The cast of These Tangled Webs. Photo: Bunbury

These Tangled Webs

Book & Lyrics by Gary Brumburgh
Music by Ron Creager
Directed by Sharon Murray-Harrah

A review by Keith Waits

Entire contents are copyright © 2023 by Keith Waits. All rights reserved.

A world premiere is always something to celebrate. Bunbury Theatre has put a surfeit of talent into the premiere of the musical satire of television soap operas, These Tangled Webs

To clear the air, I think most attempts at an extended satire of soaps are tedious. The nature of daytime soap operas tends towards self-parody so the satire can quickly grow tiresome. It is an ideal target for shorter forms but does not sustain 2 plus hours of running time. These Tangled Webs suffers this difficulty and could benefit from some cutting. It is overlong and would function much better in a leaner, more economical book that focused on the moments that land fully.

The plot is appropriately and hilariously improbable, filled with love triangles, long-term amnesia, and never-ending devious schemes. That the time is 1964 helps with the satirical focus, distancing the action from modern sensibilities. The Webbs are paragons of virtue straight out of Thornton Wilder’s Our Town, while The Van Pelts are the wealthy family who seem forever tempted by greed and draw vile opportunitists such as Satyrica Cutting (Emily Schroering) who are as unscrupulous as they come.

More than that would be spoilers, although if you have spent time watching soap operas you can most likely predict much of what happens. That’s the nature of the genre. Jim Webb (Paul DePrey) is a husband, father, doctor, lawyer, and Baptist preacher. Why not? When Margaret Webb (Jill Higgenbotham) completes a six-week law course, passes the bar on the last day of class, and is prosecuting a murder case immediately after? Sure. Anything is possible.

That kind of absurdity is when the play scores the most points. The other strength is the score, which is also inconsistent but mostly hits the mark musically enough to allow the cast to show off their vocal chops.

And boy do they have the chops to show off. The large ensemble here is pound for pound one of the strongest group of singers I’ve seen in a musical. Schroering, Kate E. Reedy, Emma Lambert, Kara Merchant, Tyler Akin, and Alex Slade all deliver powerful vocals throughout the show while John Vessels, Jr. has a terrific number with DePrey just before the end where the two finally get to cut loose.

Rebekkah Meixner-Hanks has designed an intricate, moving set utilizing a turntable. The nostalgic detail is well-observed and the textures evoke a simpler time. Two convincing vintage TV camera props look terrific but are underused.

Much of the fun comes from overturning or undermining the arch-stereotypes and rampant cliches that make soap operas almost too easy a target; the audience I was with seemed to enjoy it, with a good deal of enthusiastic laughter, but the greater potential in These Tangled Webs is when it rises to a camp sensibility that speaks to life in 2024: awakening feminist and queer sensibilities that would hardly have been welcome in America’s homes sixty years ago.

Featuring Tyler Akin, AJ Bellis, Paul DePrey, Jill Higgenbotham, Floren K, Emma Lambert, Kara (KB) Merchant, Keira Olsen, Kate E. Reedy, Cathy Ryan, Richard Ryan, Joshua Schmidt, Emily Schroering, Alex Slade, C. Kevin Swansey, John Vessels, Jr., Gabi Velinova, & Marianne Zickuhr

These Tangled Webs

June 14, 15, 20, 21, 22, 27, 28, & 29 @ 7:30 pm
June 16, 23, 30 @ 2:00 pm

Bunbury Theatre
The Henry Clay Theatre
604 S. 3rd Street,
Louisville, KY 40202

Keith Waits is a native of Louisville who works at Louisville Visual Art during the days, including being the host of Artists Talk with LVA on WXOX 97.1 FM /, but spends most of his evenings indulging his taste for theatre, music, and visual arts. His work has appeared in LEO Weekly, Pure Uncut Candy, TheatreLouisville, and Louisville Mojo. He is now Managing Editor for