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A Year of Great Theater

By Rick Pender · May 26th, 2010 · Curtain Call
A lot of theater awards are handed out around the nation this time of year, including the Acclaims earlier this week in Cincinnati. I organize the Cincinnati Entertainment Awards, which will return in August (for year 15) to honor excellence from this season just before the next one kicks off. Awards are arbitrary, subjective and unscientific, but that doesn’t stop us from being fascinated or rooting for our favorites. I’m not going to launch anything new (I recently had my say about too many awards in Cincinnati), but since I see a lot of theater. I will tell you what I’ve enjoyed this year.

The Cincinnati Playhouse had hits and misses in its 50th anniversary year, but I imagine David Bar Katz’s The History of Invulnerability, a gut-wrenching story about Superman, his comic-book creator and the desire for good to triumph over evil, will be a much-honored work with subsequent productions. Michele Lowe’s Victoria Musica, a mystery about a musician who might have faked her recorded performances, was a finalist for the American Theatre Critics Association’s new play prize. I believe Sarah Ruhl’s rendition of Chekhov’s The Three Sisters will become the new standard, although John Doyle’s odd production turned off many Playhouse patrons. The Playhouse hit an unexpected homerun with Kevin Kling’s unpretentious, introspective monologue How? How? Why? Why? Why?

Ensemble Theatre of Cincinnati had its third consecutive season of well-chosen shows.

My favorites were Moisés Kaufman’s revelatory 33 Variations, Ruhl’s contemporary comedy Dead Man’s Cell Phone and The Marvelous Wonderettes, a deliriously entertaining musical that ran twice as long as originally planned because local audiences loved it. Lynn Meyers promises to entertain audiences whether on not they know the titles she chooses for ETC, and she comes through.

Know Theatre, following the departure of its founders, surprised many with an excellent season. The Adding Machine, a new musical based on an expressionist tragedy from 1923, was not everyone’s cup of tea, but I thought it was powerful and provocative. My favorite work this season at any theater was Know’s audacious, two-part blockbuster staging of Tony Kushner’s monumental Angels in America. Who would have thought that this small company could pull it off? Yet with a cast of Cincinnati’s best actors, it was for me the season’s most compelling production.

Cincinnati Shakespeare Company bookended its season with Victorian delights: W.S. Gilbert’s Engaged! and Oscar Wilde’s An Ideal Husband. In between we saw Giles Davies back in town with creepy tales by Edgar Allen Poe and a rollicking Taming of the Shrew for the holidays. In January, CSC offered a theatrical treat, a pair of one-acts by O’Neill and Beckett starring Joneal Joplin. Solid acting and directing always make CSC’s shows worth seeing.

Other productions I liked: New Edgecliff Theatre’s presentation of Peter Shaffer’s Equus last October, the November staging of Hair at UC’s College-Conservatory of Music (marking the 40th anniversary of the legendary musical theater program) and an excellent touring production of the contemporary musical Spring Awakening in January at the Aronoff.

I don’t have time to see much community theater, but I was entertained by Curtains (Cincinnati Music Theatre) and The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee (Showbiz Players).

I hope you share my enthusiasm for local theater. Please tell me your favorites.

CONTACT RICK PENDER: rpender@citybeat.com



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