Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Cincinnati

The Light Chasers
Know Theatre of Cincinnati
Review by Rick Pender | Season Schedule

Gabi Adams at front, and Cast
Photo by Dan R. Winters Photography
Andrew Hungerford has been Know Theatre of Cincinnati's producing artistic director for a decade. For even longer, he's been the scrappy company's resident scenic and lighting designer. He is concluding those roles soon, but not before staging one final production, The Light Chasers, a show he wrote, with music and lyrics by Craig Minowa. Using an album by indie orchestral-rock band Cloud Cult led by Minowa, Hungerford and assistant director Jess Hutchinson from Chicago built a story around the music. It's worth adding that in addition to Hungerford's theatre training and experience, he earned an undergraduate degree from Michigan State University in astrophysics.

That last bio item is surely a key part of the foundation for this musical play. It's about a serious-minded teenage science geek named Nic (Gabi Adams, a third-year acting student at the University of Cincinnati's College-Conservatory of Music, shorthanded as CCM), who chafes at her pragmatic mother Chris (Sarah Summerwell) and yearns to communicate with her beloved dreamer of a father (James Creque), here called The Pilot. He's been navigating an improbable interstellar mission to a "nearby" star–the light in the sky that's being chased, Proxima Centauri–for a decade, traveling beyond the speed of light. That presents a differential time challenge that Nic intends to overcome with a theoretical science project to open a tiny wormhole to her father's ship. I couldn't really follow Nic's detailed theoretical explanation (involving Einstein and the notion of constant acceleration), but I'm sure it's rooted in Hungerford's scientific training. Understanding that is not a necessity. Just know that there's more than a far-off star being chased in this tale.

The musical's narrative moves back and forth between the spaceship's crew and a close-knit group of nerdy teens involved in a high school science club who conduct individual and slightly off-the-charts projects. Hungerford's set design is a basic, symmetrical room with roll-around furniture that can be quickly repositioned for various scenes. Additional CCM acting students play these double roles: Staylie Brunner, Evan Kupersmith, Cassandra Reeves and Lilia Villaflor. Another CCM student, Carson Mehlbauer, plays Ellis, a nice-guy teen age neighbor who befriends Nic. Nico Graves, also from CCM, turns in a feisty portrait of a science kid who's wary of newcomers. Montez O. Jenkins Copeland appears both as the ship's no-nonsense captain and a goofy high school counselor.

The cast performs a dozen or so musical numbers from Cloud Cult's album, accompanied by recorded sound and very stylized choreography. (L. Lucia Duque, an adjunct CCM instructor, is the movement coordinator.) The spaceship's crew also mimes working the various controls in scenes reminiscent of the bridge teams from the various "Star Trek" TV series. Several standout numbers include "Today We Give Ourselves to the Fire," "The Exploding People," "Running with the Wolves," and the uplifting finale, "There's So Much Energy in Us."

Nic is a young woman on a singular, obsessive mission. Her troubled, lonely life has left a trail of failed science projects that caused her and her ambitious mother to relocate several times. Nic has not coped well with repeated adjustments to new schools. Her path to the new project is fraught with questionable behavior, anxiety and lies. It's a tough course to navigate, but Adams creates a sincere, believable portrait of an adolescent finding her way through grief and misunderstanding.

There's definitely a sci-fi ambience to this show, including the massive transfer "portal" that Nic and Ellis construct out of old glowing radio tubes and some pilfered radioactive material which is activated during a thunderstorm. But even if such story elements aren't typically your thing, this show is worth seeing. Without giving away too much of the story, The Light Chasers is ultimately about the love of a family and bonds that transcend space and time.

The performance takes about two hours and 20 minutes, including a 15-minute intermission. The 90-minute first act feels long, but the second act moves briskly and takes about 35 minutes. You'll wonder what's going on as it opens, but stay with it for a surprising twist that adds texture, explanation, and genuine emotion to The Light Chasers.

It's a story told with heart and wit by a spirited cast of mostly young performers who are totally committed to the storytelling–with both traditional acting and expressive movement. Hungerford and co-writer and co-director Jess Hutchinson have obviously put time, effort and understanding into creating and staging this production. Most of the actors wear body mics, so their voices come through clearly and song lyrics can be discerned above the music mix. But the sound system, at least during the performance I attended on the show's first weekend, was intermittently plagued by a fritzy, buzzy interruptions. I suspect that distraction will be resolved soon.

Hungerford has given Know Theatre audiences a fascinating array of productions over his ten years of leadership. The Light Chasers is a fine way to close this chapter on a theatre company that's dedicated to pushing the envelope.

The Light Chasers runs through April 28, 2024, at Know Theatre of Cincinnati, 1120 Jackson Street, Cincinnati OH. For tickets and information, please visit or call 513-300-5669.