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Hint: Don’t read the program notes before ‘The Drowning Girls” at Cleveland Public Theatre

Roy Berko

(Member, American Theatre Critics Association & Cleveland Critics Circle)


A person’s identity is based on the culture in which s/he was raised.  It has been the custom in many Euro-American societies to raise women with the attitude that they are not complete without a man in their lives.  Unmarried women have been identified as “old maids,” or “spinsters.”  The implication is that these women are less than their married gender mates.  Since many of our attitudes of self are based on the names we are called, the negative titles of those husbandless females perceive themselves negatively.  This phenomenon often leads to desperation to get married to whomever offers themselves for matrimony.


“The Drowning Girls,” by Melissa Crum, Cleveland Public Theatre’s 2013-14 Joan Yellen-Horvitz Director Fellow, with supporting music by Sam Fisher, 2013-14 Kulas Composer Fellow, centers on the lives of three woman who became victims because of their perceived need to marry.  In these cases, they each unknowingly married a fiend, with little time to really discover his true self, until it was too late.


Alice Burnham, Beatrice (Bessie) Mundy and Margaret Lofty, the women in the story, all were what the general society of the day would call, “getting on in their years.’  Each perceived that they needed to be quickly married, each was convinced by the same man, using a different name for his relationship with each woman, to marry.  Each had a tidy sum of money, were talked into buying life insurance policies in their husband’s name, and all met an untimely death in the same manner.  Each was found dead in a bathtub.  Each, it was assumed, died from natural causes.


Crum’s script is nicely developed, though it may have been dragged on a big too long by extensive repetition.  Crum, who also directed, is creative in the staging.  Interesting visual images abound with the use of three bathtubs on a platform, backed up by a clothing line.  The use of water for not only each character’s demise, but for anointing, creating of illusions and analogies is interestingly woven into the production.


Natalie Green (Alice), Sarah Kunchik (Bessie) and Jaime Bouvier (Margaret) are entirely convincing in their portrayals.  The meld together into a cohesive unit.  These are each very impressive performances.


Val Kozienko’s set design and Ben Gantose’s lighting design both help in creating the correct moods.  Fisher’s music aids in heightening and highlighting the moods.


Normally, I urge theatre-goers to read the program notes before the show.  In this case, I would urge to hold off until after the production.  Reading the “Note form the Director” and “Following the Story” reveal too much information and almost makes watching the play redundant.  It ruins the heightening of emotions and takes the mystery out of the production.

Capsule judgement: “The Drowning Girls” is an intriguing script which gets a fine staging at Cleveland Public Theatre.  Be warned:  reading the program notes before the play may take some of the excitement out of experiencing the production.


“The Drowning Girl” continues at Cleveland Public Theatre through February 24.  For tickets go to: 216-631-2727 or go to


CPT’s next show is ANCESTRA, May 22-June 7.  It is an intimate biography of a contemporary woman which was inspired by the 1853 National Women’s Rights Convention held in Cleveland Performed from March 6 to 22 in Gordon Square Theatre @ 7:30.