Abigail and Shaun Bengson. Photo: Yero-Two Hearts Media
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.
January 18-28, 2023
Actors Theatre of Louisville
315 West Main Street
Louisville, KY 40202
Kate Barry has worked with many different companies around town since graduating in 08 from Bellarmine University. She’s worked with CenterStage, Kentucky Shakespeare Festival, Bunbury Theater, Louisville Repertory Company, Walden Theater, Finnigan Productions. She used to work in the box office at that little performing arts center on Main Street but now she helps save the planet. In 2012, her short play “PlayList” won festival favorite in the Finnigan Festival of Funky Fresh Fun. Her play “Catcher Released” won an honorable mention with the Kentucky Playwrites Workshop. She has written for LEO Weekly and TheatreLouisville.com as well. When she is not writing, she teaches yoga. Thanks for reading!