, regret, and loss. This well acted and designed eighty minute show should not be missed. This show is full of lovely details and superb acting.
The three girls, that the title refers to, are woman who have been literally drowned by a serial killer and bigamist. They were all married to George Joseph Smith. I loved the many layers of this complex story.
The women arise from their bathtubs, wet and gasping for air, as if they had just been submerged by their husband/killer. They begin to tell there harrowing tales. As each of the actresses have their say, many surprising things happen along the way. You not only learn of their tragic fate and those they left behind, but you learn about how much they left themselves behind. Love makes us blind to so many things, their love for this impostor clouded their hearts. In their haste to escape their circumstances they give up themselves. Tragic love on so many levels.
The stories unfold between each of the woman with support and empathy. They become other characters for each other, the families, the friends, and the husband. They each move from tragic bride, to earnest narrator in a heartbeat. Each actress is joy to watch and listen to on their journey.
The girls have all been married (after various courtship times) to this sinister man.George Joseph Smih went by various names to snare his brides. The murders took place around London, England from 1912 to 1914. Each courtship and murder had three things in common: separation from family, giving up all their wealth, and too many doctor’s visits. All three girls were looking to escape for one reason on another…
Meghan Reardon as Alice, shares her story of family disappointment and yearning to be her own person. Ms. Reardon works both her acting side and comedienne side in this show. She is delightful.
Katherine Schwartz as Bessie, earnestly portrays her yearning for a man she barely knows. It will break your heart. Her timing and honest portrayal of a woman of her time are outstanding.
Anne Sheridan Smith as Margaret, reminds us of the power of falling in love for all the wrong reasons. As the oldest drowning girl, her desperation for moving our of her spinster track us palpable. She married Mr. Smith in only one day. Ms. Sheridan Smith gives a magnificent performance.
This deeply moving and wonderfully executed ensemble piece showcases each actress to her full potential. Each in turn has her moment to shine. Evenly matched in energy, characters, and sadness.
“The Drowning Girls” design was excellent on all levels. The set (Buck Blue) was simple, but the details and immersion were impressive. The sound (Anthony Ingram) and lighting (Michael C Smith) were characters themselves. They were both instrumental in transporting me from story to narration and back again. Well done. The simple, but effective costume (Rachel Lambert) choices and the clever execution and use of the props (Christopher J Neville).
Behind the helm of interwoven character developments and driving exposition is Melanie Keller. She has directed this piece with the loving care it deserves. The show is also very clever without being cute. I thought the movement of the girls on, through, and in the bathtubs was like a dance.
This is one of those gems of a show that should not be missed; part history lesson, part tragedy, and part horror. All the elements come together for a special evening.
Reviewed by Lazlo Collins
Presented now through June 6 by Signal Ensemble Theatre Company, 1802 W Berenice Ave, Chicago, IL
For tickets call 773-698-7389 or go to www.signalensemble.com.
Additional information about this and other area productions can be found by visiting www.theaterinchicago.com
Photos by Johnny Knight