Cleveland Public Theater’s ‘Fire On The Water’ takes you on a journey of wow

After a brief introduction by Raymond Bobgan (Executive Artistic Director for Cleveland Public Theatre as well as conceiver, co-director, lead playwright and producer of the current show, Fire On The Water) we are led into the performance space. Instead of the traditional static seating arrangement a large number of rolling office chairs (courtesy of City Desk) lie scattered about the floor.

You take your seat and begin to assimilate to your surroundings. On the walls are video projections of bridge abutments while higher up blue reflective light patterns dance. Three large tubs of water are positioned on the perimeters inhabited by actors who gently splash in the water. With the encouraged rolling mobility that allows you to witness the various performance areas from different perspectives you suddenly find yourself flowing along and not in the river, but the river itself. This is the definition of totally immersive theater.

What follows is a collection of sixteen separate yet connected works and three musical numbers by a cast of fifteen actors and five musicians who propel a story of two antithetical elements (fire and water) and the effect it has had on our local history and the world.

The thing that makes this collaborative venture unique is the collection of various artistic institutions that the co-directors, playwrights, technical staff and actors are associated with. This includes Cleveland Public Theatre, Dobama Theatre, Talespinner Children’s Theatre, Ma’Sue Productions, Cleveland Play House, Baldwin Wallace University, Convergence-Continuum, Cuyahoga Community College, Great Lakes Theatre, Cleveland Orchestra Chorus, Ohio City Theatre Project, Karamu Theatre and Maelstrom Collaborative Arts.

Using acting, singing, aerial acrobatics, interpretive dance, puppetry, water works, and music they tell the story of the Shawnee named Cuyahoga River in Cleveland, Ohio and how it came to national prominence after catching fire in 1969. It was not the first time that the river had caught fire (it was in fact the 13th) nor was it the only major city where this had happened but soon Cleveland instead of being known as Forest City was stuck with the “Burning River” and “Mistake on the Lake” monikers as we became the butt of numerous jokes. The situation, however, was not hopeless because it in effect forced Congress to pass into law “The Clean Water Act” which banned the dumping of industrial wastes into our waterways leading to an eventual nation-wide clean-up.

The members of the cast include: Courtney Nicole Auman, Sidney Edwards, Faye Hargate, Briden Harvey, Shatara Jordan, Michael Levin, Kim Martin, Terah McGowan, Daniel McKinnon, Mary-Francis R. Miller, Zach Palumbo, D\Adam Seeholzer, Kat Shy, Anastasia Urozhaeva and Hillary Wheelock. The Muscians include Devin Hinzo, oboe; Ariel Claton Karas, violin; Amara Sperber, violin; Natalie Frakes, violin, Buck McDaniel***, piano and electronics. Co-playwrights include Raymond Bobgan, Jeremy Paul Cathleen O’Malley, John Dayo-Aliya and Alison Garrigan with co-directors Raymond Bobgan, Jeremy Paul, India Nicole Burton, Cathleen O’Malley and Alison Garrigan. Lighting design is by Benjamin Gantose with costumes by Alison Garrigan and T. Paul Lowry handling the video and scenic design.

***2018-2019 Kulas Theatre Composer Fellow

Due to the complexity of this show it is probably geared more for high school age and older.

As for the cast, they literally throw themselves into the show with boundless energy. Nothing is left on the stage as each and every performer sweats it up during their portrayals. The only criticism of the show was a sound failure during the 1969 segment as well as confusion among the audience members as to which segment was being enacted. These two small problems will surely be addressed in future performances.

This expanded version (two and a half hours plus intermission) of the original 2015 performance (Part 4 of the Elements Cycle) is a theatrical masterpiece that utilizes every square inch of the performance area while using every form of artistic endeavor known to man. It is as complete a show as you will ever see. Come to be wowed.

The Cleveland Public Theatre production of Fire on the Water will be performed through March 2, 2019. Tickets are available on-line at or by phone by calling (216) 632-2727.

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Who is Mark Horning?

Over the course of my life I have worked a variety of jobs including newspapers, retail camera sales and photography. Eight years ago I embarked on yet another career as writer. This included articles concerning sports and cultural events in Cleveland, Ohio as well reviews of the many theatrical productions around town. These days are spent photographing professional dance groups, theater companies and various galas and festivals as well as attending various stage performances and posting reviews about them.