Holy Toledo! is a little-known show, written by Paul Langford and centered around the Michigan-Ohio War from 1835 to 1836, also dubbed the Toledo War. The conflict begins over a border dispute but escalates into attempted power grabs, the building of forces, skirmishes, and ultimately a war, but fortunately with zero casualties.
NOVA Nightsky Theater’s production was planned to be outdoors but, due to the weather, was moved inside on the evening I attended. The stage was mostly bare, with banners to signify Ohio, Toledo, and Michigan, and a table with chairs that are moved around for various scenes (design by Adam Ressa).
Director Ward Kay states in the director’s notes that “Playwright Paul Langford lives in Michigan, 40 miles north of Toledo, and is a University of Michigan theater graduate. His bias might show.” And indeed it does. Ohio Governor Lucas (Patrick Gallagher) is a pompous, greedy character, with a henchman, Two Sickney (Lisa Mackem), who has a lust for murder and manipulates Lucas’ lust for her to get a position of power.
Meanwhile, Michigan’s twenty-something Governor Mason (Lexi Scanlan) is a hot-headed but capable and bright young man, fighting for the rights of his fellow Michigan citizens. At his side, his innocent girlfriend, Ann (Emily Steindl), whose genuine kindness and good heart is the voice of reason and compassion that keeps a tense situation from growing worse.
From all appearances (as I’m sure was intended by the author), Michigan is the underdog with a just purpose, while Ohio has more political sway and is only concerned with commerce for the state.
Gallagher as Lucas does a great job being the smarmy antagonist the audience boos with affection, and Scanlan as Mason is an easy character to root for playing the scrappy young lad with pride in his state.
Will MacLeod is Hepsood, a man from Michigan with his own agenda who also serves as narrator to the tale sometimes. MacLeod was amusing with his constant scheming and side-switching depending on the outcomes in his favor. He had the signature conniving move of bringing his hands together in a triangle and rapidly tapping his fingertips together as he thinks.
The program offers an apt description of the piece as “a farcical telling of true history — or a true telling of farcical history,” and both are correct. Many of the characters are over the top and more caricature than person. Two of the townsfolk of the hotly contested Toledo are short on smarts but a great source of giggles. Gillette, played by Whitney Perez, and Mennon, played by Holly Landis, are walking puns playing on their brand-name titles, with lots of flippant references to sharpness and odor.
Then there is poor Sheriff Wood (James Storen) with an irrational fear of leeches, who is unfortunately stabbed (in the butt, mind you) by Mackem’s Stikney and spends most of the show running in terror from the gleefully creepy Doctor (Larissa Norris) and her jar of healing leeches — remember it’s the 1800s.
Frank Gorrell is President Andrew Jackson and makes many failed attempts to “help” the squabble only to create more mayhem for the feuding states. His cabinet member Cass (Sarah Baczewski), with eyes on earning the VP spot under Jackson, also tries to resolve the friction with equally unsuccessful results. But their efforts are clearly doomed to fail as the politicians are only concerned with securing their spots in the upcoming elections.
The remaining cast consists of two bumbling representatives sent from Washington to facilitate negotiations, Howard (Mattie Cohan) and Rush (Bob Rosenberg). A charmingly simple-minded Judge (Raju Sharma), a grizzly bear of a man, hungry for a fight named Brown (Alex Bastani). And a trio with a mission from Lucas to take Toledo with force, McKay (Kirstin Lindsay), Seely (Denise Sudell), and Robert E. Lee (Kim Cincotti-Seldon) —yes, that Robert E. Lee, but before the notoriety.
The script of Holy Toldeo! is a conglomerate of styles with some beautiful Shakespearean-esque language, socially relevant puns, and slapstick comedy. The potential for laughter is laid out with a mix of absurdity, political satire, and camp, and the Nova Nightsky’s cast delivers with a good energy and clear love for what they do.
The show is a little long-winded but maintains a fun vibe and steady pacing throughout the production. Overall, Holy Toledo! is an enjoyable experience, enlightening on some lesser-known quarrels from our country’s past, but with a wink and a smile.
Thank you to the theater for bringing this unfamiliar work to the stage, inspired by Artistic Director Ward’s affinity for “finding and sharing plays by living playwrights who deserve a wider audience.” Job well done
Running Time: Approximately two hours and 30 minutes, including one 10-minute intermission.
Holy Toledo! runs through July 1, 2023, presented by NOVA Nightsky Theater performing in the yard (weather permitting) or indoors at Vienna Baptist Church, 541 Marshall Road SW, Vienna, VA. Tickets are $20, with a $0.50 service fee, and can be purchased online.
Holy Toledo! by Paul Langford
Mason, Boy Governor: Lexi Scanlan; Lucas: Patrick Gallagher; President Andrew Jackson: Frank Gorrell; Gillette: Whitney Perez; Mennon: Holly Landis; Howard: Mattie Cohan; Rush: Bob Rosenberg; Cass: Sarah Baczewski; Hepsood: Will MacLeod; Ann: Emily Steindl; Sheriff Wood: James Storen; Brown: Alex Bastani; Robert E. Lee: Kim Cincotti:Seldon; Two Stickney: Lisa Mackem; McKay: Kirstin Lindsay; Seely: Denise Sudell; Judge: Raju Sharma; Doctor: Larissa Norris
CREATIVES & CREW
Artistic Director: Ward Kay; Producing Director/Stage Manager: Jaclyn Robertson; Technical Director/Design: Adam Ressa; Administrative Director: Sarah Baczewski; Assistant Stage Manager: Nora Rice; Fight Choreography: Justin Winters; Props Coordinator: Kirstin Lindsay; Makeup Consultant: Larissa Norris; House Manager: Mary Fettes; Banner Design: Elizabeth Earles