Because of my former position as Associate Producer/Theater Critic at Metromix.com and my current position as a critic/consultant for the Theatre Roundtable of Central Ohio, I have the unique pleasure of seeing lots of community and professional theater in the fine state of Ohio for free. So why not share the love with my readers at Queer Corner? Every week the Local Theater Spotlight will feature a review from a show currently running in Central Ohio. Because, let’s be honest, we queers love us a night at the “theatre!”
CATCO hit the proverbial jackpot with their latest show, “The Rubenstein Kiss,” enjoying an extended run at the Vern Riffe Center, through Feb. 24., as they are hosting the North American premiere of James Phillips’ London hit based on the true story of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg, executed by the government during the 1950’s for treason, charged with sharing information about the atomic bomb with the Soviet Union.
Director Steven Anderson has assembled a knockout cast. And paired with the trope’s stellar design team the show is a definite must see for any theater goer or history buff this side of the Mississippi.
Phillips’ scripts sees some considerable lag at the onset but this quickly subsides as the leveled character dynamics unfold. The story begins with a chance meeting at a museum in front of that iconic photo of the Julius/Ethel kiss (renamed Jakob and Esther Rubenstein). The Matthew and Anna (Ruby Frias and Acacia Duncan) cute meet lead right into a historical flashback with the Rubensteins (Kal Poole and Kim Garrison Hopcraft) having dinner with Esther’s brother David Girshfeld (Geoffrey Martin) and his new fiance, Rachel Liebermann (Julia Free), years before being accused, thus laying Phillips’ stylistic foundation.
It’s soon discovered that Anna is the Girshfeld’s daughter, still haunted by her father’s decision to testify against his own sister she’s on a crusade to reopen the Rubenstein case and acquit her and uncle. And without revealing too much, Matthew’s Rubenstein connection becomes a gasp-inducing jaw-dropper. But the main thrust of the story is this unfailing commitment between two people. Despite their circumstances and with death in sight, Jakob and Esther stay true to each other and their belief of their innocence.
Poole and Hopcraft bleed with love onstage. They are a dramatic dream team that truly captures all of the nuance in unconditional love. Both particularly brilliant in a second-act climax that includes their last interrogation before loosing their last appeal on death row.
Duncan and Frias appropriately travel the typical boy-meets-girl, boy-loses-girl, boy-gets-girl arc, before the aforementioned revelation sends it off the rails. Duncan also shines in Anna’s few tense scenes with her parents about how the trial and subsequent Rubenstein’s execution destroyed the family.
Supporting players Free and Martin were also strong. Free was force to ride a high emotional wave as a woman just trying to protect her family, while Martin visibly captured the immediate and lifelong guilt of his actions. But attention must be given to Joe Dallacqua who nailed stodgy FBI detective Paul Cranmer, a man battling with the duties of his job paired with his inner conflict over his ultimate respect of Jakob Rubenstein.
The set (Michael S. Brewer), lighting (Cynthia Stillings) and sound (Keya Myers-Alkire) moved almost like it’s own symphony, changing and sometimes twirling with the characters as they swept between eras, while Tatjana Longerot’s vivid costume designs kept us grounded whether in the ’50s or ’70s.
“The Rubenstein Kiss” is making its stop in Columbus while the creator’s debate changes before taking the show to Off-Broadway in New York City. If cut down from it’s long-winded ,two-act 2.5-hour length, I could see this play making a pretty big splash on Broadway. Drama, romantic comedy, sex, betrayal and espionage. It’s a good a night for anyone at the theater.
“The Rubenstein Kiss” runs though Feb. 24 in Studio Two of the Vern Riffe Center, 77 S. High Street, Columbus. Tickets are $11.50-$40. Visit www.catco.org for more information.