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Lots of Winners in Local Theater World

By Rick Pender · August 19th, 2009 · Curtain Call

The Cincinnati Entertainment Awards (CEA) for theater, set to be handed out Aug. 30, led me to wonder if our theater scene compares favorably with other cities. Would the 100 CEA nominees compete with performers and productions elsewhere? Those are subjective judgments, to be sure, but simply counting productions of important plays, we match up reasonably well.

The gold standard for outstanding plays is the Pulitzer Prize. We’ve seen two of the four winners from 2005 to 2009 (no award was made in 2006): John Patrick Shanley’s Doubt (Cincinnati Playhouse, 2008) and David Lindsay-Abaire’s Rabbit Hole (Ensemble Theatre, 2007). I suspect Tracy Letts’ August: Osage County, the 2008 Pulitzer (and Tony Award) winner, which is touring, will show up at the Aronoff Center before too long. Lynn Nottage’s Ruined, the 2009 winner that's still running in New York City, could land on the Playhouse’s Shelterhouse stage or at ETC.

The Best Plays Theater Yearbook is an annual volume identifying 10 plays of note. The choices are limited to New York productions, so the universe has limits.

But editor Jeffrey Eric Jenkins also includes plays recognized by the American Theatre Critics Association, which honors outstanding scripts from regional stages beyond New York City. Combining those two sets (some ATCA honorees are recognized again when they are eventually staged in New York City) over a five-year period yields a list of about 60 plays. By my count, Cincinnati theaters have presented 26 of them.

Ensemble Theatre is the leader with nine, which makes sense since it presents local premieres. In fact, ETC leads off its new season with two more: Moisés Kaufman’s 33 Variations is the first production of 2009-10, and Sarah Ruhl’s Dead Man’s Cell Phone follows in October. Kaufman’s split-time mystery about a Beethoven composition and a present-day music historian was the ATCA honoree in 2007 and a Best Play in 2008-09. (It was also a nominee for a 2009 Tony.) Ruhl’s dark comedy was another ATCA honoree from 2007.

Playhouse in the Park, which presented Ruhl's The Clean House in 2006 (the 2007 CEA winner for best play), premieres her new adaptation of Chekhov’s The Three Sisters (opening Oct. 29) as part of its 50th season. Know Theatre has staged five Best Plays since 2004 and this season presents The Adding Machine (Feb. 6-March 6, 2010), a surreal new musical included in the 2007-08 volume.

We’ll miss New Stage Collective, which often produced award winners.

What else is missing? ETC is rectifying our local shortage of August Wilson’s works, having recently staged Radio Golf (2008) and Gem of the Ocean (2009) and promising to present Joe Turner’s Come and Gone a year from now. The late Horton Foote is almost totally absent. I’d like to see some work by the prolific Texas playwright — his Young Man from Atlanta was the 1995 Pulitzer winner, and Dividing the Estate was a 2007-08 Best Play.

How about an occasional work by the late Wendy Wasserstein, who died of cancer in 2006? Her final script, Third, was a 2005-06 Best Play; her 1989 Pulitzer Prize winner, The Heidi Chronicles, has not been produced in Cincinnati.

If there are new plays or playwrights you think Cincinnati needs to see, drop me an e-mail.

CONTACT RICK PENDER: rpender@citybeat.com



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