“All you fair and tender ladies – beware of how you court your men.”
Returning Fringe-favorites Pinky Swear Productions have a lot to live up to at this year’s festival. After debuting at Fringe in 2009 with the critically acclaimed Freakshow they produced the incredibly popular Cabaret XXX series from 2011 – 2014. If anyone thought they couldn’t repeat their success with Over Her Dead Body, they are dead wrong. And if you show up expecting a lighthearted ode to bluegrass music and a surface-level examination of some of its darker themes, you’ll be wrong too. Because OHDB is so much more than that.
Opening to a sold-out audience, the cast of OHDB enters from the main door and begins getting ready for a night’s work: performing the weekly radio show “Bluegrass Benediction” in front of a live studio audience. Joining them is their in-house band, the very real and very talented Dead Men’s Hollow, comprised of Mike Clayberg on guitar, Marcy Cochran on fiddle, Caryn Fox on mandolin, Belinda Hardesty on Banjo and Jared Creason on Bass.
Shortly after opening with the haunting “Little Sparrow” (which you can catch a preview of here), they announce that tonight’s broadcast is special: a “séance of song” focusing on the murder ballad. Karen Lange, producer and playwright, leads the group as Ava. She helps set the mood early with a powerful rendition of “Pretty Polly.” Frequently throughout the night Lange takes on the role of the male in several of the songs and this works really well.
While Lange is the driving force of the show each member of the ensemble is given a chance to shine. James Finley as Willie shows great range as the only male member of the cast, jumping back and forth between victim and aggressor, sometimes within the same number. Rebecca Speas has some of the strongest vocals of the cast and provides much of the comic relief as Hazel. When she practically snarls “Tom Dooley” near the end you are right there with her, having gone through this journey and feeling awakened to a new side of looking at old favorites – her anger perfectly mirrors how we feel inside after being “woke” by this unbelievable production.
Brittany Alyse Willis, also pulling double-duty as one of the playwrights, is hilarious as “Rowdy” Rhonda. Throughout the night she shows off what a varied performer she is, and her version of “Barbara Allen” with Finley is a highlight. As “new girl” Emmy, Rebecca Phillips delivers a standout performance and has some of the most inspiring lines of the play, making each of us question how we have personally responded to violence against women in our own lives. There’s a moment when she and the cast are singing “Banks of the Ohio” that it hits you especially hard: we are a culture that glorifies violence, and especially glorifies – even justifies – violence in the name of love.
Director Ryan Maxwell and Music Director Steve Przybylski have crafted something so unique and special. The message that the cast, band and crew deliver is like a lightning bolt to the brain. And a huge part of that message is delivered by Kenny Neal and Colin Dieck, sound and lighting designers, respectively. Technical aspects play a big part in this show and the timing of them is spot-on.
Part of making sure everything runs so smoothly is Production and Stage Manager Laura Wood. With so many people on stage, five actors and five band members, and with very limited space – she manages to have each actor weaving around each other pretty seamlessly. Despite working in a very tight space, the actors and musicians never seem to trip over one another or falter in delivering their powerful message.
Violence against women has so permeated our consciousness, not just our current society but throughout centuries, that at best we fight and decry it, in frustration we ignore it, and at worst we… celebrate it with hundreds of years of music and entertainment. You will walk away from Over Her Dead Body feeling strangely exhilarated, because you’ve discovered a work that manages to be fun and electrifying while at the same time chillingly thought provoking.
Running Time: 80 minutes with no intermission.
Check other reviews and show previews on DCMetroTheaterArts’ 2016 Capital Fringe Page.
RATING: BEST OF THE CAPITAL FRINGE!