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'The Drowning Girls' at CPT: a tale of weddings, wealth, water and woe

The Drowning Girls at Cleveland Public Theatre


It is a rare and beautiful occurrence when a piece of theater comes along that so perfectly hits all of the right culmination of notes, it leaves you haunted and amazed. “The Drowning Girls” is that production. Playing now only through May 3rd at the Storefront Studio on the Cleveland Public Theatre (CPT) campus, there’s not much time left to be part of this unique experience.

The Drowning Girls at Cleveland Public Theatre - (from left Jaime Bouvier, Natalie Green, Sarah Kunchik)
Steve Wagner
The Drowning Girls at CPT
Steve Wagner

Written by Beth Graham, Charlie Tomlinson and Daniela Vlaskalic, this production is brilliantly directed by CPT 2013-2014 Joan Yellen-Horvitz Director Fellow, Melissa Crum. The regional premier follows the lives and loves of three women who were all drowned by the same man in the early 1900s. They meet in a place after their deaths and weave a tale of weddings, wealth, water and woe.

The characters are mesmerizing, each drowning both literally and figuratively in their love for a con artist named George Joseph Smith, a man who would eventually kill all of them. We find out through the women’s interactions with each other how George (who we never see) preys on their loneliness and lack of self-worth. He seems to dupe them out of their money so easily before committing the ultimate act of violence against them, yet the women never come across as stupid – only as human beings who truly believed they were going to be loved forever.

The three actresses are superb. Natalie Green (Alice), Sarah Kunchik (Bessie) and Jaime Bouvier (Margaret) all deliver heartfelt, brave and cohesive performances. Each woman shines in her own way, yet the magic of the piece is in their ensemble work. Crum’s direction of these exceptional ladies has created a delightful dance of talent, as they move effortlessly in and out of bathtubs full of water throughout the show. The women are fearless as they constantly submerge themselves in the water, have buckets of water poured over their heads, and boldly stride around the puddle-soaked set. It is hard enough to work on a dry stage, and these women give no-holds-barred performances without even flinching on the sopping set in their dripping dresses.

Crum and the design team have created a water-friendly world of ethereal energy. The set (by designer Val Kozlenko) is comprised of three old-fashioned bathtubs situated on three levels of wood flooring and surrounded with simple but effective clothesline, metal buckets, and hanging kerchiefs. Surprises pop out from all nooks – bouquets, flower petals, coins, large waxed-paper sheets that become newspapers or whatever the whimsy wants them to be. The lighting (by designer Ben Gantose) is soft and subtly colorful, creating a world that is dream-like. The costumes (by designer Inda Blatch-Geib) are cream and neutral-colored, flowing representations of a 1900s bride. Several costume pieces also work as props to show the movement of the story from woman to woman in an interwoven dance. A string of pearls, a ring, some stockings all pass between each woman to drive the tale. Clothespins are also surprisingly important props and costume accessories.

“The Drowning Girls” also features original music compositions by sound designer Sam Fisher, who is the CPT 2013-2014 Kulas Composer Fellow. The 70-minute play features a subtle yet emotional underscore that serves as an expressive foundation for the action.

Closing on Saturday, May 3rd, patrons should run to reserve their tickets now for the remaining performances, as the small space will fill up quickly. For more information or to make reservations, visit or call 216-631-2727.


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