theatre review: ‘The Cover of Life’ -UMKC production boasts top student talent

Though “The Cover of Life” has a slow plot progression, the action throughout the play is compelling.

It is 1943 in small town Sterlington, La.  Three sisters-in-law—Tood, Sybil and Weetsie—are each married to a different Cliffert brother. They live together with their mother-in-law, Aunt Ola, while the boys are away at war.

Kate, a New York Life Magazine reporter, is assigned to write a story about the southern women, who are living without the help of men.  Kate is not thrilled with the assignment, but soon grows attached to the Cliffert wives.

The lives of these women are rich with dreams and the audience is taken along for the ride.

In the second act, a series of secrets are revealed and disaster looms, leaving the family torn apart and Kate on a train back to New York City.

Ron Schaeffer, director and UMKC Theatre Professor of Stage Management, did a fine job sculpting a play with minimal, but significant, action into a gratifying travel back in time.

Every so often, a director perfectly casts an actor in a play.

Schaeffer did just that.

In the play, sophomore Aishah Harvey transforms into Sybil.

On and off stage, Harvey is flamboyant and energetic.  She immediately captures the audience’s attention with the first words out of her mouth and holds this attention throughout the play.

Seasoned UMKC actress Grace Knobbe also made herself known in her portrayal of Kate.

Now a senior, Knobbe showed what she is capable of, a big role and an attention to detail necessary for a successful performance.

She enjoyed her experience working on this show.

“My favorite part was the people I got to work with,” Knobbe said. “It was a good family and it was fun to do a show with so many meaty roles for women.  That doesn’t happen very often.”

Senior theatre performance major Chelsea Russell (Aunt Ola) offered an exciting pinnacle to her performance in the second act with junior theatre performance major Taylor Silvestro (Tood).

Nothing is more refreshing in the theatre than seeing two actors work together creating magical life onstage.

“The most challenging part of the process is living in the moment every night and not making it seem rehearsed, but living in the actual circumstances of Aunt Ola,” Russell said.

From any UMKC theatre production, a nicely designed set is expected.

For “The Cover of Life,” scenic designer Jeff Ridenour, a second year master’s of fine arts student, exceeded expectations.

Immediately upon walking into the James C. Olson Performing Arts Center Room 116, the world in which the play lives came alive with a 360-degree design.  The audience sat on three sides of the hand-built stage, immersed in the play as part of the same world the characters live in.

Ridenour tops off his design with personal photos from his great grandmother, which are enlarged and hung around the space.

Even a few dead leaves are scattered around the playing area to create a more believable atmosphere.

With an increasing UMKC undergraduate theatre population, the department continues to execute strong productions.

Next semester, the undergraduates will present “Drums in the Night” by Bertolt Brecht.

mshea@unews.com

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