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The Rousuck Review: "13 Dead Husbands" From The Cohesion Theatre Company

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Shealyn Jae Photography
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Theater critic J. Wynn Rousuck shares her review of Cohesion Theatre Company's "13 Dead Husbands". The show will run until March 29th.

J. Wynn Rousuck

The heroine of Shakespeare’s “As You Like It” claims: “Men have died from time to time…but not for love.” Playwright Tom Horan begs to differ.

He’s written an offbeat play about love, set it in the romantic capital of Paris – and called it: “13 Dead Husbands."

Okay. That doesn’t exactly sound romantic. You might even say the play is about “suicide by matrimony.” In “13 Dead Husbands,” Cupid’s arrow is lethal.

The action starts when a man called Marcel C’est La Vie, played by Matt Payne, shares a secret with his closest friend, Jean-Pierre, played by Bobby Henneberg. He’s found the most beautiful girl in the world. But, there’s a problem with the most beautiful girl in the world, whose name is Dee-Dee. She’s been married 12 times. All of her husbands died shortly after the wedding.

And yet, there’s great competition to be husband 13. More than once in director Brad Norris’ amusing production for Cohesion Theatre Company, trails of eager suitors tear across the stage in hot pursuit.

But Jean-Pierre is the only man who interests Cassandra Dutt’s sweet, cheerful, but self-absorbed Dee-Dee. Jean-Pierre is a balloon vendor in the park. He doesn’t have much in common with Dee-Dee’s illustrious, adventuresome late husbands, who include a hunter, a sea captain, an acrobat and a cowboy. And he doesn’t play by Dee-Dee’s rules – that is, he doesn’t shower the young widow with comfort, or gifts.

Truth be told, Bobby Henneberg’s boyish, bashful, awkward Jean-Pierre isn’t all that into Dee-Dee.

Six of her dead husbands are represented on stage by actors portraying framed portraits. They’re not eager to have ordinary, unworthy Jean-Pierre join their ranks. They denigrate him as a man of – quote --“low standing,” “a balloon man,” “for heaven’s sake.”

“13 Dead Husbands” is a slight but charming bit of whimsy -- a fable that contrasts silly, romantic notions of love with what it takes to achieve the real thing.

Director Norris – a co-founder of Cohesion -- emphasizes the play’s silliness. Matt Payne, who plays Jean-Pierre’s friend, Marcel, speaks with a thick Pepe Le Pew accent, and several other cast members throw bits of accents into their performances.

Unfortunately, the space where the play is being performed -- Canton’s Church on the Square – has extremely poor acoustics. Combined with the accents, this often muddies the dialogue. The poor acoustics also muffle the various love songs performed live before the show, between scenes and at intermission – songs by everyone from Elvis to Maroon 5.

Cohesion is one of Baltimore’s newest theater companies. “13 Dead Husbands” is only the second production in its inaugural season; the first was Shakespeare’s “Coriolanus” – which gives you an idea of the company’s range. Its name, “Cohesion,” reflects its mission to bring together Baltimore’s theaters and theater artists.

A large-scale example of this is scheduled for July when Cohesion will oversee readings of more than 50 new and under-produced plays by female playwrights. The long list of participating theaters ranges from the EMP Collective to Center Stage.

So, Cohesion is a welcome addition to Baltimore’s theater scene -- for its broad vision as well as its more immediate achievement of introducing us to new, young playwrights like “13 Dead Husband"’s Tom Horan. For a play about a balloon seller, the production isn’t always buoyant, but it will lift your spirits. 

J. Wynn Rousuck has been reviewing theater for WYPR's Midday (and previously, Maryland Morning) since 2007. Prior to that, she was the theater critic of The Baltimore Sun, where she reviewed more than 3,000 plays over the course of 23 years. Her feature coverage for The Sun included a comprehensive series chronicling the development of the Tony Award-winning musical, “Hairspray.” Judy got her start at The Cleveland Press and at Cleveland’s fine arts radio station, WCLV. Her broadcasting experience also includes a year as an on-air theater critic for Maryland Public Television.