Regional Reviews: Cincinnati
All-One! The Doctor Bronner's Play
That label was playwright Beth Hyland's launchpad for her quirky play All-One! The Doctor Bronner's Play, currently onstage at Know Theatre of Cincinnati, the annual producer of the Cincinnati Fringe Festival. It's a fitting venue, since this is a very fringe-y kind of script and production, especially with creative guidance by director Erika Kate MacDonald and music director Paul Strickland. Their productions in the annual Cincy Fringe (and at fringe festivals across the U.S. and Canada) are often at the top of eager attendees' lists. This show is very much in that vein.
In her amusing director's note, MacDonald writes, "It has a script. But that script requires some sections to be original work, written by the performers themselves. And, perhaps most important of all, it asks that no distinction be made to the audience about which parts are which!" All-One! has 18 scenes, based on the 18-in-1 list of potential uses for the soap, ranging from bathing, brushing teeth, and washing hair to doing the dishes, scrubbing toilets, and mopping the floor. Each use becomes the prompt for a brief, amusing vignette. Altogether, the show takes 80 minutes with no intermission.
MacDonald is a wildly imaginative director and playwright herself. Strickland is a similarly imaginative storyteller as well as a composer, and he has provided a musical score for All-One!. I cannot imagine a more creative pair to stage this funny, thoughtful show. Their cast–L. Lucia Duque, Ian Timothy Forsgren, Elizabeth Chinn Molloy, Erin McCamley, Willemien Patterson, and R. DeAndré Smith–quite literally dives into the material on Andrew J. Hungerford's sprightly set.
A pair of shower stalls stand at stage left and right with translucent curtains also used as projection surfaces for soap bubbles as well as titles of the show's various segments. At center stage is a kiddie pool, employed often when the actors use soap and water for their skit.
All-One! The Doctor Bronner's Play also tells the story of Emanuel Bronner, who billed himself as a "doctor" and moral philosopher. A German immigrant with a family history of soap-making, he came to the U.S. just before World War II. When his efforts to proselytize his unusual teachings did not get traction, he turned to soap production–using the text-laden labels to post his diatribes on the unity of mankind and the need to "unite spaceship earth." The production includes a brief film from 1944 of Bronner preaching some of his out-there ideals.
All-One! The Doctor Bronner's Play is every bit as quirky as Bronner himself. The cast members bring individual talents to their pieces. Duque, a buoyant presence, is an animated, honest speaker who sometimes directly addresses the audience. The tall Molloy occasionally plays Bronner himself, but her lanky presence is part of all her humorous scenes. Forsgren, a well-known local dancer, uses physicality for his moments. Patterson, a longtime member of the Performance Gallery ensemble (a regular Fringe producer), is funny in a floral bathing cap and an always straight face. Smith has a big jolly presence, occasionally accented by playing a noisy brass horn. Perky McCamley, also an accomplished musician, has several amusing segments–especially a musical number as Bronner's anonymous second wife, who might have been a lounge singer.
The six actors are able singers and have several choral numbers, including a very unusual use of "The Impossible Dream" from Man of La Mancha. As wacky as this all might sound, it comes together in a satisfying, synthesized way that's a tribute to Bronner (more than once the cast states chorally, "He was right!") and to the creativity of the performers. The improvisational nature of elements of this production means each performance could be slightly different, including a few moments of interaction with the audience. All-One! The Doctor Bronner's Play is a joyous, theatrical adventure.
All-One! The Doctor Bronner's Play runs through March 26, 2023, at Know Theatre of Cincinnati, 1120 Jackson Street, Over-the-Rhine, Cincinnati OH. For tickets and information, please visit www.knowtheatre.com or call 513-300-5669.