REVIEW: Ovation for ‘How I Learned What I Learned’

“It’s not a play, well, it’s like a play-- but at its heart, it is a conversation,” says artistic director D. Lynn Meyers during her curtain speech. I couldn’t agree more. 

by Aiden Dalton

Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati’s performance of How I Learned What I Learned hadn’t even finished before the audience rose to their feet for a 31-second standing ovation for “ranney,” who brings the muses of August Wilson to life. (Production Stage Manager, Lexi Muller is keeping a daily official ovation count.)

An Intimate Conversation

How I Learned What I Learned is a one man show about a titan of literature. Written by August Wilson, he shares the lessons of life and the people who inspired him. “It’s not a play, well, it’s like a play– but at its heart, it is a conversation,” says artistic director D. Lynn Meyers during her curtain speech. I couldn’t agree more. 

If you have ever had the chance to sit down for an hour and talk with an elder of yours, in any capacity, then you know how this play is going to go. The destination isn’t known until you get there, but you listen as they travel from story to story and learn all you can along the way.

The Team

“ranney” takes us on that journey. We meet the real-life characters that influenced Wilson and his “Century Cycle.” Thanks to the direction of Torie Wiggins, we aren’t stuck having to decipher how each story connects in this conversation. While the conversations flow never ceases, the story beats are clear and precise. This punctuation allows this to not only be a conversation, but an excellent piece of theatre. You get to sit down and have a conversation with the August Wilson–and feel like you are the only person he is talking to.

"ranney" as August Wilson in "How I Learned What I Learned."
“ranney” as August Wilson in “How I Learned What I Learned.”

Technical Highlights

The technical highlights of the production are certainly the projections. The actor and the audience interact with the displays of poems, comedic job listings, and by the end of the play, all of August Wilson’s plays. The projections, by Becca Schall, not only supplement the map of The Hill District where August Wilson grew and lived, providing visual reference, but also blend seamlessly into the set Brian C. Mehring’s set design. Pages of Wilson’s works spill from his office, meticulously detailed by prop designer Shannon Rae Lutz, and rush us in a wave of the work of the self-taught poet. 

"ranney" as August Wilson in "How I Learned What I Learned."
“ranney” as August Wilson in “How I Learned What I Learned.”

Why I Love Ensemble Theatre (How I Learned What I Learned!)

On a personal note, as an Ensemble Acting Apprenticeship alumnus, it is always a deep joy to come home and be reminded why we do and enjoy theatre. In the words of esteemed director Ron Parson (who directed Pipeline at Ensemble Theatre in 2020 and 2021), “Television is furniture, Film is art, and Theatre is life”. I think that this production shows us just that. “Ranney” and Torie and the entire Ensemble team give us the gift of a cherished person brought back to us, to share his wisdom, even if only for an hour and forty five minutes.

Get Tickets

If you have never seen a show at Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati, then you need to get there for How I Learned What I Learned. Use this link or call the box office (513) 421-3555 Monday-Friday 10 am to 5 pm for tickets. Also, so you can hear from beloved box office manager Amy Weinstock what this production rings true: “Ensemble Theatre, your premier theater, how can I help you?”

Aiden Dalton is a native Cincinnatian and professional theatre artist. They attended Xavier University, receiving their Bachelor of Arts in Theatre with a Writing minor. While focusing mostly on acting in college, Aiden also served as the Producing Artistic Director for Xavier Players and was able to produce over six shows while attending Xavier University. After graduating they continued their training, after being selected to attend the highly competitive Professional Acting Apprentice program at Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati (ETC). In this apprenticeship, Aiden worked for a year to get more hands-on experience in as many aspects of theatre as possible, guided by industry veterans. Since then Aiden has worked professionally at companies like ETC, American Legacy Theatre, South Bank Shakes, and more. Aiden is excited to now serve as the Theatrical Director for The Ghostlight Stage Company and Co-President of LCT.

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