Know Theatre Takes Historical to Hysterical in “The Hunchback of Seville”

Review by Grace Eichler of The Hunchback of Seville: Know Theatre

Know Theatre of Cincinnati is embracing its 18th season with a barely-legal irreverence, starting with Charise Castro Smith’s The Hunchback of Seville. HRH Queen Isabella of Spain is on the decline, and her estranged “adopted twin sister,” the titular Maxima Terrible Segunda, is faced with the choice of serving as the next queen’s advisor during the middle of the Spanish Inquisition and discovery of the New World. All of this, of course, is the direct result of HRH’s quick chat with God, where she insists that He has chosen Maxima, who places her intellect over her country’s religion. Director Brant Russell exquisitely sets the tone of the show in his Director’s Note: a standalone quotation from Michelle Bachmann on her divine intervention telling her to run for Congress.  The tongue-in-cheek nature is plastered all over this production, starting with a shadow puppet “colonization” of the New World and  a monologue to the audience by Christopher Columbus’s (played wittily by Andrew Iannacci) . The fourth wall never even exists for the rest of the show, with servants and royalty alike addressing the audience, stage hands entering to assist with costume changes, and shouted cues to the light booth. Although the script itself has a plethora of gags and callbacks, not to mention a startlingly quick ending, this production adds layers of humor and modern-day references to 16th century Snapchats, a Disney Prince doll and repeated “screeching cat” jokes.  Know has collaborated with CCM Drama in this production, and the majority of the actors come from the program. Personal favorites included Emily Walton’s Infanta Juana, the daughter of HRH and next in line for the throne. Imagine a 15th century heiress with just enough of a brain to be dangerous. Her mother, played by Rachel Baumgarten, has entrance after entrance showing her decaying health state, and a beautifully caricatured accent to go along with them. The only drawback I saw of going opening night was that these younger actors weren’t quite immune to the jokes yet, and seemed to be on the verge of breaking character several times.  The set, designed by Artistic Director Andrew Hungerford, and costumes, designed by Noelle Wedig, grounded the show well in the 16th century. The props delightfully contrasted them with a modern twist. It was a refreshing take on a “dusty” period, and slightly reminiscent of the now-popular Hamilton. I will heartily warn you, though, to not expect your average period piece. I loved many aspects of the show, and would recommend it to all who are prepared for a night of historical juxtaposition. The Hunchback of Seville runs until October 24 at the Know Theatre of Cincinnati.

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