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Theater Review: “Withering Heights”



Poor Emily Brontë.

She only wrote one book, and now look what’s happened to it.

Those two crazy guys, Phil Johnson and Omri Schein, have crammed one of the favorite novels of 19th-century English lit – “Wuthering Heights” – into a zany one-act play in which the two of them play all the parts.

Or at least all 14 listed in the program.

Huh? Yes, you read it right.

But wait.

The world premiere of their “Withering Heights” may lack proper respect for the book, but it sure doesn’t lack for imagination, goofiness, hilarity or (let’s just say it up front) fart jokes.

Diversionary Theatre is the host and David Ellenstein (of North Coast Repertory Theatre) the director for this wild-haired laugh fest. Johnson and Schein are two of the lights behind scrappy new startup The Roustabouts Theatre Co.

Johnson plays Nelly the maid, who tells us “that lady who wrote the book got it wrong” and offers to tell us “the real story.”

And we’re off, that poor homeless boy Heathcliff (Johnson) with the gypsy look adopted by Mr. Earnshaw (Schein) and moving into the same household with the lovely Catherine (Schein), inspiring both jealousy from the “real” Earnshaw son Hindley (Johnson) and forbidden love between the gypsy and Catherine.

There’s also illness, unexpected pregnancy, revenge, death and applesauce (did I mention that this is a 19th-century novel?) 

And those 14 characters, all portrayed by Johnson and Schein with minimal scenic and costume design changes.

A rear projection tells us we’re on the Moors, or in one of the two houses. Lighting by Curtis Mueller clues us in on time and James Olmstead’s music gives emotional cues.

Costume changes take place behind an enormous, curtained fake gold picture frame. So Johnson is Nelly with a white flowered apron-like cloth around his waist, and young Catherine with that same cloth used as a shawl. 

Watch for other additions, like Johnson’s sock-puppet dog (a hoot) and Schein’s thick-as-London-fog accent as pipe-smoking servant Joseph. And for those hilariously awful wigs by Peter Herman.

Oh my.

But mainly, don’t miss the wild and crazy show.

The details

“Withering Heights” plays through July 9, 2017 at Diversionary Theatre, 4545 Park Boulevard.

Wednesday through Saturday at 8 p.m.; Sunday at 7 pm; July 9 at 2 pm

Tickets: 619.220.0097 or

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