The son of an insurance agent, George Joseph Smith was born in Bethnal Green, London on January 11, 1872. Reads like just another beautiful soul entering the world with the potential to create so much good. But in this case, this soul was dark and created much blackness in his life. In fact, in 1915, he was convicted and subsequently hanged for the drowning of three women, in a case known as the “Brides in the Bath Murders.” Those women were Margaret Elizabeth Lloyd, Alice Smith, and Beatrice “Bessie” Munday. After all this time, one would think the women had been silenced forever, long forgotten stories. That is true no more with the Cleveland Public Theatre regional premiere of The Drowning Girls written by Beth Graham, Charlie Tomlinson, and Daniela Vlaskalic.
This production is creatively directed by Melissa Therese Crum, who is part of the CPT’s prestigious Joan Yellen Horvitz Director Fellow Program that was developed for emerging directors of extraordinary potential. The program offers mentoring, formal class work, and practical work. Well, this is one hell of a practical work.
This play examines a time when women did not have the power that they have fought for today. Being married was one of the most secure statures to have in life. George Joseph Smith certainly understood how to take that societal pressure and target woman who were weak for companionship and, much to their demise, trusting. We are met by Alice (Natalie Green), Bessie (Sarah Kunchik) and Margaret (Jaime Bouvier), who appear among the three bathtubs where each took their last breath.
This is a fascinating tale. Each actress embodies her character with a clear perspective of what path they had chosen. All three work together to share the demented stories of their deaths in a surreal water ballet that is totally engrossing. All of this done completely connected to the water that killed them, and the bathtubs that became their graves. You learn about each one of them and what their lives were about. Then how they met Smith and how the relationships ended up in marriage so quickly. And the final journey of how their last moments were realized. Just like watching the ID Channel, you learn the sickness of Smith of how he manipulates people, passion and facades. What is also amazing is that within the waterworks of death come genuinely funny moments. This is 70 minutes of “non-stop what the hell am I watching because I have never seen something like this before” savory goodness.
Crum kicks the bathtubs right through the goalposts. This is a very interesting ride. Stage Manager Cameron Cerny called a great show. Sound Designer and Music Composer Sam Fisher added a lot of surrealistic quality to the evening, and haunting effects. Fisher is part of CPT’s Kulas Foundation Theatre Composer Initiative, which is a three-month fellowship program providing emerging early career composers with firsthand experience creating music for theatre. Bravo, Mr. Fisher. Set Designer Val Kozlenko turns the storefront space into a visually interesting array of bathtubs, unique floorboards, and a draped backdrop which highlights the proceedings nicely. Providing haunting lighting design throughout the evening is the incredibly talented Ben Gantose. The lighting greatly enhanced the presentation with tremendous touches and color choices. Inda Blatch-Geib does an amazing job of costuming these ladies. Very nice looks and pieces.
This was a very cool evening of Storefront Studio theatre. However, if you are George Joseph Smith, you would be looking through the storefront asking “How much is that bathtub in the window?” Yikes.
Kevin Joseph Kelly
$12-$18 General Admission
FREE BEER FRIDAY – mingle with the artists after the show while enjoying a FREE drink on CPT!
(216) 631-2727 extension 501
6415 Detroit Avenue
Cleveland, Ohio 44102