Theater Review: The Drowning Girls at Urbanite

Dennis Maley
SARASOTA — On Friday, Urbanite Theatre in downtown Sarasota debuted its latest production, The Drowning Girls, a 2008 Canadian play co-written by Beth Graham, Charlie Tomlinson and Daniela Vlaskalic that depicts England’s "Brides in the Bath" murders of the early 20th century.

A 70-minute, no-intermission play in which the only characters are three dead brides and a set that consists of the three bathtubs they were drowned in is a tall order indeed. However, Urbanite co-founder Brendan Ragan directs a perfectly-cast trio through a thoroughly-engaging drama that manages considerable relevance even a century after the depicted events.

Bessie, Alice and Margaret were all wooed by an English con artist named George Joseph Smith—whose actual picture appears on set in the play. In each case, the vulnerable brides describe the wedding as the highlight of their life, though, in turn, they also describe the quick let down that follows.
Carley Cornelius, Katherine Michelle Tanner and Nicole Jeannine Smith.
Photo by Cliff Roles
The play’s pace is tight, with each actress quickly shifting into multiple roles—even Smith—as one of the others tells her tale. What makes the production work so well is that the three actresses cast are equally-talented contemporaries with considerable on-stage chemistry. Without three powerhouse brides, each of whom has the chops to hang with the other two, the play could quickly fall apart.

Renowned Tampa stage vet Nicole Jeannine Smith is fabulous as Bessie, who does much of the narration. Bessie is also the most spirited of the three wives, which seems well suited for Smith. Chicago-based actress Carley Cornelius is equally impressive as Alice, the more vulnerable and subdued victim. FSU/Asolo Conservatory alum Katherine Michelle Tanner, who has quickly parlayed her local success into a very promising early career, returns as Margaret, the naive final victim and turns in a very memorable performance.

Photo by Cliff Roles
The stage set, designed by Rew Tippin and built by master carpenter Mark Beach, is one of the company’s most ambitious yet, with the actresses sloshing water on-stage as they get in and out of the tubs, and steam pouring from running shower heads, all in an eloquently appointed bathroom.

As impressive as the play itself, is Regan and co-founder Summer Dawn Wallace’s continued ability to attract top flight actors with off-the-beaten path plays in order to inject a breath of new life onto the local theater scene. With each production, I notice audiences getting a bit younger, which suggests that Urbanite is doing more than its share in the ever-important task of cultivating new generations of theatergoers to help ensure the viability of local theater’s future.
The Drowning Girls runs April 22-May 22 at Urbanite Theatre in downtown Sarasota. Click here to visit their website for ticket and calendar information.