Abigail and Shaun Bengson. Photo: Yero-Two Hearts Media

Ohio

Created and Performed by The Bengsons
Directed by Anne Kauffman & Caitlin Sullivan

An Actors Theatre of Louisville Storytelling (R)evolution Lab Production

A review by Kate Barry

Entire contents are copyright © by 2023 Kate Barry. All rights reserved.

To review a play that is still in development may seem like a frivolous task. With a show that is constantly changing from night to night, any opinions or critiques may get lost in the weeds of what has yet to become an end product. Actors Theater of Louisville offers an intimate two-person show with their current serving of Ohio. A Storytelling (R)evolution Lab Production, musical duo The Bengsons utilize the Victor Jory space to produce a musical journey of beautiful music, hearing loss, and keeping the faith.

Casual and relaxed, The show is an 80-minute jam session set in the Bengson’s cozy living room straight out of the Ohio suburbs. Abigail and Shaun guide us through this autobiographical multimedia experience with vivid visuals, captions, and songs that range from folk, and spiritual hymnals, to an original sound seems entirely their own. The Bengsons deliver gorgeous harmonies and vocal stylings which pair nicely with the ever-changing guitars, banjos, and mixing loops. Abigail sings with a strong vibrato while Shaun’s softer tenor creates a fully formed sound.

Throughout Ohio, Shaun’s coming-of-age story within the Lutheran church is juxtaposed with his questioning of faith, love of music, and generational hearing loss. The Bengsons share stories of going to church every Sunday, serving ministries, and attending Sunday School. Questioning is frequent throughout this show. Abigail shares a story of her son asking what happens when we die and the difficulty faced when responding to such a big question. While doubt grows, Shaun’s love of music develops with a fear of hearing loss ever looming on the horizon. Such delicate examination of personal faith unraveling is handled with extreme care. The Bengsons address this form of trauma boldly as they ask rhetorically “do you remember the moment the community you were born into could no longer hold you?”

Within this workshop production, music, visuals, and captions come together beautifully. Images of cochlea and stereo cilia appear on the multi-layered screen at one point to give a better understanding of hearing loss then moments later white noise plays as a bold image of static consumes the space. A moving recitation of the Shemah prayer culminates with haunting vocals as well. As The Bengsons describe the birth of their son, the descriptions and worries of hearing loss caused by tinnitus become evident and consuming. The simple faint questions from a boy to his dad are heartbreaking and effective.

To an uneducated patron, Ohio could seem like something along the lines of MTV: Unplugged in terms of staging and production. The Storytelling (R)evolution Lab at  Actors Theater offers a rare opportunity to see a quality work in progress full of heart and great music. And I can’t wait to see Ohio grow into a fully formed production.

Ohio

January 18-28, 2023

Actors Theatre of Louisville
315 West Main Street
Louisville, KY 40202
Actorstheatre.org

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 / ARTxFM.com, 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 Arts-Louisville.com.