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Clague Playhouse’s ‘Failure: A Love Story’ is a theatrical oxymoron

In viewing the newest Clague Playhouse production of Phillip Dawkins’ “Failure: A Love Story” one must realize that it is billed as a “dark comedy” with emphasis on the former. Sunday’s matinee performance was, to say the least...labored as the actors seemed to struggle with the volumes of dialog inherent to “storytelling theater.” It was an unfortunate afternoon of flubbed lines and pregnant pauses.

It begins with Henry (Noah Pekari) and Marie (Beth Gaertner) Failbottoms immigrating to the United States from an unnamed homeland. As is the fashion of the time, their name is truncated to “Fail” upon their entry to Ellis Island. After a whirlwind tour of eastern America they settle in Chicago on the banks of the Chicago River, opening up “The Fail Clockworks~1900”.

The Fails are soon blessed with three daughters, Gerty (Persis Sosiak), Jenny June (Kierstan Kathleen Conway) and Nellie (Eliza Rodriguez) who will all suffer aquatic related deaths (blunt object to the head, disappearance and consumption, in that order) within a year of each other (1928) with their deaths being in reverse order of youngest to oldest.

As their daughters come of age and with the adoption of the rather taciturn but animal loving John N. (Assad Khaishgi) who is found (where else) floating in a box in the Chicago River, the oldest Gerty learns the clock repair trade from her father. Jenny June trains to be a championship lake swimmer who is fascinated with Johnny Weissmuller (who beat her in her debut Chicago River Race). Nellie simply looks fresh and fetching and soon attracts a suitor, Mortimer Mortimer, but not before the parents meet their ends by rolling backwards in their brand new Stutz Bearcat car into the Chicago River on the day of Jenny June’s inaugural swimming race. As each Fail sister succumbs, Mortimer Mortimer woos each one in ascending order, becoming “an almost husband” thrice.

On the plus side, children’s author Philip Dawkins tale of love and death (lots of death) has its moments of humor with its collection of silly ensemble characters played by members of the chorus (Patrick Carroll, Jon Fancher, Beth Gaertner and Lou Will) as well as the other actors. The over all theme of love, family and the ever importance of the value of time is notable as well. There is also the creative period costuming that illustrates some intriguing patterns found at the turn of the last century.

On the down side, there is the mantra of “blunt object to the head, disappearance and consumption” being a bit overdone as well as the repeat of the tune “Let Me Call You Sweetheart” and the aforementioned problem with the execution of the script.

The show is directed by Ron Newell. John Roberts provides the delightfulprerecorded piano interludes as music director. Sydney DeMatteis Geib and Dred Geib share costuming duties. Day Mayer designed the sound with Jeff Lockshine handling the lighting. Property design is by Margy Haas.

We are told early on “...none could imagine a happier family” even though by play’s end we have nearly as many corpses as found in Shakespeare’s “Scottish Play”. That notwithstanding, with a little work on the comic timing and dialogues this could be an enjoyable theater outing. If one can ignore the fractured grammar of, “Just because something ends, that don’t mean it wasn’t a great success.” Buy a ticket.

The Clague Playhouse production of “Failure: A Love Story” will be on stage at 1371 Clague Road, Westlake, Ohio through June 4, 2023. For more information and tickets go to or call (440) 331-0403 Wednesday through Saturday 1:00 to 6:00 p.m.


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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.  

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