Review: Decoding ‘Ciphers’

In the intriguing and very cool “Ciphers,” which is getting its American premiere from Inis Nua Theatre Company in Center City, it’s spy versus spy versus spy versus spy.

I can’t tell you many details of the play for risk of ruining the experience, so it’s enough to write that “Ciphers” involves a woman who investigates her sister’s sudden death and in the process, learns more than she could have imagined. Dawn King’s play is part thriller, part mystery – a tightly written 85 minutes without intermission and without an ounce of fat, a seamless plot that keeps you guessing.

A little too much guesswork, for me. This is because King’s four-actor play has eight characters – each actor plays two of them. One of the two-part roles involves a sleight-of-hand, and I would have much preferred those roles to be played by two different performers. I was confused, but I’m also circumspect on the matter in order to protect the play, which I much admire.

“Ciphers” has toured Great Britain, where it’s been played with the same dual roles for each actor, a procedure I assume is written into the script. Inis Nua’s artistic director, Tom Reing, stages it for maximum intensity – and to encourage an audience’s assumptions about what is and isn’t going on. The production is cleverly designed in white-washed colors by Meghan Jones to reflect the austerity of the story and its way of depicting deceits that its characters consider useful and for a higher calling. Janelle Kaufmann’s video designs flash onto the white walls and impressively set the locations of different scenes in and around London.

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Felicia Leicht, Isa St. Clair, J. Paul Nicholas and John Morrison are uniformly fine in their dual roles. The cast sets about creating an entertaining web to ensnare an audience, and proceeds apace to do so.


“Ciphers” runs through Oct. 26 at Off-Broad Street Theatre, 17th and Sansom Streets. 215-454-9776 or

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