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Review: ‘The Brownings’ at Orbiter 3

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It’s long been said that in order to be a writer, one must be at least a little crazy. Well, they don’t get any crazier than the great Victorian poets Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Robert Browning. Their dysfunctional marriage, ruled by bipolar disorder and the constant sense of competition between the two, is put on full display in Orbiter 3’s production of The Brownings, directed by Harriet Power.

David Ingram and Charlotte Northeast. Photo by Plate 3 Photography.

David Ingram and Charlotte Northeast. Photo by Plate 3 Photography.

Sam Henderson’s script is fast-moving and exciting. He tackles Barrett Browning’s bipolar disorder with grace, Robert Browning’s conflicts with humility, and the humor of a third notable, the composer Robert Schumann, with ease.

The performances are both heartbreaking and hilarious. Charlotte Northeast delivers a dynamic performance as the bipolar Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Her ability to slide from one emotion to the next is effortless. She is vulnerable one moment and sassy the next. Perfectly complementing her is David Ingram as Robert Browning. His performance is raw and endearing. His ability to show the poet’s love for his wife coexisting with his jealousy of her superior writing skills is beautifully done. James Ijames as Schumann is the cherry on top as he hilariously guides us from scene from scene. He mostly serves as a narrator, but we do get to see him in the Brownings’ house for one scene, which was the most laugh-filled one in the play. I definitely wish I could have seen him interacting with the other two characters much more.

Marie Chiment’s beautiful costumes are period perfect and simply stunning on the stage. Apollo Mark Weaver has created a set that is both minimal and interactive. A giant pile of books in the corner of the stage matches up well with similarly intimidating stacks of papers on the authors’ desks, and his sloping columns are modern and Victorian at the same time. Jerold Forsyth’s lighting is simple and smooth. Chris Sannino’s sound design is lovely, full of pleasing piano. The props, by Emily Schuman, bring you back in time with ease. The design aspects of the show are brilliantly done to create a cohesive and harmonious world and don’t distract from the brilliant acting.

With three of Philadelphia’s top actors and an offbeat sensibility, The Brownings is dynamic, outrageous – and something very special.

David Ingram, James Ijames, and Charlotte Northeast. Photo by Plate 3 Photography.

David Ingram, James Ijames, and Charlotte Northeast. Photo by Plate 3 Photography.

Running Time: 80 minutes, with no intermission.

The Brownings plays through December 9, 2017 and is presented by Orbiter 3, performing at FringeArts – 140 North Columbus Boulevard, in Philadelphia, PA. For tickets, call the box office at (215) 413-9006, or purchase them online.

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